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Can You Spare Any Room?

A reasonable home theater experience really needs a dedicated room.

Another one of your customers wants to commission you to install a home theater in their open floor plan, light-colored, reverberant and window-filled great room. Of course they want nice gear, because they deserve it and everything they have is top of the line. So, you can work to hide speakers inside their custom cabinetry, place a large plasma set over the fireplace, flush-mount the side and rear speakers into the high ceiling and hope for the best. Is it really worth it? Will they get their moneys worth of movie entertainment? Of course not!

The large volume of sonic space in your clients great room will reverberate for three seconds, mashing dialog and effects into an unintelligible cacophony. Background noise from refrigerators, telephones, dishwashers and HVAC systems will trample all of the fine sonic detail of film soundtracks and music, making those high-end amps and speakers sound no better than the ones you can buy at the local electronics supermarket. High ambient light will force your customer to turn up the contrast on the plasma set, reducing its life span and saturating all the whites into a flat and un-involving picture. When alls said and done, your client will have wasted his money on a room that sounds bad, looks bad and is certainly not the way to really experience a film.

So what is a film experience? Its one where you go to a special room, with seats all facing the large screen and where, after the lights dim, nothing is allowed to distract you from being transported to medieval England or outer space in 2001 (talk about suspension of disbelief!). The sound is intelligible, clear and powerful. The picture is big, bright and crisp. Everything is set up to trick your conscious mind into believing that this is a real experience. Thats what allows a film director to transport the audience to wherever the script intends. Ever found yourself shushing up a talkative neighbor at the local cinema? Why? Because theyre messing with your virtual reality film experience, darn it! So why would you allow a fridge, a telephone or an air handler to do the same?

The fact is, a reasonable home theater experience really needs a dedicated room or at least a multi-use room with doors, light occluding drapes, acoustical treatments and adequately dark surroundings. Without that you are merely offering your customers large TVs with loud sound. Thats just not right.

So heres what I suggest doing. Next time you are faced with the great room home theater request, ask if there wouldnt be a spare room in the residence that gets relatively little use, and which could be turned into a dedicated theater space. Of course you will meet with some resistance, but try a little harder. There is usually an office, a den, a guest bedroom, a bedroom from a college-bound kid or even space in the garage that you could use. Over the garage can be a great place to put a theater if you are involved in the project early enough to make the area a full story without any dreaded soffits. You can also suggest finishing out a basement, or even digging one if necessary. You can even add a theater/pool house if that works. You really dont need that much room; I have experienced very nice theaters in 15- by 12-foot rooms that can comfortably seat five people. You can still put a basic flat-screen TV plus multichannel sound system in the great room, but go low-cost and simple.

The dedicated room offers so many advantages that its really hard to refute it. Heres a basic list to share with your customers:

Sound Isolation. You can build out a space that is isolated from the rest of the residence so that when you enter and close the door behind you, no one hears you and you dont have to hear the outside world. Gone are the telephones, the washers, the traffic noise the loud teenagers; ahhh, so nice…

Light control. You can fully control the light levels and therefore go from those over-hyped plasma sets with inferior picture quality to a real projection system with resolution and contrast that will knock your socks off.

Aesthetics. Decorate the room to make it into a real entertainment event. The cinematic transport process starts even before the lights dim. Also, you can use the darker and neutral tones required for adequate projection systems. Integrate treatments into the dcor disguise them away. You can even hide away all the gear that may distract your conscious mind from its virtual reality trip.

Seating. You can use purpose-made theater seating. Ever tried to sit up in a living room couch for two hours while watching a movie? Not possible. Your body will ache; thats a given. Theater chairs are ergonomically designed for proper support so that your 120 minutes are as comfy as possible. That helps the virtual reality thing, you know?
Background noise control. A dedicated space can be made into a quiet area with no background noise. That allows the system to shine through and to resolve the 120dB of dynamic range available in Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks. You can even turn the volume down a bit without losing any lines of dialog or critical sound effects in case your ears are a tad sensitive.

Justifies high-end gear. A properly designed and engineered dedicated room can fully showcase the performance values of high-quality equipment. The picture quality is at its full contrast ratios. The audio system can exhibit its full dynamic range. The fine subtlety of carefully crafted cinematography and sound design come through just as the director intended, allowing you to really believe in the story line.

Enhanced property value. A dedicated theater space is often a key selling feature in an upscale residence. Everyone has swimming pools. Everyone has game rooms. But few home sellers have a dedicated, themed theater space. Prospective homebuyers (and their kids) are sure to remember the house with the theater. That puts the seller at a negotiating advantage compared to other properties in the neighborhood, and I am seeing more and more real estate agents cite theaters as a feature in their listings.

Boy, with arguments like these who would ever want to outfit a great room with a home theater system? A dedicated space is the obvious path to movie nirvana. Of course this all assumes that your client shares your passion for movies, or that you can infect them with yours. Bring them to your showroom or another customers dedicated room and watch them be amazed. For many clients, thats all it takes.