So, you're looking to finally set up a great home theater system in your home and have a pretty good idea of what components you want to include in it and where to get them from. Before you head out the door, it might be a good idea to mull over some advice from a couple of home theater retailers and custom installation experts on how to avoid some common mistakes they said are made all too often by consumers.
The retailers I interviewed for this story agreed on three of the most common mistakes that customers make: Not selecting the correct screen size for their specific rooms, making bad speaker choices (sometimes because they care more about the video than the audio), and not thinking through exactly how their systems should be controlled. Each also offered a few additional mistakes they've seen--mistakes that are often devastating and can end up costing consumers a lot of extra money.
The Wrong Screen Size Can Ruin a Room
All too often, customers insist on buying a display--whether it's a projection screen or flat-panel UHD TV--that's just "too big relative to the space and viewing distance" they have in their room, according to Alan Guyes, home AV buyer and corporate secretary at Audiotronics in Virginia. "Bigger is better, but only to a point, and we find that we frequently have to work with consumers to moderate the large screens/displays that they initially want for their space," he said.
Agreeing, Greg Porthan, custom audio installation manager at Abt Electronics in Glenview, Illinois, told me: "Customers have a hard time understanding the size of their wall." It's best not to proceed, therefore, without making sure you have the correct measurement of that wall and the space you have to work with.
Finding the right size screen for your room isn't as exact a science as some might hope, since there's a pretty broad range between "so close to the screen that you can see pixels" and "so far away that the display's resolution is lost on you." But Chris Heinonen of Reference Home Theater developed a helpful 4K screen size/viewing distance calculator that will put you in the right ball park. At a pretty typical seating distance of nine feet, his calculator demonstrates that anything between 70 and 120 inches would be appropriate.
There's one measurement that the average consumer is likely never going to make, though: The height of the room, and that's a factor that should be considered in addition to the more obvious length of the wall the display is going on. After all, an 85-inch TV might look awfully silly in a room that has only an eight-foot ceiling.
Selecting the Wrong Speakers Is a Common Faux Pas
These days, when it comes to speakers, all too many people "tend to think (soundbars) will get them that surround sound that they are looking for," Porthan noted. And that's just not true, he said, suggesting that consumers "buy towers, bookshelf, in/on-wall speakers with the true surround sound that you experience in a movie theater."
Guyes summed it up this way: "Soundbars are a massive improvement over no sound augmentation, but not a substitute [for a first-class home theater]."
However, there are plenty of good-quality soundbars on the market, so you don't necessarily have to consider this gospel, especially if the choice you're making is between a soundbar or no sound system at all. We have auditioned several soundbar solutions that we found to be worthy, including the recently reviewed Samsung Harman/Kardon HW-N950.
You also don't necessarily need to spend a ton of money to get a better speaker in many cases. For example, Orb Audio has some cool, affordable solutions. A small receiver and small speakers (even 2.1) can be a drastic improvement over most soundbars.
There are, of course, additional decisions to be made when it comes to speakers, including whether one should embrace object-based surround, and whether in-wall or in-ceiling speaker options would be appropriate for a system. When it comes to object-based systems, one can go overboard with channels, so a buyer should consider the depth of his or her room, from the seat (or seats) to the screen.
"In-walls and in-ceiling speakers are great options," Porthan said, adding: "Most of the manufactures have made great improvements to get the full sound of a floor standing and bookshelf speakers. Customers love [how] clean [it is and the] space savings of in-wall/ceiling speakers."
Buyers should also be just as selective when it comes to the very important center speaker, which are arguably the most important speakers in an entire system. Many center speakers on the market have bad horizontal dispersion because of the placement of their tweeters and woofers.
Click over to page two to for tips on system control, lighting control, acoustics, wiring, and balancing your home theater budget...