Want An Amazing Home Theater? Then You'll Want These 4 Things

Going to the movies in this day and age involves putting up with latecomers jostling your knees, smartphone screens ruining the ambience, annoying cellphone conversations and increasingly exorbitant ticket/concession prices. Fortunately, it's easier than ever to create a true home theater that can replace that depressing trip to the local cineplex. Here are four key steps to making this dream a reality.

1. Automated Lighting and Device Control

One of the most important -- and magical -- aspects of the cinema is that moment when the lights go out and the screen lights up with images. By the same token, a theater's ability to slowly raise the lights at the end of a presentation brings the audience back to reality gracefully. You can achieve these and other effects by equipping your home theater with automated lighting and device controls. Single-room dimming systems allow you to dim the lights in your home theater either from a manual panel on the wall or via remote control. Your residential electrician can set up the room so that this system works with a row of fashionable wall sconces or overhead lights.

Does your home theater room have windows? If so, you need to make sure you can block out incoming light whenever you're screening a film. But this doesn't mean that you have to cover them permanently with heavy drapery. Consider installing automated drapes and shades that can convert your all-purpose room into a home theater (and back again) at the touch of a button.

2. A Projector Optimized for Home Theater Use

If you settle for the first or cheapest projector that crosses your path, that projector may be able to put a large image up on your home theater screen, but it may not do much to evoke a cinematic experience. For one thing, business projectors are primarily designed to make charts and presentations easily visible in a brightly-lit conference room, so they usually emit thousands of lumens of light. In the darkened ambience of a home theater, however, the resulting glare can create a harsh, washed-out picture with grayish-looking black levels. Business projectors may also emphasize connectivity options such as USB instead of offering multiple HDMI (high-definition audio/video) connections -- an important feature if you plan on connecting several high-definition devices such as cable boxes and game consoles as well as a DVD/Blu-Ray player.

Take the time to select a projector specifically intended for home theater use. These devices' lamps are usually designed to emit less light than most business projectors, which is actually a boon because it allows for deeper black levels and richer colors in a properly darkened room. Make sure the projector has the right connections to suit your various entertainment needs. Last but not least, calculate how large the projector's image will be and how bright an image it can project at a set distance before purchasing it.

3. The Right Decor

If you want your home theater to look and feel like a real cinema, you'll want to create the proper ambience. Hanging various classic movie posters and other cinema-related decorations can help set the mood. If you're building or remodeling a home theater room from scratch, you may also want to paint or carpet the walls and floor in dark, warm colors that also absorb light instead of reflecting it, thus helping you keep things nice and dark during the screening. The decor itself can conform to your personal taste, whether you have a preference for Art Deco shapes and designs or a sleek modern look that emphasizes your technology.

Even the most attractive home theater must also be a comfortable place to sit for hours at a time. Plush home theater seating, complete with drink holders, usually makes a fine choice in this regard. If money is tight, you can use comfortable (and if necessary, re-covered) old love seats, armchairs and sofas. Make sure your guests can exit easily in case of an emergency, and keep in mind that risers may be necessary for any seating behind the first row.

4. A Popcorn Machine

When you think of a trip to the local cinema, you probably think of popcorn, from the smell of freshly-popped kernels to the familiar sight of a colorful popcorn machine in the lobby. Now that you've got your own home cinema, why not complete the illusion with your popcorn machine? These units are available both as countertop units and as wheeled standalone carts, adding a festive, old-time movie house ambience as they produce the quantities of hot, fresh popcorn your gathering may need. (Look for a machine with a kettle size of 8 ounces or more for your home theater showings.)

Popcorn machines can offer certain perks that ordinary preparation methods struggle with. For instance, you'll want to make sure your unit comes with an internal heat lamp and warming deck to keep that big batch of popcorn warn and appetizing. This feature allows your guests to go back for seconds without your having to make a fresh (and noisy) batch in the middle of the screening.

Are you and your loved ones ready to say goodbye to the cineplex for good? Talk to your residential electrician or home improvement contractor about these and other methods for bringing the neighborhood cinema into your own home.