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Dana's $20,000 Home Theater Build -- From the Ground, Up (1 Viewer)

DanaRuns

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In the Beginning, God created the Basement.

basement.jpeg


God saw the Basement and said, "Woah, that blows, dude. Let there be light and sound!" And God found this forum and good friend Kristian to make shit happen. This is the story of Dana's Home Cinema Genesis.

Why would a 66-year old woman build a home theater in her basement?

I dunno, but here goes. This will document my very first home cinema build, on what is an incredibly limited budget for the ambition. Starting with nothing, my goal is to convert my basement into a rockin' 5.2.4 home theater for $20,000 or less, with the help of my friend, Kristian, who knows AV and is good at building things.

The first thing I did was buy equipment. Everything was a compromise. I wanted the Anthem AV70 pre-pro, I got the Marantz AV7706 instead. I wanted two power amps, I got one from Emotiva with 11 channels instead. I even compromised on the equipment rack, with Kristian building me one out of scraps rather than buying one.

IMG_1570.JPG


STEP ONE: BUYING STUFF

I went as bargain as I could, with used and refurbished in some instances, and compromises in others. There is a thread on that process, which you can find here. Had great help from some wonderful folks here that made it possible. I ended up with:

Epson 505UB projector
Elite 120" 16:9 borderless screen in CineWhite 1.3 gain

Marantz AV7706 11.2 Channel 8K Ultra HD AV Surround Pre-Amplifier
Emotiva XPA-11 Gen3 11 Channel Audiophile Home Theater Power Amplifier
Panasonic DP-UB820 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player with Wi-Fi
AppleTV 4K 2022

Bowers & Wilkins Matrix 802 speakers for L&R
Bowers & Wilkins Nautilus HTM-1 for Center
SVS SB-4000 13.5" 1200W Sealed Box Subwoofers - Pair (Premium Black Ash) subwoofers
ELAC Debut 2.0 B6.2 Bookshelf Speakers, Black (Pair) surrounds
RSL C34E MkII Edgeless In-Ceiling Speaker (four speakers) Atmos speakers

STEP TWO: DESIGNING STUFF

Kristian evaluated my basement, which is a challenging space. For a number of reasons we had to orient the screen on a side wall rather than at either end.

theater design 2.jpeg


STEP THREE: BUILDING STUFF

Construction started over the weekend. We have turned my garage into Kristian's ad hoc workshop. Notice that his work table is the boxes from my theater seating. LOL! :D

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Started with a structure for the screen. Kristian built this thing so solid, an earthquake could take down the house but I think the screen will still be standing.

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This progressed yesterday to cutting holes in my ceiling for Atmos speakers.

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When I went to bed last night, Kristian was still working, and when I got up to let a dog out at 1:15 a.m., he was still working. Wowza.

Today we will test the sound equipment and hopefully also the projector. The goal is to watch our first movie on Christmas Eve. I will post more as we progress.

Can we really build a kick-ass home theater for $20,000? We'll find out! :)
 
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smithbrad

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That will be impressive if you can watch your first movie Christmas Eve. We have/had similar budgets. I built my HT back in 2004 with a budget of 25K but I had to close in a room with double drywall and a closet behind the equipment wall, while you already had your front and center speakers.

Not sure how you are plugging in your projector. While surge protection is a given, it can also be useful to have a battery backup so that if the power flickers the projector doesn't go off and on without providing adequate time for the bulb to cool, or in some cases a line conditioner. This can be tricky when the projector it typically ceiling mounted. What I heard about and did was to have an outlet near the projector to plug it into, with the wiring going to a reverse plug (male connector) in my equipment room. It basically acts like an in-wall extension cord. In the equipment room I used a heavy gauge short extension cord to go from the reverse plug to whatever equipment I want between my projector and the power source (e.g., battery backup, surge protection, line conditioner). This alleviates having to locate any of this type of equipment where the projector is located. Just a thought.
 

DanaRuns

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That will be impressive if you can watch your first movie Christmas Eve. We have/had similar budgets. I built my HT back in 2004 with a budget of 25K but I had to close in a room with double drywall and a closet behind the equipment wall, while you already had your front and center speakers.

