A blockbuster-designed media room really entertains at home. While a full-service home theater includes everything from the big screen and sound system to seating in a controlled environment, a family's media room can have multiple uses in a more relaxed social space.
Home confinement during the coronavirus pandemic has led to families engaging in everything from movie marathons to online gaming, often from the same communal space at different times, says Giles Sutton, senior vice president of Industry Engagement with Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association, based in Indianapolis.
"While people are spending more time at home with family, we are all aware of wellness and how one works and plays from home," Sutton said. "Now is the time when homeowners are considering how to upgrade the family room into one with a home entertainment system that can be used in many ways."
Sutton says there's an important distinction between having a home theater and creating a multiuse media room. "A dedicated home theater is often a space that is designed when building a house," he said. "The architecture of a home theater room should emulate that of a movie theater, which is, ideally, a larger enclosed, rectangular room with very little outside light, great acoustics and an immersive cinematic experience."
By contrast, a media room allows for a more flexible use of space and may require a smaller budget when compared to a home theater's top-of-the-line projector, screen and sound system. Because of advances in technology -- along with more affordable electronic componentry -- a media room can be easier for professionals to retrofit and a more realistic option for homeowners wanting to upgrade their home entertainment system.
But no matter how elaborate a home becomes with audio and visual equipment, Sutton says the first step toward a streaming media room is to make sure the internet connection is a robust one. While fewer wires may be needed as more electronic components become compatible with wireless equipment and controllers, the network for wireless systems still has to be hardwired into a home.
"Involve a certified integrator to make a technology plan for your media room before just adding the latest television technology and speaker system," Sutton said. "There's nothing worse than music or movie buffering due to a lack of Wi-Fi connectivity in your home."
A media room can be open, both in design and functionality. Updating the audiovisual technology in a home with an open floor plan family room can make for a compelling couch-side cinematic experience, Sutton says. "Wherever the media room is located -- a converted garage, unused attic or basement -- the space should also be conducive to social interaction," he said. "Whether you're watching the big game or streaming a yoga session, the space needs to also feel comfortable."
After the space has been determined for a media room, the size and placement of the television screen is the next step. The picture should be large enough to be easily visible, but not so large that viewers have to crane their necks to take in all the on-screen action.
"Obviously, a 15-feet-wide screen wouldn't work in everyone's media room, but some people want to make that big statement," Sutton said. "The best in today's home electronics is more affordable and attainable than ever with a 4K ultra-high-definition television."
Creating the "best seat in the house" for everyone in the media room is not a task to take lying down. The size of the screen and the placement of the speakers are all interconnected to the seating setup.
Choose seating that is comfortable, but also opt for pieces that can be reconfigured and moved as needed in the media room. A sturdy sectional in an easy-to-clean neutral microfiber or denim fabric is a thoroughly modern and modular choice.
Soft surfaces on the walls and floor -- such as curtains and carpeting -- cut down on disruptive echoes in a media room. "The quality of audio in thinner televisions is lacking, so it's important to strategically have speakers placed throughout the room," Sutton said.
For a proper surround-sound system, the media room setup requires two or more speakers in the front of the room -- from where the primary sounds emanate -- and two or more speakers toward the back of the room, which will fill in background sounds, such as birds chirping, dogs barking or water rushing.
Having a subwoofer speaker strategically placed on the floor or against a wall will help the low-pitched frequencies carry throughout the room.
A media room setup shouldn't be made completely in the dark, either. While there shouldn't be a lot of ambient light in the room to cause glare on the screen, a completely dark room may strain eyes or cause a hazard, should someone have to leave while a movie is rolling.
Ideally, a media room should have soft ambient lighting, which is connected to a dimmer and adjusted by a single remote or voice-control device. If a television screen is mounted near a bank of windows, having motorized shades can draw the curtain on distractions.
While the do-it-yourself route may seem like a less-expensive alternative to setting up a media room, in the long run it's always better to have a technology strategy session with a professional, Sutton says.
"Now, through the aid of technology, there's a do-it-with-me movement, in which professional electronic designers and installers can ship the exact equipment you need and be available remotely to help the homeowner put components in place," Sutton said. "By planning with a professional, a homeowner can avoid the nest of cables and the purchase of unusable componentry, all while creating a show-stopping media room that can continue to grow with your needs."
Consult a local Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association professional to help create a personal home theater: www.cedia.org, click on the "Find a Pro" link.