HOW TO SET UP A HOME THEATER FOR AN APARTMENT
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Apartment living has its trade-offs; enjoying your own home theater doesn’t have to be one of them.
With today’s technology, and a little imagination, creating a killer home theater for an apartment is well within your reach – and budget.
While you may not be able to buy that 120-inch projector screen you’ve been eyeing on Amazon, you can create a home theater viewing experience within your apartment that even your basement owning friends will be envious of.
In fact, apartment home theaters have several inherent benefits.
For one, the smaller space is conducive to better acoustics.
Also, the shorter distance from the screen to the viewing area creates a more intimate viewing experience and eliminates distractions like bulky furniture or the photographs of your girlfriend’s college friends that she made you hang on the wall.
Where to start in planning a home theater for an apartment?
UPDATE: A new year brings new tech. For 2020, we’ve included the latest apartment home theater products available online and added additional reader reviews.
PLAN OUT YOUR HOME THEATER
When working within an apartment, we need to be a little more strategic in planning our home theater setup.
In addition to avoiding buying expensive products that flat out won’t fit in our apartment, we want to map out the viewing area so that we can maximize the space available.
For some tips, check out our article on making your living room look bigger.
Ideally, you have a blank canvas to work with. If not, where do you start?
Measure Your Viewing Area
As the saying goes, measure twice, cut once. In this case, measure twice, and avoid wasting hundreds of dollars on home theater equipment that won’t fit in your apartment.
Once you have measured the distance between your TV and your couch (or sweet recliner), plug those numbers into this helpful screen size calculator to find out the optimum viewing distance based on your TV’s resolution (e.g., 1080, 4k).
Got your TV measurement? Ok, time for sound.
Find the Best Speaker Placement
What’s a home theater without kick-ass surround sound? Without it, you might as well listen to those movie explosions on your iPhone or through a tin can.
First, you’re going to want to start your sound foundation with placement of your left and right speakers (or read below about soundbar options). Both speakers should be angled toward the center viewing area, and if possible, placed at ear level.
Oddly enough, you can boost your speaker’s high-end performance by pulling the speakers away from the wall and toward the viewing area.
Conversely, if you’d like to boost the bass, place the speakers closer to the wall to reinforce the boom. Similarly, if you have a subwoofer, you’re going to want to place it closer to the wall to increase the bass levels.
When it comes to surround sound, speaker placement isn’t enough.
Reflections. They’re not just in mirrors.
Sound reflects, and how your furniture, walls, floors, and ceilings are configured, will greatly affect your apartment home theater sound. While some reflection is necessary for a quality sound, we need to cut down on excessive sound reflections.
For a quick acoustical test of your apartment, clap your hands. Do you hear a ringing sound? If so, your apartment is “live” and reflects too much sound.
If too much sound is being reflected, don’t worry. There are a few easy tricks you can use to reduce reflection.
First, we need to soften some of your apartment’s hard surfaces. Hardwood flooring, exposed windows, and mirrors all can create excessive reflections that kill your surround system’s sound quality.
Throw down an area rug, install curtains or drapes, and consider adding a bookshelf to reduce sound reflection.
Second, when purchasing home theater equipment for an apartment, keep an eye out for “smart” equipment such as home theater receivers with automatic speaker calibration, or bass equalization subwoofers. The additional cost will be well worth it, especially if you don’t have an optimally configured apartment.
With the boring stuff now out of the way, what home theater equipment do you buy?
HOME THEATER EQUIPMENT OPTIONS FOR APARTMENTS
TV v. Projector
Home theater projectors are all the rage. In the last few years projector prices have fallen significantly as their capabilities have increased. Many projectors now are capable of 4k resolution, as well as HDR. They even have improved on their pesky problem with ambient light.
However, as you likely know, TVs have also taken a giant leap forward; particularly in screen size affordability. Now, you can find an 85-inch 4K TV for under $3,500.
How do they compare?
Color: Projectors and TVs both are now capable of insanely good color. However, when it comes to performance-price ratios, TVs win out. For the same price you get a much bigger bang for your buck.
Resolution: Again, you can find 4k resolution and HDR in both TVs and projectors. However, TVs run away in terms of value. While a true 4k projector will set you back close to $2,000, you can find 4k TVs under $700.
Brightness: Projectors have significantly improved in terms of handling bright rooms. Still, if your apartment is bright, you’re going to need a projector with a high lumen count to maintain image quality. A high lumen count means cash. TVs win out.
Size: Size matters (at least when it comes to screens!). Screen size is where projectors win handily. You can put together a projector screen and budget projector combo for the price of a 32-inch TV. While a 120-inch projector screen is pretty darn cool, it’s likely not feasible in an apartment anyway.
Price: TV prices have dropped dramatically in the last few years. 60 inch HDTVs used to be almost unobtainable but are now common place. Projectors haven’t quite caught up. To purchase a high-quality home theater projector, you’re looking at spending significant money.
HomeGenerosity Reader Review
“My husband was dead set on getting a home theater projector to put in the basement. I finally gave in but after a few weeks he stopped using the projector because it was more time consuming than just flipping on the TV.”
Home Theater Projectors
It’s likely that a standard projector setup isn’t going to work in your apartment. But don’t fret. If you are stuck on a projector, try a short throw projector mounted to the ceiling.
Short throw projectors have progressed to the point where you can get 80 inches of images from the projector being set only 13 inches away from the screen.
Just remember, if you are going to buy a home theater projector, do your homework. Measure the distance from the screen to the viewing area and do the legwork to determine whether you have sufficient space for a projector and large screen setup in your apartment.
