After years of planning and execution, I can finally post my own Home Theater build thread. It would probably have done me good to have posted all this as I went along, to avail myself of the common wisdom here. But alas...the story unfolded in my own private anguish and triumph.
No doubt some of the agony was the result of trying to "have it all" - and there were some pretty low "When the hell is this going to be finished?" from my wife and lying in my bed wondering "what have I done?" points to be sure. I'm going to try and detail my journey in words and pictures taken along the way. A major issue through all of this is the Wife Acceptance Factor (WAF). My wife actually is a saint for letting me get away with what I did...but her general nervousness and anxiety concerning this project just makes her too good a foil for the story...(luv ya honey). However I'm not going to dwell too much on the negatives. The end results have actually exceeded my expectations. I have an automated system - automated blinds, projector lift, remote controlled 4-way masking - and it all works! And somehow I'm still married. So I consider the reno a success.
Veterans of the AVSforum might know that I was a fixture of the early flat panel forums. An early adopter, I bought my 42" ED Panasonic plasma in 2001 when they were going for around $10,000 in the stores (I got mine cheaper, though far from a sane price). It was fun being the George Jetson of the neighborhood for a while there. And I fanatically inspected, and wrote about, almost every new plasma that came along for years, expecting I would upgrade from my ED plasma to a larger, HD plasma.
But something happened along the way. Namely, this:
That was the beginning of my being doomed to HT reno hell.
* Video of my room in action, including the masking, to come soon.
ETA: The Finished Room shots were done by my friend, and professional photographer, Marc Crabtree. Interior Design consulting by Daniel Leonard.
It all started in my living room:
It's 13 feet wide, and 15 feet long (at the longest point, which is the middle bay window to the opposite wall).
This was one of those living rooms in which we initially put some nice furniture, "for guests and company," but no one actually used. We have a kitchen open to a back family room, and that's generally where the family does the living. So this living room became my default audio room. I've been an audiophile (there, I said the word!) for many years. Being mostly a speaker-slut, I'd had many speakers of all types through that room, most of them large floor standers (examples: Quad ESL 63s+Gradient Subwoofers, Von Schweikert VR4s, Shun Mook, Meadowlark Herons, Audio Physic Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Hales floor-standers, Thiels, Waveform...etc). My wife witheringly accepted all the intruding speakers marching through that room. And despite what might look like some placement/room challenges, the room had always worked remarkably well with no matter what speaker I set up.
A few years ago, due to finances, aesthetics and ergonomics, I shaved the system down to a pair of beautiful sounding Hales Transcendence T1 monitors, hooked up to a variety of tube amps (I'll provide pictures of the audio end later on).
It produces lush sound, hooked up to my Conrad Johnson tube amps (you will note from the cheap copper wires coming from the speakers that I'm not exactly in the audiophile-crazy category concerning speaker wires).
In the above photo, note what is a very cheap, on-death's-door, business projector behind the chairs. That little thing sealed my doom.
HOW I GOT HOOKED
As detailed in the thread I linked to in the previous post, believing I'd likely settled on buying a Panasonic 65" plasma, I'd borrowed a friend's projector to project a 65" diagonal image size on the wall to check out how big the image would "feel" and determine seating arrangements. Then I made the fateful decision to zoom the image out larger, to about 105" diagonal and...oh my! So THAT'S what it's like having a real home theater experience. I was hooked.
When my wife was out of town with my older son at a hockey tournament, the mice began to play. I re-arranged the furniture to simulate possible home theater seating, while projecting images on the wall. My wife came home to find something like this:
Stopping dead in her tracks as she entered the house to see the scene, she did that drop-her-voice-low thing and intoned "What...are...you...thinking...this...time?"
"Oh...nothing dear. Just, you know, playing around....nothing to worry about...."
TURNING THE TITANIC
I had to get my wife on board with my plans. I'm not one of those keep-the-wimmin'-under-yer-thumb husbands. My wife earns a good living and this isn't "my" house, it's our house. So my wife had to be sold on this pretty radical idea for the room. Which was no easy sell. She is very nervous about any changes to the house and has a very poor ability to imagine what changes may look like. I mean, she's the type who, when we were looking at houses, would reject the house based on the wall color. "Honey...we can change the wall color" "I know but this wallpaper just puts me off and it's hard to imagine it differently." So the idea of changing our living room - the first room you see as you enter the front hallway of the house - into a home theater of any sort, was hardly on my wife's to-do list. To my wife it would "look weird." It was like turning the Titanic. It was a long wearing down process.
My ultimate pitch to my wife for changing it into a home theater room was: "Look, you know nobody goes in there but me. If we put a big movie screen with a nice big cozy sectional sofa in there, then we'll have a place the kids and you and I can cozy up and watch movies together. The room will actually get more use!"
My wife gave the "wrinkled nose of skepticism" look, but in the end relented. How can you argue the logic?
"Just don't ruin our house" says she. I gave her a kiss and in my best "Mike Brady" tone I reassured her: "Don't worry dear, you and the kids will love it" while my inner Mr. Burns cupped his hands and hissed "Exsscellent!"
Thus began the slow, torturous journey of designing the room, which itself took probably more than a year. It amazes me when I look back on my original ideas, just a screen on a wall kind of thing, which were so modest compared to the amount of renovation that eventually occured.
Here's how I came to decisions concerning the various elements of my new Home Theater room....
