Sunday, February 12, 2017

Lessons Learned From My Home Theater

I was recently asked by long term (notice that at my age I no longer use the term OLD friend :-) and SUNW buddy Mike B about my home theater.  Mike is building the mother-of-all lake houses and after seeing my home theater (HT), he had some great questions that I thought might be worth sharing.  Note, I will add more specifics to this as time goes on and friends (I am sure npg will give me some things I did not think of) share their thoughts with me.

First the high order bits:

  • Size of the HT is 14' wide and 18' long.
  • The distance to the raised platform is 12'.
  • The depth of the single step to the raised platform is 1'
  • The depth of the raised platform is 5'.
  • The ceiling height of the raised platform is 81" which was barely inside the limits for the county I live in.
  • We have a v-shaped leather couch that can comfortably seat 6 adults.
  • We have a v-shaped table that raises for ALL of the folks sitting on the couch to have their plates.
  • We have three fully reclining.
To give you an idea, my projector is a:

Optoma HD141X 1080p 3D DLP Home Theater Projector

which is $880 and I LOVE it.

Here's how I view balancing your technology purchases.  Projector technologies and AV receivers will continue to get better over time.   Moore's Law definitely applies here.  You can certainly get a very nice AV receiver for less than a grand.  You can get a nice BluRay player for less than $120.  Speakers will stand the test of time IMHO, because I have 1975 Radio Shack Mach Ones in our bedroom that I guarantee you will rock the house.
I would be willing to bet that you can get a VERY nice setup for less than $5,000 these days.  The big cost will be the number of speakers that you want and how much of a sub-woofer that you want.  Personally, if I had that budget and was FORCED to spend it, I would put it into the HT itself (nice walls, sconces, framed posters of you and Sandra's favorite movies) and the furniture.  Those two categories will stand the test of time.

Probably need some photos at this point:

I put in three big recliners in the rear.  I wish I would have gone with room for four, but we went with three.  Four would be better because when you have another couple over, one person has to sit on the couch.  This is obviously not a big deal, but if you are building an HT from scratch, this is something to consider.

This is 104" screen.  Buy a really good screen and it will last you forever.  Notice on the right hand side that I made my own custom rack and hid the rack in the area below the stairs that go to the basement.

This V-shaped table raises and lowers and is a GREAT addition.  It means you do not need a bunch of tray tables and you can hide the temporary gaming consoles that your sons friends bring over.  Having the electrical, wired ethernet and AV connections back to the AV rack ALREADY there was a very smart move on my part as I knew my sons would want this capability.   Note, I also have HDMI and audio cables hidden behind the recliners in back, as well as I have a ChromeCast on my HT AV receiver for projecting from my MacBook Pro.

This is  the view from the side of the theater near the AV rack.  Notice the v-shaped couch and table. The table raises up and down which is great when people bring their plates full of food into the HT.  Also, notice the closet on the right.  This was a very smart move to store blankets, the vacuum, leather cleaner, pillows, trays and everything else.  Keeps your HT looking clean.  Also, I put in theater sconces in as well.

A MISTAKE I made was NOT insisting on multiple vents in the HT.  I brought it up to the company that did the sheet rock and the said I would be fine. WRONG!   You can see I needed to add a few fans in the rear corners when the room is FULL.  This is something that I could add another vent, but our sons our fully grown and the number of times that we have 10+ people is rare.

This is the view from the door.  A big question is always dimensions of your HT.  Here is home theater calculation site with a link worth checking out with a spreadsheet.

I am sure that I likely break "the rules" in terms of some distances, but I have had this HT for 13 years and it works for us.  My 7.1 system was balanced (the AV receiver comes with a microphone) for where I sit - which is the middle recliner. Shocking :-)   The closest anyone is to the screen is 6 feet.  I have a 1080P projector and that works out fine.

 Floor lighting is REALLY important if you have your 80+ year old parents over, or anyone really because you do NOT want your HT totally dark.

I also put in sound insulation in the ceiling and the inside walls - the outside walls had insulation.

I am anal and believe in labeling everything.  It is the old "of course I will remember where this wires runs to" bites you in the rear three years later when you forget.

Something I did below is put in my HT AV rack and my Gaming/Bar AV Rack BOTH below the stairs.  This was suggested by another long-time friend Neil P (HT god) and was a GREAT suggestion.    Notice that I did what are called home runs.  A home run is where you wire EVERYTHING to one home location to make life easy for changes.

Above are the photos I took when I did all the wiring myself. I saved $1,800 by doing my own wiring.  If you look at the 3rd photo from the left on the lower set of photos you will see where I built the mounting area for my projector.  You could literally hang an engine off this mounting I put into the floor joists.  As my father once (OK, many times), "boy, you REALLY do not understand the terms OVERKILL do you?"

This HT was designed to be part of a multi-function basement.  By multi-function, I mean that I have a separate gaming area, music area, poker, billiards, foosball, mini kitchen area, full bathroom, work out area, work bench, filing area and furnace room.  I wanted to have as many different groups doing different things at once.

Something I did was make it brain-dead easy to simply duplicate what is being seen in the HT into TVs I mounted in the other parts of the basement so folks could come and go from the HT and not feel they are missing anything.

One of the areas that I did do the right thing was planning on new technology.  For example, when I built my HT, component AV technology was state of the art.  When HDMI came along, I had already made it very easy to pull the HDMI cable for the new projector.  I put in 100 pound fishing line to pull the HDMI cable through as well as I put in panels to make it easy to snake the new cable through.  I also did it from the outside in - which was also very smart.