Setting Up Your Own Home Theatre - PART 1
Bringing the cinema home!
When I moved out to Singapore in 2010, I rented what I thought would essentially be a bachelor pad, figuring I’d be here for a couple of years before either moving back to the UK or moving on to the next adventure.
It had to be a cool place, a place to chill, hang out, watch movies and hopefully help me charm the ladies!
Things took an unexpected turn when I met the most amazing human being on the planet, she said yes and the rest, as they say, is history!
We ended up buying the ‘bachelor pad’ and turning it into our new marital home and with that came the decision to give the place a much-needed facelift, a renovation to give it a new lease of life as we started our new lives together!
As a couple of movie buffs, it should come as no surprise that we wanted to have some kind of home theatre setup!
We decided to go for it and it was an arduous process but definitely worth it in the end!
It was such an insane journey that one blog post simply cannot suffice!
Over the next 3 posts I’m going to document the entire process, impart all my knowledge, everything I learnt about setting up a home theatre, from how to select your TV, AV processor, speakers and cables to how to set up a Dolby Atmos capable home theatre.
So, let’s get into it!
With space being super limited, it was impossible to have a dedicated home theatre room, so we had to make do with our living room and came up with the following list of requirements:
· Largest TV that we could afford.
· An AV Receiver capable of Dolby Atmos and DTS:X audio – 3D immersive surround sound audio from in front, behind and even above you.
· Small speakers.
· Concealed cables.
· Concealed AV equipment
· Universal Remote Control
· Power Reclining Sofa
The Perfect Big TV
People talk about the law of attraction, how if you really want something, are smart about it and work for it, you can draw it to you as an inevitable consequence.
I remember how in awe I was when I saw a 70-inch HDTV in the UK, the sheer size of it blew my mind and I knew that one day I simply had to have one!
Our home makeover was in 2016, so it was at the dawn of 4K / HDR TVs and OLED was simply not affordable for mere mortals at the 70+ inch TV panel size category.
A projector was out of the question as we wanted to be able to enjoy normal daytime TV on the same screen and didn’t want to have to be sat in a darkroom all the time.
In the end, we went for the 75-inch beast that is the glorious Samsung 75F8000 Full-HD LED LCD TV!
So why are some TVs so much more expensive than others, what’s a good TV and what’s not?
Generally, the more accurately a TV can show pitch black and bright colours at the same time, the more realistic, vibrant and accurate the picture is going to be. This is why home theatre aficionados are always going on about black levels.
Just see these images of Ripley from Aliens to see why black levels are so important:
In the first pic with deep blacks, the image really pops and looks good.
In the second image, the blacks are greyer (referred to as an elevated black level) which is often the case as cheaper TVs struggle to produce a scene with deep blacks and bright colours at the same time. The TV struggles to keep Ripley’s helmet and visor looking bright while keeping the surroundings inky black, as a result, the image looks washed out and there’s significant loss of detail.
If you’re watching TV in a bright, well lit room (like in a store or TV showroom), you may not notice this, but if you want to watch your movie in a dark room then you definitely will!
Most entry level LED TVs either have all their LEDs on or off, it’s all or nothing with no in between. They can’t darken individual parts of the screen and brighten individual parts of the screen simultaneously, but the best LED TVs can!
The best LED TVs are full array backlit TVs with thousands of localized dimming zones. This means they have thousands of LEDs behind the screen and they can turn off individual LEDs to keep dark scenes in a movie dark while allowing bright areas to remain bright.
Due to the crazy number of LEDs and the immense processing power involved, these TVs are physically thicker and come with a hefty price tag.
Despite all this they still usually fall short of OLED TVs!
While a full array LED TV can turn off individual LEDs, the key selling point of OLED TVs is their perfect black levels achievable due to their ability to completely turn off individual pixels! Pixels are far smaller than LEDs and allows for much more precise control of the image, the trade-off is that they can’t get as bright as LED TVs and are even more expensive, especially when dealing with large TV sizes!
The F8000 I went for is an LED TV featuring an edge lit design and not a full array LED design, this makes it more affordable and allows for a slimmer TV but does mean the black levels are not quite as good as the top tier panels.
Having said that, it’s still pretty darn good!
While not featuring full array local dimming, it still offers edge based local dimming by turning off the LEDs at the sides of the screen to improve black levels during darker scenes in movies and TV shows, it just can’t do it as precisely as a full array TV or OLED can as the LED strips are at the sides of the screen and not behind the panel itself.
I managed to further enhance the black level of my TV by adding bias ambient lighting strips on the back of the screen.
By emitting a gentle ambient light, your pupils must constrict ever so slightly, letting slightly less light into your eyes and making black levels appear even blacker, improving perceived image contrast and also reducing eye fatigue from prolonged dark room viewing!
I used the MediaLight 6500K Bias Lighting System from biaslighting.com
Black levels are generally not an issue for any TV when being watched in brightly lit conditions but you can see how the image changes from this scene from Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas when viewed under differing lighting conditions.
With the living room light on things look fine, with all the lights off, the black sky around the moon is clearly not as black as the room itself, something which is much less obvious with the ambient bias lighting turned on in the final picture, it makes a huge difference when viewing in the dark!
The TV also has a great setting called Cinema Black which turns off the top and bottom LEDs completely when there are black bars at the top and bottom of movies. This makes the bars appear completely black which is great when watching stuff with the lights off and increases the cinematic experience even further!
As you can see in this scene from the start of Passengers (2016), the black bars at the top and bottom of the screen are pitch black even without the ambient bias lighting on.
Once the ambient bias lighting is turned on, the picture pops and looks even more vibrant, haloing / glowing around bright objects appear reduced while the blacks look even more inky and on point:
The F8000 also features active 3D and while most people hate 3D movies, I still like to fire up the occasional 3D Blu-ray! Choosing between 3D and HDR, 3D trumps HDR in my book any day!
To this day, I’m very happy with my TV! Despite all the marketing gimmickry promoting 4K and now 8K, everything still looks crystal clear and sharp with no perceivable pixels despite being such a big screen and only HD, even when I’m viewing from just a few feet away!
My goal of having a crazy giant TV had finally been realised but this was simply the first step in creating the perfect home theatre!
In Part 2 I’m going to cover everything else you’re going to need to set up your home theatre!
See you there!
Dr. Bobby Stryker