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Top 10 Home Theater Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

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You spent a ton of money and time setting up your new home theater system, but something just doesn't seem right. Did you make any mistakes? To find out, check out my list of common mistakes many of us make when trying to put together a home theater environment.

1. Buying the Wrong Size Television

Everyone wants a big TV, and with the average screen size purchased by consumer is 50-inches, a lot of larger screen sets are finding places in many households. However, an excessively large TV is not always best for a particular size room or viewing distance.

A good rule of thumb to follow is that the minimum optimum viewing distance from the viewer to an analog or standard definition TV screen (if you still have one) should be about 2 times the width of the TV screen, and for an HDTV (720p/1080p) the optimum viewing distance is about 1-1/2 times the width of the television screen. In other words, if you have a 50-inch Plasma or LCD HDTV, you should sit about 5 to 6 feet from the screen. If you sit too close to a TV screen, (although you won't damage your eyes as your mother told you), there is a greater chance that you may see the line or pixel structure of the image, along with any processing artifacts, which can not only be distracting, but uncomfortable.

However, today's trend towards 4K Ultra HD TV does provide a better viewing experience at closer seating distances than previously available, as the pixels on the screen are much smaller in relation to screen size, making its structure much less noticeable at closer viewing distance (perhaps as close as just a little over one times the screen width).

On the other hand, you can also make the mistake of buying a TV that is too small for your room or seating distance. What happens if you buy a TV that is too small, or if you sit too far away, is that your TV viewing experience becomes more like looking through a small window. This is especially a problem if you are considering a 3D TV, as a good 3D viewing experience requires a screen that is large enough to cover as much of your front field of view as possible, without being so large that you see the screen pixel structure or undesirable artifacts.

To determine the best screen size option for your TV, first, make sure you take stock of the space the TV is to be placed in. Measure both the available width and height available - also, measure the seating  distance(s) from the screen that you have available to view the TV.

The next step is to take both your recorded measurements and your tape measure to the store with you. When at the store, view your prospective TV at several distances (in accordance to your measurements), as well as to the sides, to determine what distances and viewing angles, in relation to the screen, will give you the best (and worst) viewing experience. Base you TV size buying decision on the combination of what looks best to you in relation to your available space.

More: Buying a Television - What You Need To Know

For more on TV viewing distance, watch our video tip: The Proper Distance for Viewing Different TV Sizes, and also check out a great reference chart and calculator from Reference Home Theater.com.

2. The Room Has Windows

Most TVs do fine in a semi-lit room - however, darker is better, especially for video projectors. Never place your TV on a wall opposite windows. If you have curtains to cover the windows, make sure they cannot pass light through into the room when they are closed.

3. Buying Cheap Speakers

Some spend a small fortune on audio/video components, but don't give enough thought on the quality of the loudspeakers and subwoofer. This doesn't mean you have to spend thousands for a modest system; but you should consider speakers that can do the job.

With many choices, it may seem difficult, but the best thing to do is to actually listen to speakers at a dealer (or get an extending tryout period from online-only dealers) before you buy. Do your own comparisons. Take your own CDs and DVDs with you to hear what they sound like with various speakers.

4. Unbalanced Speaker Levels

You've connected and placed the speakers, turned everything on, but nothing sounds right; the subwoofer overwhelms the room, dialog can't be heard over the rest of the soundtrack, the surround sound effect is too low. This is easily solved.

Most Home Theater receivers have a setup menu that allows you to note the size, as well as the distance of the speakers from the prime listening position, but also includes a test tone generator to assist in adjusting the sound output level of each speaker.

5. Not Reading the User Manuals

You think you know how to put it all together do you? No matter how easy it looks, it is always a good idea to read the owner's manual for your components, even before you take them out of the box. Get familiar with functions and connections before you hook-up and set-up.

6. Not Buying a Service Plan on an Expensive or Large TV

Although service plans are not needed for all items, if you are buying a large screen or flat panel LCD or Plasma Television, it is something to consider for two reasons:

1. The sets are big and house calls are costly when paid out of pocket.

2. If you have a problem with a Plasma or LCD screen, you cannot repair the individual defect, you will most likely have to replace the entire screen - which probably means the entire set.

7. Buying by Brand or Price, Instead of What You Really Want

Although considering by brand is a good starting point, it does not guarantee that the "top" brand for a particular item is right for you. When shopping, make sure you consider a variety of brands, models, and prices into consideration. Also, avoid prices that seem to be too good to be true. Although a high-priced item is not necessarily a guarantee of a good product, more often that not, that "door buster" AD item will not be able to fill the bill, in terms of performance or flexibility.
More: How To Buy - Tips For Home Theater Shoppers

8. Cable Mess

We are all guilty of this. Every time a new component is added to our home theater, we add more and more cables. Eventually, it is difficult to keep track of what is connected to what; especially, when you attempt to track down a bad cable signal or move the components around.

Here are three tips:

1. Make sure your cable runs are not too long; but long enough to allow easy access to your components.

2. Label your cables using colored tape or other marking so you know what is going where.

3. Take advantage of any wireless connection options that may be available.

9. Using Cheap Cables

There is constant debate on whether it is necessary to purchase very high priced cables for a basic home theater system. However, one thing to consider is that the thin, cheaply constructed cables that come with many DVD players, VCRs, etc... probably should be replaced by something that is a little more heavy-duty. The reasons are that a more heavy duty cable can provided better shielding from interference, and will also stand up over the years to any physical abuse that occurs along the way. On the other hand, there are also some outrageously priced cables. For instance, although you shouldn't settle for cheaply made cables, you don't have to resort to spending a $100 or more for a 6-foot HDMI cable either.

10. Not Getting Professional Help When You Need It

You have done everything you can - you've connected it all, you set the sound levels, you have the right size TV, used good cables - but it still isn't right. The sound is terrible, the TV looks bad.

Instead of spending more time and money, or returning it all, first check out the Tips and Tools Section on this Website to see if it is something that you may have overlooked or can resolve yourself.

If you are unable to correct the problem(s), then consider calling a professional installer to assess the situation. You might have to swallow your pride and pay $100 or more for the house call, but that investment can salvage a home theater disaster and turn it into home theater gold.

Also, if you are planning a custom installation, definitely consult a home theater installer. You provide the room and budget; the home theater installer can provide a complete component package for access to all desired audio and video content.
More: How Do I Build a Custom Home Theater System and Room?

Related Video
Home Theater Set Up Tips
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