What Do You Recommend for Our First Media Room? Ask the Editors

media room

Q: We would like to set up our first media room, but we are completely clueless about what we should get. Our media room is 15′ 10″ long and 12′ 10″ wide. The wall on which we would have the screen is 9′ high and 12′ 10″ wide. We already have the room pre-wired for 7.1 audio using in-wall speakers. There are two arched windows 23″ wide by 70″ tall. The room is currently painted in Sherwin Williams Agreeable Gray (SW 7029). Our budget for the media-room project is $10,000.

I have several questions, which are listed below.

– Revathy Mahendrakumar (hi_reva)

A: I’ll answer your questions one by one:

1) What screen size do you recommend? We mostly watch movies, not TV, and we want the largest screen we can fit on the wall.

Since you mostly watch movies rather than TV, I’d get a screen with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 or 2.40:1. And since you have the room pre-wired for in-wall speakers (which, I assume, includes the front left, center, and right speakers), I recommend an acoustically transparent (AT) screen that’s 10′ wide or so. (Why not 12′ wide? See my answer to question 2 below.) Make sure to get an AT screen that’s suitable for 4K, even if you don’t get a 4K projector at first. I recommend getting a woven AT screen rather than perforated, because woven screens are more tolerant of speakers placed close behind them without lots of sonic spectral shifts.

Several companies make such screens, such as the Seymour-Screen Excellence Enlightor-4K (which I use in my home theater), Screen Innovations Maestro, and Elite Screens AcousticPro UHD. These are white screens, which are appropriate if you repaint your room to a much darker color than it is now; see question 6 below. If you leave the room in its current color, you’ll need a gray or ambient light-rejecting screen, which I don’t recommend if you can avoid it—and you can avoid it by repainting the room.

2) What projectors do you recommend?

With a total budget of $10,000, I’d limit the projector budget to $3000-$5000. My best recommendation is the JVC DLA-X570R ($4000), though the Epson Home Cinema 5040UB ($2700) is also well worth considering. These models use “pixel wiggling” to approximate 4K/UHD resolution, and they are all capable of reproducing HDR using the HDR10 format.

Then there’s the issue of throw distance—i.e., the distance from the front of the projector to the screen. The JVC DLA-X570R’s zoom lens has a range from 1.4 to 2.1 times the screen width, which means it can’t completely fill a 12-foot-wide 2.35:1 screen at a throw distance of 15′. The maximum 2.35:1 screen width at that throw distance is 128″ or 10.67′. As far as I can tell, the Epson’s throw range is similar. This is why I recommend a 10-foot-wide 2.35:1 or 2.40:1 screen in your case. Hopefully, the positions of the front left and right in-wall speakers are closer together than that so they are entirely behind the screen material and not behind the screen frame.

3) How should we treat the two arched windows for the best acoustics? We are currently considering plantation shutters since it faces the street.

The best acoustic result would be to cover the windows completely with acoustic treatments. This also has the advantage of removing a source of ambient-light pollution. But if you want to continue to have access to the windows, I would consider having custom, removable acoustic panels made that fit in the window frames. This would address the acoustics and ambient-light issues, and you could remove them when you want to look out the windows. Otherwise, plantation shutters—or, even better, black-out shades—might be okay, depending on where the windows are in relation to the screen and seats.

4) What seating distance do you recommend?

Your seating distance depends somewhat on your preference. Where do you like to sit in a commercial cinema? Very close to the screen? At the back of the theater? Somewhere in the middle? In addition, there are various formulas to calculate the optimum seating distance. Although some readers will disagree with this, many experts use the formula that puts the seats at 1.5 to 3 times the screen height, depending on the resolution of the image (1.5x for UHD, 3x for HD). For a 10-foot-wide, 2.40:1 screen, the screen height is 4.2′, so by this formula, the seating distance would be 6.3 to 12 feet. I would make the seating distance around 10 feet.

5) What audio system would be best for our 7.1 pre-wired room?

Since your room is pre-wired for in-wall speakers, I’d get the best ones you can afford. Many speaker companies make good in-wall speakers, including Polk, Klipsch, Origin Acoustics, and Triad. You’ll also want at least one subwoofer, and most companies that make in-wall speakers also make in-wall subwoofers. Alternatively, you can get one or more stand-alone subs.

For the audio electronics, I recommend a good 7.2 AV receiver. The manufacturers I recommend include Denon, Marantz, Yamaha, Sony, Onkyo, and Pioneer. Be sure to get one that can pass 4K/UHD and HDR signals, including HDR10 and Dolby Vision. For a list of Dolby Vision-compatible AVRs, click here. I suggest looking at the Denon AVR-S730H ($429), AVR-S930H ($579), AVR-X1400 ($499), and AVR-X2400H ($649); Marantz SR5012 ($999); and Pioneer Elite VSX-102 ($599) and VSX-LX302 ($799).

6) Should we repaint the room? If so, what colors would you recommend?

Yes, definitely! The current paint color of that room is very light, which will reduce the perceived contrast of the image on a white screen. I would repaint it with a dark, neutral gray. My home theater is painted Munsell Gray N5, which you can buy here. It’s very expensive at about $100/gallon, but it’s the very best room color for a home theater. Alternatively, you can buy a Munsell Neutral Value Scale (Matte Finish) 31-step chip chart for $130 here or a 10-step chip chart for $65 here and have any paint supplier match the darkest shade you and your family can tolerate. And don’t forget to paint the door and window trim/molding the same dark gray as the walls—perhaps in a gloss finish just for a bit of style.

In addition, the floor should be black or dark gray as well; I have black carpeting in my theater. Also, the seating should be dark, neutral gray.

7) Our media room has a white door that faces the screen. How do you recommend we handle it?

I would paint the white door the same Munsell Gray as the rest of the room, or perhaps darker—maybe even black. If there are other doors in the room, I’d paint them the same color as the one facing the screen.

8) What else would you recommend for our media room?

I would consider acoustically treating the entire room. This is far beyond the scope of this article, and there are many approaches to it. For an extensive thread about acoustic treatments for home theaters on AVS Forum, click here.

One possibility is a Dimension4 acoustic-treatment system from MSR Acoustics. The smallest pre-packaged system—the Dimension4 Sonata 150—costs $3400, but you could probably buy fewer individual treatment modules for less. The principal of MSR is Anthony Grimani, who really knows his stuff. I suggest you contact the company to see if they can help specify a good treatment plan for your room and budget.

I’m sure that other AVS Forum members will have additional suggestions, so be sure to check out the comments linked to this article.

If you’ve got an AV question, please send it to AskTheEditors@avsforum.com.