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My Living Room HT Journey (long, you may not make it to the end) (1 Viewer)

winniw

Second Unit
Joined
Dec 19, 2010
Messages
287
Real Name
Nick Reed
Synopsis


The author starts with a 42” LCD TV and no surround-sound system. He is contemplating the purchase of a 60” plasma TV, as well as a surround-sound system and all of the concomitant accessories. The author discusses his train of thought and decision making process, his successes and failures and how he would do it differently, with the experience gained. He ultimately winds up with a front-projection system and has spent over twice his original estimated cost, not because it is an FP system but because he upgraded a number of components of the system. He also discusses a few equipment alternatives, both more expensive and less expensive than his choices.


Story


Originally, we had a 42” LCD Toshiba in the living room and wanted to get something larger for that area. So, we moved the 42” to the bedroom and started thinking about its replacement.


We wanted at least a 55” or 60”, maybe even a 65” or larger. I had not made any initial decision as to whether it would be an LCD, plasma or DLP. Before our first shopping trip I had the idea of at least considering a projector but I knew absolutely nothing about them. I didn't know how big of an image was possible, I didn't know how good the image quality was, and I didn't even know if they had built-in tuners or speakers. The only thing that I had actually settled on was that I wanted a “home theater” with 5.1 surround sound and the best image that I could get for a reasonable amount of money.


Initially, I was somewhat prejudiced against the DLP TVs because of their size. I would have preferred one of the very thin, new flat-panel TVs, so we looked at the LCD and plasma TVs first. We were most impressed with a 60” Panasonic 3D plasma unit. It had everything that we wanted. It was significantly larger than our 42”, it had a great picture and it had 3D capability, if we should ever want it. Yes, this looked like our next TV but I am never happy to settle so quickly, wanting to avoid buyer's remorse. So, we decided to at least give the big DLP sets a look. Wow... a 73” Mitsubishi! I had to admit that it looked good. I also had to admit that I liked it because it was BIG. I really didn't expect to be so influenced by image size alone... but I was. Later, I read many reports of the poor reliability of the Mitsubishi units so I scratched them off of my short list.


Then, we stumbled upon an Epson 8350 on a working display at the now defunct Ultimate Electronics (pity about that). They had it on a 120” screen and the image was amazing. Why get a 60” flat screen for $2000, when we could get a 120” image for $1300? I would be buying the surround system with either choice, so that was not a factor. However, I did not know if a projector would work in our small condo, having a somewhat awkward room arrangement.


My first concern was whether or not a projector would produce an acceptable image in an all white room. Light control was not an issue because this TV would be used mostly only after sundown. It turns out that it works just fine. Darker walls and ceiling would, of course, be preferable but the image that we get is still stunning and fully watchable.


My second concern was what type of screen to use. I decided to try it on the bare wall first, to find out how much space that I would have for a screen, including the boarders. Much to my surprise, the image on the bare wall was quite good, so very good, in fact, that I considered never getting a screen. The wall has a paint roller texture to it, having been painted a couple of times over the years. The color of the paint is an antique-white. The seating position is about 14' away so the texture does not show at all. The projector's color rendition was very good, right out of the box, but after tweaking it with Disney's WOW calibration disc, it was just stunning. We cannot get over how accurate and realistic the flesh tones are. And, even on this fairly heavily textured wall, the details of hair and faces is amazing.


With a somewhat asymmetrical room setup, I was worried about viewing angle and speaker placement. In this room, the screen is to the far left on the viewing wall, all the way in the corner and the left edge of the loveseat is in line with the center of the 86” image. This puts the person on the left side of the loveseat where normally the person on the right would be sitting (in relation to the screen), and the person on the right is where a person in a four-seat unit would be sitting. Since the satellite speakers are on a cabinet, directly under the projected image, if I were to place the L/R speakers at the ends, that results in putting the left speaker in the corner and offsets the array too far to the left of the seating. My compromise solution was to place them closer together, squeezing them over to the right, to better center them on the seating. This does narrow the front stage a bit, but I feel that it is more balanced.


