ARTICLE Stephanie Matheson
Close the curtains, dim the lights and enjoy a quality movie on a large screen with full surround sound – all in the comfort of your own home. With high quality audio-visual systems more affordable than ever, media rooms are becoming increasingly popular. All it takes to build your own is a suitable room and a bit of careful planning and preparation.
Technology is at the heart of a media room. The quality of your video and sound system has the greatest impact on your home theatre experience, so it’s well worth the extra time and effort to research the system that best suits your requirements. While a swell video and sound system is a great start – and on a basic budget the key item to invest in – the makings of a real media room only just start there.
Once you’ve decided on all the technical bits and bobs you are going to install – including family extensions such as gaming consoles – it’s time to work on the room itself along with its hardware and furniture. The size and layout of your media room will affect the use of technology, for example how many speakers will be suitable and where they should be positioned.
Adding an extra room or repurposing a room into a media room is a fun project, but keeping a few key points in mind is important to ensure that your renovation will be a wrap first time around. We’re looking at three different options for media rooms and what you should consider for a basic, mid-level and high-end set-up.
Getting the basics right is what counts when you’re building a media room on a tight budget. This means getting a decent video and sound system and making some simple alterations to your room to maximise its acoustic qualities. You should earmark roughly between £4,500-£11,500* for a simple but sound set-up. The budget could be closer to the lower range if you are simply installing a screen and surround sound speakers without any building work to the room.
What is the minimum requirement for a media room?
When you’re on a tight budget, the starting point and focus should be your audio-visual system. Buy the best you can afford – a quality video and sound system will provide hours of entertainment and should last you a long time. Opt for a large screen full high definition TV. LED and plasma are the two most common options, and a TV specialist can advise which is the most appropriate choice for your media room. Aim for at least 60 or 65 inch, or larger if you can stretch your budget. An entry-level full high definition projector may also be an option. This will be the centrepiece of your room and you will want to prioritise your budget to get a TV or projector that really makes an impact.
For sound, you should certainly consider installing extra speakers to supplement your TV’s audio outlets. A ‘sound bar’ that sits underneath your TV will improve audio somewhat, as do wireless speakers. But for a more serious and professional arrangement, you should consider basic but still decent quality full range speakers.
How important is wiring in a media room?
The cables are some of the unsung heroes of your home theatre – working behind the scenes to deliver sharp images and good sound. And it’s not just the TV and sound system wiring you should consider, but all cables that will be needed to ultimately create the media room of your dreams, including those for extra power outlets, lights and heating systems.
A renovation is the ideal time to review your plan of what you need and want in terms of audiovisual cables, lighting outlets, power sockets and heating/AC vents. Think long-term to future-proof your media room, in other words plan your wiring so that you can add items and new technologies at a later date without having to change or alter the wiring. This might mean adding extra outlets and cables that remain unused for the time being. An experienced home technology provider will be able to make recommendations and help you build a structured wiring plan.
A wiring plan will help you get the most out of your TV and sound system, and it can also help keep all the messy cables tidy and out of sight (behind the Gib board).
What should I spend my money on?
Once you have your ‘basic kit’ with a quality TV and sound system in place, it’s time to think about your ‘must haves’ and those ‘nice to haves’ that could wait and potentially be added at a later time (or not). Working on a tight budget is all about priorities. What is important to you? What makes a cinema experience unforgettable for you? And what works for the whole household?
Some things to keep in mind when planning and furnishing your media room include setting the room up properly in terms of its audio-visual performance. This means choosing materials that are sound absorbent such as carpet for flooring (instead of hardwood flooring or tiles that bounce back the sound) and adding plenty of pillows and throws as well as other soft furnishings. To keep the cables out of sight, you will need the wiring planned and completed before the walls are Gibbed and plastered. A functional entertainment unit will also enhance the look of your media room and keep your technical equipment at bay.
Which are the best blinds for a media room?
Curtains and blinds come in many different variations and finishes. If your budget is extremely tight and full darkness isn’t a high priority, this is one of the features of your media room that you can save money on. Install simple curtains or blinds, or try installing two or three layers of blinds to achieve near darkness.
A thermal layer that can be added to fabric will help keep the room cooler in summer and warmer in winter when the blinds are closed. However, it will not improve the level of darkness significantly. To get the blackest of black rooms (and even here some light can leak in around the edges and through the stitching) a full blackout backing is required. It is more expensive than simple fabric blinds or thermal backed blinds, but it is worth the extra money if darkness is something that’s important to you. You could even have your curtains automated and controllable via a remote.
Common in Europe, manual or motorised shutters can be fitted to the exterior of the house to achieve complete darkness. It also functions as a highly effective heat barrier. These blinds are at the high end of the spectrum, however, and do not fit every type of window or joinery.
What about climate control in a media room?
