What is a home theater system?
A great home theater system can take the cinematic experience and bring it into your home. Your room should be clear of distractions because this is your moment to escape the world around you and be brought into a new landscape - or, as we like to say: suspend your disbelief. To jump in the cockpit with Maverick and buzz the tower, grab your best traveling cloak and journey to Mordor, or join the circus and become the greatest showman.
To create this perfect environment in your dedicated home theater room, there are a few core components that every room needs. We’re here to help guide you through making the best decisions.
In this article, we’ll go over the importance of your display, how your audio system brings the experience to life, what to do with all of your equipment, the best video source for a home theater, and most importantly making sure you have the best seat in the house.
Which features make for a great home theater system?
Your Video Display
The detail of seeing individual blades of grass through rolling hills is what pulls you into the cinematic experience. You want to be awestruck by the colors and textures. What you see is what invites you into these new worlds.
- Will it be grim and gritty?
- Will it be fantastical and colorful?
- Will it be bright and beautiful?
Your display needs to be able to handle all of these dynamic environments because any good movie will run through all of these scenarios.
A new mini-LED display can get as large as 85-inches and still faithfully reproduce the High Dynamic Range (HDR) of the Ultra High Definition movies and TV shows that you’ll be enjoying.
A 100-inch 16x9 screen and a ceiling-mounted front projector have been the keystone of a home theater for years. The problem that we have run into is that these always require a dedicated space, and a lot of planning or construction to install. Gone are the long wire runs and calculating screen sizes and throw distances.
Now there is the option of having an Ultra Short Throw projector with a 120” ALR screen sitting less than 2 feet away from the screen, with a big and brilliant picture.
Bright rooms always needed stronger light output from the projector where you have to control the ambient light to get the most out of your projector.
Some people will tell you that the size doesn’t matter, but for screens, it is important based on the depth of the room and how engrossed you want to be in your film.
Nothing is more transformative than the soundscape of a film. If you can’t hear it, you might just miss out. It's the audio that gives you goosebumps, that stirs your emotions, and brings the action. And the difference between "good" audio and "knock-your-socks-off" audio is the difference between hearing it and FEELING it. The right audio combined with the right display is what completes the cinematic impact. Let's face it, would the oncoming of the T-rex in Jurassic Park have been the same if the bass from those footsteps didn't reverberate through the room as it rippled through that cup of water?
In Raiders of the Lost Ark, you hear an ominous click and low rumbling before the infamous boulder begins to barrel down at Indiana Jones. Those small and almost innocuous details build tension and entice you into the cinematic world.
If your audio isn’t as good or better than your video, you’re selling yourself short. Trust us, that huge display you just bought will end up just appearing small.
There’s a scene in 1917, where two soldiers are searching an abandoned enemy territory. It starts outside as they enter the foxhole after traversing the battleground. The scene is very open and airy as they walk around until they walk into a bunker. Their voices then begin to sound contained or echo as they slowly walk through the enemy camp. Their boots scuff through dirt and gravel and you can hear it grind underfoot as they shuffle forward slowly. There is a lot of detail that can be revealed with a good surround sound system. When the system is tuned right, you’ll feel your heartbeat a little faster and grow anxious as they explore. It’s a dark environment so what’s leading you through this scene is the sound (and sometimes the lack of it).
To experience this right, you want to feel like you’re in that room.
This is where an Atmos system delivers. The spatial audio will envelop you in sound and make it feel like you’re walking alongside them, you’ll hear the dirt falling from the ceiling, and you will understand the impact a scene like this will have.
If you want to be there, you’ll have to surround yourself with speakers. In front of you, on your sides, in the rear, above you slightly in front and behind your seat, and of course with proper subwoofers to rock you. I say subwoofers (plural) because the more coverage you have in your room the more people will feel the impact, because subs play at a frequency that is felt and is more non-directional than that of standard speakers. Those frequencies don’t always play the same in every seat in the room, but the more coverage you have the more it will spread through your room.
Wherever you live in the world, you’ve more than likely heard Klipsch at your local theater.
This Klipsch package gets you what you need for a 7.1.4 Atmos system. Your front floorstanding speakers will have built-in up-firing Dolby Atmos speakers, and your rear floorstanding speakers can have a surround speaker that is able to be attached to the top as another height speaker or on-wall as a rear surround. There are a lot of options for setup.
Focal also has two speakers in one, where you can have your Front Left and Right speakers also have up-firing Atmos speakers that will bounce off the ceiling to help create that overhead feeling, when you don’t have the opportunity to place speakers overhead (just make sure you don’t have cathedral ceilings). Don't forget the matching center, and a high-power Focal Subwoofer.
If you want a real impact, we would suggest you use the same speakers for your rear speakers and rear Atmos speakers as well. You won’t regret it.
An important thing to remember when building out your ultimate surround sound system is making sure you have the power behind the scenes to push your speakers to their limit.
However, it’s not just about power. It’s about making sure you have components that are capable of handling all aspects of your system.
Home theater receivers are more than just processing sound and powering speakers. They’re the core component of your theater because they steer the ship. Your video and audio sources will all be routed through your receiver (or pre-amp processor if you're going next level with stand alone amps).
