My Home Theatre | Part One: Design

Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 8700UB projector, Onkyo TX-SR875 receiver, Onkyo SKS-HT540 speakers, ClearPlay 747HD DVD player, PHD-205LE HDTV tuner, Wii game console, Harmony 880 remote, DIY paint-on-drywall screen.

Our house was a custom design that changed a lot between the outset (Fall 2007) and the construction phase (Fall 2009 – Fall 2010). Every time the size and shape of the media room changed, so did my theatre design.

My basic approach was to build a decent system on a modest budget. I was thinking at the time three or four thousand dollars.

Also, the room housing the theatre was intended to also serve another purpose. In early plans, it was going to be my office. Later it became a ‘family room,’ meaning we wanted space for playing games, doing puzzles or just hanging out. So it is a room large enough have a viewing area and additional space for other activities.

Here is the family room on our final plans:

As you can see, it is a good-sized room. There is a double door between the office and the family room, and only two windows. I finally settled on placing the screen on the north wall. There is a spare bedroom on the other side. The projector is ceiling-mounted. Plenty of room is left around the seating area. I planned on installing all the wiring in the walls after the electrical was finished, at the same time I was installing all the low-voltage wiring for the house. I also planned a DIY screen using paint to save money. I figured if it wasn’t satisfactory, I could upgrade later. I decided in a similar way not to spend a lot on speakers, since I care far more about the picture than the sound, I knew a decent set wouldn’t cost that much and I can replace one or two at a time if I ever want to upgrade.

I picked a great time to be building a home theatre. The products, especially projectors, are getting better and cheaper all the time. What I built this last year (January 2010 to January 2011) for about $3500 would have cost probably $10,000 for comparable quality 5 or 6 years ago.

Here was my basic plan:

1. A ceiling-mounted 1080p (hi-def) projector, with HDMI inputs. If you are planning a home theatre with a projector, you might want to do as I did and choose your projector first. My plans depended on knowing where I could and where I wanted to place the PJ. The placement of the screen and speakers depended on that. Even though I ended up changing my mind at the last minute about my choice of PJ, I needed to know that it would be able to hit my screen from the position that was already chosen. As it turned out, the new PJ, the Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 8700UB, was even more flexible with its placement than the Panasonic models. Projector Central has a nifty calculator for determining throw distance and image size for any specific projector. Though my design assumed I was going to buy the Panasonic PT-AE4000, the Epson 8700 also worked. I was able to determine that by looking at the calculation for the Epson:

Based on the Panasonic calculation, I placed the PJ at 12’6″ from the screen. This calculation shows the size of my screen and indicated that the Epson can easily be placed in the same range of distance. At the website, the calculator is in Flash, and you can move any of those blue sliding arrows and the others move in conjunction and the numbers adjust automatically. Pretty cool.

2. An AV receiver with HDMI output(s), a high-end video processor (if possible; see Part Two) and 5.1 or 7.1 sound. I settled on 7.1 because while hardly anything is made with 8 channels of sound*, I thought in the future that might change, and for now the two extra channels (rear left and right) can be sent to a set of stereo speakers somewhere else in the house. I put two ceiling speakers next door in my office. I can set the receiver to Zone Two and listen to the radio or a CD on those speakers.

3. A modest set of 7.1 speakers.

4. A large screen. You can spend a lot of money on a decent screen. I determined not to. I knew it was possible to use the wall and simply paint on a suitable screen surface, so I started with that idea. I was thinking 7 or 8 feet wide.

5. We currently have a DVD player, a Wii system, and a VCR (ask your grandparents what that is). I did not want to be completely without TV, so I would have to add some kind of tuner. Also, I knew eventually I would be getting a Blu-ray player to get the full benefit of a HD projector. The Wii has component video out, which is HD video. Most HD-capable equipment now has HDMI-out, which carries HD video and multi-channel sound.

I would not be able to use my old receiver, as it only has composite video (yellow RCA) inputs and outs. It would not work for HD and surround sound.

I used 3D Home Architect Deluxe 3.0 by The Learning Company to draw my plans:

I also drew some elevations to show where things went relative in height to one another:

The screen (north) wall

The side (east and west) walls


Part Two: Budget & Choosing Products

Part Three: In-wall Installation

Part Four: Room Installation

Part Five: Component Setup

* as of this writing lists 196 titles with 7.1 audio. The selection of quality feature films is not very extensive, except that all the Disney Blu-ray releases have 7.1.

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