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Building A Custom Home Theater

You can head down to your local warehouse and big box chain store and buy a “home theater in a box system” complete with a receiver, Blu-ray player and surround speakers. These systems are convenient but can’t create a true custom home theater experience. Building a custom home theater is what this section is all about. Whether you want to hang your big screen TV on the wall or create a complete Custom Home Theater System that integrates seamlessly into your home décor, you’re in the right place. At OSD, you’ll find all the components you need and our in-house specialists are available to guide you every step of the way.

What Defines A Custom Home Theater?

The difference between a custom home theater and a room with speakers and boxes is “suspension of disbelief.” A custom home theater pulls you into, say, the latest James Bond flick, where for two hours you literally feel like you’re in a Lamborghini driving down a cobble stone street about the crash into that fruit vendor’s cart. In a custom home theater you experience 5.1 surround sound, but you don’t know where the sound is coming from because the speakers blend into the wall or ceiling. There are no wires dangling from the TV, no blinking lights to distract you. For not much more than you would pay for a box system, a custom home theater will not only sound better, it will be more aesthetically pleasing to a picky spouse who may not be thrilled to see a bunch of black boxes and cables.

Let's Start with Custom Speakers

In a custom home theater, in-wall or ceiling speakers replace bulky free-standing models, and the speaker grilles are often painted to match the room décor. These speakers are designed to reproduce multichannel audio tracks so when you watch a movie encoded with 5.1, you’ll hear five separate audio tracks as opposed to a measly two. Three audio channels route to the Front Stage of a home theater (left, center, right speakers); two channels route to the surrounds (these are the left and right speakers located behind or to the side of the listeners); and the .1 reserves those rumbling low frequencies for the subwoofer. In a 7.1 surround system, an additional surround speaker is located on each side.

A Good Front Stage

If you’re on a budget (and who isn’t?), try to invest funds toward the Front Stage of your custom theater. These speakers carry critical dialog, surround effects, staging and imaging that draw you into a scene. The image below shows a typical front stage that includes a center channel (Dual 5.25”) and a left and right speaker (both 2-way 6.5”) commonly referred to as LCR.

The right and left surrounds are generally 2-way speakers that supply surround effects. The money speaker is the center channel. It looks different than the other speakers and typically includes two woofers and a tweeter for a mid, tweeter, mid configuration (MTM). Since so much information comes from the center channel, purchase the best quality center channel your budget will allow. Note the optimum Front Stage LCR speakers Center channels can be mounted either above or below your screen, but it’s important that all the front stage speakers share the same timbre match where the Tweeters are identical and the woofer cone materials are the same. If you mix and match the front stage speakers, a dinosaur roar may sound terrifying one second then meek as a mooing cow the next.

A Great Front Stage

If you want to step it up a notch, here’s a configuration our customers love. The MK-IW550LCR is used as a center channel speaker (mounted horizontally) but two additional MK-IW550LCR are used as Left and Right speakers (turned 90 degrees becoming vertically mounted). This configuration will give you the kind of front stage that’ll rivals the best movie theaters. When three center channels are used to complete the front stage, you’ll hear every audio nuance engineers lay on the soundtrack because MTM design can produce more information than standard 2-way speakers.

No room for In-wall Speakers? Think Ceiling Speakers!

Going with in-wall speakers depends largely on the space available around the TV and of course accessibility for connectivity. In an ideal situation, you would have plenty of room for Dual 5.25” In-Wall LCR speakers for the Front Stage but let’s be real. Not every wall has access to run wires or perhaps a big cabinet stretches from one end to the next. Here’s where ceiling speakers can help.

Keep in mind that no matter what type of speaker is used for the front stage (box, in-wall or ceiling), the tweeter controlling the high frequencies needs to be focused or directed at the ideal viewing/listening/seating area. The problem with traditional ceiling speakers is that in order for the tweeter to be properly aimed towards the listener, the speaker would have to be mounted slightly forward and above the seating area. This creates an unusual disconnect between viewing the picture at eye level and the sound coming from almost directly above.

Angled Ceiling Speakers to the Rescue!

