by Gerry Hofmann
My wife and I (well mostly me) have wanted a home theatre for a number of years. The visual effect of a 26 inch TV just didn't cut the mustard when watching sporting events or DVD movies with brilliant window-shaking sound effects from our 5:1 sound system. Despite having borrowed a number of different projectors for overnight trials and gerry-rigging (sorry) an old slide screen to the wall with a G-clamp, we finally decided that our house was just not suited to a home theatre. The dimensions of our rooms were wrong, there was too much ambient light and it would simply have destroyed the house in either having a dedicated home theatre room or compromising with a dual use room.
So we sold the house and bought an apartment where one of the buying criteria was suitability for installing a home theatre. Now there's a sign of a committed enthusiast.
The apartment that we finally purchased had a large rectangular lounge room, 5 m x 5.2 m, where one of the short walls was floor to ceiling windows with patio doors. The layout for viewing across the shorter dimension was acceptable, but we had to install full height and full width blockout curtains in order to produce cinema quality darkness. I designed the layout before we purchased in order to ensure that everything would fit.
The next decision I made was our viewing philosophy. Always conscious of the need to comply with the WAF (Wife Approval Factor) and after much research, we decided that we would have a conventional TV for our regular viewing and a large screen with front projection for special events, DVD's and movies. We were also conscious that the room would be primarily a lounge room and would need to be able to also function as the home theatre. Therefore, as much of the home theatre "fruit" as possible was to be hidden when not in use. With the main viewing wall being a brick party wall, the rear wall backing on to the kitchen and the ceiling a concrete slab, this requirement became somewhat of a challenge.
We were happy for the TV unit to be on constant display, as well as the front and rear speakers and the subwoofer. All the hi-fi components would be neatly housed in our existing hi-fi cabinet that we brought with us from our house. So how would we accommodate the screen and what size should it be? The room length is over 5 metres, so I felt we could go as large as 100 inch. We also opted for a 16:9 format.
So we borrowed a projector for a night from our friendly dealer, mounted it on a temporary stand on the opposite wall and displayed a 100 inch image on the wall and sat back. It was great. But so was 110 inch and so was 95 inch as well as 92 inch. We finally decided that 95 inch was a good compromise, bearing in mind that the bottom of the screen would already be about a metre above floor level in order to clear the top of the TV. In the end we purchased a 96 inch model that was on special, being marketed by a national dealer throughout Australia.
We decided on a fixed screen because I felt it would provide a better picture, be cheaper and avoid the hassles of motorised controls and bulkheads, which would have further eaten into our budget. I also didn't want to modify the room too much by having to build false bulkheads or other such devices to house a pull-down screen. So we settled on a fixed screen with the option of covering it somehow when not in use (see later).
The TV is a 32 inch plasma set with inbuilt tuner and speakers. At only 133 mm deep and 622 mm high, its geometry was most conducive to meet our requirements. The picture is also superb, especially watching HDTV. We also "stole" some further height by removing the legs from the wide entertainment unit supporting the TV set.
Now to the projector. The most natural position for the projector would have been to mount it on the ceiling, close to the wall opposite the screen. However, there were 2 impediments here: firstly, there was an air conditioning vent coming through the wall at this point (meaning the projector would have to be mounted further from the wall than desirable, with a longer exposed cable run "in the air"), and secondly, we didn't like the idea of a permanently exposed projector. This was primarily our living room and we didn't want it to look like a technical museum.
Choice two was to mount the projector inside/under a coffee table, but that would have meant a most unfavourable vertical projector tilt with corresponding large keystone correction (also undesirable) as well as wiring access problems, since we have carpet on a concrete floor.
The end solution was to design and build a dedicated cabinet that was mounted against the rear wall and which would house the projector. The design of the cabinet was rather complex, in that I wanted it to blend with other furniture in the room and also completely conceal the projector when not in use. I was conscious that adequate ventilation was required for the projector, so my first thought was an electric elevator inside the cabinet. I quickly abandoned this approach when I discovered the cost of such a contraption. So finally, I ended up designing a cabinet with a tilt-up lid that completely exposes the projector on 3 sides when in use, but fully conceals it when not in use (see photos). The lid looks like a drawer front when shut and I had to carefully design the location of the hinge to ensure that the lid would remain open by itself when tilted back against the wall (including wall protection buffers).
The rear speakers had been mounted high on the rear wall in our house. However, we did not want them to be located in this position here because the black speakers would have dominated the rear white wall of the lounge room. Therefore, I designed some steel speaker stands (to be bottom heavy) and had them built for the cost of a carton of beer. After spray-painting them black (to match the speaker boxes), I attached the speakers with self-adhesive Velcro tape. The stands are made out of hollow steel pipes and the speaker wires run up the centres of the pipes. All very neat (see photos).
Cabling : All the cabling was run from the front wall hi-fi cabinet components to the rear speakers and projector in concealed ducting. This 25 mm square PVC ducting can be either glued (double sided tape) or screwed to the walls and once loaded with all the cables, a PVC lid simply snaps into place. Very tidy. The ducting runs above the skirting board behind the TV entertainment unit, up the wall behind the curtains and across the room behind the curtain pelmet. From there, the cables pass into the false ceiling in the adjacent kitchen, before emerging down the wall behind the refrigerator and into the kitchen cupboards. From there, they emerge at the appropriate positions through the wall, neatly terminating with RCA wall plate sockets (for the rear speakers). The cables to the projector emerge into the projector cabinet and terminate directly onto the projector's rear panel.