I first borrowed several projectors, and then ended up buying a second hand Panasonic AE900 720p projector from Ebay. The Panasonic had the large zoom range I required to test image sizes. Note how delightfully precarious is this set up, with the projector actually placed upon a triangular stand, which is itself sitting on top of two thin, wobbly, extending side-table. What could go wrong, huh?
But it did the job.
At first I thought a 92" diagonal image was as big as I wanted to go. Yeah, that's how green I was to projection. It seemed really large and cinematic to me. "Who needs an image bigger than this?"
But you know how it goes, you adjust to the image size and, experience "shrinkage" over time. So I kept zooming the image larger. Which brings me to the next dilemma:
2:35:1 Constant Image Height?
Once I delved into researching projection I caught the Constant Image Height bug.
(For anyone unfamiliar, see the CIH forum on AVS). Since Cinemascope had always been my favorite aspect ratio, and since CIH would feel more cinematic, not to mention it looked flat out cool, I figured "CIH, here I come."
But, then something else happened. I spent a long time zooming the projected images on my wall trying to figure out how big I wanted either my 16:9/1:85:1 image size or my 2:35:1 Cinemascope image size. You can get a sense of my indecision from all the marks on this wall, signifying various choices for image height/sizes:
I realized two things:
1. For me, the standard idea of basing the 2:35:1 image on the image height of the 16:9/1:85:1 image size didn't work out in practice, in terms of my comfort levels and satisfaction. I found I could enjoy quite large 16:9 images sometimes - up to 124" diagonal from my 11 foot seating distance - but I'd NEVER be comfortable with a 2:35:1 image based on the same image height - a 142" wide image was just uncomfortable. I found that cinemascope images of around 118 up to 124" wide most comfortable. A Constant Image Area approach probably came closest to matching my preferences. Yet....
2. Overall I realized I just liked being able to vary the image size. Some sources, like some DVDs, looked much better at smaller sizes...and pretty horrible at large sizes. Even lower quality HD images looked not so hot blown up too big. Also, there is always a trade off between image size and image density/punch. The smaller the image, the denser, more sculptural, punchy and believable the image becomes. The larger you make the image, the more immersive and cinematic. I found sometimes I enjoyed the somewhat smaller approach, other times I wanted BIG. Not even a Constant Image Area approach quite matched the amount of flexibility I enjoyed.
So varying the image size to my desire became a major goal. Mine would be...for lack of any other term...a Variable Image Size theater!
But just as important: the image HAD to be masked by black all around!
MASKING...4 WAY...AUTOMATED...BUT AFFORDABLE PLEASE....
I've been a proponent of masking for years, before I got into front projection. I was the only person I know who actually set up 2:35:1 masking on his plasma. I also would put up a black backdrop behind my plasma and turn off all the lights. The effect of seeing a 2:35:1 movie perfectly masked against a black backdrop in the dark, essentially the image floating against black, was magnificent. It really added to the depth, vividness and immersion. Friends and guests who watched the plasma under these conditions would remark I had by far the best looking plasma image they'd ever seen...despite that mine was a measly 42" ED resolution plasma while everyone else owned at that point newer, HD models. I really learned the value of attention to detail in how an image is presented and experienced.
When it came to doing projection, I knew for sure I wanted to put all I'd learned and all I'd wanted to do in terms of image presentation into the project. The image HAD to be perfectly masked. In fact, the whole screen wall had to be black around the image (I loved the look of those AVS home theaters which had done so). And the image had to be the exactly right height and position on the wall - that is eye level to around the mid-screen point or just below, which gives the most "correct" presentation of the image perspective to our eye, and hence increases dimensionality.
But here I was making this hard on myself by wanting to vary the image size while masking. Basically it looked like I was having to get in to 4-way masking, and given how often I would tend to vary the image size, automated masking was almost required.
Yet looking at the prices for 4-way masking made my blood run cold. Commercial 4 way masking systems tended to run around $18,000 to $25,000 dollars! Brutal.
What about DIY? Unfortunately, I am the least handy guy I know (to my wife's chagrin). And looking at the trials and tribulations in the DIY section....no can do. But even when I had thought I was doing Constant Image Height I knew I'd buy something like automated curtains for the side masking. So then I thought: " Well, why not continue with the idea of getting automated side curtains, and instead of getting a regular screen frame, buy the Carada Masquerade Horizontal Masking system":
Then I'd just buy an extra large screen, as tall and wide as I can fit on the wall, and the Carada masking system would offer me the ability to vary the image height as well. Done.
Surprisingly to me, it took a lot of research to find the right side-masking curtain system. I really wanted the ability to have pre-set image width stopping points, and not many automated curtains offered those. Then my wife said she hated the idea of having curtains covering the screen wall. She thought it would "look dumb."
"Looks dumb" is about the level of input I ever got, sporadically, from my wife. She was so nervous about how this would turn out she refused to be part of the decisions. "Just do what you need....but don't ruin our house or make it look dumb."
Anyway, I ended up finding the perfect company for my needs: Goelst. They do all sorts of automated solutions. Best of all they had a Panel Track system that I could use instead of curtains.
This was perfect as it would provide the crisp lines I wanted for the masking edges, as well as a sleeker more contemporary feel that I was going for. The panels are made of any material chosen by the user. I would choose to have Fidelio black velvet panels made for me - 5 per side, so it could close off the whole screen when desired.
The panel system stacks all the panels behind one another when fully opened to the sides, and when activated to "close" the panels move on a come-along hooking system to close over the screen.
Here's the Goelst web-site:
Best of all they offered an automated system with remote control, which allowed up to 5 additional pre-set stopping points, set by the user. Yay!