Your home theater receiver needs to be able to handle all of the latest video formats and capabilities that your sources and display will utilize to give you the best picture and sound. Don’t just think about how many speakers you’re going to be connecting (obviously that’s important), but think about if you’re going to bi-amp those speakers, if you’re watching all of the HDR formats (HDR10+, Dolby Vision, HDR10, HLG, etc), or you’re using the latest room correction software to calibrate your audio to work in your room.
Maybe you want to make sure that you’re also able to use streaming audio sources like HD Audio to get the highest uncompressed audio you can stream, or the convenience of accepting Bluetooth, AirPlay2 or Google Chromecast to get the music from your phone to your system.
The Integra DRX-5.4 is able to process audio for (9) speakers and has (2) dedicated subwoofer channels (but you’re not really limited to two because the DRX5.4 has line level pre outs for all (9) channels). That means it is ready to handle processing for a 7.2.4 ATMOS system.
It also has access to the Dirac Live Room Correction software to fine tune your audio to the point your jaw will drop at how good it sounds.
What you watch and hear will only be as good as your source material.
It’s a shame if you create an amazing home theater to get the best video and sound and then watch everything from an Apple TV or Roku. They are showing 4K content, and yes it’s convenient but it’s still compressed.
Streaming services are encoding their video at 8-12 Mbit/s which will introduce noise and artifacts. Where UHD Blu-ray disks can be rated between 72 Mbit/s and 144 Mbit/s.
If you want to see and hear everything like you’re at the movies, then you’re going to need a source device that will recreate the film faithful to the director’s vision.
That’s where a UHD Blu-ray player comes into play. It will play the latest UHD releases and it will let you enjoy your CDs, DVD, and Blu-rays (Sorry HD-DVD fans that ship has long sailed away). This will ensure that you’ll be able to enjoy almost everything you’ve collected along the way.
The Sony UBP-X800M2 is a work horse when it comes to a UHD Blu-ray Disc Player. It’s able to handle UHD discs as well as offering access to streaming apps. What makes this nicer than you’re standard AppleTV or Roku for streaming will be the enhanced video processor to make sure even if you’re streaming you’re making good use of modern technology to make it look good.
The Panasonic DP-UB9000P1K is a top tier player, not only being able to reproduce incredible video, but it is equipped with the ability to connect it to your system with Balanced Audio cables, a dedicated audio power supply, and a high-performance DAC for amazing 2-channel playback. It’s more than just a UHD Blu-ray player; it’s making sure whatever content you’re playing will look and sound amazing. (It even streams).
Movie studios are greatly reducing the number of films that are being released on physical media, but that doesn’t mean they’re replacing them with a high quality alternative.
If you’re a movie lover, a Kaleidescape movie server will get you the best available video and audio on the market. You’ll be able to watch movies with 10x the video and audio bitrates of their streaming counterparts. You’ll see and hear things as good, and I’d say better than what you would at your local cinema.
It’s designed for a movie enthusiast like yourself. You can categorize and catalog your movie collection. You can create clips of your favorite scenes. You can create what they call “scripts” to create a Movie Night for yourself that will show trailers, your favorite clips, and finally the main attraction (it’ll also dim the lights with a compatible lighting system).
Best of all, it will start a movie almost instantly. If you’ve ever watched a Disney movie on a disc, you know that you have a good 15 minutes before the movie starts. With Kaleidescape, it will start in less than 15 seconds.
Kaleidescape has their own movie store where you can purchase or rent new releases. And if you do rent, there is an option to buy if you loved it.
It’s not a great home theater if you don’t have great seats.
Modern cinemas have moved from uncomfortable folding seats into leather reclining seats with your own cup holder. If you want your house to be like a night at the movies, you’ll need chairs to match.
The only problem we ever have with theater seating is that it is too comfortable. If it’s not an action movie, you can easily drift off and enjoy a mental movie (where you’re the hero of course).
Personally, when I do theater seating, I like to have a loveseat in the center so I can share it with my love or better yet, my dog.
If you’re creating your entertainment oasis, make it right. Sit back and think what your overall goal is and build out your system accordingly.
Are you creating a gamer’s paradise or a paradise for Game Day? Are you building out your multi-use family room or creating a dedicated home theater room to mimic the movie-going cinema experience?
There are a lot of options and it might be overwhelming with all of the choices out there, but as long as you're sitting back enjoying time with your loved ones (or having me time) it’s worth it in the end.
Find the best in everything that you have.
My last suggestion: pick the one category you care the most about and splurge just a little bit above budget. Treat yourself.
See our best home theater systems list to find the right home theater for you.
- Where Should You Place Your Tower Speakers For Phenomenal Sound?
- Top 5 Features to Look For In Floorstanding Speakers
- Review of the New Focal Chora Speakers
- McIntosh XR100 4-Way Floorstanding Speaker Review
- Review: Reference Premiere II Speakers
- Review: Focal Chora 826-D Floorstanding Speakers
- Which Bowers & Wilkins D4 Speakers are Right for You?
- Best Home Theater Systems For Your Budget and Room Size
- How to Choose a Home Theater System
- Best Dolby Atmos Speakers for Home Theater