How Do You Paint A Media Room?

February 19th, 2008 · 20 Comments

Earlier today, a friend asked me for advice on how he should paint his media room. After a bit of discussion, where I realized how much I thought the choice of color and finish had improved my own media room experience, I figured the topic would make for a good blog post. Hopefully you will find this somewhat useful as you make decisions about your own media room.

If you’re planning to base your media room around a projector, then I believe the single most important choice you can make is to pick the right kind of paint finish. Why? It comes from the fact that a human eye’s ability to resolve the details in a picture is based on the relative light levels in that picture versus the overall surrounding environment — I’m not talking about the contrast in the picture itself, but between the picture and other light in your room. Your eye can best resolve the detail in the picture when the darkest parts of the picture aren’t much darker than the overall light level of everything your eye can see, i.e. the light level in your room. You can easily see this effect yourself by going into any theater store and looking at a projector picture in a dark room (looks nice) versus in a room with lights on (looks duller and more washed out.) This is exactly why public movie theater’s are dark.

So how does the paint finish matter then? Any sort of glossy finish is highly reflective of light. Which means that light, originally coming off your projector screen or any other source (lamp, window, doorway, etc.,) is reflecting off the wall and into your eye from multiple directions, even if the original light source is not in your direct eyesight. This light bouncing off the ceiling and walls reduces the effective contrast in your projector picture. The best way to minimize this is to minimize the opportunities for light to reflect, which means picking a flat finish for your paint – both for the ceiling and the walls.

Now that you have a type of finish, the next critical decision is to pick a paint color. In general, you want a dark color because it reflects less light and we just went over why that is important, right? But it’s also important to consider the tint of the color. You should avoid extremely vibrant colors like true reds, blues, or greens. This is because there will always be some reflected light of your walls and ceilings, and this will pick up the tint of the paint. Besides reducing the perceptive contrast of the picture on your screen, this light can throw off the color balance as well. I believe there is some evidence that there is a perceptive effect, but I believe the main effect is the reflection back onto the screen itself of the now colored light. This would add a tint to your picture in the direction of the color of your walls.

So, ideally, you should go with neutral dark colors such as browns and grays if not outright black. But not everyone can live with those sort of color schemes, so my final bit advice on color is that if you’re going to go with a color, red is better than blue or green. I believe this because the red colored light reflecting off your walls will scatter less in the air and thus less of it will get to your eyes before it is absorbed by the various surfaces it bounces off of. It’s the same principal that makes the sky blue, and I believe its part of the reason why when you look at the light traveling from your projector to your screen, you see mostly blue, and why a room with a TV on glows blue through the window at night.

My last bit of advice is to seriously think about painting your ceiling. This is because most home media room screens are positioned where the vertical center is above the eye level of the seating position and this causes your head to look slightly upward. This physical screen position is common because (a) people want to minimize the shadows cast while someone walks around in the room, thus they tend to locate the screen higher, (b) home decorators (wives) generally don’t like to see whole walls dedicated to a screen so they want some furniture or something else there and it is much easier to put something underneath a screen than above it, and (c) a seating position on a couch or chair is naturally low and most people don’t put in stadium seating. All of this contributes to the fact that you are looking slightly upward at the picture which means your eye is aimed to receive light bouncing off the ceiling. As discussed in the previous paragraphs, the best way to minimize the reflection off the ceiling is to paint it with a flat finish of a dark color. Most people generally don’t pick this combination for a ceiling, they go with some sort of white or light color, and thus you’ll likely need to change it when you paint your media room.

My own media room was recently painted with a flat Behr premium paint in a dark red color called Chianti. All the walls and the ceiling are this color — which has proven to be a HUGE improvement over the previous standard builder’s off-white paint color. Unfortunately, I don’t have any equipment to make measurements that prove this, but everyone who’s seen the changes has commented on the improvement, not to mention the overall elegant and traditional theater look of the dark red color. This improvement is obvious even though we’ve left all the trim in the room (crown molding, floor molding, window and door molding) as glossy white. This makes sense given the relative area of trim versus wall and ceiling — which is probably a ratio on the order of 1 to 100 or so. The only downside of choosing a dark red is that, due to the nature of red pigment used in paint and the lack of white opaque additives, it does not cover as well as other colors. Expect to do on the order of 5 coats to make it look even and solid, and that’s after first putting up a similar tinted primer. Believe me though, it will be worth it!

