Light Matters: Tips for Maximizing Your Home Theater
Making your media room picture perfect
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This media room features two challenges: a wide seating arrangement and high ambient light.
September 27, 2012 by Grant Clauser

Wall Color

Commercial theaters are painted dark colors for good reason—because you want to focus on the screen and not the walls. But no matter how dedicated a movie viewer you are, you probably don’t want your home to look like a commercial cave. “You’re always dealing with compromise” says Haas, when creating a home theater or media room space. One of those compromises may be on room color.

First let’s talk about sheen. Semi-gloss paint can be easier to clean, but it’s also reflective—it will reflect the projector’s light, making the room brighter, and can even reflect back on the screen itself. Haas says matte or flat sheens are best, especially in dark, earthy tones, but eggshell is acceptable too. Any sheen more than eggshell will be too reflective, even on the trim paint.

Blanchard notes that anything of color in the room has the potential to be picked up by the screen. Painting the front wall, where the screen goes, a flat, light-absorbing dark gray will help reduce any light that’s bouncing around the room from bouncing back at the viewer. “It helps define the picture.” He says.

For wall color, Blanchard says that dark, non-primary tones are best, but he also knows that most people don’t want to paint their favorite rooms dark brown just to make the picture look it’s best. “It’s about compromises,” he says, and also suggested that once the room is all set up, a proper projector calibration can compensate for many of the problems wall color may introduce.

What about the ceiling color? You usually don’t want to use ceiling paint—the common white paint found at all home improvement stores. Ideally, says Haas, a flat black or gray ceiling would be best. Many theaters use dark acoustic panels (wrapped in fabric) on the ceiling to both deal with first sound reflections from the front speakers and also absorb excess light. Vacker notes that the Black Diamond screens, because they reject light from both the horizontal and vertical planes, are able to reject light from a white ceiling. “It removes the room color from the equation,” says Vackar.

Blanchard suggests that a high-contrast screen can sometimes make up for walls that are brighter than ideal. In dedicated theaters (often in basements), people are more willing to go with traditionally darker tones and fabric, but in media or living rooms, ceilings are often higher, so the ceiling color isn’t always an issue. Painting the ceiling the same color as the walls or a light-absorbing gray will work too.

Light rejecting screens can also make up for some of the reflections coming off colored walls because they treat light reflected off walls the same way they treat ambient light. Plus, their narrow viewing cone keeps less light from hitting the walls.

If you really want to add some bright colors to the room without impacting the picture, Blanchard suggests using accessories such as wall accents, throw pillows or a rug with an attractive pattern. The important thing is to make it a room your family will want to be in.

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Grant Clauser - Technology and Web Editor, Electronic House
Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. His latest book is Necessary Myths. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.

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