Home theaters are our attempt at making our experience at the cinemas a more regular part of our daily lives. Thanks to them, we can enjoy the sleek animation of the latest blockbuster movies, complete with bold surround-sound and an ambiance that isn’t very far off from what your local cinema offers. But what if you’re thinking about building a home theater in your house? What things will you need to install to bring both the sights and sounds of the complete cinema experience within the four walls of your home?
Here, we’ll have a look at some of these items, and find out why you need them and how you can connect them into one thriving mini-cinema for a better overall cinematic experience.
Your home theater won’t function unless it’s powered by electricity. So, the most important thing to sort out first is the power supply to its various components that connect them to the power source. First, you will want to know how much power your system should use. Then there’s the wiring, which takes electricity to various parts of the system, and the devices which regulate this transmission; these include Amp circuits and a breaker box.
We’ll explain what these things are and why they are essential when building or renovating home theater system.
The power your home appliances consume is typically measured in watts. Halogen bulbs may shine brightly while running on 60 watts of power. A regular water heater may gulp as much as 4,000 watts when it’s plugged in. How many watts will your home theater consume? The answer depends on the amount of energy that your AV (Audio-Visual) components are designed to work with. All of them, taken together, will draw a certain amount of power when they’re plugged into the AC wall fixture.
If you are connecting the system to a pre-existing AC wall power, you should bear in mind that you’re going to be drawing from a source that gives out fixed watts. Many homes use the standard 120V/15A wall power outlets. These give out about 1,800 watts. Needless to say, you’re going to have issues if the total wattage required by your home theater components exceeds what the outlets in your home are designed to provide. You can find out if this is the case by summing the power consumed by each AV component, dividing by a factor of four, and comparing the result to the output from the wall outlets to which you will be plugging them into. If the outlet gives you less than a quarter of the watts consumed by your devices, it’s not adequate for them. You can change it to one which covers the power needs of your home entertainment electronics.
Here’s an example.
Let’s say the total wattage required by all devices on your entertainment system is 2,000 Watts. If the proposed space for your home theater has a 120V/15V outlet, its total wattage is 1800 Watts. To find out if the power from the outlet is sufficient, compare it (1800 Watts) to a quarter of the total required by the components (2,000/4= 500 Watts). It’s clear that the outlet’s wattage, 1,800 Watts, exceeds the power required by the components, 500 Watts. In this instance, the existing outlet works just fine for your home theater. Some of the things that may determine the number of watts you will need may include room size, speaker efficiency, and the sound quality produced by your setup.
Amplifiers are devices that increase the power of wave signals that pass through them. You can probably already guess what this would mean for power transmission. Amplifier circuits yield higher-quality electricity – an outcome you’ll be a tad grateful for if you’re trying to maximize power supply to your electronic appliances. You could choose between 15 Amps and 20 Amps circuits. The former is more widely used, as it’s usually considered sufficient for the needs of the ‘average’ small home theater system. However, expert advice would be to overestimate the requirements, and go for the higher current circuit, i.e. 20 Amps where possible. This should take care of any extra demand, if and when it arises.
The number of circuits you will need for your home theater system will depend on its size or power demand. Most small-sized home entertainment setups can work perfectly well with a single 15 Amp or 20 Amp circuit. You can install one or a couple more if your system has a power demand that exceeds the usual range (like the one referred to in our previous example). Whatever the case may be, it’s wise to have an electrician weigh your needs and advise you accordingly. Have them connect your circuit as well; you might want to go the DIY route with these things, but once it comes to electricity, expert advice and help is often advised. Tampering with the wrong bits at the breaker box could harm you, or even get you killed. Err on the side of caution.
Breaker Box Setup
The breaker box is the electricity control panel situated in a metal box, where the circuits for your home’s power connections are located. You’ll commonly find it somewhere within the building or its precincts, like the laundry room, garage, or basement. One of the circuits in the breaker box could be dedicated to the home theater (the amp circuit we referred to earlier), so you should know how the connections between it and the system work. Circuit breakers, located in the main panel, prevent the circuit breaker from overheating, especially when it’s overloaded. They do this by ‘breaking’ the delivery of power to specific points of your home if they start taking more current than they should.
