As you all know, the Internet was a great source of information about building a home theater. Too much information, sometimes. Initially I wanted a plasma screen downstairs. At the time (2002 or so), 50" was as big as they came. They were also expensive; 16 grand, IIRC. Gramophone was the local store I was visiting regularly, and as a HT shop they have many viewing rooms set up. One in particular was styled like what I wanted. I asked my wife to come by, as I wanted her comfortable with what I wanted to do. She insisted I only wanted to show her hardware, which honestly wasn't the case. Anyway, she liked the design of the room, but asked what kind of display device I had in mind. I showed her a couple of plasmas. She went back to the room I liked, which had a projector, and asked why I wasn't getting one of those. Good question.
It was about this time that the contractor started. As he was doing the deck first I had some time, but not much. I needed some plans for him. Since I'm an old-school CADD tech (I started using AutoCAD in 1987, version 2.16, for those interested.) and had scanned floor plans of my house, I started designing the rooms in the computer. I imported the raster scans of my house into Map 2006 and rubber-sheeted them to roughly match the dimensions listed.
Once I decided on a projector, I had many more questions; what type? (CRT, LCOS, DLP, LCD) What size screen? What brand? Most importantly, what price? By the time I had the two rooms done in CADD Dimitri had completed the deck. My wife's design had run over budget (but was so beautiful I didn't want to change a thing), so compromises needed to be made. More importantly, I had no idea how much a "good" projector should cost. The guys at Gramophone had given me lots of model numbers, but no help in telling me what the differences between them were. The contractor had started phase two, and I needed to tell him where everything had to go. To make a long story short, before I learned enough to be an educated consumer Gramophone had a fall clearance. A Runco CL-700 (first-gen 720p DLP) demo unit was on sale for $4000, down from the MSRP of $9,995. I bought it, un-demoed as it was in the Timonium store, and I was in Columbia. Now I had screen questions to answer.
I got the projector home, set it up on the bar and aimed it at the far wall. It looked pretty cool just on the wall (builder's paint, and a few Crayola designs, courtesy of my two kids.) Being a guy, I made the picture as big a possible; in this case about 120" diagonal. My wife thought it was too big. I did some more research online and found out she was right (as usual). Based on my room size and the fact that the bar was already against the rear wall my seating location was about 10' from the screen. The general rule is you want the seating no closer than 1.5 x screen width. Working backwards I ended up with a 90" diagonal screen. I rounded up to 92" because the math works out better; that's 80" wide by 45" tall, in a 16:9 aspect ratio.
I tried to figure out the throw distance mathematically, but wound up just placing my projector on a ladder (and a bunch of books) and moving it until I got the 92" screen to be in the middle of my zoom range. I also bought a Chief ceiling mount from Gramophone. It used a piece of common pipe for the downrod. I painted it with Rustoleum texture paint to match the projector.
As far as the screen, Gramophone quoted me on a $2,000 Stewart Screen-Tek. (90", coincidentally). As money was tight anyway I did some more research and found Screen Goo. For $200 I got a complete kit; primer, paint, roller, black border paint, and a foam brush. It works great, looks great, and saved me $1,800. I went with CRT white, as opposed to gray as recommended by Goo Systems, based on the fact that my projector is a first-generation HD DLP, and not as bright as the newer models.
The rest of the equipment was easy; I already had the A/V Receiver; a Denon AVR-5700. This is an older model, but it has built-in Dolby Digital RF decoding for Laserdiscs. I also had a Pioneer CLD-703 Laserdisc player with the Precision Laserdisc AC-3 output mod. For speakers I always wanted Polks, and the local Circuit City had a special on in-wall units which I was considering for upstairs as well. I got four RC-65i's and two RC-55i's for the rear surrounds upstairs. The deal was a free subwoofer with a $400 purchase, which I qualified for. Since the surrounds I was buying were the same price I got them for free. Tweeter was having a similar deal I demoed some RTi-6's, and liked them. I got a PWS-10 sub gratis with my towers. I wasn't planning on using a subwoofer upstairs, but for free... I liked the reviews of the CSi series center channels so I got a CSi-3 for upstairs, a CSi-5 for downstairs, and a PWS-505 for the basement as well. I ordered these from J&R. I got one more PWS-10. I tried to work out a deal with them as I already had two subs, but they wouldn't budge. I sold it for $50.
I decided to go with a 5.1 setup initially. Since the rear wall adjoins the unfinished area I could cut speaker holes and run speaker wire at any time. Also, my A/V receiver is only 5.1. Finally, At the time I didn't own any 7.1 (or even 6.1) movies.
From this forum I found out I didn't have to spend a lot on speaker wire, and I learned how to run a subwoofer cable using the RG6 I already had. All I had to do was buy some additional tools, which I didn't mind. Phone and network I knew how to do from my day job. I planned on using the Spacer System from Lutron for lighting control.
The equipment rack was wall cabinet made to house computer equipment. I had Dimitri build a shelf in the unfinished basement for it to rest on.
Since the basement was already finished I decided to do a minimum amount of reconstruction (as I had a minimum amount of money!) The major work was the "Big Dig". In order to feed cables and such for the theater, family room above, and deck outside a trench was cut in the ceiling.
Runs included were;
5.1 speaker wires with bi-amped fronts
Cable, phone and Network for the kids room
Power for a nine-zone lighting setup
5.1 speaker wires
Cable, phone and Network for the Entertainment Center and Living Room
Electric for the Entertainment Center
220v electric for heater
120v electric for lights
(Contractor forgot the) Cable, phone and Network
Gas line for grill
Electric for deck outlets
As you can see, a lot of stuff is in that trench. I wanted to add a floor outlet box in the family room above, but my wife and I couldn't decide on a location. It was kind of a Catch-22; until the Family Room was finished we didn't know how we wanted the furniture laid out. Without the furniture in place we didn't know where to put the outlet.