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My new basement theater

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18 replies to this topic

#1 of 19 OFFLINE   Mike Brantley

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Posted April 01 2001 - 06:02 PM

Hey, guys!

I just put up a photo album of my new basement theater. It's an iTools site at http://homepage.mac....PhotoAlbum.html -- free Web space courtesy of Apple Computer.

A basement is an unusual thing in south Alabama because of the high water table, so my wife and I knew we had to have this house when we found it last summer. It's built into the slope of a hill, so there is a full basment floor -- including the theater room, which has no windows whatsoever!

So, I cobbled together some new and some old equipment and refurbished some theater seats I bought off eBay. They were in rough shape, but I put some effort into removing the rust, painting and re-upholstering them. The two rows (eight chairs) sit on platforms. I made the front row platform a couple of inches high, so I wouldn't have to put bolts for the seats into the concrete slab. The back row is higher, of course. The whole thing is not attached to the floor in any way, but it's too heavy to move without considerable effort.

Acoustically, you will probably think I was wrong to simply stick vinyl tiles onto the concrete slab instead of putting in a false floor and carepting. But this was a good compromise because of the economy and our pets. Besides, the room sounds fine now that I have the seating in, plus the blown ceiling helps keep the room from sounding too live.

The ceiling, front wall and the equipment alcove (wide closet with doors removed) are painted a flat black color called India Ink. Bought it at Wal-Mart. The side walls are painted Asphalt Gray, and the floor tiles are a shiny black texture. All of these dark colors really improved the image from my LCD projector -- a 4:3 data model made by 3M. A friend built the projector mount from scratch -- no sense paying too much money for one of those!

The screen is nothing more than several coats of flat white paint, sanded smooth between coats. Some half-inch molding painted flat black creates the border and the crisp edges. I went with a flat white because it provides even illumination with no hot spots. I experimented with some semi-gloss, but there were hot spots and it showed every single imperfection in the wall. The flat white looks beautiful, and you cannot tell where there might be slight bumps and dips in the wall. I did all my sanding with a random orbit sander.

The big 16mm projector you see is a RCA TP-16 telecine projector that was discarded by a local TV station. I'm good friends with an engineer there, and he gave it to me -- as well as a ton of 16mm material (Mighty Mouse cartoons, tons of old news footage, PSA announcements, documentaries and even a print of "Murder on the Orient Express"). Ironically, this huge projector makes a rather small and dim image as compared to my video projector and my portable Bell & Howell 16mm projector. But it's the only thing I have that will play the magnetic tracks on all this old news footage. My Bell & Howell is optical sound only -- perfect for the cartoons and "Orient Express." I haven't yet figured out how to get the audio from the film projectors into my AV system, but that's my next project. I'm going to get a roll-around tall cart to put the portable projector on, so I can also use that for my super 8 projector. I still shoot super 8 film, by the way -- there are a few of us left. Check out my Web site at http://www.super8filmmaking.com if you are interested.

Mostly, my theater is used for DVDs, laserdiscs and watching stuff off my Dish Network receiver. I have one of the Dishplayer models that records programs onto an internal hard drive for later viewing and/or taping. It's very similar to Tivo. Audio sources include a 300-disc CD changer, minidisc deck, cassette tape deck and turntable. I have a reel-to-reel deck in the den, but no more inputs on my AV receiver in the theater!

I recently switched from Dolby Pro Logic to a Dolby Digital/DTS setup. What a difference! I really didn't think it would be such a dramatic difference, but it is. As for the merits of DD vs. DTS, I haven't done enough A-B comparisons to comment on that -- but I did get cool signs from both Dolby and DTS to hang on the back of my door.

Otherwise... been buying movie posters. The den outside the theater eventually will house the concession counter with an industrial popcorn machine. There will be plenty of posters there, too, as well as movie and TV publicity photos and stills. I have a fair amount of stuff autographed, so that will be in my movie-themed den outside the theater.