Tags: Home Theater

20 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Bryan Palmer // Nov 18, 2008 at 4:09 am

    Thank you. Very useful amd I’m suprised hasn’t attracted any comments. I’m about to move into a new house and “convert” one of the rooms to a media room. The wall I’m projecting onto is a sort of slate gray/brown and I was expecting to have to repaint it white but having read your advice I will certainly test the colour scheme out before hand as I may have to do nothing.

  • 2 Desi Girl // Jan 7, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    what about carpet color? what do you recommend?

  • 3 Dave // Jan 10, 2009 at 2:14 am

    @Desi Girl: Hmm, I’m not sure I have a real recommendation on carpet, except to follow the same principals mentioned above. That is, try not to get anything too shiny, too vibrant of a color, nor too light. I will say that we did not change the carpet when we painted our room so our carpet is a tan-ish shag. Not ideal for the projector, but we haven’t yet had the budget to replace it.

    If you’re questioning carpet at all, in my opinion it is the right way to go compared to a harder surface like hardwood or tile. This is primarily for surround-sound acoustics rather than any projection issue though. Unless you’re going to add lots of sound absorbing wall panels to your walls, you’re going to have a very echoy / reverby room without the mass of soft, sound-absorbing carpet. That could make dialogue quite difficult to understand.

  • 4 Nicole // Jul 24, 2009 at 7:23 am

    Thanks a ton. We have a large “gameroom” in our upstairs that we are converting to a dedicated media room. We chose a deep red and a black. The black in only in the window sitting area (where the kids play their guitars) this is a semi-gloos. If the rest of the room is flat deep red, can this area be semi-gloss as it is away from the TV?

    Thanks for such great info!!

  • 5 Dave // Jul 24, 2009 at 10:56 pm

    @Nicole Glad my post could help! I can certainly understand needing a semi-gloss for an area where kids will be spending alot of time — the ability to wash the surfaces is pretty important! I think the semi-gloss won’t be an issue given that you say the area where it’s used is away from the TV/screen. But to be explicit (and nit-picky), to me that means out of your line of sight when in a normal seating position and looking at the screen. Otherwise, even though you’re using a black color, the gloss finish can cause enough of a reflection to distract you from the screen if bright light shines on the surface. Like if daylight leaks through the blinds or drapes in the window seating area when you’re trying to watch a dark movie. If the black area isn’t out of the line-of-sight, then simply do your best to minimize light from hitting it. The good news is you can always work on improving that after the rest of the room is done.

  • 6 Roni // Aug 1, 2009 at 3:37 am

    Thanks so much for this article Dave. I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to paint my media room for 6 months and your articles helped me come up with some good ideas.

  • 7 Olivia // Oct 14, 2009 at 6:27 pm

    Trying to decide on a ceiling color for our Media room. We’ve selected Threatre Red for wall color, trim (crown molding, floor boards , doors will be painted dark brown. Not sure what color to paint the ceiling. Will have a tray ceiling in the room and thought a gold color with the rope lighting would look nice. After reading this article , gold will not be the choice. Any advice is needed. Thanks

  • 8 Dave // Oct 21, 2009 at 8:49 pm

    Hi Olivia, a tray ceiling painted in gold with rope lighting may not be out of the question. I think it depends on how big of an area you’re talking about and where it is in relation to the screen and seating areas. Like I’ve tried to stress in my writings above, the most important thing is to keep reflective surfaces out of the line of sight when you’re in your seating and watching the screen. If the rest of the room minimizes reflections too, then a little gold on the ceiling may be totally acceptable. I’m assuming you’ll also be able to turn off the rope lighting when watching those dark movies where contrast is critical to making out the details of the picture?

    In short, it all comes down to the geometry of your room.

  • 9 Harshal // Nov 4, 2009 at 8:09 pm

    Hello Dave,
    I came across your blog, and it has definitely helped me. I have an existing media room that is all light – Grey and the ceilings have those blocks (that come from a finished basements, the ones that you can lift up).
    Now I like your idea of coloring the ceiling, but i was wondering if those blocks on the ceiling can be individually painted? My guess is yes.
    We have tiles on the floor – and I wasn’t really intending to spend on carpet, until I came across this page. It does make sense for sound absorption, but it looks like I might need to give that a thought. Would a large rug do the same job? I am trying to cut costs here.
    Thanks for the help

  • 10 Harshal // Nov 4, 2009 at 8:12 pm

    Also, I was thinking of going with a flat dark(est) orange color (rather than a red), with the trims painted cherry wood. This would all fit well with my existing cherry wood coloured leather recliners and existing furniture.

