It’s hardly a revelation that digital media is such an important part of our everyday lives; smart phone’s, tablets, digital TV, games consoles, music systems and computers are the basis for most of our entertainment these days, and as such private clients expect Interior Designers to be able to integrate these elements together in a digital media room.
But how exactly do you bring all of these elements together in a way that is easy and fun to use? Gone are the days of hiding a cathode ray tube television set in a cupboard, now anything from a 40 up to a 103 inch flat screen TV is the main feature and portal for every home entertainment desire and more.
Designing a Digital Media Room is very technical and it is advisable to consult an expert, at least when it comes to integrating digital entertainment systems and making them simple and intuitive to use. But regardless of the actual technology side of things there are still a lot of elements that Interior Designers should be aware of to help them create the digital media room that their client wants.
To help determine what the important considerations are for designing a digital media room I spoke to Miguel Soto who is the Consulting and Design Director at Diamond Technology Limited, a firm that specialises in designing custom integration systems for Electronic System Contractors (ESC’s).
DH (Design Hub) – What considerations should be made when planning a digital media room for a client?
MS – The most important considerations are:
1. Budget – How much money does the client want to invest in the space at that particular time?
2. Dimensions of the space – This will determine what equipment will work best in the space.
3. Purpose of the space – Exactly how does the client see themselves using the space? Do they want a cinema like experience or something that the whole family can use?
4. Furniture – What furniture will be used the room?
5. Size of the flat panel display and/or projection screen.
6. Space for a projector if needed – Now projectors can be placed basically anywhere, in front or behind the screen or hidden out of sight in the ceiling or furniture. But there are some other considerations to have in mind, like the size of the projection screen, shape of the room, proper ventilation and appropriate space to fit the projector.
7. Size of the speakers – This will be determined by the budget, size of the room and the client’s preference. There are thousands of different choices based on design, colour, quality and performance.
8. Lighting design/control – I think this discipline is one of the most important and interesting areas of a digitally integrated system. Done correctly it gives the sensation of living in an intelligent home, without the need to even touch a button. The predetermined lighting scenes change effortlessly between a traditional lit interior to an extraordinary interactive experience that enhances digital entertainment and comfort. Different lighting plans work for different uses, so it is important to know how the client plans to use their digital media and how lighting will affect each experience.
9. Do they want it to be integrated with other sub-systems such as heating, ventilation and air conditioning, health care for assisted living, window treatment, CCTV and security?
DH – What are the first questions to ask a client?
MS – 1. What is the desired Functionality of the room?
2. What are the Expectations of the room?
3. What is the Budget?
In the world of system integration there are a lot of variations in design, price and performance. Everything is related to the lifestyle of the client, how they plan to use the room, and how much they want to spend.
For example a £10K media room will be completely different to a one with a budget of £100K. Even if the system consists of the same types of components. An analogy that I always use is comparing a Volkswagen Golf to a Ferrari. They are both functional cars that will get you where you want to go, however the Ferrari is made of extremely high performance components and as such costs ten times as much. It is the same with the components of the loudspeakers, audio/video processors, control and amplifiers, if it is super high performance that the client wants, then they will have to pay for that experience, and believe me it’s an amazing experience.
DH – What pitfalls should Interior Designers avoid when planning a digital media room?
MS – The most important problem to avoid is the wiring. Before anything else the correct wiring must be planned and set into the walls at a reasonable stage of the construction.
Wireless technology is improving all the time and eventually the digital media in the house will all be wireless, but as an expert I strongly suggest that hard wiring a house is still essential.
Everything in a digital media room is connected via wires embedded in the walls. This gives the best signal and performance possible for audio and visual equipment. Access points are installed at various points so that equipment can be plugged into each other.
The worse thing that could happen would be for the room to be decorated and furnished, then having to tear holes in the plaster to fit missing wires. Wiring is only a fraction of the cost of the budget, but if planned well, it can enable a client to upgrade any part of their digital media room as they wish because the infrastructure will already be in place.
DH – Are there any other things to be aware of such as optimum distance from speakers, angle of speakers etc?
MS – For the speakers there is no golden rule, but generally the minimum distance of the speakers to the viewer/listener should be no less than two meters. The optimal height for surround sound speakers is 1.4 meters, as the average height of seated person is 1 meter, so positioned at 1.4 meters the sound will project above and below. However, with the right know how speakers can be placed anywhere in the ceiling and calibrated to give the right performance for any room.
It is important to remember that if the space is large then small speakers and poor quality equipment will affect the sound quality, and the sound volume will not fill the space properly.
When I started my business more than ten years ago, one of my first clients had a low budget for a large space, we fit the system in his house and after we finished he was really disappointed by the performance of the speakers and of course the blame turned to us, as we had agreed to fit a poor performance system for that specific room. I’m not saying that the speakers or the equipment where bad, they just weren’t enough for the size of the room.
So, after this lesson I would rather walk away from a client than fit something that will compromise my reputation.
DH – So far we have only talked about the space itself, but behind the scenes of a digital media room there is a Rack System that holds and controls all the hardware. What considerations need to be made regarding this?
MS – Yes this is a critical part of the design and installation; lots of clients do not plan for the placement of the rack system in their house, and this can compromise the performance and the life expectancy of the equipment.
There must be adequate space for the rack and all the cables in a separate room like a cloakroom. Minimum space required is 1 meter x 1 meter, and the room must have ventilation and dedicated power circuit. The minimum length of the cables for all the systems going into the rack is 2 meters. This gives room to manoeuvre so things can be modified and moved if required.
Also it is important to have a separate electric circuit for the rack system; otherwise turning on a blender may interfere with the sound and image.
DH – What other things could an integrated digital system like this do?
MS – Because we are using devices like the iPads, iPhones, Androids and other sophisticated control panel’s, there really is no limit to the amount of systems that can be hooked in. A very common one is the house alarm and security cameras, but increasingly I am working with Institutions and clients who need special automated systems to help them cope with health concerns, meaning they can live independently in their homes for longer.
DH – Thanks for taking the time to talk to us, is there anything else you’d like to say about digital media rooms?
MS – Always team up with the specialists recognised by CEDIA “Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association”. Working with a professional team like ours means that together we can deliver a great experience to the end user.
Feel free to contact us for any future projects or even just for advice, we’ll be more than happy to help you with your project. Just to clarify we are a Design and Consulting Firm we do not do installations, we design the systems for Electronic Systems Contractors, however we count with an exclusive and selective group of Custom Integrators who can help you with your installation, we have coverage all over the UK and Europe in the residential, marine and commercial markets.
The video above shows a time-lapse of the installation of a digital media room at the Muralto london showroom by RSAV Solutions, who design and install bespoke automation and audio visual systems for home and business. The design was done by Migel Soto and Rob Sullivan.