How to Turn a Bedroom Into a Home Theater

You don't need a ton of space for a killer home theater.
You don't need a ton of space for a killer home theater.
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Finally, your dream of an enviably large and acoustically balanced home theater is about to become a reality. You've got the freestanding popcorn machine and a few chairs with built in cup holders, now all you need is some quality equipment and a place to house it. Tapping a spare bedroom for the honors may seem like an intuitive choice, but you'll have to pay attention to the details in order to transform a bedroom into a successful home theater. Many bedrooms are on the small side -- and near other bedrooms where the raucous sounds of high-speed car chases, sporting events or invading aliens can cause problems.

There's a lot going on in a home theater, and we don't mean just when a movie's playing. The ability of the space to optimize sound, block or control light, deliver uninterrupted electrical service and dampen the volume enough to make living in the rest of the house (and even neighboring homes) peaceful and pleasant, can be a tall order. After you've dealt with the technical issues, you'll also want to add furnishings that will allow you to enjoy the fruits of your audio/visual labor in comfort.

Let's explore some ways to transform a sleeping space into a dream factory you can enjoy during your waking hours. If you've ever balked at spending the contents of your wallet on a bucket of stale theater popcorn, let us help you take your makeshift family room entertainment center to the next level.

 

Home Theater Seating and Design

While your home theater is still in the planning stages, choose the best bedroom for the conversion. Getting the acoustics right is important, so the layout of the room will be important, too. Choose a bedroom that's a simple rectangle. The fewer openings and protuberances there are the better. This means windows, doors, heat registers, exposed pipes, and features like bump-outs and built-ins.

Once you've chosen the space you'll be using, the next step is to tailor the space to fit the type of home theater system or media room you have in mind. For optimum viewing, home theater seating should be situated at least as far from the screen as double the screen's width to promote what video-equipment manufacturers call an immersive experience. So, if the screen is 60 inches wide, seating should be situated about 10 feet away (120 inches). You may be tempted to blow off this recommendation thinking bigger is always better, but if you place your theater seating too close to the screen, you risk being able to see the build-up structure of the image (the dots and groups of dots that make up the digital picture). If you're dealing with a small bedroom, you might have to curtail your dream of a huge screen because the available space is just too shallow.

These are some other things you should consider too:

  • Are you more interested in a dedicated movie room, or will it also be used to play video games and music? The more components you add, the more space, electrical drain and compatibility issues you'll have.
  • Will you need seating and furnishings to accommodate more than a couple of people? Distance from the screen and viewing angle (a minimum of 30-degrees) are both important. You may want to add a couple of rows of comfortable seating, but again, the overall depth of the room could be a problem.
  • If you plan on installing soundproofing, do you want a relatively inexpensive option like acoustic wall tiles or panels, or a more involved and effective solution, like installing a layer of sound dampening material behind the walls?
  • Do you want to automate processes like dimming the lights and closing the blinds? For a slick home theater experience, it's nice to do as much as possible with your trusty remote.
  • Is the available electrical service adequate, or are there other rooms sharing power on the electrical circuit you plan to use? This can be a biggie, and it's better to deal with electrical issues sooner rather than later, even if you have to call in an electrician to do it.
  • Do you intend to mount projection or other equipment on the walls or ceiling that will need additional electrical service or the installation of a heavy duty electrical box? This is another instance where having an electrician in the family (and being on good terms with one) can really pay off.

What you plan for the overall look of the room is important, too. If you're a DIYer who likes to tweak your equipment to get the best sound and picture, you may not mind piles of cables and cords lying around as long as you have easy access to the business end of your components. If you want your home theater to be a showplace, though, you'll probably feel more comfortable creating a wall of shelving for your equipment, or even a false wall that will make your screen look like a built-in while hiding some of the hardware and wiring from view.

Installing a Home Theater System in a Bedroom

When you begin your home theater installation, expect some false starts. Even if you plan on concealing your cables and components, make sure everything is working before you start dealing with the cosmetic issues. Don't rush the installation, either. Think of it as a process. Even an easy install will involve a number of steps. These tips will help you stay sane long enough to enjoy your first full length feature:

  • Do some prep - Take an inventory of your supplies before you begin work. If you're in the middle of an install, it's irritating to discover that you're short an HDMI cable or need batteries for one of the remotes. Gather together the installation and operating manuals for all the components you'll be installing, and review them thoroughly before you begin.
  • Make notes - As you build your setup, if the number and variety of cables and cords gets out of hand, label them. It's the easiest way to revisit your installation later to perform a quick fix. Build a diagram as you go, and if you hit a snag, make a quick note of the troubleshooting efforts you've taken, like the settings you've already tried, so you don't waste time repeating your efforts. After the install, finalize your diagram and save your notes for next time.
  • Corral cords - Avoid installing cords under carpeting or bisecting an entry or aisle way. Run cables along baseboards if you can. If you do have to run cable across the room, protect it (and your family) with a low profile cable cover.
  • Confirm as you go - Test each component after you add it. That way it'll be easier to troubleshoot any problems that crop up late in the installation.
  • Set up the system first - Get all of the electronic components up and running before you deal with niceties like furnishings. If you're working on hardwood floors, cover them to avoid scratches, and consider putting down carpet for better sound quality and sound control.
  • Keep your design flexible - Don't expect to get your installation perfect the first time -- and even if it's a thing of beauty, in six months, the next must-have component you add could require resources you haven't anticipated. Make sure you have the space, electrical service and easy access necessary to add to your setup without a complete overhaul.
  • Strive for like quality throughout - Your home theater system will be as solid and robust as its weakest link. It can be tempting to splurge on one spectacular component that'll put a big dent in your budget, forcing you to compromise on other parts of your design. Curb your enthusiasm, and strike a budgeting balance that allows you to buy the same (good) quality components throughout.
  • Consider the future - Before you spend valuable resources changing a bedroom into a home theater, consider the problems a big structural retrofit will cause when you go to sell your home in a few years. If you don't relish having to undo everything you're paying to install now, keep your upgrades sensible and generic enough to work for you and others later.
  • Watch your budget - Whether you go with a home theater in a box (HTIB), an integrated system that can include everything but the flat screen (or whatever viewing device you choose), or decide to use a build-your-own approach, it's easy to indulge in a few extras that will bust your budget before you know it. Items like wireless speakers and a carousel disc changer may be on your short list of essential home theater features, but if they're not, then knowing what you can and can't live without should help you stay within your budget. Make a list, and stick to it. Think of it as insurance against excess.

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