Home Theater of the Month: Steve’s First Dedicated Theater

Steve Callas is an operations manager for a manufacturing facility, though in his spare time he’s clearly a home theater genius. Callas built a home theater well under the cost of the ones we normally feature, with the added bonus of being easily moveable (in relative terms). Or as Steve puts it, “I knew this would not be my end all, be all.

What’s notable about Steve’s choices is they full leverage the knowledge of the AVS Forum community. Consider the choice of JVC for the projector, the six 18″ LLT subs, a BOSS (baffle open shaker system), and even creating the DIY fiber-optic star ceiling.

Tasks that were not DIYable were contracted out, total build time came in under 5 months, and the final budget? $26K, with about half that spend on gear. Who says a high-performance home theater has to cost as much as a new home? Steve’s First Dedicated Home Theater proves otherwise.

Be sure to check out the build thread that includes more information and more photos of this theater

A peek behind the screen of “Steve’s First Dedicated Theater”

AVS Forum: What were your primary design goals for this theater?

SC: I knew this wasn’t going to be my forever house, so my primary goal was to achieve a theater that would meet my audio and video desires, have all of the features associated with a cinema feel (second row riser, false screen wall with a large acoustically transparent screen, blacked out room, acoustic treatments, dynamic sound), but still be able to be converted to a bedroom or family room relatively easily if a future owner wanted to do so.

I joined AVS Forum in 2004 as a sophomore in college, and during my years participating on the forum and visiting a handful of dedicated theaters, I reached the conclusion that the screen in my eventual theater had to be greater than 120″ to achieve the cinematic feel I was looking for. I am a big believer in surround sound envelopment, so I knew I wanted at least 9 base channels of sound with at least 4 in ceiling speakers for the newer surround formats. I am also a big proponent of large and low tuned ported subwoofers, so it was a certainty that my first theater had to have multiples of them. I was able to check all of those boxes and ended up using a 142″ 2.35:1 screen with a JVC D-ILA projector, 11 base channels (left, center, right, wides, surrounds, rear surrounds, front highs) with 4 additional in ceiling speakers, and six 18″ high excursion driver LLT subwoofers that are all tuned to 13hz and all between 20-23 cubic feet each in size.

The room has 3 dedicated 20 amp circuits for the equipment up front, a 4th dedicated 20 amp circuit for the projector and star ceiling, and a 5th dedicated 20 amp circuit for the lighting and shared outlets in the room.

In terms of seating, I have always loved the look of dedicated leather theater recliners, but with this room being my escape from reality, I wanted the ability to sprawl out and not be elbow to elbow to the person viewing next to me. I settled on 60″ wide Hogan Zero Wall recliners for each of the 4 seats in the room. Each seat can comfortably accommodate two people, allowing my theater to seat eight, but I use them as one seat per person to ensure copious space and minimal interruption of the movie experience when someone decides to change positions or get up for any reason.

Overall dimensions came out to 15.5′ x 27.5′ x 9′ – in an ideal world, the room would have been a few feet wider and taller, but this wasn’t a new construction home and I wanted to work within the existing engineered beams and support poles as positions for walls. I feel this is a “medium” sized theater room, and as such, most of the acoustic treatment should be absorption. The true front wall is covered in 4″ thick acoustic wedge and pyramid foam, the six windows on the right side wall are covered by blackout shades and then the sills were filled in with 3.5″ thick acoustic panels, the left side wall got 3.5″ thick acoustic panels at first reflection points, and the rear wall has a 3.5″ acoustic panel in the center. Each panel uses a combination of Roxul Safe n Sound mineral wool material, a porous polyester non woven to keep the mineral fibers contained, and then a space-themed, printed cotton fabric on the outside. Three corners of the room use 12″ thick acoustic foam traps from floor to ceiling. I also added some diffusion to the room by means of rigid pvc decorative wall panels just in front of my primary seat, on the rear wall, and on the ceiling.

The original inspiration for the space theme of the room was my desire to build a DIY fiber optic star ceiling. Inside of the tray ceiling is a 10′ x 12′ area comprised of rigid foam insulation that is wrapped in black velvet with the fiber optic stars. Eventually I will build a few more panels to fill out the back portion of the room.

AVS Forum: What are some unique aspects or features of your home theater?

SC: The entire theater floor is floating on top of the concrete slab by means of a 1/4″ layer of 6lb density polyethylene foam, then pressure treated 2x4s laying on their broad side, then 3/4″ tongue in groove OSB. This was done to allow some movement of the floor when the six LLT subwoofers really get active, as a concrete slab would otherwise rob you of the infrasonic vibration through the floor. It will also protect the theater in the case of any water events.

Additionally, each seat sits on a BOSS (baffle open shaker system) platform to provide even more tactile response. The platforms float on the floor by means of inflated inner tubes and sorbothane isolators, and a subwoofer driver is mounted to each platform. This results in an incredible amount of natural, high resolution bass vibration that is as varied in feel as is the bass the sound designer created. Due to the open baffle, the sound waves from the top and bottom of the platform cancel each other out, and you get just the tactile response. The feel is unlike any tactile transducer I have experienced – the main ones we think of tend to be gimmicky and one noted – the BOSS recreates each bass note without any sloppiness or blurring, and each bass scene from one movie to the next feels discrete and unique.

