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Seven Home Theatre Pit Falls

There are seven common pitfalls home owners should be aware of when designing their own home theatres.  Careful consideration should be given to the following:

  • Home Theatre lighting

  • Home Theatre Acoustics

  • Speakers: types and where positioned

  • Screen Size

  • Projector Type and Specifications

  • Screen Type and Material

  • Control Equipment


1.   Home Theatre Lighting

Two specific types of lighting require careful consideration in the design of your theatre. These are natural lighting and artificial lighting.

Natural light

Natural light is the light from the sun entering via windows and doors.  This light can be either direct or indirect or a combination of both.  Ideally, no natural light should be present in the theatre space.  

When blinds or drapes are installed for the control of natural light in a theatre space, they must be made of heavy material or material which will completely block the natural light.  When fitting the drapes, it is imperative that there is no light spill.  Where light spill is present, it will reflect off the backing of the drapes and a bright area will be present at the top, sides and bottom of the drapes.  This in turn will affect the contrast and brightness of the image which will detract from the viewing experience within the theatre.

Consider using velvet or a heavy upholstery fabric and make sure it has a separate two or three pass coated backing to guarantee block out even in full sunlight.  Where the window is in the middle of a side or rear wall of the theatre, consider having the drapes cover the entire wall, running from ceiling to floor, from one adjoining wall to the opposite adjoining wall. 

As an alternative to drapes, roller type blinds, can be very effective in the control of natural light through windows.  The fabric must be 100% black out and the blind edges must be surrounded by a light trap to eliminate light spill around the edges.  The light trap often consists of an aluminium or timber channel with a brush seal front and back.  The blind material travels up and down between the brush seals with very little or no light able to penetrate the brush seals.  Finally, if you are planning to use roller type blinds and you intend to motorise them, the lower weight bar must be heavy enough to ensure that the fabric stays within the side channels and the motor is powerful enough to raise the fabric and the weight bar. 

Doors are another source of natural light ingress and though it sounds simple enough to close the door, do consider which way the door swings and the direction from which the light appears.  Also ensure there is no light leakage around the door jamb itself.

Artificial Light

Artificial light is essential in creating specific light scenes and task lighting within the theatre and also for producing ambience or a specific look, feel or tone within the theatre.  There are several types of artificial light including:

  • LED (light emitting diode) lighting for strip lighting, task lights, specialist lighting
  • Halogen lighting for down lights, flood lighting and high brightness specialist lighting
  • Incandescent lighting for more traditional light fittings and ambience
  • Fibre optic lighting for special effect lighting
  • Fluorescent lighting
  • Track lighting for adjustable task and specialist lighting

A few artificial lighting tips worth considering are:

  • Avoid direct light shining onto your projection screen or into the theatre space
  • Provide a separate lighting circuit for lights adjacent to the projection screen so these can be turned off separately as required
  • Consider using coloured light rather than just white light to enhance the look of the theatre space
  • Ensure you have a light source within the theatre which will provide sufficient  light for cleaning and equipment maintenance
  • Make sure you cannot see the light source in your light fittings as this will create glare
  • Check that the theatre light fittings do not impact or interfere with the projected image on the screen.  Pendant lights or any hanging lights if within the projection sight lines will create a silhouette on the projection screen itself. 
  • Do not point any of the light fittings back toward the seated positions.  As per point 6 above, this will create glare and make the theatre experience uncomfortable for the participants before and after the movie
  • Ensure that none of the light fittings have light spill. 
  • Make sure the lighting can be controlled via a control pad such as an ipad or universal remote as this will save many trips to the light switch and make the entire movie viewing experience more pleasurable


2.   Home Theatre Acoustics

Anyone can add some speakers into a space and make it loud.  It takes careful consideration to make a theatre space sound “exceptional.”  There are some simple and relatively easy design steps to help a theatre space work well acoustically. 

Avoid parallel surfaces.

Parallel surfaces provide an ideal environment for reflections to precipitate.  So what should you do? 

