Building a home theater is a very subjective exercise, says Scott Jordan, a home theater designer at Electronics Design Group in Piscataway, NJ. He should know. His company has designed hundreds of theaters over the past 20 years. Some of the theaters have been simple setups boasting a modest-size TV and a few basic components; others have been elaborate arrangements filled with every bell and whistle imaginable. Of course, money has a lot to do with what goes into the theaters EDG puts together. Some of its most sophisticated projects have featured well over $200,000 worth of electronics. But don’t let that price tag scare you: “You may just need to sacrifice parts of the theater to afford other elements that are more important to you,” notes Jordan. “For most people, video is where the biggest part of the budget is spent.” And that makes perfect sense to EDG. “You can have a mid-range audio system, but the visual effect is always going to be your theater’s wow factor,” Jordan explains. Still, it’s okay to dedicate the bulk of your budget to a sound system, if that’s your hot button. Or you might decide that having a high-end remote control and a media server is more important than owning a super-size plasma. Budgeting for a home theater boils down to deciding what’s right for you.
HOME THEATER #1 - Total Budget: $202,300
The owners of this 12 seater had set aside close to $100,000 for audio and video gear. That was enough to afford some of the best gear on the planet, including a top-of-the-line Runco VX-5000d projector, a Stewart Filmscreen 117-inch diagonal screen, a Rotel RSP1098 surround-sound processor, two amplifiers that would pump 200 watts of power to each of the room’s seven audiophile-grade B&W speakers, and two B&W 1,000-watt powered subwoofers. Obviously, high performance was a priority for the homeowners of this media paradise. But what really brought the space up to the “level of a Mercedes S-Class,” according to EDG project designer Scott Jordan, was the fact that “everything in the room was designed around the electronics—something that doesn’t happen very often.” EDG took advantage of the situation by selecting some of the very best gear available, positioning each piece perfectly and designing the walls, ceiling and tiered floor to maximize the performance of the every component. For example, only after selecting the appropriate size screen and positioning the speakers for acoustical perfection did the EDG designers lay out an arrangement for three tiers of seating. Then, based on the size and position of the screen and the front three B&W Signature 8NT speakers, EDG had a cabinet custom made to house the gear, which would also include rolls of special masking material for the video screen. (The masking material rolls over the top and bottom of the screen, changing its shape to accommodate different programming formats, like movies shot in 1.78. 1.85 and 2.35 aspect ratios.) The remaining B&W speakers were mounted within the studs of the newly constructed walls and covered with acoustically transparent fabric. The surround-sound processor, amplifiers and DVD player, meanwhile, were tucked inside a ventilated closet constructed specifically for the gear.
What the homeowners didn’t bank on was the design, construction and finish work. They spent an additional $80,000 to get the unfinished basement into shape, which included building risers for the seats and soundproofing the walls and ceiling. That $80,000 also covered furnishings and accessories like custom millwork, rope lighting, and custom programming of a touchscreen remote that operates the audio/video components plus the lights and the heating and cooling system.
- Stewart Filmscreen 117-inch Screenwall with ElectriMask
- Runco VX-5000d Reflection DLP projector with Vivix processor, DVI cabling, mounting hardware
Audio/Video Components: $13,500
- Rotel RSP1098 DD 7.1 surround-sound processor
- Rotel 200-watt, 5-channel amplifier
- Rotel 200-watt, 2-channel amplifier
- Rotel RDV1060 DVD player
- Samsung high-definition receiver
- Furman IT-Reference power conditioner
- B&W Signature 8NT speakers (3)
- B&W 7NT speakers (4)
- B&W ASW850 subwoofers (2)
- Crestron CP2E control processor
- Crestron CNPWS75 power supply
- Crestron ST1700C wireless touchpanel
Furniture, Acoustics and Accessories: $49,300
- Wire and materials
- Barcalounger black leather motorized seating (12)
- CinemaTech Acoustic Room Systems acoustic treatment
Labor (design and installation): $80,000
HOME THEATER #2 - Total Budget $94,925
This multipurpose media room boasts many of the same top-grade components, as the $200,000-plus theater, including B&W Signature speakers, powerful Rotel amplifiers and a DLP video projector. In fact, the 123-inch diagonal screen in this space is larger than the one used in the dedicated theater featured on page 64. According to EDG designer Joe McNeill, the homeowners were able to save money by forgoing expensive design features like acoustical wall treatments and tiered seating, which are fairly standard in rooms dedicated solely to movie watching. The homeowners were also able to stay within their $100,000 budget by building the room while their home was being constructed. Had they worked the media room into the home later, it would have been more difficult, and hence more expensive, to blend speakers, the screen and other electronics into the room design. “Plus, had we put the technology in later, it might have ended up looking like an afterthought,” McNeill notes.
