So You Think Your Room’s Bad, Pt. 2
We concluded our last post facing two major challenges: Squeezing a completely enclosed space into the middle of what had previously been an open-floorplan tradeshow booth, and then outfitting it with the kind of reference-quality movie system you usually only find in luxury home theater rooms.
It would seem like creating the room should have been easy. Just throw up four walls and drop a ceiling on them, right? Well, yeah—if you have enough space to work with. But the booth needed to be able to handle a constant flow of business traffic, and filtering all those people through a movie theater almost continuously in use for demos wasn’t an option. So we had to strike a balance between having a theater that groups could rotate in and out of while also having enough room on the outside for meetings and product spotlights—all within the confines of a 20 x 40-foot space barely large enough to hold a typical dedicated theater room.
We also didn’t want to give up the canted divider walls in the middle of the booth since they’d be used to hold big TVs showing videos that would lure people into the booth. And we didn’t want to completely give up offering a glimpse of the den-like theater room, since we wanted to make a statement that luxury cinema isn’t just about home theaters anymore.
The early, open floorplan, followed by the revised design incorporating
a self-contained room for a reference-quality home theater.
The solution was to cheat—a lot. Dennis, Marcelo, Melinda, and I kept moving the walls around, our fingers crossed the whole time, until we found positions for them that might allow the demo room to hold about a dozen people while about 40 other people milled around in the rest of the booth. The fire marshal nixed our plans to cover the whole booth, but we did get approval for a roof over just the demo area.
We eventually arrived at a 22.5′ wide by 14′ deep space—but remember that the back two corners were lopped off, thanks to the angled walls, so it was actually smaller than that. And, yes, under saner circumstances, the room would have been 14′ wide by 22.5′ deep—but that’s a whole other story.
So we ended up with a seriously space-challenged demo room with angled walls and the wrong orientation, the whole thing built out of narrow metal supports, thin fabric, a bunch of foam core, and not much else. And here’s where Dennis returns to continue the tale.
Needless to say, getting a roof on the theater room was a boon for a few reasons. One, it meant we could control the light coming into the room. Two, it meant we could do an Atmos surround sound system, which was top on the client’s priority list. But it’s a pretty big step from figuring out, OK, yeah, we can do Atmos in this room, to actually deciding which components are going to come together and create such a system.
If you’ll indulge me some basic home theater ABCs here, I need to walk through the components of an
In our sixth revision of the booth design, you can see how the shape of the demo room was defined by the needs of the booth exterior. The overhead view gives you a sense of what little space we had to work with, how the angled back walls ate into that precious space, and why in-room speakers were ruled out.
Atmos sound system, not because I assume you’re not familiar with them but to illustrate my thought process.
To do Atmos (or DTS:X) surround, you need to start with the components of a typical home theater system: Three speakers at the front of the room to deliver dialogue, music, and sound effects to the sides of the image, two or four speakers at the sides and/or rear of the room to deliver the offscreen ear-level sounds, and at least one subwoofer to deliver really deep bass.
To get from there to Atmos, you need to add two or four (or in some extreme cases six) channels of sound overhead.
Notice that I said “channels” there, not speakers. Because you can actually create those overhead sound effects by bouncing sound off the ceiling from little modules that sit atop your ear-level speakers. And that was certainly one possibility I explored for this room, since I wasn’t sure our ceiling would be strong enough to hold speakers.
This illustration shows a
driver on top of a soundbar
firing upward to create
sound reflections in order
to simulate Dolby Atmos
graphic courtesy of Dolby Labs
But at the same time, I also didn’t know how high the ceiling would be (it changed a few times) or if we would have room for physical speakers sitting out in the room. How many seats would we have in here? That question wasn’t going to be sufficiently answered until the last minute. So I decided that we needed to go with in-wall speakers all the way around, except for the subwoofers.
Mind you, there are some speaker manufacturers that make in-wall speaker modules designed to reflect off the ceiling to create those overhead effects. But while I was juggling all of the information above, I also had to consider the speakers in the back of the room. I needed a very specific type of speaker that would generate wide, immersive sound that would reach out into the room, no matter where people were seated. And I wanted all of our speakers to match in terms of the quality and character of sound. I quickly figured out GoldenEar Technology offered the ideal solutions.
We’ll dig into GoldenEar’s in-wall and in-ceiling speakers in the next post, explaining the exact problems their speakers solved, the guidance they gave us in terms of placement, and how I nearly had a nervous breakdown over the rotation of a single tweeter.
Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.
Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtable, marketing, product design, some theater designs,
a couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.