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$500,000 to spend - Where do I start?

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#1 of 19 OFFLINE   steveKlein



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Posted December 20 2005 - 01:47 PM

"I am currently a 35 year old husband and father of 3 designing the home of our dreams. My passions have always been movies, music, and games. While my wife is taking a painstaking amount of time planning out the pool area, the one feature of my dream home that I will plan is going to be a home theater. I am willing to spend a lot of money to make this happen... my budget for the theater is $500,000, give or take. I'm hoping to spend less than this, but if a few pieces of equipment exceed $100,000 for premium quality, then so be it. The house this theater is going in is new construction. I've purchased the land, but we have not yet finalized the floor plan. The theater will be on ground level or slightly below. I want to make sure every detail is done correctly so I will be hiring professionals to install the equipment, but I want to know from you guys... the most critical audiophiles and visualphiles on the planet... what equipment I should buy. If any of my initial ideas need revising (maybe the dimensions are wrong, or my seating ideas are wrong... whatever... please stop me. As I'm sure you all know, this isn't a small project and I will probably spend the rest of my life in this home so I don't want to mess this up!) Let me tell you a little about the room. It will be about 16 feet wide and 37 feet deep with about 9 foot ceilings. I want to have 3 rows of stadium seating, with each row about 9 inches higher than the next. I figure the room will comfortably seat 10-12 in chairs, with 3 or 4 bar stools in the back. There will be no windows, so I'll have full control over the lighting. The back of the room will be a bar. I'll have a popcorn machine, fountain soda machine, and things like that back there. I also plan to have the equipment room and storage somewhere in the back of the room. I've pretty much settled on some of the things I want to use. Reciever - Denon AVR 4806 DVD Player - Denon 5910 I will have an Xbox360, Playstation 3, etc. for use in the room. The two big things I need help with is audio and video. For audio, the sky is the limit. I want the best sound I can get. I'm assuming 7.1 will be good. I've heard towers are the most expensive but give the best sound, so if possible, I'd like to have all 7 speakers high-end towers. One thing that is important to me is that the speakers be built into the walls so they don't protrude into the room... so I need to decide on what speakers to get so I can have the room built with holes fitted so the speakers will fit snugly into the walls. A few brands I've heard thrown around are B&W, Meridian, and JBL Synthesis. I'm open to suggestions. I'm pretty clueless on subwoofers. Don't even know where optimum placement in the room would be. For video, I am looking for a screen of at least 100 inches, maybe closer to 150 inches because this is going to be a pretty large room. I'm assuming the way to go will be a projector and screen. I just want the best color I can get... and I want a projector that I will be able to use with lots of inputs because I will want the option to be able to watch TV (HD of course... it might come from satellite, perhaps digital cable...), play videogames, watch DVDs, have some sort of TiVo like device, maybe have a karaoke machine, etc. etc. you get the idea... I'm also a bit confused if the projector has all the inputs I need, what is the point of having a reciever (unless of course I can't hook up the speakers to the projector)? The way I'm assuming I'll hook it up is have video game machines, dvd player, tape deck, etc. etc. all hooked in to the reciever, and then have an output from the reciever running to the projector. Is that correct? In any event, I'm sorry for having so many questions, but any help is very appreciative."

#2 of 19 OFFLINE   Jay Mitchosky

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Posted December 20 2005 - 02:04 PM

Steve, this absolutely has to be a record on this forum for a home theater investment. With that kind of firepower you need to make doubly sure you choose the right partner. Not a vendor, a partner. They need to explicitly understand your needs and performance objectives. Just don't let them thinking they're getting a blank cheque. Make sure you see credentials like CEDIA, THX, and ISF to name a few on their shingle. I'll also offer a blanket suggestion to spend as much on the room design and acoustics as you are willing. Equipment comes and goes. The room will always be there. And done right it will make any rig sound its best. Done poorly and you'll waste a lot of money on needless upgrades looking for better sound. I'm still having trouble believing this so pardon me if I ramble or trail off. To answer a couple of your questions...
Size is relative - ideally it's based on a preferred viewing angle. Consider where you like to sit in the theater. If up among the front then consider seating distance of about 1x screen width (or reverse that to identify a screen given a specific seating distance). If in the middle-ish then 1.5x, if in the back around 2.0x. This will give you a starting point. Something I would look at is the new Runco projector that includes their constant image height option. It's a built in anamorphic lens and scaling system that allows you to view 2.35:1 films using the full imaging panel projected onto a 2.35:1 screen. A masking system at the sides closes in to accommodate 1.85, 1.78, and 1.33 ARs. The height never changes, and since most movies tend to be done in 2.35 you're getting an overall much bigger image. There is a tonne of things to discuss with regards to projectors. I wouldn't worry about the inputs. You'll probably want to use an outboard video processor and send everything to the projector via a single digital cable. Hope that helps, and I hope you're serious about this. I still can't wrap my brain around it.
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#3 of 19 OFFLINE   Parker Clack