The angled in-ceiling speaker tilts the mid bass driver 15 degrees and includes a pivoting tweeter for the optimum front stage placement flexibility. The angled design allows placement of the in-ceiling closer to the wall just above the monitor. This creates a more realistic sound image when compared to regular in-ceiling speakers that are mounted closer to or directly above the viewing area. While standard in-ceiling speakers are generally placed at least three feet from the wall to avoid reflective sound, the angled speaker can be placed within a foot of the wall. Here’s what front stage ceiling speakers would look like:

See how the speakers can be angled so that dialog feels like it’s coming from the monitor? Install 2-way ceiling speakers in the rear and you’ve got yourself a custom home theater! [Insider Tip: If you can’t install in-ceiling speakers for the rear surround or can’t run cable from the rear speakers to the source equipment, one trick we tell customers is to mount wireless patio speakers like our OSD-WPA650 for the rear channel.]

Rear Speakers for Surround Effects

The rear channels are located behind or to the side of the listeners. These speakers are important backup players in surround sound effects so when a helicopter flies above, the sound will envelop the listener. Rear speakers don’t carry as much information as the front stage so there’s no need to go overkill here. The type and size is not as important, although timbre matching should be a consideration. Again, the flexibility of the angled ceiling speakers (originally created for the front stage) is another good option for rear speakers. The ceiling is often more accessible than the “in the wall” for wiring, and angled speakers have an added advantage of being placed closer to an adjacent wall without the worry of too much reflection.

One Last Word on Surround Channels

Aiming the tweeter at the selected listening/viewing area is the key whether you are using in-ceiling, in-wall or even wall-mounted speakers. The high frequencies produced by the tweeters are very directional, and it’s important that the tweeter remain focused. That is why the tweeter in all ceiling and In-wall speakers has the ability to pivot or swivel so they can be aimed at the optimum listening position.

Free-Standing and In-wall Home Theater Subwoofers

Subwoofers are designed specifically for low frequency effects (LFE) and give you that gut-churning rumble that transports you out of reality and into a scene. If your room can’t accommodate a subwoofer, try to invest in ceiling or wall speakers with 8” woofers. An 8-inch in-ceiling speaker will typically have more bass due to the larger cone area of the 8" woofer but in a home theater 5.1 or 7.1 set up, the speakers will be limited by the frequency output of the audio/video receiver. We recommend at least one subwoofer, and if your budget allows, two subs to cancel out dead spots. Powered subs include an internal amplifier while passive subs, such as our in-wall subs, rely on external amplification. Both options are good but freestanding subwoofers offer more placement flexibility. Once you install an in-wall sub, you’re stuck with the low frequency direction; whereas freestanding models let you experiment with sound. We tell folks to place their sub in the middle of the room, play a movie with good low frequency effects and walk around it in a circle. Wherever it sounds best, mark the spot and place the sub there.

Canceling out Dead Spots

It’s easy to determine if your room has "dead spots. Play a movie with a bass heavy sound track and move from seat to seat. If the low frequency effects are better in one area than another, you may need two subwoofers. Typical 5.1 or 7.1 Audio/Video receivers can split the LFE output with a simple adaptor/splitter. Some manufacturers are marketing 7.2 receivers with Dual LFE outputs (look at the Yamaha RX-A2000 in the receiver section). A lot of people prefer to place their dual subs in opposite corners of the room but it's always a good idea to experiment with placement first.

The Brains Are in the Receiver

At the heart of any audio/video system is the home theater receiver. The receiver is “command central” for all kinds of devices and carries out important tasks such as switching A/V components, decoding surround sound, and amplification for your speakers, just to name a few. Whether you have a small media room or a full-blown dedicated home theater, we offer Yamaha 5.1 and 7.1 Dolby Digital/DTS compatible surround sound system receivers with models that include 1080p HDMI inputs for flawless audio/video quality, as well as iPod and Bluetooth-ready models.

Using AV Receivers to Power Home Theaters

Depending on the system, in most cases you can use an A/V receiver to power your surround sound speakers. Today's A/V receivers have at least five channels of amplification to power surround sound speakers. Keep in mind, however, that AV receivers have a lot of other duties including connecting and switching audio and video sources; decoding surround sound formats like Dolby and DTS; and tuning in analog, digital and satellite radio signals. Providing power to your speakers is just one of its many tasks. If you're the kind of listener who hears subtle differences in sound quality, consider adding a separate amplifier.