After installing the screen, which allowed the image to be shifted to the right (partially covering a door) the seating is nearly perfectly centered on the screen. Now, the left speaker has been moved to the far left side of the screen, the center channel is placed at the center of the screen and the right channel speaker resides on a speaker stand which I move to the far right side of the screen when the screen is down. When the screen is raised, the right speaker is simply moved, along with the stand, to the side of the Chinese cabinet. It is not ideal but it is not a big deal either.


System Details


APC H15 Power conditioner, Surge suppressor, Voltage regulator


Some people consider this piece of equipment to be unnecessary but I do not. Almost everyone uses a power strip in their system, many would be inclined to use a surge suppressing power strip and some would go as far as to desire AC line filtering in the package. A device like that could easily cost $200. I went one step further and included voltage stabilization in my desires.


I found this quality unit for a very reasonable price of $230. In order to get voltage regulation included in the unit, with most other brands, I think that the lowest price was around $750. Personally, I feel that the APC H15 covers all the bases, is well made, and is huge bang for the buck. I highly recommend it. If you were going to buy a $200 power strip, consider the H15 instead. I do not think that there is anything less expensive that even comes close to the H15.


Marantz SR7005 Receiver


I started out with the idea of getting a receiver for $350 to $500 at the most. However, I am a fan of the Marantz sound, so I went looking there. The $600 Marantz was only 50 watts and while that is very adequate, I wanted more power. Being in a condo, most if not all of my listening will be at relatively low volume but I feel that a higher power unit delivers the dynamics better.


The SR6005 was a strong contender but the USB upgradability of the SR7005 sold me. I got lucky and found one at www.accessories4less for $1100, that is a $500 savings over the regular selling price. Still, there are some very good receivers for less than $500, so if you want the best bang for the buck in a receiver, look in the $350 to $500 range. Personally, I would go with Denon in that price range but Pioneer, Onkyo and Yamaha are all good choices.


Be sure to get a receiver with some type of automatic room correction. Using the supplied microphone, this type of receiver runs a program which balances the volume of all of the surround-sound channels and sets the crossover point between the satellites and subwoofer. I consider it a 'must have' feature. You can achieve the same effect manually, using a test CD and an SPL meter but the automatic system saves time and hassle.


Oppo BDP-93 Blu-Ray player


It is quite possible to get a very good Blu-Ray player for $150. I chose to go with Oppo because it was pretty much the undisputed best-of-the-best and it was only $500. Yes, that is significantly more money but it is not $1000 more... to get the best! It is a beautiful unit with a nice back-lit remote. To give you an idea of the build quality... it weighs twice as much as most BD players. I am glad that I got it. However, if you want to save some money here, look at the major brands like Panasonic, Sony, Samsung, LG, etc. in the $150 price range. I would avoid any off-brands.


Epson HC8350


I read many reviews saying that, no question about it, the 8350 was the best bang for the buck. I also needed the most placement flexibility that I could get. My 8350 is on top of my AV rack, sitting to the left side of the loveseat, yet due to the extreme lens shift available, it can center the 100” image in front of the viewing area. The 8350 probably has the best placement flexibility available. It is also a very bright projector and I thought that would be good if I ever wanted to use it during the daytime.


I wanted to go for the higher-end 8700UB because of the Ultra Blacks, power zoom and focusing, and some other nice little features, but I had never owned a projector so I hesitated to spend $2200 when I could not be sure that a projector would actually work well in my living room. Also, I didn't really know for sure if I would enjoy a projector. Well, it does work in my living room and I absolutely love the results. It turns out that this is one area where I should have spent the extra money. However, the 8350 is still a terrific value for the money. Again, I don't think that you can get anything better for less money, especially if you need placement flexibility. If you go to the $2000 range, choices open up.


Mirage Nanosat 5.1 Speakers


The Nanosats were my first purchase. At that time, I had no idea what the rest of the system was going to be but I was basically thinking in terms of a 60” plasma TV. I was intrigued by the design of these speakers and impressed with the sound for such small units. Since they were on sale for $480, I snapped them up. They sounded good, they were reasonably priced, they were small and would fit wonderfully into the living room... and they were omni-polar. I particularly liked the omni-polar aspect because I felt that this would yield the most seamless sound-field possible and that turns out to be true.


