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Contributed by the Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association.  To learn more about CEDIA membership visit www.cedia.org/join.

Some 20 years ago, as I operated a marketing company serving the design community, an individual inquired about our services. “What do you do?” I asked. “Private movie theaters,” came the reply — and I was hooked. As a former professional musician, working in the design industry, it seemed as if a career had been created just for me and we boldly stepped into this fledgling industry.

Back then, little was known about the right way to approach designing home theaters; in fact, what we did know, it turns out, was wrong. There were few educational opportunities and, if you identified yourself as a home theater designer, no one knew what that was, which made you unique.

Fast-forward to the present and we find an industry that has come full circle. It seems to have gone from new, unknown and exciting to saturated, competitive and commoditized. However, that does not have to be the case. Our company, which specializes in providing private theater design and engineering services for integrators, is busier than ever and the demand for more features in our private theaters makes the work more interesting, if more complex, all the time. The opportunities abound to create rooms where families gather not only to experience movies better than any commercial theater, but also play games, listen to music, gather for sporting events, and more.

Some things, though, have not changed. There are still many end users and professionals alike who are not fully informed about what it takes to create a private theater that delivers on the promise of a great experience. We recommend anyone embarking on the challenge of creating a home theater avail themselves of the many educational opportunities that exist today. CEDIA has enough home theater specific courses to consume several EXPOs worth of classes.

The following essentials of home theater design — are a good starting point.


Definition. What is a home theater? Is it a system of AV components? Is it a room designed for the purpose? Is it the furnishings and décor? It is all of the above, but also something greater; it is an experience.

When we entered the market, we were told our job was to deliver the willing suspension of disbelief so that when our clients used their home theater the experience was so powerful that they would be fully captivated and engaged in the movie. This is important to remember as home theater designers, as it requires more than just an assortment of gear to deliver such an experience. It requires knowledge, skill and considerable effort on the part of the designer, installer and all members of the team to create such a result.


Discovery. Most realize it is important to know what the client is looking for. However, we must also consider where the client is getting their information. Our experience is that many people do not realize all of what is possible. Certainly most people know about surround sound and HDTV, but how many clients have thought about how a really great room, properly designed and equipped, can add value and significant happiness to their lifestyle? We always engage our clients in a discovery to help them realize this added value. The discovery interview, when properly conducted, will enable the client to find new experiences to add to their priorities as we go through the process of gathering other vital information. A recent client observed after their interview that the importance of their theater had increased and they were willing to invest significantly more to realize the experiences revealed in the interview.


Engineering. The home theater experience requires high performance, and performance requires engineering. Unfortunately, many in our industry attempt to skip this step.

Engineering is required on several levels. The environment must be analyzed, engineered and configured to support the performance of the equipment and to deliver the performance to the audience. If omitted, even the finest system will lose the battle to overcome noise and light interference, acoustical distortion, unmatched system capacity and more. The system itself must be engineered to assure compatibility, installation configuration, connectivity, control, and so on. We liken this part of the process to the creation of a performance automobile chassis. If one desires a great driving experience, then engineering is expected.


Equipping. One of the results of proper engineering is an understanding of how a home theater should be equipped. The building will be constructed to engineered specifications, room will require the correct acoustical treatment, and the system will be composed of specific components. These specifications need to be compiled thoughtfully and appropriately as the result of engineering and not chance. We are often asked what our “preferred” component is in a given category (projector, screen, loudspeaker, etc.). The correct answer is: the component that has the performance characteristics appropriate for the room and that fulfills the client’s expectations.


Design. Form follows function, always. So far, all we have touched on is function or performance. While this is essential and should be engineered first, the aesthetic elements are no less important. This is no small undertaking. It is simpler to create a well-performing room with no consideration for the décor or a well-decorated room with no concern for performance, but this would be under-serving our clientele and will be detrimental to the experience. The higher standard is through skillful integration of the functional design and the aesthetics. To do so requires time, effort, knowledge, communication and cooperation.

In our experience, we are working with a team that might include an integrator, theater designer, interior designer, architect and others. All of these stakeholders have priorities, but in the end must be willing to work together for the benefit of the client. One recent design collaboration we were involved with prompted the interior designer to exclaim, “I would never have created this design on my own, but it is better than I ever could have dreamed.” The whole can be greater than the sum of the parts.


Execution. All of the dreams, planning, design and engineering are for naught without proper execution. This may be more than any one company can provide. Resist the temptation to go outside of your core competency. The client and, in fact, your company will be best served by teaming up with qualified specialists to deliver the top quality on all levels. An integrator who excels at providing, installing, calibrating and programming a system who teams up with construction specialists and interior specialists is often able to deliver the greatest result, realize the most profit and serve more clientele than one who tries to do it all.


Home theater is an experience. The engineering, design and execution of great home theaters can be a fulfilling experience for the client and integrator alike if performed properly. If this specialty sounds exciting but daunting, do not be intimidated. Know what you know and more importantly what you don’t. Educate yourself. Check out CEDIA Education and resources (see sidebar) and start gaining the knowledge you will need. Align yourself. Team up with professionals to provide needed specialty skills and expertise and your dream team will serve to expand your company’s capabilities.

Build excitement for yourself and your client. Educate yourself on what great home theater experiences can be and in turn share this with your clients. Help them discover a new dimension of entertainment potential and become excited about it. In turn, you will discover a new sphere of business that will enhance your company’s image as well as your bottom line.

Continue reading about other essentials of home theater design: engineering, equipping, design and execution at http://www.SDMmag.com/topics/2722-home-technology-now.