From Big Garage to Digital Home Theater
Relying on his own know-how, the owner of Gefen Inc. transforms an oversized garage into an all-digital home theater.
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Photo by Paul Jonason.
June 01, 2006 by Steven Castle

Hagai Gefen’s company, Gefen Inc., provides solutions for people with home theaters and other home technologies. For example, Gefen’s converters can help wire one piece of an entertainment system with another component that doesn’t have the same connections. Gefen’s products can also help route numerous video sources to two different displays. Or extend a line over a long distance without losing the signal. You get the picture.

So when it was time to build his own home theater, Gefen didn’t want many of the headaches his company solves. “We wanted to create a home theater that only uses digital connectivity,” he says. “Everything there is made for the digital side.” Except for the amplifiers and the speakers, that means there are HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) or DVI (digital visual interface) connections for video and optical connections for the audio components. Even more valuable, perhaps, was the process of building and installing a home theater from a homeowner’s viewpoint. “It was interesting to go through it,” Gefen confirms.

The fairly modest-looking 14-by-17-foot room takes up a portion of an oversize garage. “It was just a cement floor and walls, but we decided to put in a room, isolate it from the house and see what it would take to put in a home theater,” he says.

Unlike most people, Gefen didn’t call up a local custom electronics installer. He drew up plans and hired carpenters to build the cherry wood cabinets and trim pieces. He contacted companies and purchased the electronics directly. Soundproof insulation and fabric wall coverings were used to isolate the room acoustically. Video guru Joe Kane of Imaging Science Foundation, which specializes in aligning and setting up video projection systems, calibrated Gefen’s Samsung 720p projector to ensure that the video signal would be reproduced in its most accurate form on the 8-foot StudioTek drop-down screen.

In addition to the motorized screen, there’s a 50-inch Gateway high-definition plasma monitor, and both can receive video from the Denon DVD player, DirecTV TiVo or the Gateway Windows-based computer. And these signals are routed by—what else—a Gefen 6 x 2 (six-source to two-display) HDMI switcher.

Gefen admits he hasn’t used the computer much as a video source, but it’s there because Media Center PCs in home theater applications are becoming much more popular. With a wireless keyboard and mouse, he can surf the Net or get email on either of the screens. And he says his three teenage boys use it to get sports scores quickly while watching games or movies.

Audio comes courtesy of a high-end Bryston preamplifier and 5-channel surround amp, sounding through five PMC speakers and a subwoofer. The center channel is positioned behind the fabric beneath the screen, the surround channels are mounted in the back corners, and the subwoofer is tucked into the bottom of the equipment rack in the back. The room is also wired for 7.1 surround sound.

Everybody in the family uses the room at different times, Gefen reports. “We use it mostly in the evenings and weekends to watch a movie. The kids watch a lot of soccer and basketball. And I use it a lot for work. Every time [the company] makes something new, I bring it in and test it.”

At this writing, a new video processor from Silicon Optix was in use. “These ‘scalers’ are going to be part of home theater because of 1080p [high-definition resolution],” he says. “I think eventually everything is going to go that way.” And you can bet by the time you’re reading this, Gefen will be testing out one of the new high-definition DVD players now available.

When he’s not working in the theater, Gefen gets to appreciate home entertainment a lot more. “You’re sitting in a quiet room, isolated from everything else, and everything fits. If you want to sit down and see a movie the way it was intended to be seen, with the sound all around you, it’s a really nice environment.”

Gefen’s wife, Jill, likes it as well. “We made the system easy with a Crestron control with simple buttons,” Gefen says. The Crestron system and whole house lighting and audio systems were extended throughout the house. “We probably went a little overboard with the control system, but it’s not that unaffordable to put in a home theater,” says Gefen. “And when you have the ability to simplify things with digital connections, it saves some cost, because you’re going with one kind of cable instead of all different types.”


More Photos

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A 50-inch Gateway high-definition plasma monitor provides the video for more casual viewing, while PMC speakers pump out the audio. Photo by Paul Jonason.

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An equipment rack holds a Denon DVD player, a DirecTV TiVo, Bryston amps, a Gateway PC (bottom of picture) and a PMC subwoofer. Photo by Paul Jonason.


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Steven Castle - Contributing Writer
Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates.

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