I liked this solution because it meant I would be using two professionally designed and reliable systems rather than a full DIY approach. And the full masking system came out to a little under $5,000, a good 1/4 of the price of a full commercial system.
Now, this was still a huge roll of the dice for me. The whole system was predicated on the masking working, being reliable and easy to use. So I was still nervous about the outcome.
GENERAL AESTHETICS: MY APPROACH TO ROOM VIBE AND DECOR
Even though I can be a bit of a gear head, I actually prefer as clean a look at possible. Gear and lights are in general a distraction to me (the only exception being a nice pair of glowing tube amps). In fact, I don't even like to see the speaker drivers on a speaker. If I see them my mind tends to map the sound to the drivers "Highs are coming out of those tweeters..etc." Once covered with grills I find I can look past the speakers and notice only the sound. So my goal was to have as clean and equipment-free a look as I could manage in the new home theater room. This meant I would put all the source equipment in my computer room, which is down the hall from the living/home theater room.
I love the look of a home theater with an Acoustically Transparent (AT) screen, with the speakers hidden behind. It solves 2 major issues for me: You don't see the speakers and the sound appears to come from the screen. I'm sensitive to both issues.
However, the fly in the ointment is my darned audiophile/music loving half. I simply could not compromise my two channel stereo listening. First, I tend to like listening to various speakers that I'll switch in and out of the system. Second, the best results, especially in my room, are when I'm able to pull the L/R speakers out from the room boundaries nearer the listening position, which gives the best tonal balance and imaging. Not only that, I didn't really have the depth to do an AT screen with the speakers behind. So, that was for me probably the biggest aesthetic compromise - having the L/C/R speakers visible in the room surrounding the screen. But I was determined to minimize their visual impact, which you'll see in my final design. My design goal was to see absolutely nothing but the picture when the room went dark, with nothing else to distract the eye.
As for the overall look of the room, I'm a fan of modern and contemporary architecture and design, who happens to be living in a circa 1920's 3 story house. It's a beautiful house, well preserved. But I've always wanted to update it. This was my chance. I wasn't going to go crazy-modern, but I at least wanted a fun, inviting, cozy and contemporary look (I admit to being a sucker for swingin' bachelor pads).
I will not torture you, as I did myself and everyone else who knew me, by detailing how many choices I went through. I probably spent a year investigating wall fabrics, looking for sofas, testing out rug samples etc. I had my friend, an architect, help me out on the project (thank goodness), and I employed an interior designer. Hiring an interior designer helped assuage my wife's fears because I'd pass any of my decor ideas through him. My wife may not have trusted my wacky ideas but at least she trusted that the designer was keeping me in line.
The project was so uber-technically detailed, and I am soooo picky about what I want, that every design/technical detail went through me. I was the default GC on the project, in that respect. (Which would no doubt be the reason for some of the aggravating issues I went through with the reno).
A big challenge was that I wanted the room to be as "high performance" as possible, in terms of being projector friendly with perfect light control and low room reflections. I didn't want to compromise the image of whatever projector I put in there and I wished the room to "disappear" as much as possible during a movie. Typically this means a "bat-cave" or very, very dark room. And yet this was a main-floor room right off our front hallway that I did not want to look like a cave during the day. Complicating things was my fussiness about screen materials: I just don't like the compromises of hot-spotting and screen artifacts that came with every gray screen I looked at. So I wasn't just going to use a screen designed for sub-optimal rooms. I wanted my room to be close to optimal, so I could use a nice neutral white screen, darn it!
Could I make things any harder on myself?
How to balance these functional/aesthetic goals?
We decided to build down a large rectangular portion of the ceiling covering most of the room from the screen out to over the seating area. A sort of coffered ceiling. This would serve several purposes:
1. We could fit pot lights and track lights into this new ceiling without having to put them in the existing ceiling. Our bedroom is right above the proposed home theater room and because my wife may go to bed before me sometimes as I watch a movie, I didn't want to introduce holes into the existing ceiling (cutting for pot lights) which may leak sound.
2. It would allow a stretched fabric treatment for the ceiling rather than a hard surface like drywall. Dark fabric is always better than dark painted surfaces for rejecting light reflections back to the screen, and I chose a dark, "carob" brown felt. Very classy looking, actually. I'll talk about the company who did it and the process later.
3. It would allow nice hiding points for things like curtain tracks, to keep things neat and tidy.
4. Covering the ceiling build-down with fabric rather than dry-wall made the ceiling acoustically transparent enough to allow me to put lots of acoustic treatment material at strategic points in the ceiling to help room acoustics.
Thank goodness for Google Sketchup! (If you don't know it already, it's an easy, free 3D modeling program from Google). Here are initial sketches:
Room From Above:
Screen Wall From Sofa with Side Masking Panels in Blue:
Screen Wall From Above Showing Carada Masquerade/Goelst Side Masking:
In order to cut reflections from the brighter walls, I would use dark cocoa velvet curtains as depicted below.
The two on the right pull along to cover the room opening and most of that wall, the curtain on the left pulls out along the left wall. I also hid some other wall coverings to use on the left wall - as you'll see later.
I eventually ended up deciding I could go dark with the rug and viewing sofa, and I'd also go dark for the ceiling. But I'd leave the walls lighter to ensure it didn't feel cave-like and I'd still get some of that light play on the walls I've always loved via those bay windows.
