Lighting in a home theater is probably overlooked by many entering the home theater space. Most people may think, “shouldn’t it be completely dark inside of a home theater room”? The answer is no! Nobody wants to stub their toe when they stand up to refill a beverage, get more food, etc. A little bit of strategically placed lighting will make all the difference.
Home Theater lighting is an essential part of any home theater room! The correct lighting for your room will completely transform its look and feel. It should not be overlooked by any means. It’s ideal to plan out the lighting for your theater during the construction phase. However, different lighting can always be incorporated after initially building the room. It may be slightly more difficult, but don’t give up there! Who said crafting the perfect home theater room would be easy?
In this article, we will discuss some of the different home theater lighting methods, the use of smart lighting controls and lights that integrate with Alexa, light color, and room color. All of these things are very important to the look and functionality of a home theater. Not all of these are necessary, but more so based on your wants and needs for your room. So let’s get started!
Types of Home Theater Lighting
There are many different types of lighting that will enhance the atmosphere of your viewing experience. Ensure that any lighting you decide to use is dimmable. Dimmable lighting is vital for home theaters because you don’t want the light to be too bright. Bright lights will wash out the projector’s image and distract you from the movie, tv-show, etc.
Here is a simple explanation for each type of home theater lighting:
Overhead lighting should be the main source of light for a home theater. Ideally, you need to be able to dim the overhead lights!
A sconce is a type of light fixture that is attached to the wall and only uses the wall for support. The light is generally directed up or down, but not outwards.
LED light strips are long strains of LED lights that are typically capable of changing colors and some are dimmable. They are not necessary at all, but great accent lighting to the room.
Fiber optic lighting is the star effect that you see in some high-end home theater rooms.
Seat-side lamps are great if you have end tables on each side of the chairs in your home theater. They can be used if you momentarily need some light to find the remote, go to the bathroom, etc.
Next, let’s go in-depth on each type of home theater lighting and the different options available for each type.
1) Overhead Lighting
Almost every single home theater room should include overhead lighting. This is by far the best and easiest way to completely light a room. These will need to be fully lit in order for everyone to get situated, clean the room, etc. Basically, these are used while not watching anything. However, while watching something, these lights should be completely off or at a very low level. The projector’s image is most susceptible to being washed out by overhead lights. These lights are typically installed in two separate rows along the length of the room. I highly suggest using dimmable LED bulbs with any light fixture. Yes, they are initially more expensive, but they consume less energy, don’t create a lot of heat, and have different color temperatures available.
Types of Overhead Lighting
All types of overhead lighting have their pros and cons. It’s almost completely cosmetic based as to which type you decide on. Keep in mind, that these use high-voltage electrical wires as power. Unless it is legal to do it yourself, I would advise hiring an electrician to run the cables and install the lights you choose.
Recessed Lighting Fixtures
- More hidden. They are recessed or inside the ceiling.
- Look great! Because they are flush with the ceiling, they provide a nice elegant look to the room.
- Cheaper than most fixtures.
- Can be more difficult to install. These are usually circular and require you to cut out a circle in the ceiling.
- Must be installed in between ceiling studs. You can’t and shouldn’t cut through ceiling studs to have these installed. Depending on how the studs are positioned in the room, the lights may be offset and not completely centered on both sides of the room.
Mounted Light Fixture
- Low profile. Not very noticeable, but less hidden than recessed lighting.
- Easy installation! Only one small hole needs to be cut for the power wire, the fixture itself will mount to the ceiling.
- In my opinion, these are the least stylish of the three options. You want the home theater lighting to be unique! Not the same style as the rest of the home.
Hanging Light Fixture
- Hundreds of different options available.
- Add the most flair to a room because of the various designs available.
- Changing the lights may be more complicated, depending on the fixture that is used. This does not apply to LEDs as you likely won’t need to replace LED light bulbs.
- Cannot hang too low from the ceiling. It’s possible they could obstruct the projector’s line of site.
- Most expensive of the three options.
