More and more people building their own homes, or renovating an existing property, are looking to include a specialised entertainment area in the form of a media room or even dedicated cinema room. But planning for a media room or home cinema from the very outset of a self-build and renovation project really is key to the success of this room.
There are two main options when planning your entertainment space — a dedicated home cinema, or a media room. As the name suggests, a home cinema is a specialised room designed and dedicated to watching films or television in the highest quality possible. A media room on the other hand can be used as a home cinema, but is also comfortable and flexible enough to be lived in when its entertainment facilities are not in use.
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Before you even begin to think about kitting out your cinema room with surround sound, a TV or projector, you’re going to need to start with the basics.
Acoustics and sound quality are key. If you’re hoping your media room will also double up as a living room, or an open plan family room, then think about the materials which you will be introducing to this room — hard flooring and lots of glazing can be problematic for acoustics, reflecting sound back into the room. The position of this room within the house is another important consideration. For instance, locating a cinema room beneath a child’s bedroom is far from ideal, particularly if there’s inadequate soundproofing. Careful planning and employing good soundproofing measures from the outset will help to prevent potential issues down the line.
Without the appropriate soundproofing measures, the effort that you put into your system will be lost to bad acoustics. A passive benefit of this is that your living room will be well insulated acoustically, you will get better quality audio from regular TV too.
Soundproofing the Walls
You can pick up acoustic plasterboard, such as British Gypsum’s Gyproc SoundBloc, from most DIY sheds like B&Q, Homebase and Wickes and from builders’ merchants, or you could instead opt for more specific soundproofing solutions from specialist suppliers like Custom Audio Designs or Sound Stop. Acoustic plasterboard will not only aid in preventing sound from escaping the room, but will supress echo, reflection and sound transmission.
A traditional style cinema design by AV Fuse LTD, with integrated seating and lighting
You might also notice that cinemas usually have carpeted walls. This is down to utility rather than style as it adds an extra layer of absorption to the most reflective part of the room. Plush curtains and soft furnishing can help in this instance.
Soundproofing the floors
Carpet is the cheapest and most effective option for flooring, which is the reason that you will often find carpeted cinemas. A floating floor is the most specialised way of guaranteeing minimal sound reflection. Acoustic floorboards are laid on joists, with a gap between the structural floor. This can then be filled with a sound absorbent insulator and will suppress echo within the room. If your home cinema or media room is on an upper level this will also will stop the sound transmitting to the rest of the house.
Furniture for your Media Room or Cinema Room
There are two options when it comes to choosing storage for your home cinema — built in, or freestanding. If you want your media room to be as close to a cinematic experience as possible, then built in is going to be the way to go. If you want your media room to be a more casual and relaxing, or you want to show off your DVD collection, then freestanding storage will create a lived-in atmosphere.
This solution requires the least effort on your part. There are a number of companies, from kitchen and bedroom fitters to joiners, who can design a bespoke media cabinet, fitted to the proportions of your room and to your TV, kit and DVD collection.
You may also consider including a dedicated rack for your Sky+HD box, DVD player, digital media server (such as Kaleidescape) wireless router and other such equipment. Your rack could be built in and concealed within the room, or if you intend to stream to other rooms of the house, hidden away in a centrally placed location, such as an understairs cupboard. (You’ll also need to ensure that your wired infrastructure is planned from the outset of the build to support this.)
If you are looking to store your media library digitally, then a home cinema and automation specialist can provide you with a dedicated central server as part of your system. They can also design a dedicated rack.
To create a media room with freestanding storage will require more work on your part. The room will need to be measured and the furniture chosen to fit into the space. Unless you source all of your pieces from the same shop, it will be difficult to guarantee the same level of uniformity that you can achieve with a bespoke option.
You will also have to factor in the size of your TV and speakers, and make sure they not only fit in the space, but perform as well as they can. You don’t want to put your TV and speaker system into the perfect cabinet, only to find that it blocks sound or draws the eye away from the screen. However, if it is done with care, you can create the home cinema effect at a fraction of the cost. Ikea offer media storage units which look convincingly bespoke. You can also mix and match individual pieces like TV benches, shelving units and side tables, to create the exact aesthetic that you’re looking for.
Seating obviously plays an important role in a cinema room when it comes to comfort. However, did you know the placement of your seating can directly impact the viewing experience, too?
