Guide to Home Theater

Remodeled Excellence

Guide to Home Theater

February, 1999

Contemporary, clean, and full of light, art, and laughter, the Vancouver residence of an international businessman had it all – except for a home theater. So after six years of living in his home, the owner decided it was time to add a dedicated home theater for his family’s enjoyment. The Daniel Evan White architecturally designed home is a remarkable study in glass, concrete and sandstone floors. “The dedicated theater was installed in an unused downstairs bedroom space I had done years earlier,” comments architect Daniel Even White. “When the homeowner and his wife first commissioned me to design their home, it was prior to their growing family. Well, nine years later, there are a couple of great children, and the need for a home theater grew from the need to enjoy family time together.” White is renowned for his architectural brilliance, but he is also an unassuming man who readily admits that aside from some “mild re-shaping” of the main home-theater space, full credit should go to La Scala Audio/ Video Interiors Ltd. in Vancouver. Aaron Miller, La Scala’s president and technical director, and Mark Blackwood, vice president of sales and marketing, are particularly proud of the home-theater systems they’ve designed and installed for this homeowner and his busy family. “We had originally done a modest system for a friend of the homeowner. It was a nice system, but not too exciting,” Blackwood recalls. “Now, the homeowner wanted his own high-end home theater. We did a demo for him, and he ended up buying the same system as we have in our showroom home theater: a Vidikron Vision One, Famudja quadrupler, Proceed electronics, and a full M&K speaker system. “He was familiar with most of the components. The homeowner is a very astute businessman; he follows the latest and greatest in the world of consumer electronics, and he came into our showroom with a list of equipment he wanted. Most of the components on his list are popular in the Far East, but after listening to Proceed surround decoding and power with a full M&K speaker system, we persuaded him that this was the best system to meet his particular needs.”

Interior design: Robert M. Ledingham Inc. ~ Project Designer: Garret Cord Werner

Brass tacks

The complexities of today’s high-end home-theater systems make it especially important to hire a highly experienced installation/design professional. Proper installation and calibration of the system is all-important,” Miller says. “We always use a real-time audio analyzer for sound-system calibration and a Phillips color analyzer for the projector calibration.” An AMX Axcent 2 controller uses a color active-matrix LCD touch screen and operates every aspect of the theater with an easily navigated menu. “It must be easy for the entire family to operate when someone wants to fire up Air Force One or any of the other action hits they crave,” comments Blackwood. The AMX touch screen controls a very impressive home theater. A Vidikron Vision One projector is mounted on the 94-inch-high ceiling, and it’s paired with a Famudja VP400A line quadrupler, making the system fully compatible with all future HDTV formats. The Vision One fires onto a Stewart Studio Tek 130 micro perforated screen from a distance of 13 feet, 6 inches. Providing THX-certified surround sound is a full M&K speaker system. Arrayed in cabinetry across the front of the theater are three S-5000 speakers, their facing edges 51 inches apart. A pair of SS-500 THX surround speakers were positioned level with the second tier of seating, 5 feet from the floor, and they provide exceptional detail. An MX-5000 II THX powered subwoofer has a 400W internal amplifier that provides plenty of dynamic range and headroom with very high output levels. Powering the five full-range speakers is a Proceed AMP 5 multichannel amplifier. “The Proceed AMP 5 is the most powerful amp on the market,” Miller says. “It’s the only multichannel power amp that can double down from 125W into 8oms to 250W into 4oms driving all five channels.”