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Posted December 20 2005 - 02:43 PM


That is quite a budget.

I would look at some of the HT setups of members in our Gallery.

As far as equipment goes I would spend some time at a local high end shop to get an idea of the type of equipment you like ie: speakers, amps, etc.

I would definitely go with a front projection setup to get the best overall picture especially with high definition just beginning to hit the market.

I agree with Jay that a lot of focus should be on the room itself. The way that it is constructed. I also agree that you should work with a professional that is certified in what they do. One of our own, Gregg Loewen, is ISF certified for your video needs and would be a great resource for the best equipment for your money. He could also give you great advice on the audio side too.

You are starting the best way you can by asking questions and doing it right the first time.


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#4 of 19 OFFLINE   Leo Kerr

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Posted December 21 2005 - 12:45 AM

Contrary to Jay's advice, I would ABSOLUTELY NOT go with Runco for a projector.

I would, instead, point you to one of these three general options:

1. Christie Digital, one of their 3-chip DLP projectors.
2. Panasonic Industrial, one of their 3-chip DLP projectors. (They're quiet - very quiet, with active noise supression.)
3. JVC Professional, one of their D-ILA projectors.

On the other hand, I'd recommend not limiting yourself to in-wall speakers. And given the volume of the room, you may want to consider at least an arangement where you'll have outboard amplifiers.


#5 of 19 OFFLINE   Jay Mitchosky

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Posted December 21 2005 - 01:51 AM

I mentioned the Runco specifically for their constant image height support without having to use an external anamorphic lens. That feature will probably make its way to other high end gear down the road.
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#6 of 19 OFFLINE   Owen Bartley

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Posted December 21 2005 - 05:23 AM

Wow, that's quite a hefty budget there, Steve. I can see why you want to make sure you do everything right the first time. You're getting some great advice here, and I'd suggest you also read through the "things I wish I had done" thread to get some great and often overlooked details.

In general, I'd put a lot of weight in what the fellas are saying about making sure the room is built properly. Things like sound insulation in the walls (and floor and cieling perhaps) like Acoustiblok get left out of a lot of budget theatres, but can make a big difference in the end result, and with your more than adequate funds, I'd make sure to do this right.

I'd also think you would want to look at seperates for your components, and there are many well respected brands around (I'll throw Rotel into the mix because I like their stuff). For speakers, if you're dead set on hiding them away, again, go with either dedicated in walls, or have your installer find a clever way to hide the towers, or make them part of the design. In a dedicated HT room I like seeing the speakers, especially if they're some beautiful high end ones, worthy of showing off. Posted Image

#7 of 19 OFFLINE   chris_everett


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Posted December 21 2005 - 08:00 AM

At $500K, your way beyond the level of most of the people here. I would imagine that the average DIY theater on the forum is around $20,000, if that. I would agree with everything that Jay says. In paticuler, you want a top notch partner to help you design the room, and tune the system. A good consultant should have an array of tools and knowledge to help design a great room, and provide guidance in choosing brands and models of gear, and installing them so that they are used to full potential. _Try to find a "pure" consultant that does not represent any paticuler brands, rather than a firm that both does design and build_ You don't say where you are, but unless you are in a major city, you may very well end up using someone from accross the country. Don't be alarmed by this, as most work can be done remotly, and a few plane tickets out of your budget is well worth it. That all being said, here are a couple of things to think about before talking to home theater consultants: 1. What are you going to use the theater for? Just watching movies, HDTV as well, sporting events, music, games? That can help determine a lot of design features. 2. How nice do you want the furniture and accoutrements to be? Lots of custom detail and expensive furniture can burn through even a large budget with amazing speed. 3. How sound proof do you want the room to be? For your budget, you can easily create a top-notch theater that will blow anything else out of the water. Keep us up to date on how things go!
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#8 of 19 OFFLINE   mark alan

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Posted December 21 2005 - 08:29 AM

That budget makes the $2500 I sank into my home theater look pretty pitiful.

