Home theatres can range from a simple “family room” system to a high end purpose-built dedicated room. Achieving the best results in these two situations requires surprisingly different design considerations.
Family room designs are typically driven by two factors; the size of the display and the clash between decent sound and interior design. As virtually all brand name TV’s these days provide decent images, the only real choice is size (often in competition with interior decor). The real challenge is finding speakers that are big enough to sound good but are also visually acceptable. There is no silver bullet solution here, despite the claims of mini sound bar and speaker manufacturers. The solution lies in making the tradeoffs tangible and being resourcefull in finding solutions to the sound/interior design conflict.
The design of a high performance theatre is a more complicated undertaking. With powerful surround systems, a projected image, and mutiple viewers there are significant acoustic and optical issues to resolve. A system that is serving as both a theatre and music system compounds these issues. None the less, as with a family room system a couple of factors tend to drive the design of the whole system.
For more ambitious theatres, (often in a dedicated room) the big decision is the display. While front projectors remain the best choice for truly large images, the availability of reasonably priced large TV’s has changed the calculation. Projectors are still hold sway for anything over 75 inches (assuming excellent light control is possible), and the cost of high performing models has stabilized. However, display technologies are still changing evolving, e.g. OLED, mini LED, and Laser thus the dividing line beween direct view displays and projectors continues to shift.
Unlike a pure music system, the sound in a home theatre plays only a supporting role – the image is the star here (excepting a dual purpose system). However, theatre sound systems are called upon to deliver powerful sound effects which do not occur in music. Thus, the requirements are less about quality, and more about quantity. Given the relatively narrow range of prices for quality TV’s or projectors, the budgets for most theatres are driven by the sound system, not the display. Surround sound systems typically have a minimum five speakers plus a sub, and as many as eleven, plus two subs (a full Dolby Atmos set up). On top of this is the necessary amplification for all of those channels. Thus, the biggest cost in a high performance theatre is the speakers and necessary amplification. The sky is virtually the limit here as it is possible to build a quality system for under $1000/channel (speaker + amp channel), or spend 10 times that amount. The key is setting a level of performance which will be satisfying in the long run and reaching that level in cost efficient manner.