Here's the eventual design we came up with, along with much of the chosen fabrics texture mapped into the model:
The ceiling would have pot lights on the main center portion and a surrounding channel into which more directional track lights could live, discretely. The screen wall would be all black velvet - velvet masking and the bulkhead/valance over the screen (which hides the Goelst panel track) will be covered in the same Fidelio black velvet as the masking panels. Additionally, the first couple feet of the floor from the screen wall will be a platform (flush with the carpet height) covered in the same velvet, making for a small "stage" effect. With the speakers covered in black velvet as well, the idea is for as cinematic and coherent a front wall as I could manage in that small room.
The wall is actually a nice, finely textured fabric covering. My goal was to use mostly a 2 color palette to minimize the business of the room, but everything in the room would have some sort of interesting and inviting sensual texture. I really wanted it funky yet inviting and comforting.
I've always been a black level fiend and I'm very sensitive to DLP rainbows. That made the JVC LCOS projectors a perfect fit. When I began this journey I'd viewed the JVC RS1 at an AVS forum member's house and was sold on that projector. But planning took so long that as I thought construction was about to begin, the RS2 had just come out. I was so confident I'd have my room built soon that I actually ordered a Hushbox from Whisperflow built specifically for the RS2.
Talk about foolish optimism! Turned out my project took so long that I ended up buying the RS20...a totally different design that didn't suit the hushbox anymore. Luckily it's quiet enough that I don't seem to need a hushbox at this time. And, actually, my RS20 sat in it's box for something like 6 months during the renovation. The newer RS25/35 models came out right after I set mine up. Sigh. Such is progress.
SCREEN MATERIAL CHOICE
Who would have thought choosing the projector was the easy part? Like many getting into front projection, I found out just how fiddly and paranoia-inducing is the choice of screen material "Is this the right choice for my room? Will it preserve my contrast? Will it hot-spot? Will I see screen texture? etc"
I viewed various materials, at stores, at people's home theaters, and at home. I was using a big screen and didn't want a dim image, so purely gray screens were out. Another way of preserving contrast in challenging rooms are the gray screens with optical coatings which give more gain and, in giving directionality to the light hitting the screen, they are better at rejecting light reflections and keeping contrast. However, I eventually ruled out gray screens with gain (optical coatings) because all of them, including the Stewart Firehawk, produced an obvious "silk screen effect" over the image, not to mention I found myself very aware of the hot-spotting.
One intriguing idea was using a huge (and hugely expensive) super-dark screen like the Black Diamond screen. These screens are so dark that letter-box bars appear virtually black. Which suggests one could zoom an image to whatever size on such a screen and the surrounding would be so dark no masking would be required. I don't know if that would play out in practice or not, but unfortunately upon viewing those screens the hot-spotting was so obvious - if I sat to one side of the screen the other side of the image looked considerably darker - that it was a no go. So I basically decided to do the best I could with cutting reflections in my room, so I could use any material I wanted.
For a while, before the renovation, I lived with a 105" diagonal Da Lite High-Power high gain (3.0 gain) screen, much beloved by many on AVS. However, as brilliant as the image could be, I found myself super aware of the changes in brightness with different seating positions. You can see here an example from some photos I took. This is the HP screen with an 8 x 10 piece of the Carada Brilliant White screen material taped in the center. The Carada BW is rated at 1.4 gain, but tends to measure closer to 1.1 as I understand it, and it maintains it's gain very evenly over a wide viewing angle.
Note from on axis the HP material surrounding the Carada sample is brighter the Carada material.
Off-axis you see how the HP darkens so much it's now actually darker than the Carada material:
Same thing but with an image:
I can't stand a "shifty" image like that so the HP was out. And I actually procured (from someone who was selling) a big piece of the Carada BW screen material to try out. The Carada was magnificent in terms of having very little if any screen texture while looking subjectively very even no matter what angle I sat at. In that respect the Carada actually mimicked one of the qualities I love from plasmas - that even viewing angle - vs LCDs or the older RPTVs in which the image would shift visible depending on where I sat.
However, with the size of the image I wanted available I was just a bit nervous about whether the Carada would give me as bright an image as I'd want.
So I tried out the Stewart ST-130 screen material. The "industry standard" as it's often called. It is a true 1.3 gain and I could see the difference between it and the Carada. So I rolled the dice and went with the Stewart screen material.
Because of the way I'd be doing the masking, I had to order a screen that was even bigger than the images I'd ultimately be viewing (because some degree of the side masks and bottom masking would always be covering the screen...more on that later).
So I ordered the Stewart screen material, and I ordered a non-standard, custom sized aspect ratio Masquerade screen frame from Carada.
The Carada Masquerade Screen Frame dimensions that I ordered were:
130" wide by 67" tall screen surface area. The Masquerade screen frame itself
is 6" wide all around, which makes the outer dimensions of my Masquerade:
142" wide by 79 1/2" tall.
However, with masking finished the actual viewable image sizes would be approximately 124" wide max and between 61" to 62" tall.
I'll get back to how it all worked later on.
Where am I going to put my projector?
I had two main issues: I was trying to keep the room looking as clean of equipment as possible. I'm not a huge fan of the projector hanging off the ceiling, with the cords 'n all that. I wanted a more discrete look.
Also, any projector would have to hang down low enough to clear the build-down of the coffered ceiling we were doing. That would hang the projector right in front of the bay window, making it easily visible to anyone walking past the house outside. I didn't want a nice juicy piece of equipment so visible to thieves, so ideally the projector would be hidden until needed for use.
