Hot Trends in Home Theater

New technology and pricing make the ultimate media room an inviting proposition

couple in front of screenSuper Bowl Sunday, the nightly news, your child's little-league play-by-plays, your favorite movies—there are a lot of reasons why families and friends gather around the big screen.

For some, the idea of a super-sized television is a bane to their aesthetically streamlined mid-century modern home. For others, it's simply a lifestyle necessity.

No matter what channel you choose, media rooms and home-theater systems are a hot ticket. With people looking for inexpensive ways to stay home and be entertained, the home movie night has become a common activity. Luckily, you don't have to take out a second mortgage (if your bank would give you one nowadays) to enjoy excellent sound and video from the comfort of your own sofa.

"You can spend as little as $2,000 for a display, a receiver, and six speakers, or even less if you wanted a little 32-inch display," says Mike McMaster, owner of Wilshire Home Entertainment, a home theater and automation retailer in Thousand Oaks.

While $2,000 is a typical budget for a media room in a 2,500-square-foot home, many of McMaster's customers in homes of that size spend closer to $5,000: $2,000 on a flat screen display; $2,000 for the audio system, additional electronics (such as a Blue-ray player) and accessories; and about $1,000 on installation.

screen

For do-it-yourselfers who don't mind the legwork of assembling their own media rooms, a big-box electronics store or audio/video specialty store may have all the necessary components. Big boxes offer great deals on home-theater-in-a-box (HTIB) systems that give you all the basic equipment you need for surround sound. These systems include a combination DVD player and multi-channel amplifier, five or more surround-sound systems, speaker wire, connection cables, and a remote control.

Basic models for a 5.1 (five-speaker) system start around $300, and fancier versions can sell for more than $3,000. The stores that sell these often have an installation team available that can visit your home to assist with installation, but you're going to have to figure out how to hide cables.

It's also conceivable do-it-yourselfers may be disappointed with the results of their own work over the long term. A well-equipped home-theater system takes a bit more than simply plugging a surround-sound system into a large television.

"Going to a dedicated showroom will let you experience what you will actually see and hear," McMaster says. "The difference between a 42-inch and 45-inch display in 3D can be light years apart."

couple watching flat screen on wall

Your local audio/visual specialty showroom will have recommendations for professional installers and designers, or you can find one through the Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association (CEDIA - cedia.org). You can interview these professionals by phone, making sure that they are a good match for your project and have some knowledge of the nuances of retrofitting today's electronics into the mid-century modern design.

Typically, these professionals do an in-person site survey before making recommendations about the type of system that makes the most sense for your space. Through this systematic process, "you can have a good-looking room that sounds good," says David Hermary, owner of Hermary's, a custom audio, video, and home automation company in San Carlos.

The Display

When choosing a large-screen display (considered any television larger than 32 inches), make sure that you have enough viewing space between the location of your sofa or chairs and the television. If you have a small space (about six feet), a 26- or 27-inch display will work nicely. If you have eight feet of space, opt for a 37-inch display. If you want a major 50- or 60-inch display, make sure to have a minimum 12 feet between you and the big screen.

This year, 3D-ready televisions are all the rage, and many of the major manufacturers launched new products to the market in June. "This [3D] is not a fad," McMaster says. "It will be here—and consumers are adapting quickly." A lot of that drive is coming from blockbuster movies, such as 'Alice in Wonderland' and 'Avatar,' and video games. Microsoft Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation are releasing more 3D software, and Blu-ray is launching films in 3D formats.

kid with 3d glasses and tv screen