It all started as many professionally installed home theaters do—with a phone call. Imagine This, a custom installation company in the U.K., was contacted in March 2010 by the representative of a very well respected and – very private – client, who wanted a home cinema for his large London home.
The client is a person with a very practical understanding of the technical aspects and deliverables of a screening room, making it clear that he wanted this screening room to perform at the highest technical level, while also being suitable for use by the family and visiting friends. Quite simply, this screening room would need to outperform all others.
“I met with the client briefly, and his brief to me was: give me the best you can do. There is no budget; give me the best you’ve got,” reflects Imagine This owner Guy Singleton. “He trusted our judgement and what we were going to do. They had some performance objectives – one of them being high frame rate (HFR) due to something the client was working on at the time; so as long as we ticked those performance objective boxes, we were free to design and specify what we wanted to do, which was remarkable really.”
Initial Fact Finding
The brief for the project was outlined at the beginning of the process, but would evolve over the course of the two years of design and implementation. The request was for a design that would convey a classical elegance and comfort through the use of authentic materials and architecture. The aspiration was for a private screening room which would be opulent and luxurious; one that would look and feel on a par with the best in the world.
Following a technical evaluation of the space, the team made some initial suggestions for the design of the electronics, projection, loudspeakers and for the aesthetics of the screening room, creating CAD drawings for the layout of the space and a mood board to show aesthetic ideas.
What Singleton and his team came up with was nothing short of miraculous, (not to mention totaling at £4.5million).
Take Our Quiz to Find Out What Kind of Smart Home You Are.
You could be any kind of home, but the best homes are smart.Take the Quiz Today!
Once the preliminary ideas had been presented, the project in its entirety was considered. As the screening room was to be such an important and anticipated addition to his home, the client agreed that a new purpose-built space would need to be constructed.
“We looked at a number of rooms in the house and none of them appeared to be appropriate,” Singleton admits. “They all had something that would have meant a compromise that we weren’t prepared to make. I suggested building something entirely new or digging under the ground, and they said it was no problem. However, when the client was flying home he realized it would delay the project by about a year, as that’s how long it would take to dig a 35m by 5m, 22m by 6m hole.”
Imagine This was required to proceed with aesthetic plans for the space (which included a foyer), detailing initial ideas into a fully modelled 3D design, which allowed the team to demonstrate in detail how the screening room and foyer would be presented. Even this is understating what was shown to the client prior to the build even commencing: Singleton was able to send wireframe images, photographic renderings, and a full-motion video.
“Necessity is the mother of innovation,” Singleton says. “Everybody has a little widget or a spreadsheet that will create a number-crunching format for them to do some of the heavy lifting for cinema design. I used some software that I wrote for this. I used all of the known parameters that we work to, input them into some software, and in what would take me three or four weeks to create CAD drawings and renders, the software will do it in about 30 seconds.”
“We completed calculations to determine the optimum size and placement of the projection screen using guidelines from Imaging Science Foundation. We also calculated seating distances and the rake of the flooring,” Singleton relates.
“Whatever it is I’ve got to do to make sure that the cinemas that I build meet the required standards, is the key thing to me. That’s not building a subjective room, but building a room that I can predict is going to deliver an amazing experience.”
The systems provided would need to be scalable in order for them to accommodate any emerging technology later on, thus the team also considered the infrastructure and space required to insert them.
Imagine This undertook a full lighting design, encompassing the technical and aesthetic features, as well as advising on light sources, preparing schematics, and designing the control equipment.
“We sourced a quantity of reclaimed oak paneling; the client had expressed a strong preference for authentic materials and this paneling would prove pivotal to the direction of the on-going aesthetic design. We were able to calculate the quantity of oak required for the foyer and ascertained that, with careful redesign and installation, the reclaimed oak would be perfect for the space.”
A room of this size (and being under the ground) would require a fire exit, but Singleton did not want it to detract from the aesthetics in any way.
“When we first set the design out, we had to include a fire exit as part of the British standards. We’d always planned for that. We got through various incarnations of how the door would look: dressing the door, covering the door, different frame work and fixtures, but nothing we did seemed to work. So we decided to move the wall rather than the door. We created a hinged wall, which weighs over 2 tons and was a feat of engineering in itself. The hinges for that are huge – everything about it was a monstrous engineering undertaking, but it did allow us to create a really clean-looking room rather than having a really prominent-looking door in the middle of the theatre, which we didn’t want.”
In technical terms, the delivery of this screening room had to be flawless. Being in the film industry, this client is a knowledgeable and discerning person, and this room was to be the pride of his home.
Imagine This made sure to integrate fail-safes and specialist hardware such as power conditioning on all electronic items (both in the equipment rack and the active loudspeakers), reset equipment for the Sky decoder (which can be prone to locking) and redundancy by separating the A/V and the lighting control processors.
“I use a phrase: ‘all of the equipment picked itself,’ I didn’t pick it,” Singleton states. “And I stick to that.”
