May 01, 2008
by Steven Castle
It’s an audiophile’s dream: Two Wilson Watt Puppy front speakers and a Wilson Watch center channel pump 500 booming watts of sound from three McIntosh monoblock amps, while four Snell surround speakers at the sides and rear receive 200 watts per channel from another McIntosh amp. And they take their cues from a high-end Halcro processor. Add to that a 15-inch Velodyne subwoofer and a 320-gig ReQuest music server, and we’re talking about a very serious, very powerful, rock-’em sock-’em sound machine.
The video isn’t shabby, either. A Sony 1080p SXRD (Silicon X-tal [Crystal] Reflective Display) shines its high-def bounty onto the 135-inch Stewart CineCurve screen, with motorized masking for regular HDTV widescreen (16:9 aspect ratio) and the superwide CinemaScope (2:35:1) format used for many blockbuster movies. As if the picture from those pieces weren’t good enough, a Lumagen video processor cleans up any stray pixels and scales everything to “Full HD” 1080p resolution. There are Blu-ray and HD DVD high-def DVD players, a DirecTV HD satellite receiver with an HD DVR, a Sony PlayStation 3 video game console, and a Kaleidescape movie server system that stores the owner’s extensive DVD collection to 12 750-GB hard drives for instant access and retrieval.
In highly technical terms, this home theater is loaded.
“The owner is an enthusiast,” says Brent Freeman of electronics installation company AVI. “He’s constantly buying stuff. He researched and already knew what he wanted, such as the Halcro processor and Wilson speakers.” Freeman says the Halcro was upgraded to the SSP200, which can handle HDMI version 1.3. And the owner is a big fan of the SXRD projector, Sony’s version of LCoS (liquid crystal on silicon) technology that many believe is superior to DLP projection.
In addition to eliminating picture noise and enhancing the images from the Sony projector, the Lumagen video processor upgrades everything to 1080p, including the standard DVD movies stored on the Kaleidescape server. Standard DVDs put into a Blu-ray player, for example, will be passed through without being upconverted, so the better-equipped Lumagen can bring it up to 1080p clarity.
This theater room makes viewing super widescreen CinemaScope movies a breeze. The Stewart Filmscreen automatically removes masking on the sides, which is used in the narrower 16:9 widescreen mode, to reveal the full surface of the screen, and an ISCO anamorphic lens moves in front of the projector to display the image. An anamorphic lens is necessary to “unsqueeze” a CinemaScope movie stored on a DVD so it can be displayed in the wider 2.35:1 format.
But how does it all happen automatically? A Crestron control system reads the metadata—the disc information that’s hidden from view—from the Kaleidescape server, for example, and sees that it’s a CinemaScope movie. Then the Crestron system commands the screen to unmask and the anamorphic lens to move into place.
If only it were that easy. Perhaps the biggest challenge in this room was fitting the Sony projector with the ISCO lens. AVI used a Digital Projection sled to move the lens into place, and the lens and sled had to be supported by a 24-by-24-inch custom-fabricated metal plate that was painted black. The projector hangs from the ceiling over the back row of seats, but the only reason to look up in this theater is to see the star field of fiber-optic lights.
AVI used an iSky ceiling that comes in pieces with the fiber already in place and that anchors to the existing ceiling.
Other than the projector, none of the equipment is visible. The Watt Puppy speakers are hidden behind grille cloth in the woodwork on either side of the screen, while the Watch center channel is behind the microperforated, acoustically transparent screen, and the subwoofer is behind a false wall below. The four surrounds are behind grilles in the columns on the sides and in the rear.
When they’re tired of movies, the family’s young triplets can play full-screen PS3 games with wireless Bluetooth paddles or sing to the karaoke player with wireless microphones. A 32-inch Samsung LCD in the front corner displays the lyrics.
The family can even surf the web via Crestron’s WiFi web tablet, which also contains shortcuts and macro commands for watching ESPN, the Food Channel and other favorites. The Crestron system was also programmed to bring up the lights in the room slightly whenever a movie is paused, so anyone can exit safely, then dim them when play is resumed.
More features are surely on the way. Freeman says the DirecTV HD DVR has an Ethernet port that’s used now for programming upgrades but that will support video-on-demand services via the Internet. We’re sure this high-tech enthusiast will enjoy that.
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