Where possible, install carpet as this will not only enhance the acoustics but it will provide a plush theatre feel. Make sure the carpet is installed on a high quality underlay and avoid laying the carpet directly onto the existing timber or concrete floor which is often the procedure for carpet tiles.

Treat the wall surfaces.

A simple but effective way to promote good quality sound is to build some timber frames that can be mounted to the walls on split battens. 

Pay particular attention to speaker placement


3.   Home Theatre Speakers

Almost any quality speaker is capable of reproducing effects however, the primary intended use of the speaker is the most important aspect.  When understanding “surround sound” terminology, the ‘.1’ refers to the sub bass output.  5.1 surround is five speakers and a sub bass.

Front centre speaker

As this speaker presents predominantly speech and dialogue, it is imperative that it is located at or very near to the centre of the screen or display. 

Front left and right speakers

When setting up a stereo speaker system, the front left and right speakers should be placed as far apart as possible in order to achieve left and right channel separation, thus improving the stereo effect.  

Surround left and right speakers

These speakers are the ones which suffer from misplacement the most often.  The surround speakers should be to the left and right of your seated position, not behind.  

Rear surround speakers

The rear surround speaker or speakers (6.1 or 7.1 surround) are placed further back behind the surround speakers or possibly mounted at the rear of the theatre. 

Sub bass speaker

The sub bass adds another dimension to the home theatre audio experience in providing that “earth shattering” bass sound that we all love to hear at the movies.  The concept of having a sub bass is to actually enhance the sound in the theatre space to provide an even frequency response across the full audible spectrum. 

4.   Screen Size

Screen size is one instance where bigger isn’t always better.  Watching a large screen up close is physically demanding.  Think about where you like to sit when at the cinema.  In the room which will become your theatre mark the front wall with some masking tape indicating the size (width, height and corners) of the screen you would like to have.  Move back to where you would be seated in your theatre and see if you can see the tape in you field of view.  Today, all new content is generated in at least 16:9 (1.78:1) aspect ratio.  Many DVDs and Bluray discs are produced in 2.35:1 (CinemaScope, Panavision, Super widescreen). 


5.   Projector Type And Specification

Six considerations are always paramount when considering the type and brand of projector to use in a home theatre. These are, in no specific order:

  • Cost
  • Resolution
  • Type (LCD, DLP, LCOS/DiLA)
  • Brightness
  • Fit
  • 3D or not 3D


Generally the more you spend, the more you will get, but working out the other five considerations will generally dictate where you sit with this point.  Just because you spend more doesn’t guarantee a great outcome.


The higher the resolution, the better the image will look in regard to detail and image clarity.  As a rule, full high definition would be the minimum requirement here as you are presenting a large image and at lower resolutions, the pixels (image elements) will be visible.  This is not always so obvious on a smaller image, but as the image increases in size, the pixels (image elements) become more visible.  There are many different image resolutions current today but the four most common in the home theatre environment are:

  1. Standard definition – 576i,p (720 x 576 pixels)
  2. High definition – 720p (1280 x 720 pixels)
  3. Full high definition – 1080i,p (1920 x 1080 pixels)
  4. Ultra high definition                


LCD projection technology has been developing for a long period of time and is now very mature.  Generally, liquid crystal display (LCD) projectors are cost effective with good light output and contrast ratio.  Another consideration with these projectors is the number of LCD panels being used.  High end LCD theatre projectors use three LCD panels, one for each colour, red, green and blue and mix these coloured images through a prism.  Lower quality LCD projectors use a single LCD panel and produce all colours with the one panel.

DLP projection technology was developed to improve the energy efficiency of projectors and also the contrast ratio and resolution. Digital light processing uses an array of micro-mirrors to either send light to the projector lens or not.  Single chip DLP projectors use a colour wheel to produce the red green and blue colours and this method to derive the colours can in lower cost projectors be visible in the displayed image, known as the rainbow effect.  Three chip DLP projectors are ideal for home theatre use but tend to be more expensive than their LCD counterparts and also tend to be lower brightness.  Their contrast ratio is however, incredibly high.

