AVS member Paul Morgan (Moggie) dreamed of building his own home theater for 10 years, inspired largely by AVS Forum. "It taught me just about everything I know today and was 90 percent of my inspiration," he says. There was only one problem—the best place for it was under his house in Santa Cruz, CA, where a meager crawlspace did not provide nearly enough room for a theater.
How was Paul going to fit a home theater in this crawlspace?
The answer was to excavate over 100 cubic yards of dirt from beneath the house. His family, friends, and realtor thought he was crazy.
Paul loves to combine his training as an electronics engineer, his work as a software engineer, and his hobby as a mechanical engineer and builder, making this the perfect project for him. "I wanted stadium seating with two rows of seats and bar area at the rear where I could eat dinner after work while the family watched a movie," he says. "Also, I wanted it completely soundproofed from the rest of the house given that it is below the kitchen."
Paul started with a detailed floor plan. Note the markings for various fractional distances along the walls, which is important for seating and speaker placement.
Sound isolation from the rest of the house was accomplished using room-within-a-room construction with independent ceiling joists, isolated subfloor, and walls of OSB (oriented-strand board) and two layers of drywall separated by Green Glue sound-damping compound.
Other than the excavation and final carpeting, Paul built everything in the theater with his own hands, including the floor, walls, ceiling, sand-filled stage, all the woodwork, even the electrical wiring. "I installed a new 125A subpanel in the garage, and four separate 20A circuits and two 15A circuits were plumbed to the equipment area and interior outlets, which were all wired inside the shell for a completely airtight enclosure, except for the HVAC [heating, ventilation, and air conditioning]." He also built the fiber-optic night-sky system in the ceiling.
The night-sky simulation uses a lot of fiber-optic cabling to keep the stars shining.
After the fiber-optic ceiling was installed, Paul's 8-year-old daughter brought in an orange glow-stick and they had a "fireside" picnic under the stars. It was a magical moment.
But Paul didn't stop there; he went so far as to build two of his own subwoofers, each with two 18" drivers from Fi in a dual-opposed, side-firing, infinite-baffle configuration. The subs sit beneath the screen, and the back of their niche opens into a 3-foot-deep space that extends from floor to ceiling to maintain the infinite baffle. (He admits it's not strictly infinite, but close enough!) Above the subs are three Klipsch KL-650-THX speakers for the front left, center, and right channels.
Three Klipsch KL-650-THX speakers are mounted above two DIY subwoofers.
With such a front-speaker setup, Paul needed an acoustically transparent screen, and he chose Seymour AV's Center Stage XD woven material for the job. But being the inveterate DIYer that he is, Paul decided to build his own steel screen frame with motorized horizontal masking so that the image would maintain a constant height regardless of aspect ratio. And because he wanted to use an anamorphic-projection system, he knew it would be best to have a curved screen, making the build even more difficult.
Paul built a curved frame for the acoustically transparent screen with fully automated horizontal masking.
For the rest of the speaker system, Paul wired the room for 11 main channels, but he uses nine for now—front left, center, right, side surrounds, rear surrounds, and left and right wide speakers. "I love surround sound," he says. "The DTS 7.1 soundtrack of Love mixed for Cirque du Soleil is my reference." Paul tried speakers in the front-height positions, but he preferred the envelopment of the wide speakers until he can add height speakers to the system. In addition to the two DIY subwoofers in the front, there are two Klipsch KW-120-THX subs in the rear.
Six Berkline 1200 seats are surrounded by Klipsch KS-525-THX speakers in gracefully curved pilasters. The seats are also equipped with Buttkicker LFE transducers that shake your booty during intense scenes.
A JVC DLA-RS40 projector is outfitted with a Prismasonic HD-6000R cylindrical anamorphic lens that can slide into and out of the light path on a vertical mechanism. Paul built a beautiful cabinet for it that maintains the wood look of the room while containing noise made by the projector.
The projector cabinet is made from walnut, as is most of the woodwork in the room.
The equipment rack is located outside the main theater, housing a Dune H1 media server with a 16 TB NAS (network-attached storage). Also available are an Oppo BDP-83 Blu-ray player and Sonos whole-house audio system.
The equipment rack pulls out, making it easy to swap out gear. The cabling is neatly dressed rather than a tangle of technospaghetti.
All that gear is easily controlled with an iPad running the iRule app.
The entire build took about 20 months, with Paul's faithful German Shepherd Victoria by his side all the while. Also cheering him on were the denizens of the Dedicated Theater Design & Construction forum. "They are a wonderfully motivating bunch who carried me through many a 'down' moment," he recounts.
The theater is called The Old Vic after Paul's faithful canine companion, Victoria.
And it's still not complete. "I have some miscellaneous work do to on the entrance—framing the equipment rack, for example—and one more big project to build a hidden entrance. The plan is to install a pneumatic sliding ticket booth with signage above. I want the presentation of a ticket to automatically open the ticket booth to reveal the entrance."
And the price tag so far? About $55,000 for the theater and another $45,000 for the excavation and foundation reinforcement. Was it worth it? Absolutely—as Paul recalls, "When I reclined into the comfortable chairs for the first movie with my family and watched the motes of dust dance in the projection beam, that's when it sunk in, and I thought, 'Wow, I have my very own home theater!'"
If you'd like your home theater considered for Home Theater of the Month, or you know of a really cool one, PM me with the details and a link to the build thread if available, or post a comment with this info in the Call for HT of the Month thread.
Dune H1 media server with QNAP TS-859+ NAS (16 TB)
Oppo BDP-83 Blu-ray player
Integra DHC-80.1 preamp/processor
Outlaw Model 7700 (7 channels: LR mains, LR wides, 2 entryway)
Outlaw Model 7500 (5 channels: center, LR side surrounds, LR rear surrounds)
Berhinger EP4000 (2, each with 2 channels: front subs, rear subs, Buttkickers)
JVC DLA-RS40 with Prismasonic HD-6000R cylindrical anamorphic lens on vertical sled
Seymour AV Center Stage XD (130", 2.4:1, woven, custom automated-masking system, DIY construction)
Klipsch KL-650-THX (front LCR)
Klipsch KS-525-THX (side and rear LR surrounds)
Klipsch RB-51 (LR wides)
Klipsch KW-120-THX subwoofers (2, rear)
DIY subwoofers (2, each with 2 Fi 18" drivers in dual-opposed configuration, infinite baffle design)
iRule on iPad
APC J15 power conditioner/UPS (AV equipment)
APC Smart-UPS 1000 (computers, NAS, etc.)
Berkline 1200 (6) with Buttkicker LFE transducers