2) Wall Sconces
Wall sconces are a great addition to a home theater room! A sconce is a type of light fixture that is attached to the wall and only uses the wall for support. The light is generally directed up or down, but not outwards. They add a great effect to the look and feel to any home theater. Wall sconces aren’t meant to completely light the room. They are more so used as complementary lighting. These can be left on at a very dim level during the movie, tv show, etc because it should not wash out the projector’s image. They typically require an electrical box installed behind it to be up to code, so an electrician is definitely suggested for these type of lights. Sconces come in many different shapes and sizes, so finding the perfect style for your home theater should be a piece of cake.
3) LED Light Strips
LED light strips are long strains of LED lights that are typically able to change to various colors and some are dimmable. These are absolutely not necessary, but they look very cool and can add a great effect to your room.
LED Light Strip Uses:
- Attached to the back of a projector screen or television.
- Underneath the seating riser.
- Underneath the seats.
- Attached to an underhang, pointing towards the ceiling.
- Attached to the bottom of shelves.
- Behind framed movie posters.
- Used to light pathways to the restroom, exit, food, etc.
- Any other application you want!
Modern LED strips are controlled by remote controls and many have added smart functionality. They are controllable via a smartphone app, smart home bridges, and voice assistants (ie. Amazon Alexa, Google Home, etc). With the right integration, they can be programmed to automatically turn on and set to a certain level by simply turning on your home theater system. You can turn them on and off by simply speaking to your voice assistant. LED strips are extremely versatile in how they can be used. Some can be cut to length, which allows them to fit exactly as needed for the specific use chosen. They don’t use a lot of energy and don’t produce much heat. The amazing thing is that most aren’t that expensive and can be installed very easily! So, if you want a cosmetic addition to your home theater lighting, then definitely consider adding LED light strips. Here’s a great LED light strip that is smart (controllable with Alexa and a smartphone app), RGB color changing, dimmable, and can be cut to length.
4) Fiber Optic Lighting
Fiber optic lighting is the star effect that you see in some high-end home theater rooms. The light is produced by a machine with many fiber tubes connected to it. At the end of each tube is the light produced by the machine. They are typically installed in a black ceiling and set to a white color, however, many have RGB coloring. Fiber optic lighting is definitely not meant for all home theater rooms, it really depends on the layout and structure of the room. If the room has an indented ceiling like the picture shown, then it’s likely that this type of lighting will work very well! If the room has an oddly shaped ceiling then it’s probably best to stay away from fiber optic lighting. It will be more of a headache than initially intended. Installing fiber optic lighting is a pretty lengthy procedure but if it’s done correctly, then the results will be out of this world (ba dum tss). Here is a great tutorial written by Aron Hoekstra. He gives step by step instructions on how he designed and built his fiber optic ceiling. And it looks outstanding!
5) Seat-side Lamps
Seat-side lamps are nice if you have end tables on each side of the chairs in your home theater. They can be used if you momentarily need some light to find the remote, go to the bathroom, etc. They are a nice, affordable, and an easily installable option for any home theater. But if you have overhead lighting or sconces then lamps are not really necessary. I would suggest using some type of smart integration to easily turn on your room lights. Read more to learn about the different methods for controlling the lights.
Controlling Home Theater Lighting – Smart Home Integration!
With smart home devices becoming more and more popular, the different devices necessary for smart home integration are steadily lowering in price. Now is a great time to invest in different smart home lighting solutions. There are various types of smart lighting solutions, such as dimmable wall controls, dimmable and RGB light bulbs and light strips, and much more. Next, we will discuss the best methods for using smart lighting within your home theater to provide the most immersive experience possible! And remember, no one solution works for everyone, there are tons of different options available.
Smart Wall Dimmers and Switches
Smart wall dimmers and switches control the lights connected to standard light switches. These smart devices usually connect to a smart hub or directly to the wifi, depending on the model used. Once integrated, the lights can be turned on and off or dimmed (if using dimmable bulbs) by using an app, voice assistant, or even automatically by turning on your home theater system. Installing one of these is fairly simple because it uses all of the current wires! First, read the instructions for installing the switch or dimmer. Then simply flip the breaker for the specific room to shut off the power. Remove the old light switch, affix the wires to the smart dimmer/switch, then install it into the wall. After that, you will need to connect it to your smart bridge or voice assistant. It’s honestly a super simple process and is doable by almost anyone! I use the GE Z-Wave 1000W Paddle Dimmer. I have had it for well over a year now and it still works without any issues! I highly suggest adding these to your home theater or other areas of your home. They are super convenient and a great introduction to smart home technology.
