The ultimate home theatre setup

Whether movie night is a big event or a weekly ritual, the right home theatre design (large screen, surround sound, cozy seating!) can enhance the experience, transporting you and your family to wherever your imagination leads. But what equipment do you really need? Check out our guide to creating the home theatre setup that works for you. Now all you need to do is agree on the movie!

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1Choosing Between a Smart TV and a Projector

A smart TV versus a movie projector

The biggest difference between a smart TV and a projector is the screen size. In North America, the most popular screen size for TVs is 65 inches and the cost increases with the size. Projectors tend to have a maximum screen size of 100 to 200 inches.[1]

  • When to buy a smart TV: Smart TVs have the technical edge over projectors, with excellent image quality, decent out-of-the-box audio and smart features. If you’re looking for something simple with streaming services and internet access, a smart TV is your best option. Check out our TV buying guide for help selecting one with the size and features you want.

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  • When to buy a projector and screen: If size is what you’re after, a projector is a cost-effective way to get it. Often used in basement home theatres, a projector will require a completely dark room, a large, bare wall or space for a screen and strategically placed furniture. Keep in mind that the projector’s screen size is dependent on its “throw distance.” If a projector can throw a 100-inch image from 8.3 feet away, but your media room is smaller than that, your screen size will be smaller.
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Did You Know
Hoping to watch Netflix on your projector? You can buy a “smart” model that comes with apps like YouTube and Netflix, or you can purchase a streaming stick like Roku. Have an extensive Blu-ray collection? It’s easy to plug your Blu-ray player into the projector.

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2Picking a Sound System

A 7.1 home theatre surround sound setup
A 7.1-channel surround-sound system.

When deciding on a sound system, it’s helpful to think of the channels as pieces of equipment.

The first number refers to the speakers, the second number is the subwoofers and the third number (if there are three) is the Dolby Atmos speakers. In a 7.1 setup, there are seven speakers and one subwoofer. In a 5.1.2 system, there are five speakers, one subwoofer and two Dolby Atmos speakers.

Prices vary widely (from a few hundred to several thousand). You may need a pro to help install more complex setups. Here are some standard scenarios:

Complexity Configuration How It Works Best For
Basic
  • 3.0 = three speakers (left, right, centre)
  • Soundbar = one bar with built-in left/centre/right speakers
The centre speaker is mostly for dialogue, while the left and right speakers are for music and sound effects (plus dialogue when voices move left or right of the screen) Limited space (like a condo living room) and limited budget
Traditional 5.1 = five speakers (left, right, centre, two at rear) and one subwoofer The two additional speakers envelop you with sound, while the subwoofer produces bass tones for high impact (like feeling action-movie explosions deep in your bones)[2] The average space and family
Pro
  • 7.1 = seven speakers (left, right, centre, four at rear including two for height) and one subwoofer
  • 5.1.2 = five speakers (left, right, centre, two at rear), one subwoofer and two ceiling or upward-firing Dolby Atmos speakers
Two more speakers create sound that’s all-encompassing, just like in a real movie theatre Movie geeks and homes with dedicated theatre rooms (note: you’ll need space behind your seats for a 7.1 setup)[3][4]

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3Buying the Right AV Receiver (Yes, You'll Need One!)

An AV receiver for a home theatre

Think of an AV (audio-visual) receiver as the hub for your entire home theatre system. It amplifies and controls where you want your audio to go. It’s also the place where you’ll connect everything from your cable box and Blu-ray player to your PlayStation and Apple TV. Look for an AV receiver with these features:

  • Multiple channels: One channel = one speaker. Ensure there are enough channels for all the speakers you want to connect with (now and in the future). For surround sound, you’ll need at least five channels.
  • Dolby Atmos: This surround-sound format is essential for fantastic audio.
  • Source inputs: At a minimum, you’ll want four HDMI inputs.
  • 4K and 4K switching: 4K is the highest resolution video format for at-home viewing (except for YouTube, which recently started hosting 8K content). Even if you don’t have a 4K TV right now, you probably will one day and you’ll want your AV receiver to be capable of switching 4K signals.

