For many of us A/V enthusiasts the fun part of planning our home theatre comes in the early stages when our dreams and ideas are big, our budgets still unspecified and our plans are grand. However, at some point reality does set in and we start to realise that not everyone can have a mini version of the local multi-plex inside their four walls. This is when the planning gets serious. But there's no need to lose heart. There's a lot we can do with today's modern equipment and with a little imagination and a load of sound advice from friends and experts, there's nothing standing in our way to getting maybe not the biggest home theatre in the land, but the best we could possibly build.

Spacious home cinemas are really cool to look at, but the average homeowner won't have the luxury of a 1,000 square feet of empty space to plan for it. The actual size of a room is the major factor in deciding which type of equipment we need. Rushing out to buy an underpowered projector, for example, will make our image appear washed out and dim. Likewise, hanging a screen too large for our spacial dimensions and the beautiful sharp HD picture we were hoping for might well be a big disappointment.

Let's take some real-world dimensions of say, 10×15 feet (150 square feet). What are the questions we should be asking when we start to plan our very own high definition adventure? Here are five of those questions just to get us up and running:


1. Seating distance One of the first things we should be looking at is our seating distance. If we’re starting from scratch and have a limited room size to conjure with, we might want to begin with how big you want our screen should be. In our case, we're talking about a a small room of fixed size so starting with how far the seats should be away from the screen seems like a good idea. To find our seating distance, we should multiply our screen size by .84. For example, for a 10-foot seating distance (120 inches) we should aim for a 100-inch screen (120 x .84 = 100.8).

2. How many speakers? The number of speakers we plan to use will directly impact our wiring choices. As more and more Blu-ray titles opt for 7.1 soundtracks, any new build should at least wire for 7.1 channels, even if we only plan to start at 5.1. And if we're refitting existing rooms we should factor our budget and the ease of running new wires into our decision. Also we should be sure to check a speaker’s power handling (measured in RMS) to ensure we don’t purchase speakers too weak for our receiver. At the very least, we should look at 50 watts RMS.

3. Receiver Today’s surround sound receivers come with loads of options. But when we're trying to fill an entire room with sound, one of the most important specifications has to be power.. Most receivers measure their power in watts per channel, but this is often a floating measurement. Often it will be listed with only one channel driven, and only at 1kHz. That number is meaningless for most of us 'normal' home theatre uses, since we’ll always be using five or seven channels plus an LFE. Ask at the store or your supplier about the unit’s power supply, as this will help determine if the receiver can actually drive the amount of power we’d like.

4. Display type With new HD and 4KTVs in the 70, 80, 90 and 100-inch range, there’s finally a choice of display type when it comes to smaller theatres. One of the biggest factors when choosing a display type is ambient light. If our 150 sq. ft. theatre has lots of windows, an LCD TV might be a better choice to ensure a bright screen image. If the room is windowless, a projector might be the better alternative, especially from a budget standpoint. As projector prices continue to fall, we can easily get a 100-inch screen size for less than £1,500.

5. Projector If we go down the projector route, there many options to consider: DLP, LCD, LCOS, lumens, lens shift, 3D, 4K, anamorphic, and contrast ratio to name a few. Pay special attention to these items:

a. Lens Shift – For ease of installation, the best home theatre projectors include some form of lens shift. This will allow for greater flexibility in where we hang our projector. Those with vertical and horizontal shift offer the most control.

b. Auto-iris – Most projectors now have some form of auto iris, which dynamically adjusts the pictures brightness to enable deeper blacks and brighter lights. In a room with total light control, this is less important. If we’re building one of the increasingly popular, flex-rooms, a high-performing auto iris is essential. But be cautious, poorly made auto irises can result in a noisy projector.

c. ANSI lumens – This number details a projector’s brightness. The more lumens, the brighter the projector can be. Room lighting is a crucial factor in determining projector brightness. Remember, too bright and black levels could appear washed out. Most projectors hover around 2,000 lumens, but some dedicated home theatre units dip below 1,500 which might cause problems in an extremely bright room.

A job as big as a home theatre project requires much more planning than can be provided in a single article like this one. However, by starting with these five crucial areas we can get a good head start into the critical planning phase of our home theatre project. It can also provide us with much food for thought and even give us a few good ideas. And maybe even help us achieve the theatre of our dreams. We wish you luck with your home theatre project—no matter how big or small!