Home Theatre Installation
This is a DIY Home Theatre Installation wiring guide. You’re a successful man, you’ve worked hard and built a home for yourself, but there’s something missing… something just for you. What you need is a man cave – a space all your own, designed by you, for you to enjoy whenever you feel the need to get away and relax with COD on your 8K 120” Dolby Atmos. Just imagine it, a room decked out with the latest gadgets, the best sound, and lighting where you don’t have to worry about using coasters or wearing pants. We guys know the importance of time out from the women in our lives and the man cave provides the environment we need. Man caves are not a new concept, men have created versions of them for thousands of years, as far back as when we lived in actual caves. Since then there have been many types of male-only spaces, including – bathhouses, smoking rooms, libraries, and male-only clubs. In these spaces, men would retreat together and spend time apart from women, often smoking cigars and drinking brandy. So, the man cave is really just the evolution of thousands of years of tradition with the added benefit of surround sound and razor-sharp HD resolution images. I know what you’re thinking – it sounds expensive. That’s where I come in, I will give you the all the hints and tips and advice you need to create your own man cave without breaking the bank. I’m going to show you how to build everything you’ve ever wanted into your man cave, all the bells and whistles, so you’ll be the envy of all your mates. In this blog I’m going to give you the 5 essentials to home theatre installation, this will get you started on your journey towards building your own Ultimate Man Cave.
The planning process of installing a Home Theatre
Picture this, you are about to embark on building your first home, you have worked so hard throughout your adult life to get to this point where you are successful enough to be a part of the dream, the dream of owning your own home, and you’re going to do it with style! I bet in many cases you (the man) may not have much say in the styling of the home, the kitchen, the paint color, all the pretty trimmings, and decor – that has now been taken over by your overly optimistic wife or partner. Which means your budget has also been taken over. But this doesn’t mean you can’t have your very own exclamation of manhood, the pinnacle of your hard work, your sanctuary when all you want to do is play COD on your 8K 120” Dolby Atmos Dude Dungeon! What I am giving you here is all the hints, tips and advice you need to execute this perfectly yourself without breaking the bank (or if you’re not handy, you could always call up one of your tradie mates and use this guide and get them to help you on the weekend). Perhaps this is not your first home, but this is the first time you are going all out and building the space you have always desired so you’ll want all the bells and whistles that go along with building the ultimate man cave. The experience should start as you walk into your soundproofed, expertly lit, man cave – while you make yourself comfortable on your vibrating La-Z-Boy Cinema couch, a motorized drop-down screen is activated at the touch of a button on your smartphone and the magic begins! If you like the sound of this, keep reading, I’m going to tell you how to do it. Building a man cave from scratch is easier than you may think, how to retrofit a man cave is a different story, but I will explain that later. First things first, what are the ultimate man cave essentials?
- A Large Screen
- A Good Speaker System
- Fast Internet
- Big Bass
- Comfortable Seating
- Wife-proof Operation (absolutely essential for budget allocation)
Now, let’s break down the importance of these essentials and look at the various options to consider. A Large Screen: Bigger isn’t always better, I’m afraid to be the one to tell you this, you need to work with the size you have. What I mean by this is that you need to work out the best way to utilize the space you have for your man cave by choosing a screen size that will give you the maximum viewing pleasure. I want you to cast your mind back to the last time you went to the cinema to see a hot new film and as you walked into the screening room to see that all around you the good seats were taken. How did you feel at this moment, were you thrilled or disappointed that you couldn’t have the best seat in the house and were forced to sit too close to the screen? Sitting too close to the screen means your focus has to be all around the screen at once, and your eyes become tired. This might be fine during the odd few occasions you have to sit at the front at the cinema but next time around you learn your lesson and arrive early. Now, if you go and put a 130” screen inside a small space, with your two seater sofa only two meters away, you will have the same experience as you would in the cinema, and my experience shows that these home theatres rarely get used as a result of this tiresome viewing experience. A general rule of thumb here is to take the distance from your seating position to the screen and divide by 2.5 to arrive at the ideal screen height. For example, let’s say your shopping at your local Hardly Normal and they have a special on a 75” Television the height of the screen should be around 93cm (see Screen Dimensions) now you multiply this by 2.5 (93 x 2.5 = 232.5) and ensure that you have 2.325m between you and the screen. Expert Tip: When choosing a screen work off image height: The closest you want to sit is – SD = 3x but no farther than 4x HD =2x and no farther than 4x and 2.5 being preferred. UHD 0.8x with 1.5x being preferred.
