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10 Tips for Setting Up Your Home Theater

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It doesn't take much effort to turn a typical room into a home theater—just add a television. But considering how many movies and TV shows most of us actually watch at home, why not go the distance and create a domestic space that rivals the movie theater experience? Here are some simple (for the most part) steps for creating a home theater that's worthy of all the time you'll spend in it.

1. Find Your Visual Sweet Spot

Engineers and scientists have toiled long and hard to come up with the optimal viewing distance for watching HDTVs. The math is relatively simple—take the display's diagonal screen size and multiply it by 1.5 to 2.5. That's how far your couch, chairs, or other prime seating choices should be placed relative to the front of the television.

2. For Small Rooms, Try A Soundbar

Most modern HDTVs can pump out decent sound, but nothing delivers that cinematic experience quite like dedicated speakers. For small rooms, consider getting a soundbar, which packs multiple speakers into a single low-profile, horizontal package. Some of the sleeker models can fit right below the screen, while others act as a kind of reinforced base, with the TV sitting directly on top.

3. Clear Space For Wall-Shaking Bass

Another simple audio upgrade comes from a subwoofer, a bass-only class of speaker that's designed to literally vibrate the room. Don't mount these boxy behemoths in a cabinet (where their vibrations will generate more of an unsettling rattle than a satisfying rumble), but on the floor. The key here is to make sure there's enough space right against one of your home theater's walls, and preferably in a corner.

4. Stow Speakers In Bookshelves

One of the hallmarks of next-level home theater audio is separation—setting up speakers so that sound effects, dialogue, and other audio seem to come from different directions, such as left, right and center. Though you could pull this off with a pair of massive floor-standing speakers, the subtler approach (for non-cavernous spaces) is to place smaller speakers on bookshelves, positioned to the left and right of the TV. This stealthier setup also helps to hide obtrusive cables.

5. Mount Up For Surround Sound

The best, but most complex, audio setup is full surround sound, which usually entails six total audio channels, or speakers—one for the center, the right and the left, two for the rear, and one subwoofer. The biggest challenge, however, is generally rear-channel placement. Though you might stumble across the perfect pair of shelves or other furniture to set those speakers on, expect to go the distance and mount the rear channels in the wall (the upper back corners of most rooms work fine).

6. Sit Up Straight For 3D

If you plan on watching a lot of 3D content, get yourself a seat with a stiff back. Why? Because tilting your head to one side or the other can garble the 3D effect—meaning the sort of sprawling position typical to couch-based viewing is no good. So make sure your chair or couch faces forward, in a way that discourages slouching and lounging.

7. Check Your Angles

Some HDTVs can be viewed from relatively extreme angles (to the left, right, or even from above and below), while others require more of a dead-center position. Before you drill any holes or buy any new furniture, stick the TV roughly where it's going to go, turn it on, and make sure none of the room's seating options are getting completely short-changed.

8. Turn Away From Glare

While checking for bad angles, consider how much light is hitting the screen from your windows at various times of the day. The same goes for unnatural light (lamps, track lighting, etc.). Even the brightest image can't compete with intense glare, so try to position the TV in as much round-the-clock shadow as possible.

9. Kill Two Birds With One Curve

Those last two issues—bad angles and screen glare—can be largely dealt with by opting for a curved HDTV. The subtle bend in these displays actually increases the total viewing angle to either side of the TV, while also limiting total glare. Prioritizing this feature can take some of the fuss out of the overall home theater setup.

10. Put on Headphones, And Sit Wherever You Want

Until very recently, headphones and TVs were an awkward fit, requiring that you either sit uncomfortably close to the screen (since most earphone cords aren't more than a few feet long), or figure out where to put the bulky, interference-prone radio-frequency transmitters that work with wireless headphones. But a handful of newer products let you plug standard headphones directly into a remote control, giving you access to perfectly synced, perfectly private audio, from essentially any seat in the room. Only a handful of products currently offer this feature, the most recent of which is the PlayStation 4, which has an audio jack built into the game controller.

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A Brief History of the Walkman
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The journalists had never experienced anything like it, and that wasn’t necessarily a good thing. Packed into buses headed for Yoyogi Park near Sony’s headquarters in Tokyo, Japan, they knew the electronics giant was excited about a product launch set for July 1, 1979. But what had been handed to them after boarding was confusing.

It was a blue-accented device, made mostly of metal and roughly 6 inches long by 3.5 inches wide. Inside was a standard audio cassette. It could be held in one hand, clipped to a belt, or—more awkwardly—hung around the neck. A pair of compact, foam-encased headphones trailed from the unit to the user’s ears, where it emitted a surprisingly rich stereo sound.

But it had no recording feature like Sony’s Pressman, which media members had used for years to document conversations. And the scene at Yoyogi Park was odd: Dozens of Sony staffers were riding tandem bicycles, skateboarding, and swaying while bystanders looked on, baffled. No one was talking; the product announcement was being piped in to reporters via a recording on the device. Sony dubbed it the Walkman, and it insisted it would revolutionize how the world consumed music.