Let’s Talk Amplifiers

Most speakers are passive devices, meaning they require external power to operate, and it’s the amplifier’s job to deliver clean power to those speakers. In a custom home theater environment, a separate amplifier (such as our AMP200) can be connected to your A/V receiver, which acts as a preamp. Connecting the amps directly from the receiver using RCA interconnects is the more direct route to bypass the internal amplifier of the receiver and rout the pre amplified signal directly to the amplifier. The amplifier receives an electrical signal from the preamp then amplifies the signal before it reaches the speakers and it does this without introducing noise or distortion to the signal. The stable power the amp provides to the speakers will dramatically enhance sound quality and clarity.

HDMI & Toslink Cable for Easy Connection

The days of dealing with a confusing bunch of A/V cables have been replaced with High Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI), an easy-to-connect cable that transmits both audio and video. HDMI vastly simplifies the connection process and has a great impact on picture and sound because it allows uncompressed signals. Both OSD Value and Premium versions of HDMI cable offer High Speed V1.4 with Ethernet that support the latest technologies such as 3D and 1440P. For components with optical inputs, we also offer Digital Optical Audio Cables that deliver better clarity and a more natural sound from your digital audio video components.

Wall Mount Your HDTV for A Better Viewing Experience

HDTVs are getting bigger, better and remarkably thin. It’s important to mounting your big screen at just the right height and viewing distance whether you have and LCD, LED or Smart TV. Keep in mind that it you’re going to mount the TV high such as above a fireplace, go with a tilt mount over a fixed flat. Tilt mounts give viewers seated below the screen a much better viewing angle. OSD Audio TV mounts have fixed, swivel and tilting capabilities. Each mount in this section is clearly defined by weight and the size of the display so choosing the right mount is easy. We offer mount for displays as small as 10 inches to as large as 63 inches. Here’s a chart can help you determine the right viewing distance of your custom home theater.

Don’t Forget the Custom Wall Plates

For a system design worthy of custom status, consider adding speaker wall plates. These devices provide a clean custom finish with cables tucked neatly behind the wall. OSD Audio provides a wide selection of state-of-the-art wall plates that are a vast improvement over standard plates and enhance the look of both simple and sophisticated A/V systems. Gold-plated binding posts ensure clean signal transfer, and the decora style design blends easily into any room.

Pre-Wired Box Kits for Flat Screen TVs

Here’s a scenario many of us are familiar with. You have just brought home a flat screen TV and want to mount it on the wall just like you saw at the neighbor’s house over the weekend. You purchased the right TV wall mount that works with the monitor’s size and weight and you know where the TV will be mounted. Now the tricky part is figuring how to deliver both power and source connection from inside the wall behind the TV so you avoid unsightly cables dropping down from behind the TV towards the floor. The typical solution would involve calling in an electrician to move your electrical outlet to behind the TV. This now becomes an expensive proposition and you have not addressed the source connection that needs to be hard wired and hidden as well. OSD has the solution with new Arlington Electrical/Source Box Solution. Not only does it have a opening in the wall unit to allow connection of your source cables (like HDMI and Cat5e/6 network cables) but it includes a pre wired electrical cord that drops down inside the wall to an electrical outlet that features a short cable that can be connected to a standard wall outlet located closer to the floor. These kits come fully assembled with a recessed box, pre-wired receptacle, flexible cord and cord grip. There’s no need to call electrician. Simply cut two openings in the wall (a dual gang behind the TV) and run the cords to the power source. Mounting screws keep the boxes secure against the wall and all the cords stay neatly hidden for a truly custom setup. The dual opening behind the TV allows the connection from multiple Source Options. Pretty slick and just wait until your neighbor comes over the following weekend to see your custom install (probably not good to rub it in how much you paid for yours).

Be Sure to Hide the New Gear

Your custom home theater is almost there! You have the surround sound, big screen TV and you’ve hidden all the wires and power cords. It’s time to look at your equipment rack where the receiver, amp, set top box, etc. are stored. In a custom home theater, these components are not in plain sight but rather hidden in a closet or cabinet where blinking lights won’t distract from the view. Remember suspension of disbelief? If want to an easy way to hide all these electronics, we offer a full line of IRP kits that allow users to add IR control of A/V equipment, CATV, IPTV, CCTV, DVR Set Top Boxes and more without the need of a hub or connection block. Without a hub, installation is a snap and these IR devices let you control all your electronics without ever leaving the sofa.

Now pass the popcorn!