In terms of heating and air condition systems, you have all the standard options and it makes sense to connect your media room to your home’s central heating system if you have one. Individual electric oil heaters will do if you are only using the room sporadically, but for a more serious set-up, an electric heat pump might be the best option. Whether wall or floor mounted, they are easy to install, can keep the room cool in summer and warm in winter, and don't cost a fortune to run.
Keep your seating plan in mind though, when you decide on a space to install the unit to ensure that every seat in your media room remains a comfortable space without any draughts. Another consideration is noise. Choose the quietest possible unit so you’re not disturbed by the unit’s noises while watching a movie.
How much will it cost to create a basic media room?
Having a hidden gem cinema in your own backyard doesn't have to be a phantasy any longer – turn it into reality with high-end video and sound systems available at affordable prices. With a bit of planning and a mid-level budget of between $20,000 and $50,000, you can build your very own media room that will give you and your family the joys of a full cinematic experience. Plus when the audio-visual system is switched off, your cinema could double as a family room or library.
What is a good mid-level audio-visual system?
Up from a basic system, an extra-large full high definition TV of at least 75 to 85 inches will be a good centrepiece for your media room. A basic, but good quality projector and screen would also work well, depending on your preferences and the requirements of your family.
For your audio needs, plan on installing five in-ceiling or in-wall speakers. This is sometimes referred to as a 5.1 system with five speakers and a sub-woofer. You could even consider a seven-speaker (7.1) system, if your budget stretches that far. You will need a self-powered subwoofer and an integrated surround sound amplifier, plus a receiver that will allow you to switch between different audio input sources. In case you have any cash to spare, add a universal remote control and programming.
Apart from disc and Blu-ray players and gaming consoles many homeowners are making use of smart devices such as Apple TV and web-based providers including Netflix movies and Pandora radio. It pays to spend some time to research what’s on offer to find the best technology fit for you and your family. In any case, you will need a good Internet connection, preferably ultra-fast broadband. Wireless networks are convenient, however, a wired connection will deliver more consistent, faster speeds.
When budgeting for your technical equipment, don’t forget to include installation costs including cables and labour. They can add up to several thousand pounds, and are worth every penny to ensure your system works properly.
How big should a media room be?
While a large room with tiered seating may sound extremely appealing, the cosiness of a smaller room for intimate family sessions shouldn’t be overlooked. The best size of your media room depends on your house and flooring plan, and your use of the space. How much room do you have to spare for a media room? Is this space going to be for movies only, or will this space have other uses as well such as a family or playroom?
Work with your space and make the most of it. A good architect and building team can help you optimise every nook and cranny of your home, including your media room. The shape of your media room is something to be mindful of, in terms of the room’s acoustic performance. If your media room doubles, say, as a family room, consider the space that would be required for that. For example, if your children like to play Playstation or Nintendo Wii with their friends, consider how much room they need and where and how the equipment and its accessories can be stored.
How can I improve the acoustics of my media room?
The acoustic qualities of your media room will make a world of difference to the performance of your sound system – and so to the overall cinematic experience that you can tickle out of your four walls. Having a fancy audio-visual set-up in an ‘echoey’ environment is not ideal and will not deliver a great result. The materials you choose for your media room greatly influence how well your system can perform. Choose materials that absorb sound, not reflect it.
Insulation comes in handy when you plan your media room, as it will not only help control the temperature in your media room it will also help to contain the sound (and it’s a relatively cheap way of doing that). Ensure insulation is installed wherever possible, and consider professional options of sound-proofing your home theatre.
Acoustic wallboards or tiles will make a huge difference to the sound quality, and they normally don’t break the bank. In true cinema style you could then cover the walls with a thin carpet like the one you would find in many movie theatres. Consider also covering your ceiling with acoustic tiles, or even installing a drop ceiling system using fibreglass tiles. For flooring, a soft plush carpet is the ideal choice.
What’s the best entertainment unit for a media room?
In the world of entertainment units anything goes from a simple under-TV unit through to a wall-encompassing modular set-up. Opt for a standard, flat-packed unit to keep the costs down, or get a fully custom-designed piece of furniture especially designed and made for your home theatre.
Most entertainment units are produced using coated particle or MDF boards. Usually, media room colour schemes are quite dark so that the walls and furniture don’t reflect back much light. That’s why a dark colour entertainment unit usually fits the bill best, and it might also be worth staying away from a glossy finish. Other common materials for entertainment units include plywood or timber.
Adding special features such as backlighting is also a relatively easy option. With LED lighting strips widely available it is now easy to install backlighting behind your TV or the entirety of the entertainment unit. Options include white or coloured light. Other extras include automated drawers and projector screens. Depending on your budget you could consider using your white wall as the ‘screen’ but a professional retractable projector screen will produce superior video quality. While not in use, it can be neatly hidden in a ‘screen box’ or part of the entertainment unit. A gas fireplace might also be a nice feature that could be added underneath a large format TV or at one side of a more formal cinema-style media room with tiered seating.
