Picking the right color scheme, for your dedicated home theater

May 17, 2005

paintIn the early days of home theater light output from video projectors was about as precious as a cold Mountain Dew in the Sahara, if you had it you wanted to conserve every precious drop. Today we have video projectors that can almost take out an eye if you errantly look down the lens, but that’s not to say that all modern video projectors are light cannons. To the contrary many of today’s entry level DLP and LCD projectors provide the minimum light output necessary, to faithfully render the directors vision for his/her movie.

Believe it or not, the room itself plays a critical role in front projection performance; I’ve repeatedly taken budget level projectors, and calibrated both projector and room, with the end result often out-performing a higher priced projector, in the same room with no environmental tweaks.

It’s all about the contrast; rather the difference between the dark and bright scenes. You see a bright white room will never allow a front projection unit to achieve its optimal contrast level. In a light intensive scene (one with bright whites present) some of the light will spill, or diffuse onto the adjacent walls, and then reflect back onto the projection screen, screens aren’t smart enough to know where the light comes form (yet). The effect of this would be much like shining a flashlight onto the screen while the movie was playing, in-accurate at best, annoying as heck at worst.

My example of pointing a flashlight at the screen might be a little extreme, more likely (depending on the wall color and finish) it would appear as washed out blacks with a sheen or slight matte effect on top of the video. Regardless the only thing we want on our projection screen is the light (or lack of) coming from the video projector. What can we do to ensure we achieve this?


If you’re familiar with the theories behind dedicated home theater construction, for front projection, you’re probably already cringing at what I’m about to say. Yes a pitch black room is still optimal (in many cases) for front projection, but with the light output we’re getting from modern video projectors, its time to re-examine the necessity of the “black-out” room in today’s dedicated home theater.

First off let me say I haven’t overseen a “black-room” project in nearly a decade, it’s just not practical, as very few home owners want such a dungeon in their home. In the past few years we’ve shifted to a more real-world approach in our designs and specifically to room colors that both the videophile and aesthetically minded can live with.

Color Selection:
Without oversimplifying the process, let me just say that neutral flat colors in the grey, black and brown family, are our go-to shades for dedicated home theaters. Let me give a few examples, a flat neutral medium to dark grey with black and burgundy trim, is appealing enough, and often fits the bill for the benign surroundings we’re after. However we still try to sway clients away from any color, which might reflect light in such a way, as to add its own inherent tint to the video screen, strong primaries and pastels come to mind. Also blue has been popular in a lot of theaters lately, and while a little dark blue trim probably won’t wreck the whole experience, we’d still rather stay away from a large amount of medium blue up near the projection screen.

As I mentioned before, the type of paint is really as important as the color itself, assuming we’re sticking with something as close to the grey/black family as possible; you’ll also need to ensure that you never use any type of gloss on the trim or satin on the walls. Using gloss paint in a theater would be a capitol offense if I were king, be glad I’m not king. But seriously, if you’ve ever wondered how that snazzy gloss peach paint would look in your theater, just take a large full length mirror into the room the next time you want to watch a movie, and place it somewhere slightly off axis with the projectors light path. The effect you’ll get with this wouldn’t be dissimilar to having just the trim in a room painted in gloss; I shudder to think about doors, paneling and trim.

There is however another option to “liven” up an otherwise drab grey room, colored lighting. As long as you keep a theaters purpose in mind, i.e. the watching of movies, you’ll realize that if the room is being used, you won’t have much concern for how it looks with the lights off. However we’ve had a lot of luck with colored lighting in theaters on grey walls, for those “down” times when the theaters occupied but a movie isn’t in progress. In particular we’ve used amber and red lamps and or shades to transform our “grey” room into something altogether different, with the right color/hue bulb, that same grey wall can appear to be much more interesting.

So if its home theater you’re after, try and keep the colors as dark as possible (within reason of course) and I can almost guarantee you a more pleasant, punchy image with that front projector. Stray off into the pinks, whites and powder blues and all I can guarantee is a general feeling of well being, all bets you’ll enjoy your theater, to its full extent however are off.



Posted by Bryan Greenway | | Filed Under Home Theater Construction


Comments

  • Pete

    Cool site. any site where we can see pictures?

