Home theater lighting guide (What you should know)

Home theater lighting is often overlooked when setting up everything but when implemented in the right way, lighting can go a long way in improving your home theater experience.

There are several lighting options you can use for a home theater that include;

  • Ambient lighting.
  • Overhead lighting.
  • Fiber optic lighting.
  • Wall Sconces.
  • Seat-side lamps.
  • Cove lighting using LED strips.

These lighting options can be used for both safety lighting and improving the home theater’s accents and mood. Safety lighting will include lighting the risers while accent lighting will include options such as star ceiling lighting using fiber optics, cove lighting, sconces, and so on generally giving your room a cool look.

1.      Ambient lighting

Ambient lighting helps improve the depth and warmth of the home theater room and is considered as the foundation of lighting, especially in media rooms. You can get ambient lighting from your windows or other natural light substitutes such as lamp lights and suspended light fixtures.

Home theater ambient lighting can be categorized into 4 groups.

  • Decorative lighting– Adds character to the home theater room.
  • Accent lighting– Directional lighting that creates visual interest and drama to the room. 
  • Task lighting– This is directional lighting aimed at providing more light to a specific part of the room.
  • General lighting– Provides general illumination to the room.

Ambient lighting tips

  1. Install motorized shades on doorways and windows to give you control over how dark you want your media room or home theater to be.
  2. Use rear projections if your space allows and especially in outdoor media rooms and home theaters. This kind of home theater setup will involve installing a projector that sits behind a specialized screen and producing an image.
  3. Point all the ambient light sources away from the screen.
  4. Use high contrast screens for rooms with too much light such as media rooms.

2.      Overhead lighting

Overhead lighting is also referred to as ceiling lighting in a home theater room. The lighting fixtures are attached to the ceiling for decoration and providing more light to certain parts of the room.

When using overhead lighting, you should make sure that the lights are fully lit. You should also make sure that you can dim or completely turn the overhead lights off when you are watching a movie. Dimmable light fixtures and LED lights come highly recommended.

Types of Overhead lighting

Hanging lights

There are several hanging lights options that you can use;

  • Track and rail lighting– These are great for task and accent lighting creating a modern home theater lighting effect.
  • Pendant lights/mini pendants are low hanging lights that can be used to make the room more interesting.
  • Inverted pendant lighting can do wonders for your media room creating a subdued and styled atmosphere.

These lights can be expensive and customization can be complicated. The hanging lights should also not hang too low as they can obstruct the projector’s line of sight.

Recessed lights

Recessed lights are also as can lights or recessed light pots. These lights are mounted inside the ceiling hence the name recessed and are difficult to install. 

Recessed lights will need at least 6 inches of clearance above the ceiling for installation and will need insulation to reduce the build-up of humidity.

These lights are, however, cheaper than most ceiling lights and are elegant.

Mounted Lights

Mounted light fixtures are less hidden than recessed lights but are low profile (less noticeable). And unlike recessed lights, they are easy to install.

  • Flush light fixtures are a great example of mounted lights and come in different sizes ranging from 12 to 24 inches wide.
  • Semi Flush lights are also versatile mounted lights that hang 4 to 8 inches from the ceiling. Lightbulbs in semi-flush lights can be easily and quickly changed.

LED lights

LED lights are great looking, directional, energy-efficient lights and are great for task lighting.

You can either use LED bulbs or indirect LED light strips.

Fiber optic lighting (starfield ceiling)

Fiber optic lights are mainly used in high-end home theater and media rooms but require complicated and lengthy installation. These fiber optic ceiling lights are fiber tubes that produce light at their ends from a machine they are connected from.

For these lights to look great they are usually installed on a black ceiling. However, you should typically use a dark ceiling and leave the fiber optic lights to white, but some will also have interchangeable RGB lights that you can play around with to your liking.

Installation of these lights will also depend on the shape and layout of your home theater or media room.

3.      Accent lighting

Accent lights concentrate light on a particular part or area of the home theater room. You can use accent lights in your home theater room or media room on the artwork, plants, pottery, and so on to illuminate them and make them more noticeable.

These lights should also be turned off or dimmed when you are watching a movie, show, or music video.

There are several types of accent lights that you can use;

Cove lighting

Cove lighting is indirect lights that can be used on walls, recesses, and ceiling valances. These lights can point down the wall or towards the ceiling to create a cool-looking aesthetics.

Cove lights are also used to provide even lighting and provide decorative highlights.

You can install cove lights using the following;

  • T5 Fluorescent tubes
  • LED strips

Wall sconces

Sconces are light fixtures that are fixed on the wall and are typically directed outwards, downwards, or upwards. However, in a home theater room, I would recommend directing the light downwards or upwards of a combination of both. These wall fixtures can use candles, torches, or any other light sources.

There are types of sconces;

  • Plug-in sconces– These wall sconces are attached to a wall and have an extension cord that can be used to plug them into a wall outlet. However, they leave visible cords that hang down.
  • Hard-wired sconces– These wall sconces are wired to the electrical system permanently and do not leave any exposed wires or cords.