On the inside of the theater next to the door is an autographed picture of a good friend -- retired actress Jean Byron. She lives in my city and became good friends with my wife and me when I did a story about her for the newspaper where I work as the TV critic. She played the mom on the old Patty Duke show. I have posters and/or lobby cards for a couple of her old sci-fi B pictures of the 1950s -- "The Magnetic Monster" and "Invisible Invaders." She was one of the first guests we had in the new screening room. We watched "The Philadelphia Story" together.

You can tell from the screen shots and the 4:3 screen that I like to watch a lot of really old stuff that is not widescreen, as well as a lot of current and old TV material. As we move into the 16:9 world, I'm going to have to figure out how I will adapt my screening room. I have no more width for the screen, and I sure do hate the idea of sacrificing height for the old 4:3 material we watch so frrequently. But... I can't afford another projector anytime soon, so I'll think about that another day. Probably, widescreen for me will come in the form of a digital TV set destined for the living room upstairs. Letterboxed material on my 4:3 projector downstairs is perfectly acceptable for now -- or, it will have to be!

Other tidbits.... the overhead light and the four sconces (located on the sides of the two surround speaker columns) are remote-controlled via X10. Right now, I'm running everything with a cheap Radio Shack 15-1994 remote that I like quite a lot. Too bad it doesn't have more memory, because I've got it filled up. I used to have a Marantz RC-2000, but it died a horrible death. I have the Sony touchscreen remote, too, but I've decided I prefer hard buttons to touchscreens. The learning remote that came with my Sony receiver is cool, but it's confusing to operate.

The speakers are Polk Audio RT-55s on front left and right, CS-400 in center and RT-35i's for surround. The subwoofer, a Yamaha model, is the oldest speaker in my array. I was going to upgrade it right away, but to tell you the truth now I'm not so sure now. It sounds so much better in the new room than it did in my old living room that I'm now in no hurry to upgrade. My wife says I must spend money on our kitchen next, so the theater project is finished for now.

All comments are welcome, and I'll answer any questions I can. Sorry I didn't take construction photos, but I really didn't do anything to the room other than paint, put in the floor tiles and build the speaker columns (from cherry-stained Birch plywood) and seating platform. Oh... none of the wiring is in-wall. I ran it along the baseboards and through my speaker columns, building narrow little enclosures to hide the wire as it runs across the baseboards. The equipment rack is adapted from some heavy-duty utility shelving units augmented with Birch plywood pieces.

Thanks for the wonderful forum. I've gotten many ideas here!

#2 of 19 OFFLINE   Bob McLaughlin

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Posted April 02 2001 - 08:20 AM

Wow, Mike! What a great-looking theater! I like the extra touches that you put in, like authentic theater seats, posters and the projection equipment. It's also inspiring to see that you were able to construct a room that really has the look and feel of a movie theater, without going overboard on cost. I hope to someday construct something similar in my own basement.

#3 of 19 OFFLINE   Gordon Moore

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Posted April 02 2001 - 08:47 AM

Nice Job Mike! Are you using any type of Matte for your current screen to adjust for different apsect ratios? How do widescreen presentations show on your current setup?
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#4 of 19 OFFLINE   Andres Munoz

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Posted April 02 2001 - 09:12 AM

Great theater Mike! Congratulations.
You probably have no need to go to the movie theaters anymore. You have one in your own basement.



#5 of 19 OFFLINE   Dan Hitchman

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Posted April 02 2001 - 10:02 AM

Nice theater! Any thoughts of adding a Panamorph lens adapter and changing your 4x3 screen to a 16x9 (1.78:1) ratio? That way you'd use all the pixels on your projector and increase brightness when watching enhanced widescreen movies and HDTV (as long as you have a scaler that can pre-squeeze the 16x9 HDTV broadcast ratio so the Panamorph can do its thang). Just a friendly suggestion. Dan ------------------ Boycott JVC, 5C, HDCP, DFAST, and stop the MPAA!! Call Or Write The FCC And Your State and Federal Representatives To Protect Quality HDTV And Other HD Media, And Your Constitutional Rights!