#9 of 19 OFFLINE   Brian Osborne

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Posted December 21 2005 - 08:36 AM

While gaming on a very big screen sounds really cool, it could be annoying. For gaming I would consider doing something seperate. Possibly where you could link several gaming systems up for group gaming. This would be difficult to do with a 150" screen size and dedicated theater seating. I would also plan for the future and look at additional speakers. I'm sure you would be able to get 9.1 or even 9.2 very soon I would definately sepperate the consession from the theater and even consider putting a bathroom near the consession area. As narrow as the room is, 3 seats is good, 4 might be crowded. I'm currently working on my budget theater, my room being 16' wide and 3 chairs wide doesn't leave a lot of room around them. Also since you are only looking at just 12 seats I would deffinately look at bass shakers. Find someone that has some in a good install and demo it. That alone can really be the difference between going to a theater and veiwing a movie in your own theater. Done right they can add quite a bit to the FEEL of a theater. Make sure whomever does your install that they install plenty of cabling. be it cat5/rg6/hdmi, whatever you might forsee needing in the future. again CAT5... plenty of it, everywhere. It won't be long and the whole house will be interconnected via cat5 and home network. As far as speaker placement, I would really leave that to the experts, just make sure the persons designing your room are as much of an audiophile as you are. Good luck, sounds like a dream come true for most of us. and if you run a little under on your budget, I could really use a few things for my theater...
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#10 of 19 OFFLINE   steveKlein



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Posted December 21 2005 - 09:35 AM

First let me just say that I appreciate all the tips that have been given to me this far. I definitely see your point about keeping a snack bar out of the theater itself and creating a lobby. I never really thought that not only it would reduce interference, but it would also sort of separate the theater from the house. There's all kinds of things I could do with the space between them. Perhaps a "Now Showing" screen with a wall-mounted flatscreen having the same output that the projector is projecting in the theater. Or maybe framing a bunch of my favorite movie posters like American History X, Fight Club, The Usual Suspects, and so on... I'm sure I can figure out something for that. I'll definitely be hiring someone who knows their stuff to help me pick equipment out and certainly install it all for me. I've read through the "What I wish I had done differently..." thread and I will definitely be taking into account those suggestions (like having wood floor beneath the carpet so you can "feel" the bass. Still haven't given the projector and screen much more thought, but I was referred specifically to the B&W Nautilus speakers. I checked them out and was stunned to see them at a staggering $30,000+ per speaker. Would it be feasible to use 7 of these in 1 room, or would that simply not make any sense? Spending $225,000 on speakers is a bit high, even for me, though I would go with it if I have room for it and it gives me the best theater experience possible. Also, one thing I'm a bit confused about... when I said I didn't want the speakers protruding in the room that met a fair bit of resistance saying that I would not get the best sound this way. I wanted to clarify that I meant the speakers would not be hidden behind a wall like you might find in car... they would still be visibile, they would just be blush with the wall... that is they would appear to be part of the wall, but not be physically hidden by a wall. Would this setup still hinder the sound? Responding to the questions posed by Chris... The seating will be very, very, very comfortable, but not necesarrily all that expensive. I don't care much forhigh-end imports or brand names if they are no more comfortable than a $500 La-Z-Boy. I'm sure the chairs will be expensive, but I can't imagine spending more than $20,000 or $25,000 on seating. Soundproofing isn't really a big deal to me, especially if the home is designed in such a way that the only room adjacent to the theater will be the theater lobby. The one thing I will want to soundproof is the ceiling since the theater will be directly below my kitchen and breakfast room. The closest neighbor will be at least 1000 feet away so I'm not too worried about shaking the neighbors. All that being said, if soundproofing is not much of an increase in price, I might as well go ahead and do it (and I have a feeling it wouldn't be too expensive since I'm hearing several other HTF members have soundproof theaters). As far as what I will be using the theater for... a bit of everything. HDTV, watching sports, listenening to music, watching movies, playing games, you name it... I'll probably do it. I'm assuming this could change the type of speakers, projector, screen, acoustic walls/ceiling than if I were building the theater solely to watch action movies or listen to classical music. I was curious if any projector, screen, or speakers (B&W Nautilus?) would be especially practical for a wide-range use theater. Thanks again!

