3D Audio Delivers Dramatic Impact to Home Theater

Home theater packs in 30 speakers and 14 subwoofers for 3D surround sound effect.

Each year the Custom Electronics Design & Installation Association (CEDIA) honors several home systems integration firms for their high-level of technical expertise and quality craftsmanship. The project profiled received awards in 2014  for Gold Technical Design Level V and Best Overall Home Theater. 

Audio often takes a back seat to video during the design of a home theater. Considering all the hype over 3D and high-res 4K video, it’s difficult not to focus most of your energy on integrating a super-huge screen and state-of-the-art projector. While this award-winning theater’s video setup is nothing to sneeze at, it’s the surround sound audio system that deserves the biggest shout out. As one of the nation’s first Auro-3D systems to be installed in a custom home cinema, this 24-by-47-foot, built-from-scratch space packs in 30 loudspeakers, 14 subwoofers, and 55 amplifier channels, all meticulously engineered, calibrated and installed by the home systems integrators from Dallas-based HomeTronics to envelop moviegoers in incredibly realistic, three-dimensional audio. This relatively new audio format specifies that several speakers be installed into the ceiling and that speakers on the sidewalls be stacked, a design that ensures that the entire room, from the back to the front, is immersed in high-quality 3D sound.

The sheer number of speakers and subwoofers–which were all custom-built by California Audio Technology–to be installed would make this a challenging enough project to complete; add the fact that the Auro-3D technology was being continually refined by its developer Belgium-based Auro Technologies, throughout the three-year build out of the theater, and you’ve got the makings of one of the “toughest jobs we’ve ever done,” says HomeTronics president Greg Margolis. “There were no instruction books at the time written about Auro-3D for residential applications, and just as we thought we had it nailed the installation, Auro Technology changed its specs from one ceiling speaker per two side speakers to two ceiling speakers per two side speakers. We had to go back and add three more ceiling speakers to the room. It was a true testament to a homeowner who was patient, understood the impact of 3D audio and was willing to go through some trial and error to have a one-of-a-kind home theater.”

What makes this installation even more remarkable is that none of the 44 speakers and subs is visible. Credit the foresight of the integrators at HomeTronics for this feat of stealth. As the home theater was being designed, they specified that two walls be built: one as the foundation, and another, two feet in front of the foundation, as an “acoustical wall.” This two-foot-deep cavity between the two walls would provide just enough space within which to plant the speakers and subs. Once the speakers were in place, the interior wall was covered with specialty acoustical fabric to allow the sound to fire out from the cavity and into the room. The double-wall construction contributes to the overall audio affect in other ways, explains Margolis. “Because the speakers and subwoofers aren’t attached to the foundation wall, they are able to perform as if they are freestanding speakers instead of wall-mounted units, which always results in better sound quality.”

The audio was further refined through the incorporation of acoustical paneling and insulation to eliminate noise generated by the heating and cooling system and the video projector. The addition of 12 amplifiers, which were hidden with the rest of the A/V gear in a nearby utility room, created a home theater environment free from distractions.

With audio this powerful and engaging, the video side of this home theater equation needed to be just as impactful. HomeTronics delivered by installing a 197-inch-wide Stewart Filmscreen screen, a 4K video projector from Display Development and a high-end movie server from Prima Cinema. The latter allows the home theater owner to watch first-run movies the day they hit the commercial cinema. A 4-way masking system ensures that no matter what the movie format–2.35:1, 16:9, or some other shape–the screen is sized perfectly to accommodate. Motorized fabric panels cover portions of the top, bottom, and sides of the screen to alter its aspect ratio and, says Margolis, to provide a comfortable view no matter where the owner is seated, be it on one of the club chairs at the back of the room or on the couch in the front row. “He wanted the screen to be large enough to blow him away when he’s seated in the fourth row, but when he moves to the first row to make the screen smaller so it’s not too big. In essence he gets the same viewing experience no matter where he’s seated.” As the masking system alters the shape and size of the screen, the zoom and focus of the Display Development projector adjusts.

The owner maintains complete control over the screen masking, projector, and all A/V equipment and room lights via an app on his tablet. The Savant app plays a crucial role in the functionality of the theater; without it, juggling between the Prima Cinema server, five DirecTV satellite receivers and four Xbox 360 gaming systems would have been a remote control nightmare. With the app, the owner sees all this viewing choices and with a tap can select one … or for that matter, eight. Demonstrating another feat of engineering and ingenuity, HomeTronics incorporated a video tiling system from RGB Spectrum so that as many as eight different programs can be displayed on the screen at once. The RGB Spectrum Multi-view Switcher divides the screen into quadrants, which Margolis says is a boon for sports viewing and game playing.

Accoutered with enough seating for 20 this cutting-edge home cinema has plenty of room to entertain a crowd of game players, sports viewers or movie buffs, and provide them with a sensory experience like no other. Specially designed and engineered to produce 3D audio, the sound effects add an element of realism that truly transports viewers to a new dimension of at home entertainment.

Check out the slideshow for more pictures from this theater.

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