Building the custom home theater of your dreams can seem like a daunting task. With so many moving parts, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and start spending money on components before there’s even a concrete plan in place. This sort of slap-dash approach, though well-intentioned, can result in a theater room that doesn’t quite live up to your expectations. It may even waste valuable time, money, and resources. Here are the key steps to a home theater installation.
Planning out a project of this scale requires multiple steps, careful consideration at each stage, and a patient approach to making those big purchases. A project of this scale should be managed in stages, so we’ve broken the process into ten steps below.
Recommended reading: You asked, we answered. A guide to luxury home theater design.
10 Steps for the perfect home theater setup
1. Divide your home theater budget into three sections
Although most budgets will be on the higher end of the scale, it’s still wise to put one in place, as the sky is the limit when it comes to how expensive a luxury home theater can be. To get the most bang out of any budget, we recommend breaking it into three sections and allocating funds for each of those sections:
2. A/V equipment
Deciding on a ratio of what to spend money on will depend on the owner of the theater, but it is definitely good if it is one of the first steps to a home theater installation. For some, aesthetics might be more important than comfort, and for others, comfort is paramount. Sitting down and establishing priorities and allocating a percentage of spending according to preferences is a wise first step, it helps set expectations for the project ahead. Read more about home theater budgets here!
2. Figure out the dimensions and number of chairs needed
There are a few things to consider before mapping out the room, and the first is deciding on the dimensions. If there’s enough wiggle room to choose a room, try to pick one that is rectangular, with four walls, that can be closed off entirely from the outside world. But most importantly, try to choose a room that isn’t square (as this can be disastrous for sound).
One of the major factors for deciding on the overall dimensions is figuring out how many chairs are needed. The chairs should have enough space to breathe and shouldn’t be shoved up against any walls, but rather occupy most of the room, with enough space, so the screen is far enough away. If there’s control over dimensions (i.e., it’s a new construction/reconstruction), then it’s worth looking at the golden ratios for a home theater.
Golden ratios for constructing the ideal home theater:
Ideal width = 1.6 x height of room
Ideal length = 2.6 x height of room
Don’t fret if the perfect dimensions aren’t possible; acoustic treatments will fix any flaws that might occur in the sound. Read this blog for more on mapping out the layout of a home theater.
A top tip: Not all home theatre chairs are created equal, and that includes their dimensions. The size of the seating will impact how many the theater can comfortably accommodate. It’s wise to include sourcing the right chairs at this point (it doesn’t have to be the color or sizing, but a general idea of the size and potential layouts would be wise).
3. Select a screen size that corresponds to the room length
Once the dimensions are established; it’s time to consider the optimum screen size for the number of chairs and room layout. A good rule of thumb is that the viewing distance from the screen to the seating should be 1.5 times the width of the screen. If the room isn’t long, you will need to be careful that the screen isn’t too wide.
4. Pick colors, swatches, and themes
Consider this the step where swatches will surround you. Most designers settle on color schemes at this point, whether or not they want acoustic-friendly prints on the walls or block colors. Similarly, theater seating accessories, upholstery, paint, and any other elements of the design should all be selected at this stage. Layout and chairs have taken care of the visual experience, but when it comes to design – every aspect of the room can impact the sound performance. It’s wise to keep this in mind when selecting the decorative aspects of the room.
5. Formalizing your design and reviewing the budget
If you can afford a professional design package, this is an excellent stage to invest one. Ideally, it should contain floor plans, elevations, chair layouts, construction drawings, sightline studies, and the electrical layout. It will be the roadmap for executing the theater of your dreams.
It is also the ideal time to review the budget and check in with the decisions made so far to make sure everything is on track and aligned. It’s not uncommon for some components to change at this stage as budgets are rejigged to accommodate some of the design features or perhaps lighting plans that were more expensive than initially intended i.e., splurging for that fiber optic ceiling that cannot be resisted!
6. Prewire the room for lights and electrics
This stage will require a professional as accommodating the extensive wiring a home theater will need is tricky. You may find the demands of the components require separate outlets to avoid overheating, and it’s best to get a qualified expert to make this call. Wiring should wait until this stage so that all the elements of the theater have an adequate power supply.
Read our guide to home theater lighting here.
7. Time to install that A/V equipment
Hire a professional A/V integrator with relevant experience. Home theaters require someone that has plenty of experience with screens, projectors, speakers, and smart home controls. There’s no point scrimping on the installation as it will only end up causing a lackluster performance from the expensive home theater components. Hiring a pro to tackle setting it all up for optimum performance is critical. There may well be exhaustive plans in place, but that doesn’t mean a DIY job will get the same results. For a truly immersive home theater experience, it’s going to take a team that is familiar with the products, networks, and controls that your theater needs.
8. Time to get started on the interior
The fun begins! You’ve already made your selections, and it’s finally time to start pulling the home theater together. Paint, fabrics, wall sconces, and leather theater seating should be put in place at this time. The carpet or flooring should go down first, and the chairs will be the last piece of the puzzle, as you don’t want any debris getting on the leather. At this point, all the hard work in following the right steps to a home theater installation should pay off, and the room will begin to take shape before your eyes.
9. Tweak and complete
It’s time to call back in the a/v pros for one last equipment check. Installing furniture and lights and other design components will inevitably change the sound performance in the room. For peak performance, bring them back to tweak and adjust settings with the final layout in place.
10. Ready, steady, press play
It’s finally complete. Look at those gorgeous chairs, that impressive screen, the dazzling lights. It’s finally time to put them to use. Why not break into your home theater with a movie marathon? Dim the lighting, and pour yourself a drink, inviting over friends and family is entirely optional