Lighten Up! Home Theaters Don’t Need to Be Dark

Why should home theaters be dark? Maybe they shouldn't.


Over the past decade I’ve sat through countless home theater demonstrations. The equipment differed among them, but they shared one common trait: complete darkness. So dark, in fact, that it was impossible to take legible notes about the gear and its performance, which is important when you’re reporting on this stuff.

If I can’t see a pad of paper on my lap, how can I expect to find a bowl of popcorn, a remote control or even my dog in a room like this? But hey, home theaters are supposed to be pitch-black, right? Well, yes and no.

It depends on what kind of home theater viewer you are. Purist might contend that a home theater simply isn’t a home theater unless you can’t see anything in the room but the images on the screen. Given that this is the type of environment in which most A/V shops choose to demo their home theater gear, lots of regular folks—myself included—have probably been led to think this way, too.

But we’re starting to see a shift. Theaters are lightening up. As more and more homeowners are choosing to incorporate big screens and surround-sound systems into family rooms, dens and other spaces, home theaters are no longer being designed as dark, isolated rooms, but as integral parts of a house where light is considered a part of the atmosphere.

This is no surprise to us. We’ve noticed a gradual shift in home theater thinking for some time now. People are still putting in theaters, but they’re adding other elements, like bars, gaming systems, karaoke stages—and lights—to extend the use of these spaces as all-around, multipurpose entertainment or “flex rooms,” as Bob Hadsell, home theater sales manager at Draper, has coined them. Draper is just one of many manufacturers currently developing home theater products specifically for flex rooms. Draper’s new screen material, the XS850E, for example, has been engineered to reject ambient light and provide a wide field of view—qualities that are essential when watching video in a room where the lights are on and viewers are sitting to the side of the screen.

I recently saw the XS850E in action during a demo at a trade show in New York City. It was the first home theater demo I can recall sitting through where I could see my notes, the person speaking and the people next to me. If you plan to incorporate a home theater system into a flex room, be sure your demo is conducted with the lights on, too.


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