When putting together a home theater, it is often easy to get caught up with different areas of the experience. For many people, seating, furniture, screen size, and audio are all top of the list.
Check out my article of 10 great home theater seating ideas. I’m sure you’ll love them.
When you first start thinking about movie settings, you think about the screen it will be on and the audio effects. Often overlooked, lighting is equally as important as these.
This home theater lighting definitive guide covers how lighting affects the home theater movie experience, types of home theater lighting, why to eliminate unwanted or distracting light in a home theater, and how to choose the right type of home theater lighting for your unique space and budget.
While there are vast resources available, it is the aim of this guide to narrow down the logistics and give you the best insight into making a decision that is right for you and your home theater.
With many possibilities on the market, it is important to research the options that are available and practical for your use. Let’s dive in.
How Does Lighting Affect the Home Theater Movie Experience?
Before we take a closer look at the various types of home theater lighting and how to choose the right type of lighting for your space, it is important to understand how lighting affects the home theater movie experience in the first place. Knowing this, you can make a more well-informed decision on how to set yourself up for success.
So, how does lighting affect the home theater movie experience?
Lighting not only sets the mood and ambiance of your space, but it helps with visual clarity and the ability to focus on the streaming media in your home theater. Additionally, different types of home theater lighting can be used for decorative purposes as well as safety and functional features.
You can likely recall a time that you entered the cinema during the day time and walked outside upon the completion of the movie you went to see to a darkened night sky.
Time obviously passes while you are in the theater, but for some reason, we imagine that it stands still. This is no accident.
The lighting that is used in the cinema helps us to focus on the movie that we are engaging in. All of the components used from the dimmed room that darkens upon the start of the movie, the safety lights that surround the theater, and other sources of light help us to focus on what we came to engage in: the movie.
When we are less distracted by our surroundings, we are able to appreciate all of the work that went into creating the masterpiece that is being streamed before us.
Then, when the movie is over and we walk outside (likely chatting with our friends and family about the complex scenes or parts of the film that we liked or disliked), we are almost shocked to see that time did not, in fact, stand still while we were in the theater. It just felt like it because of how engaged we were.
Options for Lighting Setup
Here are some home theater lighting ideas:
Creating this appeal in your home theater can be tricky considering all of the distractions that can come about while we stream movies and other media in this space. We have laundry piling up in our homes, dishwashers to unload, and other distractions awaiting us.
But, if we use the right lighting, we can create a space that helps us to truly disengage from our work responsibilities and focus on the movies and media that we are there to appreciate.
Then, the home theater is transformed from a “room to watch movies in” to a “room to disengage from our work and to recharge with rest and relaxation”. What a concept, right?
To achieve this, though, you need to take a look at the way that you set up your home theater lighting. You can choose to go all out and invest in professional lighting and installation. Or, you can choose a less expensive option and install the lighting yourself.
But, whatever you do, we recommend not skimping out on your home theater lighting- even if this means getting creative with your lighting solutions or using some of what you already own.
Types of Home Theater Lighting
There are several different types of home theater lighting options available. Ultimately, it is important to take a look at the logistics of your home theater space, your budget for your entire home theater as well as lighting specifically, and then consider what is practical and functional for your space.
With these in mind, you can use some really innovative solutions to create the perfect atmosphere with your home theater lighting.
When looking at types of home theater lighting to use for your space, you need to consider overhead lighting, decorative lighting, and experience-enhancing lighting.
While these do not all have to be used, a combination of these lighting options can help to create a functional home theater that has a soothing yet engaging ambiance.
1. Overhead Lighting
Whether your home theater came in your home before you moved in, or you are building one in, you are likely going to be working with overhead lighting.
While this is not always the case, this is pretty standard in most homes. Overhead lighting can include lighting coming from a chandelier, a ceiling fan, or recessed can lighting.
The optimal overhead lighting for a home theater is recessed can lighting that can be dimmed. Ideally, you can run the recessed lighting on multiple circuits so that they can be dimmed with more fine-tuning options as you go from the beginning to the end of your home theater viewing experience.
While overhead lighting is not going to be turned on during the film, you might need something that can still provide a safe way for people to get out of their seats for a quick break.
You will want to be mindful that overhead lighting that is left on- even when greatly dimmed- does not cause a glare on the screen.
Because of this, it is best to use overhead lighting before and after a movie in your home theater, but choose to incorporate other safety or decorative lighting options for during the movie when possible. Then, the reduction of glare will be maximized, and thus so will your movie viewing experience.
Decorative lighting can be just as beautiful as it is functional. Do not think that just because you select something beautiful that it cannot be incorporated as a functional piece in your home theater.
Decorative lighting can include wall sconces, column lighting, Fiber Optic starry night effects, and more.
When choosing to use decorative lighting, you will want to take a look at the specifications of your home theater.
While Fiber Optic starry night effects can make for an incredible way to dim your room (while still providing a bit of light), they are not as functional in home theaters with low ceilings as they can become distracting. But, used in a cove or higher ceiling, this is sure to wow your guests.
On the other hand, wall sconces and column lighting can be decorative light options that can be used in almost any space as they are functional and yet still work to create the right aesthetic of your space.
Often, wall sconces and column lighting work with warm-colored lighting that can create a soft glow, but you should still choose options that can be dimmed if you plan to leave them on for safety purposes.