The problem is older service panels are often unable to fulfill the demand exerted on them by the addition of electronics which draw more amps from them. They just don’t have the capacity to carry the extra load. A lot of the time, remedying the situation would mean more than just adding circuits. It might require replacing the service panel. If you’re using a 100 Amp panel, be sure that it isn’t taking loads totaling more than 80 Amps. Overshooting this limit would bring your electrical systems dangerously close to overload. In fact, you’re probably not going to be able to stay within this limit if you’re in a typical modern home with all the appliances that we would expect to find in it. A home theater system may be the slender bundle that breaks its back.
So, what’s the way out?
Perhaps replacing your old panel with one that has at least a 200 Amp capacity would be a good idea. This should accommodate a lot of the electricity demands of a contemporary home, and maybe leave a little extra, just in case.
Home Theater Wiring
The wiring for your home theater system distributes the electricity through which the devices in the system run, similar to how arteries carry blood to vital organs that need it to function and it is the most important thing when building or renovating your home theater. Proper wiring is indispensable to any setup of this kind. One essential wiring connection is the one which carries sound signals from amplifiers to speakers. These are usually copper wires. Note that the type of cable you use here will considerably determine the quality of sound you get from the system. For example, thinner and longer wires reduce the intensity of the sound produced by the audio system. It’s better to use thicker, shorter cables so that the sound intensity is preserved. This also means that speakers should not be too far away from the amplifiers.
Then there are the HDMI cables, which connect audio-visual devices. They are like your regular wire for most of their length. But they also have a metal head which can be plugged into a port in the back of your TV or HD video player. They are used to transmit digital audio and digital video signals between devices. The HDMI works as a replacement for some of the other kinds of cables, including DVI connections. Other analog wirings include S-Videos, VGA/RGB connector, and coaxial audio, all of which are used to transmit video or audio signals between devices in the home entertainment network. Others are the Stereo RCA, multichannel RCA, both of which send analog audio signals between devices.
Bear in mind that the size of the cable connecting the power outlet or the wire used in the home theater circuit depends on the amperage (number of amps) of electricity that the system draws. For a 15 Amp circuit, you should use a 14 gauge cable; and if it’s 20 Amps, you should opt for a 12 gauge cable. If you feel uncomfortable with cables lying around your room, you could do some in-wall wiring instead. It’s easier to do this when the house is still being constructed. But even if it’s an already finished building, you can always conceal your wires by placing them in positions that make them less conspicuous or by using a cable box.
A power surge happens when there’s an oversupply of power to the public electricity grid. If it’s particularly bad, the excess electricity it shoots through the wires in your home or office could damage any number of electronic appliances. You don’t want this to kill off your screen, video player, or the other devices in your domestic entertainment setup. That’s why surge protectors exist. As the name suggests, they safeguard your household appliances against the effects of a sudden surge in power supplied to your home. They take the hit on behalf of other equipment and works to regularize the power flow to them. It’s not impossible for the surge protector itself to fail, especially if it has defended against several such surges over time. It’s advisable to purchase a surge protector that has a light indicator that illuminates when the surge protection is active and working
Your speakers deliver the sounds that should make the cinematic ambiance come alive in your home. When they are in top shape, appropriately connected, and placed in the right positions in the room, they could bathe your space with the richest of sounds and yield truly entertaining experiences. But it’s in your hands to make this happen. The quality of sound you achieve in your home theater rests, among other things, on the kind of speakers and other sound equipment you use. It’s also worth noting that there’s almost certainly a positive correlation between speaker quality and price. This doesn’t mean that you can’t do wonders with your sound system if it’s built on a modest budget. If you place the speakers right, use the proper kind of cables, and apply a bit of auditory genius, you’ll fashion a decent surround-sound effect.
