I have been a home cinema enthusiast for years and am always looking for the next upgrade or DIY project.
If you have a home theater/cinema you'll need a light-controlled room to get the most out of it. This guide will help you to black the room out for the best possible picture quality.
It doesn't cost much and the results and picture improvement are astounding. Let's get on with it!
Why Would I Want to Black the Room Out?
If you have a projector or a TV and you are watching it in a white room then you're not getting the most out of the picture, or the whole movie experience. This is not so much of an issue if you've never noticed it, but have a think about what it's like when you watch a film at a cinema/theater. The place is dark, so unless you're unlucky and have kids in there shuffling around and throwing popcorn, you're focusing fully on the film that you're watching. The less the room influences the picture you see, the better the experience is.
There are a few reasons why it is more immersive and the picture is better quality when watching in a fully light controlled room.
- If you have a normal room with white walls, then the problem is that the light that comes from the screen bounces off the ceiling and walls, which lights up the rest of the room.
- Apart from that being distracting in its own right, you need to have the brightness up fairly high so you actually see the picture.
- As projectors can't project black, this means that the higher you have the brightness, the greyer blacks become. If you're in a light-controlled room where you've installed blackout curtains/panels, then you can have the brightness lower and still get the same visual effect, which improves the blacks.
There is also a phenomenon called perceived contrast. Take a look at the following picture.
In this well-known picture, squares A and B are actually the same colour. It doesn't look like they are, but the reason for that is we perceive white/black only in relation to the surroundings. In case you don't believe those are the same colour, here's another pic with a bar drawn between the two squares that is exactly the same colour, which shows the squares are in fact completely identical.
As you can see from that image, the way your eyes work is quite strange and massively influenced by what surrounds whatever it is that you're looking at. Your eyes compensate without you realising, which is what happens when you look at the first picture above. If everything is black apart from the screen in your home cinema/theater, it makes the colours and whites on-screen pop out and look brighter and more vivid. So it's pretty clear that performing a blackout operation is important, but how do you do it?
A simple way to blackout your walls is to make frames out of a 3/4 inch lath, which you then stretch black speaker fabric over and staple it to the back. You can then attach these to the walls, either by hanging them like a painting from a nail, with velcro strips, or simply by making them the same height as the room and wedging them into position. I have them wedged into position in my room, which has the advantage of not damaging the walls in any way so if you move you can return the room back to standard quickly and easily.
This is how a frame looks before the fabric has been fastened into position. One thing to bear in mind is that there is quite a force on the frame when you pull the fabric tight, so make sure you make the frame as secure as possible with some decent brackets and screws.
It is possible to put sound deadening insulation into the back of the frame. If you have a problem with sound ringing or echoing, this can help. You can test this by simply standing in the middle of the room and clapping. If you can hear an echo, then you would probably benefit from some insulation behind a couple of the panels. Don't go overboard though, just put it behind some as if you do too many you can deaden the room. If you have lots of soft furnishings, curtains, rugs etc in there, it's probably not necessary, but it can help if you have wooden floors and blinds instead of carpets and curtains.
Testing the next frame to check that it is the right height before covering it. You can see what the walls look like with some completed blackout frames already attached.
In addition to the walls, it's a good idea to get a black rug for the floor and fasten frames to the ceiling too. If the room is not too large, then you can span the ceiling without needing to attach directly into it and hold the frames up with brackets attached to the wall panels.
Make sure you get some decent blackout curtains or blackout blinds to stop streetlights from shining into the room. In my room as well as the blinds and material on the walls, I've also blacked off all of the lights on the electronic equipment in my room to stop it from being distracting and make the room as dark as possible!
This is the sort of effect you're looking at once you're done. There is no reflection on the walls or ceiling and you get drawn into the film a lot more. The ideal is that the picture looks like it's floating in space as the room is totally black.
This is an awesome shot for showing you how vivid colours can look when the room is blacked out. This room is not completely finished in this photo as you can still see the door, but you get the idea.
I have mentioned it already, but the effect you see here is not just achieved by treating the walls. As well as using blackout fabric on the walls, it is vital that you use good blackout curtains or blinds on the window, or all your efforts will be for nothing.
