So, why haven’t you turned that bonus room into a killer home theater yet? Maybe you’re dragging your feet at the prospect of paying a home installer hundreds or even thousands of dollars just to draw up the designs—after all, you shouldn’t just stick those speakers anywhere.
TCL 8-series 4K UHD LCD TV (65-inch class, model 65Q825)
Enter Audio Advice, a 42-year-old specialty A/V retailer based in North Carolina, and its new Home Theater Designer, an interactive tool that lets you design the home theater of your dreams with a simple drag-and-drop interface.
Using the Home Theater Designer is simple. First, you use a trio of sliders to enter the width, depth, and height of the room, then you plug in your seating arrangements (including the number of seats per row, along with the number of rows if you’re planning on more than one), your video setup (flat panel or projector, 16:9 or 2.4:1, and screen size), and your speaker channels (anything from 5.1 to a 7.1.4 Dolby Atmos setup).
Next to all the sliders and menus is a 3D visualization of your proposed home theater, complete with your seating, speaker positions, and the screen itself. As you enter or alter your specs, the 3D rendering automatically updates itself, and you can twirl the room around, turn the lights on and off, see the perspective of the screen from the “primary” seat (that’s the seat you get to sit in), and toggle on a diagram that previews the sound dispersion patterns based on your speaker and seating positions.
As you design your home theater, you might see various speakers in the diagram turn orange, warning you that (for example) that the rear wall speakers are too close together based on the current position of the seats, or that the front towers might (from your perspective) be blocking the bottom corners of the screen. That’s when you can start to tinker, dragging the seating position back and forth (or maybe dropping a row or two) until all the speakers turn black again.
Besides the standard room measurements and A/V specifications, the Home Theater Designer boasts an “Immersion Level” indicator that gives you a rough idea of how big your screen will look from the prime viewing seat. A “high” Immersion Level is ideal for those of us who love sitting in the front row, while a “medium” or “low” reading is good for movie lovers who prefer sitting in the middle or back rows of a theater. Fiddling with the screen size setting and keeping an eye on the Immersion Level makes for an effective way of choosing a TV or projector screen that’s the perfect size—or rather, your perfect size.
Once you save your work (you’ll need to enter your email address first), the Home Theater Designer will spit out a report with detailed specifications and a diagram that you could hand to a home installer or use yourself as a guide.
While the Home Theater Designer is free to use, you should expect an Audio Advice representative to follow up once you submit your email address to save your design.
Audio Advice CEO Scott Newman told me that the Home Theater Designer, which has been in development for about a year, uses a variety of algorithms to help place your screen, speakers and seats in accordance with Dolby- and THX-approved specifications.
Thanks to the tool’s ability to adjust a home theater schematic in real-time as you tweak the sliders and drag the seats forward and backward, consumers “could literally do in a few seconds” what used to take “four weeks of back and forth” with an installer, not to mention anywhere from $500 to north of $3,000 in design fees, Newman said.
North Carolina-based Audio Advice, which has a pair of “superstores” in Raleigh and Charlotte along with a retail website stocked with high-end home theater components, has installed more than 1,000 home theaters over the years, according to Newman.
Ben has been writing about technology and consumer electronics for more than 20 years. A PCWorld contributor since 2014, Ben joined TechHive in 2019, where he covers smart speakers, soundbars, and other smart and home-theater devices. You can follow Ben on Twitter.