What Is The Right Screen Size for My Home Theater?
We have been designing and installing home theaters and media rooms in and around the Philadelphia and tri-state area since 1979. The awe-inspiring, fully immersive, disbelief-suspending home theater experience we're known for doesn’t come in a box – it comes with insight about you, your family and your home environment. Your favorite movies, your listening preferences, how old your kids are, how big your room is, where the windows are, where the sun sets, where the dog sits, and so on. There are so many things to consider, but we're here to make it easy with a few basics to consider.
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In the meantime, know this: no one has ever gone bigger and returned their TV or screen for a smaller size. Have they bought smaller and returned for a bigger size? YES. So, we always recommend you get the biggest possible screen size that you can for your space. Having the screen fill up as much of your field of vision as possible will give you the fully immersive experience you get when you go to a movie theater. Now, keep in mind, some people prefer to sit in the front row and some people prefer to sit close to the back of the theater. Individual preference plays a part in screen size as well. When clients visit our theaters in our showrooms, while we do position seating in what we think is the optimal location, clients may choose to sit in different rows and we use this as a gauge when planning their theater in their home.
When planning your own home theater setup, we recommend you consider this: your room dimensions and shape, the type of screen and setup you are considering, what the experts say, and your own personal preference.
Consider Your Room Dimensions
The height of your ceiling, the height and width of your screen wall, the depth of your room, and the number of seats you want greatly affect what size screen you go with.
If you're going with a projector, I like to determine where the projector might go first, and then make sure it’s not going to be in an area where someone might bump their head (the last thing you want to do in a dark room).
It’s a double edged sword figuring out where the projector will go because to calculate a throw distance you need to know the width of the screen that you will be using to determine the minimum and maximum depths that it can go.
On those occasions, I'll go with a maximum size that would fit in the space and the smallest I would go and determine distances from there.
For example, I tend to choose a 100” projector screen as my starter for theaters. So the image size for a 16x9 screen that has a 100” Diagonal will have 49” Height and 87” Width.
To determine my throw distance for a projector I would need to multiply the screen width by my Throw ratio of my projector, which will be in their spec sheet. Let’s say you have the new Sony VPLXW5000ES 4K HDR Laser Home Theater Projector. The Sony has a throw ratio of 1.38:1 to 2.21:1. This means, in our example, you have between 120” (1.38 x 87) to 192” (2.21 x 87) from the screen wall to the projector location.
When we’re discussing how to layout a room or the size of your screen, I'll generally start with how many rows of seats you’re going to have in your space, and then try to determine things around that. So knowing where you’re sitting will help decide where the projector might be, which will also help determine how big the screen will be.
For example, if you have two rows of seating, I would design for the projector to be behind the second row. The last thing you want to do is lay back and look up and see a projector above your head. The only thing you should see is the movie. In fact, ideally, the projector should be behind the last row of seating. Keep in mind, the larger the room you have, the more powerful a projector you will want to reach a certain level of performance to accommodate a longer throw distance and bigger screen.
Is There an Ideal Shape or Layout for A Home Theater?
The short answer: Yes. Rectangles are better than squares. And, the less parallel walls there are, the better.
The long answer requires some rudimentary math skills with ratios created by audio engineers and such. But don't be turned off, there are a few ways to achieve a great room for listening and watching without too much complexity.
The "Golden Trapagon" is the ideal shape of a home theater. Think about how a commercial movie theater is set up. Envision a room with a smaller and skinnier front wall and a taller and wider rear wall. The room progresses to a larger rectangle from the front wall to the back of the room by Golden Ratio in area. The Golden Trapagon eliminates parallel walls which eliminates the standing waves and surface echoes caused by parallel walls. To achieve a room of this shape usually requires architectural freedom and flexibility, which is why you don't see this shape in many homes. The Golden Ratio here is 1:1.618 and it takes more math than what most people want to do to determine their ideal theater room.
A far easier room to achieve is the “The Golden Cuboid”, which leaves the wall height the same throughout the room - far more common - but gives you a good distance calculation for width and length.
For example, if you have a 10 foot ceiling and are trying to achieve “The Golden Cuboid” you’d end up with a 16 feet wide and 26 feet deep room.
Two additional ratios you may hear about when calculating the size and shape of a home theater are Volkman’s ratio 2:3:5 for height:width:length and Sepmeyer’s ratio 1:1.28:1.54 for height:width:length.
For example, if you have a 10 foot ceiling and apply Volkman’s ratio we’d have a room that is 10 feet high, 15 feet wide, and 25 feet long. The same height room with Sepmeyer’s ratio would be 10 feet high, 12.8 feet wide, and 15.4 feet long. Volkman’s ratio will take up more room, so you have options when considering which ratio you're using.
Ultimately, if you don’t want to worry about sweating the details yourself, there's always time to call in a professional home theater designer and installer.
What Type of Display and Screen is Best For a Home Theater?
Home theaters can range in size, scale, budget, style, you name it. It comes down to your space, your budget, and your preferences. All of that will also help determine what type of screen and display is best for your home theater and you have a few different options: projector, flat panel TV, laser TV, or ultra-short throw projector.
