The Definitive Guide to Luxury Home Cinema Design and Installation
The guide that some manufacturers and other installations companies did not want us to write!
My name is Matthew Cupper and this guide is a culmination of nearly 40 years of my industry experience in home cinema design and installation.
I was born into the industry, you might say, as my father ran a home cinema and entertainment systems business in the 70’s and 80’s.
I have fond memories of visiting client homes and watching my father spend hours setting up projectors and speaker systems, and also of my father bringing equipment home to spoil us with audio visual extravaganzas!
Fast forward to today and I run on of the UK’s leading home cinema installation businesses Adept Integrated Systems, with our first showroom in Sunningdale we have plans to educate the world to the possibilities of home cinema and how they can bring families together, deliver excitement and passion to a viewer’s experience whilst experiencing these pleasures in the luxury of your own home!
What is this guide about?
I took the time to write this guide as I believe at Adept we have discovered a better way to deliver cinema.
Over my years in the industry I have attended thousands of hours of seminars, courses, trainings which I have invested thousands of pounds in. Purchasing specialist equipment that allows for us to deliver better performance and knowledge to our clients.
One of the things that has frustrated the hell out of me on the way is this….
In an industry that is dealing with very wealthy individuals delivering projects in luxury homes, yachts, amongst other forms of habitable transportation, I have been disgusted with the attitudes and approach of some manufacturers and installation companies.
Well, not wanting to dwell on this too much, simply put SOME manufacturers and installers alike have opted for the easy option. They do not care about doing the right thing for the client. They have simply developed a method which makes it easier to install product and get in and out to the next job.
Some do not even get adequately involved in the education process which I absolutely believe is necessary to ensure that the client understands fully the options that are available, it is not simply a one size fits solution.
What’s even worse is some of the products that I have seen that make for this easy type of installation, which are not cheap BTW, do not deliver a quality audio performance. Certainly they play loud enough in a demonstration but noise and quality are two different things!
I wanted to write this guide to offer my take on what is required to guarantee the very best when it comes to delivering a Luxury Home Cinema Experience.
The importance of a home cinema design
Whatever the vision is of your home cinema installation project is I cannot stress enough the importance of getting into a full design service.
Sure with the internet you can find ideas everywhere on Pinterest, Houzz, and other social media sites, however your room size and dimensions will be different.
To properly plan your luxury home cinema installation you must consider a home cinema design service from any installation company that you are talking with.
There are two elements to a design:-
- Architectural Plans:- So that calculations can be made for screen size, projector throw distances, the right speaker and amplifier combination for the correct sound pressure in the room, as well as calculations for acoustic treatments. This plan should set out all of the critical information in the room including speaker locations, seating layouts, power requirements, equipment storage and ventilation. It is the build-up plan that will allow someone to create the room.
- Visualisation:- A visualisation allows the designer and the client to come together and agree exactly what the finished room will look like. These visualisations, or renders are exact models of the rooms which are used to sign off and agree a way to move forward to the actual construction stage of the project.
CAUTION – If you proceed without the above items you are putting yourself at risk of disappointment at the end of the project.
Things to note:
An experienced home cinema designer will be able to work with you to deliver the finished result that you are looking for. What I mean by this is unusual room finishes or designs can be accommodated within a design even though they may not necessarily be best practice for cinema rooms.
Room acoustics and sound isolation: how to overcome issues with the room
One of the most commonly overlooked factors of a home cinema installation is that of the room shape and size and how this effects sound quality and performance, and also how important it is to stop sound leaking out of the room. We will deal with this in two elements of this chapter.
Item 1: Room Acoustics
Put quite simply if you play a speaker in an open field it will have not limitations and will play naturally without interreference, other than that of background noise.
If you put that same speaker in a square room the sound will be very different as the sound will bounce around and cause issues which result in cancellations and peaks in the sound meaning that in certain positions in the room there will be no noise at that frequency or in some places it can be doubly loud!
This is not meant to be a lesson in acoustics, simply to make you aware of the importance to discuss this.
The key points are what have become known as the three R’s:-
- Resonance - low frequency sounds are very long when they hit a wall they are bounced back on themselves repeatedly causing problems.
- Reverberation - when a sound is reflected whilst it loses some energy, volume, it does not disappear completely. We can hear these delayed sounds while they decay to nothing when bouncing around the room effecting the clarity of the system.