 LCOS/DiLA projection technology or liquid crystal on silicon, is a reflective LCD format which reflects the light off the LCD panel rather than through the panel itself.  LCOS/DiLA offers very ‘film like’ projected images and extremely good contrast ratio and allows higher light output due to the reflective properties of the panel itself.    LCOS/DiLA is probably the pick for home theatre, but also one of the most expensive technologies.


Most manufacturers offer a range of projectors varying in resolution and brightness.  The larger the image, the more light output you will need, however, a 110” image in a completely darkened theatre room may require as little as 1100 ANSI lumens to produce a high contrast dynamic image.  2400 ANSI lumens will do the same but allow some lighting in the theatre during the movie.  Generally more light output would only be required if the image size is very large or the projector is to run in ‘economy’ mode.  If the projector is too bright, it will be difficult to watch.


The projector must be able to operate in the space it is intended.  That is, the optics of the projector must allow the projector to be suitably located within the theatre space and to allow the optics of the projector to be set correctly.  Avoid at all costs digital keystone correction as this function will square your image up on screen but has the adverse effect of reducing the available pixel count effectively reducing the resolution.  If the projector has optical lens shift, this can assist in allowing the projector to be suitably positioned.  The projector should be located above or behind the rear most seating position so that you cannot see the projector and so that you are less likely to hear any fan noise.  The projector lens throw should be examined closely to guarantee the projector position is correct.

3D or not 3D

Many newer projectors are capable of 3D projection and offer an excellent 3D viewing experience.  As with sitting too close to a large screen, 3D viewing is physically tiring so make sure this is the secondary viewing method and not the first.  In reality, less than 5% of the movies you watch will be in 3D so make 3D operation an ‘extra’ nice to have.

6.   Screen Type And Material

The screen and screen material is just as important as the projector itself and must be suited to the application, projector and environment

Many manufacturers provide special screen materials specifically for particular applications.  On the other hand, some lower quality screen manufacturers provide screen material which is nothing more than white vinyl.  Select your preferred projector first and then decide on the screen type.

Screen Material

Don’t be tempted to buy the cheapest screen you find on eBay.  You will get what you pay for and a little research will go a long way to improve the theatre viewing experience.  Most reputable screen manufacturers produce screen materials for specific applications and are suited to particular projector types.  For example, many theatre projectors are relatively low brightness but are capable of full high definition display with very good contrast ratio.  The most suitable type of screen for this application may be a white screen which has gain to improve the apparent viewing brightness.  As home theatres are often completely or close to completely dark when the projector is in use, the lower brightness, higher contrast projectors perform admirably.  Add full high definition to this and you potentially have a very good outcome.  Please note that as a projector lamp ages within the projector itself, the image loses brightness.  Generally a projector lamp has lost 50% of its light output when it reaches end of life.

Screen Type

You will have the option of either fixed screen or motorised roller screen.  The fixed screen is great in dedicated home theatres and when not in use, can be concealed behind a motorised curtain or similar.  The down side to this type of screen is it is likely to receive damage if the theatre space is multi-purpose.  If the theatre room doubles as a rumpus room, games room or other function, the screen will require to be motorised so that it can be retracted out of the way when not required. 

Using a fixed screen is a lower cost alternative to a motorised screen where you know the screen will be safe and unlikely to be damaged.  Fixed screens are available with micro-perforations which allow speakers to be placed behind out of view without detracting from the projected image or sound quality.

7.   Control Of Equipment And Theatre Lighting

Control system technology has improved considerably in the last few years and has become more affordable for the home theatre environment.  The key is to provide control of all essential devices within the theatre space so that you are able to achieve the lighting and control scenarios desired.  This may include heating and cooling within the theatre, control of motorised seating, lights and blinds and of course, the audio visual equipment itself.  The control system most suitable for theatres is a universal touch screen such as an ipad, ipad Mini or RTI touch screen

When this aspect is installed and operating, the next step is to sit back and enjoy your home theatre and movie experience.

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