Home Theater TVs
If you used the calculator above, you know what size TV you can fit in your apartment. The only question then is what model TV do you buy?
Odds are that you aren’t interested in a standard TV. Most TVs today – even the no-name brands – produce a decent picture. But you don’t want a decent TV. You want a centerpiece for your apartment’s home theater.
What is 4K TV?
Most new TVs are now 4K. 4K TV produces 4 times as many pixels as an HDTV. Is there a noticeable difference between 4K and HD? Eh, sort of. While you certainly will notice improvements when sitting right in front of a 4K TV, you likely couldn’t tell the difference between 4K and HD if you were sitting more than 6 feet away – unless your screen was massive.
Do I need 4K?
You probably don’t need it, but most new TVs have it anyway; so go ahead, get one and brag to your friends.
What is HDR?
HDR does make a difference in image quality – a significant difference. HDR essentially brightens bright spots, darkens dark spots, and increases the nuances of grays.
It’s important to remember though that HDR only works with HDR content. Standard or HD programming won’t be changed at all by a TV with HDR.
Manufacturers also have a pesky habit of pronouncing their TV to have HDR when it really doesn’t. While it may be able to read HDR metadata, and know when the screen is supposed to be brighter or darker, it doesn’t possess the ability to change its screen brightness accordingly.
LCD v. OLED
OLEDs are the next progression in TV design. Unfortunately, right now the cost of owning the latest and greatest in home theater tech is exorbitantly high. OLED TVs have superior image quality and do not distort from any viewing angle.
The main difference between LCD and OLED is that an OLED TV lights each pixel independently, compared to an LCD TV’s single backlight. The result is extraordinary contrast and an explosive color gamut.
All OLED TVs display in 4K Ultra High Definition and feature HDR (High Dynamic Range). If you can swing it, you won’t be disappointed in adding an OLED TV to your home theater.
Home Theater Sound Systems
Sound makes the movie. Jaws isn’t the same without the da-da-da-da; Die Hard isn’t the same without feeling the explosions; and Iron Man isn’t the same without hearing the repulsor whine.
While a 7.1 channel surround system may not be feasible in an apartment, you do have three options:
Sound Bar for Apartment
Sound bars are all-in-one speaker systems – perfect for apartments.
The long bar contains multiple speakers, and most sets include a subwoofer. A great benefit is that sound bars are self-powered and do not require a separate receiver.
While you may not have true surround sound, today’s multi-channel sound bars do a fantastic job of mimicking surround sound and come in 5.1 and 7.1 channel varieties as sounds are assigned to separate channels to create a 3D sound field. We recommend checking out the Vizio SB2821-D6 28-Inch 2.1 Channel Soundbar.
2.1 Channel Sound System for Apartment
2.1 Channel audio systems are similar to soundbars in that they include two speakers in stereo and a subwoofer.
Some 2.1 channel audio system brands will place the two speakers together in a tower, while others will allow you to place a speaker on each side of the TV. If tight on space in your apartment, 2.1 channel systems strike a perfect balance between saving space and performance.
5.1 Channel Surround Sound for Apartment
5.1 channel surround sound systems are the gold standard of home theater audio setups. They include 5 individual speakers and a subwoofer – hence the 5.1 moniker.
Traditionally, the 5.1 channel system consists of one center speaker, two front left/right speakers, two back left/right speakers, and a subwoofer. Most of the main sound is funneled through the “center” speaker while the other 4 speakers work to create the “surround” sound.
If your budget and living room can fit it, your apartment home theater needs a 5.1 channel surround system (we’ve linked a couple of our favorite systems below).
Home Theater Furniture
A home theater isn’t just a fancy TV and a loud surround sound system. It’s the feel it gives you and your guests. There’s nothing worse than a bare TV against a white wall. Give yourself the real home theater experience by investing in some interior re-decorating.
With an apartment home theater, you aren’t going to be able to go for shock and awe. Instead go for cozy. Paint the walls a comforting darker shade, fill the space beside the TV with bookshelves or art – maybe add a few movie posters if you’re a true cinephile.
Our favorite home theater décor additions:
- Home theater seating
- Smart dimmer switch
- Movie posters
- Acoustic soundproof panels (great for not angering the neighbors)
- Speaker stands
- 12-Outlet Surge Protector
- IR repeater
THE FINAL TOUCHES
Use your walls and ceiling. Seriously, you have them, use them. Consider hanging a projector from the ceiling or mounting wireless speakers along the walls. If you don’t have a TV stand, mount the TV to the wall. You’ll be shocked at how much space you can save by mounting your home theater equipment.
Hide your wires.
Audio and visual wireless technology has come a long way but inevitably wires still wind up being a headache. Minimize the clutter by using the latest in IR repeaters and RF remotes. They’ll leave your home theater with a much cleaner look, and as an apartment dweller, trust me, you’ll love the extra room.
And finally, the perpetual apartment problem – neighbors. We left dealing with noise concerns until last because, well, because you shouldn’t worry about your neighbors. As long as you are using your new home theater system responsibly and not cranking it to 11 after 11, there shouldn’t be an issue. However, if the guy living in the downstairs apartment is like this guy, here are some soundproofing acoustic panels to minimize the problem.
Remember that Dirty Harry poster that your girlfriend wouldn’t let you hang? Well, now’s the time to revisit that issue. We’re not saying that your home theater needs to be a replica of the AMC down the street, but there’s no quicker way to kill the mood than a dull room.
In addition to all of your cool new home theater apartment equipment, do a little decorating – paint the walls, add some movie posters, make your TV the room’s centerpiece, maybe even add a popcorn maker or slush machine.
Most importantly, enjoy your apartment’s new home theater. You deserve it.