- Reflection - Sound travels in a straight line, so when it hits a wall at an angle it is very similar to a pool ball bouncing off a cushion. Some reflections muddy the direction of where the sound appears to be coming from.
Whilst the issues with the room are tricky to deal with the great news is that there is a science to this so a good home cinema designer can help deal with some of the issues early on.
The most common approach to room correction is a combination of room treatment which includes absorb, diffuse and bass trap products in the room which are used in conjunction with some sort of electronic calibration software which can be automated or performed manually by a home cinema specialist.
Things to note:
Two things we see very often in cinema rooms is overuse of absorption which results in a very flat and dead room, personally we do not like this approach as I prefer a bit of life! Also this gives you a feeling of your fingers being stuck in your ears!
Secondly some sound diffusers are not fit for purpose as they are symmetrical which means they simply do not work properly!
Item 2: Sound Isolation
Isolation of sound needs to be discussed as a cinema room can play loud and clearly interfere with people living in the house and also neighbours.
You could write a book on this topic however I will keep this short and sweet, or try to at least!
The main considerations for sound proofing are as follows:-
How important is it to you?
If you have young children and will want to use the cinema whilst they are in bed above the cinema it may be more important than if your family are more grown up!
Also what is the construction of your home and when was it built, concrete stops more sound than timber frame or SIPS panels.
How much room can you afford to lose inside the room? The more soundproofing you require the smaller the room gets! Our highest level of soundproofing requires around 330mm of additional space!
Often times we end up with a compromise as many clients do not want to give up too much space, plus the highest level system we offer comes with a considerable cost. For most circumstances losing an additional 100mm of wall space allows us to do an adequate job with the sound proofing which reduces the noise travelling out of the room to something more like ambient background levels.
The importance of home cinema seating
Now before we go any further into the technical aspects of the home cinema installation I wanted to cover off this pretty critical element.
Seating is important and it is often an element that is not considered early on in the project and budgeting.
Home Cinema Seats can be quite expensive, however this is the same for many elements inside of the home, there are reasons for varied costs and obviously different qualities which we will discuss below.
It is critical that you are comfortable when you are in your cinema. The last thing you need is to be stopping the film to get up for a walk around as your leg has fallen asleep!
The main questions to consider for seating are:-
- Do you plan to have dedicated cinema style seat or more of a lounge style sofa approach?
- How many people will you want to seat?
- Will you need to have rows, consider ceiling height also as each row should have a minimum of 450mm between levels.
- Will the seats be motorised, you can have a single motor, dual motor or triple motor seat, basically additional motors give you more configuration options, and also increase cost.
- What accessories do you require for your seats? You can have cupholders, warmers, coolers, pop up drinks cabinets, heated seats, cooled seats, led lighting, tables, charging stations the list goes on…….
In terms of budgeting for home cinema seats I would suggest that a price point from around £1650 will get you into a good base level budget seat, this is avoiding the cheaper Chinese made products and motors however we have seats at upwards of £8000 each for the ultimate in luxury.
The best way I like to compare this is the quality of seats in cars? Your Ford, BMW and Ferrari are all going to have a different grade of seat, and we have options to discuss depending on budget also.
See the video below for our budget seating option:-
Audio formats and sound systems
This chapter is broken down into two sections:-
Item 1: Audio Formats
There are a wealth of different options for audio formats and speaker set ups so I have started with the least number of speakers first. Please note that this is a simplified document as again this could become a book if we were to consider every recommended format in depth!
Explaining the format (Numbers) bellow the first number suggests the amount of speakers for the surround sound, the second is the number of subwoofers and the third, if present suggests the number of height (immersive) speakers.
NB: If is often recommended to have more than one subwoofer as it can help to even out the bass response in the room.
- Five speakers comprising of three left, centre and right speakers plus two side surround speakers and a subwoofer. If you are on a budget our recommendation is to always start with better speakers and a smaller system as you will get more pleasure from it. A great 5.1 set up will deliver hours of pleasure to anyone listening.
- Add two more rear speakers, usually you change the location of the side speakers. This set up adds more movement and space for a slightly larger room.