Not sure how you are plugging in your projector. While surge protection is a given, it can also be useful to have a battery backup so that if the power flickers the projector doesn't go off and on without providing adequate time for the bulb to cool, or in some cases a line conditioner. This can be tricky when the projector it typically ceiling mounted. What I heard about and did was to have an outlet near the projector to plug it into, with the wiring going to a reverse plug (male connector) in my equipment room. It basically acts like an in-wall extension cord. In the equipment room I used a heavy gauge short extension cord to go from the reverse plug to whatever equipment I want between my projector and the power source (e.g., battery backup, surge protection, line conditioner). This alleviates having to locate any of this type of equipment where the projector is located. Just a thought.

I'm going to have a surge protector and power conditioner, but not a battery backup. I have an automatic whole house generator, though, in case the power goes out, though that takes about five seconds to kick on. I've never heard about bulb problems from going on and off. More research to do, I guess...
 

ManW_TheUncool

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I'm wondering -- and this could be just nitpicky nothing -- but can those wooden frames surrounding the front speakers be easily/readily removed/reduced/minimized/acoustically-treated if you later find that they actually cause undesirable stray reflections of the sound or such?

Generally, it's best to keep all such hard surfaces substantially clear/away from the speakers, especially if you want optimum performance from high end speakers. Again, this concern might amount to nothing much/meaningful for your specific case, but thought I should bring that up anyhow...

Otherwise, sounds like awesome progress w/ this big project. Yeah, Die Hard could certainly make a good, inaugural choice for Christmas Eve... though it doesn't have Atmos track that you might want. Offhand, not sure what I'd recommend, especially since I still haven't actually gone Atmos myself (so am not aware enough of good/best choices for that), but since you didn't go w/ 2.4:1 CIH setup, I'd suggest choosing something w/ (nearly) 16x9 AR for at least some big scenes (like in The Dark Knight or some other Nolan IMAX variable-AR epics) along w/ good Atmos track. OR maybe start w/ Die Hard and then add a 2nd flick w/ the latter requirements. :D:cool:

_Man_
 

DanaRuns

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I'm wondering -- and this could be just nitpicky nothing -- but can those wooden frames surrounding the front speakers be easily/readily removed/reduced/minimized/acoustically-treated if you later find that they actually cause undesirable stray reflections of the sound or such?

Generally, it's best to keep all such hard surfaces substantially clear/away from the speakers, especially if you want optimum performance from high end speakers. Again, this concern might amount to nothing much/meaningful for your specific case, but thought I should bring that up anyhow...

The enclosures are now acoustically treated. The speakers are isolated each in its own enclosure. The walls of each enclosure are sprayed with foam insulation and then R16 insulation is placed around each speaker. Then each enclosure is stiffened with braces. Kristian has run whatever magical software tests he has, and there appears to be no resonance from any enclosure, and each speaker seems to be well isolated.

We tested the system out today, even though the room isn't done. We do need some room correction, but overall it sounds pretty awesome. There is some midrange resonance off the first reflection point on the hard floor. And there is a little bass resonance in one corner that has a door I can't block, so no bass trap can go there. But otherwise it's already sounding good without any room correction or EQ. And good gawd it's overpowering. LOL! :D

So I don't think the enclosures are going to be a problem. But we'll see when everything is in, and all the room correction and EQ is done. That's still a week or so away.
 

DanaRuns

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Today's adventure:

Let me post the "before" photo again.

Puppy Room.JPG


Here is a photo from this afternoon.

This is the same view as the above photo. The big white cabinet has been removed. The "pizza oven" fireplace is gone and the hole covered. The HVAC vent in the wall has been moved. The projector has been installed in the equipment room behind, and shines through a hole in the wall onto where the screen will be. Every surface has been painted. Wires have all been run along the ceiling, which will be covered by soffits and crown moulding. Acoustic panels have been hung. Atmos speakers have been installed. (One Atmos speaker with a grill that has been painted black, and the other three are without grills. I'm trying to decide which way I like it. I'm leaning toward no grills.)

IMG_1608.JPG


Tonight we are putting acoustically transparent fabric from Guilford of Maine on all the surfaces surrounding the screen. Lying on the floor in front of the speakers is a long board with cutouts for speakers, and this is the first piece we'll be putting fabric on. Then it will be attached with piano hinge so that I can open it to get to the speakers. Each speaker has its own enclosure, and what you don't see in this photo is the spray insulation and R16 insulation that has been wrapped around each speaker. You won't see any of that when the fabric is on, just walls of black fabric. Then we will mount the screen.

IMG_1613.JPG


That will be all the work before Christmas. Tomorrow night (Xmas Eve) we will be able to watch our first movie! Yay!

But then the work continues.

