Somewhere in Southern Maryland, in the home of systems engineer Matthew Blair, lurks The Beast, Unleashed. Fortunately, this beast is just the name of a fantastic home theater and nothing dangerous. Unless of course you consider the fact that the beast will easily ensnare you with its phenomenal looks, amazing sound, and incredible attention to detail.
This HToM is pure AVS Forum. Built from the ground up, incorporating best practices, and now… audaciously this theater relies on a single A/V source, a Nvidia Shield. You’ll find a full build thread here.
AVS Forum: What were your primary design goals for this theater?
MB: The vision for this room was to have a room that left zero questions of “what if?” I wanted to build the best room that I could. That would require achieving these fundamental design goals:
- Immersive Audio (six ceiling channels)
- High Quality 4K Video
- Noise Isolation
- 7 Seats (Front Row of 3 to facilitate the “sweet spot” for music listening, and a rear row of four)
- Professionally engineered acoustic design
- 12-foot wide screen at 16:9 aspect ratio (with magnetic masking panels to 2:40)
- Unique design aesthetic (i.e. no columns, no stage, lights to change “look of room”)
- 17 speakers and eight subwoofers
- IMAX-like experience from both rows
- 100% satisfaction (difficult to achieve, but I’ve achieved it—there really are no what-ifs for me with this room)
AVS Forum: What are some unique aspects or features of your home theater?
MB: This theater is 100% disc-less and has one A/V source: the Nvidia Shield. I sold my game consoles, other streaming boxes, and Oppo UDP-203 once I verified that the Shield replaces all other A/V sources. My A/V rack looks pretty comical, as there are empty rack spaces where my source devices were once installed.
Curved 16:9 screen. Part of the “experience” I was seeking involved a curved screen at the front of the room. But I also wanted a 16:9 screen which is essential for the “IMAX-like” experience. Some video experts I consulted with were not fans of the idea, but the end result is a truly immersive experience—especially from the front row. It also looks really cool when everything is turned off.
Ceiling clouds that contain the Atmos speakers and non-accent room lighting. I designed this solution in Excel and passed off to Jeff Parkinson who contributed SIGNIFICANTLY to this room build. He green-lit the feasibility and we took it from there.
Lighting scheme. The first thing I noted was that I wanted to use lighting in an interesting way to change the feel of the room. That’s why I chose gray panels—I wanted the light to define the look and feel of the room. The strip lights are installed such a way that they make the room appear deeper from the seating positions, with the panels getting progressively larger the further back into the room you go. This took a bit of math to get just right, but it works quite nicely! For listening, the wall and ceiling accent lights default to a soft, soothing white; for listening to modern or pop music, the lighting is violet and pulsates synchronized to the beat being played; for movie previews, the lights default to a a dim blue; for TV, the room defaults to a moderately bright red. For viewing, these lighting schemes are active until I hit a button on my Harmony Elite remote to turn them off. I only leave them on if I’m just listening to my high-resolution music collection.
The QSC Q-sys equalization stack. This has provided so much flexibility in calibration, I can’t imagine the room without it. Using the Qsys Designer software and Room Equalization Wizard, I can create custom-curves in real-time—especially helpful for tailoring the bass from eight subwoofers. The result is evenly distributed and powerful bass in each of the seven seats. The overall soundstage is also very, very cohesive.
Massive curved steps. My original SketchUp design involved large angled straight steps, but that concept soon switched to large curved steps for a sleeker aesthetic aspect. Although a minor detail, these are actually one of my favorite things of the theater. The way the accent lighting and step-lights work together to illuminate the curved design always brings a smile to my face. The fact that the entire build process was recorded in a 17-episode YouTube video series entitled “The Beast, Unleashed.”
AVS Forum: How long was the planning phase?
MB: The planning phase lasted for about six months and was executed entirely on The Beast, Unleashed AVS Forum build thread.
AVS Forum: How long was the building phase?
MB: The building phase lasted for about 2.5 years because most work took place on Sundays and we refused to use any credit cards on the theater, which meant having to have the cash for everything This is not easy as a newlywed whose wife has other ideas about how money should be spent. A word of advice: never use credit cards to fund a hobby. That’s a one-way ticket to a lifetime of debt because the passion inherent to hobbies—especially this one—usually defies logic when it comes to spending.
Plus, the demands of being a husband with a growing family which caused work to cease for months at a time. If we had worked this straight through every Sunday with no breaks, I’d say this was about a solid year and a half’s worth of work.
AVS Forum: What construction materials and techniques did you use?
MB: During the process, I:
- Utilized THREE layers of 5/8” drywall with green glue in between the sheets. The triple drywall was hung on clips and channel, and the stud walls are secured to joists using IB-3 clips. Drywall is caulked at seams on first layer and heavily caulked at the bottom around the perimeter of the room. I am so very happy with how the efforts of noise isolation have paid off. The room is such a bunker, the wife and I often don’t even bother closing the door before watching a movie….and we watch movies once our infant and toddler are sleeping. The children remain undisturbed, and when it’s just me, the wife remains undisturbed as well. The riser has speaker cable run to every single seat, in case I decide to go on the extreme end and install small subwoofers under each seat.
