What Is A Home Theater?

Updated 5/1/09

This page contains its author's opinions.

In a Nutshell

"A home theater is a room or portion of a room in the home, suitably furnished and equipped, so that family and friends can gather together to enjoy a presentation which may be a motion picture, selected by the owner or one of the persons attending."

Yet there are those who say it is not a home theater unless it looks like a commercial theater (smaller is OK) whan you walk in the door. In other words you have to set up a (front) projector and screen.

I have also heard the remark that home theater should give the experience of going to the movies as opposed to watching TV.

Home Theater ca. 1940
Home Theater Today
My Home Theater Today
My Home Theater "Yesterday"
My Home Theater "Tomorrow"
Family Members Can't Operate It

Home Theater, ca. 1940

Home Theater, Austria ca. 1940

Screen shot from "Sound of Music", first movie (via laserdisk) played on my 49" 16:9 LCD rear projection Sony KL-W9000. The scene has a good view inside a home theater for a well to do family in the 1940's.

Left to right: Capt. von Trapp, his fiancee the baroness Schrader, the children's uncle Max Detweiler.  The governess Maria and the von Trapp children are portrayed as behind the proscenium manipulating the marionettes.

The two small stages on the sides of the main stage also open to reveal scenes.

Soundtrack musical number: The Lonely Goatherd

Home Theater, Austria ca. 1940

"Stepping down to take a bow"

End of the puppet show, the children are shown emerging from the proscenium. The movie plot has the children operating the marionettes although for most of the filming, different persons not shown actually operate them.

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Home Theater Today

"Dinner is over. The dishes have been washed, or perhaps a few of them are still soaking in the sink. The children have been given permission to stay up later than usual and have gathered in the home theater. Dad brings in a bowl of popcorn and pretzels. Mom takes out the video, puts it in the player, and pushes "Play". The lights are turned down and the show begins."

Whether it is a DVD played through a rack full of equipment and onto a 120 inch beaded screen surrounded by velvet sofas in Beverly Hills or Long Island, or a rented VHS cassette played onto an old rounded corner screen TV console with malfunctioning chroma in Harlem or Appalachia, it is still home theater.

Nowadays the above scenario would hardly ever take place without being anticlimactic. Most likely the children have been playing video games and viewing sitcoms during the preceding afternoon likely using the same video equipment. In many families there is no father so mother brings the popcorn too.

Dimensions and quantities such as screen width, ceiling height, number of speakers or watts of audio should not matter.

Even aspect ratio cannot be a criterion. One summer a few years ago, my local public library sponsored "outdoor theater night" every week. A screen was hung on the wall of the library building and a 16mm projector was set up. The night I attended, they were showing Sound of Music. It was a pan and scan 4:3 aspect ratio version. We must remember that the first movies had the 4:3 aspect ratio and a few nowadays do also.

"You know you have a full fledged home theater when it took a long time for you to show family members how to turn it on."

Here is an idea to make your equipment easier to operate.

Put labels on or near every important switch and knob, for example giving each switch or knob a letter and each setting or important remote control button a number. Pieces of equipment such as the DVD player, TV, etc. also get letter designations. Then you can make up an easy to follow description such as,

"To play DVD, make these settings: A1, B3, C2, D1, E1. Check rearof DVD box for word 'enhanced' or 'anamorphic'. Before pressing Play (K3) get remote J and press button 22 so 'TV Shape' appears on screen. Then press 23 or 24 so you see '16:9' light up on TV screen if DVD is not anamorphic or enhanced or 'letterbox' light up on TV screen if it is. Finally press K3 on player or button 29 on remote J to start playing the movie."

The IRS (tax man for you HT folks outside the USA) permits a "home office" to be a portion of a room which may or may not be set off by a curtain or set of divider panels (shoji screens). Therefore a home theater need not be an entire room.

My View From the Sofa

A View From the Sofa (today)

Equipment List:

TV (Yes, HT enthusiasts still use this word)
    Sony KL-W9000

Program Sources:
    secondhand Pioneer VP-CLD-A100 Laserdisk Player
       (the VP-1000 broke)
    PC based DVD Player
        (AGP main board
         Pentium II 300 MHz
         ATI Xpert@Work video card
         Software DVD decoder) 
    Sears LXI VCR

    Heathkit 35w/channel stereo integrated audio amp.
    AR 4x speakers (2)

    Crystal Vision VPS-1 external comb filter
    DVDO iScan Plus line doubler

I am still experimenting with speaker placement. Because the monitor is in a corner, the further apart I want the speakers, the more in front of the screen they must go, forcing viewers to sit further back.

