Home Theater: The Big Picture Without the Big Price

For those of you following in my footsteps, in search of Maslow's ultimate peak, I offer these thoughts on the latest in home theater do and don'ts.

2007 marks an important milestone in my quest for gadget utopia.

Maslow’s hierarchy establishes our basic human needs as food, shelter and security. But, we all know that the 21st century man requires 21st century thinking. What am I talking about? Home theater of course! You know… big screen TV, HDTV, surround sound, amplification power.

So it was with great excitement that my (our) home theater project finally reached the “Top 5” home project list earlier this year. While I anticipated exciting results, I perhaps did not expect the contractor turmoil that would submerge our house into a dust bowl and excavation nightmare for over 6 weeks.

The end result though is well worth it, and now we can enjoy the big screen home theater experience any night of the week from the comfort of home.

For those of you following in my footsteps, in search of Maslow’s ultimate peak, I offer these thoughts on the latest in home theater do and don’ts.

Stark Insider – DO’s and DONT’s of Home Theater Design

1. DO think about the primary use of your home theater. Will you be watching mostly sports, movies, TV, or some combination? Depending on what you want to watch and when (day and/or night), will impact the screen aspect ratio, projector type, lighting control, etc. If you want the right result, ensure you think about this first.

2. DO a simple room plan for seating, speaker and component placement. Unless you are building a dedicated space with significant construction, you probably won’t need an advanced CAD-type plan for your design, but having a good understanding on seat placement along with room dimensions will help you lay out furniture and also make proper measurements for screen size, and viewing angles.

Img_1835 3. DO invest in a powerful A/V receiver. The receiver is the hub of your home theater system. Not only powering all the speakers for 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound, but also switching video between different sources. It’s one area you definitely don’t want to cut corners, as a limited A/V receiver will limit your growth and may prevent you from enjoying some of the emerging high definition sound (such as multi-channel PCM, DTS-HD) or switching video using the lastest standards (HDMI). My favorite receiver brands are Denon, Yamaha and Onkyo.

4. DON’T necessarily go for 1080p (yet). When it comes to high definition and especially home theater projectors, price drops are astoundingly rapid. Each month means hundreds of dollars less for the latest technology. A projector that costs $5,000 only 12 months ago can now be had, for example, around $1,500. In the case of 720p vs. 1080p, I would recommend going 720p and waiting for 1080p projectors to come down in price. Also, the current crop of 1080p projectors are first generation, which means when the next wave comes along at a lower price point, you will also benefit from higher light output, better quality and enhanced features.

5. DON’T assume you need a dedicated home theater room! There is a trend towards converting common areas, great rooms, living rooms and other existing parts of the home into great home theater space. An obvious advantage is cost savings as you don’t need to build out a dedicated space. But even better, you can enjoy multiple use space. For example, we installed our home theater in a “great room” space which was the combination of a living room and kitchen. Now we can enjoy background videos and TV while cooking or put on the big game when we have guests over; drinks and snacks are always close by!

Img_1895 6. DON’T forget about lighting, universal remote control. To really give your home theater that real cinema feeling, think about lighting design. Sconces, indirect light sources, and dimmer switches can all help create a great movie watching mood. Also to control everything you’ll want to buy a good universal remote that can give you the power to control it all from your hand, and allow you to put all your other remotes in a drawer. We have one remote control from Universal Remote (MX-900) that replaced 8 remote controls.

7. DON’T wait out the HD war, enjoy high definition today! Regarding the HD format war going on right now between Blu-Ray (primarily backed by Sony and Disney) and HD-DVD (Toshiba), the technology is similar. The difference is in studio support and distribution. In my view, this war is already over. Blu-Ray has won. Blockbuster is now supporting Blu-Ray and it appears to be outselling HD-DVD by a wide margin, with some estimates reporting about 5 to 1. The players themselves are cheap enough now (around $500) that you can enjoy some stunning video without breaking the bank. Don’t throw out your old DVDs yet, they can still offer some great video quality depending on the quality of the “transfer”.


The Stark’s home theater: 120″ screen electric ceiling mount (Screen Innovations), Chief projector lift recessed in ceiling, Panasonic PT-AX100U 720p projector, Yamaha RX-V1700 A/V receiver, Sony Playstation 3 Blu-Ray, NHT in-ceiling speakers 5.1.

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  • Mala

    Great article! Really useful tips. If you’re looking for more good advice, check out http://www.smarterhometheater.com – they’ve really helped me out!

  • I love reading your posts, keep up the good work.

  • Living Room Furniture

    Thanks for sharing this guide. I’m planning to build my own home theater design and this blog post is really helpful to me.