I have 4′ of depth behind the false screen wall, and this allowed me to place a walk in media storage closet on the front left side of the room and the equipment rack on the front right side of the room. You get behind the screen by simply pushing aside the black velvet curtains on either side. This media closet is not only convenient, it aides in my original goal of making this space easily converted to a bedroom by a future owner if so desired. In keeping with that goal, the second row riser is a stand alone unit that is resting on top of the floating floor, so it can be removed, as can the goal post screen wall supports.

AVS Forum: How long was the planning phase?

SC: The planning phase lasted approximately 4 months for the basement as a whole. I was not only building a dedicated theater, I was finishing the entire 2100 sq ft concrete slab basement – this included a bedroom with a walk in closet, a bathroom with tile shower and jetted tub, a wine bar with seating, a storage room, and a tool closet. The 4 months does not include the 13 years I had spent reading and cataloging ideas from AVS Forum for my eventual chance at my own theater.

I wish to thank all of the numerous members of the forum who I gained knowledge from over those years! Some of the threads that were especially helpful for my theater construction and deserve some recognition were, in no particular order:

  • “The Blacker the Theater, the Better the Image”
  • “Minimalist Approach to Screen Wall”
  • “The Hideaway Theater”
  • “DIY Custom Printed Movie Post Acoustic Panels – Cheap”
  • “6′ x 10′ Fiber Optic Star Ceiling with 1&1/2″ Foam Boards”
  • “Sony HW45ES vs JVC RS400U”
  • “High Gain AT Screens”

AVS Forum: How long was the building phase?

SC: The building phase for the basement, including the theater, was approximately 4.5 months.

AVS Forum: What construction materials and techniques did you use?

SC: Standard construction materials with single layer drywall in the theater. It is just my girlfriend and I, so there was minimal concern for disturbing someone upstairs. That said, I was surprised by how quiet things are upstairs when I have the theater playing at a calibrated -10 master volume with the doors shut, as I had been led to believe that single layer drywall with insulation would do a terrible job at sound isolation. In reality, only the loudest, lowest bass notes really make their way through the floor. The double doors to the theater are sealed with a combination of rubber D rings and felt covering all 4 sides of each door, which helps contain the sound.

AVS Forum: What was the total cost?

SC: A good portion of the equipment I already owned before construction, but in total, equipment cost for my theater is around $13.2k. Seats were $1,600. Acoustic treatments, velvet treatments, and star ceiling was $1,200. Everything else for the theater room including construction materials, contractor labor, carpet, etc. was approximately $10k – I say approximately because they worked on my entire basement for a flat price, so I am making an educated guess at just the theater portion. That brings the overall cost for the theater to approximately $26,000.

Here’s the rear-facing view of the theater

AVS Forum: How much was true DIY and how much was contracted out?

SC: Electrical, some of the framing, drywall, carpeting, HVAC, and painting was all contracted out. I did some of the framing, all the cable runs, designed and built all of the subwoofers, the acoustic treatments, the false screen wall, the blackout treatments, the fiber optic star ceiling, the BOSS platforms, and the media rack.

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?

SC: I used New Tech from Northwest Indiana. I handled all of the design aspects of the room, including audio and video calibration, as well as the rest of the basement.

AVS Forum: What were your biggest challenges? How did you meet them?

SC: The fiber optic star ceiling was the biggest challenge. Drilling 700+ holes, threading 700+ individual strands while trying to avoid tangling, and trying to lift the big panels to mount them to the ceiling with just my girlfriend’s help was extremely frustrating. If/when I do another theater, I will probably pass on a star ceiling. That said, the sensation of staring at the star ceiling in twinkle mode with the rest of the room pitch black while listening to stereo music is quite nice.

The DIY star ceiling contains 700+ individual strands of fiber optic to create the nighttime effect

AVS ForumWhat is the URL for your build thread?

SCSteve’s First Dedicated Theater.

AVS Forum: What were the greatest moments in the process?

SC: There are two moments that stand out in my mind. The first was after shifting and zooming the projector using the built in patterns to fill the screen, then putting in the first disc to test out the display equipment. It was the landing sequence in Prometheus on blu ray. That film doesn’t really hold any special meaning to me, it was just something I had within reach, but going from a 27″ tube tv to a 42″, then 52″, then 75″ LCD, to finally having my own 142″ cinemascope screen was incredible. My field of view was filled and I was extremely impressed and delighted. The picture quality of the JVC exceeded my expectations, as I had always held projectors in low regard based on experiences I had in other home theaters years earlier with very inexpensive units.

The second moment was when I completed the first BOSS and used the Star Wars pod race scene as a test demo. I didn’t really know what to expect, but it became evident very quickly that this was the last piece of the puzzle my movie watching experience had been missing. Numerous low tuned subwoofers can pressurize a room effortlessly and provide floor rumble, but the tactile force from the BOSS is truly an experience all its own. It draws you further into the movie as opposed to reminding you that you are merely a spectator.