Setting Up A Home Entertainment System
When setting up a room for a home entertainment system, there are a number of things to take into account. First, what equipment is going into the room? Are you buying a whole new system or are you using existing equipment? Are you using a TV or a projector and a screen? What sound system are you using, surround sound or a sound bar? The answers to each of these questions are equally important and usually lead to a lot more questions.
Let’s say that you are moving and using your existing home theater system that consists of a 55” flat screen TV, a 5.1 surround sound system, and a Blu-ray player. You want to mount the TV on a wall and the rest of the components will live in a cabinet located under or near the TV location. Your system will likely vary, but the steps taken to locate components will be similar.
TV Mounting Location
The logical place to start is the TV mounting location. Let’s face it, once that puppy is on the wall, it ain’t gonna move. To start, you should consider the availability walls on which to mount the TV, natural traffic patterns in and out of a room, and limitations in the placement of the comfy chairs / couch.
If possible, I like to see if I can locate the screen where it won’t catch glare from a window. There are few things more annoying than sitting down to watch the game on a Sunday afternoon with a big blob of light in the middle of the screen that washes the picture out.
Don’t discount the location of the comfy chairs / couch when debating on which wall to mount the TV. As noted in “HDTV Screens - It’s All Relative”, to get the same experience as in a theater, the ideal viewing distance from a 55” HDTV is between five and seven feet from the screen. One of the most popular methods of calculating the optimum viewing distance is 2.5 times the screen size. For a 55” TV that means the viewing distance should be somewhere between eleven to twelve feet. Whichever distance you decide upon, it should also allow for a space behind the chairs / couch. The reason for this will become more evident when we explore the sound side of the equation.
If possible, I like to see if I can locate the screen where it won’t catch glare from a window. There are few things more annoying than sitting down to watch the game on a Sunday afternoon with a big blob of light in the middle of the screen that washes the picture out. Blackout drapes can solve this problem but will also darken the room for all other activities, so take this into consideration if this is going to be a multi-purpose room. Remember to take into account windows that are high up on a wall if your room has vaulted ceilings. Another solution for glare might be a swivel mount for the TV. Sure swivel mounts cost more, but they can be a life saver. Sometimes swiveling the TV just a little bit makes all the difference in the world and eliminates a nasty glare. If you have any question about glare, tape a small mirror to the wall in the center of where you would put the TV. If you see a window when you are seated in your proposed viewing spot, you might have an issue.
This leads us to the mounting height of the TV. Ideally, the center of the screen should be slightly above the eye level of the viewer when seated in the prime viewing location. For me, my eyes are about 39” from the floor when I am seated on my comfy chair. I would expect this to vary depending on your furniture and how tall you are. I also tend to mount my TV’s a little higher than 39” to the center point of the screen. I do this because I like to kick back and put my feet up when I watch TV and I don’t like to see my toes wiggling at the bottom edge of the screen. If you have any doubts, put some tape on the wall and sit down and kick back like you would normally watch TV. If they aren’t already amused by the mirror, your significant other will almost certainly giggle watching you watch the tape spot. Remember, a little adjustment now will pay huge dividends later in your comfort level when watching TV. Keeping this in mind makes the giggling a lot easier to ignore.
Finally, check to see that you can run the wires to and from the TV through the wall that you choose. Standard stud walls covered with sheet rock are usually fine. Brick, cinder block or concrete walls can be a real bear for mounting a TV. If you have the later, you will likely need to run a wire molding on the surface of the wall if you want to hide the cables. In addition to the cables, if your future plans include in-wall speakers, fuggedaboutit. Finally, avoid – at all costs – mounting a TV above the fireplace. The angle is all wrong, the cables are difficult, if not impossible, to hide and the heat and soot from the fireplace kill TV’s at an alarming rate.
After all is said and done, there is usually only one or two walls that will do. The only thing left to consider is personal preference. Once all of the above are considered, the location of the TV takes care of itself.
