Updated: Jan 11
Having the luxury of a dedicated home cinema room is highly enviable and often the pinnacle of a smart home project. With a recent resurgence of interest, perhaps due to the pandemic, we look at the various components that form a professionally installed home cinema room.
The Screen: The huge benefit of a home cinema system over a TV is that the sound can actually come from the picture, the left, centre and right speakers (LCR) can be mounted behind the viewing screen so that the picture explodes with life. To achieve this you will need an acoustically transparent projector screen (also called a perforated screen) which allows high resolution images to be projected on the front but also sound to pass through from the back.
What size should the screen be? The screen should be proportionate to the room and your technology specialist will be able to advise you best by making some room calculations and discussing the desired outcomes with you.
The aspect ratio for film (also known as Anamorphic or cinemascope) is 2:35:1 which is wider than the normal 16:9 ratio that we are used to seeing on our televisions.
You may have noticed that on occasion, when watching a film on your TV, you will see black bars at the top and bottom of the screen? - this indicates that you are watching a film that has been made in true cinemascope (2:35:1). To solve the problems of broadcast vs. film ratio miss-match and the additional issue of projectors by nature not being able to project black light. A sophisticated home cinema will have 'Masking' this allows us to automatically configure the screen for each eventuality by way of physical jet-black panels that move to emulate the correct aspect ratio for the viewable area.
The Projector: There are now some excellent options on the market at better than ever prices. The Sony VPL-VW790ES is a benchmark professional home cinema laser projector that features some incredible technology and produces crystal clear pictures up to 4K in HDR. Most professional projectors will enable you to save preset configurable setups that can be recalled automatically by the cinema control system. the key considerations for choosing a projector should include lamp life, ambient noise, a minimum resolution of 4K and suitability for the room, masking and screen size. We recommend that you cost in the price of hiring a professional video calibration engineer from the outset as drilling into the inner workings and advanced setup will be the best way to get superb results from your new equipment.
The Sound: You may have heard the expression '5.1 home cinema' or '7.2 speakers', this is a broad way of summarising the overall speaker count for a surround sound auditorium. Basic surround sound (5.1) is explained as 5 full range speakers and a subwoofer for the base sounds. The 5 speakers are named Left, Centre, Right, Surround L and Surround R. These make up the spacial components required for basic surround sound listening and are the most simple form of a home cinema specification.
From here on in it gets more complicated as the amount of surround sound standards, speaker configurations and certified endorsements take over. Fortunately modern amplifiers known as AV receivers or processors can determine what surround sound format is being received from the content and knows what setup you have, so can do the thinking and switching for you.
Most common setups for a home cinema at the moment are 7.1 which is the same as 5.1 only with additional speakers known as Back L and Back R, 7.2 which adds a second subwoofer and 7.1.2 which adds a pair of Dolby Atmos height speakers to a standard 7.1 setup.
more explanation here:
The Control: At the heart of any home cinema is the control panel, it has to be of a reasonable enough standard to be able to communicate with the range of sophisticated equipment that we need to create the complete product. The controller will need to command the projector, sky box, media player, audio system, lighting and any mechanical moving equipment such as the screen masking or a curtain track.
The first rule of creating a user interface or GUI, is to make it easy to use, simply laid out and reliable. The general protocol should be that a single press gets you up and running in a basic way but if you want more in depth control, it is available.
The most popular control systems are Control4, Savant, Crestron, AMX, RTI and URC all of which have a range of options for home cinema control and media management.
example systems available here:
The Room: Most important and commonly overlooked are the room treatments, they will be installed to control audio reflections and resonances through the use of aesthetically pleasing absorber and diffusor tiles. Known as Acoustic Treatment, the quality of sound in a room will not sound great without professionally installed sound baffling measures like base traps and absorption panels.
Cinema seating comes in a range of shapes and sizes and is always made to order. As well as the desired finish, choose from curved, motorised reclinable or a host of extras like drinks holders. Allow plenty of time for the seats to arrive as ten weeks is normal and consider raising the rear row of seats around 40cm above the front row. In higher-end cinema projects additional hardware like base-shakers can be installed to the seats this is then triggered from the movie soundtrack via media playback devices such as Kaleidoscape, resulting in a physical interaction.
Cinema lighting is an integral part of the overall experience and should be carefully considered, its not unusual to have 4 circuits of lighting in a cinema room - screen/down lights, Step LED, Wall lights etc. Consider a well known dimming manufacturer such as Rako or Lutron and check with your system designer that the chosen light fittings will dim properly. Scenes can be set so that the lights will dim when you press 'Start Movie' or come on when you press 'End Movie'.