Smart Light Bulbs
Smart light bulbs are normal light bulbs but have the smart technology built into them. No fancy light switch necessary. Smart light bulbs are very similar to smart wall dimmers and switches because they connect to a smart hub or directly to wifi. They are controlled through an app, voice assistant, or through specific events. They come in many different color temperatures, sizes, and styles. Some of the higher end bulbs even have RGB lighting! This means they are capable of producing many other colors besides plain white.
The major benefit to smart light bulbs is that they’re extremely easy to install. It’s literally unscrewing the existing bulb and screwing the smart bulb in its place. It’s that easy! However, smart bulbs can get pricey if you need a bunch of them. Let’s say you have 8 lights on a single switch. Well, purchasing 8 smart bulbs is going to cost significantly more than using a smart dimmer/switch. Unless you plan on utilizing RBG lighting with these 8 bulbs, then it’s probably best to use the smart dimmer/switch over the smart bulbs to save some coin. But if you just need a few of them, then they are definitely a great addition to your home theater lighting or anywhere else in your home.
You may have heard of the Philips hue light bulbs. These are probably the most well-known brand out there for smart bulbs. But keep in mind, they are more pricey than others, and most require a specific Philips hue bridge to work. They do work well! So if you can afford them then go for it. But if not, then consider using a cheaper option, such as this one for plain white and this one for RGB lighting.
Smart LED Strips
Smart LED strips are long strips that contain many LED lights that typically have RGB coloring, can be cut to length, and have smart home functionality. I kind of went over these earlier in this article. But in general, these are awesome! They add a great touch to home theater lighting. Use them behind the tv or projector screen, underneath seats, light pathways in the room, etc. The possibilities are endless!
Smart Plugs and Power Strips
Smart plugs and power strips are external smart outlets. They connect directly to any standard outlet and make it “smart”! These are nice for lamps, plug-in fans, popcorn makers, window AC units, etc. These have quite a few uses, but most people will only use them for lamps. But then again, you could just use a single smart bulb in a lamp for an even better outcome. It really depends on your setup as to how you use them. I would not suggest plugging any home theater equipment into these devices, it will not work as intended. I actually use both of the items pictured above and they both work very well!
Color Temperature of Home Theater Lighting
Understanding Color Temperature
The color temperature of home theater lighting is really important in regards to the look and feel of the room. Color temperature is how warm or cool the color of the lighting looks. Color temperature is measured in K (Kelvin). For example, a 2700K light is described as a “soft white” and has an orangish-white tint to it. A 5000K light is described as “daylight” and is a very plain white color. Most light bulbs are made within a range of 2000K and 6000K. And in reality, you don’t want to stray from this range.
Choosing What Color Temperature to Use
Different light color temperatures should be used for different colored rooms. Using the wrong color temperature in a room will throw off the look and atmosphere of that room. Typically, you should use warmer lighting (2700K) for rooms with stained wood and a warmer colored carpet (brown, green, etc). This will emphasize the look of the stained wood and will not reflect as much off of the warmer colored textures. For rooms with black, gray, and/or blue, you should use cooler lighting (4500K – 5000K). If you use the wrong temperature lighting in a home theater room, it’s going to look slightly off, but it will not be the end of the world. You can avoid issues like this by using RGB lights. Many color changing lights are able to display both warm and cool colors. This is extremely beneficial because the lights can adapt to the environment and you can adjust them according to your specific room.
In all, home theater lighting is very important. Using the right type of lighting and integrating it properly will truly transform your home theater into something you can be proud of! Some of the lighting discussed in this article uses high voltage electrical wiring and should be handled with extreme care. Check out my article on safely running cables in a home theater. This explains some of the important aspects of running cables for home theaters. If you don’t know what you are doing, please hire a licensed electrician to help you! Here is an article on home theater room dimensions. This goes over the best room sizes and dimensions for optimal performance for a home theater. I hope you found this article useful and informative on the different home theater lighting methods available!