- Generally with a 9.1 set up you would add two more speakers at the front sound stage, these would either be front height left and right speakers or more commonly, I think a slightly better result, front wide speakers left and right. This again widens the sound space and opens up the room more.
- As above but with both height and width speakers together OR a set of front height and rear height speakers depending on the format!
With the following set ups and to keep things simple with descriptions we are going to discuss two formats together and a third separately:-
Dolby Atmos and DTS X immersive Audio Formats:-
- 5.1.2 Add two height channels to the 5.1 set up above
- 5.1.4 Add four height channels to the 5.1 set up above
This goes on for ALL formats up to 11.1.X formats. The only thing to consider in some cases is the addition of more side surround speakers for really long rooms.
- Auro 3D has a slightly different speaker layout but does follow some principals:-
- Auro 9.1 is a 5.1 set up with 4 height speakers which go above the Left, Right and Surround speakers.
- Auro 10.1 adds a centre height speaker above the listener.
- Auro 11.1 adds a height centre speaker or 4 height speakers to a 7.1 set up!
- Auro 13.1 adds Height Left, Centre, Right, Side Surround and Centre speaker to 7.1 set up.
ALL of the above formats have capacity to go larger with more speakers!
I appreciate this is all very complexed however FEAR NOT a good home cinema installations company can assist to ensure you make the right decisions!
Item 2: Sound Systems
When we talk about a professional luxury home cinema installation we are looking to create the experience that the director intended when creating the film.
These film tracks are laid out in various surround sound formats using specific sound systems that deliver the very best performance.
A good home cinema installer will have options available to enable you to replicate the effects exactly how they should be experienced.
Some of the most famous speakers used in cinema mastering are MK Sound, Procella Audio, Meyer Sound and Alcons Audio to name a few.
However, a great home cinema speaker does not necessarily guarantee a great cinema sound! Pairing the right speaker with the wrong sound processor or amplifier can have disappointing results. Some manufacturers actually care so much about the quality of the source of the sound to the speaker that they have developed their own electronics packages and room correction software.
Brands such as Steinway Lyngdorf, Meridian, Pro Audio Technology, dARTS Digital Theater, Meyer Sound and Alconis Audio all have their own approach to guaranteeing the best possible signal to their speaker systems.
A good home cinema company will have access to a wide range of product enabling them to offer the best possible solution for the room that you have.
Choosing the right projector and screen combinationWhy does my TV go small when I watch certain movies and what can I do about it?
Unfortunately for TV there is not a lot that you can do about this issue as the TV size cannot physically change!
However for cinemas with projection systems you do have a choice….
First we are going to dive into a little bit of information regarding the reasons why the TV picture size changes.
It is all about the aspect ratio…
Aspect ratio is the size of the image that the content has been created in. Back in the old days we had 4:3 aspect which was a boxy image and most TVs were set up this way to present the image, you do occasionally see this on old TV shows on channels that promote the classics of yester year!
We then moved to a standardised new format which was 16:9, a much more suitable format for TV, and all of the TV manufacturers jumped on board with this newer better screen format. There is another format which in effect offers the same ratio however we do not want to get too bogged down with this as this is not designed as a tech document more as an simple explainer doc.
The only issue with the above was that the film studios decided that they did not want to standardise to this format. Whilst some movies were created 16:9 there were also several other “widescreen” formats that were also being used!
Herein lies the issue….
Whenever a widescreen format is presented to a TV the black bars come into play to allow the content to fit and the image height needs to be reduced by around 25%.
If you are watching a 4K TV this means your image is now 3K! On a projector the news gets slightly worse for you as the projector is losing around 1\3rd of its brightness creating the nearly black bars at the top and bottom of the screen!
DO NOT FEAR we have some solutions below….
The MOST COST EFFECTIVE SOLUTION is to select a 16:9 screen size and projector as you are happy with the smaller image size for movies in wide screen, same as a TV. This is often best suited for a cinema or media room where the main purpose is to watch the TV, sport or gaming. In some circumstances also with certain room sizes you can end up with the larger image in 16:9 format and still have the same screen size for widescreen, this would be subject to your home cinema designer.
Select a projector that has a lens memory function and use a native widescreen projector screen. In this scenario and all other options detailed below you will now have the bars at the side of the screen with a full height image in both TV and Cinema mode.
