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Home theater seating layout: 5 key design and placement tips

by Nyal Mellor October 09, 2013

The first task that should be done in any home theater design is choosing the number and type of seats. That's probably surprising to most enthusiasts as they think that equipment is the first thing that should be selected! In fact seating choices end up dictating a lot of other things including room dimensions, acoustic treatment and subwoofer / speaker type and placement. There are two ways to go about designing seating: from the "outside in" or from the "inside out".  

1. Seating Placement Approach

Outside In For rooms with fixed dimensions (such as our demo room which was a remodel of an existing space) the approach to use is "outside in". This means that you start with the room size and use this to determine the maximum number of seats, their type and arrangement into rows. 3. Performance Related Seating Placement Considerations There are a number of performance related design principles that must to considered when laying out home theater seating:
  • Viewing angles should be between 36 and 50 degrees for the display to fill in a viewer's field of vision. These angles are derived from commercial cinema best practices and are explained more in this blog article.
  • All seats should have a clear view of the screen. Risers - a term for a raised seating platform - are nearly always necessary to bring the eye's of people in rows two and three above the heads of those in row one and two.
  • The bass response for every listener should be similar. Bass response typically changes rapidly throughout a room due to the influence of room modes. The design process to ensure all seats have a similar bass response is complex and requires consideration of the spatial distribution of room mode peaks and nulls as well as the influence of speaker and subwoofer placement.
  • Listener's heads should be >4ft away from surround speakers. We want to ensure that the surround speakers are not localized for enveloping sounds. This means that the sound pressure level from the surround speakers should not be significantly louder than the main screen channels. In addition speakers are generally not designed to be listened to nearfield and only give their flattest frequency response in the farfield.
  • Listener's heads should be >4ft away from the back wall. Our opinion is that seats that are against the back wall often suffer from a substantial bass boost and poor envelopment as no reflected sounds are arriving at the ear from the back of the room.
Most of these requirements are simple enough that a DIY'er with a CAD drawing package and some time can can design for them. Others such as ensuring consistent seat-to-seat bass response require in depth knowledge of acoustics and some specialized modeling programs.  so that people can easily enter and exit the theater
  • Leave 20"+ between seats at all times, even with recliners in the reclined position!

    5. Flexing Seating Type In Order To Meet Design Requirements

    There are many types of seats that can usefully be deployed in a home theater. The most obvious, and the one that takes the most space, is the recliner. Other types are stadium seats, like those found in a commercial cinema, bar seats and couches. Careful choice of seating type, number and placement can be used to ensure that the home theater meets the requirements outlined above.    

    Home Theater Recliners

    Fortress who make supremely comfortable and supportive seats in California. Recliners are typically made of leather and come with motorized recline features. Theater recliners vary in size from manufacturer to manufacturer. As a guideline, however, we can use the following dimensions: 34" wide including side arms, 38" deep in their upright position and 67" deep in their full recline position. Consider therefore that a row of four theater recliners with common arms would be 123" across (over 10ft). Allowing a 30" of walkway on either side of the seats gets you to 183" (or 15.25ft) for minimum room width. Length wise we need to make allowance for walkway in between rows when seats are fully reclined. If we allow 18" between rows then front to back two rows of seats occupies 152" (12.7ft). Because of their size sometimes a room is simply not large enough to fit the number of seats required and in this case other solutions may be more appropriate.    

    Stadium Seating

    Bar Seating
    Bar seating is typically implemented in a home theater exactly as you might find it in a bar setting. There is a shallow depth bar behind the last row of recliners with a number of high bar stools with footrests used to provide seating. It provides a relatively low cost, space efficient way of fitting a large number of people in your theater for the few times a year when you are having a party or other event.   Ultimate Guide to Setting Up a Home Movie Theater from Porch. If you're ready for more technical education, check out some of our other home theater design articles.

    Nyal Mellor
    Nyal Mellor


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    Nyal Mellor, Founder, Acoustic Frontiers

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