  • Rick

    Hi ,just an update .ceiling painted in matt sharp blue (just about black) and walls in matt berma bluff (pale brown).Wow what a difference it makes more truer black more contrast and more vivid colors.It’s like having a new 1080p projector,I’ve decided to stick with the old 1080i Infocus for a while now…
    cheers for the advice.

  • Rick

    Hi ,just an update .ceiling painted in matt sharp blue (just about black) and walls in matt berma bluff (pale brown).Wow what a difference it makes more truer black more contrast and more vivid colors.It’s like having a new 1080p projector,I’ve decided to stick with the old 1080i Infocus for a while now…
    cheers for the advice.

  • Rick

    The room is repainted but not in my first color pic but my wifes choice.The ceiling is Sharp Blue in matt(Blacky blue like the night sky)and the walls are burma buff in matt(pale tan).Huge impovement watching during the day,not as washed out and superb veiwing at night .More vivid color and better contrast.

  • Rick

    The room is repainted but not in my first color pic but my wifes choice.The ceiling is Sharp Blue in matt(Blacky blue like the night sky)and the walls are burma buff in matt(pale tan).Huge impovement watching during the day,not as washed out and superb veiwing at night .More vivid color and better contrast.

  • Rick

    Hi thanks for the info’
    you confirmed my belief,My HT room of 4 years now has had a fixed 94″ screen and ceiling mounted Infocus projector and been doing an incredible job considering, how the room is painted total gloss off white.My wife has this week given me permision to change the colour scheme,I’m thinking of dark flat burnt orange on the walls flat dark dark rusty red or dark dark navy blue on ceiling.
    Cheers Rick

  • Rick

    Hi thanks for the info’
    you confirmed my belief,My HT room of 4 years now has had a fixed 94″ screen and ceiling mounted Infocus projector and been doing an incredible job considering, how the room is painted total gloss off white.My wife has this week given me permision to change the colour scheme,I’m thinking of dark flat burnt orange on the walls flat dark dark rusty red or dark dark navy blue on ceiling.
    Cheers Rick

  • Sharon

    I need help!
    I have a brand new home and have a dedicated home theatre room – i have selected charcoal carpet for the room but am unsure what colour to paint the walls and ceiling.
    I was thinking of a deep plum on the walls celing still not sure.
    Our projection unit is operated from a unit on the ground – it is not mounted off the ceiling. The doors however are a gloss off white

  • Sharon

    I need help!
    I have a brand new home and have a dedicated home theatre room – i have selected charcoal carpet for the room but am unsure what colour to paint the walls and ceiling.
    I was thinking of a deep plum on the walls celing still not sure.
    Our projection unit is operated from a unit on the ground – it is not mounted off the ceiling. The doors however are a gloss off white

  • Kerry Justiney

    I need help with colors,my room is square and the carpet is tan.I was thinking of painting the walls black and the ceiling dark gold,would that work.I need help with color combo’s

  • Kerry Justiney

    I need help with colors,my room is square and the carpet is tan.I was thinking of painting the walls black and the ceiling dark gold,would that work.I need help with color combo’s

  • Chuck P.

    I stumbled upon this article today and at a good time because I am trying to pick out colors for my room!

    Brown is one of my choices or green or possibly blue.

    Now I have seen plenty of theater rooms where the side walls are a lighter shade and the ceiling and screen walls are about the same darkness whether they used a flat black or a dark shade of a color.

    I heard that an all black room makes your room appear smaller. If this is true, will it still feel that way if only your ceiling and screen wall is black? Side walls would be a lighter to medium shade of choice of color.

    I have also heard people painting their ceilings with a Milano Blue type of paint thats blue but when your turn the lights off appears gray or even black.

    As for the green I am looking at Marble Green from Glidden but I would want to tint it to make it darker for the side walls. Either a darker green or black for the screen walls and possibly the ceiling or go with that blue for the ceiling.

    I have the Panasonic AE2000 LCD Projector.

    Thanks for any suggestions you may have.

  • Chuck P.

    I stumbled upon this article today and at a good time because I am trying to pick out colors for my room!

    Brown is one of my choices or green or possibly blue.

    Now I have seen plenty of theater rooms where the side walls are a lighter shade and the ceiling and screen walls are about the same darkness whether they used a flat black or a dark shade of a color.

    I heard that an all black room makes your room appear smaller. If this is true, will it still feel that way if only your ceiling and screen wall is black? Side walls would be a lighter to medium shade of choice of color.

