Do you know what it really takes to have the ultimate home theater? That’s one question no one can really answer. The sky’s the limit when it comes to building one. It can be as simple as a few AV devices in your living room or as complex as a completely renovated space designed to look like you’re in a movie house -- or the Grand Canyon perhaps.
Here are 3 options for you:
These are your good, better and best options in reverse. Even all three options can be your best options, depending on your own definition of best, of course.
The two best options here require many collaborations, though. The breadth of engineering and proprietary modeling in Hanh’s home theater would still need a smart home technology service company for someone seeking this much perfection. If you’re in South Florida, Premium Digital Control & Automation can take care of the technology part of home theater systems.
Starting from the best option, the Smart Home of the Decade project is an interesting one. The story of the build process is captured in photos below:
Subwoofers in the seats. Second and third rows have two 24" infrasonic subwoofers under the center seat. Side walls have two JBL AC28/26 speakers serving as front-wide channels. Mounted on the ceiling for Atmos overhead effects are six JBL 8340As , and 10 JBL SCS 8 speakers. Side and rear walls have 8KYD/JL Audio SHOC-24 subwoofers.
While some homeowners may think this is overkill, it’s good to see the painstaking work involved in such a herculean undertaking. Besides, the point of this piece is to show the process. Naturally, people have different expectations when it comes to home theaters. Not everyone has the luxury or the deep pockets to build a Hollywood-style home theater.
But just to see how the process went for Hanh and his designer is sufficient to know that you’re not going over 300 revisions of CAD drawings (yes, it happened) to see if your own home or room theater will have spatial relationships with the various architectural elements; basic layout and pattern designs, and major technical factors such as the projector screen, loudspeakers, subwoofers, equipment racks and acoustic treatments.
A lot of preparation went into this project. The schematic design or drawings were reportedly meant to determine the client’s esthetic preferences, social and lifestyle factors, the movie room’s architectural integration with the rest of the home; site and budget considerations; and the capabilities of the construction team, assuming there’s going to be some renovation in the works. In its pre-design technical survey, it also factored in existing conditions, such as environmental noise and vibration as well as mechanical systems noise.
The team involved an architect, contractor, a smart home company, and Keith Yates Design that designed the interior, as well as the HVAC & electrical systems.
Why go this far in building a home theater? It's nothing like any normal person would do, but AV purists are a special breed. They like to push the envelope.
Below is a checklist of what you need to watch out for as a potential client. Home automation companies, technicians and AV enthusiasts can help you address these challenges:
Given all the many options and the checklists to watch out for, one has to admit how hard it is to keep things simple. You just have to accept the fact that the more ambitious your project is, the more complex it will be.
From determining how much space you need to picking the right TV or projector, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. In no time, you'll find yourself immersed in terms of how to build a great home theater.
Here are some essential things you need to know before taking the plunge.
If you have a dedicated screening room, consider a projector/screen combo. Not many projectors are as impressive as OLED displays. OLED TV’s pixels emit their own light that allows the TV to have a much deeper black level and stronger contrast than an LED/LCD TV, which makes them also ideal for gamers.
Projectors have the advantage in size, though, plus many choices for screens.
You can go for a standard 16:9 screen that’s perfect for movies, or a 2.35:1 screen that lets you watch with no black bars if you have an add-on lens and equipped projector.
Screen types also come in many forms -- retractable, fixed frame, rigid, wall mounted, above ceiling mounted, below ceiling mounted, floor mounted, and aperture mounted. They may be named differently depending on the company selling them. Screens also come in different materials, including glass and acrylic.
A word of caution: Projectors are not the ideal large-screen experience when it comes to building a smart home theater besides floor-to-ceiling windows and against a bright sun overlooking Miami’s beaches. Projectors only work well if you have a dedicated viewing room that’s completely pitch dark, including the furnishings and carpeting.
While not as big as projectors, flat-panel TVs have grown in size. An 85-inch-plus panel can be the way to go, but with space constraints, you can go for a 65- to 75-inch screen.