There will be floor to ceiling corner structures that contain bass traps and hide the L/R surround speakers, and then arches will run from the back wall to the front structure at an angle, that will house electronically controlled theater curtains. Also, we'll be putting soffits and crown moulding up all around the room, with LED strips that will provide mood lighting on the ceiling and accent points.

Also on the front, by the Left and Right speakers, we are installing birchwood stained a mahogany panels for a rich wood panel look, and dimmable RGBW sconces all around the room. Then the carpet and seating go in. Finally, the ceiling work lights will be replaced with nicer fixtures (and RGBW lights), and cleanup.

After that, room correction and tuning, and a whole lot of movie watching.

Here are a few more views from today.

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IMG_1613.JPG
 

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DanaRuns

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I think you were fortunate that "God" sent you a good friend in Kristian. This seems like one of the fastest home theatre builds I have seen on here. It looks good though.

Definitely! He is amazing. He's sleeping down in the theater, and he works until 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning, then grabs some sleep, gets up, and starts all over again. He sets goals for each day and doesn't stop until he has reached those goals.

Also, it's not too extensive a remodel as I'm working on a very tight budget, so there's no temptation to go extra tits and ass on it, and that keeps the time down, too. Kristian is my home theater hero. :banana::)
 

DanaRuns

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Now I need to order a piece of optical glass to cover the front of the projector opening.

projector.jpeg
 

Nelson Au

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Looking like amazing progress Dana!

interesting how the wood paneling thst was there is now painted dark grey and the grooves painted black. Amd I noticed that he filled in the recess in the wall so it’s all straight now. It’s cool you’ve got that room where the projector and gear can be housed. Are the red panels are for acoustic reasons?

I figured your friend had to be sleeping in there as I noticed the bed in one photo! Wow, what a friend to be such a great help.

Will you be able to watch Die Hard tonight? I’ll be thinking of you when I watch it.
 

smithbrad

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Now I need to order a piece of optical glass to cover the front of the projector opening.
Looks great. What acoustic panels did you go for? Also, what additional purpose will the optical glass provide? I assume the projector is pretty quiet being tucked away in another room, prevent dust getting into the projector?
 

DanaRuns

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We got to watch our first movie on Christmas Eve! Woohoo! :banana:

I was going to go with Die Hard, a Christmas tradition, as the inaugural movie, but watched Guardians of the Galaxy instead. Die Hard doesn't have an Atmos track, and I wanted to see and hear the entire potential of the system. We'll watch Die Hard tonight. :)

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I have to say, I was completely blown away. It was better than I expected, especially since we haven't really tuned the system yet. The room that started as an empty box with lots of slap-back and resonance sounds great, now. Tight, but still live. Huge sound stage! It sounds much bigger than the room actually is, which was a wonderful surprise!

We listened at 87-90dB with peaks of up to 107dB, and the sound was clean, natural, airy and transparent, with tremendous punch. Separation and imaging were terrific. We had wonderful soaring highs that were bright but not tinny or fatiguing; the midrange and dialog were crisp and natural without muddling; the subs produced chest-thumping LFE that was super fast and tight; and best of all the whole system sounded utterly natural. The Emotiva amp, at 300 watts per channel, drove the big, hungry B&W 802 and HTM1 speakers flawlessly, and it all sounded effortless. I got far more from Emotiva than I expected. I'm impressed, and now I'm an Emotiva fan when at first I was sour over having to "compromise." Overall, the entire system produced really good sound. The whole thing together sounds as good as any luxury theater I've ever attended. I'm so thrilled!

While I'm proud of my speakers and would love to show them off, I really dig that none of the speakers are visible, and just listening you can't tell where they are. I was particularly concerned about the center channel speaker, which we placed below the screen angled up at ear height. I was afraid it would sound like it was coming from below the screen. But my spouse, who knew nothing of the issue, spontaneously marveled that she heard dialog coming directly from wherever the character's face was on the screen, and she asked how we did that. That was the greatest, having someone with no knowledge of the issue make that spontaneous exclamation. It was evidence that we actually did a good job putting the system together.

The picture was surprisingly bright, with super deep blacks. I even had a nice, bright picture with the lights on. The color was quite natural, better than I expected, and skin tones were perfect. Also, the "faux K" picture of the Epson projector exceeded my expectations. If you walked up to within a foot or so of the screen you could see a screen door effect, but from viewing distance it was detailed and beautiful.

I can't wait to watch another movie!

And, oh yeah, we have to finish building after Christmas. :)
 
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John Dirk

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As good as any luxury theater I've ever attended. I'm so thrilled!
That says it all. Your project is a resounding success and an incredibly fast one at that.

