Yeah, yeah, I know: It's late August 2022, and this is the July Home Theater of the Month. But we're making some headway in catching up with real time, so please be patient and enjoy some amazing home theaters in the meantime. As always, thanks to Anthem AV for sponsoring these articles. We encourage you to show some love and check out their amazing products at www.anthemav.com.

Steve Bishop (@scubasteve2365) has been an tech tinkerer most of his life. "My earliest memory from middle school is taking an old console TV apart to salvage the speakers to use as a make-shift boombox in my locker. Later, as I entered college to study electrical engineering, I worked in a high-end audio/video store, where I witnessed the introduction of HDTV, DVD players, Dolby Digital, and DTS."

His home-theater aspirations began around the same time. "It started with simple Klipsch 5.1 setup with a Yamaha AVR at that time and progressed into projection setups in my apartment, then a dedicated theater in my first home, to my most recent build."

And what a build it is! Steve and his family bought their current house outside Louisville, KY, in 2020, in which the previous owner had used the basement as a home theater. However, that room was basically square, which is not great acoustically, and too big for what Steve wanted. "We use our theater to watch sports, Netflix shows, and play lots of video games in addition to movies. That means I'm set on a 16:9 aspect ratio. I also care about brightness for HDR. As it was, this room would have needed something like a 160" screen, and there'd still have been tons of wasted space on the sides. I don't need a 160" screen that I sit 13 feet away from, if I have a 130" screen that I sit 10.5 feet away from."

So, Steve came up with an ingenious solution. "I decided to add a new entry hallway on the side of the room and the false wall at the front of the room. The hallway reduces the width of the room, so there isn't a lot of wasted space, and it offers a cool place for things like movie posters, and maybe even a digital poster, since I don't want those sorts of things in the room itself. And the false wall provides space to put the front speakers behind an acoustically transparent screen."

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Steve's plan to convert the existing square basement room included adding an entrance hallway, thereby narrowing the room by four feet, and installing a false wall in the front to accommodate the speakers behind the screen.

Steve was very clear about his goals. "The top goal was value, not to be confused with cheap. Also, I wanted Dolby Atmos, since that is the biggest improvement in audio since 5.1. Even though it's a decent-size room and I wanted eight seats across two rows, I didn't want to chase the best fidelity at every seat. Probably 80% of the time the theater is used, it is either just me or my wife and me, so I focused my cost and efforts there. That's not to say there is a bad-sounding seat in the house, but I did not place additional side surrounds for the back row, nor was I too worried about the back row being too close to the rear surrounds. And I was not worried about isolation, because the bedrooms are all two floors away. The last goal I wanted was to have subs that could be positioned in various spots around the room."

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Steve converted his plans to VR so he could "be" in the room before he started to build. How cool is that?

The design phase included some unusual aspects. "I designed it in about two months, not working on it every day, but in my free time. I modeled it all in Sketchup and then exported that into VR so I could get a feel of the space. Because I cut about four feet from the width of the previously square room, I was concerned I'd being giving up space that I would later regret. That regret never materialized."

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Here you can see the framing for the entry hallway.

Like many home-theater enthusiasts, Steve built the entire room by himself. "Because I had to work around other obligations, I tackled it in two phases. The first phase was building the core room: the framing, riser, stage, low voltage, lighting, and carpet, which was the only thing I contracted out. That took from about mid-August 2020 to nearly Christmas, and I enjoyed the incomplete but functional room over the holidays."

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Insulation in the second-row riser helps it act as a bass trap.

"I followed general construction practices, using the most recent preferred methods. For example, the riser is built with an open cavity and stuffed with insulation to serve as a bass trap."

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Making progress...

"After the holidays I had a large scale project at my day job that kept me from working on the room. I resumed work in mid-March 2021 and finished about two months later. This second phase mostly included installing the acoustic treatments."

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The OC703 acoustic panels include strips of FSK foil to add a bit of diffusion and high-frequency reflectivity.

"The acoustic plan follows some common principles from the AVS Forum community. The acoustic panels around the room are Owens Corning 703 rigid fiberglass within custom frames covered with Acoustimac DMD acoustic fabric. OC703 by itself would over-absorb and deaden the room, so in certain areas, I glued scrim paper and FSK (foil scrim kraft) strips on top of the OC703 to add some diffusion and higher-frequency reflectivity while still getting some of the lower-frequency absorption."

