Home theater enthusiasts are rarely ever completely satisfied. With each new technology that rolls out, they research, they contemplate, and they compare notes with others until they finally take a leap of faith and bless their theaters with equipment that keeps them continually on the cutting-edge of A/V awesomeness.
Back in 2008, when 1080p DLP video projectors, CinemaScope screens, and Blu-ray Disc players were the latest, greatest items in home theater, Ash Sharma had them all. Each was meticulously installed into his custom-designed home theater in Houston, Texas–a setup that earned honors as Electronic House’s Best Home Theater in 2008. Classic in its color scheme and architecture, the aesthetic of the space hasn’t changed over the years, but not so for the gear. “I’ve updated the speakers and video projector, changed the subwoofers, and bought new components as they were introduced,” Sharma says. With every new addition, Sharma made sure to touch base with professional home systems integrator Dennis Erskine of the Erskine Group, Inc., of Vancouver, Wash., the same company that had designed, engineered, constructed, and set up the A/V in the prize-grabbing home theater eight years ago.
Sharma’s latest addition, though, stands to make the biggest impact, taking the theater from “standard” Dolby surround-sound to the company’s most recent surround-sound iteration: Dolby Atmos. “A year or so ago when Atmos was being discussed, I started following its development,” says Sharma. “I went to a local A/V showroom to hear it once it was available, and instantly knew I had to have it.”
Erskine became the go-to guy for the job, and convinced Sharma to visit speaker manufacturer Triad in Portland , Ore., for one last listen of Atmos–and to present Sharma with innovative speaker options that would simplify the upgrade from nine speakers and two subwoofers (a 9.2 surround-sound arrangement) to 26 speakers and four subwoofers.
Trinnov Altitude 32 Preamp
QSC Core 250i Integrated Core Processor
QSC Q Sys Network Interface
Sim2 Lumis Video Projector
Isco Anamorphic Lens
Stewart Filmscreen CinemaScope Acoustically Transparent Projection Screen
Aerial Acoustics 20T Version 2 Loudspeakers (3)
Triad Gold In-Wall Loudspeakers (10)
Triad Atmos-Certified Upfiring Loudspeakers (10)
Triad On-Wall Micro 1.0 LCR Height Speakers (3)
Seaton Sound SubMersive Subwoofers (4)
Theta Digital Prometheus Amplifiers (3)
Theta Digital Dreadnaught D 6-Channel Amplifier
Theta Digital Dreadnaught D 5-Channel Amplifier
QSC 1644 Amps 4-Channel Amplifiers (3)
Crestron CP3 Control System
Oppo Digital 105 Blu-Ray Disc Player
Logitech Transporter FLAC Music Player
Netgear 12 TB NAS for FLAC Files
Lutron Lighting and Temperature Control
BTX Motorized Theater Curtain Control
Richard Gray’s Power Company Power Conditioner
PS Audio PowerPlay 9000 Power Conditioner
Kaleidescape M500 Blu-Ray Disc Player
Kaleidescape DV700 Vault
Kaleidescape 3U Media Server
Roku 4K Player
In most Dolby Atmos home theaters, the additional speakers are installed in the ceiling, but Erskine says of this project, “Our marching orders from the homeowner were to stay away from the ceiling.” And for good reason: Accoutered with elegant medallions and several recessed light fixtures, the downward-firing Atmos speakers would have severely blemished the room’s sophisticated design. Option B: Use Triad’s new upward-firing Dolby Atmos speakers and tuck them behind the 12-foot-wide screen and into the room’s existing acoustically treated decorative columns along the side walls. The Erskine Group had fished extra wiring behind the walls and soffits during the original construction, so hooking up the additional speakers to the rack of components located in the lobby of the theater went without a hitch, and all of the equipment installation, which would include a new suite of professional-grade amplifiers and processors, was completed within a week.
Of course, audio calibration would be part of the plan. “This is a very complex room, given the sheer amount of speakers it holds,” Sharma says. “To get the audio just right would take time and special equipment.” For this task, Erskine upgraded the theater’s existing preamp to an Atmos-enabled Trinnov Audio Altitude 32 unit (it’s also able to handle other 3D audio formats including Auro-3D and DTS:X), and added processors from QSC that would facilitate precise calibration of the 32 discrete channels of audio. “The result is nothing short of phenomenal,” Sharma says. “Watching a Dolby Atmos movie prior to the upgrade felt like I was surrounded by the Amazon jungle and its sounds. Now, I feel as though I’m actually walking through the jungle. The added upper dimension and immersion sucks you into the scene like never before.”
In anticipation of “opening day,” of his newly updated Atmos theater, Sharma is using his Kaleidescape movie server to create a collage of movie scenes that will best show off the dynamic, engaging realism of an audio system that brings movies to life audibly as sound envelopes moviegoers from all directions, including overhead. Combined, the Atmos speakers and components, plus high-end calibration equipment, will ensure that Sharma’s theater stays firmly planted in the upper echelon of home theater greatness–that is, until something new comes along. “A 4K laser projector is in my crosshairs,” Sharma says.