The Nanosats are pretty good but since I went with a projector, I think that something a little larger would be a better fit. I am going to live with the Nanosats for a while but may ultimately move them to the bedroom and get or build something larger for the living room. By the way, I auditioned both the Nanosat 5.1's and the more expensive, next model up, the MX 5.1's. The MX's are smaller, and to me, do not sound as good as the Nanosats. However, their small size may be a great advantage in some setups.


Currently, I think that for an image of 100” or greater, the size of the mid/woofer drivers should probably be at least 6.5” though I have rarely felt that the Nanosats were not sufficient.


If I were looking to replace the Nanosats with another commercial product, I would look seriously at something like the SVS M-Series (around $2800 plus subwoofer) or the Dali Ikon MK2 system (I think, around $4000 including subwoofer).


SVS – http://www.svsound.com/products-spks-mts02.cfm


Dali – http://dali-speakers.com/display_content.php/INT/Loudspeakers.html/322/2613


I could really talk about speakers all day long, there is so much to say. If you are an apartment or condo dweller, the Nanosats may be all that you would ever need but if you like the volume loud, then there is probably not any small satellite system that would work for you.


Based on reviews, if I went for a more expensive satellite system, I would probably go for the Definitive Technology Pro Cinema 800 system. The 800's run around $1200 and are reputed to have excellent bass and handle both music and video equally well.


Sanus CFA56 Component rack


Initially, I considered a furniture type rack made by Bush but when I looked at the dimensions of the interior space, I realized that it would be cramped. I would have had to cut out some of the back panel in order to accommodate my receiver. I needed one of the newer style racks that were designed for the larger surround-sound receivers. I needed a specialized rack that was big enough and strong enough to hold my components and also provide access for equipment and cable changes.


I considered and open style rack, specifically, the Lovan Legacy. It was a very attractive unit and being open, makes changes very easy. However, my significant other, does not like the look of an open rack so I had to stick with an enclosed unit. I found the CFA56 locally. This unit comes in a flat pack but the quality is very high. The rack weighs 150 pounds... no kidding. Not cheap at $800 but I am very pleased with this purchase and I cannot imagine buying anything lesser. If you want something even better, look at the Salamander Synergy for nearly double the price. The Salamander can be “customized” with your choice of appointments such as casters and thermostatically controlled fans. Of course there are many $300 options out there as well. I spent more than I wanted to but sometimes, this just has to be done.


Cardas 1.4 HDMI cables


The Cardas HDMI cables were one of my most difficult of decisions. I am fully aware of the arguments against spending a lot of money on HDMI cable. My conscience simply would not bear putting a generic cable on my system. I looked at $30 cables, $50 cables, $70 cables and higher. In my mind, I had an absolute limit of $100 per cable, which I still felt was too expensive compared with the overall cost of my system but the bottom line was that I just could not tolerate a weak link at this point.


Cardas makes some of the finest cables available. I decided that I would be willing to spend $106 per cable, knowing that that is a lot of money for a cable but at the same time, being satisfied that I am getting a well constructed cable that will never be a weak link in any system. It was kind of like an insurance policy. I know... I know... I know... You can save lots of money here by using generic cables. Sometimes, with me, common sense does not prevail.


Monster XP NW speaker wire


Oh, I know how people love to hate Monster products but I have used Monster XP NW speaker wire for many years. The first time that I put this wire in my budget audiophile system, I clearly heard an improvement over the lamp wire that so many people think is perfectly adequate. I use the XP for other reasons too. It is flexible and lays flat, it is off-white and matches my baseboards and it is paint-able if I want to paint it. If it is bought in bulk, on 100' spools, the cost is around fifty-cents per foot. I would not pay a dollar per foot for it. It is also a bit of a pain to strip the ends because there is a clear jacket under the white one. After removing the white outer jacket, then you must carefully cut around the bundle of wires to pull off the clear inner jacket. If I had to work with this every day, it would be a problem but that is not the case. I think Monster XP is a good value and I would never use zip-cord again.


