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The Mrak Theater Construction

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  • Join Date: Dec 06 2010

Posted December 06 2010 - 10:48 AM

In my previous house I had a huge basement, so I took over one of the rooms and made it a dedicated theater. I thought I'd share the experience here.

I am in the process of buying a new home and will be constructing a 'built-in-bookcase' theater with a projector on a lift, since the new one won't be a dedicated theater.

When building this theater, the A/V home theater forum I was a member of was a HUGE help, so when starting to plan my new theater, I joined up on the HomeTheaterForum.com as I imagine I'll need some help in the future. My new theater will have a digital projector, of which I know nothing. I can't say enough good things about the image from my Sony CRT, but I'm guessing digital technology has improved over the past 7 years, and I'm looking forward to learning about the new systems.

Why Mrak? That's the last name of one of my clients who gave me a TON of assignments when building the theater, so since he paid for the project, I named it after him.


Lights, camera, ACTION!

The Home Theater project began in January 2002 as part of a plan to finish the whole basement. This page follows the project through, step-by-step. Everything being done is all DIY (do it yourself...except the carpet) and it's been a great amount of fun and education. I went into the project with a basic foundation of plumbing, electrical and drywall work, but mostly on the home-repair and minor-upgrade level. Our basement is the size of an entire floor of our house, so once finished, we'd be increasing our living space by one third. Four main rooms are being created, an office, a library, a family room and a home theater. Link to notes about the home theater The original design is below. Built in 3D it allowed me to work in scale and shift things around until they felt right.


Before and Now

Here are "before" and the "current moment" images

January 2002

January 2003

The Theater Construction

Screen View

Seating View

Prep Work

The nook was tackled first, with wide support beams and 3/4" plywood base, you could store a car in there and it would hold the weight just fine. I lined the area with insulation board.

Before the nook was built, the concrete wall on one side of the theater was coated with masonry watertight sealer. This also gave me a fun canvas to draw in the theater plans to get a feel for the location of items in real-size.
early january 2002

Wall framing

Up go the 2x4's. First the screen wall went up, the rectangle isn't the screen size, it's the access area to the storage area. The screen will be a little wider and much deeper.

Two sides of the theater were already framed up, the door to the left of this image will be to a storage area and to the back of the AV gear rack. The door to the right will be the entrance to the theater
late january 2002

Ceiling framing

I've decided on a drywall ceiling. I can't use the floor joists because of water/gas/sewer pipes running low in this area, plus the ducts I'll be running in for heating and air, so I'm suspending framework from the joists. Ignore the pink couches, they WILL NOT be theater seating.

I'm not too concerned about sound isolation, I'll fill the area above the ceiling with sound insulation, but the location of the pipes, some which run low the length of the theater, discount the use of 8 or 10" beams spanning the theater unsupported, so I used 2x4's heavily supported throughout. Vibrations will pass through the supports, but the room above is the kitchen, and I can live with that. My only other choice was to lower the ceiling, but it was important to me to keep an 8' ceiling as a minimum for home-value purposes.
early february 2002

The Projector is HERE!

Picked up the projector today. 155 lbs, a beast of a machine, but a snap to set up. I was concerned after reading all the reviews about what a pain CRT's were to set up, but after plugging it in, and a quick review of a couple of manual pages, I had the lenses focused and the test grids all converged within half an hour. Perhaps not "perfect" but pretty close.

I also bought a DVDO line doubler, but without a source (and there was no WAY my first source was going to be VHS or NTSC via cable) I had to leave it in the box for the night.

Of course the theater's not complete yet, still working on the wiring, so I had a neighbor haul this bad boy up to my office where I shuffled some furniture around (not enough, as the picture shows) and planted the image up on my wall. The paint is not what one would consider "screen quality," I think it's called 'baby's breath.' This image is also a little squashed, Io was playing with the RGB size.I haven't bought a DVD for the system yet (but have picked one out) so I ran the VGA cable over to my Mac G3 powerbook. With a little fiddling, bingo, an incredible image. The powerbook is already wired to my JVC audio/video receiver so I can listen to web radio broadcasts, so in short order I had a little make-shift home-theater. I watched portions of Shrek, Planet of the Apes and Red Planet. Very cool.
early february 2002

Wiring is finished

I very well may be guilty of circuit overkill here. Circuit One (green): The room already had a utility-type light wired, so I used this branch to run the wall fixture lights. Since the circuit is part of the existing 'basement' circuit I'm keeping my eye on the amp draw so that I keep well below its 15 amp limit as I do much the same in other rooms. Circuit Two (purplish): To meet code I need an outlet in every wall larger than 2 feet, so a 15 amp, 14NM-2 line is run to three outlets (diagram doesn't show the outlet at the front). Also to meet code, the storage area at the back of the theater needs it's own switched light, so this is run in on the back of this circuit. Circuit Three (red): Everyone tells me I need a dedicated circuit for the projector, so I run a 12NM-2 20 amp line over. Circuit Four (also red): A 12NM-2 20 amp line to first meet the outlet requirement for the back wall, then run it over to the room that backs into my A/V rack to power the gear, up to a single pole switch and over to two recessed light cans to illuminate the A/V rack area. I'm sure the electrical inspector is going to roll his eyes when he sees four circuits for one room, but it's all up to code.

