HomeGuideHow to Set Up the Ultimate Home Entertainment System
How to Set Up the Ultimate Home Entertainment System
January 12, 2020
There’s no better feeling than flopping down on your couch after a long day, or on a quiet Saturday night, to watch a movie or television show at home. However, your basic TV set with its standard speakers, while great for everyday use, might not quite cut it when you really want to sink into your movie and lose yourself in the action.
In the past, to up your experience, you would need to head out to a movie theater. And while the big screen is still arguably the best, you can set up a home entertainment system that rivals it and will make you second guess spending the money to trudge out to the theaters.
What’s more, is that there are now more things to watch at home than ever before. Netflix produces great original content, as does Hulu and Amazon Prime, and more and more movie studios are allowing people to watch movies from home at the same time they are released in theaters, giving you even less incentive to leave the house.
But to really get the best of your home entertainment experience, you need to have the right system and the right set up, which requires a bit more than just buying a big TV and plunking it into your living room. Instead, you need to carefully consider how you will construct your system, and we’ve outlined the best way to do this to help you get the best in home entertainment.
Step 1: The Room
While the TV is going to likely be the centerpiece of your home entertainment system, it’s not the first thing you should be thinking about when you start planning. Instead, your priority should be to choose the room you’re going to use for your system and to consider what it has to offer. Once you do this, it will be much easier for you to make choices about the rest of your system.
If you’re just moving into a new place, knowing what to look for in a home entertainment room will also make it easier for you to plan how to build your system. Here are some of the key things to keep in mind:
How big is the room you’re going to use for your home entertainment system? If you’re planning on merely adding to your living room to make it more theatrical, then it might not make sense to get a massive TV, as this will overtake the space and render it useless for other things.
Another thing to consider with the size of the room is where you’re going to put the TV. In smaller rooms, your only choice might be in the corner, which will limit the size of the TV you can buy.
The size of the room will also affect where you can place your furniture. Bigger TVs require wider viewing angles, which means you need to set the furniture up further away from the screen. However, putting a sofa up against the wall will limit the ability of a surround sound system to truly “surround” you. In these scenarios, it’s better to get a slightly smaller TV that allows you to sit closer so that you can make the most of the entire home theater experience.
If possible, try to choose a room for your home entertainment system that has rectangular walls since square rooms tend to mess with the sounds coming from your TV.
When working with rectangular rooms, place the TV in the center of one of the longer walls. Of course, this might not always be possible, but if you want to build the best possible home entertainment system, try to find a room that will help you make it happen.
Bright lights ruin your TV experience by diminishing the color on your TV and producing a glare. As a result, try to find a room that isn’t going to be too bright. Finished basement rooms are the best if that option is available to you.
But this doesn’t just refer to natural light, especially since most of us make use of home entertainment systems at night. Instead, it also refers to other things that could reflect light and diminish the picture quality. These include paint colors (bright colors tend to reflect the light from the screen and make it look worse) as well as reflective items in the room, such as mirrors or windows.
In instances where you simply cannot avoid light getting in, consider getting some curtains or drapes to block out reflections or lights that could mess with the quality of your TV picture.
Tile and hardwood reflect sound waves and mess up the audio coming from your TV, so if possible, try to choose a room that is carpeted. In the event this isn’t possible, you’ll want to buy an area rug to dampen some of the sound reflections that can come off the floor and make it harder to hear what you’re listening to on the TV.
Step 2: The TV
Now that you’ve chosen the room for your home entertainment system, you should be able to visualize what the system is going to look like. And with this vision in mind, you can now start looking at what is likely to be the most important part of your home entertainment system: the television
Taking the size and other characteristics of the room you’re going to use into account, you should have an idea of what size TV you want to buy, and you should now be aware that bigger isn’t necessarily better, even though the salesperson you speak with will probably try to convince you it is.
But beyond the size, there are some other things you will want to keep in mind to make sure you’ve got the device you need to build the best possible home entertainment system.
Screen Type: LCD vs. OLED
One of the bigger decisions you will need to make about your TV is what kind of screen you want. Generally speaking, you have two choices: OLED and LCD.
The latest rage is OLED, which stands for Organic Light Emitting Diode. These screens are made up of pixels which are capable of independently illuminating themselves, which means they can also be turned completely off.
The main advantage of this is that these pixels can produce a true black, which gives the television an infinite contrast ratio. Contrast is arguably one of the most important characteristics of a TV because it determines how sharp and vivid the image will be.
OLED TVs also have impeccable viewing angles, which means they deliver the same high-quality picture no matter where you site while watching.
However, OLED technology is still relatively new, and this means it’s quite expensive. Plus, the smallest OLED TVs on the market are 55 inches.
Another downside to OLED is that the screen in overall less bright than with other TVs. If you’re going to set up a home entertainment system in a room that gets lots of light, then an OLED TV might not be the best option.
