The right layout will give you a great viewing and listening experience, but the wrong one can ruin it.
We all want consistent performance across all the seats, for both sound and picture. Your auntie won't tell you if your new pride and joy home cinema isn’t right from where she's sitting - but she might make an excuse next time.
This is why a trained and experienced system designer is really helpful. We can design the layouts for best performance from the beginning, so it’s better for everyone.
In smaller rooms, or for smaller families, this could be the best answer.
For 2-4 people it's a great, simple solution.
A ‘regular’ row of squashy seats, plus an occasional row behind - often a console/bar table with comfy bar stools.
Just like a Porsche 911 is a '2+2', that is, two main seats and two occasional.
This layout is excellent for small to medium sized rooms, as long as that second row is pretty occasional. It's also a smart use of the budget - you can spend more on the seats that get more use.
Crucially, this makes the listening area (what you get if you draw a box around all the heads) much smaller - so the experience is more consistent immediately, because everyone’s closer to the best seat (or ‘reference seating position’) in the middle.
In our showroom we used a 3+4 layout - having an extra seat on the back row is good, because you offset the heads, so that everyone can see clearly.
3+4 layout - Cinemaworks showroom
Two rows of soft seats
This layout is common in UK cinema rooms - a tiered floor and two rows of soft seats, whether that's sofas, cinema seats, or a row of each.
It’s not always right, though.
That’s because the back row can get dominated by the back speakers, which are much too close to those listeners. The bigger gap between rows also means one of them won’t get the ideal picture size.
Two rows in a smaller space
can be tricky
Two rows in a larger space works well
A real-world compromise:
Sometimes, you have to put two rows in a smaller space - say you've got a big family, or lots of friends, and all your seats are main seats. This how we'd go about making it work as well as possible:
1) Have five-channel surround instead of seven
The surround back speakers are causing a problem - so take them out. The system will have just as much detail, dynamic range and impact, so it's a trade-off worth making.
You'll still want ceiling speakers for 3D immersive audio - Dolby Atmos, DTS:X and so on..
We can put occupancy sensors on the back row, and disable the back speakers, but only when that row is in use.
To do this, you'll need a control system and the better sort of AV receiver or processor which offers speaker profiles for different uses.
And / or:
3) Bring everything forward
If you move both rows of seats forward even half a metre, things improve for everyone. A smaller screen offers just as much scale if you sit closer to it, and as a bonus, you'll gain screen brightness. 'Real cinema at home' beats 'Instagram-friendly, but wrong' every time.
4) Smaller seats
This is a good reason to use the commercial cinema seats we discussed in Part 1. They take up less space, so you can bring the rows closer together, and away from the back wall.
Three or more rows
Follow the same general principles as the room size increases. Keep the audience at least 1m away from side and back walls, as the sweet spot is at the centre. Try to minimise the size of the listening area relative to the size of the room.
It's better to have two 'real rows' plus a bar at the back, than to squeeze three rows in.
Don't forget that larger spaces need a bigger system, which costs more to do well.
Some layouts just can't deliver great performance for everyone:
If you’re too close to one wall, the sound on that side will dominate when those speakers are playing - so if the action moves over to one side, it’s much too loud, and spoils the illusion.
While we can make things better with techniques like cross-firing, when a seat is much too close, it won't be good - consider taking it out.
Another real-world compromise:
If you really must have wall-to-wall seats, consider a 2.2 configuration - that is, stereo speakers on the screen wall, plus a pair of subwoofers. The problem of being too close to a surround speaker goes away, because there aren't any.
Particularly effective in a 'sports, games, TV and movies' all-rounder setup, rather than a serious cinema.
When seats are too far off to one side, the picture looks odd as shapes stretch and look unnatural, *and* one side of the soundfield will dominate.
In this example, we would rotate the room 90º and use two rows or X+Y. Even in a social setting, you’ll enjoy yourselves more if everyone gets a consistent and believable experience.
Walkway up the middle
The best sounding seats are always at the centre of the room, and they also have the best picture geometry - having a walkway up the middle means no-one gets the best result.
You see this most often in loft rooms, because of the reduced height at the sides, and while we sympathise , it's better to offset the seating and so have at least one or two excellent seats, than none at all.
The biggest layout mistake is too many seats
We’ve said this before, and it's worth saying it again. This is the most common mistake we see, which can really spoil the enjoyment of having your own home cinema.
Clients will often imagine the maximum number of people that might want to use the room, and then use that as their seating plan, even though they don't have enough space or budget. They end up with a compromised cinema for eight or more, and a worse result for the four or five people that live there.
It’s much better to think about a regular use case, and plan around that. Otherwise, you let a rare use spoil your everyday enjoyment.
It’s absolutely fine to add occasional seats, which aren’t as optimal for performance or as comfortable as the main seats - but they are, after all, occasional.
We'll build you a better home cinema, with the right number of great seats.