As home theater technologies continue to improve, movie fans are rapidly running out
of reasons to travel to the local theater. Surround sound has pushed past seven channels
and high definition DVD is just around the corner. One often overlooked aspect of home
theater design is appropriate lighting. Home theaters present their own challenges when
designing lighting solutions, but today’s flexible track lighting systems offer solutions that
are both functional and attractive.
The primary reason that home theater lighting is typically overlooked is simply that most
home theater use will be at low light levels and, consequently, people focus on the ‘in use’
state of the space. Realistically, some light is important to allow safe entry and exit
from the room as well as the loading of media discs, connecting of wires and pouring of wine.
Additionally, a few minutes of forethought about lighting will ensure that your home theater
is attractive and inviting.
The home theater is one of few, if not the only, room in your home that will not need some level
of indiscriminate ambient light to fill the room. Endeavor to confine your light fixture selection
to spot lights and other accent fixtures that produce tightly focused beams. Well placed accent
lighting will help you see important areas such as aisles, doorways and coffee tables while
ensuring that certain areas stay dark as well. These are ideal applications for
monorail, cable and track lighting systems. These systems may also be installed around common home theater
obstructions (see installation considerations below.)
Primary Lighting Considerations – Preventing Glare:
To prevent glare, all accent spot lights should be arranged so that they:
- are aimed at a strong down angle (typically no more than 30 degrees up from the straight down).
Aiming fixtures at a flat (horizontal) trajectory is likely to produce direct or indirect glare
- do not point the fixtures toward the primary image (television or projector screen) as this will
cause direct wash out of the image
- do not illuminate surfaces in the reflective path of a glass-front screen. That is, if your image
source has a reflective front (plasma television, traditional CRT etc.), try not to illuminate walls
etc. in the reflective path of the screen (relative to the primary viewing / seating area) as these
will be visible and cause annoying glare. (This last point is in direct contradiction to normal
lighting design best practices. Typically, walls and occupied surfaces should be illuminated first
and floors should receive more general illumination. In the home theater, the opposite is true.)
Additional Lighting Considerations:
Serious home theater enthusiasts might also consider the following:
- If your image is produced by a direct-view or rear-projection monitor, consider placement of a
dimmable, ambient bias light behind the display. Adjusting the levels on this light will control the
contrast of the image and reduce eye fatigue. Where possible, the bias light should be wired on a
separate circuit so that it may be controlled separately.
- Home theater owners with significant media libraries may want to install two or three separate
accent lights over the media library to facilitate finding specific titles etc. These should be on
a separate circuit as well.