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More than Electronics
Most people associate home theaters with expensive electronics. Images of Blu-ray players and wide-screen HDTVs begin to dance in the imagination. These electronics are obviously important as one can't have a home theater without them. But there is more to a home theater than just the electronics which are placed in it.
The home theater environment itself is just as important. Things like seating, lighting, and window coverings are just as important to the optimal home theater experience. Products which improve the home theater environment are unfortunately more expensive than one might at first think, but they are just as important to building the best home theater as having the largest HDTV or most expensive receiver.
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While reducing the amount of light which comes into the home theater from outside is usually desirable, it is not always desirable for a home theater to be entirely pitch black. While this does allow for the best picture it causes problems in situations where the home theater is used as part of a social gathering rather than as a private venue. It isn't much fun to share wine with a significant other and watch a romantic movie if neither of you can see more than two inches in front of your face.
That's where lighting comes in. When it comes to lighting a home theater control is the name of the game. There are two main types of control which will be useful. The first is control of the amount of lighting which is provided. It is an extremely good idea to set up the lighting in a home theater so that it is controlled by a dial rather than a switch. This allows the lighting to be set at the most appropriate level for the occasion. During private viewing the lights can be shut completely off, but they can also be bright when playing Rock Band with friends.
Directional control is also important. Lights in the home theater should be placed on swivel mounts that allowing significant rotation. The main reason for this is that while the home theater room will remain largely the same over time, the electronics taken in and out of it will be different. The lighting that works well with a 40" matte screen LCD HDTV might not work as well with a 60" Plasma set. The ability to change the direction of lighting in the room allows the room to adapt to whatever is inside it.
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How Much is that Gap in the Window?
Those who are lucky enough to have a purpose-built home theater room probably don't have to worry about windows, but most home theaters are put into family rooms or studies which have been converted to a home theater. These rooms have windows, and these windows can become a major distraction. Any light which leaks into the room can create problems. At best it will brighten the room, slightly decreasing the vividness of the picture. At worst the light will cause glare and reflections that make daytime viewing almost impossible.
These issues can be almost entirely eliminated by purchasing the right window coverings. Blinds tend to be best, as it can be very difficult to properly dress drapery to eliminate light and shutters always have cracks which let light into the room. Most blind manufacturers produce light-blocking blinds made of thick fabrics capable of almost entirely blocking sunlight. Light will still leak in from the sides of the window, however, so it is best to purchase blinds which are mounted outside of the window casing. This will allow the least light to come into the room.
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While furniture is not technically part of the room itself, furniture (the home entertainment center, to be specific) is usually bought with the expectation that it will be used for many, many years. When it comes to home theaters furniture is not often moved or replaced due to the labor involved in removing all of the electronics and then placing them back into or onto the furniture when the move is complete. Buying the right furniture is therefore important.
There are a few things that one needs to look for when buying a home entertainment center. First, and perhaps most important, is the configuration of the shelves and other storage. While it is a good idea to measure the current electronics in the home theater and make sure they will fit, it is equally important to view the shelving in light of what can be stored in absolute terms. For example, if the Blu-Ray player currently in a home theater is an extremely slim model it is not a good idea to buy a home entertainment center that has little room between the shelves. Try to avoid home entertainment centers which surround the HDTV as this will limit the size of HDTV which fits inside. It may seem a good idea now, but the decision will be regretted if a larger or thicker HDTV becomes affordable.
Also look for home entertainment centers with doors which close over the shelves. Today's electronics have many small lights and lamps which blink or stay on during operation. This plethora of lights looks interesting and expensive, but it also distracts from what is important - the image on the HDTV and the sound coming from the speakers. Doors obstruct this light. They will also usually obstruct remotes, but this can be solved with a universal remote and a good receiver.