Home theater enthusiasts are often conflicted: Should they tackle the design and installation of a home theater system themselves or leave it to a professional? Some people are hardcore home theater enthusiasts and are also do-it-yourselfers. The true DIYer wouldn’t even dream of having a pro come in to help build a home theater—and with good reason. “I’ve always hooked up my own speakers, equipment, built stands and racks for the TV and gear. I’ve always enjoyed the process,” says DIYer Greg Strantz. “DIY allows it to be done my way. On my time. To come up with endless thoughts and ideas along the way, which I’ve had many.”
However, not everyone is as handy as Greg. (See Greg’s handiwork below for a better peek at what a DIYer can do.) The dream of creating a top-notch entertainment space could quickly become a nightmare, if you can’t handle the scope of your home theater project, don’t have the necessary equipment, and don’t know what you’re getting yourself into. Building a room on your own (or with a buddy) takes time, money, and know-how. If you don’t have these, you may want to seriously think about hiring a professional installer. Below are a few pros and cons to consider before going the DIY route, as well as a look at Greg’s awesome DIY theater.
The DIY Advantages
It’s Cheaper. Installing a home theater by yourself can save you a ton of money. You aren’t paying someone (the cost can average around $100 an hour) to complete the work. Plus, you may be able to find A/V equipment, seating, decor, and other odds and ends at a bargain, if you shop around or online.
You Did It Your Way. If you want to work on the room at 3:00 a.m. on New Year’s Eve, you can do that. Nights, weekends, holidays, sick days; it’s all on your schedule. Also, you don’t have to consult with anyone regarding equipment and decor. If you prefer a certain brand of TV or receiver, there are no arguments. Heck, if you want a ginormous flat-screen TV surrounded by Swarovski crystal unicorns, that’s what you shall have. You’re the king of this castle.
There’s Help Out There. There is a huge DIY community on the web, specifically devoted to the home theater category. And they want to help. The most notable place to find inspiration as well as help with measurements, equipment recommendations, installation, and everything else that could possibly be associated with your project is at AVSForum.com.
It Feels Good. You did this—and those are bragging rights that aren’t easy to come by. “I got a great sense of accomplishment after every completed task and when people see the room for the first time, I can say ‘I’ did this, which is a great feeling,” says Strantz.
The DIY Disadvantages
It Can Take Forever. Research takes time and so does the actual installation process. You’ll need to work around your job, your family, when your family likes to sleep, when the seats can be delivered, and however many times you can slam your thumb with a hammer. If time is something you’re in short supply of these days, a home theater project can take weeks, months, or even years to complete when you do it on your own.
You Need Certain Skills. Wiring can be dangerous, even if you do know what you’re doing. This is not something that you want to learn about as you go along. A professional is called that for a reason. Also, they are trained to know power requirements, as well as things like mounts and racks. After spending all of that time and money on equipment only to have the TV fall off the wall because you didn’t properly secure it would be a tragedy.
It Can Be Costly. See above. Plus, if you don’t wire or install something correctly, having a professional come in to clean up your mistakes can often cost more than it would have to hire him from the get-go.
Your Choices May Be Limited. Several manufacturers do not sell directly to the consumer, so if you have your heart set on certain brands, you may be out of luck. And don’t think it’s your lucky day if you find them online; there are many unauthorized stores out there, which can make warranties null and void.
It May Be a Bit Off. Professional installers spend time and money to learn how to properly install A/V equipment. This also means that they can fine-tune everything once it’s installed, to make sure it works perfectly under your specific room conditions. There’s nothing like having the audio and video perform properly!
Things to Consider If You Want to DIY
- The size of your room
- The location
- Whether or not wiring is involved
- How you will control everything
- Your budget
Some people personalize their home theaters with seats, candy counters, and even movie props. Greg Strantz used something we can all relate to: movies. The back of his 12-by-22-by-7-foot theater room actually features what he calls the “Wall of Quotes.”
“I was looking to fill a small area elsewhere in the room, when I noticed a pre-selected set of 15 to 20 quotes from Amazon,” Greg says. “After receiving them, I thought of trying a few on the back wall instead, to kind of get the look and feel of it. I started to really like how it was turning out, so I continued to fill the area—thanks to Dana Decals, who was able to produce any quote I chose with my size, font, and color. After working on it for the better part of a year, I filled the wall with over 40 quotes!”
That wall includes some of the most quotable movies in film history, including Star Wars, Rocky, Back to the Future, Toy Story, The Shining, and much more.
The only quotable movie it appears to be missing is Michael Mann’s Heat, which is the very first movie Greg tested out in the room. The action flick is just one of the selections in Greg’s massive Blu-ray collection, which currently stands at over 1,100 titles. “I viewed the end bank robbery scene to test video, since it was shot outdoors on the streets—and of course, the audio for the explosive gun fight.”
However, that first screening was a long time coming, since Greg spent two years and $11,000 working on this space. It was the first time that Greg would have a “dedicated room” for movies, so he spent hours researching screens, projectors, and everything else needed to pull the room together.
Boston Acoustics Bravo II Surround Speakers (4)
Da-Lite 110-inch Cinema Contour with Pro-Trim Screen
Microsoft Xbox One
Mitsubishi HC7800D 1080p DLP Home Theater 3D Projector
Onkyo BD-SP809 Blu-ray Player
Onkyo TX-NR609 7.2-Channel THX-Certified A/V Receiver
Polk Audio: CSi5 Center-Channel Speaker
Polk Audio Monitor 70 Speakers (2)
Polk Audio: PSW505 Subwoofers (2)
Located in an underground level of his four-level home, Greg put together the entire room by himself, with the exception of the carpet. However, he did handle the installation of the carpeting on the riser, and built both back corner pedestals, and the two front speaker pedestals himself. He also constructed the riser and the front A/V cabinet, which houses all of the equipment, including the room’s two subwoofers. He installed 18 sound panels that were custom-made by Overtone Acoustics, as well as the Mitsubishi projector, the 110-inch Da-Lite screen, curtains, shelves, and much more. He even painted and installed 50 ceiling tiles. (“It was two weeks of physical hell painting all of those tiles,” he says. “But it was also the most needed and rewarding project in the room since the ceiling started out bright white.”)
As with most DIYers, Greg is still planning a bit of tweaking. He hopes to update the seating very soon, to give the room “more of a home theater look and feel,” as well as the option to enjoy power recline, power headrest, lighted cup holders, and several other high-end features. EH
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