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4Selecting Media Players and Antennas

An entertainment unit with Blu-ray player and media streaming player

If you have a Smart TV, you likely won’t need additional media equipment. There are a few exceptions:

  • Blu-ray player: If you have an extensive DVD and Blu-ray collection, and want to keep using it, you’ll need a Blu-ray player. Streaming services are great but may not have everything you want to watch at all times.
  • Antenna: Want to access free-to-air local channels? You’ll need an antenna for that.

If you’re setting up your home movie theatre with a projector that doesn’t have smart capabilities, you’ll need a device for your projector to actually project, whether that’s a Blu-ray player or media streaming device (like Apple TV, Roku or Google Chromecast), satellite or cable box.

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5Picking the Best Lighting

Home theatre mood lighting

Consider LED strips to backlight your TV or projector screen. Bluetooth or Wi-Fi light bulbs are also a fun way to customize your lighting to the mood of the film. You may want to put your existing lights on a smart dimmer so you can lower the lights gradually at the start and end of each movie.

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6Deciding on Seating

Rows of seating in a home theatre

If your home theatre setup has only one row of seating, sight lines won’t be an issue. But if you have two or more rows, you’ll want some sort of riser or home theatre seating platform.

Either way, elevated seating is a great way to mimic the movie theatre experience and ensure everyone has an optimal view. Here’s what to keep in mind:

  • Riser height: Go for a height of at least eight inches. Twelve to 16 inches is even better if you have the ceiling space.[5]
  • Riser depth: The depth should be a minimum of six feet.[6]
  • Lighting: Install LED lights on the rise of the step to prevent tripping mid-screening.

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7Designing Your Space

A plush, cozy home theatre setup with dark walls

Unless you’re building a home theatre design from the ground up, you’ll want to find a way to make an existing room work—preferably a dedicated room, if you have the space. Here’s what to consider:

  • Length of the room: You don’t want to be seated too close to the screen. The ideal viewing distance is roughly 1.5 to 2.5 times the diagonal width of your screen. So, if you have a 60-inch TV (which translates to five feet), you should sit between 7.5 and 12.5 feet away. If you’re using a projector with a 100-inch screen, you’ll need a throw distance of at least 8.5 feet.[7]
  • Screen height: Try and position the centre of the screen at your eye level when you’re sitting down. If you’re using risers, take the mid-point of the seated eye levels.
  • Ambient light: If you have windows, consider blackout curtains or shades. Paint the walls (and even ceiling!) a dark colour. The screen will reflect light, so you want the dark walls to absorb that light rather than reflect it back onto your screen.
  • Ambient sound: If you can’t soundproof your theatre room, make sure it’s at least located away from noisier spots like the laundry room (if you have the option).
  • Hard and soft surfaces: Go for soft furnishings such as carpet, drapery and cushiony seating that will absorb sound rather than let it bounce around the room.
  • Décor: This one’s all about personal preference, but you may want to avoid wall décor so all focus can stay on the screen.

8Choosing from Top Brands

  • Samsung: One of the world’s largest manufacturers of consumer electronics, this South Korean company is best known for reliable televisions (with bright QLED-panel technology) and soundbars that are durable and sleek. Pricing ranges widely, so you should be able to find a model that fits your budget.
  • Sony: Everyone’s owned something made by Sony at some point in their life, whether a Sony Walkman or PlayStation. The Japanese brand is a household name whose TVs (with natural-looking OLED technology), speakers and receivers are of good quality and reasonably priced.
  • Philips: Founded in 1891, this Dutch-based company creates a range of product type, but is famous for its lighting assortment. Turn to Philips Hue for smart bulbs, lightstrips and switches to elevate your viewing experience.
  • Bose: This American company produces top-of-the-line personal and professional audio equipment. They’re especially well-known for their Bluetooth speakers and noise-cancelling headphones, but their prices are on the higher end.
  • Sonos: An American developer and manufacturer, Sonos is considered a leader in home audio. The popular brand isn’t cheap, but it’s known for its high-quality wireless speakers and soundbars—especially for multi-room audio.

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