LED TV or Projector? By considering the screen size guidance above you should be able to answer the question ‘should I buy a TV or a projector and screen’. While it feels much more like the ultimate man cave when you have a projector beaming light across the room to a lovely velour framed white screen remember that viewing comfort is key. Expert Tip: Light And Dark If your man cave is likely to be in a bright area subject to daylight a TV has far better benefits than the basic projector (although you can choose to pay more for a high Lumens projector). If the majority of your viewing will be free-to-air programming then fewer components are required, simply switch on and you’re away. The same goes for Smart TV content (or internet based viewing), which is all built into television and not into a projector. Although the sole purpose of most projectors is to display a picture, and not for any of the above-mentioned content (Free-to-air or Internet streaming) when you choose a projector for one of the many benefits you are usually purchasing it bundled together with the necessary peripherals to make all content viewing possible. This usually requires a slightly bigger budget, here’s a quick comparison: 75” Samsung Smart TV = $3999 16:9 110” Fixed Screen = $899 3D HD Projector= $2149 Yamaha 7.2 channel Amplifier= $1049 PANASONIC DMP-UB300GNK 4K ULTRA HD BLURAY PLAYER = $249 Total = $8345 So, in this comparison, I would choose a popular 75” Model TV, which is more expensive than the cheapest model, but you can see here that you can easily spend twice the amount on a TV than on an entry level projection system. To be perfectly honest, you can inverse these figures with higher grade projection systems and a lesser quality TV, but I think you get the picture. (Note: Get in contact if you want to find out how best to use your budget)
A Good Speaker System: The following will probably upset any audiophile enthusiasts out there, mainly because I will not be going into the depth necessary to ensure absolute sound perfection. However, for the purposes of building the ultimate man cave, you should select the best speaker package possible within your budget. When I’m visiting the house of a client and they show me the size of their room, they normally ask me – “How much would speakers cost for this room?” but this is truly a loaded question. In response, I usually ask them how much they want to spend, not because I‘m reaching into their pockets, because it’s possible to spend $1000 or $100,000 on speakers but it depends on what you want to achieve. Therefore setting a budget is the first thing you should do, then you can fill the room as best as possible within that budget. Things to consider within your budget:
Which one of the following can my room size accommodate: 5.1 Surround Sound (2x Fronts, 2x Surrounds, 1x Center, 1x Sub – The Sub is the .1 in 5.1) 6.1 Surround Sound (2x Fronts, 2x Surrounds, 1x Surround Back, 1x Sub) 7.1 Surround Sound (2x Fronts, 2x Surrounds, 2x Surround Back, 1x Sub) 9.1 Surround Sound (2x Fronts, 4x Surrounds, 2x Surround Back, 1x Sub) 11.1 Surround Sound (2x Fronts, 2x Front Presence, 4x Surrounds, 2x Surround Back, 1x Sub) Expert Tip: (Adequate Bass) Bass is about moving air. Loud bass is about moving lots of air, so you need big cone or piston areas or you can use multiple smaller cones that sum to the same area. In the industry today the 10” subwoofer seems to be commonplace. Picture 1.0 An example of Front Presence speakers in a traditional 11.1 System In the everyday living or family room (4mx5m) a simple 5.1 to 7.1 system still produces a very nice home theatre experience, to deliver a fuller sound you should allocate the majority of your budget to a good pair of Floor Standing tower speakers and a bookshelf center. For an affordable system with decent quality expect to pay up to $4k (Yamaha YHT-9940) If you have a larger room, with more of a rectangular layout, you can start to introduce an additional set of surround speakers with a 9.1 System and build up to an 11.1 System providing your AVR has the capability to do so. The addition of overhead speakers to an existing for 5.1 or 7.1 layouts is an expansion of that system creating a 3-dimensional space as opposed to the 2-dimensional space that the standard home theatre represents. The sound will now move up down or around you as opposed to describing back left or right. In this case, you need to decide between a traditional Dolby 11.1 system vs a Dolby Atmos 7.4.1. See picture Expert Tip: Perhaps you are building your man cave over an extended period of time and you choose to add the additional pair of speakers to make a 9.2.1/11.4.2 at a later date. Run 4x pairs of speaker cable to the ceiling near some downlights for future proofing and ease of access to the cable.
