Going to the movies doesn't necessarily mean leaving your home anymore. With widescreen TVs, surround sound speaker systems and even theater-seating options, you can pop popcorn in your home microwave and put your jammies on before the opening credits.
Whether you have a spare room, an unfinished basement or a simple family room, a few additions can turn the space into a family entertainment Mecca.
If you are turning an unused basement or empty garage into a home theater that you are building from the ground up, there are tricks you can use to improve the acoustics, such as angling the walls to reduce echoes. The placements of screens, speakers and seating are also important. Draw up a detailed floor plan. Include seating, speakers, screens, plasma or LCD monitors, acoustical panels and electric outlets. Even your well-used family room can be turned into a place your family will want to congregate in each day with just a few improvements.
Popular and fairly recent movies are available for personal home viewing on DVD, Blu-ray and cable TV pay-per-view. At rental shops, you still can find a large assortment of movies on VHS, and there are many older movies that are not available in disc format; consider upgrading to a hi-fi stereo VCR unit. Large flat-panel LCD and plasma screens are able to simulate some of the large-screen definition found in movie theaters. (If you want that flat-screen TV to look its best, however, you need to make sure you're getting a high-definition signal from your cable or satellite provider.) Strategically placed speakers with split channels and high fidelity speaker systems will help to emulate the surround sound enjoyed in movie theaters.
Larry Schmitt, merchandising manager at the Columbus Circle Best Buy in New York, says: "Today upgrading your home theater system doesn't mean you have to spend a large amount of money because many theater items have dropped significantly in price. At Best Buy, we match customers with the right home theater products to fit their individual needs. From the gamer who's looking for a crisp picture to the movie buff looking for the latest in surround sound, today's advanced technology allows customers to customize their home theater systems to their preferences."
The size of the room is a big factor in deciding on the size and type of screen and number of speakers you will need. Knowing what your expectations are is another step in deciding what equipment to buy. Will you be limiting the room's use to movie and TV viewing, or will the kids (and adults) be playing the Wii or another video game system? Will you want to curl up on a couch or have actual theater seating for watching movies? They even have risers to simulate the true stadium-seating feel.
Starting with what you already have, you probably can upgrade your home theater system with just a few key components. If your screen is large enough, adding an amplifier and speakers might be enough to transform an ordinary family room into a theater. Adding a DVR and a Blu-ray player to your system will help to bring vivid images to your screen. With a DVR, you can record two programs at once, as well as pick shows of which you want to record every episode. You even can freeze the action to answer the phone or grab some refreshments. Blu-ray Discs use blue-violet lasers that give sharper images than red-laser DVDs.
Another component to consider adding to your upgraded home theater system is an audio-visual receiver and amplifier. This unit can amplify the signals it receives and send them out to both your screen and your speakers. It is often less expensive to purchase ready-made speaker sets, but many people choose to purchase units separately to meet their individual needs. Six speakers are recommended for the typical home theater. Two front speakers should be the most prominent, and depending on the size of the room, they can be anything from bookshelf-sized to free-standing floor units. Also recommended are two surround speakers, a center speaker and a subwoofer for the lowest frequency ranges.