Choosing a wall sconce or column lighting option for your home theater can truly transform your space. Whether you are going for a more modern, sleek look, a themed space, or want to incorporate the traditional decor from the rest of your home, there are options available to work with the layout and design of your home theater.
Fortunately, wall sconces and column lighting options are not as difficult to install or maintain as a few of the other options. Because of this, you will likely be able to incorporate them into any space, and with almost any budget.
While you will still want to be mindful of your overall budget as you will likely need more than one of these, they are still not as expensive as a few other lighting options- especially since they add functional lighting to your home theater.
The other type of home theater lighting to consider incorporating into the mix is experience-enhancing lighting.
While this might not be as immediately important as the lighting that will be directly used to brighten or darken your home theater space, it is still incredibly important for helping your home theater to go over the top- and it can be functional, too.
Experience-enhancing home theater lighting includes LED strips that line the floor or projector screen for visual appeal and safety, lighting on the base of your seating options.
They can also include your recliner cup holders (Amazon), automated lighting that turns on and off with controlled settings, and “smart” lighting that is easier to control from your mobile device or with voice command.
Not only will this type of lighting transform the experience in your home theater for your guests, but it will consistently work to help you appreciate the space as well. You can add ease to your movie viewing experience while adding flair to your home theater decor.
If you have a home theater with multiple rows and home theater risers, for example, you will want to place some type of lighting on the edges of your rows and potentially on the rails, too.
Then, for added enhancement, you can choose to install recliners with a lit base and cup holders so that your guests can see more easily and make less distracting noise during the pivotal moments of your movies.
Additionally, you can use various components of smart lighting to help lift your home theater into the next era. You could install smart light bulbs, smart plugs, smart light switches, or another source of smart lighting.
This can make controlling your lighting a snap as you can use voice command or control your lighting from an App on your mobile device.
While this might not seem necessary to everyone, experience-enhancing lighting- depending on the brand, model, and the number of lighting features that your home theater space needs- is not as expensive as you might think.
Plus, this addition to your home theater will help to showcase the investment and how much you care about your home theater. In turn, this will help your family and friends to appreciate and respect the space, too.
Why Eliminate Unwanted Light in Your Home Theater
As you work to create the perfect lighting setup for your home theater, you should be considering the various types of home theater lighting (overhead, decorative, and experience-enhancing). With that in mind, you also need to consider how to eliminate unwanted light in your home theater.
It is important to eliminate unwanted light in your home theater to remove reflections from furniture, natural lighting that could take away from your screen/projector brightness, shadows from lamps or standing lighting, and any bouncing light from non-dimmable lighting options.
Unwanted lighting impairs the movie viewing experience and takes away from your home theater.
There are many ways to get creative in eliminating unwanted lighting, but this depends on the space and the room specifications. However, know that your efforts will be well worth it when you can clearly see your screen without any obstacles (physical or lighting-oriented) impairing your view.
How to Eliminate Unwanted Light in Your Home theater
Although you know that is important, you might not have considered how to eliminate the unwanted light in your home theater. But, with a little creativity and investment, you can be sure that your home theater is set up for media viewing success.
To eliminate unwanted light, it is important to take a look at the space you plan to use for your home theater.
You will want to consider eliminating natural light with a barrier, completing an observational scan to check for reflections of light or shadows on your home theater screen, install decor that has lighting in mind, use dimmable options, and choose dark matte/flat paint colors.
Eliminate Natural Light with a Barrier
If you have a more casual home theater setup in your living room, for example, it is likely that you do not want to impede natural light at all times.
So, in this case, you will need to consider ways to block it out during movie time such as buying blackout curtains and covering any bright lights.
Complete an Observational Scan to Check for Reflections or Shadows
Additionally, if you have a dedicated home theater space, you can be sure to do an observational scan when installing your lighting to ensure there are no reflections from furniture or other objects.
You might not think about it until you sit down to relax and watch your first movie in your new home theater, but this is a terrible time to find out that the decorative shelf you installed to showcase your media collection casts a black shadow on the edge or center of your screen.
Another component to consider is the option to add dimmable lighting options if you have the choice. Not only does this help to set the mood and help you and your family to enter into the media-streaming mindset on family movie night, but it will help to eliminate unwanted lighting, too.
Use Dimmable Options
You can keep the lights a little brighter before and after the movie, but keep the lights as dim as possible (or off) while you stream your media.
Ideally, if you have a dimmable option, it would be able to be kept dim without the reflections from the light casting onto your screen. Then, it can add the safety components to your home theater without taking away from the movie-watching experience in the first place.
Choose Dark Matte/Flat Paint Colors
On another note, you can even choose to paint your walls with a darker color to eliminate bouncing light and reflections. Along with this, you can choose a paint with a finish that is matte or flat to benefit from the same effect.
And, on this note, the decor that you choose to incorporate into this space should also be selected with lighting and reflection in mind.
It would be a shame to spend time, money, and effort into decorating your home theater only to find that the decor you have chosen is terrible for the lighting or shadows being cast on your home theater screen.
Jason is a home theater expert with over 10 years of experience in setting up home cinema rooms and systems. What started out as a hobby soon transformed him into an authority in the audio-visual field. He is passionate about providing readers with accurate and up-to-date information on the latest audiovisual technologies and their applications for home theaters. Read more about Jason.