Designing Your Home Theater

Creating a home theater, be it a dedicated room or part of an existing living space, requires more than a general knowledge of AV technology. In actuality, that is only a small part of the equation. To maximize the performance of your AV gear, the overall design of the room is crucial.

Barbara Roth, President of Paradise Production Company, developed and produced the comprehensive DVD Destination Home Theater where she goes into great detail about the vital acoustical and visual design elements that anyone considering a home theater, should learn. Follow her tips and recommendations to create your dream theater.

What is a homeowner's biggest challenge in retrofitting a home theater?
The number one challenge is simply educating homeowners on how important it is to address both acoustical and visual elements in their overall design. This concept is what I call Design Optimization™ and every facet of the home theater design is considered from placement of the video display and speakers, to proper lighting, types of window coverings, wall colors, and furniture.

When the transition between dedicated theaters and dedicated environments occurred I noticed there were often conflicts between systems integrators and interior designers. So, I felt it was important to provide this information to homeowners. Whether they are doing the home theater themselves or hiring a professional it's important they have the knowledge to make informed decisions.

Why do you think Great Rooms (or Destination Home Theaters as you call them) are becoming more popular compared to dedicated theaters?
The creation and manufacture of large flat panel displays and sleek powerful speaker systems has resulted in this gradual shift away from the dedicated home theater to the Destination Home Theater in the family/living room. Homeowners don’t want to be sectioned off from the main hub of the home and or hide their CE equipment.

This does mean that dedicated home theaters are going to fade out into the sunset. There will always be a segment of the population that desires a dedicated home theater and has both the needed square footage and financial means to design one. The near-cinema quality of a dedicated home theater in a private intimate setting is certainly a fabulous experience.

What are some of the most glaring errors that homeowners make when designing their own home theater?
I think these are the most common errors:
1. No carpet or no rugs on a hard wood floor, which can result in too much sound reflections
2. No window coverings to control ambient light
3. White walls, which attributes to the overall ambient light in the room
4. Glass tables or cabinets, which can create visual reflections that will affect picture quality
5. Installing speakers in the ceiling directly over people's heads
6. Sound loss to adjoining rooms
7. Harmful video display height. Displays installed too high above the viewer's line of sight can cause neck pain and eye strain.

What advice would you give to homeowners who want to turn their living room into a home theater but they have both a limited budget and knowledge of AV gear?
The most important element in a home theater is the room itself. Not all of us can afford high-end CE products but that does mean that we can’t have a wonderful home theater even on a limited budget. Taking time to implement Design Optimization into your family room with moderately priced CE products will ensure a more satisfactory experience than expensive gear with no Design Optimization. This may be a new concept for many people to grasp but it can make a huge difference in the overall performance and enjoyment of the entertainment space. In fact, Design Optimization is perfect for DIY weekend projects that spouses can do together.

What are the signs that a homeowner should recognize that might indicate it would be best to call in a professional rather than pursue the do-it-yourself path?
If a homeowner wants to install a home theater and is not a certified electronic integrator, I highly recommend using one to install the AV products and to do the technical optimization. This is an area I wouldn’t budge on because a person might have good technical knowledge but it does not mean that they know how to technically optimize a home theater system properly.

You would think the biggest casualty in a DIY design project would be the actual workmanship but it’s not. There are a lot of talented and skilled homeowners out there who can paint well, install lights, and hang drapes. Where it can go wrong is when they don't apply Design Optimization.

Good interior designers are worth their weight in gold. They know how to tie rooms together to create a seamless design that flows throughout the home. Yet, interior designers often don’t know about Design Optimization for electronics, which is where a homeowner's understanding of this concept can come in handy.

Would you agree a poorly designed home theater can actually discourage people from using it?
There is definitely a viewing arc for many people. Often after the home theater is installed, the main reason for dissatisfaction is that it is too complicated. This is one area where technology needs to get out of the way. Initially, the excitement of a home theater overshadows the complications but soon this buzz may diminish. Children get frustrated and trail off to their rooms where their computers await them. Probably, the most valuable expense is to buy an easy-to-use universal remote.

What prompted you to create the Destination Home Theater DVD?
After I completed the THX Home Theater certification courses, I knew homeowners were not aware of these important design elements for their electronics. The paint color or flooring selections a homeowner chooses for their home theater can have a dramatic effect on the acoustical and visual Design Optimization of their speaker system and video display. It's a challenge to increase the homeowner's awareness of Design Optimization because it's hard to get them to want something they don't yet know they need.

Ms. Roth is a Radio-TV-Film graduate from the School of Communications at the University of Texas in Austin, a THX Home Theater certified technician, and a member of CEDIA (Custom Electronic Design & Installation Assoc). Destination Home Theater can be purchased for $17.99 at

neo's picture

Very informative article indeed, emphasizing the importance of room design & aesthetics. Using area rugs / carpets not only assuage unwanted sonic reflections but also conceal speaker wires that run along the room. Comfortable chairs / couch are necessary in order to augment the experience, as uncomfortable ones that are too hard or flimsy tend to deter it.

westcott's picture

You forgot several of the most critical errors made when people design a home theater.Speaker placement, seating position, and audio system calibration. In wall speakers are a no no. Placing speakers against a wall is a no no. Sitting against a wall is a no no. Sitting in the middle of the room is a no no.Dedicated home theaters have a great advantage of using acoustic treatments without looking out of place. Something hard to hide or allow in a shared environment.I see a lot of "beautiful" rooms but I see very few home theaters that are properly set up acoustically.