In terms of brands, LG and Sony are the ones to beat in the OLED market.
Another choice you have is LCD LED. These TVs are made up of several layers, with the top one consisting of liquid crystals that are illuminated by the LED backlight. In general, LDC LED TVs are significantly brighter than OLEDs, but their contrast ratios, although impressive, are quite a bit smaller than those of OLED TVs. However, the boost in brightness allows these TVs to still deliver an excellent picture.
One thing to keep in mind, though, is that the picture on LCD LED TVs tends to degrade when you start to view the screen from an angle.
If you decide to go this route, Vizio and TCL both make excellent LCD TVs at affordable prices that would provide a major boost to your home entertainment system.
For those looking for something in between, consider looking at TVs with “quantum dot” technology. These are basically LCD LEDs that have an extra layer of “quantum dots” that allow contrast ratios that approach but don’t reach the levels of OLED TVs.
Samsung is a leader in this area with its QLED technology, but Vizio is rapidly becoming a top option, as well.
Resolution refers to the number of pixels on the screen. In theory, the more pixels the better, as this means more colors and better contrast. But just because the screen has more pixels doesn’t guarantee a better picture, as you need to take into account other factors such as brightness and contrast.
The industry standard has been 1080p for a long time, but in recent years, Ultra HD, or 4K resolution, has emerged as the best of the best.
A screen with 1080p resolution can still deliver a good picture, but if you want to build the best possible home entertainment system, you’re going to want to get a TV with 4K resolution. Any model on the market these days that’s worth buying will have this, so you don’t need to stress too much, but it’s something to check for when you’re shopping.
Also known as High Dynamic Range, HDR is the newest technology in high-definition. Essentially, HDR works by using metadata to give your TV more information about the colors it should be processing. This allows the TV to produce more stark contrasts and a better overall image. But for it to work, your TV needs to be sufficiently bright. To know if it is, just look to see if the TV is “HDR-ready”
Nowadays, you will probably see HDR referred to as HDR 10, but know that these are essentially the same thing. However, there are a few variants that you should know about to make sure you’re getting the best TV possible for your home entertainment system, such as:
Dolby Vision – This is an HDR format that processes metadata on a frame-by-frame basis instead of scene-by-scene, which is the way basic HDR works. Doing this allows for even more contrast and better color display, leading to an overall better experience. However, for this to work, you need to be watching content that has been created with Dolby Vision in mind. There is more and more video available every day, but Dolby is competing with other companies that offer essentially the same thing, so keep an eye out for this.
HDR+ – A proprietary Samsung technology, HDR+ does basically the same thing as Dolby Vision but it is used mainly on Samsung TVs, although some other manufacturers are beginning to adopt the technology. Right now, Samsung is competing with Dolby Vision, much like HD DVD and Blu-Ray competed in the late 2000s, and it’s difficult to say who will win. For now, though, there’s not much difference. But be aware of market changes as you shop for a TV.
HLG – This is HDR for live broadcasts. It’s currently not the norm, but it will be soon. So, if you plan to use your home entertainment system for watching live sports, make sure the TV you get is HLG-ready. Most of the top models you’ll find out there have this but double-check before you buy.
Step 3: The Speakers
Once you’ve got your TV sorted, you’ve got the video part of your home entertainment system covered. Now it’s time to turn to audio, which will do wonders for making your home theater feel more like the real thing.
Again, though, to get the right speakers, the first thing you need to do is consider the space you are going to use for your home entertainment system. Smaller rooms need less and bigger rooms need more. If you’re using a room with high, vaulted ceilings, you may need to invest a good bit more in overhead speakers to make sure the sound doesn’t get lost in the vast space you have above you.
Below we’ve outlined some of the basics when it comes to your home theater sound system that should help steer you in the right direction when it comes time to buy your speakers.
Also known as an amplifier, this is the device that is actually going to deliver the sound from your TV or other input to the speakers.
The main things to keep in mind when buying a speaker are:
Power – Measured in Watts (W), this gives you an idea of how much power the amplifier can deliver to your sound system. Again, bigger is not always better. It matters which speakers you’re using as well as the room you’re using for your entertainment system. As a general rule, 100W of power should be enough power to deliver a theater-like experience to your home, although smaller rooms will need less and larger ones will need more.
Impedance – A fancy, scientific term for “resistance,” this spec is measured in Ohms. Resistance is good because it prevents your amplifier from overloading your speakers and damaging them. Most speakers and amps these days work on 8-Ohms, but some use four. The most important thing to remember is that you need to match the resistance from your amp to that of your speakers as a mismatch can damage your speakers.