I have tried several different types of blackout blind material in my room which has slatted vertical blinds. One material I can recommend is faux suede. This is totally opaque, far better than the PVC blackout blind material I tried before, which didn't really stop the light from outside completely. Real suede may work just as well, but I haven't tried this, so I can't confirm one way or another.
Of course with blinds, you tend to get a bit of light leakage at the bottom, so I have some thin strips of wood which I covered with black velcro tape which simply sit on the windowsill at the bottom pushed against the bottom of the blind. These stop the light coming in there quite well.
My room is now very dark during the day and completely dark at night, so I'm pretty happy with it! I don't tend to use it during the day much as if I'm not working and it is a nice day I tend to think you should be outside in the garden rather in a dark room, but on the odd occasion I want to game or whatever in there, it is now possible to do that without outside light spoiling the picture.
I hope this is useful for anyone out there that has a home cinema/theater and wants to get the best out of it. Installing or creating blackout curtains/blinds and panels really helps the movie experience. If you have any comments, please leave them below.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2011 Rain Defence
HaremCinema on May 25, 2020:
This was a really good article, BRAVO! Your point that "projectors can't project black" was excellent and was a significant reason behind why we sold our two projectors and got a big screen television to replace them. I can't wait to read some of your other articles.
Rain Defence (author) from UK on August 08, 2015:
You don't get disoriented if you've got a lamp in there for when you're sitting down. I don't cover the seating as I'm looking at the screen rather than at the seat but I have a dark sofa anyway.
TTGReviews on January 26, 2015:
This is a great idea. I never really thought about doing this. My only problem would be that I would probably get disoriented if everything was black. Would you also cover your seating or leave it uncovered?
Rain Defence (author) from UK on May 29, 2013:
You should definitely do it. It is a very cost effective way to transform the picture. Definitely a good upgrade.
Jertop on May 29, 2013:
You are probably not maintaining this anymore but that is an amazing effect for ordinary speaker cloth. I have pure white walls that I am thinking of trying this out with.
Rain Defence (author) from UK on January 11, 2012:
markmarz, I went all the way back and did the whole room apart from the back wall. There is no white wall or ceiling visible at all when I'm sitting down.
My friend has gone about 2 feet back from the screen at his place, it is definitely better than it was, but it is a compromise. It depends on how much you're prepared to go as the room isn't really good for much other than movie watching/gaming afterwards, but if it's a dedicated room, then who cares?
As far as the cloth goes, there are a couple of links in the article that you could try, if you're in the UK then the US sites are probably not much good for you, but Maplins speaker cloth does a good job.
Rain Defence (author) from UK on January 11, 2012:
Andy I did the walls at first and wasn't sure about the ceiling, but once I did that it really finished it off. Next time you watch a film then take a peek at the ceiling and the amount of light reflecting off there and you'll probably be getting the tools out by the weekend!
markmarz on January 11, 2012:
Would you be able to give a source for the black speaker cloth? Where I've looked so far I've found lots of complaints that the various cloths offered are not really black.
markmarz on January 11, 2012:
This is excellent. I plan on doing this, but how far out from the screen do the panels need to extend to block out sufficient reflective light from white walls and ceiling? I don't think they to go out for 8', but is 3' enough? I don't expect the same result from a completely black room to when extending out only 3', but I'm guessing it'd be good enough to absorb most of the reflective light.
What do you think? How far out did you go?
Andy on January 10, 2012:
Amazing article and the missing link in my studio. I built an 8x15 foot frame and put blackout cloth and covered my entire wall. The bluray movies and 1080p projector look good but I never thought about making the room completely black for the highest possible definition. Thanks!
Rain Defence (author) from UK on January 10, 2012:
Thanks, it costs nothing really compared to what you spend on the projector and all the rest of it, but the difference is enormous. Get it done!
ilovetechstuff on January 09, 2012:
Fantastic article!! I am a huge movie buff and am looking to build a crazy home theater in my basement!! This is exactly the type of thing I need to perfect my viewing experience!!