My first impulse was to research ceiling projector lifts, where the projector is hidden in the ceiling and drops down. Not only were they very expensive, but none were really suitable; pretty much all of them required more room in the ceiling than I had between my home theater room and the bedroom above it. Not to mention cutting a hole in the ceiling brings in issues of noise leaking to the bedroom.
Next I thought: "Why don't I just have the projector hidden behind the sofa, out of view, and it will pop up? I'll just buy a rising projector lift."
After much research and many calls, to my surprise pretty much none of the projector lift companies made any such device. It was always "Well...people want projectors to drop down, but nobody has ever wanted one to lift up." I couldn't really believe I was the first person in the universe to have such an idea.
Next step was to investigate using lift mechanisms used for lifting TVs and flat panels out of cabinets. I'd just put my projector on a lift, instead of a TV. Here is one such lift that I was originally set to use:
The only nagging issue with such systems is the limitations on how low the projector could sit and how high it could travel. As you can see, since the lift mechanism travels along rails set into the side of the cabinet, the travel length of
the lift is limited by the height of the cabinet. It was tough trying to end up with a cabinet size that was both low enough to hide behind the sofa and not block any of the bay window view, while having enough travel to get the projector up as high as I'd like.
Eventually in my research I found a company that had the engineering savvy to solve my problem. You guessed it: it was the Germans. :-)
I found a German company called Flatlift. They did all manner of lift mechanisms that worked in a TELESCOPING fashion:
They told me they could do whatever custom lift I wanted. It would certainly cost more than the cabinet lift above, but I'd get what I really wanted. These guys were fantastic to work with. They were very responsive and detailed and conscientious during the back and forth emailing of the design stage. Eventually we came up with this:
When in the "down" position this would easily hide the projector behind the sofa, given that the top of the projector would sit a mere 23" from the floor.
When raised the lift would telescope to over 6 feet - 75" tall:
I was very excited about this particular feature of the project. More later on how this worked out, later. :-)
I work as a Sound Effects Designer for film and television - that's the fancy new name for what has up until recently simply been called the "Sound Effects Editor"...but admittedly the "designer" designation is actually more descriptive as we don't just "edit" effects, we record, manipulate and design them for the films.
This means I'm essentially working in Home Theater all day long. (Often all night long). After a long day of editing crashes, bangs, gunshots, alien invasions or what have you, I'm not in the mood for more aural assault, so I wanted my home system to be more soothing. I settled on a now defunct speaker line that I'd always admired: the Hales Transcendence line of speakers. Company founder Paul Hales had, to my ears, always managed to ring the best qualities out of metal drivers while almost magically avoiding some of the signature problems (hardness, shrillness, resonances, brightness etc) that I often heard with metal driver designs in the past. The Hales have an almost magical combination of timbral realism with a relaxed, utterly grain free and comforting presentation. They have a "huge midrange" - by that I mean they seem to give voices and instruments all that juicy body and richness that they deserve, without a mechanical or electronic edge. It doesn't matter how long I've been working I can always walk into my home theater and be greeted by rich, clear, yet soothing sound.
You can see the Hales Transcendence T1 monitors in previous pictures. Just before Hales closed down, years ago, they made a matching top of the line Transcendence Center Channel speaker to match the Transcendence line (same drivers etc). This was a massive center channel speaker and just about as rare a beast at this point as one can wish for. Yet I found someone selling one and snapped it up. Here it is, sitting on the floor just as my renovation is about to begin (Audio Physic Scorpio speakers in the background, now sold. And no the Conrad Johnson tube amps in the photo were not on at the time, with paper folders sitting on them).
It matches beautifully with my T1 monitors. In fact I was so in love with the sound that I actually worried about ever breaking one of these speakers, since they were so rare. To that end I actually tracked down one of the last remaining other pairs of the Hales T1 monitors....which were owned by Paul Hales himself, used in his office. Paul sold them to me so now I have back ups and can breath much easier.
The Center channel speaker goes really low and I find no need for a sub in my system. In fact I tend to dislike subwoofers in general anyway. So I've stuck with a 7.0 surround system.
For surrounds I chose the Monitor Audio Bronze brfx speakers for the side FX speakers. Tonally these were closest to the Hales (actually, closer than their more expensive speakers). For the surround back speakers I bought the smaller r90 speakers;
I didn't go too crazy on the AV receiver. A mid-priced Denon AVR-2809Ci is doing me fine.
See this nice silk lamp shade from Italy?
It had to go.
If I was doing a dark ceiling to combat reflections it didn't make sense to have something so bright and reflective hanging from the ceiling.
Do you think my wife understood that? You're right: no. It was indeed a lengthy process to win that battle. As was the battle to rid the windows of that stained glass. Yeah, yeah, a lot of people think stained glass looks nice and decorative, and it can. My issue is I like light, and those damned stained glass portion cut down on the light getting into the room. I will always take more natural light (I like modern windows) and more nice view over a stained glass window. Not to mention those windows were old and grotty. Luckily it turned out they were also buckled and cracked in portions so my wife relented on that issue, finally...and we went with all new windows. Getting more light into the room would be good, given I was also introducing more dark decor into the room.
CEILING FRAMING BEGINS:
This portion over the fireplace was made to allow us to inset an automated roller blind that would come down to block off reflections from the fireplace area when watching a movie. In the end I saved some money by making it a manuel drop down roman blind, using the same velvet as the curtains.
SCREEN WALL OPENED UP
The screen wall was taken down and was to be rebuilt to get it perfectly straight, as well as adding more acoustic insulation in the wall.
