June 27, 2017

A Room With Many Views

Keys To Designing A Non-Dedicated Home Theater

I have never really liked the term, “dedicated theater,” because it does not really project the image of an entertaining environment. I love the term ‘private theater’ as it gives more credence to the special experience such a room delivers.  Similarly, the term “dedicated theater” is often intended to infer the highest and best standard of home theater, but that’s not always the only purpose the room will provide!

If we take a look, historically, at commercial theaters we find that many of the great classic rooms have been re-purposed and survive because of mixed use. In fact, if we look into it, the best surviving classic theaters have been re-purposed for live performances followed by live theater. Why? Simply put, theaters that were designed and built well enough can support these activities, too. The distinguishing characteristics of these rooms are good acoustics, good seating positions and sight lines, and good architecture and design.
A home theater can be assembled using available products that may, on the surface, appear to meet all of the proper requirements. There may be acoustical panels, a stylistic theme, and a big screen and high-powered surround electronics. The room also may be dedicated to the purpose of viewing movies. However, without careful engineering, design, and execution the room may fall far short of the promise.

A recent project was the epitome of a mixed-use room that more than holds its own with any ‘dedicated’ theater project.

The client wanted a first-rate home theater but had additional purposes, such as use as a video editing studio, that had to be considered. This request meant that the theater room had to be engineered at the highest level for quality isolated electrical and very low noise.

The editing suite requirements also meant that, ergonomically, the seating positions for casual viewing and entertaining and a primary row of motorized theater seating had to be integrated with a workstation.  The workstation required a number of large LCD monitors, built-in and outboard video equipment, a work surface and Eames task seating on a raised deck.  The logistics of placing the projector (in an isolated enclosure) within the vertical offset limits and clearing all the activity in the editing area required careful engineering and design documentation.  Design team members for this integration included pro editing consultants, the architect, a millwork contractor, the general contractor, a systems integration contractor and of course a theater designer.

Many of the standards for the video editing equipment had to be verified for compatibility with the reference home theater equipment used on this project.  There was considerable communication between the design team members to assure this compatibility.  Many standards that are taken for granted by one discipline are unheard of to others.  Additional integration issues included patch bays and isolated power for outboard equipment, additional control interfaces and specific lighting scenes for workstation use and a workstation accessible rack.

There were many challenges on this project and additional coordination was essential to deliver the type of results the client was looking for.  If any of these considerations were overlooked it as likely the client would be disappointed.  Due to the diligence by all members of the design team this private theater satisfies on all levels.  It’s now a great place to watch movies with family and friends, a beautiful room that draws guests in when entertaining, acoustically accurate for music and movies, and finally a professional grade video editing facility.

The next time an opportunity arises to share the excitement of a private theater with a prospective client, don’t miss the opportunity to find out how else they might use that room.  Do they have musicians in the family?  Do they listen to concerts and live performances?  Are interactive games of interest?  Do they give presentations to small groups?  This list can go on.

A private theater designed to perform optimally for these and other mixed uses will continue to please many diverse users for years to come.