Thanks to good planning, the projector, speakers, subwoofers and an entire rack of components could be concealed within the walls at no extra cost. The Digital Projection Mercury DLP video projector, for example, was tucked behind the back wall so that only its lens would peek through. The front three B&W Signature 8NT speakers, meanwhile, were made to rest inside specially constructed backboxes inside the wall that flanks the screen. The 123-inch screen stays in sight, defining the media area from the rest of the rambling open-concept space, which also wraps in a dining area, a bar with a 20-inch Sharp LCD screen and a wine cellar. The LCD can present the same movie that’s playing on the big screen, offering the owners more entertainment bang for their buck. A Crestron touchpanel provides access to a Krell DVD player, a TiVo receiver, a high-definition satellite receiver and a JVC high-def VCR from anywhere in the room. And, as with the touchpanel in the more expensive dedicated theater, this secondary touchpanel can also operate the lights.
- Digital Projection MercuryHD projector and Faroudja DVP1010 video scaler
- Stewart Filmscreen 123-inch Luxus Deluxe Screenwall
- Sharp 20-inch LCD TV
Audio/Video Components: $15,325
- Hughes HD satellite receiver
- JVC high-def VHS VCR
- Krell Showcase video processor
- Krell DVD player
- Rotel RB-1090 380-watt, 2-channel by amplifiers (3)
- TiVo digital video recorder
- B&W Signature 8NTs (3)
- B&W Signature 7NTs (4)
- B&W ASW850 powered subwoofer
- Crestron STX1700 touchpanel
Labor (design and installation): $30,000
HOME THEATER #3 - Total Budget $24,695
Like many of EDG’s clients, the owners of this media room felt that video was more important than audio to the overall entertainment effect. In fact, they were perfectly content having just two speakers instead of a more engaging five-speaker surround-sound setup, as long as the video presentation was superb and the picture would look great from several vantage points. Another request: Because the media space would also function as a family room, they wanted to make sure the screen wouldn’t overpower the room. Based on the owners’ requests, EDG chose a 50-inch plasma for the space, a screen that would be large enough to be clearly viewed from the adjacent kitchen and breakfast nook and bright enough to maintain crisp, vibrant presentations even when the room lights were on. Indeed, the Runco Cinemawall plasma TV is no slouch. At $8,000, it’s the cream of the crop as far as plasmas go, according to Scott Jordan, an EDG project designer.
The homeowners may have decided to pass on surround sound, but that didn’t mean they had to completely compromise on sound quality. The Leon speaker chosen for the left and right channels matches the plasma not only in performance but in appearance. The Leon Horizon Series speaker combines the left and right channels in one sleek cabinet designed to be mounted underneath any make or model of flat-panel TV. For this project, the housing was custom crafted by Leon to match the width and finish of the Runco Cinemawall plasma. The speaker pairs up with a Triad InWall Bronze/6 subwoofer for clear, full audio.
The homeowners continued their quality-over-quantity approach in their A/V equipment rack, spending $650 for a Rotel DVD player, $1,100 for a Rotel stereo receiver, and adding in a high-definition cable box.
This theater represents just a small portion of a home that was outfitted from top to bottom with an assortment of electronic systems, including a control system that enables the family to operate the lights, heating and cooling system, swimming pool, and garage doors from wall-mounted touchpanels located throughout the house. The media room was integrated into the control system, a $2,000 investment that allows the homeowners to rev up the system from a touchpanel when it’s handier than searching underneath the seat cushions for a runaway remote.
- Runco Cinemawall 50-inch plasma
- Sanus wall bracket
Audio/Video Components: $1,750
- Rotel DVD player
- Rotel stereo receiver
- Leon Horizon 515 LR plasma speaker
- Triad InWall Bronze/6 subwoofer
- Crestron ML500 handheld remote
- Crestron CNRFGWA418 gateway
- Crestron CNXRMCLV room controller
Furniture, Acoustics and Accessories: $1,600
- Middle Atlantic equipment rack
Labor (design and installation): $6,800
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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.