Yep, things are looking ugly. We are fully into renovation mode now. Enjoying that mess and constant layer of dust throughout the house that makes the family mood so much more interesting during renovations.
Here we have some OFI 48 filling the screen wall - an attempt to increase the acoustic absorption of that wall to some degree.
My source equipment was located down a hallway, in my computer room (where I do my sound FX work). It was approximately a 45 foot wire run for most of the wires to get there.
I ran Belden 5000 series 10-gauge speaker wire for the speakers, from Blue Jeans Cable. I also ordered from Blue Jeans several of their highest end HDMI cables for long runs. I had 45, 50 and 60 foot HDMI cables. As I remember, we ended up using two 45 footers from my equipment rack to my projector. Naturally we tested them all out with various HD signals to the projector (1080i/60 and 1080p/24) to make sure they worked before sealing them in the walls. All the cables worked including the 60 footer.
I used a local AV installer, one of the busiest in the city, to run my wires. They also
installed a bunch of CAT5 stuff as well, mostly for control and "just in case" scenarios.
Since I was also using a Lutron Grafik Eye 3000 dimmer system, with 6 light zones in the room, an electrician also ran those wires to transformers placed near my electrical panel in the basement.
We had to open up a channel in my basement ceiling to run the wires. This is it, before all the wires were run:
Ironically this was just finally sealed up today by a contractor. I didn't want it sealed until the system was up and running for a while and I knew everything worked.
Right after the guy finished sealing it up my wife said "Did you mention the golf balls?"
During the many months that ceiling was open my kids would be playing with balls in the basement, including indoor golf which used these small sponge balls. A whole bunch of them got lost up in that ceiling. I'd meant to ask the contractor to look for them to make sure none had snuggled up to the pot lights as a fire hazard, but forgot. The guy had to take almost the whole thing down again to check for the balls/fire hazards! This was so typical of how this project went the whole way: one step forward, another step backward.
Here's a shot of some AV wiring we ran to the middle of the home theater room ceiling:
I'd already run CAT5 and 2 HDMI cables along the floor to the projector location, given it would be rising from the floor. But just in case I ever needed to ceiling mount for whatever reason, I've stashed those extra cables up there.
ETA: I also ran an extra pair of L/R speaker wires to the L/R speaker locations. These run to my 2 channel rig, so whenever I want to listen to vinyl/tube amp sources I just hook up those wires instead.
Things progressing slowly. Finally we have the screen wall re-built. We left those parts open at the corners to stuff with more acoustic material (which would protrude beyond the screen eventually, but hidden), to help as much as possible with the fact the speakers would be near the corners.
You can see the pot lights are in. Also some dark paint on the ceiling. There's power near the corner in the wall opening for the Carada Masquerade Masking system.
The new windows finally went in:
Note that the ceiling has been painted dark all the way down the walls a bit to the wood trim on the upper wall. I instantly found this going a bit far. Something about it felt a bit too cave-like. So I had them re-paint the portion of the ceiling above the wall trim a lighter color that matched the wall fabric. This made all the difference in the world to the feel of the room. The larger coffered ceiling area over the screen/viewing area would provide plenty of dark light reflection as it was. You'll see the results later.
The wall fabric was applied as well. You can see it on the walls in the above photo.
Sorry but at the moment I have only the crapiest photos in terms of close-ups. Maybe I'll replace them later with better shots. But you can see it somewhat here:
And a bit here:
CEILING WORK CONTINUES
Here's a bunch of shots showing what type of evil crap is now hidden in my ceiling.
Note the diffusors. Turns out the fabric covering of my ceiling is really too thick to allow enough sound transfer for those diffusors to do their thing (the highs are already getting sucked up by the ceiling felt material that will cover the ceiling). But they are also stuffed with acoustic absorptive material as well, anyway.
We stuffed the corners with acoustic absorption material trying to get as much trapping as possible.
We tried to do something of a bass trap, fully stuffing the whole portion of the coffered ceiling that ran along the screen wall.
I couldn't do everything advised to me by my acoustician, but I did as much as I could. I'll mention the acoustic results later.
The guy in the picture actually did the fabric ceiling treatment as well. He did a superb job as you'll see!
Yeah, on a hot, late summer day with all this insulation in the house floating around, this was a pretty grotesque job. The kind of thing you want to flush out of your memory banks with a heavy drinking binge.
Note the roles of dark brown felt fabric sitting on the chair. That's the fabric that ends up covering the ceiling.
Whoo-wee! My projector lift from Flatlift arrives!
One of the stands taken out of the box:
I'm mucho excited. The white speckly stuff on the lift is simply styrofoam crumbs.
Once rubbed off the fit and finish of the lift is beautiful.
But not all is well in reno-land....
If I actually detailed all the things that went wrong on this project I think even the most hardened veteran of these projects would be left shaking his head. I only wish I kept a journal. Virtually nothing about this went smoothly. I'm just going to stick to one instance which is really indicative of how things tended to go.
It was something like 8 months into the renovation and for most of those months when we walked into our house our front hall looked like this:
You can imagine how pleasing this was to my wife and kids. And, unbenkownst to me at the time, we will live in this scenario for almost an entire year! Now, it's one thing for a couple to live through renovations when both are on board in wanting the project. It's entirely another thing when it is only ONE person who wants this, subjecting the other to all this crap. Domestic strife, here we come!