Traditional 11.1 Let’s say you have a 7.1 system cranking and you decide to fill the room with some more ‘Front Presence’, you simply add a pair of small satellite speakers or in-wall speakers above your Front Tower/In-Wall speakers (insert picture of Roy’s House) making the system now 9.1, and then adding another pair of surrounds between your existing surrounds and surround backs effectively completing the 11.1 system.
Dolby Atmos 7.4.1 (11.1) One of the most recent developments in Home Theatre is the Dolby Atmos configuration (more on this later) Which is still an 11.1 system despite the labeling of 7.4.1. Essentially the additional 4 speakers are placed in a unique position in the ceiling giving the added ‘Front Presence’ and ‘Rear Presence’, however, this requires a dedicated Dolby Atmos AVR so remember to keep this in mind if you choose this configuration. Hot tip! If you’re sticking to a budget, most basic AVRs are 7.1 as a minimum, you can pre-wire your man cave planning on adding the Atmos speakers over time. This is the perfect segway into discussing the selection of your AVR…
AVR – Audio Visual Receiver An AV Receiver is sometimes referred to as an amplifier, although technically an amplifiers only job is to ‘amplify’ sound coming from a source (a CD or DVD Player) to the Loudspeaker. An amplifier typically has limited inputs, mostly stereo, and has a pretty simple but important job of creating noise. Whereas an AV Receiver does all of the above with additional features such as Digital Sound Processing, Video Switching (these days mostly HDMI switching), Multiple Zone Speaker outputs as well as running the aforementioned surround sound speaker outputs 5.1 through to 7.2.4 (11.2). In my professional experience, a midrange AV Receiver (Between $2000 – $3000) will give you almost all that the high-end receivers will, they achieve pretty impressive sound reproduction and still won’t break the bank. Of course, the serious enthusiast will scoff at this, and if you have $10k+ to throw at discrete channel amplifiers, separate AV Switching, and all the bells and whistles, you will probably be paying good money for professional installation as well so this manual may be of no use to you. Expert Tip: (What to look for in an AV Receiver)
- Networking Capability
- Dolby Atmos Capability (If you are going for something larger than 7.1)
- Smart Device App for Control
- HDMI Switching (With ARC)
- Minimum 100 Watts RMS Per Channel
Sources to Choose Today all of your viewing devices (sources) are connected via an HDMI cable. HDMI is a very neat design, however, it is reaching the end of its life due to the amount of High Definition data it is required to handle. Twenty years ago people connected VCRs to their TVs via a single RF coaxial cable, DVD was then introduced and suddenly people were confronted with up to 9 AV leads which could happily be run over large distances. HDMI compressed all the data of an AV lead, plus more, into a single, neat, easy-to-install lead. It does, however, have limitations when used over a large distance. Below is an example selection of devices you could use to view your content:
- Blu-Ray Players
- Hard Disc Drives (Media Players)
- Streaming Devices (Apple TV)
- Set Top Boxes (Cable/Satellite TV)
- Gaming Consoles (Xbox)
Nowadays we are fortunate not to need a multitude of devices to view content, often simplicity is best. When a professional installer is upgrading an existing media system (See picture of a 10 year old home cinema rack) a $250 Apple smart TV will stream all of your Netflix, many online services as well as the huge library of iTunes movies and television series to rent and/or buy from a retail store. Personally, I am not a huge fan of Apple products but they do offer ease of use and versatility in your man cave. If like me, you’re not an Apple product fan, then there are other options out there such as the Roku Box. The Roku Box will enable you to do almost all the above but, depending on your location, these types of devices are usually tied to an ISP (unless you source one from overseas). Expert Tip: Most of the apps on the Roku Box are US based and require a subscription. In Australia, you also need a Smart DNS or VPN service as they are geoblocked. Netflix is actively blocking these DNS services so your chances of accessing Netflix US via a Roku are low (for further advice google Netflix Geoblocking). You will also need to set up your router with the DNS settings to get the US Roku apps to work. However, if you are looking for a simpler streaming box, or if you are not internet protocol savvy, it is better to choose a service provider in your area. In Australia, there is Fetch mini or Telstra TV. Even the most basic Blu-Ray players now come with networking and internet content. If you don’t have a TV antenna but have an internet connection, all of the free-to-air TV stations now have catch-up television/TV-on-demand that allow you to watch your favorite network programs with almost no adverts (a small but tolerable amount of advertising). Expert Tip: (HDMI cables) As mentioned earlier, HDMI does have its limits and this is distance. For