Home Theaters Make a Splash

Here's a preview of what you'll need to make a magnificent media room.
Home entertainment center

Sleek and Organized

Home entertainment center

Photo by: Jupiterimages


Home entertainment center
By: Rob Fanjoy

What's the difference between a simple, well-equipped family room with a home-theater system and a true media room or dedicated home theater that would make any audiophile or film buff truly happy?

"There's a big misconception out there that by simply plugging a surround-sound system into a fairly large TV (anything bigger than 27 inches), you have a home theater," says James Theobald, marketing director for Theo Kalomirakis Theaters of New York. "It takes a lot more than that."

Theobald’s firm specializes in dedicated home theaters, where the sole function is to view movies. He says that while a high-end media room provides a variety of uses for the family, both it and a dedicated home theater have certain requirements that make them stand out:

A Big Screen and Big Sound

"For true immersion in the theater experience, it all starts with a big screen. About 6 feet wide is a pretty good size," Theobald says. For larger rooms, 80 or 90 inches are usually the smallest sizes that justify a dedicated home theater. Ten-foot screens are about the maximum, as you would have to sit about 15 feet from the screen for optimal viewing.

A home theater needs at least a 5.1 system (five full-range speakers and one subwoofer) for total immersion in theater-like sound, where dialog, sound effects, background music and low-frequency (bass) emanate from specific speakers placed carefully about the room. But Theobald says many people are going with the new systems to really fill the room with sound.


An A/V receiver with the proper decoder is required for multichannel audio formats. Some of these receivers have integrated amplifiers and equalizers; others house those components separately. Most manufacturers package their components together, a convenience for the consumer. "You need to make sure all the components complement each other, and that there's enough amplification to drive the sound," Theobald advises.

The Essentials and Extras

Theobald says that most people are going for touchpad controls that integrate many systems. "People like to be able to enter their home theater, turn on the components, set the room temperature, dim the lights and close their shades all from one controller," he says.

Home theaters need substantial wiring, and structured wiring is a must. Some upper-end rooms even require fiber-optic wiring. He also recommends that contractors avoid skimping on wires that connect the components to each other. "Heavy-gauge speaker wire and patch cords enable a system to reach its full potential."

Media servers (often simply a powerful PC) allow users to store multiple entertainment formats (video, audio, photographs, etc.) and enjoy them through their television, computer or stereo system.

Professional home theater designers optimize acoustics by properly sizing the room and placing materials that properly absorb, reflect or diffuse sound. They also optimize sightlines by placing seating in an amphitheater style and at the proper distance from the screen.

Seamless integration of the electronics into the design of the room by placing components behind a wall or cabinet with hidden access and placing speakers in the ceiling or wall provides a clean, sleek look to the home theater.

Some pretty spectacular seating is available, such as recliners with massage and heat that are styled after true theater seats (only more plush). There are also specialized home theater seats with speakers and subwoofers hidden within.

Next Up

How to Soundproof a Room Including the Doors and Windows

Find tips, techniques and cool products that make it possible to soundproof a home theater or recording studio, or to simply block out noise from a busy street.

The 8 Best Outdoor Projectors

Create an epic at-home watch party with a projector that turns your outdoor area into the perfect spot for watching movies, sporting events or playing games.

Living Room vs. Family Room: What's the Difference?

Many of us confidently use these terms when talking about our homes, but what’s the difference between a living room and a family room?

Shop the Living Room at HGTV Urban Oasis 2021

The HGTV Urban Oasis 2021 living room bends the rules with an explosion of color and a harkening back to brilliant vintage design.

10 Living Room Accessories You'll Love for Your Space

Round out your living room design with these must-have accessories.

10 Tips for Decorating Your Home Office

Work in style in a beautiful and functional home office.

How to Install Temporary Peel-and-Stick Wallpaper

From the bedroom to the living room to the dining room, give any space an easy (and totally removable!) transformation with temporary wallpaper.

The Best Desk Organizers for Your Workspace

See our favorite storage solutions, from desk risers to customizable wall calendars and bookshelves, and get fresh ideas for arranging your workspace.

Tips for Maintaining an Organized Living Room

These simple tips for organizing your main gathering space will put the family back in your family room.

How to Transform Basic Bookends

Follow the instructions below to create this DIY from HGTV Magazine.

Go Shopping

Refresh your home with stylish products handpicked by HGTV editors.


Follow Us Everywhere

Join the party! Don't miss HGTV in your favorite social media feeds.