THINK ABOUT ANY PERFORMANCE you pay to see, be it a Broadway musical or a three-ring circus: The prelude to the show is what often sets the tone for the entire entertainment experience. The same goes for a home theater. And one of the most effective ways to build up to the big action is with sensa- tional, well-designed architectural lighting.
Decorative sconces and recessed ceiling lights, combined with LED strips placed 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, install uplights to accentuate the texture of a wall, or apply colored LED lights around the counter of a bar at the back of the room.
Strategically placed and designed lighting can serve more practical purposes, too. Small LED fixtures planted around the perimeter of the room and on steps can provide a safe walkway for theatergoers as they take their seats or briefly visit the powder room. It can make a small room seem larger, draw attention to the screen and allow you to see the buttons on your remote control.
Then there’s lighting’s ability to turn a potential eyesore into a thing of beauty. This is particularly helpful when renovating a basement. Wrapped in beautiful lighting, steel lally columns become an element of architectural interest. Even a rack of A/V gear looks suddenly sexy when it’s framed in lighting.
Although standard recessed ceiling lights will always be useful in a theater, LED fixtures are becoming an increasingly popular source of illumination—and not just for their energy efficiency. In addition to introducing a rainbow of colored lighting options, LEDs allow home theater designers to adjust the color temperature of the lighting, which can have a direct impact on the quality of the video, says Dennis Erskine of the Erskine Group, a home electronics design and installation firm in 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. Yel- lows 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.”
Once all the light sources have been selected—sconces, overhead cans, step lights, decorative LEDs, etc.—you’ll want to group certain lights together on individual circuits, or zones.
This way you’ll be able to control each zone individually, choosing which areas to illuminate and which to keep dark. One zone might consist of accent lighting to showcase certain architectural features; another might include fixtures that illuminate the back part of the room where the equipment resides.
In addition to grouping the theater lights into zones, it’s also a good idea to have the light fixtures programmed into scenes. Scenes enable the lights to adjust to suit the type of viewing or activity that’s taking place. For example, an Inter- mission scene could be set up by your home theater designer to have the step lights and sconce lights brighten to a 50 per- cent intensity level. Another scene could command all of the fixtures 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.
The best way to manage the various lighting zones and scenes in a theater is by having a lighting control system installed. This will allow you to easily and conveniently elicit a variety of different viewing environments with just a tap of a button on a wall-mounted keypad, touchpanel, handheld remote, tablet or smartphone. What was once a room where drinks and conversation happened naturally on the couch can instantly transform into a theater as the lights slowly fade to black. Touch another button labeled Pigskin and the system sets the lights perfectly for watching football, highlighting all the memorabilia of your favorite team that you’ve collected over the years. When the kids hit the floor for video game marathons, another button tap can lower the lights at the back of the room but keep the fixtures near the front bright so gamers can see their controls.
- Fade to black in prelude of a movie
- Accentuate architectural details when the movie is finished
- Activate groups of lights individually
- Use step lights to illuminate a pathway from the seats to the powder room
- Make a statement with colored LED lighting
- Go to preset intensity levels for each type of viewing: movies, sports, games, slideshows
- Look above at a ceiling studded with twinkling LED stars
In most cases, architectural lighting can be integrated into the control system that you use to operate the home theater gear. The pairing will afford even greater convenience and put your theater’s wow factor off the charts. Now, in addition to gradually fading out the lights when the Movie button is pressed, the video projector and surround-sound system can activate, the screen can lower from the ceiling and the motorized shades can close over the windows. In an instant, the room has readied itself… and all you had to do was press a button on a remote.