With the release of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug this month, I thought it was especially appropriate to feature this build, dubbed Theater for Hobbits 2.0 by its owner, AVS member David Chiu (snowkarver), as Home Theater of the Month. (This is the second small theater built by David, hence the 2.0 designation.) The starting point was not so much a room as an alcove measuring about 10 x 10 feet in his duplex in Vancouver, BC, Canada.
"I always seem to end up with very small basement spaces to work with," David says. "The goal has always been to maximize use of the space by bringing in as many 'big theater' features while keeping the design clean and crisp. For this build, I first figured out the maximum practical screen size based on the dimensions of the front wall coupled with the available throw distance from front to back. Everything else in the design, from the size of the stage and soffits to the layout of the wall panels and seating, was effectively dictated by those measurements."
The original plan was to put the screen on the short wall opposite the angled opening to the space, but David decided it just felt right to flip the orientation by 90 degrees.
After planning for a 16:9 screen, David discovered that a Panamorph CineVista fixed anamorphic lens costs only about $1000, so he took the bold step of installing an Elite Lunette CineWhite 106-inch-wide, 2.35:1 curved screen, which helps compensate for the pincushioning of such a wide image, especially with such a short throw distance. At a seating distance of nine feet, that corresponds to 2.5 times the screen height and a 42-degree viewing angle, which is just about perfect for 1080p images.
Blue tape marks the boundaries of a 16:9 and 2.35:1 screen; the wider screen won.
The back wall of the basement room had a recessed window, which would be completely covered and provide a bit more throw distance for the projector.
One thing David really wanted—and couldn't have in his previous small theater because of the low ceiling—was a tray ceiling with rope lights. He got his wish this time.
With so little space—and a closet behind the screen wall—David could not put speakers behind an acoustically transparent screen. So he commandeered some of the closet space for the equipment rack in the corner of the room and a subwoofer niche below the screen. The Paradigm Mini Monitor LCR speakers would have to be mounted above the screen, pointing down toward the seating position.
The subwoofer niche was built to fit the SVS SB12-NSD 12" powered sub. Also in this photo is the partial frame of the small curved stage that many home-theater owners like so much.
The LCR speakers presented an unexpected challenge. "I made a minor error when measuring the height of the front wall," he recalls. "After framing, building out the equipment rack, and installing the screen, I realized that I had miscalculated the space to install the LCR speakers above the screen. They didn't fit! I spent several nights perched on a ladder trying to figure out how to make it work. In the end, I completely redesigned the upper and lower shadowboxes to use braced 1/4" plywood frames instead of 1" dimensional lumber to save a single inch. That was all the space I needed to squeeze the speakers in."
Because of the curved screen and the small size of the front LCR speakers, they can be mounted unobtrusively above the screen—that is, after compensating for a measurement error.
The surround speakers are mounted at the top of corner pilasters that are otherwise filled with rock wool to act as bass traps. The sofa is pulled out from the back wall by a few inches, so the surrounds are at about 110 degrees from the front centerline. "Because of the room shape," David says, "I opted to stay with 5.1 and not bother with rear surrounds, which would be much too close for my taste."
The surround pilasters are mostly filled with rock wool, forming so-called "superchunk" bass traps.
David doesn't listen at reference levels, so he didn't go all out with acoustic isolation. Still, the wall to the right of the screen is shared with the other half of the duplex, and although it's already decoupled with two stud walls, insulation, and 5/8" sheetrock, he installed another layer of 5/8" of sheetrock with Green Glue sound-damping compound. Also, the window in the back wall let in street noise and light, so he sealed it with two layers of 5/8" sheetrock, Green Glue, and fabric panels.
Within the room, acoustic treatment was of particular concern, especially bass buildup at the listening position, which is very near the back wall. In addition to the bass traps in the surround pillasters, David installed fiberglass bass traps in the rear soffit (which reaches back more than two and a half feet at the projector) and the space beneath the screen not occupied by the subwoofer and equipment rack. He also lined the walls with Roxul Comfortboard IS insulation, which has similar acoustic-absorption characteristics as Owens-Corning 701, an acoustic material commonly used in recording studios.
The walls are lined with Roxul Comfortboard IS insulation, which also provides some acoustic absorption.
In keeping with the low-budget nature of the theater, David uses an Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 8350 projector, which doesn't cost much more than the Panamorph CineVista anamorphic lens he placed in front of the main lens on a homemade mount. The projector doesn't do 3D, but with the anamorphic lens and the video processor in the Onkyo TX-NR818 AV receiver, it can do constant image height (CIH), changing the width of the image for 4:3, 16:9, and 2.35:1 content while keeping the height constant.
The niche created by the now-sealed window gives the projector a bit more throw distance. The anamorphic lens is in a fixed position, and the Onkyo TX-NR818 processes the video according to the image's intended aspect ratio.
David is especially proud of the hidden equipment rack. "I spent an inordinate amount of time figuring out how to make the equipment-rack door completely hidden. It appears to be a standard 3/4" kitchen-cabinet door with euro hinges, but it's actually made up of two parts—a 1/2" piece wrapped in fabric and a second 1/4" board glued and tacked to finish the inside. I then mortised the hinges through both pieces."
The equipment can be found behind a fabric-covered door next to the subwoofer niche. The system is controlled via RF, so the door can be closed in operation.
The active planning stage took about three months, and construction took another four months at a total cost of only $12,000, equally divided between equipment and building materials. David already owned the furniture from his previous Hobbit theater, and all equipment except the PS4, anamorphic lens, and subwoofer were used, closeouts, or refurbished. As for the build itself, David did all the work himself—nothing was contracted out.
The Ikea sofabed was brought from the previous Theater for Hobbits and works perfectly well in the new one.
This theater is the perfect size for kids, who are no bigger than hobbits. But adult humans also enjoy the theater very much.
Like most builders, the greatest moment was when David first fired up the projector and filled the screen with a big, beautiful 2.35 image. "I called my 6-year-old son downstairs, and we just sat on the floor staring at it, playing Pixar trailers over and over." No doubt the Hobbit movies will be played more than once in this jewel of a home theater as well.
For much more detail about how David Chiu's home theater came together, check out the build thread here.
If you'd like your home theater considered for Home Theater of the Month, PM me with the details and a link to your build thread if available.
Sony PS4 (Blu-ray, games)
Apple TV 3
Onkyo TX-NR818 AV receiver
DarbeeVision Darblet video processor
Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 8350
Panamorph CineVista anamorphic lens
Elite Lunette CineWhite (106" wide, 2.35:1, curved, 1.1 gain)
Paradigm Mini Monitors (LCR)
Paradigm Atom Monitors (LR surrounds)
SVS SB12-NSD 12" powered subwoofer
Monoprice (inc. Redmere HDMI)
Logitech Harmony 900RF universal remote
Smarthome Insteon lighting controllers
Belkin PureAV PF60
Ikea Beddinge sofabed