The 13 Commandments of Home Theater
Everyone needs a code to live by. John Wick, Gandi, all the various Karens in the world. But in the world of home theater, there are some rules that just can’t be broken. Well, you CAN but at risk of great personal shame and derision. “Nice theater space, man.” or, “Cool games room, dude. Your kids must love it.” are the greatest of insults to the home theater aficionado. Nothing short of, “Great home theater, my good man,” or “Dude, that was WAY too much bass,” is the proper response to a home theater demo. So, follow our 13 Commandments of Home Theater and you too will receive the respect that is owed you.
1. Honor Thine Room and Sound Quality
Of the 13 Commandments of Home Theater, none is greater than this. No room can be considered a home theater without proper room treatments. A blank room with a big screen and a bunch of speakers is little more than an exalted college dorm room. The room easily contributes 50% to the quality of the sound you hear. To have an untreated “home theater” is akin to a car without wheels. Sure, it looks like it should go, but the performance is hamstrung.
2. Remember Thine Field of View
Most believe that this commandment is for all those who suffer from too-small-TV syndrome. But it goes both ways. To properly recreate the cinema experience, you must have an image that is large enough to fill up your vision as it would in a movie theater. On the other side, buying a screen because it will fit on the wall can create a FOV so large that Dramamine is required for viewing. Know your viewing angle preference and buy the right size screen or risk the ridicule of your betters.
3. Thou Shalt Not Bear False Picture Modes
These days, almost all TVs come with some mode that is very close to the calibration you’d get if you paid a professional to come to your home. Sometimes it is called Cinema or Movie mode. Othertimes it may come labeled as Dark or ISF mode. It doesn’t matter. A quick Internet search will reveal the proper setting for your display (and often any small tweaks you can do to make it more accurate).
Anyone that walks into a “home theater” where the display is in “Vivid” or other mode has our blessing to either walk right out or grab their remote and make the proper changes.
If they complain, take the remote home with you. It’s for their own good. Maybe when they are online buying a replacement they’ll learn something about proper display settings.
4. Thou Shalt Not Enable Unto Thee Any Unnatural Enhancements
Every year, manufacturers release new lines of speakers, displays, receivers, and more. To get you to buy, they tempt you with new “features.” That includes edge enhancements, motion smoothing, MP3 recovery modes, and much more.
These modes are to be disabled with extreme prejudice.
Do not be tempted with these false enhancements. They promise to make your experience better, but they lie like a serpent in a garden in a blue polo shirt offering you an extended warranty.
5. Thou Shalt Not Covet Tower Speakers
This is one of the hardest of our 13 Commandments of Home Theater to follow. It is easy to fall down the rabbit hole of spending just a little more for a “better” speaker. But, as we’ve said before about subwoofers and speakers (both bookshelf and towers), overbuying does little for you.
An overly large speaker in a tiny room confuses your friends and makes your home theater buddies shake their heads sadly. You are essentially spending money on performance that you will literally never use. If you have a reason, even if it isn’t a great one (like you wanted white and only this other speaker came in white), fine. But don’t tell us it’s because the speaker is better and you wanted the performance.
On the other side, placing small speakers in a massive room and trying to convince everyone that they sound great is the greatest of home theater sins. They don’t sound good, Chad, and I’m not impressed with your bass module (stop calling it a sub).
6. Thou Shalt have Properly Placed Speakers
There are many egregious sins in the home theater world, but few are worse than placing the surround speakers at the front of the room (we’ve seen it and were forced to burn the house to the ground).
With the thousands of speaker placement guides out there (we have a few), there is no excuse for improper speaker placement. I mean, how did you even get into this hobby and not accidentally learn this?
7. Thou Shalt Not Take the Name Subwoofer in Vain
A subwoofer is a speaker that is specifically created to play the lowest notes. A true subwoofer plays to at least 20Hz and is sized correctly for your room. There should be a special emote specifically for the disgust one feels when they see a tiny subwoofer in a massive room. It’s like seeing someone abuse a puppy or buy a cube home theater speaker system. It’s too much to bear. Maybe a bear puking on a speaker? I don’t know. I’m not an artist.
This is probably the second most broken of the 13 Home Theater Commandments (after Commandment II). People buy a subwoofer based on its physical size, not by whether or not it can extend down to 20Hz (anything that doesn’t shouldn’t be called a subwoofer in the first place) or provide enough output for the space.
