It's that blissful time of year when football season has begun, baseball is headed for the home stretch, and basketball and hockey will soon start. Now's the time to install that home theater you've always dreamed about.
Step one: ambiance. Where should the theater be? How will lighting affect the space? How many seats will there be? Perhaps most importantly, you'll need to define the level of noise isolation in the room, or how much sound will get in and out. You certainly won't want to hear the neighbor mowing the lawn while in the middle of watching the heist scene from "Rififi," but you may not want the profanity-laced tirades of Scarface invading your significant other's book club upstairs.
If you're going to soundproof the room yourself, the Sound Isolation Co., which distributes its products across the country, suggests three basic "elements to ensure success." No. 1, and most critically, is floating the walls. Second, add mass to all surfaces of the room, which can be done by putting up another layer of drywall. Finally, the sound should be absorbed, so apply fabric-covered wall panels, acoustical foam panels and high noise reduction coefficient ceiling tiles.
Seem complicated? It is, and plenty of companies will design and soundproof the room for you. Solution of Soundproofing of New York will measure actual sound levels and transmissions and determine what makes for the most sound-efficient design. Fees vary according to the size of the room and materials. You're basically paying what you would for a room renovation. Auralex Acoustics, which provides many of the materials you may need, offers free personalized room analyses.
Now for the fun stuff: the nitty-gritty of the best electronics to make your home theater look and sound like you're in the local megaplex, without all the soda stains, stale popcorn and obnoxious cell-phone-using clientele.
First, you'll need to figure out which screen is best for watching. And if you want to go big, really big, front projectors are it. While crystal-clear plasmas and LCD televisions are now reaching sizes in excess of 100 inches, maximum recommended projector size images approach 300 inches. Of course, the farther away the projector is placed from the screen, the less clean and bright the image. A hundred or so inches is usually about standard. Panasonic offers a 1080p LCD HD projector, the AE3000U, for under $3,000, which offers resolution up to 200 inches. By comparison, a new 103-inch Panasonic plasma model retails from just under $70,000. More typical 65-inch plasma TVs sell for about $8,000.
With a high-definition projector, you'll have to buy an HD screen. Determine the distance from projector to screen to figure out what size makes the most sense in your space. ProjectorCentral.com offers a projector calculator, which can give you an idea of distances for various models before you buy. You'll need to select screen type, whether you want standing screens or electric retractable screens or a wall-mounted screen; the screen size and format; and the surface of the screen. The most versatile projector screen is matte white. Motorized matte white screens measuring 120 inches start at about $500.
For the full movie-going experience, you'll need to hear the bright ting of metal-on-metal as swords clash, or the loud crack of a foot crashing into an adversary's unguarded jaw.
Time to talk sound, and Bose is always a good place to start. Its newest designs on the 3-2-1 series begin at $999. That series uses only two speakers to create surround sound by employing what Bose calls True Space Digital Sound Processing Circuitry. The 3-2-1 GSX, which retails for $1,499, also includes up to 200 hours of digital music storage.
Usually sound systems employ five to seven speakers and a subwoofer, so it's important to think in terms of layout if you choose to go with a more traditional system. Dolby suggests that front speakers, tweeters and high-frequency drivers be placed at seated ear level, while surround speakers should reside higher. As for these types of systems, Gateway's KAS-303 is well-reviewed across the Web, as are various offerings from Onkyo. Pay attention to the basics when shopping around as well, like whether the system supports HDMI, or if it includes a DVD player.
If you really want to spend some money, you can eschew the affordability and simplicity of the aforementioned "home theaters in a box" and customize with high-end sound systems, and install features like pivoting woofers and dipole speakers set to your own specifications. You'll have no difficulty finding experts willing to help you through this process.
You're on your way to that perfect home-viewing experience. But get started quickly, the Super Bowl is just over four months away. And don't forget to add that final personal touch that makes those who pass through your theater's doors recognize the name on the marquee.
We'll leave that entirely up to you.