What to Look For in a Home Theater

I'm going to look at a new house with a home theater in the basement. I just hope the theater was professionally done; I would hate to have to rip it out and have it done right. The house is 10,000 sq. ft. Original price was around 3 million, but the current asking price is $1,939,000. What are some things I should look for when I go to see the theater? BTW, I love the Home Theater Geeks podcast!

Stephen Wedel

Sounds like an incredible house! And how nice that you have the resources to consider buying such a place. At that price level, you should expect a very high-performance home theater.

I'd want to be sure that the ambient light can be completely controlled at any time of day, which is more likely since it's in the basement. Can the room be made pitch black? The walls, ceiling, and floor should be a dark, neutral color, preferably gray or black.

Assuming it has a projector and screen, get the make and model of both, along with the screen size and distance to the projector to make sure the screen isn't too large or small for that projector at that distance—the projector's manual should include a range of appropriate screen sizes and distances. Has the projector been professionally calibrated on this screen? How many hours are on the projector lamp? If more than 1000, you might have to replace the lamp sooner than later.

Ideally, the room has been acoustically treated by a professional, taking into consideration the sound within the room and isolation from the rest of the house. Also, what is the make and model of the speakers, and where are they located? If they're in-walls, make sure they were installed optimally for those particular models.

What preamp/processor or AV receiver is being used? Has it been set up for this particular room and speakers? Of course, you can do this yourself, but it would be nice to know that what you're hearing when you try it out is the best it can be.

Are there good sightlines from every seat? If there's more than one row, are the back rows raised so everyone can see the entire screen? What is the viewing distance? Is it appropriate for the screen size (about 1.5 times the screen width for a 16:9 screen)? If not, can the seats be moved?

How is the system controlled? Is it intuitive to use? If not, can the control system be easily replaced?

If you have an A/V question, please send it to askscottwilkinson@gmail.com.

Share | |
applebyter's picture

I'd also ask about the ease of upgrading the theatre equipment. Can you get access to wiring? Can you run new or additional wiring? Can you easily change speakers and electronics? Can you easily mount a new projector, and can the mounting system accommodate the potential need for the projector to move (minimally the lens on a different projector is unlikely to be in the same place as the current projector)?

uavtheo's picture

Not that I can add anything more than Scott already said, however I would also ask about any additional structured wiring that may exist in the house or in the theater itself. Additional runs of Cat5e or (preferably) Cat6 allow for current or future upgrades with ease.

If there is an extensive Cat5/6 infrastructure in the house, that's not just usable for data networking but also additional distributed audio and video as you can pass HDMI signals over Cat5 or Cat6 wiring. Additionally, when you pass HDMI over Cat5e or Cat6 via a BalUn, you can go hundreds of feet without the traditional HDMI distance limitations.

Additionally, Apple's AirPlay, DLNA, and other network streaming technologies really do run best over a hard-wired connection and not WiFi. So any serious thoughts of true whole-house or audiophile audio streaming would benefit from such an infrastructure.

Thus, you really get to "future proof" the house with minimal future renovations and can take advantage of forthcoming technologies. Plus, there's a new, emerging standard that *may* rival HDMI down the road that runs audio and video over a single Cat5e or Cat6 cable.

Scott Wilkinson's picture
In fact, you have added something very important to what I said. Thanks!
tony359's picture

On top of what everybody has said, I would check the acoustic properties of the room. You need to make sure the dimensions of the room are good. If they are "bad", you'll have horrible low frequencies response and this cannot be fixed by anything.

Basically, make sure the dimensions are not multiple of each others (like 5m long, 2.5 high).

There are "golden dimensions" around the internet, if you need any help you can reply here or send me a PM.

Enter your Sound & Vision username.
Enter the password that accompanies your username.