Home Theater of the Month: The Black Hole

This nearly invisible home theater removes all visual and sonic distractions so viewers can focus their full attention where it belongs.

When AVS Forum member SOWK decided to build a home theater in his basement, he wanted to make sure the world did not intrude. “My primary goal was to create a room where all outside distractions would be minimized while enjoying a truly immersive experience both audibly and visually as the directors intended.” Laudable goals, indeed, but easier said than done.

After three years of planning, SOWK hired a contractor to build the shell of the room, splitting the basement in half. “My sound-isolation efforts where focused on keeping sound from entering the theater by building a 2×6 staggered-stud wall between the theater room and the other half of the basement, which houses all the utilities—washer, dryer, furnace, water heater, etc. I have achieved my goal of keeping outside sounds out, but I’m sure my wife would tell you I didn’t do such a great job keeping the sound in!”


The theater occupies half of the basement, with a staggered-stud wall separating it from home’s noisy machines.


Once the framing was up, fiberglass insulation was installed and covered with 5/8″ drywall.

Unfortunately, the contractor turned out to be less careful than SOWK wanted. “I have a bit of OCD when it comes to details, and I had them redo some of the work because it was outside my tolerance for error.” In addition, the contractor was less than up-front. “They wanted to charge me for little things I had already paid for. For example, I paid in advance to have all the electrical done—bad decision, I know! But when it came time to install the electrical outlets, they wanted to charge me $20 for each one, so I called it quits with them and did the rest myself.”


The room looked like this when SOWK decided to cut the contractor loose and do the rest of the work himself.

Even before his contractor woes, SOWK had to settle on a screen size. “That affects the whole design for room length, projector-throw distance, seating distance, riser height, speaker placement, acoustic-panel placement to match the speaker placement, and other factors. I played around with layouts for different screen sizes and aspect ratios and ended up with a 2.35:1, 150-inch-wide screen.”


A 2.35:1, 150-inch-wide screen is mighty big, as illustrated by two of SOWK’s 6-foot-tall friends.

“I settled on the size and aspect ratio for a number of reasons. One was the ability to have all three front LCR speakers behind the screen with little interaction and reflection from the screen borders. Also, my main seating distance is 14.5 feet, which creates a full field-of-view immersive experience.” A little back-of-the-envelope calculation reveals that the viewing angle subtended by the screen at the main seating position is 46.6°, which is more than most recommendations specify.

SOWK recognizes the problem here. “It’s quite amazing to have such a large screen, but there are two major drawbacks. First is the pixel density of 1080p, which doesn’t always produce the ‘looking through a window’ effect as it can on a smaller screen. Once Ultra HD Blu-ray is released, this will be a non-issue. The second problem of a large, low-gain screen is the light-output requirement for the projector. Only high-brightness projectors need apply.” In fact, a veritable parade of projectors has passed through SOWK’s theater in his quest for the best possible image; good thing he built a shelf at the back of the room so projectors can be easily swapped in and out.


The screen is a Seymour-Screen Excellence Center Stage XD, which consists of a woven, acoustically transparent material with a gain of 1.2.

Another factor in optimizing the image quality is the viewing environment. “The aesthetics of the room are minimalistic and black/dark gray in color to keep the viewer’s attention on the image, which really pops with no visual distractions. This also helps people focus on music, even when there’s no picture on the screen.”

In addition to his emphasis on keeping unwanted sound out of the theater, SOWK gave considerable thought to acoustic treatments in the room. “I have 17 absorbers and two diffusers from GIK Acoustics and seven absorbers from Acoustimac. I installed ten absorber panels behind the screen to help deaden any front-wall and floor reflections. I have additional absorber panels at the first and some of the second reflection points on the ceiling, floor, and side walls. I use the two diffusion panels in the rear of the theater.”


SOWK placed absorbers at the first- and second-reflection points, which happened to include the door into the theater.

As SOWK said about the screen, he wanted to be able to put all three front speakers behind it without worrying about acoustic interactions with the screen borders. He also left a lot of room back there so he could try different speaker placements. He started with a set of Vandersteen speakers, and the left and right towers were fairly close together. But AVS Forum member and industry expert Roger Dressler (whose own home theater was featured as HToM) recommended placing them farther apart for better stereo separation, which SOWK did. He then replaced the Vandersteens with JTR speakers all around in a 9.2 configuration with “wide” speakers on either side of the screen. “I plan to expand to a 9.2.4 system once DTS:X and Dolby Atmos have matured for about a year or so.”


SOWK now has three JTR 212HTR speakers and two Seaton SubMersive HPsubwoofers behind the screen. Notice the acoustic absorbers on the wall and floor.

After a year of construction and about $60,000, SOWK’s theater is complete—at least for now. “I am satisfied with my current build, but I still have plans to enhance the experience as new technology and new techniques become available.” Of course, as all AV geeks know, a home theater is never really complete, but SOWK’s black-hole room provides an exceptional backdrop for whatever the Next Big Thing might be.


Seven Berkline 12000 powered recliners provide the ultimate in comfort, and the three front-row seats are equipped with Crowson tactile transducers that enhance the extreme low frequencies and recreate the feel of a suspended wooden floor on his basement’s concrete slab during intense LFE scenes.

For much more detail about how SOWK’s home theater came together, including many videos, check out the build thread here.

If you’d like your home theater considered for HT of the Month, PM me with the details and a link to your build thread if available.

EQUIPMENT LIST

Sources

Oppo BPD-103D Blu-ray player
Synology DS1512+ movie/music server (15 TB)

AV Electronics

Denon AVR-4311CI AVR
Emotiva XPA-5 Gen2 power amplifier
Crowson D-501 tactile motion amplifier

Projector

Sony VPL-HW40ES

Screen

Seymour-Screen Excellence Center Stage XD (150″ wide, 2.35:1, 1.2 gain, acoustically transparent/woven, fixed frame)

Speakers

JTR 212HTR (3, front LCR)
JTR 212HT (2, LR wide)
JTR Slanted 8HT (4, LR side surround, LR rear surround)
Seaton SubMersive HP subwoofers (2)

Cables

SignalCable MagicPower AC power, digital audio, analog video
SignalCable Silver Resolution analog interconnects
SignalCable Ultra speaker
Monoprice 12 AWG speaker
Monoprice 22 AWG HDMI

Control

iPhone and iPad apps for Oppo, Denon, lighting

Power Conditioning

PS Audio Soloist CI (4)
PS Audio Ultimate Outlet

Seating

Berkline 12000 powered recliners (3 in front row, 4 in second row))
Crowson tactile transducers in front 3 seats

Room Dimensions

32′ (L) x 8′ (H) x 16.5′ (W at front) to 13.5′ (W at back)