Sound and picture quality are two of the most important factors in creating an immersive home cinema experience. Imagine settling down to watch the latest blockbuster. Your favourite snacks and drinks are at the ready, the opening scene starts rolling…but you’re squinting, barely able to see a thing. The details are grainy, the actors’ faces distorted — it’s distracting to say the least.
We’ve already covered sound and how to build a home cinema room, today let’s look at how you can boost picture quality in your home cinema.
These steps will differ depending on whether you use a projector or television. Feel free to skip to the steps most relevant to you. Regardless of the equipment in your cinema room, its easy to achieve crystal clear images that mimic the experience of being at the movies.
Improving Home Cinema Picture Quality Using A Projector
Tearing your hair out setting up your home cinema’s projector? You’re not alone. Projectors are notoriously tricky to set up right because there’s so many variables affecting picture quality. If you keep getting a less than perfect picture quality it’s best to return to basics and start methodically from th beginning.
The main elements to pay attention to when it comes to picture quality are:
- Projector focus
- Cleaning the lens
- Position of your home cinema’s projector
- Keystone correction
- Sharpness and resolution
Let’s go through each step one at a time. By the end of this article you should be achieving picture quality that’s Oscar worthy!
1. Adjust the projector’s focus
Why is focus so important in a home cinema projector?
If your favourite films look fuzzy onscreen, adjusting the projector’s focus is the first step (especially if it’s the entire picture that’s blurry).
Focus is crucial to your viewing experience because it reveals detail. Without correct focus, images onscreen will appear blurry and you’ll struggle to make sense of what you’re looking at. Plus, you’ll miss out on all the rich detail of your favourite films.
How do I adjust the projector’s focus?
Adjusting your projector’s focus is easy. Simply look for the focus adjustment ring that’s located round your projector’s lens. Twist the focus ring and notice how the picture either blurs or gets sharper. Adjusting the ring effectively narrows or expands the image coming out of the lens. Usually a blurry picture can be corrected by evening out the difference between where the image is in focus and where the screen is.
The fiddly part is knowing which distance between screen and projector produces the best image. The further from the projecto the larger the image, and there is always a sweet spot where the projected image will be in perfect focus. Obviously, you can only move the projector so far back (unless your cinema room is huge!) so our goal is to twist the focus ring until the picture that appears on screen is pin sharp.
We recommend placing your home cinema screen first. Next place the projector according to its ‘throw ratio’. There’s a simple calculation to work out a projector’s throw ratio:
Throw ratio = distance / width
It’s a common myth that you need at least a 100 inch screen for an immersive cinema experience. While large screens need large rooms, short throw and ultra short throw projectors make cinematic picture quality possible even in tiny flats. Provided you’ve taken care to measure the length and width of the room and placed the projector at the maximum distance from the screen you can enjoy watching films on a big screen without fuzziness.
Awkward L-shaped room? Simply pick your ideal furniture placement then measure the distance between the two walls and purchase an appropriate projector. Ideally the best home cinema set up is placing the projector and screen on the two walls furthest apart from one another.
Once you’ve made your calculations it’s simply a case of adjusting the focus ring back and forth until you concentrate the light beam where the image looks most crisp.
2. Clean the projector’s lens
If only a part of the picture is blurry or the fuzziness doesn’t reduce when you twist the focus ring, then it’s likely there’s an issue with the lens.
Something as simple as a gruby fingerprint can compromise picture quality. The lens works by letting light in, therefore anything that interfere’s with the light’s beam can lead to fuzzy or distorted images. Dust and lint can also build up on the lens over time.
To clean your projector switch it off and let it cool for half an hour. Use a can of compressed air blow away dust. Keep the can upright and blow in short bursts to avoid damaging the lens. Using a lens brush in a circular motion will further clear away dusty debris. Finally a lens wipe or lens cleaner spray with a microfibre will clean off greasy smears and fingerprints.
If there’s still blurriness in your picture there could be dust inside the lens. In which case you’ll need to disassemble the lens to clean.
Condensation is another issue that can impair picture quality. Significant shifts in temperature can fog up the lens so try to keep your home cinema room at a consistent temperature. Installing smart features in your home can help with temperature control.
3. Change the projector’s position in your home theatre
So you’ve tried fixing the focus and cleaning the lens but the picture still isn’t star quality. What’s next?
Where you position your home cinema’s projector can make or break your viewing experience. Part of the enjoyment of visiting the cinema is taking the perfect picture for granted! But if you’re constantly squinting or angling your head to see better it’s time to rethink the projector’s position.
Consider mounting the projector on the ceiling. It’ll be easier get the throw ratio right and there’s less chance of people knocking the projector out of alignment.
Place your projector as far back from the screen as possible to avoid ‘hotspotting’. A hotspot is a reflection from the projector lens that creates an annoying circle. The closer to the projector is to the screen the bigger and brighter the hotspot.
Ensure the projector’s beam isn’t blocked by lights, ceilings fans, floor lamps or furniture. Keeping your home cinema room as clutter free as possible means you can get truly immersed in what you’re watching.
Finally, as already mentioned, pick a spot that’s optimal to your projector’s throw ratio.
4. Avoid Keystone Correction
Many might dissuade you from fiddling with keystone correction — and they’d be right!
Keystone correction is designed to help you achieve a nice rectangular image on screen, but often keystone correction can reduce image further instead of improving it.
Why? Keystone correction tries to fix an optical problem with a digital solution.
Getting a rectangular image from the projector to the screen can be frustrating. A common problem is ending up with a trapezoid shape istead of a rectangle. This happens when the projector isn’t perpendicular to the screen.