Rather than put a second TV in my office, I can view this monitor through an open door across the foyer. The viewing angle is quite far off to the side, which makes any picture seem narrow, and this is one good use for stretching 4:3 pictures to fill the 16:9 screen.

Inspired by the top picture on this page I have a second, smaller, screen next to the Sony KL-W9000, exact position yet to be decided on. It makes an excellent Picture Outside of Picture for viewing a second football game or for using the computer while viewing a move or TV show. It's a computer monitor, both it and the Sony are fed RGB 480p video.

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My Former View from the Sofa

Equipment List

    Sony KV-1913 19" Trinitron
    secondhand JVC 20" computer monitor (not shown)
        (2/99-5/99 when it broke)

Program Sources:
    Pioneer VP-1000 Laserdisk Player (far right)
    Sears LXI VCR (above TV)

    Heathkit 35w/channel stereo integrated audio amp.
        (not shown)
    AR 4x speakers (two; one at lower right)

    Crystal Vision VPS-1 external comb filter (atop speaker)

My Up and Coming View

Basement home theater, 2009

In 2005 I purchased an HDTV (720p) video projector, almost on impulse. There was no suitable arrangement for a screen in the living room so soon thereafter I began finishing a part of the basement to become a theater room. This project has been going on for about four years. It is far enough along that movies can be shown.

Construction details

Equipment List:

    Sanyo PLV-Z3 Front Projector
    Computer monitor (used for viewing second program)

Program Sources:
    Pioneer CLD-D704 Laserdisk Player
    Accurian 16-3499 HDTV broadcast tuner
    nondescript DVD player

    nondescript stereo integrated audio amp.
        (not shown)
    nondescript speaker (the AR's remained upstairs)

    Lumagen HDP video processor
    Computer with DVD drive used to play PAL DVD's

Historical Notes

1980 -- My first VCR, a programmable RCA, could record four programs over one week span, costing about USD 750. Main criteria for selecting that model, reasonable price and ability to tape several programs on different channels automatically off into the future. Most VCR's in those days could tape only one program automatically. Only enough money in budget for one: VCR or color TV. I thought, "better to see it in black and white than to miss it in color". (1999) I am now on my fourth VCR which is on its last legs, the other three all broke down in turn.

1981 -- First color TV, the Sony KV1913 mentioned earlier. Cost about USD 450.

1990 -- First laser disk player, a Discovision industrial grade model purchased secondhand for about USD 100. Had problem in that any disk with a digital soundtrack produces spurious dashes of color sprinkled about the picture.

1992 (approx.) Purchased Pioneer VP-1000 LD player and "CX audio decoder" for USD 100., then seller threw in about fifty movies for an additional USD 25.  He was saying tapes were more convenient and had just finished copying the movies he wanted to keep.

1993 -- Forerunner of this video web site began as numerous replies posted in Digital Equipment Corp. (now Compaq Corp.) "Notes Conferences" which are a series of forums comparable to Home Theater Forum and Audio Visual Sciences Forum.

1997 -- This web site opened.

1999 -- Experimenting with displaying video on computer monitors. Since the dot pitch of a computer monitor is so much finer (typically 0.28 mm versus 0.81 mm and up for most TVs) a computer monitor can give a sharper picture than a TV twice the size.

Feb. 1999 -- Purchased USD 130. AIMS Lab Instant TV (a line doubler, needed to put video onto the computer monitor).

Feb. 1999 -- Purchased Crystal Vision VPS-1 comb filter for USD 550.

April 1999 -- Obtained 20 inch JVC computer monitor free from a company scrap heap, unfortunately it lasted only about two months.

May 1999 -- Purchased DVDO iScan Plus line doubler for promotional USD 430.

June 1999 -- Purchased Sony KL-W9000 for USD 2200. (incl. shipping)

Jan. 2000 -- Replaced LD player with Pioneer CLD-A100, former player broke. Added PC based DVD player with software for MPEG decoding.

2004 -- Purchased Lumagen model HDP stand alone HDTV video processor.

2005 -- Purchased Sanyo PLV-Z3 HDTV (720p) projector.

Aug. 2005 -- Building permit pulled to begin finishing of basement for new home theater.

May 2009 -- "Tomorrow" view as shown above.

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All parts (c) copyright 1999-2009, Allan W. Jayne, Jr. unless otherwise noted or other origin stated.

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