May 17, 2005
In 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.
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