Home cinema setup 101: Improve your home cinema with these simple tips

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A great home theater setup can transform your Saturday nights, letting you experience movie magic from the comfort of your own couch.

Once the preserve of the very wealthy, a good home theater setup once required careful calibration, tuning, and manufacturing to truly come together. But, thanks to improvements in sound and picture quality in soundbars, TVs and speakers, it’s easier than ever to achieve without the help of an expensive custom installer.

Plus, innovations in wireless technology and multi-room audio mean that building a home theater setup doesn’t always mean having cables meandering around your living room and cluttering your home.

Home theater setups can be as big or small as you want, from dedicated movie theaters with projectors and soundproofing, to a TV hooked up to a soundbar. No matter what kind of home cinema setup you have – or want – there are a few things you can do to make sure it really sings.

What components do I need?

Samsung Q80T QLED TV

(Image credit: Samsung)

Before we get to our tips and tricks, it’s important to make sure you have the basic components that make up a home theater setup.

First, you’ll need a 4K HDR TV with all modern specs. Smaller models aside, all new TVs will come with at least 4K resolution and some form of HDR capability, if not support for dynamic HDR formats like Dolby Vision and HDR10+. If you’re really serious about your picture quality, you might want to look into 8K TVs, but be aware that widespread access to true 8K content is still quite limited.

Either way, look for a TV within your budget with a screen size that won’t dominate your home and a smart TV platform that will let you access your favorite streaming services. We like Google TV which is available on modern Sony TVs, webOS on LG TVs and Tizen on Samsung smart TVs, but Roku TV, Android TV and My Home Screen are also good.

If you don’t want to rely on getting your content from your smart TV’s built-in apps, you’ll need another source, like a 4K Blu-ray player, game console, or 4K streaming device like the Chromecast with Google TV or Nvidia Shield.

Not sure whether to invest in an OLED TV? If you’re looking for a high-end 55-inch TV, go with an OLED panel, which will deliver more realistic blacks, fast refresh rates and superior contrast compared to cheaper LCD models. Larger OLED TVs can scale up quickly, so if you’re looking for something bigger – say, a 75-inch or 85-inch TV – you might want to opt for a more affordable QLED or LED-LCD TV like the Samsung. Q80A or Sony X90J to save money.

While TVs are getting better all the time, flat screens don’t offer the best audio quality – there just isn’t enough room for them to house good speakers. So, you’ll also need speakers to make your movie soundtracks as compelling as possible.

If you want a traditional surround sound experience, a 5.1 system is the most common setup and consists of two pairs of free-standing or floor-standing speakers, a center speaker and a subwoofer to produce frequencies booming bass. If you’re going the surround sound route, you’ll also need an AV receiver to connect your visual, audio, and broadcast sources, amplify your speakers, and decode surround sound formats.

Want something less complex? A great soundbar and subwoofer combo is an easier way to get immersive sound, especially if it supports Dolby Atmos. Look for up-firing speakers that can send sound from the ceiling back to your ears, and wireless connectivity so you can stream music from your smartphone. We recommend the Sonos Arc and Samsung HW-Q950A soundbars, but feel free to shop around to find something that fits your space and budget.

Tip #1: Make sure your TV picture is perfect

2021 Philips TV

(Image credit: TPVision)

Whichever TV you choose, there are things you can do to get the best picture quality possible. First, make sure your seat is facing your TV, as viewing from an angle can make colors look washed out. The bigger your TV, the further you want to sit, otherwise you’ll be able to choose individual pixels – although 4K and 8K TVs have so many pixels that you can sit much closer than you could before these panels become popular.

You also need to switch between the different picture presets on your TV. For the most part, the Standard or Normal setting should give you vivid contrast and optimized colours, and the Cinema modes tend to give the most ‘natural’ look – although they’re best viewed in low light. Avoid dynamic or sports presets like the plague – they’re way too bright and oversaturated for most viewers.