While I'm proud of my speakers and would love to show them off, I really dig that none of the speakers are visible, and just listening you can't tell where they are. I was particularly concerned about the center channel speaker, which we placed below the screen angled up at ear height.
Yep. That's the magic of an AT screen. Your eyes can't see the speakers so your brain doesn't focus on them.

You and Kristian have done an amazing job and just in time for Christmas.

Congratulations!
 

DanaRuns

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Looking like amazing progress Dana!

interesting how the wood paneling thst was there is now painted dark grey and the grooves painted black. Amd I noticed that he filled in the recess in the wall so it’s all straight now. It’s cool you’ve got that room where the projector and gear can be housed. Are the red panels are for acoustic reasons?

I figured your friend had to be sleeping in there as I noticed the bed in one photo! Wow, what a friend to be such a great help.

Will you be able to watch Die Hard tonight? I’ll be thinking of you when I watch it.

I so wanted to get rid of the wood paneling, but I couldn't do it and stay within my budget. So I came up with the idea of painting the raised portions dark gray and the grooves black, hoping it would give some three-dimensionality to it. But really, the walls just kind of disappear. Kristian did a wonderful job filling in the recess where the fireplace used to be, and making it look like the paneling, even though we could not find the panels anywhere and had to improvise. I'm very happy with it.

The red panels are acoustic panels, filled with rock wool. There are four 2'x3' panels behind the seats, and six 2'x4' panels are spread around the room. They have done a nice job taming the room sound.

Kristian is a great friend for doing this. I'm paying him, of course, but not as much as he deserves.

We watched Guardians of the Galaxy instead of Die Hard. Die Hard doesn't have an Atmos track, and as my first movie I wanted to watch something that used the entire system. We'll watch Die Hard tonight, Christmas night. :)

Thanks for the nice comment, Nelson! :)
 

DanaRuns

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That says it all. Your project is a resounding success and an incredibly fast one at that.


Yep. That's the magic of an AT screen. Your eyes can't see the speakers so your brain doesn't focus on them.

You and Kristian have done an amazing job and just in time for Christmas.

Congratulations!

Thanks, John, and Merry Christmas! Some of you is in this theater, you know, and always will be. You have been a great source of help, knowledge, and perspective in my quest to learn about this whole home theater thing. And you have influenced what has gone into the room. Thank you. :emoji_heart:
 
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DanaRuns

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Looks great. What acoustic panels did you go for? Also, what additional purpose will the optical glass provide? I assume the projector is pretty quiet being tucked away in another room, prevent dust getting into the projector?

As with everything, I had to compromise on acoustic panels to stay within my budget. So I went with ATS Acoustics, which is a budget brand that gets good reviews. And you know what? They work great!

The room sound, which started out horrible, is excellent now, with a 39dB ambient room sound, and speaking sounds tight while still maintaining enough of a live sound that it doesn't feel like you're in an anechoic chamber. We don't have the airiness of a big room with high ceilings, but that's not the fault of the acoustic panels, that's just the reality of being in a room this size.

As for the glass on the projector, it's to keep dust out, completely get rid of the fan sound, and also it will just look more polished, more of a fine finish. :)
 

JohnRice

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I'm glad it all worked out so well. You really did get that done in record time. I'm a little amazed. I have too much of a "Roun' Tuit" attitude to projects.

Personally, I probably would have gone with Dune for a first movie, if your goal was spectacle and awesome audio.

FWIW, my (admittedly odd) hands down favorite Christmas movie is The Family Stone. Not that anyone asked. :P

Of course, I like La-Z-Boy recliners, so there's no accounting for taste, I guess. right @John Dirk ?

 
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DanaRuns

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I'm glad it all worked out so well. You really did get that done in record time. I'm a little amazed. I have too much of a "Roun' Tuit" attitude to projects.

Personally, I probably would have gone with Dune for a first movie, if your goal was spectacle and awesome audio.

FWIW, my (admittedly odd) hands down favorite Christmas movie is The Family Stone. Not that you asked. :P

Of course, I like La-Z-Boy recliners, so there's no accounting for taste, I guess. right @John Dirk ?



LOL! I read your post and was like, is "roun tuit" Latin or something? 😆 Kristian has been amazing with the speed (and quality) of this build. I'm a little amazed, too. :)

I just might go with Dune as the second movie, today. I have it on 4K UHD BluRay. Thanks for the prompt. :)
 

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