Acoustic Research MS253 subwoofer cable


Everyone agrees that the subwoofer cable is the least demanding of all cables. When I searched Amazon for an inexpensive subwoofer cable, the MS254 popped up as one of the choices. The MSRP is $80 but I found it for much less. I was very impressed with the locking connectors and it was offered for a very attractive price. I do not need the Y-connector that comes with it, but it may come in handy some day.


Disney WOW calibration disc


I debated whether I should spend money to get a calibration disc. Silly me. This is a 'must have' item. While I initially thought that because it was a Disney product, perhaps it was not a serious tool, but I was completely and utterly wrong. I thought that I had a good eye but this disc made a huge improvement in both my LCD TV and my Epson 8350 (in Living Room mode). This disc includes a section for audio testing, which is also valuable. It identifies if your speakers are hooked up correctly and helps to evaluate the audio performance of your system.


The second disc in the set is a collection of HD scenes with musical background. The scenes include a waterfall, a fireplace, an ocean wave and other nature scenes which could be used for relaxation or to demonstrate your system to someone who did not have time to stay and watch a movie. For under $30, I think everyone should have this disc set.


Elite CineTension2 Screen


Initially, we were quite happily projecting directly onto a bare, off-white, roller-painted wall. The results were amazing. At around 14 feet viewing distance, the roller texture did not show at all. Since the colors were calibrated right on the wall, the image looked great. However, we were limited to an 86” diagonal image on that wall because a door intruded on the right side. I really wanted to go to a 100” diagonal and if I used a screen, it would cover half of the door but it would give a 100” image. Obviously, the screen had to roll up, out of the way when we were not watching movies, so I got a motorized electric screen. I knew that the brighter white of the screen and the finer texture should also improve the image. However, I think that increasing the image size from 86” to 100”, any increase in brightness and sharpness that the screen provided was given up. That is not a bad thing however because I now have a larger image without giving up the previous brightness and sharpness that I had.


The bottom line here is that a screen can improve the performance of your system and the more expensive that your system is, the more you will likely spend on your screen. However, a screen is not a total necessity and you might do quite well without one. There is also the option of building one yourself, which can easily be done for under $200, depending on the method that you use.



Seating


Being a Living Room HT, we needed something that would function well as theater seating but also look like living room furniture. We got two power-reclining, leather loveseats. They look great in the living room and work well for the theater too. We got lucky when we found them on sale at Macy's at $3000 for the pair.


Additional Notes


The Sanus rack required around two to three hours to assemble. I had been warned that it was a bit of a challenge to assemble but I had confidence that I could do it. There was one point in the assembly of the frame that was very frustrating and would have been absolutely exhausting, if not impossible, if I had not had a helper. Other than that, it was relatively simple and easy. Once you have assembled one of these, the second one would probably take less than an hour.


The approximate cost of this system was around $5500 or $8500 with seating. That is with a $500 savings on the refurbished receiver. I am pretty happy with this system but as with everything else, if I had it to do over again, there would be some changes.


I have learned that the best setting on the Epson 8350 is the “x.v. color” mode. This mode does not allow calibration. It is what it is... and it is good, but that is only for use in a fully darkened room. I did calibrate the Living Room mode in case I ever want to watch anything when the Sun is up but so far, I have not used it.



What I would do differently...


I am very happy that I decided to go with a front projection system. As everyone who has ever been to a movie theater knows, a big image makes a big difference in the movie experience. Why not have that experience with every movie or special event that you watch at home? However, since this was my first home theater and I did not have the proper experience to make all of the correct choices, there are a couple of things that I would do differently. Armed with the knowledge gained from this experience, here is what I would change.


Now that I know a projector works just fine in my living room... and now that I know what a fantastic picture is possible... and how enjoyable it is to watch... I would not hesitate to spend the extra money and go for the Epson 8700UB. I would appreciate the extra performance, the extra features and the extra bulb. I do not have any great remorse about going with the 8350, it is a fine projector, but I would definitely go for the 8700 next time.