If you want your room to be considered a proper home theater, it must have the bass. And this is the only way to get it. Calling your bass module a subwoofer is a crime against home theater.
8. Thou Shalt Have at least Two Subwoofers
The hardest thing to recreate at home is good bass. The size of the rooms we have makes getting good, even bass very difficult. That’s why dual subwoofers (properly placed as per Commandment V) are so important. Two subwoofers can make for a better bass experience not just for you, but everyone in the room. It’s a love letter to the others watching with you. It says, “Sure, I could place a single subwoofer that would sound great in my seat, but these two subs make it so you get good bass too.”
No, no one will understand or appreciate what you’ve done. The fact you’ve done it makes you a hero. And we salute you.
9. Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor’s Kilowatt Amp
Amplifiers shouldn’t be a contentious subject. Math will tell you if you need one. But no, everyone has to have an amp. If your friend has one, you must as well. We don’t care if you buy an amp. But don’t try to convince us you need one. I don’t know you. I don’t know your room, speakers, or how you listen. But I can say with the certainty of statistics, that you don’t need an amp. Shhh…. Don’t argue. I’ve been doing an AV podcast for over a dozen years and I count on two hands the number of people that asked if they needed an amp and I agreed that they did. The vast majority of the time, they don’t.
But if you want one, fine. It’s your money. But it isn’t making anything sound any better (and it can make things sound worse). But, hey! More pretty blue lights. That’s something, right?
10. Thou Shalt Not Label Any Speakers as “Large”
When running your auto-setup, which you absolutely must do, no speaker may be labeled as Large. I don’t care if it is the size of your Uncle Chez with the glandular issue.
It’s not large. It’s small.
This sends all the bass to the subwoofers where it belongs. You place your speakers where they will create the most convincing surround sound experience. You place your subwoofers where they can create the best bass. The Venn diagram of those two locations has a nearly minuscule amount of overlap.
And if you tell me you have subs “built into” your speakers, I’ll tell you to place them like subwoofers. When you tell me that won’t work, I’ll say, “Exactly.” And then stare into your eyes until you slink away in shame.
11. Decouple Unto Others As You Would Have Them Decouple Unto You
Spiked feet are an affront to a home theater. Keeping bass in the room means doing everything you can to decouple anything that makes noise. If you want to soundproof your room, you’re going to have to decouple EVERYTHING (including the walls, floor, and ceiling). Decoupling is essential for subwoofers and good practice for everything else.
Once you get some good subs and properly place them, you’re going to spend a couple of days tracking down all the rattles. And the fix? More decoupling.
This is your life now. Get used to it.
12. Keep My Riser Inert
When adding a second row of seats, many people raise them up on a riser or platform. That’s a great solution but then they go one step further. They try to turn the riser into a sound absorber. This seems to make sense until you experience it. You’ve taken your platform and turned it into a giant drum. The bass hits and suddenly the whole thing vibrates. The fun part? It doesn’t do it all the time nor at the same intensity. Instead, at some frequencies, it feels like a plane landing, and at others, it isn’t even noticeable.
Do yourself a favor and overbuild that thing. Make it inert.
You know, like all the other floors in your house.
13. Thou Shalt Not Worship False Audiophiles
The label of “Audiophile” once meant something. It meant that you cared about audio and strove to get the best sound possible. But false prophets and leaders of men have corrupted the notion of the Audiophile. No longer do they care solely about sound quality. Now it is all about who can outspend the others. If one buys $1000 a foot interconnects, the next has to buy a $500 ethernet cable. None of these things make any audible difference. The Audiophile these days cares more about making others feel small than they do about the sound.
But we can take back the mantle of audiophile (small ‘a’). Let the Audiophiles (big ‘A’) argue about which power cord sounds better while the REAL audiophiles are saving money, buying the right gear for their room, and setting all their speakers to ‘small.’
Now Go, Be Fruitful and Spread the Good News of Home Theater
This is a hobby for all. Not everyone can follow all 13 of these Home Theater Commandments. But not many people claim to have a home theater! Instead, they have a cinema area and that is better than nothing.
We all started somewhere. So let’s celebrate what people have and help them learn about what is possible. And keep them from straying down the path of the Audiophile. For that way leads to madness and debt. And who here wants to admit that they mortgaged their home for some speaker wire? Spread the word!