Old Meets New at a Drive-in Home Theater


GOLD WINNER: Best Themed Theater

The good-ol’ drive-in theater gets a high-tech makeover in this prized home.

Jul. 23, 2010 — by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Remember drive-in theaters? There was something special about parking your car and watching a mediocre movie on a giant, washed-out screen. Then there were those clunky speakers that hooked over your window. And the atrocious food. Yet all could be forgiven if you were canoodling with a date.

Today we have home theaters. But even a great home theater can’t match the atmosphere and experience of the drive-in. Or can it?

The owners of this decked-out 4,800-square-foot home didn’t want any old home theater. They grew nostalgic and decided to theme their theater around the drive-in cinema where they once met. (Click here to view additional photos.)

“The homeowners really drove this one (no pun intended),” says Glenn Montjoy of electronic installation company Colorado Media Systems in Colorado Springs, Colo. “One of their parents actually owned a drive-in theater, and the clients were engaged at a drive-in. The concept excited everyone involved, and they got behind it in a real way.”

The place even looks like a good-ol’ drive-in, with wall murals depicting drive-in scenes, steel light fixtures on poles—and even those crappy drive-in speakers.

Don’t worry. The old drive-in speakers don’t provide the main surround sound. That might be a horror show. But they do play an important role the creation of the drive-in ambiance. When the room system is activated via a touchpad at the entry, the old speakers play 1960s music from a DirecTV music channel. The music is routed through a second zone on the home theater’s Marantz SR6004 audio/video receiver. “When another video source is selected through the Control4 interface, the drive-in speakers are turned off and the main 7.1-channel speaker system takes over,” says Montjoy. And if the family really, truly wants that authentic drive-in sound, they can activate the drive-in speakers and mute the main system.

That’s not even as bad as it sounds. The homeowners managed to find a set of the drive-in speakers, and Colorado Media Systems replaced the old paper-cone drivers in those units with Infinity car stereo speakers, which were a perfect fit, says Montjoy.

The real 7.1-channel system consists of NHT Four tower speakers and a 12-inch NHT subwoofer located behind an acoustically transparent front wall and screen. Four NHT IW4 in-wall speakers provide the side and back surround sound, and are hidden behind fabric walls that also contain acoustic absorption and reflection panels. Try that at a drive-in!

But the star of this drive-in, just as at a real one, is the really big screen. The homeowners wanted to have a truly cinematic experience, so the obvious choice was to go with a CinemaScope-wide 2.35:1 screen, the superwide aspect ratio in which many blockbuster movies are filmed. Of course, other aspect ratios like the more popular 1.85:1 and HDTV’s 16:9 (1.78:1) are possible as well. “We chose to use a [Vutec] Vision X screen because of the availability of the drop-down masking panels [to change the aspect ratios] and the acoustically transparent screen material,” says Montjoy.

The JVC DLA-HD750 projector was selected for its outstanding picture quality and ability to accommodate a Panamorph moving lens system, which is needed to produce the superwide CinemaScope images. The JVC projector and Panamorph motorized lens are situated on a custom-made mounting plate to keep them secure, which is mounted above the back row of old theater chairs, which the owners lovingly refurbished.

Even the old steel lights, which can be operated via the Control4 system, are tethered to poles with snakes of metal conduit—another authentic touch.

A Blu-ray and DVD player is tucked inside a nearby closet for convenience, but the rest of the equipment is located on a rack in a mechanical room.

“We used the Control4 [home control] system to ensure integration with the rest of the house, and for its easy-to-use remote and on-screen display,” says Montjoy.

The Control4 system is also responsible for one of the most important but underrated features of this home drive-in theater: the keypad at its entrance. “We worked hard to make this easy to use,” says Montjoy. “There are three buttons on the keypad that when pressed, set the room up for various functions. When the MOVIE button is pressed, it allows the lights to go all the way down for when the movie is started and for a low-light mode when paused. For the GAME mode, the lights are dimmed but are brighter than in the MOVIE mode, and the pause and play modes change as well. A third KID’S MOVIE button gives yet another mode so that kids can have a little more light.”

Yep, we’ve come a long way from those campy drive-in days of the Fifties and Sixties.

The picture is a whole lot better as well. The video system in this theater is so good, Montjoy says, that when the owner watched Avatar he emailed Montjoy and said that it was better than when he saw it in the theater.

Systems Design and Installation
Colorado Media Systems
Colorado Springs, Colo.

Jesard Airbrush Arts
Colorado Springs, Colo.

Equipment List
Marantz SR6004 AV Receiver
LG BD390 Blu-ray player
Control4 HC500
Control4 SR250
Control4 SR150
Control4 Dimmers
Control4 Mini Touch
Card Access Mini Remote
Cisco Router
Netgear PoE Switch
Monster Power HTS3600
NHT Classic Four Tower Speakers
NHT IW4 in-wall speakers
NHT Classic 12 Subwoofer
NHT IC3 In-Ceiling speakers
JVC DAL-HD750 Projector
Panamorph UH480 anamorphic lens
Omnimount Projector Mount
129” Vutec Vision X dual aspect screen
Cable Labs HDMI Baluns
Middle Atlantic Racks
Middle Atlantic Custom Rackshelves
BEAM Central Vacuum System
Auralex MetroFusors
Owens Corning 703

Return to full story: