Maybe you’re remodeling to optimize TV watching at home. Perhaps you’re gearing up to secure virtual front-row seats to your favorite collegiate or professional ball game. It’s entirely possible that you’re simply using the national conversion to 100-percent digital TV broadcasts as a good excuse to finally bring home a shiny, new high-definition TV.
After eagerly unpacking your cherished widescreen DLP, LCD or plasma beauty — regardless of your motivation for the purchase — you’ll see there are many different options, tweaks and adjustments to make in pursuit of the best possible viewing experience. One oft-forgotten detail is how to use lighting in your media room or home theater.
In the dark about darkness?
Many people assume that the best TV watching occurs in total darkness. After all, commercial theater operators run movies in the dark, right? Not usually. Often theaters fully dim overhead lighting, while operating significantly dimmed accent lights along the walls and center-aisle floor, and on end seats.
According to Joseph A. Rey-Barreau, AIA, IESNA, a lighting expert and associate professor at the University of Kentucky’s School of Interior Design, the lighting design used by commercial theater operators is a good starting point for consumers who want to create a cinema experience with the comforts of home.
“At the theater, when you’re only focused on the screen, your eyes will adapt to that particular level of light,” Rey-Barreau explains. “When you’re watching TV at home, you’re not usually that focused. Your eyes will move around and you’ll probably get up once in a while. If you don’t have at least a little bit of light, your pupils will constantly dilate up and down to adjust to a multitude of light levels. It can be disorienting.”
Mary Beth Gotti, director of the GE Lighting & Electrical Institute, a customer education facility in Cleveland, says effective lighting design in any room, including media rooms and home theaters, must take into account tasks needing handled visual comfort and overall ambiance.
“In a multipurpose home media room,” she says, “a good lighting design will integrate various layers of light that can provide pleasing and variable light patterns for more casual and flexible viewing conditions. It’s a bit different than a commercial theater setting where the room is used for a singular purpose.”
Pay attention to location, “layers” and dimming capability
According to Gotti, soft, recessed overhead lighting that’s dimmable is ideal. It allows you to maintain focus on the TV, while keeping an eye on your popcorn and having enough light to see when entering or exiting the room. She recommends:
Halogen PAR38 or PAR30 floodlights operated with a dimmer;
Smaller-sized Precise MR16 floodlights run on a low-voltage dimmer;
Dimmable 15-watt R30 and 20-watt R40 GE Energy Smart® CFL floodlights; or
Recessed fixtures equipped with low-wattage GE Vio™ LEDs, the latest in efficient, infinitely dimmable lighting.
Another tactic, the lighting of walls with track lighting or sconces, creates a pleasing glow in a room. Washing clean, beautiful halogen or LED light over stone, weathered wood or textured walls can add pop, visually expand the space and improve visual comfort. Illuminating artwork on walls with halogen PAR floodlights or MR16 recessed, adjustable accent lights or track lighting adds visual interest.
For a more theatrical-themed look in coves or architectural reveals, use halogen lights or LEDs, which provide white light, a variety of colors and even a color-changing capability.
Rey-Barreau agrees with Gotti’s assessment and product suggestions. He emphasizes that using a minimum of two lighting concepts is crucial to media room and home theater lighting design: variety of lighting (layers of light) and lighting controls. “Remember that you’re not finished preparing for the ultimate TV viewing experience until you’ve addressed your lighting design,” he remarks.