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What Makes a Home Theater?

by Cody Tretschok


At Arizona Sound & Light we get a lot of calls from people wanting a “home theater” in their house. But I’ve noticed that there can be a lot of disparity in what people consider to be a home theater. To some people, this simply means they want a new TV and a couple surround sound speakers. To others, it means a dedicated room with 11 speakers, 4 subwoofers and a starlight ceiling. One person’s home theater is another person’s simple TV room. Who’s right, though? Is there an industry definition of what defines a home theater? In today’s article I thought I would dig a little deeper into the subject...

Basic Requirements

Since this is a subjective definition, I thought we should start with a few things that we can all agree on. First, obviously for a room to be considered a home theater, it has to have a large TV. We can debate minimum size later, but for now I will define that as a minimum of an 85-inch TV. Next, the room has to have a surround sound speaker system. Again, we can debate on what the minimum criteria for this is – whether it’s a 5.1 system or a 7.1 system, or even a 7.4.6 Atmos system. For now, though, I would say the minimum is a 5.1 system. In other words, it needs to have left, right and center speakers in front and at least two surround speakers in the back. Of course it also has to have a subwoofer – the “.1” part!

Very minimal surround system

The Room

Now that we’ve defined the basics, what about the actual room itself? The first and most obvious question is whether or not it needs to be a room specifically dedicated as a theater room. I think this is less of a requirement than it used to be, frankly. These days I’m actually more of a fan of what is commonly called a “media room.” In other words, a room that can be used for multiple purposes – for listening to music, watching the big game and playing video games in addition to watching movies. I think this is ideally a dedicated room in the house, but I don’t think it necessarily has to be.

Basic media room

Features of the Room

In addition to the room itself, there also needs to be some discussion of the required features of the room. For a room to be considered as a theater, or even a media room, it has to have a few basics. First, it should have some sort of acoustic treatment. There’s nothing that can ruin the sound of your movies (or music) quicker than a room with bad acoustics. That said, however, adding acoustics to a room that is both a media room and a living room can be difficult, from an aesthetic perspective. So, I would say this is not necessarily a firm requirement. Second, it should have some sort of light control. Ideally, if there are any windows there should be blackout shades so that the room can be darkened at any time. Similarly, any lighting in the room should be easily controlled – ideally through the home automation system. (Getting up to dim the lights manually is very old-school and definitely not part of a theater/media room!)

Media room with blackout shades

The Ideal Room

So, we’ve defined the minimum requirements. But what if you don’t just want to meet the minimum? What if you want a true, honest-to-goodness home theater or media room? In that case, you’re probably working with a construction contractor, and are building the room out from scratch. I could go into great detail here, but the key is to get the design right ahead of time – the size, shape, acoustics, noise control, light control, etc. should all be considered before anything is built. In parallel with the room design, the electronic system design also needs to be planned out. In terms of audio, it would be silly not to go with a full 7.2.4 Atmos system these days. That is the current industry standard. In other words, 3 front speakers, 2 side surrounds, 2 rear surrounds, and 4 overhead Atmos surround speakers. At least two subwoofers should be used as well. (Shown as “.2” here, but technically they’re really both playing the same “.1” track of the movie.) As for the size of the screen, that is a bit more debatable. A friend recently replaced his 4K projection system with a 97-inch OLED TV. Depending on the size of your room, 97 inches may not be large enough, but if it is, there’s no better way to go than with a TV. Projectors just can’t compete! However, if you have a large room, and are more than about 10 or 12 feet from the screen, there’s nothing better than the size of a large-screen projection system. Typically the bigger the better. These days ASL typically does 12 to 13-feet or larger screens for this purpose.

Impressive home theater


The definition of a home theater is a bit nebulous and flexible, but I think a lot of it depends on the owner’s dedication to maximizing the experience. Yes, it’s always best to have a dedicated room with specially designed acoustics and lighting. But, with a little thought and creativity, a living room can be made into a very effective home theater! I personally don’t have the space required in my house for a dedicated theater/media room. So, my “theater” is a living room most of the time. But at night its ten 12-inch subwoofers and 7,000 watts of power transforms it into a fantastic movie-watching experience! The TV is way too small, and my lighting control is lousy, but the overall experience is fantastic, so it works until I can build my new house, which will definitely have a dedicated theater/media room! So, even if you don’t have the space for a dedicated room, I strongly encourage you to put some thought and effort into making a high-performance, amazing movie-watching experience area into your home!