    I have also heard people painting their ceilings with a Milano Blue type of paint thats blue but when your turn the lights off appears gray or even black.

    As for the green I am looking at Marble Green from Glidden but I would want to tint it to make it darker for the side walls. Either a darker green or black for the screen walls and possibly the ceiling or go with that blue for the ceiling.

    I have the Panasonic AE2000 LCD Projector.

    Thanks for any suggestions you may have.

  • B.Greenway

    AJ, I think you’ll ultimately be disappointed in that solution if your goal is sound proofing. The recording booth glass isn’t very good at stopping low frequencies.

  • B.Greenway

    AJ, I think you’ll ultimately be disappointed in that solution if your goal is sound proofing. The recording booth glass isn’t very good at stopping low frequencies.

  • AJ

    Love the info on your site and this is my first time emailing but defintely need your help. We just moved into our new home with a finished basement. Interested in creating a open fill HT with adjoining bar area. Was looking at using some type of recording booth studio glass as a wall substitute. Ever heard of anyone using it that way…

  • AJ

    Love the info on your site and this is my first time emailing but defintely need your help. We just moved into our new home with a finished basement. Interested in creating a open fill HT with adjoining bar area. Was looking at using some type of recording booth studio glass as a wall substitute. Ever heard of anyone using it that way…

  • Annie

    Awesome! I looooooove black. I am going to paint our walls and ceiling black and we have 10 pillars which I am going to paint a very dark red. Thanks heaps everyone!

  • Annie

    Awesome! I looooooove black. I am going to paint our walls and ceiling black and we have 10 pillars which I am going to paint a very dark red. Thanks heaps everyone!

  • Joe Mathew

    Can anyone tell me what my options (for ceiling color) are if I am putting in a drop ceiling in the basement in the area where I intend to put in home theater equipment?

  • Joe Mathew

    Can anyone tell me what my options (for ceiling color) are if I am putting in a drop ceiling in the basement in the area where I intend to put in home theater equipment?

  • Greg B

    I’m putting a Home Theater in the basement at one end of a multi-purpose room. The ceiling will be acoustic tile, instead of painting it black will a dark velvet cutain at the top and sides of the screen work?

    thanks for your help!

  • Greg B

    I’m putting a Home Theater in the basement at one end of a multi-purpose room. The ceiling will be acoustic tile, instead of painting it black will a dark velvet cutain at the top and sides of the screen work?

    thanks for your help!

  • Zack

    Hey, this really made me think about the my home theater color scheme and i plan on changing it to darker colors. Thanks

  • Zack

    Hey, this really made me think about the my home theater color scheme and i plan on changing it to darker colors. Thanks

  • Monte

    Great information! I had been considering shades of blue for the walls but I see this might not be a good idea. The plan is flat black for the ceiling and I haven’t decided for the walls but now I know to avoid blue. Maybe brown?

    thanks,
    Monte

  • Monte

    Great information! I had been considering shades of blue for the walls but I see this might not be a good idea. The plan is flat black for the ceiling and I haven’t decided for the walls but now I know to avoid blue. Maybe brown?

    thanks,
    Monte

  • Scott Griffeth

    Hello,
    I am glad I found this article. I was searching the web for color ideas to help design but I did not take enough consideration. The guys doing the install asked me to stick to darker colors but I did not take them seriously enough until I read this article. My question is do you guys have some links to samples of your rooms I can look at? My wife is going to kill me. I am hoping I can get away with a darker green but not forest, or maybe a darker red. I am anxious to see some successful color schemes but I am glad I learned to stay away from the gloss on the trim. Huge help, thank you. My build out is supposed to be posted on:
    audioconceptsconyers.com
    over the next week or so. Wish me luck.

    Thanks for the info.

  • Scott Griffeth

    Hello,
    I am glad I found this article. I was searching the web for color ideas to help design but I did not take enough consideration. The guys doing the install asked me to stick to darker colors but I did not take them seriously enough until I read this article. My question is do you guys have some links to samples of your rooms I can look at? My wife is going to kill me. I am hoping I can get away with a darker green but not forest, or maybe a darker red. I am anxious to see some successful color schemes but I am glad I learned to stay away from the gloss on the trim. Huge help, thank you. My build out is supposed to be posted on:
    audioconceptsconyers.com
    over the next week or so. Wish me luck.

