Step 3: Screen Size

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series How to Design a Dedicated Home Theater

Once you determine your seating locations, you begin the long, slow dance with screen-size and riser-height. Of course, if you’ll only have one row of seating you won’t need to worry about the riser (ie the platform elevating the second row). .

First things first: You must decide what sort of horizontal viewing angle you prefer, because the right “viewing angle” for your theater will be influenced largely by personal preference. Check out some local A/V shops to get an idea for the distance/size ratio that you prefer.

Also, the optimum viewing angle for you will be influenced by the quality and resolution of your source material and your projection technology. Describing all the calculations that can go into this would be nearly impossible, so I’ll just throw out a few of MY more important guidelines.

1) I personally wouldn’t go over 40+ degrees horizontal viewing angle. This angle works fantastically on high quality 1080p content (like Blu Ray) on a 1080p projector, but it’s way too close for my tastes on lesser quality content.

2) I want the back row to feel like a theater experience too, so I wouldn’t drop below 26 degrees horizontal viewing angle in the back row — 26 degrees is the absolute minimum viewing angle required by any commercial theater seeking THX certification. This is an excellent viewing angle for watching lower resolution standard DVDs with edge enhancement, macroblocking, and other picture defects.

3) Read and understand this document: 1080p Does Matter

4) Use this online calculator (or something similar) to calculate viewing angles in the multi-row environment (and remember, your goal is to get “close enough” in the back row without getting “too close” in the front row): Multi-Row Viewing Angle Calculator

5) Make sure you have enough space on the sides of your screen for proper speaker placement.

6) Use a riser height calculator to make sure you can get proper line of sight from the back row. Remember your ceiling height. Codes regarding “steps” and “ceiling height” are there for a reason, a fact you may soon discover if you ignore them.

7) To use the riser height calculator, you’ll need to know how far off the floor the bottom of your screen will be, which means you’ll need to decide. Here are some screen placement rules of thumb that I found very useful, although your mileage may vary:

a) Try to put the eyes of people in your primary row at 1/3 from the bottom of the screen.
b) Try not to exceed 20 degrees vertical viewing angle (physical discomfort sets in at 35 degrees, but this is hard to exceed in a typical home theater environment at normal seating distances).

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