Second, I would consider larger speakers. I think that the speakers should be in scale with whatever size screen one is using. It would be best to err on the large side. I would not want to use tiny speakers with a large screen but large speakers with a small screen would not be so bad. I actually bought the Mirage Nanosats with a 60” flat screen in mind and I think that they are perfect for anything up to that size. They have not been disappointing but I think with a front projector, speakers with a 6.5” driver would be a better match.


If you go with a front projection system, it is a good idea to have a second, non-projection TV, to watch the news and other programming that is not immersive. I certainly do not want to fire up the projector to watch the weather report or DIY Channel. Our projector is used in the evenings, after dinner, to enjoy a movie or other special program.


The Future of my HT


There are two things that I am considering, painting the walls a little darker and getting a universal remote. There is nothing like experience to show you the way. Yes, I get a very nice picture with my current setup but looking around the room when it is on, it is easy to see how much light is bouncing around, washing out the last 10% of the detail. Since this is my living room, I cannot paint it black but I am considering a shade of gray that blends with the current décor and would be one or two clicks darker than the current antique-white. I plan on painting all of the walls and the ceiling in the same color. It will not work as well as black but I think that it will bring out a few more percent of detail, while not looking harsh nor out of place.


I have no experience with universal remotes but I have heard many people rave about them, so this is on my list of “might haves”. I have been looking at the Harmony 650 for ~$80.


I may move the Nanosats to the bedroom and pair a larger speaker system with the projector, on the other hand, they may stay right where they are.



My Recommendation for a “Best-Bang-for-the-Buck” Front Projection System


Denon 1911 $ 500


Mirage Nanosats $ 500


Epson 8350 $1200


BD player $ 150


DIY Screen $ 200 (or less... zero if you can use your wall)

----------------------------------

Total $2550



If you want to buy a screen, you should be able to get a 100” fixed screen, e.g. the Elite ezFrame for $400 or less, keeping your total system price under $3000.


Parting Comments


I keep going back and editing this but at some point I must stop. I think that I have made my ideas clear enough and besides, your home theater will be unique... you will have to think things through for yourself, and you will ultimately have to make some mistakes of your own.


I hope this information has helped you in your effort to assemble your own home theater or at least entertained you for a while.


If you want to see some pics of my setup, go to... http://s282.photobucket.com/albums/kk243/NickWizard/
 

winniw

Second Unit
Joined
Dec 19, 2010
Messages
287
Real Name
Nick Reed
Sorry to present such a challenge... don't worry Jim, you already know all this stuff anyway. It's really for people who are just getting their feet wet but perhaps they will not have the energy to wade through it either. I guess I just wasted my time on this.
 

Jason Charlton

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Senior HTF Member
Joined
May 16, 2002
Messages
3,557
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Baltimore, MD
Real Name
Jason Charlton
Nick,


You didn't waste your time. I'm sure folks will get some good use out of this information.


I found the most useful stuff came at the end - topics such as "What I would do differently", specific suggestions for good "Bang for the buck" equipment, and your "Future plans" - the latter as a good example of no matter how much time and effort you put into such a project, it's really never "finished". Hobbyists will always find something else to add.


Sounds like you've had a great journey - congrats on what must be an incredible sense of accomplishment. It took me many years to realize my dream of a dedicated basement front projection setup. Yes, there are still a few tweaks I'd like to make to mine and will get to someday.


Thanks for sharing your story. I know many folks in HTF have similar stories to tell, but haven't dedicated the time to share. Yet.


Cheers!
 

winniw

Second Unit
Joined
Dec 19, 2010
Messages
287
Real Name
Nick Reed
Thank you Jason. You are an extremely valuable member of HTF for the great help you give to others. I have always adimired and appreciated your thoughtful and helpful guidance.


Yes, I am happy to have my HT completed in the relatively short time of six months. It has all been fun of course... from the researching, to the buying and assembling of all the components... and ultimately, the enjoyment of the completed project.

HTF made all of this possible... a great bunch of people!


Nick
 

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