So early on a Friday my wife had just given me another one of her "When the hell is this going to be done, I can't take living like this, I'm going crazy" speeches. And who could blame her? I told her it was going to take a month or two and here we were 8 months later. But as luck would have it, the last messy job, the screen wall plastering, was just being completed that day. I told my wife "Honey, this is literally the last day of construction and dust. We start moving furniture in next week!"
She left disgruntled.
Right after she left the house a worker came up and gave me the words I'd long learned to dread on this job: "Uh, excuse me, do you have a moment...there's a little problem..."
Well, our old house was fitted with a SpacePack air conditioning system shortly after we moved in. Basically insulated pipes were run throughout the house through the walls and ceilings to outlets in each room. Turns out when the workers were trying to shift the AC outlet to the new location on the coffered ceiling, a couple feet over from where it had been, they snapped off the air conditioning pipe....IN THE WALL!
The air conditioning was no longer blowing out the visible pipe in the ceiling - it was blowing inside the wall. Panicked I phoned some AC companies. They all said "That's bad. That's really bad."
Later that day my wife was walking out of the house and she stopped.
"How come it's cool in the back of the house but warm in this part in front?"
"Uh...I don't know dear. Maybe because they had the window open?"
"That. That pipe hanging out of the wall. Like it's broken!"
"That's not the air conditioning pipe is it?"
"Well...they are working on it..."
"THEY DIDN'T BREAK OUR AIR CONDITIONING DID THEY? THEY BETTER NOT HAVE BROKEN OUR AIR CONDITIONING! TELL ME THEY DIDN'T BREAK THE AIR CONDITIONING!"
You know, I actually have a policy about not lying to my wife. Not even small fibs.
But this was a time, if any, that massaging the truth seemed the only way to save her sanity.
"Honey, they just had to move out the pipe to finish the wall. It'll all be fine next week."
"IT BETTER BE! IF OUR AIR CONDITIONING IS SCREWED I'M GOING TO LOSE IT!"
She stormed out of the house.
Oh man this was bad. How was I going to get this thing fixed...fast...discretely?
What happened is the next Monday I had to go on a long trip to a place that sold me the extension pipe to fix the AC. Then I got a guy in that afternoon to do the fix while my wife was at work. We opened up both walls and pretty much reconstructed them while she was gone. The air conditioning was fixed. Whew! I swear I just avoided divorce.
It ended up looking like this:
But wait, it's not over.
That pipe is actually supposed to extend another foot and a half in order to blow downward out of the coffered ceiling. But that's okay because I was told they sell extensions for those AC pipes.
Only...when I went to get the new extension it turned out that the original one they gave me, the one we'd just sealed back into my wall, WAS THE WRONG TYPE OF EXTENSION. The end sticking out of the wall there does not have the right connection to be extended. So we had deconstructed and reconstructed the wall insetting an improper AC pipe into the wall.
WE HAD TO DO IT ALL FRIGGIN' AGAIN! Which we did. (After another long drive to get the right parts and opening the wall again).
And that, ladies and gentlemen, very much captures the tenor of this renovation. To say I'm glad it's all over with is an understatement.
Now, on to happier times....
TO BE CONTINUED....
I've run out of time. I'll get the rest up including the finished theater pictures this weekend I hope. Also, I'll have video of my system in action, hopefully early next week.
It looks great, looking forward to more pictures...
Regarding the pain and sleepless nights I can relate as I am going through those myself...it is good to know that they eventually end..
Wonderful to see a fellow Torontonian posting here...I do not know where in the city you but I am near Yonge and 401 so, when my theatre is done, you are invited over for a test drive...
Have a good weekend..
Can't wait to see (and read) more!
That is quite a saga Rich. I'm sure the finished product will justify all the effort.
Nice build (so far). But sorry, it seems a bit like pushing a square peg into a round hole; a beautiful, round hole.
CEILING FABRIC TREATMENT
It was time for the ceiling fabric to go on. I wish I took more pictures of the process, but here's a bit of info about what was done.
I'm personally not a fan of the "Mixing Studio" look in terms of discrete sound absorbing panels placed around a room. I like that stuff as discrete or hidden as possible. This is why I sort of shoved a lot of things I was trying to do into something of an architectural feature - the coffered ceiling.
The fabric was chosen by me, a "Carob" (dark rich brown) felt that would be set into tracks around the ceiling structure and stretched flat along the ceiling. There are several companies offering such systems, both as installers or do it yourself solutions. Here's one such site:
I ended up going with this company, which had local offices:
Tracks were placed around the perimeters of the coffered ceiling and the edges of the fabric were carefully stuffed into the track using a thin wedge-like tool. Again, I wish I had better pictures documenting this part of the install, but here is a shot of the first portion of the ceiling to have the fabric applied:
I'd had a paint made to match the color of the ceiling fabric, which was used to paint the drywall inner trough of the ceiling, where the track lights would sit.
CEILING IS COMPLETED
The ceiling was one of the things I was most worried about. I didn't want it to come off as looking too odd or panel-like or "fabricy." My wife too was extremely skeptical and as she left and entered the house that day she actually hid her eyes from looking in the room, to see the results.
Here is a glimpse of the finished product after the ceiling guy left that day. Not a good picture - those are saved for the finished Home Theater:
Fortunately I was amazed at the end result. The fabric is stretched perfectly tight and flat.
It has a sheer look that, if you didn't look closely you'd just assume it was a painted ceiling. In person it just looks really slick and cool. Even my wife had to admit it turned out really nice. That was probably the day my wife finally started to relax about the project, realising I hadn't ruined the room.