THE NEGATIVE: in zoom mode you are actually taking the poorer quality image that has less pixels and brightness and making it bigger. This means you are actually creating a poorer quality image as you are making the 3K pixels a quarter larger! For many people this is a satisfactory solution, however for those that want the best image quality this is not a solution.
Pair your projector with a fixed anamorphic lens which will stretch the widescreen image to fit the full widescreen without the black bars. With this option you have a setting on your projector which adjusts the widescreen video and also the 16:9 so both look correct.
THE NEGATIVE: although this is a better solution than the above as it offers a better image quality and size on the widescreen setting as you now have a stretched 4K image, when you switch to 16:9 the image the image is being processed to accommodate what the lens is doing to it!
Pair your projector with a motorised anamorphic lens which will stretch the widescreen image to fit the full widescreen without the black bars. With this option when you switch between widescreen and 16:9 content the motor will move the lens, so you have the best of both worlds!
THE NEGATIVE: the only negative with this solution is cost and also reliability. When you add a moving part into the process you increase the risk of the potential for things to go wrong!
Pair your projector with scaler which will stretch the widescreen image to fit the full widescreen without the black bars. This is a great solution as we can enhance the image for widescreen in effect giving you 5K , and for 16:9 as scalers deliver a greater amount of flexibility in set up and calibration. Also as there are no moving parts there is less to go wrong! Some scalers also have a way to sense the video signal and automatically switch the setting so there is no need to select which mode you require.
THE NEGATIVE: not really any negatives on this front. A good scaler comes in around the same price as a good fixed lens and can be set up and programmed by a specialist to deliver a better picture in a few hours. This would be my preferred go to route for any standard 16:9 projector.
Purchase a native Cinemascope projector which has an image scaler built into it!
There is an option to invest in a projector that has an embedded scaler which offers the same benefits of the above but in a one box solution.
THE NEGATIVE: not really any negatives on this front my only comment would be that some manufacturers are slower to market with upgraded product so whilst image quality and the likes are generally better due to using better product sometimes the product can be a little behind industry standard.
Pairing the right projector and screen combination for a room is critical otherwise you can end up with washed out images which look cloudy, on the other hand an image that is too bright and colourful can cause eye strain and cause you to fatigue.
There are many ways to integrate a projector into the project so it doesn't have to be one of the main focal points in the room too!
Room finish design options
As discussed earlier the importance of a design is critical from a technical standpoint to ensure all of the equipment going into the room will fit and work. It also helps communicate to the trades on site to enable them to build the room.
There is another element to design which is critically important to most clients and that is “What will my finished room look like?.”
This is where a good cinema designer takes on the role of interior specialist where they will create visualisations to demonstrate the final finished result.
Usually this helps however most clients would want to see samples of finishes and agree various accessories and design elements that would be going into the room by inspecting the product in reality not virtually.
Again a good cinema design company can provide samples and mood boards to allow the visual and sensory elements are communicated.
Often times you can include shopping trips, if needed with the client so that they can select items that they desire to incorporate in the room.
Some finishes do make things a little bit more challenging for the room design and planning. Hard surfaces such and glass, metals, and woods need to be planned to guarantee that their integration within the room works from an operational perspective as well as from design.
At Adept we have completed over 220 installations of various shapes and sizes over the last 11+ years.
We have focused our business with laser precision on the work that we do and are very proud of what we can achieve for our clients that seek the very best in entertainment solutions.
Should you be looking for someone to take care of every element, to the minutest detail, of you home cinema or entertainment system installation we can offer a complete turnkey installation which would accommodate every element covered in this guide.
We often find many of our clients do not want the hassle co-ordinating different trades and would prefer to have minimal disruption to their already busy lives.
Allowing us to do the heavy lifting leaves you to relax and as we are solely accountable we can guarantee our quality workmanship throughout the whole of the project.
Please do reach out and contact us to discuss your needs and requirements.
Our complete turnkey solutions start at a price tag of £50K upwards subject to room size and design requirements. To date our largest project has been £800K however we are working on some designs that will exceed this figure in the near future.
The sky is the limit with Adept and we guarantee that we are with you every step of the way from Design, Install, and Aftercare with a goal to exceed your every expectation at every point.
We look forward to hearing from you to discuss your project in more detail.
Thanks for taking the time to read this guide.