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Create Movie Theater Experiences at Home

Nothing says Hollywood quite like the dramatic music that introduces the Universal and 20th Century Fox films. In fact, it’s hard to hear the notes for a 20th Century Fox movie without expecting to be transported to a “galaxy far, far away” by John Williams’ opening score to “Star Wars.” There is something that plays a close second to those powerful intros, though — actually sitting in a cozy seat in a dark room, watching movies on a giant projector screen while the fanfare plays out all around you.

For a long time, the only way to experience that was to drive to a movie theater and buy a ticket and a bucket of overpriced popcorn. But now, thanks to the steady march of technology and the advent of HD, home theaters are more affordable than ever. Digital movie projectors aren’t exactly cheap, and you could easily spend tens of thousands of dollars building the ultimate home theater in your house. But a home theater doesn’t have to break the bank, and these 10 tips, some inexpensive and some pricey, will help transform your home theater into a room that captures the movie magic of the real thing. And yes, popcorn is included.A home theater is all about comfort. Without good seating, you’ll never match the theater experience. And if you’re willing to spend some money, you can snag some seats that are every bit as comfortable as those padded chairs we love to lean back in at the theater.

There’s good news and bad news when it comes to picking out home theater seating. The good news is that there are tons of choices on the market. The bad news is they don’t come cheap. You can go with chairs that are spot-on replicas of those in the theater, complete with flip-up rocker bottoms and thick padding, such as Alessandria Convention Seats. But this is your private theater — you can make it better than a movie theater, with luxurious leather chairs like the power-reclining Berkline 45002. And there are plenty of other choices, too. You could even consider home theater couches.

Finally, consider installing some seat risers. The only way to please big crowds is to make sure your theater room supports stadium seating so everyone has an unobstructed view of the screen.Let’s face it: As big as they are, 60-inch plasma televisions just can’t compare to the majesty of movie theater screens. If you’re building a small home theater, perhaps a conventional HDTV is the right choice for you. But to make your home theater feel like a real movie theater, a projector and screen combination is probably the best choice. In general, you want a projector with a high contrast ratio for accurate colors, a bright bulb for a vibrant image and 1080p support for high-resolution video. Mount your home theater projector from the ceiling and pick out a screen suited to your room.

With a projector, you should be able to fill a screen that measures at least 8.3 feet (2.5 meters) diagonally. That’s a huge jump over a big plasma or LCD HDTV and brings your home theater setup within the realm of the real theater. While you could shine a projector onto a blank wall, nothing beats the color reproduction or theater experience of a giant white screen hanging on your wall [source: CarltonBale.com]. The downside to a projector and screen combination is the challenge of lighting; keeping the room dark is key to preserving picture quality. We’ll discuss how to perfect the home theater atmosphere and attain the perfect lighting conditions later.Movie surround sound is meant to draw viewers into the experience — to add a richer, deeper interaction between the movie and our minds. And sometimes it’s designed to be a loud, rumbling and powerful noise that surprises us or gets our hearts pumping. No matter what music or effects are tumbling out of the speakers, surround sound is an integral part of the movie experience, and a must for a home theater.

The best is 7.1 surround sound, which uses eight channels of audio to envelop you in a bubble of sound. The left, right and center speakers attack from the front, while four extra surround speakers are positioned to your sides and rear. The eighth channel is solely dedicated to bass from the subwoofer. As of 2010, home theater actually had an advantage over real theaters when it comes to sound. “Toy Story 3” was the first film to ship to theaters with 7.1 audio support [source: Flynn]. But more than 200 high-definition Blu-ray movies, by contrast, are available with 7.1 audio [source: Blu-ray Stats].

Surround sound systems come in a number of forms. You can buy a home theater in a box, which comes with an entire speaker system and a receiver, or you can opt to purchase more expensive speakers as a set (or individually) and handpick a receiver to tie the entire system together. The speakers are important — they pump out the sound, after all — but our next component, the home entertainment system, is responsible for handling all the high-definition audio and video we need our home theater to process.Image quality from a projector is best in a dark room. When there’s light to interfere with the projector’s image, it takes a brighter output from the projector to retain a vibrant picture [source: Projector Central]. Besides, what kind of movie theater shows films in a half-lit room? Your home theater should be as dark as you can make it, and that might involve putting in some work with the windows and doors in the room. Ideally, the room would be entirely devoid of windows, but curtains can solve the issue of light coming in from the outdoors.

Buy some thick, heavy curtains that will block out all incoming light and establish a color scheme for your home theater. Forget boring white walls — if you purchased acoustic paneling, paint the walls a color that matches the soft acoustic material. Your primary concern with painting the room is to use a flat, neutral color. This will limit the amount of light reflected by the walls and ceiling, and dark colors will help the room fade away and allow you to see nothing but the screen [source: Boylan]. While you’re buying window curtains, consider adding one more luxury: a velvet curtain for the movie screen to lend the room a little theatrical flair.

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