Lighting: Your Home Theater’s Best Friend

Make an ordinary theater extraordinary by automating the lights.


The impressive theater, complimented by decorative LED lighting, was designed by the Erskine Group.

Think about any performance you go to see, be it a Broadway musical or a three-ring circus: The prelude to the show it what often sets the tone for the entire experience. The same goes for a home theater. And one of the most effective ways to build up to the big action is with sensational lighting.

Decorative sconces and recessed can lights, combined with LED strips around moldings and steps are just the start of what’s possible when you let your creativity take over. You can use tiny fixtures to frame movie posters, accentuate a mural on the ceiling or draw attention to a well-dressed rack of equipment.

When you pair the various light fixtures with a centralized, professionally programmed control system, the effects become even more dramatic and impactful. “Aside from being able to turn all the lights on and off from a button on a handheld controller or wall-mounted keypad, a control system helps set the mood,” says Marco Resendes of Rectech Rooms, Toronto, Ontario. A good example of this mood-setting capability is a project his company recently completed where ceiling arches illuminate in a golden hue. LEDs provide the light, here, as well as throughout the rest of the room.

The arch lighting is a design element, while the path lighting on the steps adds safety.

LEDs, Resendes says, are becoming an increasingly popular lighting choice in home theaters. In addition to introducing colorful illumination, LEDs allow custom electronics (CE) pros to adjust the color temperature of the lighting, which can have a direct impact on the quality of the video, says Dennis Erskine of Erskine Group, Atlanta. “For the best experience, any lights that are on in a theater should be set at 6,500 degrees Kelvin. Anything else will change the color fidelity of the image on the screen. Yellows become green, for example. Dimmable LEDs are the only type of light source, besides fluorescent, that can be dialed in to this ideal color temperature.”

Related: Hands-on with TCP Wireless LED Lighting System

All this talk of proper lighting in a theater begs the question, “Why not just turn all the lights off so there’s nothing to worry about?” Doing so would preclude any imaging issues; however, as both Resendes and Erskine point out, most people prefer having some lights on while viewing rather than sitting in a completely dark room. For example, keeping step lights set at a low intensity ensures that people can see their way in and out of the theater during a show. There may also be times, like when you’re watching sporting events or playing video games, that you might want some overhead lighting on. And, of course, you’ll probably want to turn on the light above the seats on occasion so you can read a program guide or see the buttons on the remote control.

A control system interface offers many ways to adjust the lights.

This is why, says Erskine, it’s important to group the lights together on individual circuits, or zones. You’ll be able to control each zone individually, choosing which areas to illuminate and which to keep dark. One zone might be comprised of accent lighting to showcase certain architectural features; another might include fixture that illuminate the back part of the room where the equipment resides.
In addition to grouping the theater lights into zones, it’s also beneficial to a theater when lights are programmed into scenes so that the room environment can adjust to suit the type of viewing or activity that’s taking place. For example, a Intermission scene could be set up to have the step lights and sconce lights brighten to a 50 percent intensity level. Another scene—activated by the touch of a button on a remote, touchpanel or keypad—could command the all the lights to go to their brightest settings for cleanup. Other popular scenes in a theater could tailor the lights for the type of video you’ll be watching; for instance, dim for movies but brighter for sports and video games.

Zoned lighting in a theater allows the users to control the lighting in different areas of the room.

No matter how you use your theater, lights are a critical aspect of the entertainment experience. By using a combination of different fixtures, and tying them all to a single control system, you can enhance the mood, setting and performance of the entire room.

More like this:
Light Matters: Managing and Maximizing Light in Your Media Room
5 Ways Architects and Interior Designers Need to Pay Attention
Home Theater Projectors Ready to Expose Themselves
Six Important Home Theater Trends


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