Now summer has turned its back on us, for many time has arrived to tackle the house rather than the garden. While I’m sure there are many bathrooms waiting for a revamp, there is plenty to be done to improve your home theatre experience that won’t cost you a cent (!!!) and is far more exciting. I mean, what better way to spend a rainy weekend with your favorite tools and reap the immediate results in the evening with popcorn and a movie?
We lined up 5 tips that will make a really big impact on the performance of your home theatre (whether dedicated or not). All that is required is a bit of your time, a Rapallo blog and a manual or two.
1. Sort the cables
This may sound like a suggestion too silly for words, but the first thing to do is to check whether all equipment is properly connected. You would be amazed at what cleaners and kids manage to do with connections without people even noticing. Come to think of it, it may actually be a good idea to check whether your equipment is properly connected on a regular basis.
Use cables that are up to the task—you don’t need to spend a lot on speaker wires, but make sure they are of adequate gauge relative to length and maximum wattage: 14 gauge under 10m and 12 gauge for everything over 10m (8 Ohm speakers).
Analog interconnects should be well shielded. Replace all worn out shielding or shielding stripped bare.
Avoid using HDMI cables over long distances (over 10 meters). If it can’t be helped, use Redmere cables or an extender (HDMI to Cat5/6 or fiber-optic cable).
We can’t stress the importance of properly wiring your speakers to your AV receiver. Make sure you use consistent polarity from each front speaker to the receiver (remember, red = (+), black = (-)). Connect the appropriate speaker to the designated speaker terminals at the back of the receiver; in other words, your front left speaker should connect to the front left speaker input in your receiver. Inputs are always connected to an output. Sorry, but it has to be said.
You may want to consider the use of banana plugs. They are so much easier to plug in and much tidier.
This is always a bit of a compromise, but working as best as can with what you have, rather than just dumping your equipment where it lands or even worse, inside a cupboard, is not going to help the result you are getting from you home theatre.
The first thing to do is pull your speakers a small distance away from the wall.
Front and center speakers should be at ear height; If they have to be above ear level, angle them down using a device such as the Auralex MoPAD or a proper mounting bracket that can support the speaker.
It’s important to maintain placement symmetry of the critical front three speakers to ensure the best home theatre experience possible.
Surround speakers in a 5.1 set-up, should be above ear height alongside or slightly behind the main listening position.
Set speaker levels and distances based on your primary listening position.
If you have a 2 channel set-up, try positioning your main listening seat exactly centered between the speakers.
Use room correction and EQ—if your gear’s got it, you might as well try it. Many AV receivers have sophisticated bass management, EQ, and room correction built in. It’s no substitute for proper room setup, but when combined with the additional tips in this bullet point as well as the tips in room acoustics, the results can make a big difference.
For obvious reasons, we can’t dig too deep into the matter on this occasion, but check out our previous blogs for more detailed information here and here. For more info on subwoofer placement, look here.
3. Optimize seating position and room acoustics
This bullet point is kind of related to the previous one. The key is to look at the the room as a part of your sound system.
Put your TV in the right position, not just where the handiest plug socket is. This is hands down one of the easiest things you can do to make sure your TV is looking its best.
The screen should be at eye level when you’re seated. Currently there seems to be a trend to put a TV above a fire place. While this might be a solution that works well on paper or for the interior designer, it is definitely not the ideal seating position for the viewers (neck strain, anybody?). On top of that the heat of the fireplace is known to have caused breakage of many TV. If there is no getting away from this set-up, angle the TV down for the best possible viewing position.
As for recommendations on how far you sit from your TV, that’ll vary, but rough guidelines suggest 1.5-2 times the diagonal size of the screen. Ultimately though, it comes down to personal preference and what works in balance with the speakers, as mentioned above.
Don’t sit up against the back or a side wall if possible, your bass sound waves will love you for it.