mid february 2002

Electrical and detail framing

The blue boxes are the electrical boxes for various outlets, wall fixtures and switches. The blue box at the top is for the dedicated projector outlet, the ones on the walls for sconces. Also finished in this step was 'detail framing' in this view you can see the inset I put in the ceiling for the projector well. The projector is 14 inches deep, the well will allow me to tuck it into the ceiling so that only 8 inches needs to come down. The well is 4 inches wider than the projector on each side and most of the ventilation for the projectors sides will be in the dead space above the floating ceiling. It is also 18 inches longer than the projector, this will allow me to have space to work with the mounting system. Tucking the projector in will let me put a hush box in, if I go that route, without pushing it too far into the room

Looking to the back of the theater you can see the header box I put in for the A/V rack, it's in the center of the wall, just to the right of the door that will go to a storage area that will give me easy access to the back of the gear. As with most folks, I'm forever fiddling with cables and trying different combinations, so having unfettered access was important.The next step is putting in the insulation. Since I'm doing three rooms in the basement at the same time, this is going to take a while. Then it's time for the rough-in inspection.Two of my favorite tools for this project are shown here, the portable workbench and the work light. A cordless drill (shown on couch at left) is also invaluable. In another room I have a 10" miter saw and a bench saw which are also key.

end of february 2002


Electrical and Framing inspections

Summer? Already? Ok, so I'm picking back up here in June, but that doesn't mean that the project has been gathering dust for the last three months. Things HAVE slowed down for various reasons, but the ball is rolling again. During that time the rest of the duct work has been finished and the rough-in electrical and framing inspections were done. Following that, Insulation began (photos below) and then the drywall was ordered. But before I dive back into all of that stuff, let me introduce you to my new best friend...Mr. PanelLift (right). This thing was a lifesaver for putting the ceiling up in the theater (and the rest of the basement). If you're doing a similar project I HIGHLY recommend you rent one.

Keep in mind, a whole basement is being done here, not just the theater

march-april 2002


With the rough-in inspections complete I could now do the insulation for the project. The insulation for the theater serves two purposes, thermal and sound. Since it's the basement, it'll

be nice to have a thermal barrier from the rest of the house. Since it's a theater, I wanted a sound insulation to help keep down the noise from the rest of the house and the pipes, as well as to help contain the noise coming from the theater.
may 2002

Ceiling goes up

Cut. Glue. Drywall. Screws. Cut. Glue. Drywall. Screws. It's not fun, but it gets the job done. The panel lift was a great investment. The theater is about 11 feet wide and 20 feet long, so to keep the number of joins between the panels to a minimum I bought five 12' drywall panels. This was a little risky, as most

ceiling work is done in more convenient 8 foot lengths, but the lift did a great job and within 4 hours I had the ceiling up with no need to use my extra emergency back-up drywall panel. To help mark the knock-outs for A/C registers and recessed lights I marked the edges with some of my wife's lipstick and raised the panel. Then dropped them and used a dremel to cut them out.
early june 2002

Gypsum Days

Monday night I began to hang the walls. I found that with no cut-outs, I could do a panel in 10 minutes (single-handed, and not rushing). With cut-outs it took about 20 minutes to half an hour, depending on the variety. The process was actually pretty easy, so I found myself going down to put up a panel, then back upstairs to cook dinner or work or hang with the kids, then back down again

Bit by bit, it got done, and on Thursday afternoon I finished up the last detail portion. It's gotten dark in here now, so I'm also finishing up the wiring for the room so I can have some light (other than the worklight) for when I begin to mud. I put some spare utility lights up in a few of the sconce lighting receptacles.Next is putting in the "L" beads and then it's MUD TIME!
early-mid june 2002


I think I can officially say the the least fun process of this project is mudding. I spent a day mudding the joints and screw holes as well as filling in the gaps left by the "L" beads.

The worst part of it was the ceiling, when a big old glob of mud would fall off my taping knife and SMACK right into

my face. The good news is that it's done, and it looks pretty good. The bad news is I have to sand it down and do it all again (and possibly even once more).But the final result will be perfectly smooth walls, and I know if I have a blemish on the wall I'm going to growl every time I see it. So best get it right now.
mid june 2002


Two cans of Kilz II primer and it's actually beginning to look like a finished room! In the process of priming I found a handful of sloppy

mudding areas, so after roughing up the area with sandpaper, I plopped down some more mud, sanded and sealed again. Ready for the paint.
mid july 2002

Slapping on the paint

With the walls primed and paint choices made, the paint goes up, so far the easiest part of the process.

