Home Theaters Farmington NM
Tips for Home Builders
For the past several years, home theaters have been all the rage, particularly in new construction. Many builders now add "bonus rooms" and encourage homeowners to purchase special seating, lighting, audio-visual equipment, even acoustic-enhancing wall and ceiling materials and theater-style popcorn machines to create home theaters that are more comfortable and private than a public movie theater.
But do homeowners really need that kind of space-consuming luxury? Unless a homeowner is a connoisseur of home theater who spends many hours a day in front of the big screen, the answer is probably not.
A better option, which saves the expense of extra square footage when building or takes advantage of an already-existing space, is to create a media room. Unlike a home theater, which is dedicated solely to watching movies, media rooms are multipurpose. Many offer high-quality sound and visual equipment for enjoying movies while still providing space for entertaining, a home office or a play area for the kids.
|Media rooms are multi-purpose spaces that can also be used for a home office, kids' playroom or entertainment area.|
At the same time, homeowners can have a stylish room where audio-visual equipment is hidden when not in use or has little or no impact on design. The key to creating an attractive multifunctional space is in the planning.
The Right Location
Most media room installers offer a complimentary on-site consultation with homeowners to help them decide both where to locate a media room and how to make it work within an existing space. "We tend to look at the seating arrangement, the size of the room and how the homeowners use it," says Jerry Martin, owner of Audio Lifestyles, a home theater and audio/visual equipment installer based in Marietta, Ga. The most popular space homeowners use for a media room is the family room or living area right off the kitchen, he notes, though homeowners can also use a basement family or recreation room, home office space or even the master bedroom.
Ely Poole, president of Virginia Home Theater in Washington, D.C., says before he makes recommendations on how to use an existing space for a media room, he asks homeowners a lot of questions about their lifestyle: "Are there kids? Do they use the space as a playroom? Is the room an extension of a home office?" Poole says it's not uncommon for a media room to serve as both a TV room and a computer room. "A lot of people these days have home offices," he says, "and they may want to watch the news or financial reports while working on the computer."
Most installers wire a media room for multiple uses, Poole notes, providing homeowners with access to cable TV, movies, music and the Internet, and also strive to anticipate technologies that have not yet been developed to prevent further wiring of the room at some point in the future.
A key component of an automated media room is the remote control device, which must be easy to use.
The kind of equipment a homeowner uses in a media room depends largely on budget and need. "Some people like to use a TV for slideshows with music in the background when they entertain," Martin points out. Others would prefer to keep the TV hidden completely, often in beautiful armoires made specifically for that purpose.
Martin says LCD and plasma TVs are the most popular, in large part because they're easy to hide. "Some people cover their plasmas with a piece of canvas art that rolls up with just the push of a button when they use the TV," he notes. Another option is to place a plasma TV in a recessed box in the wall and frame it like a picture. When the TV isn't in use, homeowners can display high definition art on the screen. Martin says some media rooms even have lift systems that move the TV in and out of a decorative cabinet, so it's only in view when it's being used.
But what about all those speakers and ancillary pieces of equipment that provide the powerful surround sound that makes a home theater environment so much fun? Speakers are easy to keep out of sight as well, according to Martin, who often mounts them in the ceiling or on bookshelves, if available. Most other equipment can be stored in a cabinet or closet elsewhere in the house and run via remote control. The only component the homeowners will ever see is the TV.
However, sometimes it can be tricky making a multipurpose room work for movie viewing. Often a family room located adjacent to the kitchen is, by design, a light-filled space with lots of windows, which means potential glare on the TV screen. Poole says he doesn't like to alter the layout of a room, because furniture is usually aligned for the best design effect and use of the space. Instead, he works within the space, often recommending that homeowners invest in light-blocking draperies, which they can pull across windows when they want to watch a movie.
Good audio quality is imperative. Speakers can be kept out of sight by mounting them in the ceiling or on bookshelves.
Sometimes the kind of equipment one buys can make all the difference. Plasma TVs are fine for bedrooms, Poole notes, but if a homeowner is concerned about potential glare in a room filled with natural light, it's better to go with an LCD, which reflects less light and glare. "LCD prices are coming down now," he says. "They're no longer so much more expensive than plasma TVs." The size of the screen is an important consideration also. Homeowners want to avoid a screen that takes over the room.
When choosing equipment, Poole warns against looking too hard at the bottom line and as a result skimping on the essentials. "Make sure you have at least a [Dolby Digital] 5.1 surround sound speaker system," he advises. Without good sound quality, including rear surround sound channels that add to the movie-viewing experience, there isn't much point to having a media room.
For true aficionados, it's possible to go all out with a fully automated media room that can control video, music, pictures, even security and room temperatures throughout the whole house. One such option, known as Lifeware, runs off of Windows XP or Vista. Poole says he has customers who have installed Lifeware in their homes and really enjoy the fact that they can control all of the home's electronics with the push of a few buttons from a central location.
Costs and Installation
Some homeowners may be put off by the idea of having an installer cut holes in their walls to allow for media room wiring, but Poole and Martin both say drywall damage is usually minimal and easy to repair. "A good professional company can run wires for a media room without tearing up the house," says Martin, who adds that in a completely finished house, his crew can usually run wires through attics, crawl spaces and basements, and will have to cut only a few access holes in drywall.
Poole's company even offers a color matching service; crewmembers take a sample of the homeowner's existing paint and get it matched, so it's easy to touch up areas where holes have been made and repaired.
A typical media room installation can be completed in one to three days, depending on the system's complexity. Costs for retrofitting a room can vary widely, depending in large part on the type of equipment a homeowner selects. "The TV is almost always the biggest expense," says Martin. "Labor and wiring are minimal."
A basic set-up with TV, DVD, sound system and install can run as little as $5,000, Poole notes, while top-of-the-line installations, like those involving Lifeware or other types of home automation systems, can cost as much as $25,000. Interestingly enough, Poole says he considers the most important part of a media room to be its remote control device: "It has to be something that's easy to understand, that anybody can just pick up and use without instruction."
The media room, like the remote, should be kept simple. While Poole considers retrofitted media rooms the best option when a room devoted to home theater isn't practical, he notes that there's no reason not to incorporate one into new construction as well. It can mean many thousands of dollars in savings in construction costs, especially when you consider that every extra square foot of space in a modest new home can cost anywhere from $180 to $350. It can also mean minimizing the impact of construction by making one space serve multiple uses - a new and worthwhile credo in home design.
Deborah R. Huso is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in Old House Journal, Country Home and Remodeling Magazine. She's based in Blue Grass, Va.