Housing a golf simulator and home theater in one room is a trend that has been taking hold and catapulting home theaters into something more than just a place to watch movies.
Golf simulators have received a lot of buzz as of late. This year’s U.S. Open winner Jon Rahm had a tumultuous climb to victory after having to withdraw from the Memorial Tournament due to COVID-19. During his 10-day quarantine, Rahm practiced at home on his golf simulator, preparation that would lead him to the winner’s circle at Torrey Pines. Phil Mickelson took to his social media feed to share how he uses his Foresight GCQuad launch monitor.
Golf Simulators Not Just for Pros
Building a golf simulator isn’t just reserved for the golf pros. Thanks to major advancements in golf sim technology and declining prices, it’s now much easier to get your grip on a great golf simulator. In fact, it’s not much more than the cost of dedicated home theater, which has a lot of homeowners ready to take a swing at creating an entertainment space that serves dual purposes.
With some creative thinking and planning, homeowners can create a Top Golf entertainment area where family and friends can enjoy a round of golf, watch movies, and even play video games all from the same set up.
What makes this possible is that golf simulator systems and home theaters share many of the same components – a high brightness color-accurate 4K projector, a screen, side curtains, and adjustable room lighting – with a launch monitor camera, computer, and software tucked in.
The anchor of a golf simular is the projector. For this application, the best projector is a 5,000-lumen 4K laser projector with a short throw lens. Let’s tackle the brightness, or lumen output, specification first. Most standard home theater projectors are built for the cinematic experience where the lights are off and as result, picture brightness isn’t essential. But for a golf simulator, these projectors aren’t bright enough for use on a larger impact screen when the lights are on.
Golf simulation launch monitors use high-speed cameras to photograph and analyze a hit, which requires a decently lit room. A bright projector that is at least 5,000 lumens to fill a 12-foot-wide impact screen is what will deliver the best picture that doesn’t look washed out. With adjustable lighting in the room, the launch monitor has plenty of available light to track a swing while the image is bright and colorful.
Conversely, most high brightness projectors don’t have enough resolution or color accuracy to deliver a picture that looks like what the director intended. To solve this conundrum and truly allow homeowners to maximize the potential of their home and more specifically their entertainment spaces, there are now projector models available ideally suited for this type of setup — and they cost less than most launch monitors.
The latest golf simulation software, such as E6, now support true UHD 4K resolution, which transforms the image from looking like something played on a Wii to a true-to-life golf course. Hollywood producers know how to get the most out of 8.3 million pixels. And if the plan is to watch the Masters in 4K, watching the Avengers save the universe, or connecting an Xbox, every single one of those pixels will add to the experience.
One area where homeowners might not be as familiar when it comes to projectors is the lens. Most ceiling-mounted home theater projectors are placed farther away from the screen, but in golf simulation, the traditional projector placement will create a shadow on the screen because the person is standing in the playing area.
A projector with a short-throw lens allows the projector to be mounted closer to the screen, which not only prevents shadowing but ensures that the projector won’t get hit with a 7-iron since it’s placed outside the hitting zone. Lenses are either built into the projector or sold as an add-on to a projector body the same way lenses are sold with a digital camera. Built-in optical lenses are the most economical and flexible option.
Depending on how the projector is setup, there are two ideal placement options for the playing area. One option is to use an AV cart to the side of the playing area. The ideal projector in this case will require both the right throw ratio to be set up safely beside the playing area and enough lens shift and correction controls to fill the screen. Another option is to mount the projector on the ceiling but outside the hitting area. Again, this will require a projector designed with advanced picture adjustment controls to get the image to fit perfectly on the screen.
The final projector consideration is color accuracy. Homeowners have learned a great deal about how color accuracy impacts the viewing experience, thanks in large part to the movie phenomenon Avatar. Today, over 75% of 5,000-lumen projectors use lasers. Why? Laser technology enables a projector to deliver both high brightness and high color accuracy. But just having a laser engine won’t cut it. Look for a projector that specifies color accuracy using home theater color specifications such as Rec. 709, the industry color standard for HDTV. For a realistic, immersive SimTheater, 90% or better Rec. 709 coverage is best.
Golf Simulator Impact Screen
Impact screens are different than a regular home theater projector screen because it is built to withstand the constant pounding of golf balls. The key here is to have a screen that has a smooth and uniform surface so there isn’t any deformation of the image. Some of the newer impact screens are strong enough to hold their shape as the primary projector screen for movies as well, but videophiles may prefer to have movies on smaller screens that are mounted in a fixed position. In that case, an impact screen can drop down in front of the fixed movie screen.
Unless your name happens to be Rory, Scott, or Bryson, chances are a few shots won’t go where they were intended. In a commercial movie theater, side curtains are used to absorb ambient light and sound, but in a SimTheater, side curtains help catch errant golf balls. Options range from dedicated enclosure side curtains to blackout lined fabric curtains similar to those in a commercial theater.
Lighting is a key part of any home theater setup, but for a golf simulator, a flexible lighting environment is especially important. Dimmable lighting allows the lights to be turned down when watching movies and then back to optimal brightness for the launch monitor to track the ball. With the advancements in lighting technology, there are now multiple options to fit any budget, including smart bulbs or fixtures that can be controlled from a mobile device or home controller.
To avoid casting light on the screen, use as much directional lighting as possible. Spotlight lamps that have lower PAR values can improve control of the light in the playing and lounging area without washing out the projected image.
Golf Launch Monitor, Computer, and Software
Launch monitors will vary dramatically in price and complexity. There are plenty of golf enthusiasts online, such as Golf Simulator Videos’ YouTube channel, which can help determine the best specifications for the space. Keep in mind that a golf simulator needs a powerful computer to run the golf software, analyze data from the launch monitor, and feed that golf shot to be displayed on the projector. If streaming video and gaming content is important, that will be another consideration.
Finishing Touches for Golf Simulators
The golf simulator setup will also require golf flooring or hitting mats, of which there is a range of options from many retailers such as Shop Indoor Golf, which specializes in golf simulators. If audio is important, the room will also need a sound system that will complement both the movie-watching and the hitting experience. To pull it all together and make it as easy as possible to switch the lighting, projector, audio, and source inputs between golf mode and home theater mode, a home control system can simplify even the most elaborate setups with just a touch of a button on a controller or mobile device app.
The SimTheater combines the best of both worlds into one room without much more investment. For homeowners, it’s an opportunity to give the whole family what they want without moving or carving out space better used for other purposes. As golf looks to become an even trendier sport played by more and more people, the SimTheater is a great option for practicing without golf course or driving range fees.