any run that will be over 5m we recommend running an additional 2x Cat6 cables for future proofing and/or in the event HDMI fails. The Cat6 cable can be used with an HDMI Balun which can be effective for up to 70m This is where the lighting comes into the decision making, projector systems will not tolerate any bit of light without negatively impacting the image quality. Room lighting has always been an important aspect of the image display quality that most people overlook. Did you know that even TVs require the ambient light in a room to be no brighter than 10% of the peak white light coming from the screen? And for projectors, light control is even more important – if black is defined as the absence of light, then the room should also be absent of light if we are to get even half decent blacks on screen. Lighting control should be carefully considered based on whether you’re using a TV or projector because, after all, a premium viewing and gaming experience is core to man cave success.
Sound & Room Size
Now, you may not have much choice when it comes to the size of your man cave but you can still work with what you’ve got to make the best use of that space. You might think that bigger is better but this is not always the case, remember that the bigger the room the more power you will need to fill that room with sound. The opposite is also true, a small room will limit the level of sound you will be able to achieve both due to the cubic volume of space in the room and also whether you can physically fit the speakers in the room. The optimal sound experience is key to enjoying your entertainment now you have chosen your TV or projector and no man cave would be complete without a surround sound system. When it comes to sound the benefits of more channels is greater flexibility in placement of sound around the listener in a room, so this means 5.1 is the absolute minimum required to create a 360ﾟsound field. In this system, we have three speakers at the front, left, center and right and then two rear speakers for left and right Surrounds. The problems with 5.1 are that there are things that it does well and things that it doesn’t do so well – one of the things that it does not do well is moving sound from the front to the back of the room. For example; a flyover of a helicopter, the sound collapses to the sides of the room because that is where your speakers are positioned.
The 6.1 and 7.1 systems are better because there are speakers are directly behind the listener as well as to the sides, so sounds can now move from the front speaker to the back of the room in a nice smooth transition. The 7.1 is better than 6.1 because it gives the ability to have stereo effects across the back of the room as well as stereo effects at the sides of the room. This enables you to have much smoother transitions in the panning from the left surrounds to the right surround and across the back of the room, with a 6.1 system it has a tendency to snap or jump from the left to the back, to the right. You can go beyond this with the 9.1 to 11.1 which will take you into the realm of breaking the horizontal plane. Sounds very sci-fi, doesn’t it? Let me explain – in the real world sound is like a sphere all around us, it comes from every direction but in a home theatre, it comes from two directions – front and back. With 9.1 to 11.1 height channels (now called Overheads) have been added to create a more enveloping sound field, something that is more real, like what we hear in the real world.
Choosing an AVR
Don’t be tempted to overlook this step, without a good quality Audio Video Receiver (AVR) the overall experience you’ll get from your home theatre won’t be as good as it should be. Connectivity, processing and power amp ratings are the three most important aspects of choosing an AVR and although the pricing hasn’t dropped over the years more functionality has been continually added. My first AVR in 1992 cost me over $2000 and it didn’t even have an SW out! When choosing an AV receiver there are a number of features you should make sure are included, such as network capabilities, Dolby Atmos capability, smart device application for control, enough HDMI inputs (especially ones that support Audio Return Channel). In addition, you should pay close attention to the power ratings for the receiver as, ultimately, this will dictate how loud the system is going to play in any given space. If you have a big room (up to 6000ft³ of space) you could use one between 100 – 200 Watts per channel but if your room is small (less than 3000 ft³) choosing one below 100 Watts per channel will be sufficient. Over the past four years or so there have been a number of changes in this industry so you should also make sure you choose something with the latest additions included as well as networking. You need to have connectivity to be able to stream not only just movies but music and any other form of media, pretty much all content these days is now streamable. You must be able to control your system and integrate it into the rest of your space, it’s very important that you select an AV receiver with all these standards.