#11 of 19 OFFLINE   Adam Gregorich

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Posted December 21 2005 - 09:38 AM

I would not do a DIY if you have that budget. I recommend having a professional at least do the design. One of the best in the business is Dennis at http://www.designcinema.com/ With the $$ you are able to budget I would look at a Runco Home Cinema projector. You can spend a ton of money on equipment, but still have mediocre quality without the right room. That is why you need to get a professional design. I would also get a Denon 3910 and put the savings towards an external scaler.

#12 of 19 OFFLINE   Jay Mitchosky

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Posted December 21 2005 - 12:34 PM

All great ideas. Check the forum sponsors for companies who sell all the acoutrements such as backlit poster boxes. Very, very cool stuff. It will really set the tone for your theater. When it comes down to selecting equipment remember that even though you can spend the money you don't necessarily have to. The law of diminishing returns will take over pretty quickly and you will need a keen ear to catch incremental differences. Paying 50% more will not get you anywhere near 50% more performance. Money towards room acoustics will pay off more. The Nautilus series are among the cream of the crop. I can't remember the brand but check out Widescreen Review's reference theater speakers - they're huge, around 6' tall. $25K a pair. A good point is made above re: gaming on the big screen. Likewise with general TV. You might consider having a plasma screen on the wall behind a drop down screen. The mind boggles at the choices available to you.
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#13 of 19 OFFLINE   David Noll

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Posted December 22 2005 - 03:04 AM

Just passing along a link to a great professional company I have had the pleasure of working with:


You can contact Al via his site. I can highly recommend him. Here is the link to my theater on his site:


Also check my link below to my gallery on this forum.


#14 of 19 OFFLINE   Leo Kerr

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Posted December 22 2005 - 04:23 AM

Another thing to consider as a possibility: Particularly if you go with a projector where the lens is sold seperately, consider installing a small "projection booth." This will reduce projector noise, and, if the design allows for it, you pop up a couple of steps to the enclosed booth to service the projector, rather than dangling off of a ladder over top of your seating. Leo

#15 of 19 OFFLINE   SethH



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Posted December 22 2005 - 06:46 AM

Those B&W Nautilus speakers are some of the best speakers made. However, you could get the B&W 800's for about 1/2 the price and I don't think you'd lose too much in quality. Think of this: George Lucas uses 5 B&W 802's in his mastering studio. By getting the 800's you will have a nicer setup than George Lucas's studio. They are also smaller and easier to place than the Nautilus speakers. You've GOT to post pics when this thing is done!

#16 of 19 OFFLINE   SteveLeach


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Posted December 22 2005 - 07:35 AM

I'll second Adam's comment about Dennis at http://www.designcinema.com
You should at least check out his web site & talk to him, he has produced some amazing HT's.
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#17 of 19 OFFLINE   chris_everett


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Posted December 22 2005 - 11:30 AM

For a true multi-use room, you may want to have multiple systems. As an example, the JBL synthisis system, in one of the models, has front speakers with one set of drivers for "theater" mode, and anther set for "music" mode. You could do that with displays too, as Jay suggested, and put a plasma behind a drop-down Front-projection screen. Or put up two and use them for multi-player gaming. I would also agree that you may be able to come in _way_ under budget.
--Chris Everett

#18 of 19 OFFLINE   Jack Ferry

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Posted December 22 2005 - 03:20 PM

Pick up a copy of Great Escapes: New Designs for Home Theaters by Theo Kalomirakis. The incredible home theaters in this book should help you get some ideas of what's possible.

#19 of 19 OFFLINE   Jay Mitchosky

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Posted December 23 2005 - 05:54 AM

My wife bought me his first book for Christmas a few years ago - mindblowing. I love that book.
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