We've been involved in hundreds of home cinema and media room projects over the years, with varying amounts of design input. Based on all that, here are some of our best design tips, and classic mistakes to avoid.
1) Start with the room
Or if there isn't a room yet - say if you're designing your new home from scratch - start with the number of people you'd like to entertain in comfort, which will dictate the room size you need.
Most often, we start with a defined room. That tells us a lot - how many seats can we have, and how much sound level and picture brightness we need for convincing performance. Many 'home cinema' products don't actually achieve the required performance levels even for a modest sized cinema
2) Consider additional uses
For some, a home cinema is for films and that's it - which is great. Others will want to use it for box sets, sport and even 'regular' TV. Some of us really enjoy console games, and some of us love music.
So think about what else you might like to use the room for. That will help you draw up the perfect spec for your needs - gamers might want USB charging in the seats, music lovers might want high performance and musical front speakers, and so on.
3) Control ambient light
In every commercial cinema, the lights go down before the feature starts. It should be like that at home too.
Control the light levels with blinds, curtains and dimmable lighting. Not only will the picture quality improve dramatically, you'll focus on the screen much more effectively - which enhances the experience.
Keep reflective and shiny materials outside your field of vision, and avoid bright white or gloss paint finishes - they will all cause unwelcome distractions.
4) Investigate room treatments and soundproofing
Room treatments make the room sound better - absorbers, diffusers and bass traps treat echoes and resonance for a more even sound. That means a better performance, which is also more consistent across seats.
Soundproofing keeps the sound of the cinema away from the outside, so you don't annoy your neighbours or family, and keeps external sound out of your cinema. This is one of the most cost-effective performance upgrades you can do. By lowering the background noise, the sound system doesn't have to work nearly as hard to sound fantastic.
Instead of a 'recording studio' look, you can conceal room treatments behind a fabric wall system, which can also hide all the speakers.
5) Think about styling
Again, there's no right or wrong answer. There are so many styles of Home Cinema - art deco, midcentury modern, retro picture palace, futuristic and sci-fi, or luxury contemporary. Cinema has been with us for over a hundred years, so it's all appropriate.
Using our Bespoke 3D and VR Design Service, we can build your cinema as a digital model before the build, so you can see exactly what you're getting.
6) Don't put the screen too high
This one happens a lot. Unfortunately, it's really uncomfortable to watch for any length of time, which affects your ability to become fully immersed in the action.
The centre of the picture should be at eye level, and no more than five degrees up or down from there. Just like when driving, or working at a computer, you need to be in a comfortable position.
7) Don't get the screen size wrong - too big, or too small
Too often, screen sizes are worked out like this: (i) what fits in the space and (ii) what's in my budget? The problem is that you can end up with a picture that's either too small to fill up your senses - it's not immersive enough - or it's so big you can't see what's happening at the sides, which is uncomfortable.
The 'sweet spot' is a viewing angle ranging from 36 degrees to 55 degrees from your head to the sides of the screen. That is big enough to be 'cinema' without being overwhelming and uncomfortable - just right!
Within that ideal range, it's fine to use your own taste and judgement.
8) Don't put seats along the side walls
Remember how the sound system should be able to take you to other places? That's really hard to do if you're right next to a side wall, and the surround system won't be able to work its magic.
That said, if you need to put 'occasional' seats in, that can be okay - say for having friends round to watch the game.
9) Avoid hard surfaces
Very hard, reflective surfaces - like porcelain floor tiles, or large expanses of glass, really affect how things sound. That's fine in a bathroom - all that echo makes our singing seem better - but it plays havoc with a surround soundtrack!
A good cinema sound system makes you feel like you're in another space, but if the room echoes too much, it won't work. It also makes it harder to hear what the actors are saying, especially at lower volumes.
10) Don't choose products from online reviews
There are two big problems here. First, reviews can be faked - it's straightforward to apply SEO techniques and make a poor product seem amazing.
The second problem is more subtle, and applies equally to honest, impartial reviewers. Products are all reviewed in context - at the particular price point and for a given room size. That context might not be the same as yours, in fact it almost certainly isn't.
Projectors, for example, have defined limits to their light output, which affects the screen sizes they can deliver. It's no use if you buy a projector that 'had great reviews' - but at the size you need, you end up with a dingy, washed-out picture and a forgettable experience.
When we're designing cinemas, we approach the room first, which gives us the performance specification we need, and finally we look for products which fit.
And finally... Do
11) Consider engaging specialist help
Home Cinema is a specialist discipline. Your ideal provider should have a proven body of work, happy clients, and be suitably qualified.
We'd love to help with your home cinema project. Please get in touch.