  • 11 Tina // Nov 12, 2009 at 10:44 am

    Dave, thanks for the info. I have been stressing out for days on what colors to paint my media room. It is actually a media/exercise room on the bottom floor which is the first floor that sits into a hill, so we consider it the first floor/basement. I put a sample patch of dark blueish/greenish color from Sherwin Williams called Cascade and my husband flipped when he saw it. So here I am reading your article and after learning I shouldn’t go with blue or green, am happy to get some pointers. Thanks for the blog!

  • 12 Lynda // Nov 21, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    I have enjoyed reading the comments. My concern is I have a huge gameroom that I want to convert to a media room. I have two big windows. How do I block out the light. I have shades, but the light comes through the side.

  • 13 kkdtechi // Sep 11, 2010 at 6:25 pm

    Dave, Thanks for the info. Very useful. Was thinking of leaving the ceiling in white color, Decided to paint my ceiling now with dark color.

  • 14 RThomas // Nov 12, 2010 at 12:53 pm

    Dave,
    You have mentioned that a wood floor is a bad choice for a media room. We are in process of building a media room, and is thinking about putting wood floor with a sound reducing padding. The reason why we want wood is because the whole family suffers from allergies. Would sound absorbing wall panels take of the echoes completely?

  • 15 Kelly Smith // Nov 15, 2010 at 8:11 am

    I am quickly going to do a media room, with little time and painters are practically on the way. I was thinking the wine colored walls because the furniture in the next room is wine colored leather. When I read your comments I may go with the Behr Chianti as suggested for ease. It fits what I was looking for and again I am into the no hassle media room at this point. I told my husband to expect several coats (he wanted to do it himself) and said the primer would prevent several coats. I suggested calling the painter (we wives figure these things out pretty quickly) so he agreed. By telling me it takes several coats I will purchase enough paint and let the painters know what to expect especially since it already has a medium blue on the walls. Thanks for the tips!

  • 16 Mike White // Oct 15, 2012 at 10:33 pm

    I have aarge L shaped room, in the protrusion is my pool table and a setup for an ols Atari system;in the straight portion I have rwo stadium chairs ans a small computer desk with computer. I also have a projrctor and a 11′ wide scree. i painted the entire room/roof in a flat chocolate and placed three rugs on the floor (it has a dark semi-gloss hardwod fllor. Iget only mild echos at timrs an the picture quality is stunning. I made the mistake of following my own nose but I goy lucky amd am very pleased.

  • 17 Mike White // Oct 15, 2012 at 10:35 pm

    Please excuse the typos, I had a stroke in June and still make keyboard miscues.

  • 18 Shelton Daniel // Mar 7, 2013 at 11:51 pm

    Great advice as I’m going to pick up paint tomorrow for my media room. The advice on a matte finish makes perfect since.. Also, going with a dark color ceiling is equally informative. Many thanks..

  • 19 Jerry // Sep 12, 2013 at 9:32 pm

    When I did my first media room I read that a flat grey was one of if not the best color to use for walls and ceiling. So that is what i did. the results were great so much so that we just used the projection on to the flat grey wall. The picture was so amazing. As for the floor we had put down a high quality light blue carpet.

    We are buying a new home and the media room for it is 13×21 feet rectangle cant wait to set it up. Gound with the same color a flat grey will have to replace the carpet as its a light tan color. Other then that I just cant wait to get it done.

  • 20 Peter Brown // Mar 4, 2014 at 7:55 pm

    Just finished construction of my basement media room (22’X12′); most of what I’ve been reading on painting leans towards using a Neutral(darker shade) of gray for the walls and ceiling. However my basement ceiling is only 7′ high and I’m concerned it will feel to much like a bomb shelter (particularly if the wood trimmings and door colors sre done in the same gray. What would you recommend to make this color choice less institutional but yet maintain minimum colour distortion? Very informative blog.