Some home theater enthusiasts dream of kitting out their pad with 50-inch plasma HDTVs and surround sound audio in every room. Others refuse to settle, instead shooting for the moon with the type of custom cinemas guaranteed to shame the local Cineplex and make the neighbors’ jaws drop. From over-the-top entertainment centers to house-sized residential theaters, here’s a look at five incredible home cinemas that’ll give any audio- or videophile something to dream about:
The Ultimate Entertainment Complex
There are dedicated theaters in which homeowners painstakingly craft rooms that will optimize audio and video, and then there are bona fide entertainment complexes, where entire levels of the home are dedicated to the pursuit of the more entertaining things in life. For example: Playing pool, watching movies, drinking wine, and having a grand time doing it.
Frankentek Residential Systems, Inc., of Medford, NJ, knows a thing or two about installing such entertainment meccas. In fact, this particular complex is an integral part of the home, not a theater relegated to the basement. Outside the theater, a ticket booth complete with life-sized mannequin ticket-taker and a pool table usher guests into the 15 x 35-foot theater space.
According to Edward Wickham, CIO of Frankentek, every dedicated theater customer prefers to have 100% of the electronics hidden from direct view. “With their first step into the room, they want to be transported from everyday life to somewhere special. From the slow raising of the lights to the motorized opening of the curtain, built-in speakers behind acoustically transparent fabric and totally enclosed projector, everything is out of sight except for a huge screen that catapults the viewer away from reality for a few hours,” he says.
And although you can’t see it, all the gear in the room is ultra high-end, including a Runco projector, Stewart Filmscreen, CAT amplifiers and speakers, and an AMX control system. Acoustic treatments run rampant, residing behind all surfaces “to enhance the clarity of every sound from every speaker,” says Wickham.
If you’re considering building a room like this in your own home, Wickham recommends using an A/V professional from the get-go to engineer the room layout, wiring, sound insulation, and HVAC systems.
Frankentek Residential Systems, Inc.
A Kaleidoscope of Colors
Building a home theater from scratch and retrofitting an existing room are quite different endeavors. Having the luxury of building a room from scratch allows homeowners to optimize room dimensions and layout. With a retrofit, on the other hand, you have to work around existing structures and room anomalies.
Witness this gorgeous 15 x 25-foot basement theater by Starr Systems. “The room as it existed originally was as much as two inches out of square in several locations. The ceiling was full of plumbing, ductwork, and cabling that had to be moved to accommodate the decorative ceiling design, and the door in what was to become the front of the theater was in the center of the wall and had to be moved,” says Sean Weiner, president of Starr Systems Design in Baltimore, MD. Hanging the projector also proved to be a challenge: Installing it in the center of the ceiling was not an option, so Starr Systems chose a Runco CineWide projector with a long-throw lens so that it could be mounted in a custom enclosure in an adjacent room.
Components from Rotel and B&W speakers provide spectacular audio, and the whole system is controlled by an RTI universal remote, which also handles the Lutron GrafikEye lighting and the custom ColorKinetics LED lighting system. The latter changes color based on the homeowners’ moods, giving this theater a truly unique look. “It offers virtually an infinite number of colors, and preset colors are selectable with the remote control,” says Weiner. “In order to keep the room from feeling too small, we used backlit suspended ceiling panels to give the illusion of additional height.”
The project was a departure from Starr Systems’ normal protocol because the homeowners hired the company to handle the project from start to finish, including room design, material selection, demolition, construction, general contracting, electrical, and the audio, video, and control systems. “This was very different from our typical process in which we interface with several different contractors,” says Weiner. Seven months and $150,000 later, the homeowners have a home theater they use every day, whether it is for movie nights, parties, sporting events, or just watching TV.
Wood is a notoriously bad surface to use when constructing a home theater. It causes audio to bounce around the room, wreaking havoc on surround sound. So imagine the acoustic anomalies presented in this room, which is literally covered in wood. Mark DiPietro, president of Custom Home Integrations in Mooresville, NC, tamed the reflections caused by all the wood by extensively acoustically treating the room. He started by adding treatments beneath the wood paneling on the ceiling to prevent sound from escaping the room. The carpeting also helps to absorb errant sound reflections.
The wood design of the theater echoes the style of the rest of the home, which has absolutely no paintable surfaces. “The couple are outdoorsy types, and wanted to bring the outdoors in,” says DiPietro. “There is sort of western feel to the entire home.”
The gear is largely hidden, from the Sonance in-wall speakers to the motorized Da-Lite screen. One touch of the Crestron controller, and the screen drops down, allowing the room to be used for other purposes than just home theater. While the system rocks from an A/V standpoint, DiPietro is most proud of the fit and finish, along with consistency of operation. “The clients have not had problem one with it and use it all the time, which makes for great referrals!” DiPietro laughs.
Custom Home Integrations
An Audio/Video Behemoth
Some people have houses as big as this theater, which is a sprawling 2,600 square feet and measures 28 by 40 feet with 12-foot ceilings. “”I believe the homeowner envisioned that allocating a large amount of space for this theater would pay dividends in regard to the use his family would get from it,” says Bob Gullo, president of Electronics Design Group, Inc, in Piscataway, NJ. It’s no surprise then, that the theater also cost as much to build as some people spend on their entire abode and took 548 hours to build.
The homeowner wanted perfect sight lines to the screen, which is a real challenge when you have 21 seats in the theater requiring unobstructed views. Collaboration with the other trades involved was key, and proved to be one of the most important aspects in pulling this gigantic theater off without a hitch. “This room is an unusually large residential theater, so there were many space planning issues that needed to be worked out during the build-out of the space, and the end result came out as planned,” says Gullo. Surprisingly, the homeowner did all interior design work himself, including the lobby which features a large candy counter and popcorn machine.
Electronics Design Group
While dedicated theaters usually have hidden gear, there is still no doubt they are home theaters, thanks to theater seating and the obvious placement of fixed screens. That is why a media room that has all the performance of a full-fledged theater is a real gem—especially in homes where space is limited. “This homeowner didn’t want to have to go into the basement when he wanted to watch a movie, yet he didn’t want to disturb his family while using his A/V system, either,” says Steven Stogrin of Theory A/V in Ontario, Canada.
It’s location on the main floor of the home meant the system had to be completely hidden when not in use. The home is also in a heritage district, which is one of the reasons that Stogrin and the homeowners wanted the theater system to be stealthy and for the room to appear as an elegant sitting room on first blush. To that end, two custom paintings hide speakers and the screen, while still allowing the sound to come through. When the homeowners want to watch a movie, the big print rolls up and a screen is revealed. All the equipment is hidden off a hallway, and a NEVO remote controls it using RF technology. Four corner subs, hidden in the walls, provide thunderous bass.
To deal with the greatest obstacle of the open doorway, a motorized acoustic curtain, with sufficient weight and density, was installed. At the push of a button, the curtain lowers in place and completely closes off the media room, keeping sound inside and away from nearby bedrooms.