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Creating A Home Theater

With an increasing trend toward creating cozy 'getaways' right at home, personal theater systems rank as one of homeowners' favorite add-ons when building or remodeling.

Home theaters offer quality entertainment without the fuss of leaving home - or paying $5 for popcorn. On a basic level, home theaters mean better picture and better sound.

There are no rules to creating a home theater, says Audio-Video Interiors Northwest sales manager Chris Trausch. While 30 percent of his clientele opt for full-blown theater rooms, with extra thick walls, special lighting and top-of-the-line acoustical features, the remaining 70 percent want a simple equipment upgrade in an existing room.

Obviously, creating a theater room during construction is easiest, notes Trausch. But revamping the family's preferred movie viewing space isn't impossible. First and foremost, wiring to expensive components should be high-grade copper, installed by a professional.

Torr Winetrout of Pacific Electrical Contractors encourages homeowners to opt for a dedicated circuit - with surge protection - to protect delicate equipment.

Components in a home theater system, big or small, include a screen for viewing, speakers, a subwoofer and receiver to process signals from various components.

For a viewing screen, a variety of options are available, but technology is ever-evolving. Home movie buffs are fairly divided over traditional TV screens versus projectors, which project in a variety of sizes on a blank wall or media screen. Retractable screens, which range from $125 to $450, are a big hit for small spaces or homeowners looking for a high tech look. Plasma TVs remain a consumer favorite but can be pricey.

Speakers are the component with the most flexibility in pricing. Expect as much variety in style and performance as well.

"To do it right, you need to ask someone who knows what they're talking about," says Trausch. "They should talk about their preferences - music, movies or both because some speaker companies focus on movies and others on music. We do this every day so we've got a good idea about the kind of quality each company puts out."

When choosing speakers the size and shape of a room are key. Speakers run the gamut from a basic set for under $200 to top of the line. Larson's sales manager Mike Ferguson says he had a client recently who forked out some $27,000 just for speakers, "but then we also have our home-theater-in-a-box kind of clientele. They want just a simple setup for a few hundred dollars, not the separate components. I think it's about 50/50," he notes.

Obvious theater add-ons, to play movies, music and other media, include a VCR, DVD and a digital video recorder, similar to Tivo or Moxi. Store-bought models, which include combo DVD/ VCR units, begin around $1,000, but offer enhanced capabilities such as disc burning.

Tying it all together requires a quality receiver, which can cost as little as $70 or as much as $700. Receivers convert signals from various components and send it through speakers.

While top of the line is hard to resist, Winetrout encourages homeowners to consider their basic needs and not overspend.

"If you're on a budget, you really don't have to lay out big bucks to get good sound," he says. "There are excellent speakers that we install on the job that are under $150 a pair that sound good enough that you'll go 'Wow!'"

With high tech gadgets on the market today, and something for every size budget, homeowners would be hard pressed to come up with a reason to leave the comfort of their home to see a movie at the theater.

Unless they have a fondness for paying $5 for popcorn.

Creating A Home Theater