‘Two lines should be drawn from the seated position to the edges of the screen; this is the optimum-viewing angle. Ideally this angle should be 35° — any greater than 40° and the experience will be impressive but feel far too big for the room, and it will seem as though you are very close to the screen. On the other hand, a viewing angle below 30° will mean the rest of the room enters your peripheral vision, affecting your view.’ Says Ian Shaw of Brilliant
A bespoke home cinema room by Just Add Popcorn
There are companies that can provide bespoke home cinema seating, too. Front Row, Ekornes and Home Cinema Seating, for instance, provide premium home cinema seats, specifically designed to enhance your experience.
In a media room you will want to balance utility with the comfort that you want for when you are living in the room. Design a scheme that you are comfortable with and choose furniture that suits your own style. You might choose a big comfortable corner sofa from the likes of John Lewis or Darlings of Chelsea to get everyone together in front of the screen. If you intend to have gatherings as well as film nights, design a flexible scheme with a modular sofa or a few individual chairs that can be pulled up into the viewing angle or moved around the room as needed.
Now your room is set up, you can move on to the fun part — choosing your audio visual (AV) system. This will usually consist of a TV or projector, media such as a Blu-ray player and games consoles, and finally, your sound system.
The screen is undoubtedly the focal point of your media room design; there is no question about it. The sole purpose of this room is that you can immerse yourself in the viewing experience. Choosing what you view on is very important. A TV is bright and colourful and will offer you the highest definition if you opt for a top of the range model. A projector will provide a softer picture and will replicate the feel of being in a cinema.
TVs range in price from a couple of hundred pounds for a basic model, to almost £20,000 for 85” ultra HD 3D TV and everything in between. Television technology advances rapidly, so investing in a high spec one now, will mean you won’t have to update it too soon. Very few people are actually producing programmes in 4K, but they certainly will be in the future. However, it is always worth being sceptical about TVs on the market that have new/gimmicky features.
It is not long ago that plasma TVs were all the rage, but the image would become permanently damaged if the same picture was paused for too long. The same can be said for 3D. It is a great novelty every once in a while, but extended viewing has been shown to cause nausea and requiring 3D glasses for every viewing might become something of an inconvenience if you have a lot of guests.
Projectors are a cheaper and more flexible option ranging from £200 to £1,000, and can project up from a 30” to a 300” image. The size of the screen can be changed depending on the space, and you may even choose to project on to a white wall. Screens are available to buy for between £100 and £1,000, but they aren’t vital and don’t necessarily increase quality.
Bare in mind that if you are investing in a projector, blackout curtains will need to be drawn considered and ambient light will need to be kept to a minimum in order to guarantee good picture quality and minimise loss of colour.
In a media room used for everyday TV watching, a TV is by far the best option, however, there is no reason why you can’t have both. Many media room fitters can install a projector screen that will lower in front of your regular TV and create a truly multi-purpose media and home cinema environment. (The projector itself can even be built into the ceiling, and lowered at the touch of the button.)
There are a couple of different options available to you when choosing audio, depending on the size of your room. If you’re working within a small room, then a sound bar below your screen will work perfectly within the space. Adding a subwoofer to that set up can replicate the depth of sound of a surround sound system in a smaller space.
Even when it comes to surround sound systems, there are a lot of options. 5.1 is the standard. That means you have five speakers to one subwoofer; two speakers next to the screen, two off to the side of the room in your listening range and one directly below the screen. 6.1 is the next step, which introduces a sixth speaker, directly behind the viewer. 7.1 surround sound splits that sixth speaker into two, and places them on either side, behind the viewer. 7.2 adds an additional subwoofer, adding an extra level of depth to the sound.
As the number of speakers go up, the depth and complexity of sound is increased. The final and most impressive of the surround sound options takes this theory to unbelievable levels. Dolby Atmos splits an audio track into 128 different channels that can be played through 64 different speakers. This is, up until now, the most immersive experience available for home audio.
Firstly you need to get yourself an AV receiver advanced enough to decode the audio and send it to your speakers. Fortunately, you won’t have to break the bank to do this, a receiver can be picked up for around £350 for a basic model, ranging up to £2000 for the top of the line versions. Then, all you need to do is have your surround sound system installed with anything up to 64 speakers, and you will never have another viewing experience like it.
All things considered, it is definitely possible to put together a media room on your own with a bit of DIY knowledge. However, there are companies that will do it for you. If you simply want a built in unit then Neville Johnson, Barbara Genda or Hyperion will create a bespoke TV unit around which you can design your home cinema system.
For a full service, it is possible to get a specialist media room installation service and it’s advisable to employ a CEDIA-approved design and install specialist to help you create a dedicated home cinema room. They will oversee the design and installation, as well as expertly selecting the best screen and audio system to suit the space and your budget. This is a completely bespoke service and will be tailored to your exact needs, tastes and specifications.