Building your home theatre is an exciting experience but don’t fall victim to these 10 horrible mistakes when constructing your setup.
1. Buying a Cheap HDTV or Projector
Many would argue that the screen is the cornerstone of your home theatre setup. So why would skimping on this vital component make any sense. I understand that cheap screens may be tempting – When you’re walking around the AV store, that monster may look impressive in terms of sheer size, but read the small print and I can guarantee they’ve compromise elsewhere. Cheap screens often have a few issues:
- Low resolution screens. A sub-Full HD HDTV or projector is unacceptable these days. Make sure it supports 1080p at a minimum (Also known as Full HD in marketing speak)
- Slow refresh rates. A HDTV’s refresh rate refers to how often it updates the picture on the screen. Cheaper HDTVs often feature lower refresh rates, meaning you will see weird ghosting artefacts during fast scenes and motion judder (often very evident in credits or smoothly panning shots).
- Poor Contrast Ratio. The contrast ratio of a HDTV or projector refers to the difference between the brightest and darkest images your HDTV can produce, and is often considered one of the most important aspects of getting good picture quality. A poor contrast ratio tends to see images looking washed out or be subjected to black crush, where the screen can’t display different “shades” of black and thus turns in to a hideous black mess. Think of night scenes in a movie where you can’t actually see anything!
- Bad upscale. Here’s a terrible reality of multimedia – not every movie and video that you own will be in glorious 1080p (or 4K for you early adopters). So we rely on our HDTV or projector to take that small image, apply some magic (less excitingly, a proprietary upscaling algorithm), and output that image so that it fills the full screen. Unfortunately, often cheap panels use poorly optimized resizing algorithms leading to that DVD looking like a mess of blurred pixels rather than the 80’s classic you remember.
2. Buying Cheap Speakers
So now we get to the other part of the equation: audio. One if the best parts of an immersive home theatre setup is quality audio, often in the form of surround sound or, in some situations, a sound bar. Getting audio that sounds crisp and clear, but adds bass when needed is crucial to draw you in to the action.
There are so many cheap speakers out there (particularly those offered from the back of trucks – which you should never buy) that are well and truly awful and not worth the materials they are made of. Go for something that meets your needs and stick to
reputable brands rather than focusing on specs such as power (something that cheap brands are notorious for overstating).
There are so many options when looking but, with audio being such a subjective beast, head to your local store and give the speakers a listen. Some have even suggested you take your own music and movies with you to see how they sound on different speakers.
3. Not Getting the Right Screen Size for your Space
Now I know what you’re saying – “Bigger is Better”. It’s only natural that you want to buy a ginormous HDTV to occupy that blank space on your wall, but the reality is that there is such a thing as getting a TV that is too big.
With a huge HDTV, you not only run the risk of not being able to see the whole screen at once, meaning you’ll have to turn your head to catch-all that sweet peripheral action, but all that low-res content I mentioned before when I was blabbing about upscalers? That’s going to look even worse if you are too close.
Similarly, and I’d argue this is worse than buying something that is too big, is buying a screen that is too small. This means that you may have trouble seeing fine detail and, from experience, make reading subtitles and absolute nightmare.
So how big should your screen be? The general rule of thumb is that your regular viewing distance should be between approximately 1.5-3 times the screen’s diagonal length. Take the time to measure up your room – the math can make sure you get the perfect HDTV or projector for your space.
4. Buying Uncomfortable Furniture
Some may argue that this isn’t part of your home theatre setup but where to you sit when watching your favourite movie?
Investing in a comfortable couch or seat is a must to ensure you have a pleasant experience. Having your butt fall asleep because you decided to cheap out on your furniture? Priceless.
5. Not Thinking About Lighting
Ah, lighting – one of the easiest ways to break immersion and draw you out of the experience. Whilst new HDTV’s have improved their brightness levels dramatically over the last few years, and projectors are slowly getting better, light is their worst enemy.
Try to place your screen away from bright lights, windows and other light sources. Not only will this minimize the risk of your image appearing washed out, but should also reduce the amount of glare reflecting off the screen. Investing in good, light-blocking curtains or roller shutters is also a wise move.
6. Mounting the TV too High
I’ve seen a number of people mount their screens too high on their wall – like some sort of overseer. But all this does is create a horrible viewing experience. If you’ve ever been late to the cinema and had to sit at the front, then left with a sore neck – imagine that every time you watched TV. THX recommends that the angle between the top and bottom of the screen for a viewer should be 15 degrees or less for a good experience.
By following these guidelines, you can insure that you’ll be far more comfortable and have a better viewing experience.
7. Not Setting Speaker Levels
Your home theatre setup is complete, but when you put your favourite song on, something doesn’t sound right. You may hear a slight echo, or your dialogue is way too quiet. You’ve fallen victim to unbalanced speaker levels.
Fortunately this is easy to fix. Most home theatre receivers have a feature in their setup menus that allows you to specify the size and distances of your speakers to calibrate the levels. Some systems even handle this automatically, such as Yamaha’s YPAO automatic calibration system which uses a microphone placed at the listener’s position to automatically set levels.
8. Not Reading the F%$king Manuals (RTFM!)
Apologies for the swearing folks, but this is something that I’m sure everyone is guilty of but still do – myself included. Before you start putting tab A into slot B, take a few minutes to peruse the manual that was provided with your components to make sure you know how everything should be setup and configured. This will ensure that your first experience with your expensive baby is not a disappointment.
As an aside, a few years ago I had been getting poor surround out of stereo sources for a year before I read the manual and realized that a simple setting was causing all my problems.
9. Not Taking Time for Cable Management
Ugh, this is the worst part of a new home theatre setup – the seemingly endless number of cables that dangle off the back of your equipment. Whilst it may look tidy if you’ve only got a few components, I can assure you this will get worse with time as you expand. And adding a HTPC into the mix makes this fifty times worse (but still an amazing investment). You won’t know which cable goes where and they end up in a hideous, tangled ball. So take the time and invest in cable management, get some cable ties to bundle close cables together, use cable runs to hide unsightly cables and use tags or coloured electrical tape to label what each cable is for.
10. Poor Quality Video Sources
So this one’s a bit of the shame but spending a heap of money to get a massive screen to watch old DVDs on is not really the best investment in our opinion. If your HDTV or projector has pixels to push – use them!
Whilst your old upscaled DVDs may look ok (because you took my previous advice and got a good HDTV or projector with a nice upscaler), make the jump to Full HD content and enjoy the pores on your favourite actor’s skin. And one last thing, if you actually have any video cassettes, please trash those awful things now.