In part ONE of our home cinema article, we looked at room acoustics, sound treatment and light control. In part TWO we'll take a look at choosing the right combination of home cinema projector and a cinema screen to match. There's more to it than you might initially think - but we're here to guide you through the important choices and help you find a winning combination that will give you the best picture possible in your room.
1. Calculate your OPTIMUM screen size. Often we have clients asking if they can fill a whole wall with a cinema screen - they want the biggest, maximum impact screen they can squeeze into the room. This may sound like an exciting idea, but to really appreciate a high quality image that today's modern projectors are capable of displaying, getting the screen size right can be key to delivering a truly cinematic experience for you and you friends. With the advent of 4k UHD resolution taking over increasingly from 1080p HD the benefit to the end user is that they can get away with a larger screen before the pixels become noticeable. Bear in mind this assumes you are ONLY watching TRUE 4k content. That 4k series on your "catch up" media player isn't really 4k as it will have been heavily compressed to get it over the internet and into your home. But if you're watching a 4k DVD through your 4k projector, then that's the best resolution you can get for your room.
2. Consider you seating position. If you're having a single row of seats that's pretty easy to calculate. But when you have 2 or more rows of seats in a larger home cinema room installation, then calculating screen size becomes more important. You'll also need to factor int he heights of the seats in each row so everyone gets a clear view of the screen. We want the people in the front row to see a nice sharp picture as well as those at the back. Typically, THX used to recommend a viewing distance that was 1.2 x greater than the width of the screen and that should provide you with a nice, immersive experience. If your room allows, try and push the seats back further as the increased distance to the screen allows your eyes to relax more as they are focused further away towards infinity. Small cinema room viewing distances can work, but your eyes will be working harder to follow the action around the screen.
3. Decide on a FIXED FRAME or MOTORISED cinema screen. Screen choice for a home cinema design can be bewildering and there are some amazing solutions out there for those looking to get the best picture possible. In an ideal world, we would recommend a fixed frame screen over motorised - quite often they're cheaper as well, but the important consideration is that they are more likely to have a FLAT projection surface. An acoustically transparent cinema screen will have either micro perforations or a special weave with holes built in that allow the sound from your speakers *mounted behind the screen* to pass through. Just like your local commercial cinema, the sound comes from the screen directly so linking sounds to the action on the screen is a much more natural process. Mounting speakers above, below or to the sides of the screen is a slight compromise, but prior planning with screen and seating positions, as well as viewing angles, can lessen this. If you do need a motorised screen, say in a family room or lounge situation, they can be easily hidden behind pelmets and curtains but try to ensure you install a TAB TENSIONED solution as these allow the screen to appear flatter and you don't get the ripples and movement that can affect cheaper designs.
4. Choose The Right Screen Material. Whether it's fixed or motorised, the choice of screen material can be key to getting that smooth, detailed and cinematic look that a high quality home cinema installation should deliver every time. Cheap screen materials can sometimes be too "shiny" and you may end up seeing hot spots on parts of the screen as the light bounces back from the projectors light source. A good quality screen may also include some "gain" - where more of the light is reflected back towards the viewing position in a controlled manner to improve brightness and contrast by reducing reflections onto the side walls, floor and ceiling. There are some very well made screen materials on the market at the moment incorporating some very innovative fabric weaves and treatments. We would recommend talking to a professional about the type of room you are installing so they can take into account the ambient light levels, room colour rendering and reflectivity index to ensure your projector and screen combination will give you the brightness levels you need in that particular room.
5. Choosing A Projector. You'll find a wide choice of solution in the market place as more and more people are converting rooms into home cinema spaces. There are some well known brands out there, competing with each other for the best reviews. We won't get into that here, but please do call us if you want to know which models and brands we are currently recommending. Now you've decided on your screen size and seating position, and have made your room as dark as possible it's time to install a high quality projector that will deliver the picture quality you want. Typically, the first place to start is to ensure that your projector is BRIGHT ENOUGH to fill the room with the levels of light you require. In a well light controlled (dark) room you are aiming to get around 16 to 20 Foot Lamberts (Fl) of light coming off the screen. This is the same light level you'll see at your local commercial cinema.
When you look at your projector specifications, you'll see most manufacturers state how bright the projectors are (usually in LUMENS). Simply put, the brighter the projector, the better it will be at lighting up the screen in your room to the desired Fl level. If your room isn't completely dark however, you're going to need a brighter projected image to ensure you get the contrast levels that you'll need to project to ensure a bright enough image. In very light rooms, or if you need to watch during daylight, then you're going to compromise the image quality and you may find that a large flat screen television may be a better solution for you.
6. Projector Quality & Features. There's a trend in some of the newer projector systems to do away with traditional bulbs as the light source inside the projector and lasers seem to be leading the way - they offer the benefits of reduced heat inside the casing and longer life spans as well. Lasers also provide a very constant colour balance that doesn't change as the projector ages and their brightness remains stable as well. That's a real benefit if you're planning to put your cinema room through a professional THX video calibration by a certified THX calibrator. Before we carry out a THX calibration we like to ensure the projector has at least 100 hours of use on the lens to let the bulb settle down as up to this amount, the colour balance and brightness levels can change considerably.
Lens quality can be hard to define, we would certainly recommend a demonstration first to take a look at the projector you're interested in if you're spending more than a few thousand pounds. Above the £2000 mark you can expect the lens quality to be very good and you should also benefit from extra features such as lens shift and zoom. Lens shift is a real help where you can't mount the projector dead centre of the room - you can mount it to the side and at different heights and the lens shift feature will allow you to move the picture back into the correct place where your screen is located. Without lens shift, projector mounting has to be millimetre perfect to ensure the image is projected true and square to the screen. You should check with the manufacturer how much lens shift your projector has and it's often given as a percentage of the screen image width or height. Projectors that are mounted on the ceiling and therefore upside down will need positive vertical correction of at least 50% to get the image onto the wall and you need to also take into account the height of the screen from the ceiling and any border your projector screen has.