Floor standing speakers, with the round meshed hollows through which they bellow sounds, have been the most widely known speaker. Indoor standing speakers are smaller but can be quite effective. Other types are bookshelf speakers (which can sit on a table or mounted on a wall), center channel speakers, and LCR speakers. Some of the more contemporary options for today’s home entertainment system are the soundbar and subwoofer.
The soundbar is a flatter kind of speaker; it lies out horizontally instead of standing vertically like a lot of other speakers. Because of its shape, it can be placed on a range of surfaces, including a narrow rack under the TV. Soundbars have become popular because of their smaller size (compared to the traditionally larger loudspeakers standing on their bases), and the ease with which they can be set up. They are also less expensive than a lot of other alternatives, you can find great soundbars under $300 and a few good ones for even much cheaper than that. They have become more common partly because of the shift to flat-screen televisions. These screens don’t have as much of a capacity for sound- especially the bass effect – as the earlier television models. This function has practically been outsourced to soundbars, which can fill in for the sound effect deficits of a typical flat screen, while they are placed in a close enough proximity that the sounds from both sets are melded into one.
If you want a booming sound effect for your home theater (like you experience at the cinemas), you should consider subwoofers. It’s a special speaker which produces only the lowest possible audio frequency, a bass that rocks the room and keeps you in its grip. It does this when it’s connected to a home theater receiver. The bass sound delivering capabilities of the subwoofer is something of a two-edged sword. On the one hand, it will enrich your viewing experience with exceptional audio. However, you enjoy its auditory benefits only when it’s placed in the right spaces of the room. If you place subwoofers in the wrong acoustic spots, it could produce an underwhelming experience. When you’re choosing a subwoofer, select one that’s portable, can be upgraded, and produces an appreciable sound quality for the watts it consumes.
The receiver is quite literally the hub of your home’s entertainment ecosystem. It’s where all of the visuals and audio you watch and listen to is received and transmitted to the devices that convey them to your senses. Other essential devices, including your television, are connected to it. The AV receiver, as it’s sometimes called, has several functions. Some versions of it have a radio component, which receives and broadcasts FM and AM, and even internet radio signals. There’s a part, known as a preamp, which sifts through and sends video and audio signals meant for the television and speakers to their appropriate destination devices.
You can also connect your digital devices to your AV receiver via Bluetooth or HDMI, to share audio and visual content between them. However, the extent to which you’re able to use the HDMI for your purposes will vary with AV receiver brands and their special provisions. When you’re purchasing an AV receiver, look out for its sound quality, measured in Total Harmonic Destruction (THD). THD of 0.08 or less is considered excellent. Also, find out how well it functions with your other devices.
If you’re setting up a small entertainment system for yourself and your family, a medium-sized or large HD television might do just fine. But if you’re building something rather grand, maybe a full-on mini-cinema room for when extended family reunions or private special events happen, a projector system and a huge projection screen might be the preferred option. Some projection systems cost several thousand dollars and are designed for the top of the income pyramid. A good number of screens are well within reach of the ‘average’ person. Whatever your budget, there’s very likely some package that fits with it.
If you do decide to go with television sets, there’s a lot you can choose from. Your list of possible candidates stretches from affordable 33-inch screens to extra-large 75 inch HD products. Some televisions can also stream video content directly from the internet. Others which don’t have this capability can be brought onboard the TV web streaming revolution with multimedia streaming software that enables you to watch video content on multiple devices.
Final Words for Building or Renovating Home Theater
As with almost every other task, the journey to building the best possible home theater or renovating your existing home theater begins with a plan. Know what components you will need to create it; determine the best ways to put them together; sketch this layout in your imagination, or better, on paper; and make it come alive with the resources you have at your disposal. This isn’t rocket science. But you’ll almost certainly not be able to do it all on your own. Seek the help of an electrician for wiring advice and fixes; consult with an interior décor expert about flooring and ceiling, if you’re extra keen on the aesthetics of the whole system. And when your enclave of happy escape finally takes shape, you will be glad that you put in the extra effort to make movie nights come alive with an exhilarating and immersive home theater system.