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What’s the difference between a media room and a home cinema?

What are the differences between a media room space and a dedicated home cinema, and how to choose between them?

There are lots of things to consider when deciding on your own special home cinema space. In this article, we look at:

What is a dedicated home cinema?

When we talk about a dedicated home cinema, we are thinking specifically about a room whose only purpose is for the viewing of large format movies and media; one which attempts to recreate the movie theatre experience within the home.

Typically, a modern dedicated home cinema would have:

  • a large-format screen. Traditionally this would have been a projection screen, but other options are now available such as Samsung’s The Wall (here is our review of The Wall)
  • a projector which is capable of outputting at least high-definition images
  • theatre-style seating, arranged so that all have an unimpeded view of the screen
  • an in-wall or in-ceiling surround or immersive audio system, with multiple loudspeakers, including subwoofers for low frequencies
  • sound processing and amplification equipment
  • the means to exclude natural light (see our article about controlling natural light)
  • a means of controlling artificial light. Usually, this is a lighting control system, either for the room or the whole home (see our article “How much does a lighting control system cost?”)
  • a remote control that consolidates all of the individual controls into one easy-to-use platform
  • acoustic treatments to get the best performance from the audio system (see our article “Acoustic Treatments for Home Cinemas”)
  • sound isolation, so that the audio from the room doesn’t become a nuisance in other areas
  • source equipment, such as Blu-ray, a games machine (Xbox, PlayStation etc), a movie server such as a Kaleidescape and the ability to stream media from a device such as an Apple TV (for Netflix etc).

Some home cinemas will also have:

  • themed décor (see our projects for inspiration)
  • a separate projection room to house the projector and electronics
  • tactile transducers, to vibrate the seating in line with the soundtrack
  • replica concessions such as a popcorn machine or bar
A home cinema walkthrough, which we produce as part of the design process.

What is a media room?

A media room would similarly recreate a movie-like experience at home, in a space that is also perhaps used for other purposes. For example, this might be a family, music or games room. A media room would usually also feature the big picture and sound associated with a cinematic experience.

Often a media room would have:

  • a large-format screen, usually a TV or projection screen, often motorised to hide it when not in use
  • if a projector is used, it will almost invariably be hidden when not in use. For example, this may be by means of a motorised drop or within cabinetry.
  • comfortable seating. This is predominantly arranged to give a view towards the screen
  • loudspeakers are often located within the room or in-wall (or in-ceiling)
  • sound processing and amplification equipment, usually hidden within an equipment rack in a cupboard
  • the means to exclude natural light (see our article “Controlling Natural Light”)
  • a means of controlling artificial light. Usually, a lighting control system is either for the room or the whole home (see our article “How much does a lighting control system cost?”)
  • a remote controller that consolidates all of the individual controls onto one easy-to-use platform
  • source equipment. This could be for example a Blu-ray player, a games machine (Xbox, PlayStation etc), a movie server such as a Kaleidescape or the ability to stream media from a device such as an Apple TV (for Netflix etc).
  • some acoustic treatments to get the best performance from the audio system (see our article “Acoustic Treatments for Home Cinemas”)

Some media room will also have:

  • karaoke
  • virtual reality (VR)
  • driving simulator
Media room with hidden tv
A media room with hidden speakers

Deciding between a media room and a dedicated home cinema

Deciding whether to allocate a room specifically for a dedicated home cinema is a personal decision. Indeed, often it just comes down to whether a client is happy for the room to have no other purpose. For the purist, usually (though not always) a dedicated cinema room will provide the best option in terms of comfort and will deliver a space where there are no distractions to the viewing enjoyment.

On the other hand, sometimes our clients would not wish to exclude other practical activities from taking place within the space. Thus it is rational to opt for a media room. With care and planning, the performance of a media room can be equally stunning. And the clever hiding of the technology can in itself be a really interesting talking point!

We would have to sit on the fence and say that this is a decision really only you can make. We’ll give our best advice in either scenario so that you are fully informed of the practicalities of both options.

Other considerations


Often we are asked if there is a minimum size for a dedicated home cinema. There are lots of things to consider, such as how many people you would want to accommodate within the home cinema. Sometimes our clients wish to be able to accommodate as many seats as possible. In contrast, occasionally, it is preferred to just have enough room for the resident family. It is possible to make a judgement on the potential size of the room needed once this has been decided. We’ll use the design objectives of THX and ISF to ensure that the design is of the correct proportions and layout.

Other factors contemplated with the size of the room will be considerations about where the equipment can be housed. This can be within the home cinema room, or outside, in a specialised projection room. This doesn’t need to be grand and is often akin to a cupboard-sized space. Nonetheless, we will need to think carefully about the cooling and ventilation, to ensure that the electronics are housed correctly.


Another thing we are frequently asked is “where”. Do think literally and laterally about this. We have installed home cinemas and media rooms in all sorts of locations around the home:

  • above the garage
  • attic
  • basement
  • shed
  • shepherd’s hut
  • garden room
  • pool house
  • patio
  • library
  • bedroom

Some environments lend themselves really well to the demands of a home cinema, while others will require a little more preparation to get the most from the system. (See our article on Acoustic Treatments for Home Cinemas)


Do consider when to bring in an expert; as with most things, planning is key, and it is far better to allow time to get the design right. An expert will help you to address all of the key early decisions. They will inevitably highlight considerations that you may not have anticipated.

Once the early decisions have been made, we will produce the technical design: this will include things like the floor rake calculations; acoustic design; cable design; baffle wall design; rack diagram; schematics and aesthetic design. We can provide a full turn-key service, or we can work with your chosen building contractors to deliver your project; we have lots of experience in both scenarios.

The latest thing

A growing area worthy of consideration is the backyard (outdoor) cinema. This is either a permanent or a moveable installation that delivers a new experience in home cinema. We have built outdoor cinemas that deliver vibrant images and excellent immersive sound. Think outside of the box!

In conclusion

Whether you choose a dedicated home cinema or a multi-purpose media room, we will help you to achieve a very special space, with all the thrills of the authentic cinema experience. But better!

“Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends.”

Walt Disney

Home cinema with screen and lightingHome cinema with Kaleidescape Movie Server

Further Reading

For further reading, please see our project: Luxury Screening Room or Home Cinema – Stunning Basement Cinema. Here is our project Immersive Home Cinema. If you are interested in the design work we do, please read our article on Home Cinema Design or our design for a stunning Residents Cinema.

(Additionally, if there is a topic you would like us to address in our news articles, please let us know using the contact form below.)

So, if you are ready to start the design process, please do get in touch…

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