The ceiling is grey to help keep down light reflection from the projector, and the walls are two-toned, "baby's breath" on the top and "haute red" on the bottom.
August 2002

Fit and Trim

Crown molding, chair rail and baseboard molding are now in, also the doors are installed. The chair rail trim is not continuous, it'll be broken up by the framed posters. The trim is painted with a gloss white.

After putting in a few other doors for the rest of the basement, by the time I got to the theater it was a snap, about 15 minutes each. I also put up the first beta 'curtain column' bracket (barely visible at the top rear left above). The rest of the basement is done, so the miter saw and the table saw have migrated into the theater.
Early September 2002

Mood lighting

The finishing touches are beginning to fall into place. Socket and switch plates are on, as well as the speaker wire plates. Air conditioning vent covers are put up. The six sconces are mounted and in the back of the theater and two 'eyeball' recessed lights on a separate circuit are installed.

These are designed to light up the A/V gear without having to turn up the lights in the theater. The floor is cleared off (first time in 4 years) and mopped in preparation foor sealing and carpeting. Blemishes on the walls are noted in pencil for the final cleanup. Time to build the rear seat riser as well.
Mid September 2002

Platform construction

The rear recliner couch will be raised about 11 inches so the residents of said couch will have a clearer view of the screen. The platform 'riser' was constructed out of 2x8s and 3/4" plywood. Two separate 'boxes' were made with the 2x8s, 4 feet wide by 7 feet long. These boxes were then placed on top of each other and nailed together to form a single box.

Then a row of 2x8s were run across to support the plywood sections. The box was put on its side and filled with insulation. This serves to deaden the sound of the box and to keep the box from resonating with the theater audio. A free-floating step was crafted from 2x4s and 2x8s.
Late September 2002

We got it covered!

With the paint, trim and platform done it was time to carpet. A dark burgundy was the choice. While some theaters are almost completely dark, my theory was to make a dark ceiling and a dark floor but to have lighter walls. This way I'd have a fair amount of stray-light absorption without having the room too dark and gloomy.

While we have a dry basement, I have a fear of musty basements, so I coated all the floors with Drylock, a concrete moisture sealer. The carpet guys got the carpet down for this room, two other rooms and a set of stairs in one day. In one fell swoop the basement project went from being 'under construction' to finished. What a great feeling. You can see one of the beta curtains on the back left.
October 2002

Mount 'em up!

While commercially available, I decided to make a custom mount for the CRT, this would allow me to spread the weight of the projector over four floor beams. I bought a length of strut material from the electrical department at Home Depot and used an abrasive blade in my circular saw to cut it to size. The lower left image shows two bracket bolted to mounting holes in the unit, from this four 1 foot sections of 1/2 inch threaded rod were attached. In the ceiling I bolted two strut rails, making sure they were the same distance apart as the threaded rods.

With the help of my neighbors we lifted the 150 lbs unit, sliding the rods into the holes. On the rods were four nuts that were measured out to be the proper mounting height for the projector. Enough space was designed around the projector well so we could slip our hands in and tighten down for half-inch lugs. The whole thing went without a hitch...much thanks to my neighbors!!!!Afterwards I focused the lenses and converged the unit, a process that took about 20 minutes.
mid October 2002

Projection System DONE!

With the CRT mounted we put the screen up into it's position. The screen was made by forming a frame of 2x2s and putting down a couple sheets of masonite, both tacked and glued to the frame. The surface was then painted with a roller. Then a pre-constructed and pre-painted frame was lowered and glued (liquid nails) into place. The speakers were also put up.

The AV rack was built from medium density fiberboard with shelving rails down each side. The shelves were cut and painted separately to rest on the rail guides. Ignore the furniture on the platform, the kids have been enjoying use of 'the stage' until the furniture comes. Now it's time to focus on the curtains and poster in preparation for the furniture truck.
mid October 2002

Furniture/Posters are in

Huge lag time here, with the projector up the furniture was ordered and delivered so we could enjoy (well, try to enjoy) the bulk of the SEC football season. The Gators got plastered, but the theater was a hit. Not 100% done yet...

...the curtains aren't up yet, that's about the last major item to finish up. The chairs from LazyBoy (swivel and rock) matched our existing couch perfectly. We can easily sit our family of four (the couch reclines too), with comfort a group of six and easily fit in eight. Exactly one year into the project, and we can pretty much declare ourselves "DONE."
early January 2003

#2 of 5 OFFLINE   billwilles



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Posted December 07 2010 - 01:01 AM

Its really nice..thanks for sharing

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#3 of 5 OFFLINE   Adam Gregorich

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Posted December 13 2010 - 04:43 AM

Great post!  I can see why you are anxious to get something going in the new house!

#4 of 5 OFFLINE   Sam Posten

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Posted December 14 2010 - 11:52 AM


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#5 of 5 OFFLINE   nvdfgsf



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Posted December 21 2011 - 05:06 PM

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