If you’re building a new custom home, or remodelling your existing one, you may be considering a home theatre. Since the Spring of 2020, families have been spending a lot more time in their homes, and an immersive cinematic environment makes family time and entertainment far more enjoyable.
In this article, we’ll cover what you need to know to design your home theatre room.
What is the best layout for your home theatre room?
Home theatre designers usually create the theatre room around the “king’s chair”. The king’s chair is the best seat in the house, and it’s designed specifically for you. The king’s chair will typically be placed in the centre of the room, front row, and depending on the dimensions and projector screen size, slightly behind dead centre.
Once you know approximately where the king’s chair will be in the room, the other seats, aisle(s), correct projector screen size, sound system, audio/video mount and house lights can be added to the floor plan. Your cinema room should be a minimum of 4.6m (15 ft) wide and 6m (20 ft) long, with a ceiling height of at least 2.1m (7 ft). The projector screen should be at least two feet off the ground for optimal viewing.
The shape of your theatre room is a very important decision, with the potential to dramatically improve the acoustics. If the space is designed incorrectly you may encounter audio problems such as a muddy bass or difficulty understanding the dialogue. When building fresh or remodelling from scratch, designers usually try to use the golden ratio, making the length of the rectangular media room at least 2.3 times the ceiling height, and the width of the room at least 1.6 times the ceiling height.
A cube is the worst shape for your theatre space, where all three dimensions are almost identical. A cube will deliver horrible acoustics.
Projector screen size and aspect ratio
The projection screen will be the centrepiece of your home cinema. The dimensions of your end wall will be the biggest factor when determining the size of your screen. Your goal should be to install the largest screen that will fit the width.
You have two aspect ratios to choose from 16:9 and Cinemascope. A 16:9 aspect ratio is good for watching movies and TV. However, if your family watches mostly movies, the Cinemascope 2.35:1 aspect ratio is ideal, since most modern movies are produced in that ratio.
If the width of your room is narrower than the golden ratio, consider using a 16:9 projector screen to maximize the overall screen width for both 16:9 and wider Cinemascope movies. If your ceiling is lower than the ideal, choosing an ultra-wide screen format like 2.35:1 can maximize the screen’s height.
Multi-format screens allow you to mask a portion of the screen, adapting it to the dimensions of the media you’re projecting, eliminating black bars.
Brightness of the projector and screen
Once you’ve decided on the size and aspect ratio of your projector screen, it’s time to consider luminance, the lumen output of your projector and the gain of the screen.
As the surface area of the screen is increased, the light from the projector is spread out over a larger surface area, and the amount of light that’s reflected is referred to as its luminance. Lumen output is a measure of how much light your projector throws at the screen, while screen gain measures how reflective the screen surface is, or how much light is being reflected to the viewers.
Foot-lamberts (ftL) are the unit of measure the motion picture industry uses to specify how much light should be reflected off the movie screen, based on a 1ft x 1ft area. For designing your home theatre room, you’re looking for a total luminance of between 16 and 30 ftL in the dedicated theatre area.
Vertical and horizontal viewing angles
Based on the THX standard, king’s chair and front row viewers should not have to look up more than 15°.
If you divide your projector screen visually into thirds, your eye level should align horizontally with the top of the lower third of the screen. That one-third height will typically be between 1 and 1.2m (42 – 48″), the average Canadian man’s eye level when seated comfortably on a chair. Plan on watching a few movies before permanently committing to your screen’s final mounting height, and familiarize yourself with your vendor’s exchange policy, just in case you need to try another screen.
If you have elevated second and third rows, you may want to adjust the screen height upwards to 1.2m (48″), or you can stick with the ideal height for the king’s chair. If your ceiling height won’t allow your eye line to correspond with the one-third height of your screen, between 1 and 1.2m, you may have to drop one screen size.
Your ideal horizontal viewing angle, or field of view, will dictate how far from the screen the king’s chair should be. Based on the THX standard, for every 1 inch of diagonal screen size, the king’s chair should be 1.34 inches away.
Placement of your projector and lumens
It’s important to mount your projector on a solid shelf or bolt it to a ceiling mount, so it can’t fall, with enough head clearance that nobody can strike their head on it or jostle it out of alignment. It should be high enough that no one can accidentally walk in front of the lens, casting a shadow on the screen.
There are two factors you need to consider when placing your home movie projector.