#6 of 19 OFFLINE   James D S

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Posted April 02 2001 - 10:55 AM

Great theater. I especially like the "cinema museum" part of it. This is one of the most impressive theaters I've seen. And the cost was kept very respectful. Amazing what you can do with a little ingenuity. Fantastic!

#7 of 19 OFFLINE   Chip_E



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Posted April 02 2001 - 11:02 AM

Wow Mike, really nice screening room.
For widescreen, I'd suggest you do the same as larger theaters do...setup curtains and mattes.
That way you'll be able to perfectly frame any sized content.

- Chip
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#8 of 19 OFFLINE   RAF


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Posted April 02 2001 - 11:48 AM


A very nice theater in that "rare" S. Alabama basement! You obviously are enjoying it quite a bit.

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#9 of 19 OFFLINE   Rich Johnston

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Posted April 02 2001 - 12:04 PM

Mike, Great theater. My dad and I are in the process of building ours. You gave me some ideas. Thanks for sharing! ------------------

#10 of 19 OFFLINE   Mike V

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Posted April 02 2001 - 12:07 PM


Nice theater, Posted Image Posted Image love the posters and memorabilia. Your website also looks great, I like the framing of the pics.



#11 of 19 OFFLINE   Vance V

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Posted April 02 2001 - 02:44 PM

Nice looking theater! Great job!

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#12 of 19 OFFLINE   Mike Brantley

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Posted April 02 2001 - 07:50 PM

Jeez... don't hit command-delete on your iBook while editing a relply, or it will go bye-bye!

Anyway, thanks all for your comments and suggestions. I've learned so much from this forum over the past three years that I have been mostly lurking!

I just took some pictures of widescreen, letterboxed material projected onto my 4:3 screen. I'll post them to the same page either later tonight or tomorrow. Right now, my wife is using the computer that has the interface for the digital camera, so I might not get to it until tomorrow.

I do not yet have any drapes or mattes devised to reframe the screen for different aspect ratios. The best way to do this, IMHO, is to have an anamorphic-capable projector and a 16:9 screen that you can frame left and right with motorized drapes. I do not have such a projector (retro-fitting my 4:3 projector to anamorphic is not feasible or even possible, so far as I know), and I am limited with the width of my 96-inch screen (diagonally, about 6.5 feet is the width). Whenever I do go to a 16:9 projector, my screen will have to stay the same width, but I will lose height for my 4:3 material. Don't like that idea, but I suppose that's the future.

I am just thinking out loud here, but I'm pondering the possibility of devising some sort of matte system using black felt that I can use to temporarily mask the screen to different aspect rations (such as 1.85:1 and 2.35:1). I could just manually put such mattes in place when showing a wide movie, and store them in the closet to the right of the screen wall when not in use. What do you think? I could use thin pieces of wood to stiffen the mattes at top and bottom, and have some sort of non-reflective (flat black) hardware outside the viewing area to mount the mattes. Just thinking out loud...

Thanks again. I'll get the widescreen shots up soon. I took pictures of scenes from "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," "Antz" and "T2."


Mike Brantley
My Theater: http://homepage.mac....PhotoAlbum.html
My Super-8 Filmmaking Site: http://www.super8filmmaking.com

#13 of 19 OFFLINE   Mike Brantley

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Posted April 02 2001 - 07:54 PM

I somehow messed up that URL in the above signature, but the page is still up at http://homepage.mac....PhotoAlbum.html

My wife just relinquished my G3, so I'll go post those pics now. Good night!