The assembled media members took in the presentation, returned to the bus, and shrugged. Who was going to wear a miniaturized stereo that cost $200 USD?

Enough people, it turns out, for over 400 million Walkmans to be sold in the coming decades; enough for Sony’s profits to grow so substantially that they could afford to buy a movie studio, Columbia Pictures; enough that city officials would declare them a public nuisance that could result in deadly traffic accidents or ear damage.

Sony had anticipated a need and profited handsomely. But while the company became synonymous with the Walkman, there’s a one asterisk to their story—they didn’t actually invent it.

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Portable listening devices were, of course, nothing new. Transistor radios grew popular in the 1950s by shrinking components to allow for a pocket-sized listening experience. The drawback was that the user was limited to picking up broadcast stations and whatever playlist the programming director preferred. They were also tinny, the earbuds laughably weak next to proper stereo systems. Real, lost-in-the-music moments were reserved for bedrooms equipped with record players and floorboards that could stand up to the adolescent hysteria incited by Elvis or the Beatles.

Masaru Ibuka’s teenage years were decades in the rear-view mirror, but he identified with their passion for music. A co-founder of Sony, Ibuka was disappointed he couldn’t bring a cassette player with him on long, transatlantic plane rides. Why, he asked engineers, couldn’t they develop a device that was small enough to carry around while allowing the user to listen to whatever he or she wanted?

Akio Morita, Ibuka’s partner, agreed, and the two set a deadline: They wanted a product ready for the start of summer vacation on July 1, a marketing opportunity for people exercising or relaxing outdoors. Under a time crunch, Kozo Ohsone, Shizuo Takashino and other developers took their Pressman—a bulky recorder meant for a niche market—and removed the recording mechanism, adding a lightweight pair of headphones and a stereo amplifier. (To create something completely from scratch would not only take more time, it would be more risk: A prototype that broke down would not go over well.)

Morita took their modified Pressman home and listened to it. It was exactly what he and Ibuka wanted, with one exception: His wife was annoyed at the isolating nature of the device. Morita didn’t want Sony to market a “rude” product, so he had his team add a second headphone jack and an orange button that allowed two listeners to talk to each other through a microphone.

Sony’s Pressman evolved into the TPS-L2, a cassette player designed to resemble antique Japanese lacquered boxes. “Walkman” was taken from both Pressman and Superman, a character recently re-introduced to the public eye because of the 1978 feature film. “Walkman” also hinted at locomotion, the idea of breaking free from home stereos and going where you pleased.

Morita and Ibuka thought they had a hit, but the press disagreed. The lack of a recording feature confounded them, and their apathy leaked into the market. In July 1979, the first month Walkmans were on sale, only 3000 units were sold. In a controlled panic, Sony’s marketing department decided that the Walkman experience was so singular that they would have to be aggressive. Japanese celebrities were recruited for print ads; Sony employees rode trains and patrolled busy pedestrian-packed districts on weekends, extending headphones so consumers could listen for themselves. No ad or slogan could really describe the unique experience of cutting the cord from elaborate home stereos. The Walkman had to be worn to be appreciated.

Sony’s assertive plan worked. Twenty-seven thousand units were sold in August, which depleted the company of its initial 30,000-unit production run. Tourists returned to France, the UK and the U.S. with the devices, seeding the company’s expansion plans. By early 1980, the Walkman was headed for America.

Morita had considered calling it the Soundabout in the States, but “Walkman” was already on the lips of early adopters who had heard of or seen the portable device. Sporting a stylish leather cover, it quickly became an urban accessory must-have. Walkmans in New York became as pervasive as potholes, with users acknowledging one another on the street as though they belonged to the same fraternity.

In their first mention of the Walkman on July 7, 1980, the New York Times declared it a status symbol:

Josh Lansing and the young blonde woman had never even met before, but as they passed each other on Madison Avenue the other afternoon, she waved and smiled and he tipped his headphones in salute ... What the two well-dressed strangers first noticed about each other was that they were both possessors of the newest status symbol around town: the Walkman …”It's just like Mercedes-Benz owners honking when they pass each other on the road,” explained Mr. Lansing, whose cassette hung from his Gucci belt.

Andy Warhol told the Washington Post he preferred the sound of Pavarotti over blaring car horns; beaches that had banned radios took no issue with the solitary nature of portables. The soundtrack of life could not only be changed, but muted.

That latter feature was of concern to Woodbridge, N.J., which passed an ordinance in 1982 that banned the Walkman and its knock-offs from anyone driving or riding a bike on a public street, joining nine other states with similar prohibitions. Wearing headphones for extended periods also concerned audiologists, who feared ear damage from constant musical accompaniment to homework, working out, or isolated jobs like toll collecting or taxi driving. Even repair shops chimed in, saying the parts were too tiny to repair and hanging signs refusing service to the Sony elite.

None of this slowed the Walkman’s momentum. The company shipped over 500,000 units worldwide in 1980 and tripled that in 1981. In 1983, the company introduced the WM-10, which was only a third the size of the original. It featured a “drawer" that retracted when the cassette tray was empty. More importantly, it had earbuds that allowed ambient noise to leak in, easing safety concerns. In 1988 they released the WM-505, the first model with wireless headphones, over 12 years before the first Bluetooth headset.

