How to Build a Hassle-Free Theater, DIY-Style


Credit: Tony Scarpetta

With some research and planning, you can tackle a breezy installation like this.

Aug. 28, 2009 — by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

How many times have you heard this from someone who bought and installed his own home theater system: “I don’t think I had any surprises, and no problems.”

That’s from 58-year-old homeowner and DIY-er Diego Betancourt of Ashland, Mass., whose 800 square feet of renovated basement space now includes a 13.5-by-16.5-foot home theater with two rows of seating, a 14-by-30-foot family room, a bar and a bathroom. (Click here to view a slideshow of construction and finished room photos).

Betancourt researched and bought all of his home theater equipment and cabling before the job even started. However this project did not come without some challenges, starting with the seating. “I wanted two rows of four, so I wouldn’t have to break up couples, and I couldn’t go any wider because I needed an aisle on one side of the theater,” he says. “It took me awhile to find a manufacturer that could do a seating configuration that fit.” Apollo had the seats and could do the configuration with loveseats in the middle.

With his layout drawn up, Betancourt hired general contractor Vin Gadoury of Custom Design and Construction in Blackstone, Mass., to construct the walls and move the air ducts and a gas pipe for the soffitted ceilings. Several supporting lally columns also had to be replaced with laminated beams.

Betancourt also worked closely with the electrician to make sure power outlets for the audio/video rack, projector and powered subwoofers were placed exactly where he wanted them. And once Gadoury’s crew framed the room and the high-voltage wiring was in place, Betancourt ran the audio and video cabling himself, being sure to separate it from the high-voltage lines.

A 25-foot HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) cable was routed from the ceiling-mounted projector to the rack along a side wall, and Betancourt ran that and component cabling (just in case) inside a conduit pipe to make it easy for future upgrades. Fourteen- and 16-gauge audio cabling was run to the speaker locations, and plug-in outlets for audio connections were installed.

Even before the walls were closed, Betancourt tested all of the components on tables in the room, just as a good custom electronics company would test a system in its facility before transporting it to the site. “I’m a detailed guy, and I don’t like surprises,” he says. “I set up the system on a table and with speakers, connected the projector on a stool, and made sure everything ran and played.”

When the walls and ceilings were finished and carpeting laid, he installed the system and seating in a day. He also installed audio transducers under all of the seats for some shake, rattle and roll. “I had to run separate wires to a 1,000-watt amplifier. It took a little to adjust those, because you can easily overdo it. When they hit those big notes, it could cut out, but I can control the first and second rows separately,” he says.

The equipment rack on a side wall holds an Onkyo receiver, Pyle amplifier for the transducers, a Sony Blu-ray Disc player, Comcast HD receiver and karaoke machine. Betancourt used his two Mirage tower speakers from a previous system upstairs for the front left and right channels—each containing a powered subwoofer—and added a Mirage center channel and three Mirage Omnican in-ceiling surround speakers.

Betancourt credits his smooth installation on research and careful planning. “I knew what I wanted, and knew how things had to fit. When I figured out all the things I needed, I started calling places,” he says. “I always call and talk to someone before I make a decision. I got the best deal from Crutchfield, which gave me a 20 percent discount for everything. I bought almost everything online, and Crutchfield stands behind it.”

The only thing he didn’t buy through Crutchfield was the 92-inch Carada screen, which through his research he concluded could perform as well as other, more expensive options. Best of all: The home theater system, which came in at around $15,000, was a fraction of the cost of the entire basement project. 

About the project
Under $15,000
(system alone).

3 to 4 months.

1 day.

The $2,500 Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 1080p LCD projector, which is “not much different than a Pro model.”

“If we have a bunch of people over, we don’t have enough seats. So we added little bar table with four stools behind the second row of seats, and that works out well.”

“Do a lot of research and know what you want.”

Equipment List
Epson PowerLite 1080p LCD projector
Sanus Sytems ceiling mount
Carada Criterion Classic White 1.78:1 92-inch screen
Mirage OM8 front tower speakers with powered subwoofers (2)
Mirage Omnisat V2 center-channel speaker
Mirage Omnican 6 in-ceiling surround speakers (3)
Mirage PBS150i 150-watt subwoofer
Onkyo TX-SR805 receiver
Sony BDP-S550 Blu-ray player
API DV702 Karaoke player
Harmony 880 universal remote Control
Pyle Pro 1000-watt transducer amp
Bass Shaker transducers (8)
Monster 14- and 16-gauge CL3/THX audio cable
Comprehensive XHD Ultra HD HDMI cable
Apollo seats (2 rows of 4 with love seats)

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