A flat panel TV, like an LED/LCD/OLED TV has a fixed-sized image and can be a great solution for smaller rooms and also rooms with ambient light.
On the other hand, a home theater centered around a good 4K HD projector allows for a larger screen (100-inch plus) and, like a trip to the movies, an overall more immersive experience. Plus, you can hide away a projector screen when not in use - something that you can't do with a laser TV. A projector also provides flexibility around the projected image size, audio system plus expansion and upgrades, additional channels, connectivity, screen choices, etc. But, you'll need to make sure you have a large enough space (unless you're looking at an ultra short-throw projector option), a dark enough room (hello shades), and, for the big suckers, we recommend professional installation. Without proper installation, you could be seriously missing out on proper calibration, throw distance, and amongst other things, simply not getting the most out of what you paid for.
Other Considerations When Finding a Screen
If you're set on a projector and projector screen combo, there are a number of screen materials to choose from when determining what you’ll need for your room, where your speakers will be, and what will work well with your projector.
I say that because you need to look at many different aspects of what your area will be like to match the correct screen material for your application:
Are you able to control the light in the room?
Are you putting speakers behind the screen?
Are you putting your projector on the ceiling, on the floor, or behind the screen?
Did you know you had to worry about all of this, when you could just point the projector at a white wall? (The answer is yes, yes you do and here’s a white paper about why).
Don’t worry, you’re in luck: A good partner of World Wide Stereo, Stewart Filmscreen, has two pages that you should look at to help you find what will be best for you.
This is the EASIEST way to pick out a screen for your home theater. Answer a handful of questions about your space, your screen type, mounting method, then projection type, ratio, screen size, and any special considerations (acoustic transparency, 3D, etc) and they’ll tell you which one of their models is the best for your application, and the screen materials that they would suggest.
There are a ton of options for screen materials, because that is where how you are preparing your room, the type of projector you have and the throw distance all come into play.
Screens aren’t one size fits all for every application. You want to pick the screen that will work with your application.
Again, Stewart has a great reference page for you to review that lets you know about the importance of materials, finding the right gain, how throw distance is taken into consideration, and how the light in your room is taken into consideration.
Are larger screens always better?
Yes and No. Everything is relative when it comes to screen size.
I love a large screen because I want that grandiose feeling of the cinema. I want that feeling of everything to be big and fantastical. And the older my eyes get, the more I want to be able to see.
There’s nothing I love more than seeing a screen that goes wall to wall and a bright, beautiful image. I want to sit in a room that transports me from my day to day and lets me escape to a world of wonder.
In my experience very few people regret going larger.
Conversely, the larger the screen you have the more you will be able to see inconsistencies in images, especially if what you’re watching isn’t of the highest quality or resolution.
When you blow up an image, you’ll start to be able to pick apart quality very quickly.
Imagine playing a classic NES game that had a resolution of 256x224 pixels being displayed on your brand new Ultra HD projector that is 3,840x2,160 pixels. Admittedly, that’s an extreme example, but hopefully one you can visualize.
But it also starts to pick apart lower encoded video from streaming sources. Your AppleTV may be able to make a 4K resolution, but that doesn’t mean the service you’re watching made sure they used a high bit rate video encoder.
The bigger you go, the better your other equipment must be, because there will be no place to hide.
What is the best viewing distance from the screen?
There will be a lot of articles you can find that will tell you scientifically where you will most want to sit in a room based on the angles, room depth, and distance from the screen.
One popular equation is take your room depth and divide it by 2 and that’s the size of the diagonal length of your screen. For example, a 20 foot deep room should have a 10 foot diagonal screen (or what people would call a 120” 16x9 screen).
THX has a calculation that says to measure the distance from your screen to your seating position in inches and then multiply that number by .835 to determine your screen size. So if you’re 120” away you’ll need a screen size of 100” (although they do note that in 4K setups you can be closer or go bigger).
Another rule of thumb is the Rule of 10, which is for every 1 foot away to have 10 inches of screen. Which means if you’re 10 feet away you would want a 100 inch screen.
There are a lot of different ways to determine what is the best, and the examples that I gave so far say 10 feet away, you can have a 120” screen, or a 100” screen depending who’s math you’re using.
Personally, I ask people, “when you can pick the perfect seat in an empty theater, where is it?”
That is usually the best way I can figure out for the user what is best for them. This is a HOME theater, not a public space. Build it to what is best for you.
In most theaters, I will sit about 3 rows back and in the center. To me, that is enough for me to see the majority of the screen in my periphery without having to turn my head and I don't feel like I'm being overstimulated by being too close to the image.
And the good old fashion blue tape method is another fun way of figuring it out especially for a room that is already built out. For the blue tape method: get the dimensions of the screen you’re thinking about and use blue painters tape to mark up the wall. Grab a chair and see how it feels.
These considerations are important when it comes to creating your own home theater, but each one may mean something different to you. You owe it to yourself to pay close attention to your room dimensions and shape, the type of screen and setup you are considering, what the experts say, and your own personal preferences. Once you’ve evaluated those characteristics, you’ll be in an excellent position to weigh any tradeoffs and pick the perfect fit for your home. Watch the movies and shows you love and choose what makes you happy.
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