After the receiver, it’s time to get your speakers. When looking at specs, keep in mind the following:
Impedance – Again, make sure this matches the output from your receiver to make sure you’re not over- or under-loading your speakers and putting them at risk of being damaged.
Sensitivity – This refers to how much power your speakers need to get to higher volumes. More sensitive speakers need less whereas less sensitive ones require more. Sensitivity is measured in decibels (dB), and what you need will depend on how powerful your amp is. If it’s less powerful, you may want more sensitive speakers (89 dB or above), whereas more powerful amps often work best with less sensitive speakers (88 dB or below) because they are less likely to get damaged by increases in volume.
Finding a Match
Matching your speakers and receive is extremely important if you want to build a great home entertainment system. But with so many technical specifications, this can be easier said than done.
For those who are less knowledgeable in this area, know that if you stick with the same manufacturer for both, you should be in pretty good shape because you will know the speakers you are buying were made for that receiver.
However, not all speaker manufacturers make the best receivers and vice versa, so it might be necessary to mix and match. In these cases, just keep an eye on the specs above and you should do fine.
Types of Speakers
Once you know the resistance, power, and sensitivity requirements of your sound system, it’s time to go out and get your speakers. For the best possible experience, you will want to get the following speakers for your home entertainment system:
Center Stage speakers – These often come in the form of a soundbar that you place directly in front of your TV. This is where most of the dialogue will come from, as well as the core sounds for whatever you’re watching. In many ways, these speakers are the most important for your sound system as they lay the foundation for the overall sound experience.
Side speakers – These will increase the stereo capabilities of your sound system and make whatever you’re watching on TV more dynamic. The best option for these is towers, but this isn’t practical for all homes. You can also find side speakers that fit nicely onto a shelf or entertainment center that will help you make an excellent home theater experience.
Surround sound – To take your home entertainment to the next level, you should invest in surround sound speakers. Place these behind you to give special effects an extra boost and to feel as though you are fully immersed in whatever it is you’re watching.
Subwoofers – For deep basslines and even more exciting special effects, invest in a subwoofer. You can place this pretty much anywhere in the room since bass sounds have longer waves that make it harder for the ear to distinguish where they come from, although most people put it right to the side of the TV. For large rooms, get a 12” or larger subwoofer, and for smaller rooms, a compact sub will do just fine.
Overhead speakers. Although not entirely necessary, overhead speakers, or upward pointing speakers, go one step further and give you a sound system that truly surrounds you. These can be installed in ceilings, or you can also buy speakers you place on the ground and point upwards so that sound waves hit the ceiling and bounce back down. These can be quite expensive, but they will make it feel as though you truly are in the cinema while you’re sitting on your couch. For rooms with really high ceilings, they are almost a necessity to overcome the empty feeling you can get from watching a movie in such a room.
Step 4: The Furniture
With a TV and a sound system now in place, one of the last things you need to consider is the furniture you’re going to use for your home entertainment system.
Of course, practical reasons may drive some of your decisions. For example, if you’re installing a system in a room you still want to use to entertain and do things other than watch TV, then you’ll likely need to still have a traditional couch or sofa.
But even so, make sure the furniture you have fits the system you’ve spent so much time and money to build. Check that the furniture is high or low enough to provide a good view of the TV, and make sure everything is placed in the room so that everyone in it can get the best possible view of the TV.
If you’re using a dedicated space for your entertainment system, it might be a good idea to invest in some home theater recliners. This allows you to line chairs up so that everyone is as close to the center of the room as possible.
It’s even possible to find this type of furniture with speakers built-in so that each person can get their own personalized sound experience. Of course, these aren’t cheap, but they are quite incredible.
Step 5: The Add-Ons
Okay, now that you’ve got the infrastructure in place, it’s time to think about what accessories you can add to your system to really make it the best. In the end, the home entertainment industry is huge, so there are countless options, but here are some that are borderline necessary if you want to have a top-of-the-line home entertainment system:
A game console to play video games, stream Netflix and other videos and also play DVDs and Blu-Ray
A vinyl record player to listen to the quality of analog music on your best-of-the-best sound system
Furniture with coolers built-in so that you don’t need to get up in the middle of a movie or game to quench your thirst.
An old-fashioned popcorn machine because who doesn’t love munching on popcorn when they’re immersed in a movie.
A bar where you can store your drinks and also make up cocktails for movie nights with friends.
A WiFi blocker to make sure no one’s phones go off at the worst possible moment of your favorite movie.
Again, there are many more options out there than we could ever possibly list, but here are some to get you started.
Investing in a home theater system is a big decision. The equipment you’re going to buy will be expensive, but if it’s something you enjoy, why not go all-out? However, if you’re going to spend the money, we want to be sure you’re getting what you want. So, if you follow the steps we’ve outlined here, you will be able to build a home entertainment system that will ensure your home is filled for every big-game and movie/TV premier.