HDMI & Speaker Cable
As with AVR, this is another crucial component you must not miss out. While HDMI is a very neat design and brought a solution to the need for bringing back the single leads when DVDs were introduced, I feel it is reaching its end of life. Now we have moved to Ultra High Definition we have effectively twenty times the resolution of the original SD content and that doesn’t even include the extra data required for HDR and Wide Colour Gamut. So, just on pixels alone, its a massive increase to the amount of data that has to go through that lead and what we’re seeing now is some of these leads aren’t coping once we get over 5m. As for Speaker Cable, this is one topic bound to cause an argument but for me the more strands of fine copper the better. There are three aspects to speaker cable that a lot of people are not aware of – Firstly, the longer the cable the more resistance it will have over that length. The other two aspects are capacitance and inductance, a lot of people do not realize what this will do to your sound. Capacitors present ever increasing resistance to low frequencies, so if you are running full range speakers and your speaker cable doesn’t meet the capacitance requirement, it will filter the bass out of your system. Inductance does the opposite, it creates ever increasing resistance to high frequencies, so what that may do is roll off the high frequencies although that may be what you want. If you’re on a budget for your system design then you absolutely need to spend more on the parts that matter the most – surround sound systems are about ambiance and versus imaging that comes from the front speakers. So, if I had to make a choice, I’d definitely be using the better copper upfront for the left, center and right speakers.
Once you have the right quality and enough volume to fully immerse yourself in your man cave activities the next thing to plan is how you will soundproof your space. The last thing you need is complaints about the noise and requests to turn down your well-executed surround sound system….
image by Gain Whitner musicoomph.com/best-bookshelf-speakers/
There are two sides to effective soundproofing – sound isolation and control of reverberation. Sound isolation is the control of sound between your HT and the outside world. Control over reverberation is what happens inside the room and this is the more important of the two for me. Most people think that by packing wool into the wall cavity they will be able to achieve the perfect soundproofing of the room but all they have completed is the first step – helped with sound isolation. When you are planning the control over reverberation consider using curtains as these are probably one of the most unrecognized items that we have in our home which can be used as a sound treatment. They absorb high-frequency sounds and, depending on how thick they are, can affect some of the upper midranges too. Another option for the control of reverberation is to make sure the speaker design layout in the entire space is completely symmetrical, think of it so that center channel is straight ahead at 0ﾟ and your speakers are then equally distanced from this center in a circle. Your treatments in relation to that should also be symmetrically laid out around that circle so that you are not hearing absorption on the one side and not on the other. Remember that it is necessary to absorb some sound, diffuse other parts and sometimes we need to have a little bit of reflection, so long as it is not an echo. If the walls of a room are treated too intensely they can actually create a ‘suck out’, they absorb so much it actually begins to diminish the sound and that’s not a good thing. You’d be surprised how many common items we find in our rooms that will aid us in the control over reverberation – padded sofas are excellent for soaking up bass, bookshelves full of books are an excellent diffuser, curtains absorb high frequencies. It all helps and, chances are if you plan the layout of your man cave with these things in mind you probably won’t even have to go out an So, those are my five essential steps to building a man cave, all the main things you need to know so you can create the perfect man space for you and your mates to indulge in man time together. If the blog has inspired you to build your own man cave why not try my full ebook guide to building the Ultimate Man Cave. In this ebook I will explore these essentials in more detail, giving you the inside knowledge I have built over years in the home entertainment industry. You will get the information you need to pick the best systems on the market and guidance on how to integrate them into your man cave to create the perfect man-sanctuary.