Getting intimate with your media room

torso_projection.jpg Personal Galaxy Image © Flickr user Laura D'Alessandro under CC BY 2.0

Your Home Cinema Needs You

Technology is not a passive something we use and discard. It has a life of its own, it grows and changes. It needs you. It wants you inside it.

Films are designed to evoke experiences, to elicit emotional and intellectual responses. Immersion within the world of the artist can be extraordinary, life changing.

Film and video, and the technology of recording and replaying, has an evolving culture.

Film concepts and histories are growing, referring to themselves, constantly changing, evolving with the technology. Our technology progressively enables new methods of making films and new ways of sharing and replaying experiences. From silent films recorded in black and white then replayed in a cinema with a pianist to 360 degree Virtual reality films which anyone with a smart phone can watch with the help of Google cardboard, a VR viewer you make yourself. These new methods of making and watching films have in turn have affected the nature of films which have been made.

The technology of film, culture and machinery is awakening, and it needs you to care - to want more, to want different experiences.

Hidden home theatre

Let's look at 3 types of modern home cinemas.

Casual media areas

A casual media area is typically a kitchen or living area with a display and perhaps a discrete surround sound system. It's used frequently. People drop in while doing other things, so ease of viewing and a clarity of media and sound should be the prime factors. Displays are commonly placed on walls or furniture. I think it's always better to involve an good interior designer or architect who can integrate the technology with the room's aesthetic. Technology is so familiar - our eyes skip over the metal and glass boxes cluttering the surfaces of our homes.

Bespoke cinema rooms

Here we have a dedicated room for cinema at home. It is tailored for isolation and immersion within a film. Let's briefly look at the main design and architectural requirements of the room.

  1. Room Structure

    The room should be sound proofed. Because sound travels through air and any opening, the ideal soundproofing is an airtight room with silent air conditioning.

    The seating should be at least 4 metres from the screen while the minimum width depends on the screen width. A wider screen required larger distance from screen to projector (the throw distance), although it is possible to shorten this distance with some optical tricks.

    A 5x4 metre room would probably be the minimum size for a dedicated cinema room.

  2. Projector

    Data rates, and the resolution of films have been steadily rising. A projector should have the highest resolution available - that's 4K at the moment. A cinema room may be darkened so the critical factor is not usually the brightness (lumins) of the projector but its resolution, depth of blacks and subtlety of colours.

    It can be mounted on the ceiling, the floor, or back projected from outside the room.

  3. Screen

    Projector screen technology, increase the clarity and brightness of an image by causing the light to be thrown towards the viewers. To get the most from your projector its essential to have a good screen.

  4. Acoustics

    The audio of a film carries much of the emotional subtleties of a film. A room's capacity for audio reproduction may be distorted and muffled by echoes from hard surfaces. Fabrics, paintings or acoustic paneling can used to correct the acoustic properties of a room.

  5. Speakers

    In cinema it's important for the audio to surround the viewer and create a three dimensional soundscape. Systems such as Dolby Atmos uses up to 128 speakers positioned at different heights or orientations, more familiar systems use 5 or 7 speakers surrounding the viewers with a subwooffer. They can be in-wall speakers or free standing.

    Subwooffers, placed at low level or under floors, produce low level frequencies and vibrations. They affect you physically, increasing your immersion within the film's dynamics.

  6. Seating

    This should be comfortable and may have built in rumblers. Rumblers cause the seat to vibrate with the film and increase tactile immersion.

    If multiple rows of seats are used then the floor can be tiered and the seats staggered for the best viewing experience.

  7. AV equipment

    It's important that all of the component in the video and audio path be of as good or better quality than the end devices. That's the projector and Amplifier/speakers. Otherwise you will not receive the full value and impact your system is capable of.

    Only the equipment you need to touch should be in the room eg blu-ray or CD. The rest should be elsewhere and controlled remotely. The fans of AV equipment can be distracting and noisy.

  8. Lights

    The light should have scenes such that the room can be made dark, and the seating area dimly lit as required.

Hidden media rooms

Architects work in two ways. One is to respond precisely to a client's needs or demands. Another is to look at what the client asks and reinterpret it.

Rem Koolhaas

An advanced building can manifest technology as needed. The screens, displays and speakers can be concealed until we request the room to change function. This retains the integrity of the architecture and room design without limiting peoples access to advanced features. I think it moves us in a direction of a dynamic architecture where we may decide what we need from our environment at any given moment.

For example:

A Home Cinema in London, Kensington; In the living room some stairs lead up to the floor above via a door. It's a modern room with clean lines, a comfy sofa and great art on the walls. It's mainly used to relax in and as an overflow from the adjacent small kitchen.

When the cinema button is pressed the lights dim a little, the steps of the stairs slide flush into the wall, the door above them locks and a projector and screen unfurl from the ceiling. The room is now an excellent cinema.

There are many technologies for hiding and revealing displays. The screen may be hidden within the ceiling, floor, walls, pieces of furniture, behind panels or within mirrors. Motorised mechanisms are also available to physically re-position speakers, panels and walls.

The ability to transform one type of space into an interactive media room or home cinema is available and well tested.

Dematerialization

Our technology does not only want you to passively experience media it wants you to take part, to actively interact beyond the bounds of the physical space you inhabit or the objects you hold. Multiplayer games, Facetime, social media, email and the myriad of apps and programs available allow you to engage with remote people and systems. Your physical presence is becoming one of many options.

Similarly these interactions are no longer fixed to the physical device where they start. They are moving into the cloud or may be shared with other devices or the media systems of your home. An app or service's link to a single piece of technology is becoming more fluid.

Conclusion

We have a complex and intimate relationship with media in our homes and buildings. Although it may seem static the relationship is dynamic and reciprocal. Our buildings and how technology is made available within them needs to share this dynamism if we are to mold technology to our needs.

Everyone is equal before the machine.. ..Everybody can be the machine’s master, or its slave.

"Reality of our century is technology” László Moholy-Nagy, 1922

back