Updated: December 6, 2012 

Home Theater Seats

Guide to Correct Home Theater Seating Design

Do not underestimate the importance of comfortable home theater seating. If you are after a great cinematic experience, a good seating layout and use of specially designed home theater recliners or couches, play a determining role in every home theater room design. Why?

Keep in mind that a home theater is the place where you sit to relax and enjoy watching movies. It is a place where you will spend hours - often with friends. If the seating isn't right, it would be difficult to get fully immersed into a great cinematic experience. The whole issue gets even more critical with multiple-row seating where every home theater seat should still be a great seat.

This article highlights the basic principles behind an effective home theater seating solution for an enjoyable movie watching experience.

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Home Theater Seating Basics: Layout Design Principles

As already detailed in our home theater design guide, a primary consideration—especially when it comes to the dedicated home theater room—is to determine your room space requirements.

It is the number of seats you will want to put together, in conjunction with the size of your big screen TV or projection screen that will eventually determine the space required for your home theater.

The size of your projection screen or HDTV will determine the viewing distance (or optimum viewing range) with in which it will be possible to enjoy a truly immersive cinematic experience. At the same time, the number of seats you plan to install in your home theater room will determine the viewing area requirements.

The approach here should therefore be to design a seating layout that complies with the recommendations expressed in our TV Viewing Distance guide. While it is not the scope of this article to go into the details already discussed in our TV viewing guide, it worth highlighting here the salient points for a correct home theater seating layout. 

Seating and Optimum Viewing Distance for an immersive movie action in the home

The issue here is that there is an optimum viewing distance within which the viewer will get better immersed into the movie action itself. 

A sort of a de-facto standard are the recommendations by the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers  (SMPTE) - which if translated in practical terms, would yield the twice-the-screen-width (or 2-D where D is the screen width - this applies in the case of 1080p HDTV) as the optimum distance between your home theater seat and the projection screen. 

This 2-D viewing distance corresponds to a 30 degrees horizontal angle of view and 15 degrees vertical angle of vision.

Whether one can really sit at such a close viewing distance depends on the quality of the video content and the pixel screen resolution. Unless you are using an HDTV signal, you will be better off at three-times the screen width as otherwise you will be able to see the 'image build up structure' - scanning lines or image pixels. You can always use an up-scaled image of your standard definition material but image quality artifacts may still be an issue with up-scaled material at very close viewing distances.

Every Seat should be a Good Seat: Screen Visibility and Home Theater Risers

Another consideration when planning your seating in the home theater should be to ensure that all viewers have an unobstructed view of the whole projection screen area.

This is a very basic requirement which should be adhered to when planning your seating layout. Do not try to squeeze in more home theater seats even if floor space permits if parts of the screen will not be visible from each and every seat.

This should not be difficult to achieve in a home theater installation with a single row of seats. However, if your seating consists of multiple rows of seats, the situation may be somewhat different; the use of risers or 'platforms' of a suitable height may be essential for a better viewing experience.

The height for the risers should be such as to allow for a totally clear view of the screen; the optimum height should be approximately 12 inches per row. This corresponds to a stadium type seating and would normally require a two 6-inch steps between adjacent rows.

In case of room height restrictions, it may be possible to reduce the height of the risers to between 6 to 8 inches. In this case, you will have to set the layout of your seats between adjacent rows such that people can see between the seats in front of them.

When constructing risers, ensure that they will be able to take the full load of all the seats and persons each riser will have to carry. In particular, ensure that the top of the risers is of sufficient thickness to guarantee the proper anchoring of your home theater seats. Normally, 1½-inch thick planks or two sheets of ¾" plywood would be required for the top to get the required thickness for this purpose.

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Seating and Comfortable Viewing: Head Twisting and Tilt

A further improvement in your seating is to install the rows along a radius of an arc whose center coincides with the center of the screen width. This yields a more natural line of sight to viewers sitting at the extreme ends of a row since it reduces excessive twisting of the head for the viewer to see the screen.

Directly associated with your home theater viewing comfort is head tilt. The head can easily tilt up to ±30 degrees off the vertical; in addition, a person's normal vision system supports an optimum viewing cone of 30 degrees around the normal line of sight. Yet there are a few differences between standing and seated which if taken into account will surely improve on your viewing comfort for a more relaxed home theater movie experience.