    Thanks for the info.

  • Debra

    We are building a theater room 13’w x 30’d x 9’h.
    One end of the room has custom built in floor to ceiling and wall to wall wood cabinets, painted satin black with a large plasma tv that sits in the unit. Our walls are a dark cabin red. We have columns painted black satin every 6′ throughout the room with sconce lights.

    Our question is, what color do we paint the ceiling?

    Also, we have been going back and forth on baseboard and crown color of the walls. Do we paint the base & crown the same color of the walls?

  • Debra

    We are building a theater room 13’w x 30’d x 9’h.
    One end of the room has custom built in floor to ceiling and wall to wall wood cabinets, painted satin black with a large plasma tv that sits in the unit. Our walls are a dark cabin red. We have columns painted black satin every 6′ throughout the room with sconce lights.

    Our question is, what color do we paint the ceiling?

    Also, we have been going back and forth on baseboard and crown color of the walls. Do we paint the base & crown the same color of the walls?

  • B.Greenway

    Hi Josh, absolutely (in theory at least) but I’m afraid tuning specific color palettes is beyond my technical expertise. A certified ISF http://www.imagingscience.com/ calibrator should be able to answer your question, best of luck.

  • B.Greenway

    Hi Josh, absolutely (in theory at least) but I’m afraid tuning specific color palettes is beyond my technical expertise. A certified ISF http://www.imagingscience.com/ calibrator should be able to answer your question, best of luck.

  • Josh

    Is it possible to use a dark color in order to influence the picture in a positive way? I have a DLP projector that is pretty punchy on the reds. I can obviously adjust the saturation down, but if I paint the room a dark blue or green will that sway the color pallet in my favor?

  • Josh

    Is it possible to use a dark color in order to influence the picture in a positive way? I have a DLP projector that is pretty punchy on the reds. I can obviously adjust the saturation down, but if I paint the room a dark blue or green will that sway the color pallet in my favor?

  • B.Greenway

    Mickey, if it were my theater (obviously your mileage may vary) and it was a ceiling mounted projector, I would want to go even darker than the walls with the ceiling color. Ceiling mounted projectors tend to spill a lot of light up and around the ceiling that can get refracted back onto the screen.

    Heck I might even go with black for the ceiling in a theater with a ceiling mounted projector but a very minimum I would keep it as dark, or darker than your lightest color/shade in the room.

  • B.Greenway

    Mickey, if it were my theater (obviously your mileage may vary) and it was a ceiling mounted projector, I would want to go even darker than the walls with the ceiling color. Ceiling mounted projectors tend to spill a lot of light up and around the ceiling that can get refracted back onto the screen.

    Heck I might even go with black for the ceiling in a theater with a ceiling mounted projector but a very minimum I would keep it as dark, or darker than your lightest color/shade in the room.

  • Micky

    Hi….thanks for the tips… just one question…
    I’m considerning going with a plain gray color for the walls w/ a black trim where the cieling meets the wall possibly about 3.5″ inches wide… My question is about the cieling should I just paint it the same plain grey? Do I have any other options to make it more lively in terms of the cieling color?

  • Micky

    Hi….thanks for the tips… just one question…
    I’m considerning going with a plain gray color for the walls w/ a black trim where the cieling meets the wall possibly about 3.5″ inches wide… My question is about the cieling should I just paint it the same plain grey? Do I have any other options to make it more lively in terms of the cieling color?

  • Evil_Homer

    Dude, loved the article… makes me glad to know i’m not alone in the world of home theater fanatics. Keep up the good logic…

    Teddy

  • Evil_Homer

    Dude, loved the article… makes me glad to know i’m not alone in the world of home theater fanatics. Keep up the good logic…

    Teddy

  • B.Greenway

    Craig,

    I’m so happy to hear that worked out for you. Glad to be of help.

  • B.Greenway

    Craig,

    I’m so happy to hear that worked out for you. Glad to be of help.

  • Craig

    Used a flat charcoal grey on the walls and ceiling and around a recessed fixed screen and burgundy on the soffits and front of screen wall.
    Looks awesome! Thanks for the tips.

  • Craig

    Used a flat charcoal grey on the walls and ceiling and around a recessed fixed screen and burgundy on the soffits and front of screen wall.
    Looks awesome! Thanks for the tips.