From bedroom to dedicated theater

In addition to installing the equipment, La Scala was also responsible for specifying the equipment, which remains hidden in the dedicated secondary theatre in the master sitting room. Garret Cord Werner specified all materials, finishes, art and furnishings. In the main theatre only, La Scala was responsible for specifying the equipment and all materials including paint color. Plush, commercial-grade, Scotch-guarded red velour,” says Irwin’s home-theater manager, Rosemary Pefhany. “Like the other soft surfaces in the room, such as the ultra thick carpeting, they aid in room acoustics.” An acoustical fabric from Guilford of Maine runs along the screen wall and both sidewalls. La Scala specified the fabric and its claret color as well as the absorptive material behind it: Fiberglas boards 1 inch thick along the screen wall and half an inch thick on the two sidewalls. The sidewall Fiberglas extends five feet into the room from the front wall. According to Miller, “This front- and side-wall absorption helps break up the mom modes and reduces unwanted acoustical reflections. A heavy dual-backed blackout drape covers the 6-foot-wide by 7-foot-high sliding glass door on the room’s right wall.” The distance from the screen to the first row of seats is 12 feet, 3 inches; from the screen to the second row is 16 feet, 5 inches. The first row of three seats is installed on a small riser about half an inch off the floor. The second riser, with the remaining four seats, is 10 inches off the floor, and the seats are positioned off-axis from each other to avoid obstructing sightlines. The risers, which are built of 2x10s and plywood, are bolted down with special concrete bolts. (The house is constructed mainly of concrete.) Because the system can generate excessive amounts of heat, a dedicated air-conditioning unit was placed in a separate room built in a remote area of the house. “The air-conditioning unit is specifically for the theater and has its own ventilation and return system,” comments Blackwood. “It’s absolutely dead-quiet.” Two fans for additional cooling are built into the equipment cabinet. One fan pulls heated air from the Proceed amp on the upper left of the cabinet, and the other services the entire cabinet. The hot air is pumped through vented spaces at the top of the cabinet. “The fans are so strong that they keep the cabinet at around 75 degrees,” Blackwood says. “That’s why the amplifier doesn’t need its own shelf; it can actually share a space with the equalizer because the space is so cool. We had a limited area for storage, so this gives the homeowner more room for his beloved karaoke discs. This was one of his specific requests.” The room’s lighting was also redesigned. La Scala used a four-zone Lutron GRX-MR-4 Grafik Eye system that can accommodate 16 different lighting configurations. The lighting keypad is on the rear wall of the theater, along with the thermostat and extensive security-system controls.

Plasma Theaters

In addition to the dedicated home theater downstairs, the homeowner wanted two theater systems upstairs as well: one in the family room, the other in the study/sitting area off the master bedroom. For these systems, aesthetics were almost as important as performance, so the visibility of audio and video equipment was kept to a minimum to retain the clean, peaceful design of these areas. Two nearly identical systems were selected for ease of use, performance, and pleasing appearance. The homeowner was familiar with flat-screen plasma-display technology, so the 42-inch Fujitsu PDS-4203W-H plasma monitor was chosen for both systems. The picture quality of plasma displays has improved significantly m the few years since the first models for the home market rolled off the assembly line. The Fujitsu has SVGA, component, S-video, and composite inputs, and a resolution of 852×480 pixels. An optional PCI computer interface is available if the homeowner wants to use the monitor for work related pursuits. “The idea of using plasma thin-screen TV’s was to have a good-sized monitor mounted elegantly on the wall,” says interior designer Garret Cord Werner Robert M. Ledingham Design Consultants. “It had to fit in with the design of the room, its furnishings, and its art.” The homeowner was just as adamant about avoiding big, bulky speakers. According to Miller “We installed the best-quality in-wall speakers we could find.” For the family room, La Scala chose Speaker Craft’s 8.5 MIT in-wall speakers; for the sitting area/study, Speaker Craft’s 6.5 MITs were deemed appropriate. The 8.5 MIT is a three-way design, with a 3/4-inch titanium-dome tweeter, a 2-inch textile-dome midrange, and an 8-inch woofer cone of braided glass fiber said to be more rigid than Kevlar. The tweeter and midrange are mounted on a pivoting assembly called the Uni-Pivot. This allows the installer to toe-in the upper drivers or rotate the entire assembly up to 90 degrees for horizontal mounting. Antique aspect of the 8.5 MIT is the AcoustaCell system, which is a precision-cut foam pad sandwiched inside the wall cavity to damp the enclosure. This helps eliminate resonance’s, thereby improving performance and preventing sound from leaking through the wall to other rooms As a result, the speaker behaves more like a free standing, direct-radiating speaker than a concrete wall with drivers mounted in it. “The Speaker Craft in-walls provide seamless sound that the homeowners just love, and they are visually undetectable around the 42-inch plasma TVs,” Blackwood says. Both rooms have been constructed years before the redesign, so the wall openings for the right, left, and center speakers around the plasma TVs had to be jack hammered out of solid concrete. “This proved to be very problematic, because the wall had to remain as clean as possible,” comments Miller. “The original studs had to be built into the walls on their sides, which is an unusual Construction configuration. Because. of this, we didn’t have the depth we normally would have had but with some additional jack hammering, we were able to install the SpeakerCraft in-wall speakers properly.” Nearly identical electronics arrays can be found in both rooms. Power is supplied by Pioneer Elite VSX- 09TX THX Dolby Digital receivers supplying 100 Wpc, additional bass in the family room is provided by an M&K MX-350 THX subwoofer with dual 12-inch drivers and 350W of internal amplification. In the sitting area/study, an M&K MX-150 THX powered sub with dual 12-inch drivers and an internal 150W amp are necessary for the powerful action yarns that the children enjoy so much. Source components are kept to a minimum: a Pioneer Elite DVL-90 DVD/LD player and a JVC HR-S9400U S-VHS VCR.
According to interior designer Garret Wemer, “We upholstered the walls with a 54-inch-wide taupe fabric. It’s a lightweight cotton/polyester blend from Bauman Fabrics that you can easily blow through. Seating was dictated by the size of the rooms and the fact that they’re multipurpose spaces. Two black-leather armchairs from B&B Italia in the family room are on coasters so they can easily rotate toward the plasma TV or toward the black-leather sofa when conversation is in order.” Because the home is constructed mainly of glass and concrete with sandstone floors, acoustics are a problem. Werner came up with a special rubberized padding to go under the carpet, and the taupe wall fabric covers ‘3/4-inch acoustic padding to help absorb sound. However, he admits that not much could be done about the extensive glass surfaces. “We installed a thin linen blind in keeping with the design aesthetic. Unfortunately, the blind is so thin; it doesn’t really aid the acoustics of the space. That’s really why they wanted the dedicated theater space downstairs; it exists solely for the purpose of watching movies.” Indeed, the upstairs design aesthetic was taken so seriously that Werner had to upholster the sides of the 42-inch Fujitsu plasma monitor to give it a more built-in look. But what about ventilation for the TV? “I kept the top and bottom of the set material-free so plenty of air can circulate, as the plasma sets do generate quite a lot of heat.”

Stellar results

The cabinets that conceal the equipment were given a rich, detailed, high-gloss finish. The cabinets in all three theaters were made by Intempo Interiors of Vancouver. According to Intempo president David Dumbrell, “The entire process of doing cabinetry with an automotive finish takes approximately one week. Five coats of automotive paint are used: the initial two base coats, a color, a metallic coat, and a clear coat. Then the entire cabinet is highly buffed using an automotive buffing compound.” The results are stellar. Says Blackwood, “The homeowner is thrilled with the performance of all three theaters, and for different reasons. The dedicated downstairs theater provides the high-level performance he demanded with complete ease of use in an exceptional theater environment. The family-room system is perfect for informal viewing when the family is gathered upstairs, and the master bedroom/sitting area is great for cozier viewing. Plasma technology has improved tremendously in the last 18 months, and in-wall speaker technology has also improved over the last decade. This made a huge difference for us when trying to balance performance with aesthetics in the upstairs rooms.” Interviewing the principals involved in this story, I found that each has a high level of appreciation for each others areas of expertise. As Blackwood summarizes, “This home-owner and everyone involved on the job was a dream. They all understood the importance of quality sound and video performance, and they wanted us to provide the best home theaters possible. In short, everyone was thrilled with the results. You can’t ask for more than that.”