When a person is seated, the normal line of sight is some 12- to 15-degrees below the horizontal. In other words, your seats should allow for the backs to be tilted by the same amount to bring the seated line of sight in line with the horizontal for a more comfortable home theater seating.

This means that the use of suitably designed seats or recliners is essential when it comes to the 'dedicated' home theater room installation. 

Seating area: Floor Space Requirements

As already expressed earlier on, floor space requirement for your theater seating depends on the number of seats you plan to install in your home theater - subject to the required viewing distance limitation for your screen size.

The actual requirement will depend on the model and size of your selected home theater seat or chair. If you will be making use of home theater seats designed to be mounted in a row, the rule of thumb is to allow for a minimum of 24 inches per seat plus the extra requirement for each row to include the arm rests for the end seats.

Should you decide to make use of conventional household seating such as sofas and overstuffed chairs, it is best to allow for at least 36- by 36-inches per sofa or chair.

When it comes to spacing between rows, allow for 20-inches clearance between chairs. Expressed differently, if you are making use of a home theater chair whose overall depth is 28 inches, than the spacing between adjacent rows measured from identical points on the rows should be 48 inches (28" + 20" clearance between rows). If you are pressed for space, the clearance between rows may be reduced slightly but the minimum for comfortable access is no less than 14 inches.

Another requirement you have to factor in your home theater seating layout is the placement of your seats relative to the surrounding walls. Allow for at least 30-inches aisle space on either side of your seating to access each row of seats. An aisle behind your back row is not necessary. The tricky issue is the placement of your back row of seats relative to the rear wall. This is especially important with home theater recliners; check your home theater seats dimensions/specifications to determine the proper minimum distance to allow for full reclining motion. 

Seating Solutions for your Home Theater

Do you plan to use conventional household sofas, or you prefer overstuffed living room chairs to serve as seats when viewing a movie? What about the possibility of using specially designed home theater seating?

Conventional Recliners and Couches

Conventional household seating is probably the cheapest and most obvious choice if your home theater room is also serving as the family living room. Conventional sofas, reclines, and overstuffed chairs may not necessary represent the optimum seating solution for home theater use, but in such circumstances, the use of dedicated theater seating would simply be inappropriate.

Dedicated Theater Seats

Authentic home theater seating is specifically designed to render your home theater experience as enjoyable and relaxing as possible.

Whether it takes the form of commercial-style theater seats as used in public movie theaters, or the more comfortable over-stuffed type of home theater chairs, this type of seating offers the best solution for comfortable home theater viewing; the only drawback is their relatively higher price.

Showtime Collection Leather Home Theater CouchShowtime Collection
Black Leather Motion Home Theater Seats

Various seat design solutions are available from a number of manufacturers in different seat widths/sizes and dozens of leather and fabric choices. Possible available options on higher-end home theater seats would normally include recliner and incliner mechanisms, beverage holders, and foot-rests.

Some manufacturers even allow for customer customization to enable their seats to be installed along a pre-designed seating radius for more comfortable viewing, while others include built-in bass shakers for the ultimate in your home theater experience. Bass shakers can help you feel the bass in a way no home theater speaker or subwoofer can ever achieve. For more details on bass shakers, refer to our guide on the use of tactile transducers in the home theater: Bass Shakers, Buttkickers… now you can feel the shake!

Concluding Remarks

Whatever seating solution you will adopt for your home theater, it is important to keep in mind the layout design principles discussed above. Do not miss out on this or you will be missing a lot; after all, proper seating can turn an average home theater experience into a great cinematic one. 

For additional information on theater seating, we suggest the following short 'Seating Guide' by Cinemasource.com. It goes into substantial layout details as well as mounting options.

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Article Content

Issues discussed in this home theater guide:

Blue bullet  Seating Basics: Basic home theater seating layout design principles

Blue bullet  Seating and Viewing Distance for a truly immersive experience

Blue bullet  Screen Visibility and Risers:  Every seat is a good seat!

Blue bullet  Comfortable Seating: Head tilt and twist

Blue bullet  Seating Area: Floor requirements for home theater seating

Blue bullet  Seating Options: Use of standard house-hold recliners or dedicated home theater seats?