Step 1: Preparing the Room

Without a properly outfitted room, even top-of-the-line home theater equipment will be lackluster. For those with a million-dollar budget, this means thick concrete walls with no windows, solid-core doors with yards of weatherstripping, and sound-absorbing baffles on the walls and ceiling. But for the rest of us who just want to retrofit a corner of the basement or the kids' room, there are some simple things that can be done to improve any space's acoustics and lighting.

Start with a rectangular room with as few doors and windows as possible. Open floor plans and vaulted ceilings make it more difficult to keep the sound effects in and the barking of the neighbor's dog out. If the room is oddly shaped, map out a rectangular (or at least symmetrical) space within it to treat as the home theater.

Next, cover the floors. Bare concrete, wood, and tile reflect sound waves, which can muddy a movie's dialogue and make the sound effects harsh. Try adding carpeting or an area rug and outfitting the room with upholstered furniture to help absorb errant sound waves. The same goes for walls and windows — a painting, bookshelf, or drapes placed at the sides of the room will absorb unwanted noise. Thick curtains over windows are doubly smart because you also want your home theater to be dark — too much light increases screen glare and reduces contrast. Keep in mind, however, that staring at a brightly lit screen in an otherwise dark room will eventually strain your eyes. Installing dimmer switches on lighting fixtures will help you find the happy medium.

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