Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was this elegant, reference-performance home theater. Nor was it built in a few months or even a couple of years. From build-out to final tweaking this 45-seat cinema took four years to complete, to the tune of more the $3 million. Admittedly, that’s a lot of cash to commit to a single room of a house, but according to custom electronics (CE) professional Jason Voorhees of Cantara in Costa Mesa, Calif., this home theater has seen more use in one year than most do in a lifetime. “They haven’t even had the theater for a year, and we’ve already had to replace the lamp on the projector, which is rated for 2,000 hours of use,” he says.
It’s easy to understand how this family would have a hard time staying out of a room this spectacular. From the overall design to the smallest of details, it’s a shining example of home theater at its best. And remarkably, it all started with a small piece of red fabric.
After the room had been constructed, as part of a new 8,000-square-foot addition to the existing 25,000-square-foot house, the owners had no clear idea of how they wanted their home theater to look or perform. “All they knew is that they wanted it to be really big,” Voorhees says. “It wasn’t until a home theater designer from [Laguna Beach–based] Slayman Cinema held up a piece of lush, red fabric, and the owner said ‘I want my theater to feel like this piece of fabric,’ that we knew the type of theater we needed to create.” If the goal was to design an environment as luxurious as that swatch of material, Cantara had to go just as sophisticated on the equipment.
Choosing from the crème de la crème of A/V, Cantara suited up the space with a generous supply of Genelec speakers. Based on acoustics and other room parameters, the engineers at Genelec recommended 13 reference-grade speakers and five subwoofers, which would bring on 8,400 watts of ear-splitting audio. Big and beefy, the speakers are definitely meant to be heard but not seen. So before the inspired red fabric was applied on the walls, the team at Cantara recessed the surround-sound speakers into the studs, each in its prime location based on diligent speaker diagnostics. Even the fabric was given special treatment. Explains Voorhees, “Since the material wasn’t acoustically transparent it would have dampened sound from the speakers. Collaborating with Slayman Cinema, small “portholes” were cut from the fabric and covered with decorative grilles.”
(View images of this gorgeous theater here)
The front three speakers sit behind a massive 18-foot-wide CinemaScope screen from Stewart Filmscreen, and one of the massive subs went underneath in a custom-built proscenium. Unlike the wall fabric, the screen material was designed to allow the audio to flow freely through it.
A Titan Reference 1080p 3D video projector from Digital Projection International lights up the enormous display with video content from components stored for all to admire in an equipment rack in a room just outside the theater. In addition to the essential amps, switchers and processors, the gear includes a Samsung Blu-ray Disc player, Apple TV, Autonomic media server, Xbox 360 gaming console, DirecTV receiver and a soon-to-be-installed Prima Cinema media server—a specialty server that delivers current theatrically released movies straight into the home.
(View images of this home theater here)
Cantara added a second Lumagen video processor to the mix so that some people could watch in 3D while others viewed the same movie but in 2D. The projection screen is dedicated to 3D content, with 20 XpanD 3D glasses available to viewers in the main seating area. In the balcony and bar area (which is outside the theater), however, the family felt more comfortable skipping the glasses and simply watching the movie in 2D. The Lumagen processor does some complicated manipulation of the native 3D image so that the two 46-inch flat-panel Samsung LED displays in the balcony and another Samsung display in the bar can present the movie in 2D. It was one of the most complicated feats of engineering his team has ever accomplished, says Voorhees.
When the action switches to gaming, which it often does with two kids in the house, the owners can activate the D-Box motion actuators planted beneath the front row of seats by touching an icon that’s displayed on the screen of a portable AMX touchpanel. The seats now rumble, shake and shift with the on-screen action.
This same panel, which controls the lights and temperature in the theater, also functions as an intercom. Although a seemingly minor feature of the initial design, it has become an essential part of the theater environment. Without it, the family may have never heard the doorbell ring at the front gate. The AMX system automatically pauses the movie, mutes and sound and emits a ring through the touchpanel whenever someone presses at button at the home’s entrance. The family can see the visitors and converse with them via the touchpanel’s built-in microphone—and welcome them to join them in their masterpiece theater.
When Design Dictates
It may not be natural for a custom electronics professionals and an interior designer to see eye to eye. A CE pro is all about the gear; an interior designer is keen on color and texture. But when designing an elaborate $3 million home theater, the electronics and the environment must play nice. One simply can’t exist without the other. In this project, the CE pros at Cantara Design Group, Costa Mesa, Calif., and the theater designers at Slayman Cinema, Laguna Beach, Calif., worked hand-in-hand throughout the entire four-year-process to create a one-of-a-kind home cinema. According to Cantara’s Jason Voorhees, Slayman actually took the lead during many phases of the project, conceiving innovative ways to integrate the technology into the elaborate room environment, and in some cases, turning the technology into a design element. Take the long cabinet that rests at the front of the balcony. It sets off the space, adds architectural interest … and it also happens to hold, cool and ventilate a powerful 3D video projector. And although the luxurious fabric for the walls that covered the recessed speakers would have muffled the sound, Cantara and Slayman devised a beautiful way for the audio to drift into the room without damaging the look and feel of the material.
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Lisa Montgomery has been writing about home technology for 15 years, with a focus on the impact of electronics on a modern lifestyle.