Having the right seating arrangement is an important factor in a home theatre system. After all, what good would all the technology in the world be if you couldn’t enjoy it in comfort?
It’s an area that is often overlooked as home-owners get caught up in setting up their systems. But getting the seating right is more than just having a place to sit – it’s about comfort, style, ergonomics and, lately, cutting-edge technology.
Of these aspects, comfort is probably the most important, as users will be ensconced in a seat for hours at a time. As a result, designers and manufacturers are introducing features that will redefine the home theatre experience.
Footrests, extra cushioning and hidden tables are now de rigueur, so chairs are coming with electronic recliners, massagers and cup holders. But even these are being overshadowed by the next generation of automation.
With advances in technology, home theatre seats are being transformed into control hubs.
Home automation brands such as Lutron, Control4, and Crestron are designing units that can be integrated into seats. They include touch panels, video screens and tactile sound transducers (shakers).
Despite the integration of all this automation, the basic frame of the seat remains, but many additions are made to it.
The best frames have been made of kiln-dried oak, hickory ash and birch. Wood may seem an unusual choice with all the modern technology being installed, but it can provide up to 75 years of service without cracking or splitting and can be re-upholstered several times.
National Representative Solutions (NRS) representative Terry Deacon says an added benefit of hardwood frames is that they are customisable.
“We design the main chair around a Tasmanian oak frame. Then we have an array of arms and wedges that can be trimmed or styled around the customer’s home theatre – they’re like Lego pieces, if you like.”
NRS is the distributor for Topform Seating, an Australian manufacturer that specialises in chair lifts for the aged and, more recently, home theatre seating.
The best theatre seats are usually well padded, and most modern cushions are usually stuffed with foam or a blend of down and feathers. There are cheaper alternatives such as ‘blend down’ – a combination of down, feathers and polyester, wrapped in tightly woven cotton ticking.
Terry says the material used for covering the seat needs to be carefully considered. The ‘wearability’ of the fabric will affect the lifespan of the chair, and the right colours will add depth and comfort to a home theatre.
“We use high-quality Warwick fabrics most of the time, as they are made for heavy domestic and commercial use. Occasionally we use a customer-suggested fabric, but 90% of the time it’s Warwick, and that would be Macrosuede, which is woven from the finest micro denier polyester yarns.”
Terry says several issues need to be taken into consideration when designing a home cinema layout.
“The positioning and the distance back from the screen are important. Obviously, everyone must have a good view, and you should consider the layout of the room so everyone has access.”
Terry says a rough guide to the best distance from screen to chairs is 2.5 times the screen diameter.
“So if you’ve got a 100-inch (254cm) screen, then you’ll need to have your chairs at least 250 inches (635cm) from the screen to get the full impact.
“It’s just about making room in the general area so that a person can get to their seat without having to climb over somebody.”
Getting the positioning of the seating right also ensures the full effect of the audio acoustics comes into play. This is depends on the size of the room.
“Size is one of the biggest challenges. You can’t have something too small or you won’t fit in, and you don’t want it too large either. The acoustics of the design is another big challenge.”
Terry recommends a fixed distance between chairs to ensure that when they are fully extended there is adequate room.
“When the chairs are fixed, there should be at least 1,320mm between chairs to allow people to stretch their legs comfortably and move around without hindrance. If you are going to put the footrests up, then you’ll need about 2,140mm between the chairs. If you’re going to fully recline them, then about 1,750mm between seats should be enough.”
Designers often involve seat manufacturers and installers from the beginning of the project to get their input on the layout of the room.
“We often come up with an initial design, then the clients decide what they like. So we produce a second design. If needed, we’ll meet the client on behalf of the installer.
“We are taken fairly seriously.”
Terry says the best seating layout for a home cinema is one that allows the sound and visual display to have the most impact on the viewer.
“With our seats, you’re not trying to look around the lounge – it’s not too high or too low. You’re not jumping over things and trying to look around the lounge.
“Initially it was quite difficult to design a chair that could fit in with the audio acoustics of a room, but we’ve come up with a fairly solid design that will fit across the range.”
An example of this design is Topform’s Nouveau range of chairs.
The Nouveau is a recliner that comes in sets of twos and can be customised to fit touch screens, drink holders, storage space in the arms, and neck pillows. Lutron controllers can also be added, as well as downlights.
The automation of these chairs is often a challenging task, Terry says.
“The physical side of fitting a touch pad into a console without it being reflective is the sort of thing you want to be involved in early. Once the seats are made, it’s very difficult to change them.”
When the company works with a professional installer, the process is collaborative.
“If a professional installer is doing a job with a touchpad, we tend to make provisions for the pad to fit into the seating. Most installers send us their control unit and we make the seat around that unit. We’ll pre-fit it, then send it back to the installer, and he’ll deliver it installed.”
As much as these innovations are meant to enhance people’s viewing experience, Terry says it always comes down to one thing.
“The bottom line has always been, and always will be, comfort.”