Flat-panel TVs are also more affordable. The great thing about TVs is that you can watch your movies in all kinds of lighting conditions and the wide open interior design of several homes in, say, South Florida. They can have the deepest blacks and good contrast ratios for enjoying a theater-like environment in your own home. One advantage TV has over projectors is its more superior HDR or high dynamic range.
A filmmaker once said that 1080p or slightly lower resolution videos are forgivable if you have the best state-of-the-art audio system. Sound is simply underrated because the visuals can grab our attention more, but audio is arguably the most important aspect because it completes the home theater experience.
Having 5.1 channels in your surround speaker system is recommended -- 5 to mean front left, center, front right, rear right, and rear left positions; the remaining 1 is the subwoofer. You can also go for a 7.1 channel speaker system, or go for multiple subwoofers if your smart home theater integrators recommend it. Yates Design developed a proprietary infrasonic subwoofer for Hanh.
If you want to be engulfed theatrically, there are object-based audio formats like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, and go for Definitive Technology for home theater and Coastal Source for outdoor speakers. These are just options but if you are building a dedicated theater room, you’ll have more options.
For renters, you can go wireless with Control4 or Savant soundbars and subwoofers. Soundbars consist of seven speakers; each one fitted inside the bar and positioned in such a way as to achieve surround sound. It uses a psycho-acoustic effect, which means sound literally bounces off the walls. The technology behind wireless speakers tricks you into believing the sound is behind you.
If a smart home needs controllers to automate your home, your home theater system needs the electronics -- the amplification that powers your speakers through AV receivers or separates.
Popular among high-end audio purists, the latter requires a preamp/processor for signal input/processing, and an amplifier.
Having a home theater integrator guide you in putting all of these together is key.
If you want amazing video and audio using a movie player, the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray players can output high audio formats like Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, both multi-channel, lossless audio codec. DTS is encoded at a higher bit rate and is considered by some experts to be of better quality.
For those who prefer streaming players, Apple TV 4K, Amazon Fire and Roku Ultra allow video-on-demand over a network. Gamers have PlayStation 5 or Xbox.
Designing your home like a movie theater will again largely depend on your space and budget. If you’re adding a home theater system to an existing room, then you may not have all the designs you need to replicate a theater ambiance. Sofas can already enhance your entertainment experience. For some, they’re even more comfortable.
For those who have the budget to have a movie theater constructed, investing in good theater seats and lighting systems that work on command should do it. Have some smart lighting from Ketra or Lutron installed. Having an acoustic treatment (diffusers, absorbers, bass traps) in the room should also help correct anomalies.
Now that you’ve got most of these high-end AV systems and products in place, get a remote control that can be customized to your needs -- one you can use for controlling everything - your projector or TV, smart lighting, thermostat, motorized window treatments and yes, even your theater seats. Control4 and Creston are advanced remote system controllers that trained integrators can set up for you.
There are other remotes that will do it for you, but they offer less customizability. In most cases, you’ll need to do the programming yourself.
From the wiring and equipment in the separate projector room to the connections of all the speakers all around the theater to the air quality system to the nearly invisible hand of Crestron's control system technology, Rob Hanh's home theater is an impressive achievement.
But let it not discourage you from building your own sophisticated home theater. Majority of us don't need this Hollywood-level home theater. You can build your own sensible home theater -- your own good, better or best scenario of a home theater.
The better option could simply mean having some thing done with what you already have -- enough space in your living room to add in your immersive movie experience.
If you're a renter, you could go wireless. That's a good option. A wireless home theater will not just move with you, but you can also customize them wherever you decide to move to in the future. One package you may want to consider consists of a 65-inch 4K Smart TV, a Savant ProRemote, a Savant Smart Soundbar with subwoofer and surround speakers, Savant Lamp Contact and more for only $8,250.
Seeing the work done in Hanh’s home theater should help both homeowners and smart home integrators see how things turn out well with careful, meticulous planning. It can serve as a guide for anyone who wants to know the breadth and scope of an ambitious project or why -- finding more about this project -- you can scale down your intention, which should be fine. The takeaway is that by knowing what's out there for you, you can settle with your own version of what is best for you. (Dennis Clemente)
Photos sourced from Rob Hanh and AV Forum