Where better to enjoy the excitement of the BAFTAs or the glamour of the Oscars this year than in your own home cinema? Whether you’re a movie buff, a committed gamer or simply want to indulge in a Netflix binge – and with the pandemic driving memberships to surpass the 200-million-mark last year, you’re far from alone – then your own personally designed home cinema is the place to be. Home cinemas have gone from being luxury additions to default items in higher end homes, according to design and build experts Oakbridge Bespoke.

They can vary wildly in cost; the Oakbridge team has worked on designs ranging from £7,000 to £50,000 over the years. For those currently considering their own home cinema systems, Steve Merchant, Oakbridge’s M&E Specialist for nearly two decades, is sharing top tips on achieving the ultimate cinematic experience at home.

“Home cinemas are an intensely personal part of the home design process. From flat versus tiered seating to speakers hidden in artwork, there are countless options from which clients can choose when it comes to the design. There are also technical decisions to be made, from screen resolution to the number and brand of speakers and the type of projector.” Steve Merchant, M&E Specialist, Oakbridge Bespoke
Steve’s advice is to focus on location first. The basements in our new build developments are ideal, as they are much easier to isolate from external light and sound.
It was a basement cinema – along with a sauna and wine cellar – that the Oakbridge Bespoke team included in their classic arts and crafts home for clients Alun and Debbie.
Those sound considerations work both ways. Cranking up the volume to immerse yourself in the cinematic experience can be a great way to escape reality for a couple of hours, but not if the sound disrupts everyone else in the house. This means you’ll likely need to factor additional sound-blocking materials and insulation into your plans – and your budget.  Next, think about the look and feel of the room. Do you want tiered seating or flat? What about active seating that moves and vibrates along with the movie for the ultimate immersive experience? Your seating arrangement will have an impact on speaker placement. Another key sound consideration is whether you choose carpet or hard flooring, as that can have a huge impact on the way the sound moves through the room. Placing furniture around the side of the room can also interfere with the sound transmission.
 “The core of any home cinema system is, of course, the projector, sound system and screen. The quality of these can vary hugely and make a significant difference to the end result.” Steve Merchant, M&E Specialist, Oakbridge Bespoke
LED and laser projectors are fast replacing traditional bulb projectors. The higher contrast ratio, increased resolution, higher dynamic range and longer equipment life are now almost the starting point for many of the systems that Oakbridge Bespoke installs. While 4K was a luxury in the home cinema just a few years ago, clients are now looking towards 8K and higher resolution. Console gaming is playing a big part in this, as a faster frame rate (say 120fps for gaming versus 24/30fps for movies) is now as much of a consideration as the resolution. 

Another trend that the Oakbridge Bespoke team has observed in recent years is for increasing numbers of speakers, with one recent client opting for a total of 19 Artcoustic speakers in their home cinema. The company’s Steve Merchant comments: “Audio encoding systems such as Dolby Atmos or DTS:X have allowed us to really immerse the listener in a bubble of sound. It’s the same principle that commercial cinemas use, just on a different scale. These systems can be used with the well-known 5.1 or 7.1 speaker systems, but the dedicated home cinema room gives us much more freedom to increase the number of speakers, especially on the ceiling, to really bring that cinema sound experience into the home.”
Clients increasingly want all these speakers to be as hidden away as possible. The basement cinemas in many properties designed and built by Oakbridge in The Avenues, Harpenden showcase this perfectly. Acoustic projector screens allow front speakers and even subwoofers to be hidden completely, while surround and rear speakers need to either be plastered over, blended into customer cabinets or panels or even disguised as artwork. Controls and AV sources also need to be hidden, with attention paid to ventilation and cooling to avoid the equipment overheating. It’s all about achieving a more subtle and integrated look. Lighting needs careful consideration too. Light glare and screens don’t mix well. Oakbridge Bespoke advises opting for multiple lighting circuits, with subtle lighting around the seating area that keeps any glare away from the screen. Whichever options you choose, the team advises speaking to a local specialist with a demo studio.

They also warn to be careful when it comes to budget, as once you scratch the surface of the options available, it’s very easy to get carried away and let your costs spiral out of control. Oakbridge Bespoke also advises thinking carefully about demand for integrated AV services throughout the rest of the home. “The vast array of streaming services on cinema installations, TVs and mobile devices is fast fuelling the need for fully integrated wireless and wired solutions to provide coverage throughout the entire property. Many of our clients want to centralise the AV systems in their houses, so we often incorporate large TV and audio matrices to allow the distribution of the same video or audio signals to all of the outlets in the home. This allows the same movie to be shown in the cinema, family room and bedroom at the same time.” Steve Merchant, M&E Specialist, Oakbridge Bespoke  The design and build firm’s final tip is to plan early. Speaker systems, projectors and more all come with a huge range of options, so allow time to explore them all in order to achieve the ultimate home cinema experience.