January 26, 2010
| by Lisa Montgomery
One of the best spots to put a theater is in the basement. Isolated from the rest of the house, it’s free of many distractions, and with few, if any windows, light won’t interfere with the presentation, either. The owners of this THX-certified theater were aware of the benefits of going below grade.
Unfortunately, their finished basement was already being used for other purposes. The best option, they figured, was to build an additional room onto the basement. This would require excavating the yard and pouring a new foundation—a bold project, but one that the homeowner, who happens to be a builder, felt comfortable tackling.
The result is a 15-by-26-foot concrete box extending off the right side of the house. After the home’s existing electrical and HVAC systems were routed to the new space, the homeowner contacted Advanced Media Systems, Morristown, N.J., for its advice on how to finish the space (click here to view a slideshow).
It was a smart move. According to Advanced Media Systems’ Greg Mizerek, the walls, floor and ceiling would need to be specially constructed to isolate the surfaces from the hard concrete shell. Risers would need to be built according to certain specifications to ensure that every seat would have a clear view of the screen. Last but not least, a soffit would need to be erected to hide both a structural beam and the video projector that would eventually be mounted to the ceiling.
After reviewing the layout of the room, consulting the homeowner on how he wanted the room to look, and calculating the sonic properties of the space, Advanced Media Systems produced an architectural rendering of the finished theater, complete with elevations, site line drawings, and equipment locations. This blueprint would provide the homeowner and his homebuilding team with a clear direction on how to correctly finish the space for a quality audio/video experience.
One of the most crucial steps was separating all surfaces from the concrete. Doing so would prevent sound from the front speakers from bouncing harshly throughout the area. Isolation clips were used to extend the walls and ceiling a few inches from the concrete. Based on earlier calculations, the side and rear speakers were positioned and installed flush with the wall surface and covered with acoustical paneling. In addition to concealing four of the seven speakers, the panels would absorb some of the unwanted sound reflections created by the front three speakers, which would be placed behind a 148-inch acoustically transparent CinemaScope-size Stewart Filmscreen screen.
Another important part of the design was fashioning the floor for stadium-style seating. Advanced Media Systems recommended that a platform be constructed for a second row of seats. Raised 1 foot off the floor, it would enable anyone seated in the four back seats to see clearly over the heads of people seated in the four front seats. A step was added between the floor and the platform and wiring was routed underneath to support future upgrades. “If the family wants to plug in a gaming console by their seats, for example, the necessary wiring will be easily accessible,” says Mizerek.
Other necessities in a dedicated theater are top-notch equipment and a simple means of control. This theater has both. The CinemaScope screen was fitted with a masking system that allows it to change shape automatically based on the current movie format. For example, if a 16:9 formatted movie is chosen, black fabric slides over the sides of the screen to hide the unused portions of the display. When the owner goes back to a 2.35:1 CinemaScope movie, the fabric slides back to reveal the entire super-wide screen.
No matter what the format or the resolution of the picture, the THX-rated Runco projector makes it look its best, thanks to a built-in video processor and an anamorphic lens. THX-rated speakers and a receiver ensure the audio is on par with the video. A custom-programmed Crestron touchpanel, which docks right in the armrest of the owner’s favorite seat, operates the entire system, as well as a Lutron lighting system.
Mizerek admits that going full THX drove up the cost of a theater (this room tops out at $250,000 for equipment, design and labor), but when a room is built from scratch for the sole purpose of watching movies, it’s often difficult to choose anything but the best for it.
Of course, there are ways to curb costs:
- Stick with reputable manufacturers, but use products in their mid-range line instead of their high-end line.
- Pick products that can be easily installed to minimize labor charges.
- Refrain from having lots of commands programmed into the remote.
- Go with a 720p video projector, but make accommodations for a 1080p model should you ever decide to upgrade.
- Skip fancy extras like motorized lifts, specialty furniture and automated lighting.
- Buy home theater furniture, cabinetry and draperies on sale at local home interior retailers.
Lisa Montgomery has been writing about home technology for 15 years, with a focus on the impact of electronics on a modern lifestyle.