Should You Turn Your Living Room Into a Home Theater?
You are not happy. You’ve been struggling to understand what is being said on TV for as long as you’ve had your TV in your living room. You’ve tried everything but eventually, you’ve had to resort to the dreaded closed captions. This is no way to live! So you got a soundbar and…well, it wasn’t much better. Time to do some serious research! You scour the interwebs and are convinced that the answer is to transform your living room into a home theater! Great plan, right? Or is it? Let’s discuss.
Let’s Get Realistic
There is a big difference between a “home theater” and a “home theater area.” When people talk about turning their living rooms into a home theater, what they actually mean is the latter. They want to take a corner or a piece of a greater room and turn just that piece into a home theater. While that is certainly possible (in that you can call that portion of your room whatever you want), it won’t be easy to get the results you might expect.
The problem with large rooms and home theaters are numerous. Deciding that just one part of a large room is going to be for home theater doesn’t make those problems go away. The audio doesn’t care that the rest of the space isn’t supposed to be for home theater. It is going to fill that space as best it can. Your subwoofers, in particular, are going to have a hard time.
If you want your “home theater area” to sound like a real movie theater, so will the rest of the room. If that isn’t really what you want, then we need to reevaluate your expectations.
What Do You Actually Need?
We’ve identified one common problem at the start of this article in dialogue intelligibility. There are many other problems that people might have. You might be missing that “kick you in the chest” bass that you get at a movie theater. Could be that you want true surround sound rather than something simulated from a soundbar. Regardless, you are missing something and you want it.
As you’ve done your research, you’ve said something along the lines of, “If I’m going to upgrade, I might as well go all the way.”
If you are really wanting everything, you need to start with an enclosed room that is dedicated to the purpose of home theater. Anything less is going to be a compromise. Rather than be disappointed with the results, we recommend shifting the goalposts.
Get What You Need, Don’t Try For Everything
The key here is (we’ll reiterate) realistic expectations. Getting deep, powerful bass in a large room is difficult, expensive, and often unpleasant. To fill an open floorplan space with bass so that it sounds and feels like a movie theater will likely rattle every dish in your kitchen and make holding a conversation in the same space impossible. If what you want is the feeling of bass, then look into bass shakers. While they have been hard to set up in the past, the new Denon and Marantz offerings have made this much easier.
Want easier-to-understand dialogue? Try out some acoustic panels. Want surround sound? You are going to need an AV receiver and some speakers. Looking for more low-end? Pick up some floorstanding speakers or a couple of subwoofers. Just don’t try to get that cinema experience in your living room. You are going to have too many acoustic issues.
What Do We Suggest?
In most living room setups, we suggest you not try for the full home theater experience. In most living rooms, the TVs are usually too far away for their size. Space is usually at a premium so speakers are usually placed far too close to the TV and can’t adequately provide a wide soundstage. In fact, they are so close to each other that they are essentially creating a mono experience.
For most living room “home theaters,” we recommend a 4.1 system. While you might still be able to go for bookshelf speakers up front (depending on the size of the room), there is no real reason to bother setting up a center speaker.
Often in these situations, setting up surround speakers can be problematic. You might not have walls available to either side (we have solutions for that), or ways of running wire to speakers on the other side of the room. There are, of course, wireless solutions for surround speakers that work quite well as well as ways to hide wires.
Lastly, in a situation where your subwoofer is only really going to round out the bass and will have limited placement options, a single subwoofer is usually all people can accommodate. Place it as best you can and run your room correction.
If you set up a reasonable 4.1 system, you can end up with a system that sounds good without the expectation that it will outdo a traditional movie theater. While it is certainly possible to create a home theater that will blow away your local Cineplex, your living room is unlikely to be the right room. Get a nice-sounding system and plan for a dedicated room in the future.