In terms of the control of the screening room, Crestron products are used to consolidate and automate the functions needed. An RF touchpanel and an IP-based iPad control app are used for the screening room controls, while a rack-mounted Cresnet hardwired touchpanel (located in the equipment room) takes care of the maintenance functions. This multi-platform approach ensured that control would be accessible using all available mediums.
Imagine This designed a tailored GUI (graphical user interface) for this project, using custom visual elements inspired by the client’s line of work.
“I can honestly say I have never been on a project with this level of detail. Even as far as the Crestron user interface: every graphic file, every icon was created uniquely and has only ever been used on this project. We 3D modelled in a liquid gold color everything from consoles to projectors,” – and not just an image of a random projector – it was his projector; not a random console, it was his.
“We provided a dual control approach to the A/V programming: one to give the less technical members of the family and the client’s visitors an automated experience, and the other to give our client manual access to the settings they might require,” Singleton explains. “This included things such as the projector and lens modes, audio codec selection, etc. The client preferred to be able to set and change these during a screening.”
The video sources included a networked movie server to manage the extensive movie collection.
“The client brought with him his own media server that has his own specific industry-related content, but as far as domestic sources, he had a huge existing movie server system (we added to it) – he was already a big advocate,” Singleton notes. “Also in the rack are Apple TV, NAS drives, Plex, multiple Oppo-Digital Blu-ray players with various regions, allowing him to watch regional-specific content that he doesn’t have to press and hold a shift button and hold another key to do it. This gives him quick, easy trouble-free access to anything that he has – add that to the family’s game consoles and I don’t think there’s anything in there that isn’t catered for.”
A comprehensive range of acoustic treatments were implemented, including the use of green glue and absorption, reflection, diffusion and bass management materials from RPG. The acoustic analysis pre-treatment predicted that the mid and high frequency response of the room might be very poor and the room model exhibited bad separation of the modes between 80 and 150hz. By using the acoustic treatments, the team greatly improved modal response and pressure was more evenly distributed, rendering a better sound overall.
“The room isn’t so absorbed that it kills everything; it’s not like an anechoic chamber, and equally it’s not like sitting in a library or a church where everything is reverberant,” says Singleton. “If anything, the feel of the room is one of the nicest things about it.”
In order to achieve THX Reference level performance in such a large room (290 cubic meters), Imagine This used products from Procella’s range of THX approved loudspeakers. At the front, balanced active P815 bi-amplified loudspeakers were mounted in the baffle wall, which was specially constructed to enhance their output. The rear sound array consisted of six passive Procella P8s. This allowed Imagine This to reproduce full DTS-HD sound. In order to deal with MSV (mean spatial variants), wave collisions, and standing waves and nuls, two Procella P18 high output subwoofers were installed into the baffle wall.
“We approach everything in a brand-agnostic way,” says Singleton. “Of course I have favorites, but we approached this in a way that was: We needed to hit certain performance objectives such as reference audio, the seating, the right foot lamberts – all of these numbers that we needed to hit made the room far more predictable. At a design stage we knew if we designed with math driving the design, we knew that we were going to be well within the ballpark and that we were going to deliver a room that not only met their expectations, but also in many ways exceeded them. And believe me when I say this, the performance objectives that were set out to me for this project, I have never encountered before or since.”
Why No Immersive Audio?
At the time of installation, ‘immersive audio’ like Dolby Atmos was in its infancy, and as such the home theater was not set up for this – although that’s not to say that it won’t be able to handle this or some other type of audio format if required.
“We looked into it, we knew what was coming,” Singleton reflects. “There were some decoders available, but we didn’t want to go down that route at that point. Don’t forget this was 2009/10 when these conversations started happening, so all of these things were in their infancy, if not in the conception stages – even at a commercial level. We’d spoken to people at other post-production facilities and we knew what was required as far as the performance objectives went, so we made sure that our cabling covered as many of those aspects as we could.
“We have the ability to add Dolby Atmos, Auro 3D and DTS:X up to 9.1.4 – it’s just a case of looking at an updated processor with the relevant codec cards and then getting the go-ahead from the client. Had this been the client’s main residence it would have been our primary focus, but when you’re here two weeks a year, it’s hard to get them enthusiastic to invest in more!”
Amplification and processing was provided by Anthem, delivering DTS-HD and all relevant HD formats. This ensured that the audio framework would be able to process future releases or new sound codecs; as the Anthem products were firmware and hardware upgradeable.
Projection Screen and Projector
The client was keen to have as large a screen as possible, so an immense 260-inch screen was specially constructed by Screen Research for this project, which, as Singleton points out “at 7 meters long, is fairly sizable!
“We selected an ISF and THX approved acoustically transparent fabric, a 2.40:1 aspect ratio and vertical motorized masking,” Singleton reels off like it was yesterday. “We used this, in conjunction with the intelligent lens system and digital crop files on the projector and saved a variety of presets, so that our client could enjoy content in a diversity of aspects: 2.40:1, 1.78:1 and 1.33:1.”