Another thing you can do to improve your image quality is to make sure that the lighting in your room is optimized. LCDs in particular behave differently depending on the ambient light in your room because they’re backlit – and in a dark room, blacks can look grayish and dull.

You can mitigate this effect with a well-placed lamp to illuminate the wall behind your TV – or opt for a Philips Ambilight TV, which casts light onto your wall, picking the colors of the content you’re watching for a seamless experience.

OLED TVs don’t have this problem as they are self-illuminating and even perform better in low light conditions, making them ideal for watching movies.

a sketch of speaker placement in a home theater setup

(Image credit: Shutterstock / diez artwork)

Just like your TV, where you place your speakers has a big effect on their performance. Smaller stereo speakers can sound “lost” if placed too far from a wall, while larger speakers – especially if they have a blowback bass-reflex port – need more space to avoid unwanted low frequency resonance.

Finding the right placement is a fine balance; moving your speakers away from your ears can give you a more convincing stereo sound experience, while bringing them closer will blast the bass. Whatever you do, don’t place your speakers in a corner – you’re just asking for muddy low frequencies.

Most speakers should be angled towards where you will be seated, although some are specifically designed to face forward; be sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions and use their recommendations as a starting point.

Of course, if you opt for a soundbar, the placement is much simpler. Most soundbars can be wall-mounted or placed on a stand in front of your TV. Just make sure the soundbar isn’t blocking your TV’s infrared receiver or your remote won’t work.

If you opt for a Dolby Atmos soundbar with up-firing tweeters, avoid placing it in a compartment of your TV cabinet – you don’t want anything interfering with those sound waves as they travel up to your ceiling .

All speakers need a bit of time to settle in – before blaming your speaker’s poor performance on placement, give them at least 24 hours of playtime to let their inner workings warm up.

Tip #3: Try a Projector to Fill Larger Rooms

An Anker Nebula Capsule portable projector used by children to play games

(Image credit: Anker)

TV on the small side? A projector can give you that cinematic experience at home, creating an image up to 300 inches in diameter.

While you can get 4K Ultra HD projectors, Full HD models are still the most popular, and they start at around $600 / £600 / AU$900. Just make sure your new projector is designed for home theater rather than business presentations; if it has VGA, audio, and composite video inputs and outputs on the back, you’re dealing with a professional projector.

You usually need quite a bit of space to use a projector – unless you opt for an ultra-short-throw model. While ordinary short-throw projectors can project an image from just a few meters away (as little as three or as many as eight), the ultra-short throw reduces the distance to a few centimeters, which means you can place it on an ordinary television. stand close to your wall.

Tip #4: Make the space comfortable for extended viewing sessions

Philips Hue

(Image credit: Philips)

Mood lighting, comfortable seating, blackout curtains – these are the little touches that can really elevate your home theater experience, and it’s worth taking the time to make your space as luxurious and cinematic as possible.

You might also want to incorporate smart devices and automations to make your home theater setup a bit more futuristic. Smart lighting like Philips Hue lets you control the mood of your room via an app, and it can be automated.

It’s also worth considering a universal remote, which can be programmed to control your setup in different situations. For example, you can press the “movie” button to turn on your projector, TV and amplifier; if you have infrared lights, you can even get this button to dim your lights at the same time.

If you’re feeling really comfortable (and have the space), a dedicated home theater room could be a great investment, and that means freeing up your living room for, well, living. You could easily get away with spending $2,000 / £2,000 / AU$3,000 decorating a small room from scratch complete with speakers, a TV and an AV receiver.

However, once you get into soundproofing, styling, seating and speakers built into your ceilings, you’re looking at an investment of over $10,000 / £10,000 / AU$13,000 – and it doesn’t. there really is no limit to what you can spend.

On a budget? Light a candle, get cozy, and get cozy with 4K movies on Netflix – you can’t really go wrong if you put a little effort into making your movie nights special.

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