#14 of 19 OFFLINE   Chip_E



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Posted April 03 2001 - 07:43 AM

Mike, removeable mattes is exactly what I had in mind. Actually, for your classy setup, I was thinking about something where the bottom and top mattes are on some sort of wire/string and could be adjusted up, down or out of the way. You know, more like the mattes they have in commercial theaters. I bet if you did the mattes, you'd be in no hurry to get another projector. At least that's the way it was with me wanting a widescreen RPTV...once we did mattes, it was a completely different experience. - Chip
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#15 of 19 OFFLINE   Mike Brantley

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Posted April 03 2001 - 10:05 AM

Thanks, Chip. You've got a good idea. I'm not sure if I'll be able to implement it exactly as you describe, however, because there is only about six inches of space from the top of my screen to the ceiling, and almost no space below the screen and the speaker platform (or stage thing, or whatever you want to call it -- I think there is a word for the construction that starts with a "p," but I can't think of it).

You can tell I made the screen absolutely as big as I could! I just wish my 16mm projectors would come close to filling it like the video projector does. I haven't actually measured it, because I didn't want to scratch the painted layers with my measuring tape. It may be only about 92 inches diag. instead of the 96-inch pull-down screen I used to have when we had the setup in our former mobile home. Yep, we had the biggest TV in that trailer park! Getting this house (and the theater room) is a dream come true. :-) The fourth bedroom will be dedicated as my media storage room, for videotapes, DVDs, laserdiscs, film reels, CDs, etc.

My original vision was to have motorized curtains or drapes that will open along with a remote macro to dim the lights and start the movie. I'm still trying to figure out if I have room for that, since there is only 8 inches of space to the left and right of the screen before the speaker towers. I'm not sure that is enough room for drapes to bunch up while open and not be covering any part of the viewing area. I could always have the drapes open behind the speakers, but what I can't move is the air conditioner duct that runs the full length of the right side of the room. It's probably hard to see in the pictures because everything is painted black, but it lines up perfectly with the right speaker. That's why the speakers are excatly where they are and the screen is centered between them!

One weird thing about my projector setup is that the LCD projector will do 800 x 600 resolution. That works well for computer data, but it causes terrible scaling artifacts to video. So I have to use 640 x 480 for video. That means there is a good deal of my LCD panels going to waste, but the scaling looks too bad to use in the bigger mode. There is light spill-over beyond the screen where an 800 x 600 image would overextend a 640 x 480 one. That's why the front wall is a flat black, to keep that light from reflecting back too much. I tried putting masks over the projector lens, but that doesn't work because the light is so diffuse by the time it leaves the lens. Not sure if I'm explaining that clearly, but maybe you get my point.

Anyway, I'm happy until the day somebody puts a widescreen HDTV projector next to mine and blows mine away with super-crisp detail! Best not to let one in the house until I can afford to keep ti. ;-)

Now, let's try that revised signature...

Mike Brantley
My Theater: http://homepage.mac.com/mikebrantley/PhotoAlbum.html
My Super-8 Filmmaking Site: http://www.super8filmmaking.com

#16 of 19 OFFLINE   Hayes Preston

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Posted April 03 2001 - 11:48 AM

Great HT! I like the way you have your front three speakers sitting on that cabinet (I'm assuming you made that yourself) No HT is complete (IMHO) without it's own 'Murphy' or the like.

#17 of 19 OFFLINE   Matthew G Hetman

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Posted April 03 2001 - 03:15 PM

Nice looking Home Theater..I thoroughly enjoyed seeing all the pictures of your setup. I wish I had the room to build a similar system.

#18 of 19 OFFLINE   Alex-C



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Posted April 03 2001 - 03:35 PM

Really nice looking setup especially with all the film/projector memorabilia. Great job.

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#19 of 19 OFFLINE   Patrick Sun

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Posted April 05 2001 - 05:43 AM

Mike, always nice to see another Mobilian here (I lived there from 1974 to 1985, and my parents still live there). Mike's right when he's talking about rare basement HTs down there. Posted Image The HT looks great!

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