At its most basic, a home theater is a television with a bigger and better picture and an audio system with bigger and better sound in front of a bigger and better couch. So, go ahead and theater up your living room, second bedroom or even attic, because you’re only limited by your desires, budget and space.
Home theaters are called home theaters because they mimic a movie theater, in your home. So for the truest multiplex experience, the optimal choice for taking in the latest blockbuster is a video projector. But first you need to determine where to place it.
Since your projector needs to be free of obstacles like plants and human heads (and requires ventilation space on all sides), it’s preferable to mount it hanging from the ceiling above your seating. But as that’s not always practical (or allowed in your lease), there are other options like as placing it on a shelf high on the wall above you. You can also purchase a portable movie projector that sits on your coffee table, though you will lose some video quality.
Now that you know where you’re going to place your projector, you’ll need to figure out your throw distance – the distance between the lens and the screen – using a calculator like this one. This will help determine what projector is right for your space, and the size of the image you can project on your screen.
The greater the throw distance, the larger the image that can be projected. Apartments are notoriously small, which means your throw distance will most likely be short. There are a variety of projectors with a shorter throw distance that still cast a large and crisp image.
And where do your movies come from? This isn’t your grandma’s movie projector. Most modern projectors can stream Netflix, Hulu or cable on-demand from any of your devices through WiFi or with an Amazon Firestick or Google Chromecast, connected to Apple TV or from a Bluetooth DVD player.
Your throw distance calculations will define how large an image your projector will deliver. This will determine what size screen you need to purchase. Look for screens at that size with a balance of quality and value. Avoid screens with high gain that will cause brighter light in the center and poor quality viewing from the sides.
If you have a large, flat white matte wall, a screen might be an unnecessary expense. Just cast the image right on the wall. For a more professional viewing experience when projecting onto your wall, purchase special paint with a reflective coating.
Photo by Jens Kreuter on Unsplash
With modern technology and the large variety of sets and set types available, your best bet might just be a quality television rather than worrying about mounting a projector and purchasing a screen.
You can connect a DVD or Blue-Ray player right to it, watch from cable or on-demand, or stream directly from Netflix and Hulu. If you want a truly grand viewing experience, you can purchase an oversized television that mimics the size of a large projection screen.
The best setup for your home theater viewing pleasure is to mount the television on the wall. Calculate the optimal location, height and distance to determine exactly where to place it. And follow proper mounting procedures so your set doesn’t fall off the wall and break – or worse – injure someone.
But if mounting isn’t practical because your wall is shared with your neighbor’s bedroom or your lease doesn’t allow for it, a quality television cabinet or high stand is a fine alternative.
Surround sound speakers
There are advantages to a home theater in a smaller space. Primarily, you won’t need super loud or robust speakers. If you choose to utilize a complete home theater speaker system, the best bet for your limited space is most likely a 5.1 surround sound setup, which means five speakers (two front speakers, two rear speakers and one center channel speaker) plus a subwoofer, all running through a receiver.
To free up more space in your room, consider mounting all your speakers on the wall. Front speakers can be mounted on either side of your television with the rear speakers on the wall behind your seating. You can even purchase speakers that match your décor. Once again, just be sure you’re not disturbing neighbors with whom you share a wall.
If you’re still concerned about keeping the noise down for your neighbors, take special care with your subwoofer. Subwoofers emit Low Frequency Effects, which are what cause the bass to beat in your chest and shake the furniture.
To limit the vibrations, find a small subwoofer (in the 8- to 10-inch range) that’s front-firing rather than down-firing into the floor. And be sure to place it on a small stand off the floor and move it away from corners where it can rattle both walls.
You can also try setting the subwoofer next to your sofa or chair to feel all those tactile effects without shaking the building.
All that speaker talk making your head spin? Then eschew that complication and go with a simple soundbar mounted above or under your television. In a small space like an apartment, a soundbar can mimic the dynamic sound of a surround system without taking up as much room and without the need to wire your entire space. And many models contain either interior subwoofers or come with matching wireless subwoofers to simulate the full range of a 5.1 speaker setup.
While convenient, soundbars don’t give you the ability to connect to a bunch of devices like a receiver does. It connects directly to your TV, so your television’s limitations are also your soundbar’s limitations. But for most people, this is an inexpensive and convenient substitute.
If you really want the full theater experience, you can purchase professional theater seats for your apartment, complete with cupholders and all. Many models also recline with a touch of a button, and contain extras like drink warmers or mini-fridges.
But for most people, your comfy couch and Barcalounger are plenty sufficient, especially if your home theater is also your living room or office. Keep some floor and body pillows around to make your entire space is a comfy sitting area.
And to complete your home theater experience, invest in some blackout curtains to create a fully-immersive atmosphere when the lights go down.