- The first is throw distance. Your projector’s throw distance is the distance between the projector and the image it projects on the screen. A new video projector will most likely have an optical zoom feature, to offer flexibility in positioning your projector as well as accommodating various screen sizes. There are two primary types of throw distance:
- Long or regular throw projectors are the most popular choice for a home theatre projector, with a typical throw distance ratio of approximately 1.5:1. For every metre of image width your projector must be positioned 1.5m away. You will have to verify that the depth of your theatre room will accommodate the throw ratio of your projector.
- Short throw projectors require less room than long throw projectors. These projectors will typically perform well between 1m and 2.4m (3 to 8 ft) from the projector screen.
- The second consideration is lens shift. Built-in lens shift adjustment allows you more flexibility when placing your projector, without losing resolution. The projector’s lens can move vertically and/or horizontally within the unit, allowing you to adjust it to provide a perfect, straight-edged image with uniform focus edge-to-edge.
The more lumens your projector has, the brighter the image is going to be on the screen. The lumens of your projector therefore directly affect the system foot lamberts, which means the brightness of your projector is a determining factor in the size your movie screen can be, and also the size of your theatre room.
Home cinema seating
When choosing your home theatre seating, comfort is paramount, and ergonomics is critical. Sitting for long periods without adequate support, to ensure proper posture, can result in back and neck pain.
To determine how many seats you want, you need to first determine the width you have available for seating. Isles should be a minimum of 51cm (20″). Multiply your aisle width by the number of aisles, and subtract that number from the total width of the room. That will give the width you have available for seating. Divide that by the seat width and you know how many seats you can have in a row.
Home theatre rooms typically have from 1 to 3 rows. The length of your room and the number of people you want to seat will determine how many rows you can fit into your cinema space. At the absolute minimum, you can make do with 35.5cm (14″) of clearance between rows, with the seats and footrests in the reclined position. While not ideal for unobscured viewing, if required you can place a row in front of the king’s chair.
Painting and flooring
In most of the rooms in your home, you’re looking for bright off-whites or pale colours. But in your home theatre, you want darker colours and matt paint or wallpaper patterns to reduce the light from the screen reflecting off the walls. Popular colours include the classic deep reds and burgundy cinema colours, but deep browns, blues, greens and greys are also popular choices. For the ceilings, you can match the dark walls, or choose another dark colour that compliments the wall colour.
Just like the flooring chosen for commercial cinemas, carpet will absorb sound and prevent excess reverberation. The audio will be crisper and the dialogue will be easier to understand. Some homeowners cover the floor and then extend the carpeting up the side walls to the handrail.
When installing lighting, you want at least two lighting “scenes” available from the control panel. The “house lights mode” provides brighter illumination for entering the theatre and finding a seat, as well as for cleaning. The second is “movie mode”, with dim lights that allow viewers to step out to use the washroom or get a snack while delivering the most immersive in-film experience.
A third scene that’s very popular is “party mode”, a light setup optimized for watching sporting events or movie marathons, with lights that are partially dimmed, while allowing participants to see each other, cheer for their team or chat about the movie, while enjoying food and drinks.
If your room has windows, installing blockout blinds or drapes should be considered essential. These blinds block 99 percent of incoming light, making them the ideal choice for home cinemas and other rooms where you need darkness even during the day.
A typical surround sound system consists of at least five speakers plus a powered subwoofer. The subwoofer can be a different brand, but the other speakers in your surround sound system should be the same brand, designed to work together.
Dolby Atmos is a current cutting-edge surround sound format, developed to give movie soundtracks a more three-dimensional feel. It creates a “height” layer of sound above you. Dolby Atmos is available for a growing list of movie titles and is supported by many newer home theatre receivers. Most home theatre consultants believe it delivers the most lifelike surround sound for home cinema.
Placing the door
There are two common door placements. The obvious choice for most homeowners is at the back of the theatre. It’s what we’re used to from watching feature movies at the local cinema. To avoid the interruption of light hitting the screen every time someone stepped out for a washroom break or snack, theatre designers created a labyrinth entry, with a wall blocking the light from the door. If your room is long enough to accommodate a baffle wall, that’s one option.
With space at a premium, most home theatres have a side entrance that opens just behind the king’s chair. The door swings inward on the screen side to block much of the incoming light from hitting the screen.
Hiring the design-build contractor
In a traditional media room build or remodel, you’d contact your architect to design the room, hire a contractor and the trades, and bring in a home cinema consultant to install your system. There were many moving parts, and communication and scheduling issues were common.
A design-build contractor can take care of the entire project, from converting your rough sketches into functional drawings, obtaining permits, working closely with the home theatre specialist, hiring trades and ordering materials, project management, right through to the final inspections and final adjustments, so it’s perfect.