Often an afterthought in home cinema design, seating can be a potentially lucrative low-tech solution for integrators. Joe Young explores the key trends in the home cinema seating market.
Home owners can spend big bucks on home theatres so integrators need to be able to deliver a cinema space that can provide the ‘gold class’ experience to their clients (and not the ‘local, run down, cheap Tuesdays, sticky floor’ experience).
With rising demand for purpose-built home cinema seating, chair manufacturers are increasing the number of styles and capabilities of cinema seating, which means there’s a fair bit going on in the space.
Tactile sound transducers, or ‘shakers’, for example are growing in popularity; what was once reserved for select commercial cinemas where patrons could purchase a premium price ticket for the experience is now ‘moving’ its way into the high-end home cinema seating market.
Canadian company D-Box – distributed in Australia and New Zealand by Wavetrain – is the leader in this field and has been creating motion seating since the 1990s.
The same way movies have soundtracks; D-Box programs chair movement tracks to create movie specific experiences to match the action in a motion picture, adding dramatic effect in action movies, music and gaming.
So when watching 2 Fast 2 Furious with Vin Diesel tearing around a hairpin bend, the motion driven actuators below the D-Box seat will tilt the seat in the direction the car is turning then straighten up at the same time as the car straightens.
Once the system is installed the D-Box software is programmed to recognise which Blu-ray has been placed in the player and to activate the movements programmed for that specific disc.
Californian manufacturer Crowson has also incorporated motion seating in its offering with a feature the company calls ‘tactile effects’.
It works by taking a feed from the bass track in the audio system and converts it into a frequency responsive motion which lifts the seats by a few millimetres in concert with the audio.
“If you demo a movie with the ‘tactile effects’ system fitted, then move to a seat without it, the typical response is ‘it feels like something is missing,” Oceanic Distribution business development manager James Hicks says.
Oceanic is the Australian distributor of Crowson.
Seating with motorised leg, back and head rests is also becoming increasingly common but Belgian manufacturer Cineak is taking the control aspect of seating movement to a new level, offering tablet control of the functionality.
Knowing these trends are happening in the market is important for integrators but when designing home cinema seating the first priority is still the three fundamental questions: how many seats, which seats, and where are the seats best placed?
How many seats?
This is a big question with huge implications on the cost and design of the room.
This is also the first decision that should be made because the placement and style of the seats should be determined by the number of seats required.
A decision like this is of course completely subjective; however, it is important to keep in mind the idea of primary and secondary seating.
When asked about how many seats a client needs, they are most likely going to think of the maximum number of people they could see using the theatre at one time, but that approach could lead to installing more seating than is actually needed.
While the theatre would provide a great space for kids’ birthday parties and other social functions, for the most part it would just be the family in the space. So it is often better to design for the typical use of the theatre and when needed, secondary seating could be brought in.
Even bean bags or similar can be used for casual or secondary seating options for the one-off occasions.
Which seat should be selected?
There are a number of considerations when picking the right seat; aesthetics, comfort, features and size are all things that come to mind.
You don’t need me to tell you that budget plays a vital role when picking the right seating option but understanding what features are available on the market is important to be able to make the best decisions so every dollar in the budget is providing the best features for what each client wants.
Last week I went to a cinema far away from my home just because the Hoyts had recently installed recliner chairs and it really was worth it.
Features like arm rest storage, cup holders, tray tables, powered footrests and removable backs for easy transport are relatively common nowadays.
Luxury features such as articulated head rests, cup heating and cooling and massage functionality are all becoming more common, as well as other features such as USB charging ports, tablet holders and light-up points (often below the seat).
Customisation is another consideration. More and more, manufacturers are able to accommodate special requirements to give seating the look and feel the client desires.
For example Oceanic Distribution offers a range of over 50 colours, 50 leathers, chilled cups, removable trays, motorised headrests, metal or plastic buttons and massage functionality as add-ons meaning integrators can provide seating that suits what their client wants and what they are willing to pay for.
“We can use a customer’s own fabric, offer embroidery in the backrests and supply matching dining chairs or fold out beds and even allow customers to choose the softness level of the foam in their seats,” James from Oceanic says.
So chances are if the client wants it, the manufacturers can do it.
Where should the seats be placed?
To achieve the ‘gold class’ cinema experience clients need to be provided with a ‘made to measure’ seating layout, fitting their room perfectly.
It’s easy to get the layout of home theatre seating wrong. Consideration needs to be given to viewing distance relative to the screen size, positioning relative to speaker placements and row heights to avoid impeding viewing, which is only helpful when watching any Adam Sandler movie from the past 10 years.
Some rules for getting home theatre seating right include:
- Viewing angles should be between 36 and 50°.
- Rear wall allowance needs to be taken into account; seats pushed to the back wall will lose some audio quality because audio bounce back will be lost.
- Risers are almost always necessary when there are multiple rows of seats.
- The walkway allowance should be at least 75cm to allow for comfortable walking movement.
- People’s head positions should be at least a metre and a half away from any speakers.
While there is a lot for integrators to know, many manufacturers are helping by becoming more and more involved in designing the seating layout.
“Suncoast Cinema Seats provides CAD drawings to their clients when they send through their plans. This allows the client to see how the room will look with their chosen chairs in place,” Karen says.
“We are happy to help out with room design at no cost to our dealers and we can scale seating onto the clients floor plans,” James says.
The thought of cinema seating can be a bit dull but the industry isn’t exactly ‘sitting back’, in fact it’s moving quite fast.