Top Home Theater Mistakes & How To Avoid Them

If you are starting out on your home theater journey, you’ll soon find there are a lot of components to consider when selecting all of the pieces you will need for a great home theater.

What you may not think of though, are some of the more subtle nuances that can have a tremendous impact on how immersive your home theater experience will be.

We thought it would be helpful to go over the seven most common mistakes people make when building out their dream home theater.  The good news is most of these mistakes do not cost anything to get right — or very little — compared to your entire home theater investment.  You might just have to rethink where you were spending your money but not change the total amount.

There is no real order of importance for these as making any of these mistakes can take what could have been an amazing home theater system and turn it into something mediocre.  The great news is that we have created home theater buyers guides that dive into the details on all of these mistakes so you can easily learn about the nuances of each one.

Selecting the Wrong Screen Size

When starting to think about your home theater, you should have the goal of creating an experience that is immersive from both a visual and an auditory perspective.  The most common question we get asked is “how big should my screen be?”.

If you go for an extremely large screen and are sitting very close to it, you could get vertigo during fast-moving scenes. However, most people make the mistake of selecting a screen that is not large enough. Go too small and you will never have an immersive experience that puts you in the movie.  

If you are going with a front projection type system, you will also want to make sure your projector has the light output to provide a bright image, especially as your screen gets very large.

The right home theater screen size puts you in the movie - without feeling overwhelming or causing a sense of vertigo.

A screen that is too small does not provide an immersive experience.

Using the Wrong Paint or Finishes

There is a reason movie theaters are dark and not full of mirrors.  Ideally, you want your home theater room to be dark as well.  Light-colored walls will reflect light from your TV or projector back into the room washing out the picture.  This can be a really big problem for front projectors.

There are also different types of paint finishes that reflect light more than others.  Be sure and choose a matte or flat paint finish. One of our favorite colors is Grizzle Gray from Sherwin Williams.  

Another type of reflection to avoid comes from cabinets and finishes around your screen or TV.  If you place your TV or screen near a reflective surface, you will see the image on the surface which is just super distracting.   We’ve seen people put polished granite right under their screen and it acts as a mirror.   Don’t make that kind of mistake and think about the furniture or finishes around your TV or projection screen.

Our article on home theater lighting has some more tips for you. 

Be sure to choose a matte or flat paint finish in a dark color. One of our favorite colors is Grizzle Gray from Sherwin Williams.

Light-colored or glossy sheen walls will reflect light from your TV or projector back into the room washing out the picture.

Sight Line Problems

If you have ever sat behind someone with a large hat on in a movie theater or tried to watch a movie on a TV that was placed very high up in the air, you have experienced a sightline issue.

You want to be comfortable when you watch a movie and should also be able to see the entire screen.  This is usually pretty simple for family room home theaters — just put your video display at eye level.  However, when you get into dedicated home theater rooms, it can get much more tricky with more than one row of seats.  Calculating the proper riser height and screen height off the floor takes a little bit of math.

Calculate the proper riser & screen height to ensure the view from the second row is not blocked.

Forgetting a riser or incorrect calculations will create sightline issues.

Spending Too Much of Your Budget on the Video

We just hate it when we walk into a room and see a giant TV with a cheap soundbar.  That person got the video immersion part right but totally blew it on getting immersive audio.

With all of the great effects, Dolby Atmos now has to offer, audio is more important than ever.  You’ll understand the dialog far better and be enveloped in amazing surround sound if you have a great surround sound speaker system. You do not want to cut corners on your audio!  

At Audio Advice, we think about this every time we design a complete home theater for our customers and we share some of our general guidelines in our guide to budgeting for a home theater system.


AC Power Problems

There are two types of problems with your AC power that can ruin a great home theater experience. The first is being underpowered.  You may have everything on a breaker that also serves other parts of your home. When things get loud and your home theater amp is pushing your speakers hard, you could blow a breaker.  It is a good idea to add up the power requirements of your home theater gear and make sure the outlet you plan to plug them into can handle them.

A more common issue though is AC grounding problems.  This happens when one component in your theater is on a different breaker from the rest and can result in really bad audio hum or video hum bars.

Not Setting Up and Calibrating Your System Properly

All of that great home theater gear you purchased is similar to a bag full of groceries.  It does not become a complete, delicious meal unless you have the skills to cook it to perfection.

Luckily, for home theater enthusiasts, calibrating your system has gotten far easier than in the past.  Just about every home theater receiver now has a way to self calibrate using a microphone included in the box.  It usually takes less than 10 minutes to run a calibration and the change can be simply amazing in most systems.  Please do not skip this step and if you are smart, you will look at the settings afterward to make sure they seem reasonable — especially from a distance standpoint.  

Another important part is setting up the inputs and outputs so you will get full surround sound.  Some devices default to sending out just LPCM which is only a stereo signal. For the best surround sound experience, you’ll want to make sure anything in your system sending out sound is set to output either Bitstream or the highest level Dolby signal shown on the menu.

One final catch is setting up the inputs on your home theater receiver.  Most of them default to just playing stereo or all channel stereo when a stereo signal is present.  Many sports and news feeds will only send out stereo.  Your receiver though can improve the sound by upconverting it to Dolby Surround. Auto calibration will not do this part, you will need to go into the menu for each input and make sure it defaults to a better surround mode when a stereo signal comes in.  

Video displays have all gotten so good that if you set up the mode for movies or reference, you will not really need to do anything else.

Ignoring the Importance of Acoustics

We have lots of customers tell us they bought what they thought was great home theater gear, but are having trouble understanding the dialog.  When we investigate further, we discover they have the system set up in a room that has all kinds of hard, reflective surfaces and it is no wonder the dialog is not clear.

Your room has a tremendous impact on your sound.  Most home theater spaces have too much reflective surface area which causes the sound to bounce around before it reaches your ears.  This difference in the main sound wave and reflected sound can make it very hard to understand the dialog, the most important audio track in a movie.  

When you get the acoustic plan for your room correct, you not only will have perfect dialog, but everything just sounds so much better separated.  Special effects take on the spacious sound the director wanted.

To correct this home theater mistake, you will have to spend a few bucks, but there are a good variety of great value home theater acoustic panels on the market to choose from that can take your room from mediocre to amazing.

No one likes to make mistakes and we hope these simple tips will help you create your dream home theater that makes you and your friends smile from ear to ear!

As always, if you have any questions you can reach us on chat, email, by phone, or drop into one of our Raleigh or Charlotte, NC showrooms.

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Home Theater Buying Guide

If you are in the market for a new home theater system or improving part (or all) of the one you already own, you’ve probably figured out that the options can be more confusing than advanced algebra! Explore our guide to understand the available options and how they might work or not work in your particular situation. If you need help customizing a solution for your space, reach out - we're happy to help!

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