The Walkman featured prominently in Footloose; Marty McFly used it to terrorize the transistor-era of the 1950s in Back to the Future; “walkmans” became a colloquial term for any portable device in the way Kleenex had become the standard declaration for a tissue.

By the time it entered the Oxford English Dictionary in 1986, Sony had invented, invaded, and conquered an entirely new consumer electronics space.

At least, that's what they had assumed. The same year they made the OED, the company offered a settlement to Andreas Pavel, who for years had taken issue with the “invention” portion of Sony’s story. A devout music lover, he filed a patent in Milan, Italy in 1977 for something he informally referred to as a stereobelt. He tried courting manufacturers, but Philips and Yamaha weren’t interested. Years later, he took note of the Walkman. A case of communal thinking, Pavel was still peeved his discovery had found success without him, though it was for financial rather than personal reasons. "I don't want to be reduced to the label of being the inventor of the Walkman," he told the New York Times

After two decades of off-and-on court fights, he settled with Sony in 2003. A testament to the Walkman's immense success, the company reportedly cut him a check for eight figures.

Sony

By the late 1980s, the Walkman had grown to accommodate CDs (the Discman) and television (the bulky Watchman). In the 1990s, MP3 devices took up much of their development time, but nothing could anticipate—or compete against—the shift caused by Apple’s iPod in the 2000s. By 2010, Sony announced it would be discontinuing the cassette-based Walkman brand in most territories. Just as Sony users had stamped out transistors and boom boxes in the 1980s to become a societal badge of cool, the iPod’s devotees would settle for nothing less than an Apple.

Cool, of course, is relative. 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy resurrected both the device and the concept of a mix tape, with Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill using the TPS-L2 as an emotional lifeline to his childhood on Earth. Previously trading for around $100 among collectors, the model shot up to nearly $1000 after the movie was released; a rare “Guys & Dolls” version, which labeled the headphone jacks by gender, can sell for nearly $3000. Thanks to Pratt, the Walkman had come full circle.

Ibuka, incidentally, never quite got his wish. After his team scrambled to modify a Pressman in time for his next international flight, he settled into his seat and hit play. Nothing happened. In their rush to find some classical music for Ibuka to listen to, the engineers accidentally grabbed a bunch of blank cassettes.

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8 Tips for Enhancing Live Entertainment
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Live shows and events are a great opportunity to get out of the house and be wowed by local and visiting talent. With these tips, you can make your next outing even better.

1. Check out Songkick for live music

Songkick is a great tool to use for finding new bands and following your favorites. The site gives you e-mail alerts whenever any of your selected bands are in town, and there’s a great app for on-the-go use.

2. Join venue mailing lists

Speaking of e-mails, sign up for some mailing lists. Most venues will send out e-mails that detail all their upcoming shows. Subscribe to your favorite venues to stay in the know. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all your mailing lists, try unroll.me to combine all of your subscriptions into one daily e-mail.

3. Check out the local scene

Sometimes the best live entertainment is right in your backyard. Check out the smaller venues and stadiums nearby. Support the local talent and save money by finding independent theaters, minor league games, and local bands. You’ll be supporting up-and-comers in your neighborhood and enjoying a great show. If you need help finding things nearby, Gravy is a helpful app that shows events coming up in your area.

4. Eat beforehand

If you’re going to a stadium or theater, food is going to be expensive and usually not worth it. Skip the expensive disappointment and eat before you leave. If you find a nice restaurant near the venue, you can enjoy a nice meal before the show and save yourself from splurging on fifteen-dollar popcorn.

5. Pack light

Live events are generally pretty crowded, and there normally isn’t a lot of space to put your things. Pack only the necessities so you’re free to move around and enjoy the show. If you’re going with a group, share items like sunscreen so you don’t all have to pack the same thing.

6. Find the right seats

Finding the right seats depends on the venue and the performance, but also on personal preference. Randy Taradash, Director of Marketing at the American Conservatory Theater told Gizmodo:

“I've been in theater marketing for 15 years and for 10 years before that I ran a box office. If you ask 100 people, you will get 100 responses. I'm always surprised at how people define the prime experience. It's different for everybody, and it changes from theater to theater, and show to show. There are people that love to be right at front, people who love to be at the back.”

So the best way to find the right seat is to talk with your group and decide on personal preference.

7. Get there early

Nothing ruins a night out like being rushed—avoid the stress and get there early. There are usually restaurants and other establishments nearby to pass the time. You’ll have time to talk and catch up before the show, so you won’t need to talk during the performance.

8. Be social

SuperGlued is a social networking app that lets you talk with other users about concerts. The app lets you find shows, buy tickets, and even build a schedule that will provide you with recommendations. It provides real-time discussion so you'll know when a band is starting or how long the lines are. And it connects to your Facebook or Instagram, so you can connect with all your friends with the push of a button.

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