Keystone correction ‘fixes’ this problem by scaling the images down and processing it into a more rectangular shape. The issue here is that scaling an image down reduces the number of pixels which results in a softer, blurrier picture. Keystone adjustment actually hurts picture quality!
So what can you do instead? Place the projector properly!
That’s right, we’re back to the previous step. Prevention is the best cure so double and triple check that your wall or ceiling mount in placed optimally for the projector.
5. Change the sharpness and/or resolution
Finally, you can play with your projector’s settings to improve the picture’s sharpness and resolution.
Sharpness refers to the clarity and contrast of the image you’re seeing on screen. Open your projector’s menu to find the sharpness settings then adjust the slider to suit. Soon you’ll be picking out new details from a film you’ve seen a hundred times before!
In terms of resolution, image quality can be compromised if you’re using an HDMI cable from a computer. Essentially, the computer needs to know the target resolution of an image to display it properly. Go into your computer’s display management settings to change resolution values.
Improving Home Cinema Picture Quality Using A TV
For many home theatre addicts there’s no contest between TV and projector when it comes to picture quality. Today’s 4K and OLED televisions give you stunning, cinematic pictures. They’re so good, in fact, that you might feel disappointed by the image quality next time you visit your local cinema!
If you opted for a TV instead of a projector for your home cinema but aren’t satisfied with the picture quality, there are a number of things to try. Most of these tips are quick and easy to implement yourself, so clear your schedule for a mammoth high-definition binge of your favourite film or TV series!
The main things to try when upping your TV’s quality are:
- Updating the box an cables
- Adjusting the contrast
- Turn off ‘motion smoothing’
- Seating position
Updating your home cinema TV’s box and cables
Firstly, make sure you TV box is the best you can afford — if you want a sharp picture this isn’t the place to scrimp! If your box is a few years old then you might to upgrade in orde to take advantage of HD options. It’s incredible how much difference this simple upgrade can make. If you’re after quality go for a 4k box.
If you prefer to watch video content from your computer or laptop an HDMI cable is essential. Are all HDMI cables created equal? There’s actually a variety of standards when it comes to cables. If you haven’t updated the cable that came with a TV you caught years ago then it’s unlikely to support a 4K video source.
Picking an HDMI cable that supports 4K up to 60fps is enough for most viewers. Of course, witht he rise of 8K and home cinemas you might be in the market for more. In which case, you’ll love the superior picture an HDMI 2.1 or 8K cable gives.
Adjust the contrast
Here’s a quick tip: up your TV’s screen’s contrast to almost full and reduce the brightnes to just below half. See the difference? The rich colours come from making the blacks stronger. As a result the overall image is less washed outand avoids the image on screen looking washed out.
If you watch TV through the day and are bothered by light coming through window, try upping the brightness of the screen. Simply navigate to you TV’s settings menu and fiddle with the brightness until you’re happy.
Many people skip this step, and that’s a huge mistake! Professional installers will always take time to calibrate your TV for the best picture quality, but you can also do it yourself.
You can find the calibration setup on the disc that came with your TV or you can download a free app that corresponds to you TV’s make. Follow the prompts using your remote to begin an automatic calibration of your TV’s contrast, brightness, colour, tint, and aspect ratio. You can also tweak the sound.
Disabling the ‘soap opera’ effect
Do you find the images on your TV screen slightly uncanny? Everyone looks too realistic and weirdly smooth. This unsettling optical experience has been dubbed the ‘soap opera effect’ and is the result of a default mode on your TV. Ironically, this super sharp realism can make an epic film look amateurish and low-budget.
This ‘soap opera effect’ is down to a feature called motion smoothing. The aim of this feature is to decrease motion blur by filling in frames to make movement more lifelike. However, our eyes are used to viewing at a lower frame-rate, which is why the smooth motion can look uncanny.
To turn off motion smoothing go to your TV’s Settings menu and reduce or disable the feature.
Finally, where you sit can make a difference to picture quality. As a rule of thumb the distance your seat should be placed from the screen is between 1.5 – 2.5 times the diagonal screen size. If you purchased a 4K Ultra TV you’ll be able to sit closer.
Many people subscribe to ‘bigger is better’ when it comes to screen. However, if you have small cinema room or multi-purpose entertainment room that doesn’t allow you to sit far from the screen, you might not get the full benefit of a bigger screen.
If you do have the space and budget for a giant screen, go for it! With a larger screen you’ll truly be able to replicate cinema magic at home.
Asking the experts
Fiddling around with settings and cables isn’t for everyone. Projectors are notoriously hard to position correctly and can really compromise your cinematic experience. If you’re not techy or simply don’t have time to trawl through every Settings menu to optimise your home cinema’s picture quality, you can always seek the skills of an expert.
Professional installers know exactly where to place TVs and projectors to achieve the best picture quality. They’ll ensure you’re satisfied with the picture and sound and explain how everything works. As you can see, there’s a lot more to picture quality than ‘plug in and play’.
John Ross Smart Living have years of experience in creating “escape rooms” and installing home cinemas. Let us take care of fiddly technical parts so you can sit back and enjoy your favourite films over a box of popcorn.
Get in touch to start planning your dream home cinema today.
Final thoughts on home cinema picture quality
Hopefully our home cinema picture quality tips have given you a few ideas to try.
Achieving stunning picture quality can take patience, but it’s worth it to experience an immersive visual experience. After all, that’s why you built a home cinema in the first place. Once you find the perfect setting you’ll never need to worry about picture quality in your home cinema again.