Do you prefer to be fully immersed in that movie you decide to watch on a Friday night? Do you feel that the limited volume on your television is not enough? When the day comes where you step out into the real world with that cacophony of sound engulfing you in a full 360, you visualize your home theater system doing the same and something in you decides it is time to invest in a setup. You get excited. You hop on Amazon. You start reading reviews and pulling up equipment. But, before you even get to that point, what exactly makes up a Home Theater or Audio/Visual system install?
4 Elements that Make Up Home Theater/Audio Visual Systems
The whole audio/visual system is made up of hundredths of parts and wires depending on the type of system and its complexity. All in all, the essence of AV Design and Integration pulls upon four basic elements:
- Hardware – the actual, physical electronics like multi room controllers, speakers and other peripheral equipment that are connected together to give you an amazing experience
- Software – everything nowadays contains some type of programmed software to make the hardware do what you want it to do. Your universal remote, your DVR. You name it, software runs it
- Environment – your home! The environment is where the hardware and software will be installed. Depending on your home layout, this may impact overall installation or quality of sound
- Content – the media presented to you through your home theater system like movies or shows or music
All four of these items are important aspects to any Audio/Visual system, and for optimal home theater viewing/listening, each one must be addressed during the design portions of your installation. Balancing these specific elements allows for a successful set up that draws you into whatever you are watching!
Necessary Home Theater Components
Many home theater systems and components are available today that range from low in price to high in price (as everything does). When you go to work, you understand the various pieces that are necessary for you to satisfactorily complete your job, right? Well, having an understanding of the various pieces of hardware necessary to complete a home theater system helps out in the long run as well! It gives you a road map. Here are some standard home theater components:
- Televisions – You may think that this is obvious, but not everyone has TVs in their house! The TV will be the focal point of a home theater setup focusing around watching movies.
- Projector and Projector Screen – Sometimes, people want to go big. It is not always practical to buy a large TV, especially when TV’s don’t come in sizes above a certain width. So, if you plan to have a 110” screen for your home theater, think about this combination instead.
- Receiver or Pre-amplifier/Amplifier combination – these components tie sound into the system. Smaller home theater installations generally only require a receiver that provides all input/output for your system. These are nice as they make it easy to create a centralized location for your set up. Now, if your install is complex with many different channels and high end equipment, you may need multiple pre-amplifiers/amplifiers to separate the responsibilities. This gives you more control over switching out your various components.
- Speakers – There are multiple types of channel outputs you can choose from like 2.1, 5.1, and 7.1. Each set up requires a certain number of speakers, but they usually comprise of a center, left/right front speaker and left/right surround speakers. Your speaker set up will build the sound in your room to encompass a full 360 degrees. It is good practice to purchase the same brand speakers as your receiver and other components so you do not run into compatibility issues.
- Subwoofer – Subwoofers bring the bass! No, seriously, they do. Subwoofers produce low-frequency sound from the media you are watching, so if you want to build ambience from your set up, this is a must have!
- Peripheral Components – So, you have your set up mapped out. Your speakers/subwoofer is going to your receiver. Your TV is mounted and ready. Now, all you need is a device that broadcasts the media of your choice. This could be any number of devices like a blue ray player for movies or a turntable/cd player for music, and often times, people use their DVR cable boxes or other such cable device. There are also streaming devices now, like Amazon FireStick.
Importance of Researching Home Theater Components
There are a number of professionals out there that provide different types of services ranging from licensed dealers to installers. Some of these professionals also overlap; for instance, you can have an installer also be a dealer of the equipment you have. There are also resellers who may not be licensed dealers of high end equipment, but can provide you low end equipment.
Keep an Eye on the Software
One thing you will have to keep in mind is the software to your devices. High end devices that require a licensed dealer to activate the software upon installation may be something you do not care about, but for some people, they prefer to install the whole system themselves. If you have equipment like that, you will not be able to activate it after you install it, forcing you to call a licensed installer anyway.
To give you an example of software differences, take these two remotes:
- The Pro Control URC (Universal Remote Control) – This URC is an example of a piece of equipment that requires an authorized dealer and installer to be able to access the software. If you hire only an installer, they will not have the access to this remotes software and won’t be able to complete your installation
- The Logitech Harmony URC – This URC is from Logitech, a very well-known brand. They focus on the ability for the customer to have control over their devices, so this remote does not require any specialized dealer license to set up
While you go through your research, you will need to determine how you are going to set up your system. Will you use a high end dealer licensed installer? Or do you prefer saving a bit of money and hiring a standard, non-dealer installer? Ultimately, the cheapest course of action is installing the equipment yourself. If you prefer the latter two options, you will need to do your due diligence and acquire components that do not restrict an installer or yourself access to the software.
Keep an Eye on the Compatibility
If you hire a general installer or plan to do it yourself, you will need to determine the compatibility. General installers will have a good amount of experience and expertise and can guide you in the right direct, but if you already purchased equipment, they may be letting you know about these incompatibilities too late. This is also true if you plan to install the system yourself.
The rule of thumb here is to always stick to the same brand of equipment for the main pieces of your system. This means that if you purchase Yamaha speakers, purchase a Yamaha amplifier and subwoofer. Your peripheral devices always have a list of capabilities. For instance, if you purchased a Logitech Harmony URC, they are compatible with over 200,000 devices, so the chances of that device having issues are slim to none. Just make sure you check into the documentation when purchasing your peripheral devices!
If you decide to purchase differing brands, check the documentation to verify compatibility. You will need to identify how the pieces of equipment interact with each other (IR – Infrared vs. Bluetooth vs. WiFi) and determine that they will be able to sync up.
The internet is a strong resource in determining the compatibility of your system. Most places that deal in A/V and Home Theater equipment have purchasing guides that you are able to use. This example from Best Buy is a great walk through.