- The room has three doors—one to a separate (and also soundproofed) 9’ x 10’ equipment room, one to the mechanicals room directly behind the theater, and the entry/exit doorway. Double-door airlock with Zero door seals and automatic door-bottoms are utilized for the mechanicals room and entry/exit doorways, and the results are overwhelmingly positive. My Furnace and Water Heater blower both operate at full force without so much as a peep audible within the theater, despite it being 30” from the rear theater wall. The equipment room uses weather stripping to prevent fan-noise from entering the theater, which is needed. Thanks to the separate soundproofed equipment room, I have all my fans running at full speed to ensure proper cooling of equipment. I would have had to select a completely different equipment setup if the gear was not located separately from the theater.
- I utilized a material from Amazon called “Kno Knoise” and placed it on the ductwork that could not be relocated. This, plus the triple drywall/clips channel on the soffit, eliminates the sound of air moving through the ducts as it travels to elsewhere in the basement.
- I also ran seven dedicated 20 Amp circuits to the equipment room. Currently, each power amplifier has its own dedicated electrical circuit. This was done to maximize available power to the amplifiers.
AVS Forum: What was the total cost?
MB: The MSRP on the room as it stands today is $158,000; however, thanks to great relationships that I’ve built with numerous dealers while configuring my previous theater, the “ actual” cost of this theater, including labor and materials, was around $120,000. That’s right—great dealer relationships saved me nearly $40k in equipment costs.
AVS Forum: How much was true DIY (with your own hands and those of friends and family) and how much was contracted out?
MB: I’d say the room was about 60% DIY and 40% contracted labor.
AVS Forum: If you contracted some of the work out, who or what company was the designer, installer, etc.? Who did the acoustic design, audio/video calibration?
MB: Nyal Mellor of Acoustic Frontiers did the acoustic design of the room. Jeff Parkinson (@BigmouthinDC) was the contractor I worked with at the preparation, framing, electrical and interior details stages. He had to teach me so much—my wife and I joke that I’m the reason he’s now retired from theater building. Nothing about this build was easy. To put things in perspective, it took ~3 months before framing could take place. All this time was spent just preparing the room for framing—there were just so many little things that had to be moved, fixed, or closed up before framing could occur.
Custom Colors, Inc. based in MD did the drywall installation work. They were previously experienced in triple drywall from building a commercial cinema in the area, as well as at least one AVS Forum member’s double-dry walled theater, and they worked very quickly. The job took them a day and a half to cover every nook and cranny in three layers of drywall.
AVS Forum: What were your biggest challenges? How did you meet them?
MB: The original room size was 18’ x 18’—ordered a design and decided I was not willing to accept the compromises of a perfectly square room. I decided to roll in another basement room into the theater and roll another basement room into duty as a dedicated equipment room directly connected to the theater. The challenge: the Water Heater, Furnace, and a full bathroom needed to move. I demolished the bathroom (rebuilt it elsewhere in the basement) and I had a HVAC/Plumbing service move the water heater and furnace to an area that would fall directly behind the theater space.
Another challenge was turning a sump closet into the cinema entryway. I had the sump pump moved about 6 feet to the right, and had a structural engineer come in and draw up plans for widening the doorway (necessary because it was a structural wall holding up stairs and landing on the first floor). We took a 22” load-bearing sump closet entry way and made it a 32” entryway.
AVS Forum: What were the greatest moments in the process?
MB: There were a few great moments. They are:
- A Home Theater Get-Together we hosted in November of 2018. There were about 23 attendees spread across two days and three sessions. It was a glorious experience to share the fruits of all the hard work and time spent with others who share the same passion! It may have been just another G2G to many attendees, but for me—it was one of the most memorable moments in my life.
- A fabric-wrapping party, where @dougusmc and @redstripe77 helped me wrap my fabric frames with some Guilford of Maine acoustically transparent fabric. So much fun was had just chatting and learning.
- Firing up the Triad Platinum LCRs for the first time for some stereo audiophile listening while the room was mid-construction. With debris everywhere, fiberglass particles still floating in the air, I sat down on the not-yet-carpeted stage, and pressed play. This project was quite a financial burden spread across nearly 3 years, and I strongly considered cutting my losses, canceling the project, and investing my money elsewhere. But…when I pressed play for the first time, sitting on a dusty wood riser in the middle of a construction zone, and closed my eyes, I was transported to a world where the theater was complete, and this helped motivate me to keep going.
- Seeing an image on the 12ft-wide 16:9 screen for the first time. My projector was slated for delivery the day after my first child was born. While my wife and new baby were sleeping, I left the hospital and rushed home to be there for the delivery window so I could sign for the projector (the wife and I had planned for this that morning). I received it, mounted it while running on fumes from being awake for 3 days straight and turned it on. Once that first picture loaded (The Oppo UDP-203 Home Screen) I just stared at it, thinking “this was so worth it!” I quickly played some visual test material but was unable to focus from being so tired. So, I turned it off and rushed back to the hospital to continue spending time with my wife and newborn baby.
- Experiencing Dolby Atmos—the first scene I played was the Klingon battle from Star Trek: Into Darkness. I immediately called my wife down, and she was floored that this was possible in a residential cinema.
All this awesomeness does not come cheap, here’s the full breakdown of gear and prices: