My Panasonic PT-AE300U Home Theater
The MINIMAX Home Theater

By Joe Tourigny

Having a home theater has always been a dream of mine, but while living in an apartment, it often felt like nothing more than that. However, the dream became reality as soon as my wife and I got the opportunity to build our own custom-built home. The research and planning began as I designed the house plans to incorporate room for a future dedicated home theater in the basement. This required special considerations for room size, ceiling height, structural post and beam placement, window locations, HVAC (heating and ventilation), localized wiring to the A/V (audio/video) components rack, and noise control in the theater room (high STC ratings).

Construction of the "MINIMAX" home theater began a couple of months after we moved into our new home. A nine-foot basement ceiling enabled a raised rear platform for the second row theater seating as well as a lowered ceiling soffit that surrounds the 13 by 19 foot room. The entire project took me approximately two years of research/planning, and about six months to build. During mostly evenings and weekends, I completed construction almost entirely on my own. This included everything from design, framing, HVAC, insulation, electrical, drywall, paint, carpet, custom acoustic panels, system installation, setup, and calibration. Overall, I think things went rather smoothly.

Some of the room features include a lowered ceiling soffit surrounding the theater that houses 120 volt rope lighting, which emits a greenish blue halo on the ceiling that resembles the "Northern Lights". The light is completely unobtrusive to the image on screen, which allows it to remain on during viewing. Unfortunately, this effect is too difficult to show in a photograph. The underside of the soffit houses 4" recessed lighting with wall-washer trim, which accent the custom-built acoustic panels on the walls. The center of the ceiling contains larger 6" recessed lighting for main theater lighting. There are also 7-watt step lights recessed into the risers of each of the rear platform steps. Mounted on the wall near the door is a Lutron Grafik eye lighting control module. It utilizes four separate lighting zones with four preset scenes and IR (infrared) remote dimming to control all lighting in the room with the exception of the step lights. These are turned on and off by a switch next to the lighting module.

Several decorative columns around the room conceal the HVAC supply and return air ducts, the Infinity surround speakers, and the custom corner bass traps. Ceiling mounted above the first row of theater seating is the Panasonic PT-AE300 LCD projector. In this location, the projector is approximately 1.5 times the screen width and there is no screen door effect or visible pixel structure.

All remaining electronic components reside in a custom-built adjustable wooden A/V rack recessed into the rear wall of the theater. Custom front panels provide a clean professional look to the front of the rack. The rear of the rack is accessible from a separate closet outside of the theater where all wiring and interconnect cables are terminated.

The A/V components consist of a Harman Kardon AVR, Technics CD changer, Denon DVD player, JVC VCR, Bell ExpressVu Satellite Receiver, Sony PS2, and XBOX game consoles. A temporary storage compartment for video games and accessories occupies the remaining empty bays (for future upgrades) in the rack. A custom shelving unit will be mounted on the rear wall, opposite the rack, to provide storage for our DVD, VHS and CD collections. It will also help to diffuse some of the sound waves in the room. However, I have just not found enough time to finish it yet.

The screen-wall at the front of the theater conceals the two Infinity front tower speakers, center channel and amplified subwoofer. Recessed into the screen-wall and surrounded by a black velvet border is the fixed 100" diagonal Da-Lite HCCV 16:9 front projection screen.

Last, but definitely not least, all infrared A/V components, and lighting are controlled by a custom programmed Philips Pronto LCD touch-screen remote control and RF (radio frequency) module. The RF module allows control of all devices from any location throughout the room or the entire house (whole house audio).

One of the largest expenses for this project resulted from the electronic components, although we did purchase them over a span of about 3 years. As a rough estimate, the project total cost was $17,500CAD (not including many late nights and countless hours of labour). The sound system (including AVR) cost approximately $4500CAD, projector and screen about $4500CAD, other A/V components (including interconnect cables) around $2000CAD, theater seating (8 purchased used) about $1,500CAD, and room construction (including lighting) around $5000CAD.

Ever since the completion of our home theater, long gone are the days of fighting the crowds and paying for overpriced snacks at the multiplex theaters. Now the BIG PICTURE and BIG SOUND at the MINIMAX provide endless hours of quality entertainment (movies, sports, satellite programming, music and video gamming) right in the comfort of our own home - no babysitters required! Although, keep in mind that there is always room for upgrades. For now, priority is on finishing the remainder of the basement (back to the drawing board).

In summary, I think that it is fair to say that so far this project is a big success for me. I am very proud of how everything has turned out and I look forward to enjoying this room for many years to come. Special thanks to my wife for being so tolerant and supportive of my "Dream" and to for providing some inspiration and an abundance of valuable information throughout this project.

To be continued…