Wall sconces do not usually wash out the TVs or projector’s image but are mainly used to complement and add style to the room.

They can also be installed in pairs.

4.      Seat lights

High-end and some mid-range home theater seats come with some form of lighting and are usually LED lights under the seats. However, if your seats are not lit you can add some lighting to them to make them look better.

Seat-side lamps

If your home theater seats have end tables on each side, seat-side lamps can be a nice addition.

Seat-side lamps are affordable, easy to install, and can be turned on when you want to find your remote or when you want to leave the room for a moment.

Under-seat lighting

Adding LED strips under your chairs will add pop to your home theater. Installing these LED lights under your seats in pretty easy and can be done in minutes.

Seat cup holder lights

These cup holder lights are also known as LED halo rings and are mostly used in car cup holders. There is a wide range of colors, sizes, and styles that these lights can come in.

5.      Safety lights

These lights are mostly put in risers or steps in a home theater to make them visible and avoid accidents when the room is dark. They are also great for decorating the steps/risers and can be installed at the front or sides of the risers.

When you are watching a movie, you can leave them on, but it is always recommended to dim or turn off all the lights that shine directly at the screen.

What you should know about LED lights strips

LED light strips are flexible circuits boards and are the most common lights used in a home theater to add color and brightness. These lights can be cut, bent at right angles, change color, are dimmable, and can also be installed in tight spaces in your home theater away from the view.

Nowadays, most LED strips will come with smart features that can allow you to add other functionalities such as smartphone or voice assistant control. These strips are energy efficient and do not produce much heat. To top it up, they can be easily installed.

Where can I use LED strips in my media room or home theater?

  • Under risers
  • Bottom of shelves.
  • Behind paintings, movie posters, and pictures.
  • Pathways to the home theater room.
  • The back of the TV or projector screen.
  • Under the seats.
  • Under hangs directed to the ceiling.
  • Anywhere else you want.

Home theater lighting tips and best practices

Use CLR or ALR screens for a projector

CLR or Ceiling Light Rejecting screens are great for bouncing out overhead lights off your screen. On the other hand, ALR or Ambient Light Rejecting projectors screens deflect any ambient light from any sources whether they are overhead or from the window but are more expensive.

Use darker wall colors

The ultimate choice for the color you paint your wall will depend on personal preference. However, using darker flat or matte colors such as black and gray will help the image pop by reflecting less light. It is also recommended to paint the ceiling in a darker matte color.

Control the home theater lights using smart features

In recent times, we have seen smart devices and assistants become better and more popular. You can integrate these smart features into your home theater to control the lights.

There is a wide selection of smart home light solutions that you can use

  • Dimmable LEDs and RGB light bulbs.
  • Smart plugs and power strips.
  • Dimmable wall controls and so on.

Dimmable LEDs and smart light bulbs

Smart LED strips typically have RGB colors and smart functionalities. These can be used anywhere in your home theater and the right installation can be used together with your voice assistant such as Alexa.

Smart light bulbs can be connected directly to your Wi-Fi or smart hub and do not need fancy switches. You can control these lights with your phone or voice assistant and come in different sizes, styles, and color temperatures. Some also have RGB capabilities meaning you can change the mood and feel of the room to your liking.

Installing smart bulbs is pretty straight forward and easy but can get expensive if you buying several of them.

Smart power strips and plugs

Smart plugs can be used to turn appliances on and off using an app on your phone including the lights in your home theater room. You can also schedule the light to come on and off at certain times. To install a smart plug all you need to do is plug it into a socket and then plug the lighting component that you want to control into it and voila.

Also known as a smart power bar, a smart power strip looks similar to the typical power bar but with additional smart features. They are designed to control power to each outlet and save energy by preventing any wastes. You can hook up your light lamps to this device, the AC unit, and even the popcorn maker or mini-fridge.

Color temperature

Color temperature is used to describe the appearance of light from the light source and is measured in Kelvin (K) on a scale of 1000 to 10,000. This helps us to determine the warmth, look, and feel that we want our home theater room to have.

  • On a scale of 2000 to 3000 kelvins, we have a lower scale temperature where we see warm white that range from orange to yellow-white.
  • From 3100 to 4500 kelvins we have a cool or bright white appearance. In this range, the light is more neutral with a slight blue tint.
  • Above 4500 kelvins we have the daylight color temperatures with blue-white lights.

Here is a table to guide you on the color temperature for your home theater lights;

Lighting color temperature (K)Application
2700Wooden room (stained) Warmer carpets such as green, brown, and so on Floor lamps
3000Overhead lighting Entryways
Above 4500Task lighting Blue, gray, or black home theater rooms

My final take

Having a well-lit home theater room is essential and will depend on the mood you want to set. For your home theater to be well lit, it essential to make sure that the lights are not washing out the image in your display device, especially projector screens.

If you are not sure of what to do it is always advisable to seek the help of a professional with anything that you may be stuck with or to choose the right light and colors.

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