Cables to the projector include three component video leads, an S-video lead and a composite video lead. There is also a computer connection, with the computer end of the lead rolled up inside the cabinet, allowing it to be unrolled and attached to my laptop when required.
Due to the age of my hi-fi equipment, I didn't have component video on the receiver/amp. Ideally, all cabling from the various input units should run to the receiver/amp which then directs the outputs according to the front panel switch positions. However, both my new set top box and my DVD player did have component outputs, which I wanted to exploit, since component video provides the best quality picture. To avoid running two sets of component video leads to the projector, the outputs from these run into a switching box with one outlet that runs to the projector. The switching box was an experiment, using a cheap TV video game selector designed for audio and composite video. However, due to its internal hard-wiring connections for 3 RCA terminals, it worked perfectly for the 3 component video cables. The laser disc player outputs via S-video and the VCR via component video. I have left enough length of cable wound up behind the entertainment unit to reach to the amp/receiver if ever I decide (= code for "can afford") to upgrade to a new amp with component video capacity in the future.
Versatility: Due to the fact that I wanted the versatility to display various sources through either the TV or the projector with audio combinations either through the TV or the surround sound system, the wiring and switching sequences have become quite complex. I therefore had to write down instructions on how to use each source and combination and after a few false starts caused by incorrect connections, everything worked perfectly. I also prepared an audio wiring diagram and a video wiring diagram to clearly show the wiring logics. The pictures and sounds are fabulous and have met all our expectations. We had to make a black fabric "sock" to fit over the TV to hide the reflection of the projector beam on the TV's front face. This works very well.
The Screenplay 5700 is a fabulous projector and despite being mounted very close to our seating positions, the fan noise is of no consequence. We use it in its pre-calibrated mode with very little adjustment necessary to suit our conditions. Despite being mounted fairly low with respect to the screen, I still had to put a couple of pieces of thin plywood packers under the rear feet in order to centralise the image on the screen vertically.
Covering the screen : My vision was for some sort of artwork to cover the screen when not in use. Options included a pull-down cover or some sort of hinged panels. I finally designed a system of bi-fold doors that would be attached to the two sides of the screen with 2 panels each side. When shut, 4 panels would hide the screen and when open, 1 panel would "frame" the screen each side.
The panels would be lightweight timber frames over which would be stretched an artist's canvas. When laid side by side, we would get some artwork painted onto them to create the effect. The centre 2 panels would remain visible when the panels were opened.
Well, that was the vision, but converting this to reality took quite an effort. As these art panels are essentially bi-fold doors without guide rails, the construction of the panels took on quite a complex task. I initially built 3 of the frames and then took them to the artist for him to stretch the canvas on them. I then mounted them (the hinges had removable pins) and measured the gap for the 4th panel, leaving the required space for the gap on each side and the canvas. By this stage, I was down to measuring to the nearest half millimetre. I then built and had the 4th frame covered with canvas before finalising the fit of all 4 panels. I then needed a system of catches that would hold the panels closed so that they would not hang out from the screen. I trawled the local hardware shops for a suitable catch mechanism that was simple and slim so as to not be intrusive. After exhausting all ideas, including magnetic catches, velcro strips and jewel case latches, I finally designed a simple yet effective catch/latch using a pivoting piece of flat aluminum, shaped to latch over a projecting screw drilled into the base of the theatre screen. After building a prototype and some trial and error modifications, the latch was finally perfected. When shutting a panel, the latch snaps shut with the aid of a rubber band. Opening is simply a matter of reaching underneath and pulling the latch back off the screw. Very simple and neat. Each panel has one latch on the bottom. (see photo)
The slimline latch system to hold the art panels shut over the screen
Once I was satisfied with the panels, I commissioned the chosen artist to paint a modern abstract painting, picking the main colours from particular decorating features in the room. In our case, these included strong oranges, scarlets, aubergine and fawn, with touches of aqua to match the glass table tops.
The art panels under construction
The finished product open and closed
The end result exceeded all our expectations and has created a dramatic feature wall for our lounge room. While watching normal TV, we admire the painting during the ads. When open, the two edge panels provide a feature frame to the large screen.
Automation & Control: The finishing touches included a programmable, touchscreen universal learning remote control that could not only control all the audio and video components, but also the lights and other electrical components in the room. I chose a universal remote that could control up to 16 devices and could be programmed and customised using my computer, including macros for multiple commands from the one button. We also have an infrared repeater mounted in the entertainment unit under the TV so that we don't always have to point the remote at the equipment cabinet.
I also bought a number of X-10 power and light modules for room controls. X-10 is a relatively inexpensive method of retrofitting wireless home automation, using the existing house wiring to send signals to various modules around the house. Whilst we can now dim the room lights from our armchairs, we didn't quite go the full hog with powered curtains due to the extremely high cost of such a "toy". Anyway, we always have the opportunity of retrofitting after we win Lotto.
Projector : In Focus Screenplay 5700
Screen : Screen Technics Cinema-Snap 96 inch (16:9)
Television set : Sony KE32TS2E Fully Integrated Plasma
Amp/receiver : Denon AVR-3200
Set Top Box : DGTEC DG-5000i High Definition
DVD player : Denon DVD-1500
Laserdisc Player : Denon LA-2300
VCR : Sony SLV-X822AS
Front speakers : MB Quart QL802S
Centre speakers : MB Quart QL30C
Rear speakers : MB Quart QL20C
Sub-Woofer : Mirage BPS 150i
Remote infra-red transmitter: Xantech 291-10
Universal remote : Holdan URC1600
Lighting & power control system : X-10
Painting : "Creazione" by Robert Forlani