A two or three movies-at-the-cinema-a-week habit is what finally drove homeowner Pablo to build a theater in the lower level of his Mexican home. “During the Oscars we’d sometimes go see five films in a week,” he adds.
To satisfy his wife and youngest son’s movie obsession, he agreed to transform a storage room into a theater…under one condition: that the family would pitch in to help clear out the clutter. “I went on a business trip after giving them the ultimatum, and when I got back the room was completely cleaned out,” Pablo says. Clearly, his wife and son wanted their own theater, badly.
True to his word, Pablo immediately got in touch with a nearby home theater specialist. “When he gave me the quote, though, I knew this would have to be a project I did myself,” Pablo says. He used two books to bone up on home theater design, construction and installation: Master Handbook of Acoustics by F.Alton Everest, and Sound Reproduction: The Acoustics of Psychoacoustics of Loudspeakers and Rooms by Floyd Toole. From these, he learned the importance of good room acoustics to the quality of the listening experience. Following the books’ advice, he treated the room with acoustical panels, ran the cabling and installed a rack of A/V gear and a projector, buying components mainly from Amazon so he could finish the project quickly and affordably.
The end result, while raw and basic, was a hit with the family, but their enjoyment would be short lived. “We had been using the theater for about three months, when I was asked to relocate 120 miles south to Mexico City for my job.” Although initially disappointed to leave their cherished home theater behind, it’s what ultimately helped sell the house, according to Pablo “Most homes in the area sit for two years. Ours was sold in three weeks.” Plus, he promised this family their next home would have a theater that it would be even better than the first.
Homes in Mexico City are small and expensive, says Pablo, so it took awhile to find a suitable residence with the real estate necessary for a dedicated theater, but when they did find it, it offered a room that was darn near perfect for the type of theater the family envisioned. Detached from the main house below the garden, the subterranean space could be designed to evoke a sense of physically “going to a show,” and afforded the privacy his teenage kids preferred when entertaining friends. It was spacious too, measuring 26 feet wide, 36 feet long and 8 feet high. Pablo would use a portion of it (26-by-36-by-8 feet) for the theater, and dedicate the rest for a lobby, kitchenette and bathroom. He then hired a contractor to construct the space according to his specifications.
Using what he learned from his first home theater endeavor, and telephone and online discussions with the tech support at speaker company SVS, Pablo started the process by designing acoustic panels and bass traps, hiring a woodworker to make them and a furniture upholsterer to wrap them in fabric chosen by his wife. As was the case with much of the equipment that would go into this theater, Pablo could have bought acoustic panels from a distributor or manufacturer, but due to exorbitant overseas shipping charges he either bought locally, or when that wasn’t possible, built it himself (hence, the DIY acoustic panels).
Packed with this acoustical material, no sound was going to break through the concrete barrier of the room, which was important, says Pablo due to the close vicinity of neighbors. And this room gets loud, he says. As an audio enthusiast, a big chunk of his $34,000 investment (labor, build out, equipment and furnishings) went toward audio gear. The speakers and subwoofers, all from SVS, were the only parts of the theater (with the exception of the six seats) that Pablo imported after having heard them at a demo room in Chicago. “I wanted all six seats to hear the same level of bass, so I put an SVS PB12 Plus subwoofer in each of the four corners of the room,” he says. That’s a total of 508 pounds of subwoofer sitting on the floor and flooring listeners with huge bass. The subs are complemented by SVS Ultra towers for the front left and right channels, SVS Ultra center channel speaker, and SVS Ultra surround-sound speakers (two on the side walls and two on the rear wall). The Audessey technology built into an Onkyo TX NR818 A/V receiver allowed Pablo to calibrate the speakers precisely to the room environment.
While audio is the crowning jewel of the home-brewed theater, the video elements contribute immensely to the overall experience. For the eye-candy, Pablo selected a Panasonic PT-AE8000U projector, he says primarily for its ability to shift between widescreen and ultra widescreen formats without requiring a special lens. The projector was mounted to the ceiling using hardware fashioned by a local architect (the equipment rack was built this way, too). These two pieces were painted and finished at a local auto shop.
Pablo handled all the connections between the equipment and projector, which tosses images onto a 125-inch Cinemascope screen from Da-Lite. After purchasing a URC MRX 10 controller and a URC TRC 1280 remote, a local custom electronics professional programmed them to simplify the operation of the entire media system. One button activates all the necessary equipment. Pablo explains, the projector revs up, the sound system activates, and the tray of the Blu-ray player opens. After a disc has been loaded, the lights begin to dim to a 50 percent intensity level, the movie begins to play and the lights continue to fade to black.
SVS Ultra tower speakers
SVS Ultra center-channel speaker
SVS Ultra surround-sound speakers
SVS PB12 Plus subwoofers
Onkyo TX NR818 A/V receiver
Emotiva XP5 amplifier
Furman Elite 15 power conditioner
Furman AC-215A power conditioner (for the projector only)
Panasonic PT-AE8000U projector
Da-Lite Snap HD 125-inch screen
Panasonic DMP-BDT320PU Blu-Ray Disc player
Panasonic TY-EW3D3ME eyewear
URC MRX 10 control system
URC TRC 1280 remote control
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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.