High end: £30,000+
A home theatre of the ‘third’ kind with high-end speakers and quality projectors is every cinematography fan’s dream. Add cinema-style tiered seating, an automated lighting system and motorised blinds and you can rival the best boutique cinemas around the globe. Expect to pay anywhere from around $50,000 for the ‘director’s cut’ of media rooms or home movie theatres.
What's the best audio-visual system money can buy?
For the key piece of equipment in your media room, the video system, you have a choice of either installing a large television or projector and screen. A high end, large-scale projector and screen are a given in many media rooms, especially where people prefer the soft glow of a projector over a TV. However, large flat-screen televisions are also popular and offer extra capabilities including an easy connection to the Internet and gaming capabilities. Another key item to select is a high-quality disc player with BluRay capabilities.
When it comes to sound effects, there’s more or less no limit as to what you can do (and what you can spend). As a rough guideline, you will want to install separate pre/power surround sound amplification, a combination of at least five high-end floor-standing and stand-mounted speakers, in-ceiling effect speakers plus one or more high-quality subwoofers.
With some more money to spend, you can get the whole media system linked and controlled via a tablet. And, of course, for the ultimate in home automation, a fully fletched home automation system would allow you to control everything, from dimming the lights and closing the curtains through to setting the room temperature and checking security cameras.
What’s the best layout for a media room?
Cinema style seating with rows on different tiers is the ultimate design for a media room. With a few seats or sofas on three or four rows you should be able to provide a cinema-like experience for extended family and large groups of friends. Even in a small room though, that is only intended for family use, a raised platform creates a more theatre-like atmosphere and will lend your media room an extra cosiness factor. Rather than straight rows, you could consider an open U-shape or V-shape for your seating arrangement.
In terms of integrating a media room or home movie theatre into the floor plan of your home, it’s generally recommended to keep the home theatre away from other family living spaces. While soundproofing will help minimise the noise levels, it’s still a common choice to move a media room away from bedrooms. A basement location is ideal as noise matters less in this case and sunlight is not desired in the room anyway.
It’s handy to have a small bathroom or guest toilet nearby, and as a nice extra consider including a bar within the room, so water and cold drinks are within easy reach. Plumbing and electrical points will have to be planned accordingly.
How do I choose the best seats for my media room?
It’s all about comfort, so it’s worth spending some extra time and money to ensure you get the right seats. Certainly, gold class type recliners especially designed for home theatres are hugely popular for good reason. Reclined in comfort with your feet up, it’s a pleasure to sit through all three Lord Of The Rings movies back to back – add The Hobbit and you really want to make sure that your seats are up to the challenge.
Individual seats arranged in tiered rows are the classic arrangement, but for a smaller, cosier setup you could arrange them in a half-circle and consider adding a sofa or two into the mix as well. Custom-made seating is the way forward in many cases where you can customise your space completely. For example, you could consider creating one large U-shaped sofa with integrated reclining mechanisms and/or added ottomans. Armrests and side tables for drinks and snacks could also be included.
How can we automate our lighting system?
Getting ready for the movie and wanting to dim the lights – the last thing anyone wants to do now is get up out of their comfortable seats to switch off the light. As an entry-level solution, you can get dimmable lights that come with a remote control. This means that somebody still has to manually close the blinds or curtains (if your media room has windows). So, to automate the whole experience and avoid an overload of different remote controls, the best and most satisfying solution is a home automation package that could be controlled via a tablet or other device. These systems can be programmed to your liking and personalised, and can include automated lighting systems, motorised blinds and curtains, video and sound system controls and more.
In terms of the kind of lights you need in a media room, wall or floor lights with low voltage bulbs are fine and adequate. In most scenarios the lights are used just to get set up and ready for a movie and for ambience. Consider forgoing recessed lighting altogether and investing in high-end wall and floor lights. Dimmable lighting is ideal as you can keep a bit of low light on during the movie and you can also let the light slowly dim on and off without it being too harsh a change from on to off and vice versa.
How about a little extra – the bar?
A well-stocked bar complete with wine and beer fridge truly complements a home theatre and is a must-have for anyone wanting to recreate the cinema experience. Whether it’s a cold drink, an espresso or a quick snack, you can stock your theatre bar with all your favourite essentials. As a fun factor, especially with kids, you could even consider installing a popcorn maker. The bar would usually be located out of the way at the back or to one side of the media room. A minimalist style with sufficient cupboards that hide any messy wraps or other items works well.
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For a cost estimate accurate to your specific requirements, please get in touch. Refresh will help you design and build a media room that works for your family and budget.
*Costs are rough estimates and are subject to change. For a fixed-quote accurate to your specific project, please consult your local Refresh Renovations specialist. All Refresh Renovations franchises are independently owned and operated.