One hell of a projector was required, so Imagine This chose a 12,000 lumens Christie projector to fit the bill. This had the ability to be upgraded with new technology via an IMB module and 3D, via external 3D processing units. To meet industry standards, the lamps were defocused to approximately 60 percent.
“At that point in time (that certainly isn’t the case now), the input media was one of the only HFR IMB modules available at that level. When you start talking about very, very high-end commercial theatres that need full AC cooling through the projector, all of those features exist. But when you are talking about 12,000 lumens it’s difficult to find something like that,” Singleton says.
The network provision was particularly important, as Imagine This anticipated that the client might wish to stream video content to the new screening room. To ensure this was possible, the cabling was designed to ensure that a capable and robust link would be in place between the existing network in the main residence and the new screening room.
In order to efficiently and correctly deliver the cabling throughout the screening room and foyer, a containment system to provide the appropriate location and segregation of the various high and low voltage cables was also included.
“We finally performed a detailed electrical design for the entire electrical installation, ensuring that the installation was safe, suitable and compliant,” says Singleton. “We designed a local data network to link with the existing system in the main residence, providing fiber and copper links between the two, in anticipation of the data streaming that might be required.”
IP components such as the Crestron processor, Anthem amplifier, Christie projector, Crestron iPad touchpanel interface, and the networked movie server were then configured to run on the network.
The equipment is housed in two Middle Atlantic racks in a separate equipment room with a Neutrik patch system for connection. This means that either rack can be independently removed for maintenance or additions, or redesigned, should it be necessary in the future.
The equipment room (as well as the video projector housing) was air conditioned to make certain that the equipment would be kept at the optimum operating temperature for reliable functionality and longevity. A Crestron touchpanel was also installed into one of the equipment racks to provide a hardwired maintenance interface. This was programmed with advanced setup functions and maintenance options such as a Sky reset function, plus a fibre cable for future video technologies was also included.
One of the client’s requirements was that he wanted some extremely comfortable seating, which led to Imagine This designing some bespoke (and very distinctive) chairs especially for this project.
“The client had some La-Z-Boy chairs at one of his other homes and said ‘I don’t want to sit bolt upright on rock hard leather. I want a cinema chair with a cup holder; I want my La-Z-Boy recliner!’ The chairs were built for him, bespoke and modeled on the La-Z-Boy feel, which seems bizarre in our industry. But that’s what he asked for, so that’s what we delivered,” Singleton explains. “They’re pretty comfy!”
Post Installation Service
Because the client not living in the country, Imagine This is still in regular correspondence to this day for all-things maintenance.
“They put a lot of trust in you and you spend a lot of their money; you’ve really got to make sure that you can communicate the process as easily as you can. Being given this amount of responsibility was enormously worrying, if I’m honest! You feel a huge sense of loyalty, gratitude and pride. The overriding factor is that you don’t want to let anybody down – you know it’s got to be good,” Singleton says.
And as good it is, even if Singleton does say so for himself. Even now when he goes back to the site, he still (quietly) marvels at the results. “And I’ve seen a lot of theaters. I go in there and it still feels special to me.”
That reminds him: “I don’t know if this is indicative of the film industry as a whole, but a cinema in one of the client’s other homes was built by set-builders from one of his movies, and it’s indicative of a film set: it looks great at the front from 10 feet away, but when you get very close to it, there’s nothing behind it and it hasn’t got that luxury feel – its superficially built.”
CE Pro Eu had to ask: What did the client say once the project was completed? Singleton grins; “He said ‘look, I have cinemas in homes all over the world. I have some of the best post production facilities available at my disposal, but this is the best one I have.’ Maybe that’s all I needed really!
“The room speaks for itself though,” he adds, suddenly serious. “The thing I’m most proud about is the design and that the client was comfortable with letting me do it. That for me is the single greatest achievement – to stand and say to somebody: this is the way it should be done, and have them put their hand on your shoulder and say ‘you have my authority to do whatever you feel’.
“I do look back and have to almost pinch myself,” he says. “I’m very humbled. Not to say that we fell into it by accident, we worked very hard on this.
“If you’re going to learn your craft and your trade, it doesn’t get any better than this. I’m looking for another one of those jobs; it hasn’t come up just yet!”
Our FREE comprehensive Smart Home Planning Guide helps you plan what features best suit your needs.
Want your shades lowered? Do it in seconds from a smartphone. Not sure if you locked the door when you left the house or left the garage door open? Again, it’s as easy as pressing a button on your smartphone.
Our FREE comprehensive Smart Home Planning Guide helps you plan what features best suit your needs.Get Your FREE Planning Guide Today!
Looking to Add Smart Technology to Your Home?
Home automation has come a long way. Today, there are solutions available almost everywhere. Need help turning your home into a “smart” home. Find an installer near you.Find an installer near you