photos by Jim Raycroft
I had one main criterion while shopping for my home: It had to have a space for a theater room. This was in the early 2000’s. I was installing a lot of dedicated rooms for clients at my custom-install job, and I really wanted a dedicated movie-watching room for myself. I had plans for sound treatments, and ideal room ratios, and solid-core doors with sound-isolating thresholds, and more.
But as we started looking at homes, we couldn’t find one that had space for a dedicated room that fit other needs—namely budget and location. The most common “dedicated space” option was a room up over the garage, and we couldn’t find a home we liked.
So I changed my thinking a bit.
Barring a dedicated space, the potential home definitely had to allow for retrofitting wiring throughout so I could add my own gear as needed. The home we finally settled on had a very open floorplan with a central great room that opens to the kitchen, breakfast nook, and dining room, with a massive attic that would make it easy for me to run wire throughout the house.
The first thing I did was set up a surround system. I pulled wiring through the attic to side and rear surround speaker locations and wall-mounted my speakers. An old cabinet held my gear with ample room on top to hold a 61-inch Samsung DLP TV. This setup worked fine and was certainly adequate in every way for media needs, but it wasn’t really
. . . special.
I wanted the big-screen experience—something beyond what the big DLP TV could provide. But I had to do it without totally compromising the look and functionality of our living room. Getting the room dark enough for “day viewing” a projector would mean heavy shading on lots of windows, something that would make the house so dark no one else would be able to do anything.
At that time, flat-panel TVs were starting to offer terrific performance at realistic pricing. (A fortune by today’s standards, but $6,000 for a 60-inch Pioneer Elite was an affordable videophile option!) Also, receivers were starting to include dual video outputs that could either carry a separate, Zone 2 feed or mirror the same feed. That gave me the opportunity to have my cake and eat it too.
What I decided on was a large flat-panel TV mounted tightly to the wall to provide the perfect, ultra-bright image for day viewing, with a motorized projection screen that rolled down in front of the TV when we wanted to watch a movie or a big event like the Super Bowl. When not in use, the screen is concealed behind a valance, out of sight. And if we want to watch the screen before the sun goes down, motorized Lutron shades tied into our automation system can darken the room.
Since both displays are driven by the same stack of electronics, I only had to buy one system. That freed up my budget to purchase higher-performing gear than if I was trying to outfit two rooms. That meant better speakers, a better processor, and better amplifiers, so now we enjoy the best sound regardless of what we’re doing—listening to music, watching TV, playing a video game, or enjoying a movie.
Because we only use the projector for movies or special events, it remains a special thing, letting us go from the 65-inch 16 x 9 aspect-ratio TV to the 115-inch 2.35:1 screen at the touch of a button. That makes movies far more cinematic and engaging.
The other thing I’ve come to appreciate is that because the media room is located in our comfortable, centrally located great room, we use it all the time. With the push of a button on my Control4 remote—or a voice command to Alexa saying, “Start Movie Time”—the TV turns off and the screen drops down, the projector turns on, and our room is transformed into a theater. Since nobody has to get up and move to another room, we find ourselves using the system a lot more often.
I’ve made several upgrades since the original install to keep the system on the cutting edge of performance. I replaced the Pioneer Elite with a new Sony 4K TV, the processor has been updated a couple of times to take advantage of HDMI 2.0a and Dolby Atmos, I added four in-ceiling speakers for Atmos, added a second sub, upgraded the anamorphic lens on the projector, and added the Kaleidescape Strato 4K player. The next upgrade will likely be moving to a 4K projector.
In my next post, I’ll discuss some other technology advances that make the media room an even more viable concept and worthy of your consideration!
Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at
@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.