As we all know, a theater is a place to get away from the outside world for a bit of time and immerse yourself in another world. To that end, we go to great lengths to ensure that our audio and video systems are the best we can afford.
This escape from the real world is especially important in the military and even more so for service members who are deployed overseas. I am currently deployed overseas and wanted to help out the USO on Camp Arifjan with their dedicated theater setup at minimal or no cost to myself or the USO. I have used the USO countless times over my 22 years in the Army National Guard while traveling through airports, as well as being a patron and enjoying everything they have to offer while deployed.
I love home theater, am a decent DIYer, and have access to a woodworking shop here. After watching a few movies in the theater and being wholly disappointed with their audio setup and lack of a proper projector screen, I saw an opportunity to give back to a wonderful organization and have a meaningful positive impact on my fellow soldiers. When I initially approached the USO manager about seeing what we could do to get better speakers, her face lit up like she had just opened up the Christmas present she asked for all year.
The current audio system consists of a 7-speaker HTIB setup employing KEF T101 flat panel speakers (see pics). As you can see, the speakers are woefully undersized for the space, and one of them buzzes loudly. There are also two KEF 10" powered subs, but they are inoperable. On a side note, whoever wired up the system put the center channel at the rear of the theater to, "get more sound" (note there is no front center channel in the pic).
The speakers are powered by an Onkyo TX-NR575E (80 w/ch, 7.1/5.2.2). The room is approximately 50' x 40', with high open ceilings and exposed ducting and metal rafters. There are 3 columns of seats x 5 rows. Each column is comprised of 2 sofas side-by-side.
The projector fires onto an off-white painted wall and is in the ballpark of about 14' diagonal. The room is mostly light controlled, save for a couple of lamps that must remain on, but dim, for safety reasons, and two red-illuminated exit signs.
Project OTAS goals:
1) Little cost to myself and no cost to the USO
- I needed speakers and projector screen material donated, and I thought that would take weeks or months to get enough proper speakers and screen material to move Project OTAS forward. As you will see, I was wrong.
2) Minimal downtime in the theater
- the USO theater plays movies continuously from 1000-0200 7 days a week and stays at least at half capacity.
3) As little modification to the building as possible
- the USO does not own the building they occupy, and any major modifications have to go through an approval process and could be denied.
4) Speaker selection
- It's hard to be picky when asking for donations, but the speakers needed to be large enough to properly service this large of a space, so building anything less than multi-driver LCRs would be pointless.
5) Speaker construction
- if I was not able to get pre-built speakers donated (which would have been costly for shipping anyway), I would have to build the cabinets at the woodworking shop. MDF is not available, so plywood would be used. Since I was going to undertake a large scale project, I had to get approval for the amount of wood I needed. Also, whatever I built would not be what most would call aesthetically pleasing. The tools available - table saw, miter saw, hand power tools, etc - would suffice, but are not what you want to build anything that would be scrutinized for its fit or finish. As I found out, none of the saws are squared, miter saw blade is a little wobbly, etc. As I also found out, there is not a flat sheet of plywood on this whole base.
The first thing I set out to do was get projector screen material. I figured that would be the easiest task to get the ball rolling. I posted a thread in the DIY Screen section asking for advice on whether to use a cloth material or PJ paint. The screen paint DIY guru @MississippiMan
chimed in immediately with helpful advice. After a little back-and-forth asking and answering questions, he offered to help out! He agreed to mix me up the correct screen paint I would need for this theater and ship it to me, on the house
! All I would need to do was acquire two quarts of flat white paint and appropriate paint supplies. I received the screen paint, and after making a trip to Ace Hardware (they have those in Kuwait!), I am ready to paint the screen. On to the speakers...
I came into this project under the impression that I would be cobbling together a random assortment of leftover drivers and half-finished projects until I had enough to put something together that would be suitable. I posted a thread in the DIY Speaker section (my usual haunt) to see if anybody had any complete speakers or raw drivers they would be willing to part with, then I waited...
What I thought would be a weeks-long process took less then FOUR HOURS!!!
sent me a PM offering up his 100% complete, brand new Stentorian and Sten II kit that he bought but never built. We're talking a 7.1 setup with extra woofers and tweeters!
So, now that I know I have speakers inbound, I needed to get approval for the wood. Per local policy, each person who wants to use the woodworking shop is permitted 10 board feet per month. Anything greater has to have a memo signed by an O3 (Captain) or higher along with detailed plans of what is being built, then it has to be approved by the activity that runs the shop. I learned how to use SketchUp to draw up the speaker designs and I used CutList to layout the cuts required. I drafted the memo, one of my buddies who is an O4 signed it, and when I told the woodshop boss what I was doing, he was all for it! Too easy.
What's next? Time to make sawdust!
With my signed memo in-hand, I went to the woodshop and started working.
The first day was spent cutting three sheets of plywood into the panels I would need to build all of the speakers. The woodshop employs five carpenters (contractors from India), and are as helpful as they can be considering they do not speak English very well. They are accustomed to people building small projects like cutting boards, coin holders, wooden flags and the like. When I showed my plans to one of them and he asked much wood I needed to cut that first day, I told him all three sheets.
I believe he cursed me out in Hindi.
There is much more to come, but I am going to stop for now. I will post some pics when the wifi starts acting right.