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Creative Home Theaters

Home Theater Design Basics (page 2 of 3)

Learn how to lay out a home theater and what materials you should use in order to get the best the visual and sound quality.

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THE SOUND

Speaker technology is wonderfully advanced, and competition among top speaker manufacturers has helped turn home theater sound reproduction into a fine art. Which means a system you choose for your home theater is likely to be of very high quality.

Most home theater speaker systems (and movie soundtracks) are designed to provide specific sounds from specific areas of your listening environment. When a train goes thundering through a scene, you hear the sound move from one side to the other. However, speakers labeled as bipole or dipole aren't compatible with this essential feature of home theater, so check before you buy.

• Speaker placement. A typical home theater features 5.1 surround sound, meaning there are five full-range speakers and one low-range specialist, the woofer. You'll place three speakers and the woofer toward the front of the room, and the two remaining speakers on either side and slightly behind your viewing position. Keep speakers at least 20 inches from walls.

Let's not forget that each room is unique, and the best sound for you may come only after experimenting with speaker placement. Fortunately, speakers are moveable.

• Ideal distance. In a perfect world, your ears would be equidistant from each speaker. Given that your ears are on opposite sides of your head, it's safe to say you won't ever achieve this kind of perfection. Nevertheless, come as close to the goal as you can.

Some speakers — certainly your woofer — will have individual volume controls you can tweak. More sophisticated speakers provide millisecond adjustments, called delays, that time sound projection from each speaker so that everything arrives in your ears at precisely the same instant, a handy feature for large rooms with speakers at various distances.

Audioholics Online A/V Magazine even gives a formula: a 1 millisecond delay equates to 1.1 feet of distance. A speaker 5.5 more feet away from your head than your other speakers would require an advance setting of 5 milliseconds.

• Playing center field. Of all your speakers, your center front speaker is perhaps the most influential. It bears the responsibility of projecting sound directly from the screen. This is especially important for dialogue — you don't want to see the actors talking in front of you while the sound of their voices is coming from the side.

Sometimes overshadowed by a pair of sexy tower speakers flanking it, the center speaker shouldn't be downgraded in your home theater budget. Spend time adjusting your center speaker so that dialogue seems to come directly from your display.

• Woof, woof. Your woofer goes up front, but there's only one, so you have to decide which side. The low bass ranges reproduced by a woofer will permeate the room, so angle is less important than with other speakers. A corner location helps distribute your woofer's sound evenly but, as with all components, experiment with different positions before settling on the ideal location.

 

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