Sound is a weird thing. It is absorbed, reflected (maybe multiple times), has different frequencies, and everything affects it as it travels to our ears. We have to take this into account up to some point and design our home theater layout accordingly. There is no limit to playing with the sound (ask any audiophile) so we will stick with the very basics here.
First, a reminder: if you are going to design the room yourself, the time will come when you will have to change the layout of the room to fit the changing essential rules of the home theater system as technology advances. For example, the preferred placement of the display and the speakers may change. This is especially hard to overcome if you are married and male, because probably your wife will not be happy with cables lying around or in considering how the TV would look better on the “other wall.”
We will not presume anything throughout this article, including whether the house is new or old, or whether some wiring is available or not. If you follow the points carefully, you will be designing your home theater room as well as anybody could.
Plan, plan, and re-replan…Carry paper and pencil you with as consider how your home theater will look and work. Do not necessarily insist on the putting the system in the first room you’ve chosen. Maybe another room would be be a better choice. Note and record the dimensions of the room and consider the available equipment. Take note of the available wall outlets. Cable covers can accommodate using distant outlets and power strips with surge protectors can make up for a shortage of outlets.
Placing the Display
To get a clearer picture from your display, it is always important to put it in a darker place. This does mean to go for a totally dark room like a cinema. The point is that you have to be careful about not placing the display directly to a window. The light coming from the window will ultimately reduce the brightness of the movies displayed. If you are helpless on the subject (like me) and can not find a better place, there is a solution: go for black-out curtains which will block all the daylight and leave you with vivid colors. But this will in turn have a depressive effect. To counter this, put a soft light somewhere behinds the seats. I recommend to use a dimmer with the light so that you can adjust the luminosity to your best preference.
There is a point that I do not understand with the TV manufacturers. They insist on making the frames of the televisions in piano black, which is glossy. This glossy frame reflects back all the light and if you have some light leaking to the room then you will immediately notice it around the display. I wonder why they do not go with the matte finish, which would avoid much of this problem.
Placing the Speakers
Before going with the placement of the speakers, we have to adjust their height. To receive the best sound, you have to arrange the speaker height so that the tweeters are at the same level with your ears when you are standing up. Avoid putting the speakers at ear level when sitting down, which will make the speakers fire the sound directly to your ears. All speakers are subject to this rule except the subwoofer.
After that comes the speaker positioning, which you will spend much time on deciding. The rule of thumb is that all the speakers shall intersect at the point where you will be sitting.
Let’s see a typical arrangement for the 7.1 speakers. I have especially chosen the 7.1 placement, if you have 5.1, you simply will cancel the side left and side right speakers and the remaining will be the same.
To begin with draw a circle and place your couch inside the circle.
- Your couch shall be looking directly to the TV with a right angle.
- The TV and the center speaker have to be in the same horizontal place.
- The front left and front right speakers shall be placed at a 22° - 30° from the TV.
- The rear left and rear right speakers shall be placed at a 135° - 150° from the TV.
- The side left and side right speakers shall be placed at a 90° - 110° from the TV.
- For a 6.1 speaker setting, the rear center shall look directly to the TV. In other words, your couch has to be placed between the TV and the rear center. The side left and side right positions will be at the same positions above.
- Some speakers have hinges/holes at the back to allow them to be hung on walls. If this is the case, make sure that they are secured to the wall (use L-shaped screws instead of the straight ones) to protect them from falling and getting damaged. In addition it will be of use to mark the points that the speakers touch to the walls and put there small cushioning materials to avoid the whizzing sound when the speakers deliver sound.
The image shows a simple arrangement of a 7.1 speaker arrangement. The color coding is as follows:
- Red: Your couch
- Black: TV (or the projected surface if you are using a projector)
- Blue: Front center
- Cyan: Subwoofer
- Magenta: Front left and front right
- Yellow: Side left and side right
- Green: Rear left and rear right
As you have noticed throughout the article, everything is involved with a careful planning and implementation. With the placement of the TV, I strongly recommend you to get professional help, especially from the manufacturer’s own personnel to mount the TV. If you want to use the TV’s own stand instead of a wall mount, this is also fine but I personally find this unsafe. Imagine your kids rocking the TV stand and your LCD falling face down.
The speaker system may need some work to adjust the height as necessary. Many of today’s 5.1 and 7.1 speaker sets come with their own stands but I do not recommend them since they use plastic material for the speaker casings.
This post is part of the series: Home Theater Basics
In this article series we take the reader step by step to building a home theater. The connections, devices, setup, layout will all be explained in detail and finally the reader is well equipped to build his own home theater system.