Use sound absorbing and diffusing materials to tune your listening space. Add a rug between your seat and the speakers. Hang drapes in front of large windows. Try to not have any “alcoves” or open cupboards because they can potentially act as a speaker in their own right.
The crowd at Acoustic Fields have a bunch of great YouTube videos for a more in depth explanation on acoustic solutions.
4. Check base management
It’s not that long ago we dedicated an entire blog on this topic, but we’ll just say it again: Achieving good bass can make or break the overall fidelity of your home theater. It is so important to invest time in both your setup and critical listening evaluation to ensure you get the most out of your system by getting the bass right. Just take our word on this one.
Getting bass management right assumes two main things: setting cross-over frequency and determining whether your speakers are ‘large’ or ‘small’.
Our previous blog gives you the basic guidelines on base management to get you going. We really recommend you battle trough the rechecking of your settings if you didn’t tackle it then.
With the possible exception of truly full-range tower speakers, a ‘Small’ setting in the AV receivers base management set-up is recommended for all speaker channels, since this will ensure that the speakers are not sent bass which is below their safe and effective limits.
A 80Hz crossover point is usually an all-around good setting to choose for your crossover frequency. This is the case even if you have relatively large towers.
5. Improve room lighting and display calibration
Many a word has been spoken on setting up a projector or calibrating your TV. It doesn’t cost a thing to take the time to go through the manual and properly set-up everything from black levels to colour temperature. It will make a massive difference to your home theatre experience.
The thing to remember is that whatever tweaks you make to the picture will usually only apply to the selected HDMI input.
Some manufacturers offer an option to apply your settings across all inputs, but you might find it beneficial to program inputs individually so you can make specific tweaks for certain sources. Some people even have different settings for day and night.
Projector tweaks tend to vary widely between different brands and models, so we’ll focus on TV’s here, but the general idea remains the same.
Most TVs will offer a handful of preset TV modes, which is usually a good place to start.
Stay well away from dynamic (sometimes labeled ‘vibrant’). This might look impressive to begin with, but colours will be oversaturated and whites overblown, losing detail in the process.
We recommend starting with either standard or warm (sometimes called ‘cinema’ or ‘pro’) – the latter usually being the most colour accurate, even though it might look on the warm side to begin with.
From there, you may want to adjust contrast (a scene with clouds works great for this. Aim for detail in the clouds, rather than a white blur), brightness (read ‘black levels’; you want them be as deep as they can be without losing shadow detail), backlight and colour (use a colourful scene for this, make sure skin tones look realistic)
A calibration disc like the Spears & Munsil or DVE can be a big help in the process.
On top of adjustments you can make to your TV or projector, it will not have escaped your attention that traditionally commercial cinemas are painted in dark colours. While this might not be an option for you unless you have the luxury of a dedicated home cinema (these things are always a compromise), just the difference between a matt versus a gloss sheen paint will help reducing any light bouncing around.
It is important to note as well that anything of colour in the room has the potential to be reflected on the screen. A compromise may be to turn the projector screen/TV wall in a dark colour ‘feauture wall’ and the rest of the room in a lighter colour.
Any light leaking into the room affects the contrast and brightness of the image and takes away from the presentation. To a lesser extent, ambient light can also affect the image quality of flat panel televisions. When it comes to ambient light, the most important thing is to keep light off the screen. To take control of the light level in your room, black-out curtains are the answer.
As a final bonus tip:
6. Install a dedicated electrical circuit
Today’s homes are filled with all sorts of electrical gadgets and appliances: Refrigerators, air conditioners, fans and washing machines may run on the same circuit as your home theater equipment. These appliances make electrical “noise” and cause variations in the current that can translate into noise and instability for your system.
By installing a dedicated circuit you provide a cleaner source of power for your system ensuring quieter, safer operation. While line conditioners and voltage regulators can take care of most of these issues, most experts will agree that having a separate circuit for your expensive electronics is the best first step toward better performance.