Audio and video are usually the first two key considerations most people think about when designing a home theater. But a third and no less integral attribute is lighting. The average home theater enthusiast may do a lot less thinking about lighting than they do the size of their screen or even about acoustics, but the right lighting can transform the most basic to the most sophisticated home theater into an entertainment oasis.
The Big Picture
Just because you watch a movie in the dark doesn’t mean lighting isn’t important to the overall home theater experience. The first step to consider is the range of lighting available and what you’d most like to accomplish with it.
Whether you’ve designed your own home theater in the den or you’ve hired professionals to do the job, the most important uses of lighting are to ensure guests can move safely around the space while not suffering eye fatigue halfway through your favorite flick. You also want to make sure the position of the lighting does not interfere with your viewing screen. Certain flat panels and projection screens can be affected by direct and indirect lighting in different ways, which is why not all lighting fixtures may be suited to your home theater set-up.
You don’t have to limit yourself to only the basic types of lighting (sconce and in-ceiling). There are controls that allow you to customize solutions without tearing into plaster. While traditional lighting can be installed and controlled with remotes, another option is an RF-based system that is flexible and can be expanded down the road with limited impact on the cosmetics of a room. The lighting solution uses built-in transmitters that communicate with signals and controllers within a certain range. Vantage’s RadioLink is a good example. Also check out Lutron’s RadioRA.
In addition to lighting types (hanging, floor-standing, in-ceiling, in-wall and sconce), lighting can be broken down into three categories: accent, ambient and task. Aesthetically speaking, accent lighting is important when it comes to highlighting details within a room like a favorite piece artwork or architectural element within the décor, while task lighting can be customized for specific jobs, like reading a magazine or doing homework while someone else in the same room is watching TV or a movie. Ambient lighting, meanwhile, pulls the other two varieties together in a cohesive environment. Most lighting designers implement all three type of lighting to ensure a balanced experience no matter what the activity.
The type of lighting you choose also dictates the design of fixtures. Both recessed lighting and wall sconces and can be enhanced by door seals, automated shade controls, as well as integrated lighting controls that customize the settings depending on whether you’d like to watch a movie or view a photo slideshow. Thanks to the breadth of lighting controls, the home theater doesn’t have to be relegated to a dark basement dungeon. You can turn a cheerful living room into a movie screening room thanks to the push of a button and adding a few of these elements. You can also conserve electricity with control systems in the home theater and throughout the house.
Selecting fixtures depends on your personal style and activities planned for the space. Recessed lighting, while more modern in design, is ideal for a multi-use space, especially if you’d like to highlight select portions of your home theater while still maintaining enough darkness to enjoy a flick.
On the higher end, Crestron, a favorite control system for home theater professionals, manufactures a range of touch panels, like the iLux, a multi-zone lighting system, and infiNET with wireless dimmers and remote management options. Like many of these sophisticated control systems, you can actually manage lighting and window shades throughout a home, not just within a home theatre.
Similarly, Lutron offers whole home and theater controls, as well as individual dimmers, switches and shading solutions. Lutron’s Abella lets you customize lighting with a simple wall plate. You can dim lights for a film and then brighten the room for socializing afterwards. The company also designs a versatile whole home system HomeWorks which manages interior and exterior lighting. The wireless series requires no additional wiring, which is ideal for older, more historic homes.
For DIYers, decorative wall sconces can add to the theatre’s ambiance. Art Deco styles are popular for ambient light solutions. You can create accents with specialty wall sconces that can also play into the theme of the room, whether it’s old-fashioned or space-aged. Lighting can also be added with rope lights and other decorative accents that will make your home theater look like a smaller version of the megaplex down the street.
Quick Tips for Lighting Your Home Theater:
- Integrate lighting with other system functions (this will allow you to present lighting controls for specific conditions, like turning down front-projected lights during show time or turning up low-lit backlights during a film).
- Don’t make your theater pitch black (leave low ambient lights on enough to see your snack or safely navigate a walkway).
- Blackout natural light with customized curtains (thick fabric eliminates natural light and softens acoustics).
- Sealing doors and windows will also eliminate natural light while also containing the audio from your speaker systems (so it doesn’t bother neighbors and other members of the household).
- Paint your walls a darker shade to reduce glare (black, brown, dark blues and dark reds are ideal).