Basic Custom Home Theater Setups

When setting up a custom home theater system, you have a number of factors to consider. Because you would like to approximate the environment in a real movie theater, you pay attention to aspects such as the size of the viewing screen, ambient temperature, seating comfort, ventilation, controllable lighting, and seating arrangements. In order to insure the optimum viewing pleasure, you must paradoxically pay attention to the sound. This is the overriding consideration in designing a custom home theater system. What distinguishes your custom set-up from the garden-variety television situation is the surround sound system.


At the least, you will need two front and two rear speakers so as to have sound coming at you from different angles. Some amplifiers have plug-ins for four speakers and you can experience a weak approximation of surround sound with a minimum of expense. However, more separation and hence more speakers will enable you to have more distinct differentiation among the variety of sounds that the movie's sound designer has incorporated into the movie. Movie audio has been evolving through the years to match the improvements in technology.

Packages featuring 5.1, 6.1, and 7.1 channel set-ups are readily available from all major electronics stores with corresponding jumps in expense. Each of these packages includes a sub-woofer (low frequency channel for increased bass response) represented by the .1, and the number of other speakers represented by the preceding number. To show the configuration, the 6.1 has the sub-woofer and six other speakers (left, right, center, left rear, right rear, and center rear). As the viewers face the screen, the primary sounds will issue from the front speakers with the rear speakers acting to fill in secondary noises that have been incorporated into the soundscape of the movie. In much the same way as a stereo separates music into two channels with sounds from one speaker louder than the same sound from the other speaker, a custom home theater will spread the sounds out through all three front speakers at differing volumes so as to approximate your position at the actual event.

As the rear speakers combine to fill in background sounds such as a dog barking (directors are notorious for filling quiet spots in their movies with a single dog barking) or the outside noises you hear in daily life, you get the sensation of the sound swirling around you. Another favorite device is to have the sound move from speaker to speaker to create the sense of action. Moving cars and creaking floors are particularly overused for this effect. You actually feel as if you are in the middle of the action.

Purchasing anything more than a 7.1 channel set-up would seem to be a waste of space and money for the human ear can only sense so much sound coming from various directions. There is a limit to surround sound systems mostly because movies are not recorded with more than six channels and the same sounds would issue forth from separate speakers.

Whatever system you choose, you will certainly enjoy your experience more if you take care with the home theater sound design.


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