How to Tame a Media Room Pt. 1
In “Making the Best of a Media Room” and “Media Room or Home Theater? It Depends,” I discussed why media rooms can be a good solution for people who don’t have the space or money for a dedicated home theater. With this post, I’m going to begin a new series that talks about some of the latest technology developments designed to address the inherent flaws of having a media room in an open space, and how to overcome the top media-room distractions!
I’m going to start with the biggest distraction—light.
A typical dedicated theater has four defined walls, one strategically located entry door, and no windows—it’s the perfect light-controlled environment. This is important because it helps to focus attention on the screen and gives the image contrast. Projectors can’t project black—they instead project nothing. So the base “black level” of your room determines how black an image you’ll get on the screen.
Most media rooms, on the other hand, are wide open to other rooms, have no defined space, and usually have multiple windows, all of which let in a lot of light. This not only washes out the image on a projection screen, killing your black level, but can also create glare on a direct-view screen.
Solution 1: Two Screens
The solution I opted for in my own media room is to have two screens—a direct-view flat-panel LED as the primary set for daytime and TV viewing and a large multi-aspect projection screen that rolls down in front of the TV for nighttime and movie watching. The benefit is that I can use the same speakers and electronics to power both displays, and I don’t have to worry about my daughter racking up lamp hours on my projector when she watches endless Disney Channel reruns.
It also makes switching from the 65-inch TV to the 115-inch screen an event—you know you’re about to have a special experience when the projection screen comes down. Much like the way Theo’s designs often feature a theater curtain that opens at the beginning of a movie, the lowering of the screen creates a bit of drama.
Solution 2: Automated Shading
A huge growing segment of the custom-install market is motorized shades. These can be integrated into a variety of automation systems like Crestron, Control4, RTI, and URC so they automatically raise or lower at certain times of the day—say at sunset for privacy—or when a button is pressed, such as “Watch Movie.”
With shades available in a wide variety of styles, colors, and light transmissivity, it’s easy to go within seconds from enjoying the views and natural light from your windows to having an almost pitch-black space for movie watching. Several companies, such as Lutron and Draper, even make battery-powered shades that greatly simplify installation.
Solution 3: Light-Rejecting Screens
For years, projection screens were only available in white. And while a low-gain white screen is often the right choice for a dedicated room, it doesn’t always work so well in a media room. As manufacturers realized they were losing sales because their screens couldn’t handle ambient light, they started working on new materials that work well in rooms that can’t get pitch black.
Today, virtually every screen manufacturer has a screen material designed to produce a terrific image in practically any lighting condition. Two great options are Screen Innovations’ Black Diamond and Stewart Filmscreen’s Phantom HALR. These screens are actually black but provide amazing contrast, and ambient-light rejection up to 90%!
Another terrific nod towards the multi-purpose room appeared this year with Stewart’s Gemini, which the company describes as being “designed for the home cinema enthusiasts who want the best of both worlds in the viewing experience, day or night.” Gemini’s single housing holds two screens—one designed for day viewing and one designed for night viewing. The screens can even have different aspect ratios, such as 16:9 for TV and sports viewing during the day, and 2.35:1 for movie watching at night. This allows the media-room viewer to have the optimum presentation at any time of day.
In Part 2 of my series, I’ll discuss how to overcome the next biggest media-room distraction—visible electronics.
Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing for such publications as Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at @SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com