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Your Home Theater Room: The Forgotten Component

The room you use to place your home theater in is often the forgotten component. The space and furnishings of a room will greatly affect the quality of your sound and viewing enjoyment. Here are a few tips made by the people at Dolby Labs:

bulletToo many bare surfaces can cause unwanted reflections in the sound. This will add a harshness to the sound and make the dialog sound muddy. Add carpet and drapes to help with this problem. My wife is in charge of this portion of our home theater room.
bulletIf there is a choice, avoid a room that is perfectly square or where one dimension is exactly twice the other. This will greatly increase the resonance's greatly changing the coloration of the sound.
bulletCenter the seating area between the side walls that house the surround speakers.
bulletThe closer a speaker is placed to corners walls and the floor the greater the bass response. This can often result in overpowering bass that drowns out the dialog.
bulletSurround speakers should be about one meter (three feet) above the typical listening position. If you are using smaller satellite speakers place them closer to the ceiling. The angle formed by the ceiling and wall will enhance the bass response of the speaker. If the rear speakers are close in configuration to the front, that is they have a tweeter, mid range and woofer, place them lower, about ear level if possible.
bulletSub woofer(s) should be placed away from the front and surround speakers so as not to overwhelm them. Since most low frequency sound is difficult to locate the placement of the subwoofer is open to more variation. Move it around and listen to what seems best to you.

Here is a simple formula to set the delay times for your surround speakers.

d1:     distance from listening position to  front speakers.
d2:    distance from listening position to rear speakers.
If d1 is equal to or less than d2 set to 15ms.
If d2 is less than d1 start at 15ms and increase by 5ms for every 1.5 meters of difference between d1 and d2.

Sometimes, the position of a speaker can have a pronounced affect of the way you hear the sound. For example, if one speaker seems a bit louder or brighter than another (especially with the front set) try turning the louder speaker a bit away from facing you.    So, if the left speaker is louder or brighter turn it to the left away from your primary sitting position. Don't be afraid to experiment a little to find what is best for you.

The room also plays a part in setting up your video. It is very important to block out as much ambient light as possible. This is especially true to projection TVs.  Make sure you good dark shades on your windows, a door to the room and a light switch, preferably near your sitting position.

Consider getting an air ionizer. This little device will electrically charge the dust in the air causing it to fall to the ground. Another way to go is the hepa filter. This will remove the microscoping dust particles. In either case a cleaner air will translate to less problems with your DVD player. Even a small dust particle can cause problems.

For rear projection TVs and conventional screen TVs, try placing the light behind the set. The intensity of the light should not exceed 10% of the intensity of the TV screen. You will need a good calibration test pattern for this. Two of the best are Ultimate DVD Platinum and Video Essentials.

You should also set simple controls like brightness, contrast and color tint to correct for the conditions in your room and optimization of your viewing. Again, a calibration DVD is very helpful in this matter. Very often, the default settings for your TV are not proper for the best viewing. If you use a calibration test pattern you will usually find that the settings for sharpness, brightness and color are way too high. The first time I used a calibration DVD I thought the settings were far too low but I soon came to appreciate the better quality and detail of the picture.

Another thing to consider is the use of live end and dead end areas in your room. A live end, acoustically speaking, is an area with hard surfaces that reflect a lot of the sound. This means a minimum of fabric (i.e. drapes, table cloths) a little or no carpet. A dead end is just the opposite, drapes, carpet and upholstered furniture to absorb sound. With home theater's surround sound you want to place the dead space in the front of the room to help the front and center speaker do a better job of localizing their sounds. Keeping the back of the room live diffuses the sound and helps with the surround speakers job of creating ambient sounds.

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