Once the screen location is sorted out, I think about the sound system. For the sake of our example above, we know that there will be five channels and a sub-woofer. In our example, we are moving, so we will assume the speakers are bookshelf size and will be surface mounted on the wall, located on stands and/or on cabinetry. If the cabinet for your A/V components will be located below the TV, the top of this cabinet is a perfect location for the center channel.
You can also place the front left/right speakers on the end of the cabinet top, but spreading them out to either side of the TV will give you better width in your sound field. Dolby recommends between twenty two and thirty degrees off of center for the front L/R speaker location. This is usually wider than a media center cabinet will allow. That is why I like to use speaker stands whenever I can get away with it. They are inexpensive and give me the flexibility to move the front speakers as needed. Another benefit of speaker stands is that you can position the speakers at the height of your ear level when seated on your comfy chair. Another option is surface mounting. Be sure to use proper anchors in the sheetrock and/or screw into studs. The speakers themselves not only weigh a fair amount, but they also vibrate from the sound they produce.
Once the location of the TV and speakers is worked out, the only thing left to do is locate your components and run wires/cables.
For the rear, surround sound speakers, they should be positioned to the left and right of the prime seating position. Dolby recommends that the angle from the prime seating location to the rear speakers should be between ninety and one hundred fifteen degrees from the center line between the TV at the prime seating location. Remember when I wrote that you should allow for some space behind your comfy chair? This is also another time to consider speaker stands, for all of the reasons stated above.
That only leaves the sub-woofer. Optimum placement of the sub-woofer can be somewhat of an art form. While most households stick it in a corner and forget about it, that isn’t always the best place to locate a sub. In most rooms, positioning the sub-woofer away from the wall and slightly out from the corner gives better bass response. Of course, hiding the sub in the corner, behind a table will be a lot less intrusive. This is a compromise you may need to make, depending on the spousal annoyance factor level.
Once the location of the TV and speakers is worked out, the only thing left to do is locate your components and run wires/cables. The most popular location, by far, for all of the components needed is directly below the TV. This is because the IR signal from the remote controls hits all of the components at the same time and everything works. Initial set up is the best time to make sure all of the cables are run out of sight and are all neat and tidy. Take the time now to avoid taking the time later. Plus, only the most OCD of us will ever go back and clean up cable runs on an installed system.
Another option is to hide the cable box, Blu-Ray player and AVR in a cabinet or in another room. You can do this if you use an IR blaster. An IR blaster uses a single sensor that you mount on or near the TV. There is a small cable that runs to a repeater. The repeater has multiple outputs that are positioned in front of the IR ports on your components. When you point your remote at the TV, the signal is transferred to the rest of the components via the IR blaster. This little problem solver is inexpensive and can gain you all kinds of points from your significant other. The only caution, with this approach is to make sure you have long enough cables and that your components have plenty of ventilation. Those components generate a lot of heat. Locating a vent or two with a fan moving the air around is always a good idea for hidden component locations.
After the components and speakers are all connected it’s time to re-calibrate the system. Every room is unique, and that means that every sound calibration is different. Do not assume that the old set up from the previous room will work in this one. If your AV receiver has a self-calibration feature, this is the time to plug the microphone in and use it again. This calibration routine will get the speaker levels balanced and confirm that the speakers are properly connected and in phase. It might also be a good idea to re-calibrate your TV. All screens change over time and along with the difference in room lighting, the picture will likely need to be tweaked a little. If you haven’t calibrated your screen before, calibration DVD’s are inexpensive and relatively easy to use. The World of Wonder calibration DVD from Disney is great and includes a great tutorial for first timers.
What I always try to keep in mind is to take it one step at a time and think it all the way through. You are all set! I’m sure the final results will be amazing! Now you only need to worry about where to put the rest of your possessions.
Please also see “How to manage Speaker Wires” for tips on how to keep all of those wires and cables neat.
About Brian Hill
Brian Hill is a home theater enthusiast who has an extensive background in sales. His interests include music & movies, F1 & NASCAR auto racing, hot rods (he has a '56 Nomad) and hockey — Go Sharks!
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