Setting Up Your Home Theater Installation
We have mentioned a number of different ways to have your system installed. If you decided on a professional A/V company that is a licensed dealer or installer then you will only need to discuss things with them. They will engineer and take care of your plan of action. If you prefer to do things yourself, then following this roadmap will help keep your project in order.
- Organize – Categorize, label and identify your equipment. This is important for warranty reasons and if you ever change out equipment in your system. Keep a log of your serial numbers to each piece of equipment, save all receipts and identify what piece of equipment corresponds to which room in your house if you have a multi-room set up.
- Site Plan – It is always best to have a drawn out plan for your project. We, as an installer, like to use a copy of your property survey so we have exact dimensions of the rooms in your home. This makes it easy for us to determine length of wiring, the best positions to wall fish those wires through and where to mount your speakers. You are welcome to do the same, but a hand drawing can suffice. If you are doing a multi-room set up, we do recommend using a property survey or site plan.
- Identify – Once you have the site plan/property survey, draw out where you want the pieces of hardware to go. In multi-room set ups, identify what piece of equipment is where by labeling it with the serial number.
- Draw – Once you have drawn where you want the hardware to go, draw out how you plan to run the wiring. We check the attic if you have attic access and determine if you have any fire breaks to contend with. Depending on your wall structure, you may need to fish the wires multiple times, especially if you prefer the wiring to be hidden.
Now that you understand how to engineer your layout, let’s discuss some of the architecture involved. Remember, setting up a Home Theater system is like artwork. You want a good balance amongst all the systems at play, so it is important that you achieve a good balance involving the acoustics of your home. Majority of people will watch a movie with slightly unfavorable video quality as long as the sound is outstanding, and majority of people will leave a movie if the video is perfect, but the sound is atrocious. To put it blankly, sound matters!
Figuring Out Your Acoustics
When you are deciding where to place your speakers, start thinking about what will produce the best sound. There are a number of best practices in this area, so let’s take look!
- Acoustics: To get technical, acoustics of a room means you are minimizing “reflections”. When your hardware broadcasts sound, it is broadcasting a sound wave that can, and will, bounce off of other surfaces. As we mentioned above, subwoofers produce low bass tones. When those low bass tones reflect off of surfaces, they compile in different areas of the room where those tones can cancel out other low tones. This causes higher frequency tones to become more pronounced which can reduce sound quality overall.
- Room Type: Rooms that are rectangular in nature have a better chance of minimizing reflection based on its differing dimensions. If your room has equal dimensions, then it is more difficult to reduce reflection, but do not fret. Since most people do not have control over the dimensions of their living room, we can still use multiple subwoofer placements to reduce reflection in the bass.
- Subwoofer Treatment: Multiple subwoofers reduce reflection because low tones broadcasted from multiple areas will smooth out the low tones as opposed to cancelling them out. You can use two to four subwoofers depending on the size of the room.
- Room Equalization Kit (bass): Utilizing room equalization/correction kits are also a way to reduce problems in your sound. Depending on the model of subwoofer you buy, they may come with a correction kit on their own. These kits come with microphones that will pick up the tones in the room and auto-correct the peaks in your tone. These subwoofers are great if you want something quick that resolves your sound.
- Room Equalization (upper frequency): Upper frequencies tend to peak high and reflect (bounce) off of surfaces easily. This effect causes the sound to become echo like. One way to reduce this is to place items that absorb high frequency tones. Most items that are “soft” tend to do this quite well. For instance, heavy curtains can reduce peaks in high frequency tones as well as area rugs, carpets and pictures hanging from your walls.
- Center Channel Speaker: The main speaker to your system is the center channel speaker and it is where majority of the dialogue comes through. This speaker needs to be set up without any interference to the sound it is producing. So, if you placed the center channel speaker behind something, in something or around something that impedes on its ability to produce un-wavered sound, you will reduce the sound quality. For instance, if you placed this speaker in a cabinet, the cabinet will produce a resonating sound from the sound produced from the speaker. Vibrations and other unfavorable sound anomalies can occur with this set up. For best results, place your center channel speaker away from objects. Make sure it is pointed to where you will be viewing so it broadcasts the sound in your direction.
Wrapping Up Your Home Theater System
There you have it! It is quite a bit of information, right? Home Theater and A/V system installations can be complex and difficult to begin, but once you have the right foundation, you can tread confidently. Your install should always begin with first doing your research.
We touched upon a number of different aspects to your installation that should be vetted, confirmed and re-affirmed throughout the process. Keeping things organized and succinct only helps you in the long run as you may decide to upgrade your system years down the road. When that day comes, you will be happy you followed these steps!
So, to wrap things up, here is a quick summary of your to-dos:
- Identify and research your preferred Home Theater components
- Verify compatibility among all of your products
- In tandem with your research, look at the environment you will have your system in. What are the dimensions of your room? Where will the speaker go? What is the layout of your house?
- Take into account your acoustics. What is in your room that helps reduce bass tone over powering other tones? What helps reduce high frequencies from creating echoing? Where will you place the center channel speaker?
- Document all of your serial numbers for each product and draw up a schematic of your installation (either on paper or a site plan/property survey)
- Choose your preferred method of installation. A licensed dealer, an installer or will you do it yourself? If you choose to find an installer, we can help you there! We are certified in Home Theater and AV installation. We can set you up with a consultation, estimate and install!
Advice, A. (n.d.). Home Theater Acoustics 101. Retrieved from https://www.audioadvice.com/content/home-theater-acoustics-101/
Silva, R. (2017, December 28). Home Theater System Planning – What You Need to Know. Retrieved August 6, 2018, from Life Wire: https://www.lifewire.com/essential-elements-of-home-theater-system-1846784