"Behind the screen, instead of OC703, I installed two 1" layers of Johns Manville Linacoustic R-300 rigid fiberglass to cut down on speaker boundary interference response and general audio reflections. The room is perhaps a bit over-absorbed, but it provides very clear directionality. The imaging is fantastic, particularly with a good Atmos track."

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Steve built all the main speakers and subwoofers from kits. As an electrical engineer by training, the electronics were child's play.

To save money, Steve built the front and surround speakers as well as the subwoofers from kits by DIY Sound Group and GSG. The four overhead speakers are Micca R-8C in-ceiling models.

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Steve's son Ethan was 10 years old when this photo was taken. He was 5 feet tall at the time, which shows you just how large the front speaker set is!

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Those are some big subwoofers!

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Here you can see the left side surround at two different stages of the build.

I asked Steve about his biggest challenge. "It was settling on the idea of doing the fabric frames for the acoustic treatments. I was really sort of overwhelmed at the idea, but my wife pushed for it after showing her examples from other builds on AVS. Shoutout to the Sierra Nevada and Full Circle builds!"

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It's amazing how closely the actual theater (below) matches the Sketchup model (above).

What was his greatest moment in the process? "Well, no moment tops completing that last step and being 'done,' but that's a boring answer. I'd say my other top moments were when I figured out a construction or build unknown. For example, in my design, I knew where I was going to place columns. I knew how tall, wide, and deep they'd be. What I didn't know was the exact aesthetic and how I was going to trim it out or otherwise construct it."

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This is my kind of home theater—all black and dark gray.

"When I solved my column-construction problem, that lead to my projector booth/shelf construction and having the confidence that it would not only look good, but look professional. That was very rewarding. Then of course, the moment after completing the first few fabric frames and knowing that it was all going to work out."

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I'd love to get lost in a movie here.

Dubbed the Rest on Your Laurels theater (because the Bishops live on Laurel Lane), this is a really impressive build. But perhaps most impressive is the cost. "I'd put the cost in the neighborhood of about $25,000, give or take a few thousand for equipment that I'd otherwise have anyway, such as a PlayStation 5 or networking equipment. I believe that's tremendous bang for the buck, but it's mostly thanks to the sweat-equity approach. I did everything myself other than the carpet installation."

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Notice the subwoofer next to the second row of seats. There's another one on the other side.

I'd say that "tremendous bang for the buck" is actually an understatement! Steve's home theater is a perfect example of how much can be done with a limited budget—and a lot of sweat—so I'm thrilled to give it the recognition it so richly deserves as Home Theater of the Month. Bravo!

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Those seats look mighty comfy!

For much more detail about how Steve's home theater came together, check out the build thread here.

If you'd like your home theater considered for HT of the Month, send an email to H[email protected] with a few photos, a brief description, and a link to your build thread if available.

EQUIPMENT LIST

Sources


Apple TV 4K (general streaming)
Nvidia Shield (local UHD rips via Kodi)
PlayStation 5
Xbox Series X
Gaming/HTPC (Intel i7-9700K processor, Nvidia RTX 3080 graphics card)

AV Electronics

Denon AVR-X3600H AVR (driving rear surrounds and overheads)
Emotiva BasX A-500 5-channel power amp (driving front LCR and side surrounds)
Behringer NX6000 stereo power amps (2, for the subwoofers)
miniDSP HD processor (sub integration & timing)

Projector

Epson Home Cinema 5050UB

Screen

Seymour AV Center Stage XD (fixed, 16:9, 137.5" diagonal, 1.2 gain, acoustically transparent)

Speakers

DIY Sound Group HTM-12 (3, LCR)
DIY Sound Group HTM-10 (4, surrounds)
Micca R-8C in-ceiling (4, overhead)
GSG BTS subwoofers with LaVoce 21" drivers (2, front)
Dayton UM18-22 subwoofers in Denovo sealed enclosures (2, rear)

Cables

Ruipro fiber-optic HDMI cable (40' to projector)

Control

Logitech Harmony Elite w/Hub
Home Assistant

Power Conditioning

CyberPower BRG1500AVRLCV UPS (3)
CyberPower AVRG900U UPS (1, for projector)

Acoustic Treatments

Owens Corning 703 with FSK strips in custom made, fabric-covered frames
Johns Manville Linacoustic R-300 behind the front speakers

Seating

HT Design Sheffield (4)
Berkline 45088 (4, from previous home)

Room Dimensions

20.5' x 16.75' x 9' (LxWxH)

Seating Distances

11' (first row), 17' (second row)