For me the very most comfortable chair is a really good home theater recliner. However, they would never look right in a room like this. So I had a very large custom sectional sofa designed for the room. I wanted it nice and deep to encourage lounging. The back had to be high enough to give good back support for long viewing sessions. But the back had to be not so high as to block the bay windows.
Sofa 137" long
32" high back, 36" tall with pillows
Chaise is 82" long
I felt this would suit the room and provide capacious seating. It actually sits up to 6 adults quite spaciously (and we've had more people than that on the sofa at times, including the kids). Plus I love the "Family/kids/wife cuddle factor " with a sofa like this. And as much as tiered home theater seating can be cool, I also like the fact I could maximize the screen positioning for a single layer of seats, rather than dealing with two layers.
The fabric was a dark chocolate brown french crushed fabric. It's soft and inviting, and very dark in terms of reflections, yet it has just a little sheen or sparkle to it when a pot light hits it. That's one thing I really wanted in the room given I was going 2 tone. I wanted a bit of visual interest and light play in every surface, even if subtle.
I went with a dark brown faux-fur shag rug. While it is dark, it has a rich, subtle 3 tone with high-lights going on and a nice luster when light is shined directly on the rug. It's very inviting to walk into the room in socks or bare feet.
SOFA AND RUG ARRIVE
Here's a somewhat deliberately obscure and dark shot of the Sofa and Rug right after they arrived:
I also had some ottomans made to match the sofa that arrived much later on.
You'll see everything better in the finished pictures :-)
PUTTING UP SCREEN AND MASKING
This is another facet of the project I wish I documented better. But it was so fiddly and demanding that I was just too occupied to remember to take photos.
We built a wooden screen frame, stapled on the Stewart ST-130 screen material. Then...
CARADA MASQUERADE ARRIVES:
Here she is, mounted on the wall. This is masks closed as far as they go:
While actually putting up the Masquerade generally isn't in of itself too torturous, I had picky demands and issues that were indeed challenging.
I wanted my seated eye height to be as close to the screen center as possible. But with a screen this big that meant that when fully opened the bottom of the image would actually end up below the center channel speaker. So the center speaker would get in the way of the image.
To solve this issue - all this being meticulously pre-planned out before ordering the Masquerade! - I ended up installing some soft stoppers, atop a pipe clap, on the rails of the Masquerade masking system. So essentially for most image sizes the top/bottom mask opens evenly from the center. But for the very largest image sizes the bottom masking bar is stopped 6" or so above the bottom of the frame by the stoppers, while the top masks continue to open upward. This keeps the bottom mask stopping just above the center channel height, so the center channel never gets in front of the picture.
I can't tell you how much pre-planning and fiddling this took, trying to juggle getting the "perfect" eye line for all manner of changing image sizes WHILE dealing with the center channel issue. But in the end it worked out perfectly! There really is a fall-into-the-image feeling with the picture right in front of you, rather than raised up higher.
At this point I still had only my old Panasonic AE900 720p projector to do tests in the room. But my first night with the Carada Masquerade left me pretty much ecstatic. Even without side masking employed, the effect of seeing those top bottom masks come down and remove any vestiges of "black bars" and provide a crisp, pitch-black surrounding, utterly changed the viewing experience. Not only did the picture seem to get better, pop out of the wall more and become more dimensional, but it made that step to feeling "professional" and "finished." To anyone thinking of using a system like this, I can't recommend it more highly. It really does take your theater to the next level.
ALSO: Carada's customer service is simply peerless. Nothing I've experienced comes close. Over almost two years Carada answered my numerous emails or phone calls as I worked on this rubik's cube of a project. They always answered my emails and calls immediately and with as much information as they could provide. I feel very grateful for their help.
The Stewart screen material, btw, is gorgeous. It is indeed obviously brighter than a neutral gain material which I love. But it also has very even light reflection so I can't see hot-spotting no matter where I sit. And the picture looks sharp and luscious with a real "it" factor. I hadn't seen my projected image look so refined before.
GOELST SIDE PANEL MASKING SYSTEM ARRIVES
So here was the next roll of the dice.
We built a bulk-head or "valance" over the screen. The Goelst panel track was mounted on the bottom of that bulk head. It's amazing how many contractor balked at various jobs involving the screen wall. People who build whole houses for a living would get cold feat about even building a rectangular wooden screen frame mounted to the wall...because it was a "home theater thing" and they don't do home theater stuff. So entire houses...no problem. Rectangular wood frame? No way. Getting someone to mount the Goelst track, which was pretty much just screwing it to the bulk head, was a similar challenge. Finally I got a curtain company to do it for me.
One issue is they did not get the track quite as close to the screen as I wanted. So rather than a 1 inch gap to the screen surface as planned, it ended up more like 2 inches or so.
This, fortunately, turned out not to be an issue in practice, using the masking.
Here are some quick shots I'd taken of the Goelst panel track, once mounted, with a couple test velvet panels attached on each side:
The motor for the track is on the far left side.
The velvet hanging panels are attached with velcro to the sliding mounts on the track:
So how'd the Goelst panel system work?
Freakin' amazing, actually.
The motor is whisper quiet and super smooth. The remote has open and closed, of course, but it also let me set up another 5 pre-set stopping points, for various image widths. And it was super accurate! I spent quite a while hitting the various pre-sets I'd programmed and measuring the results to see if they'd stop at the same spots. It measured dead on every time, over and over, no matter where the masks were starting from. I breathed a huge sigh of relief.
After all this planning and building.....This...just...might....work...after all.
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