So you've finally made the decision to create your own dedicated home cinema system. You've convinced your partner that it's OK to spend that kind of money and have agreed that they too can go and buy whatever they have always wanted. Everything is looking good and the green light is on but then you start to think about all the different design elements that make up a cinema and you start to get overwhelmed with the correct order and the amount of budget you should allocate for each section. You check online and just seem to find so many different conflicting views and now you're not even sure if you should even get started because your mind is so scrambled that you're not sure where to begin.
Well, if the above story sounds familiar to you then this article will put you at ease. Maybe you have just decided to build your own home cinema system or perhaps you thought about it before but just was not sure where to begin and so decided to leave it. If any of this rings true with you then I am pleased to say that I can give you my personal experience to allow you to make the best home cinema system you can based on your budget.
So here are my 10 steps to creating the home cinema of your dreams.
Each of these steps should be performed in this order to get the best out of the available budget and room space you have.
Internal and External Shell and Structure
1. Start with the end in mind
Like any construction project you need to have a good vision of what the end is going to look like before you even start. This means you should at the very minimum have some hand drawn sketches of the style, size and shape you are going for. Now this will naturally be dictated by the available space you have to work with but there is definitely some room here for artistic flare here so really tap into your mind and pull out what your dream home cinema system will indeed look like. Remember, this is probably something you are only going to do once so make sure it lives up to all your expectations and dreams.
Remember that what you see is always what you get so the clearer your vision is, the better the end product will be. Do not rush through or overlook this step, it is probably the most important part of the whole process.
2. Room size and shape
Now that you have your ideas in mind and a clear picture of what you want to achieve you can start to get down to some real design. Now I strongly suggest you use some kind of 3D software here to make sure you get really accurate measurements and implementation of your design ideas. You could also just use a 2D CAD (Computer Aided Design) package but it's usually much nicer and easier to keep your vision in mind if you can work in 3D.
Now this may scare a lot of you off but with the technology available today you can find some very inexpensive design packages that are really user friendly so even if you have had no computer design experience before you will be able to pick it up fairly quickly.
Full room acoustic design is a very in depth subject and beyond the scope of this article but I recommend you do your due diligence on this area and get a basic knowledge of how audio is transmitted before progressing. A good room design at this stage will save you lots of money further down the line when it comes to equipment choices.
In essence you want to avoid any hard surfaces that will reflect sound and go for surfaces that absorb as much as possible. I'm sure you've all been inside a church and noticed how bad the acoustics are and how much it echoes. Well, these are things that you really want to avoid in your home cinema system as they will dramatically affect the quality of your sound reproduction.
3. Sound absorption-external
External sound absorption refer to the sound that will leak out of your cinema during its use. This basically translates to making sure you do not wake up the neighbors when you have your home cinema system cranked up to volume 10. Even if you do not have neighbors you will still want to make sure the system can be used late at night when others may be trying to sleep.
You can start off very basic with some fiber glass insulation around the entire outside structure of the room or placed between a cavity wall. This is very inexpensive and works really well. If you want to get really clever you can build a room inside a room by putting up a partition shell and fixing it to the outside structure with rubber washers. This will isolate the sound very well and keep most of it internal.
4. Sound absorption-internal
Internal sound absorption deals with the sounds that bounce around inside your cinema. These sounds will originate primarily from the speakers and will be reflected by the different materials in the room. Essentially you want to design your room so that you have internal absorbers to remove most of the reflections so that you only have direct sound coming to you from the speakers. In some cases such as the surround speakers you will want to have multiple reflections but the full scope of this design is too much for this article. Do your due diligence here and it will pay off in reduced costs later on.
Equipment Choice and Levels
5. Sound levels-speaker and amplifier choice
Most people will be surprised to see that speaker choice has only appeared at number five and not soon but if you have really read and understood the previous four items and done your due diligence on them then it will be no surprise at all. The majority of bad quality home cinema systems are due to poor room design and not the speakers or other equipment. If you get the room design right then you are 80% there already.
There are many different speaker brands on the market and you will need to get active and out to your local dealers who can demonstrate different packages side by side. Most of this decision will come down to your budget and personal preference. Do not think however that you have to spend a huge amount of money here. Providing you got the room design right then you will get a great sound out of most systems.
6. Visual requirements-projector and screen size
The screen size will mainly be determined by your available room width. You will need to make sure that the main seating area is approximately 2.5x the width of the screen back to give the best visual performance. This means that if your screen is 1 meter wide then your main seating area should be about 2.5 meters back. The screen height should be positioned so that the bottom of the screen is approximately 850mm from floor level. This will prevent head fatigue and give the best performance.
The choice of projector again will be dictated by your budget and you should go and see your local dealer once more to see different models side by side to find one you are happy with.
7. Kinesthetic requirements-seating and movement
The choice of seating should deal with comfort first and look second. Remember, you are going to be sitting down here for a long while over the course of a year so make sure you pick seating which is designed for this kind of use.
If your budget allows you can now get moving seats which have hydraulics that shake them around in time with the movie. This can be an incredible experience but also a very expensive one.
8. Sources and cabling
In general your choice of sources should be high definition and the best that your budget will allow. A Blu-ray player and high definition broadcast or satellite receive should be a minimum requirement but it's also nice to add games consoles and other such devices to get the best out of your home cinema system.
Cabling should be of a good quality but not over the top. We personally work at around 10% of the cost of the equipment should be spend on cabling.
9. Interior design
This is very much a personal preference and so I will leave this area entirely up to you. We have designed many home cinema systems, some which have movie posters all over the walls and authentic cinema carpet and others which have an Art Deco style and genuine arts from the period; it's totally up to you. Just make sure you do not compromise the acoustic design in the process.
10. Light levels
Naturally the cinema should be as dark as possible during usage so you will want to make sure that there is no natural light coming in by either having no windows at all or having black out blinds that can be placed in front of them when in use. Low level lighting is always recommended for health and safety reasons and also a little bit of artistic flare using color can really enhance the whole experience.
There are several other considerations that you may want to look at when designing your home cinema system such as HVAC, remote controls and automation but this will depend on your budget and personal preference so I will again leave this up to you.
Remember that this is just a general overview of the design and each area should have its own due diligence performed before undertaking any home cinema system design such as this.