Home Theater

I recently got to fulfill a longtime dream of building a 'home theater'.  Luckily, the basement was already finished with a room that was large enough to house a home theater, so as home theater projects go, it was pretty straight forward.  This is a write up of the project, which I completed in May of this year, so I've had almost 6 months with it completed.

The room was previously setup as a TV room, with a 60" Rear Projection DLP TV (Mitsubishi WD-60738), a very large entertainment center I purchased for a much larger room in a previous house, and a sectional couch.

The 60" TV and too-large entertainment center:

This setup also consisted of:

Onkyo TX-SR605
3 Phase Tech PC-3 Speakers (Fronts)
2 Phase Tech PC-60 Speakers (Rears)
Phase Tech TODO Subwoofer
Sony Blu-Ray Player
DirecTV HR20-700 DVR

I also had an IR repeater setup, with most of the components already located in the utility room next door.  The system was based on the Niles IR Repeater with the receiver and emitters cobbled together over many years.

The room has three walls, with the back open to a larger room, and no windows on any of the three walls.  The room was 11.5' wide x 17' deep, which wasn't quite as wide as I would have liked, but gave me plenty of length, especially since I could spill over into the larger room behind it.

The existing room and equipment provided a solid foundation for the new home theater.  The Onkyo receiver and HR-20 were both used in the new setup.  I struggled about whether to keep the Phase Tech speakers or replace them, but ended up replacing them.  They had been 'well used' over a ~15 year lifespan, and the speaker cones were in need of repair, some of the dome tweeters were smashed, and there was some loose material in the speakers that you could hear when you lifted them.  The rears were also pretty large to be wall mounted, which made it awkward to walk past.

While researching the room, I leaned heavily on two resources:
1. The Wirecutter
2. AVS Forum

I really appreciated the Wirecutter's approach of picking the best item in a given category.  It really simplifies the decision making process, but also does give you a few options in addition to their pick so you can really understand the trade-offs that exist.  This site is how I picked the screen, projector, and heavily influenced the selection of the speakers.

For the projector, I pretty much took the Wirecutter's recommendation, and verified the selection by reading reviews on AVS Forum.  I selected the Sony VPL-HW40ES. Overall, I have been very happy with the projector.  The picture quality is great, it is relatively quiet, and has worked flawlessly so far.  I did briefly consider a 4k projector, as the HW40ES is only 1080p, but my logic was that the cost difference for early stage 4k projectors wasn't worth it, and by the time 4k content becomes readily available there will be better projectors out for much less money.

I mounted the projector to the ceiling with a set of Chief components, the CMA-101, CMS-003, and RPA-020.  This is very solid and pretty easy to get setup and aligned.

There are a lot of options for screens, but since I was in a basement and had full control over the light, I didn't need a high gain screen.  I could also use a fixed screen since it would be permanently mounted to the wall.  Again, I want with the Wirecutter's recommendation of the Silver Ticket 100" (diagonal) screen.  It takes a bit of effort to put it together, but it was straightforward and I was very pleased with the finished product.

Once I decided to replace the speakers, I really struggled with how to select the best options.  Many quality speakers are now sold directly to consumers, allowing you to skip the AV Store listening rooms.  I spent a lot of time listening to speakers 15 years ago when I purchased the Phase Tech speakers originally, and frankly I didn't want to go through that again.  I turned to the Wirecutter and AVS Forum again for advice.  In the end, I started with the Wirecutter recommendation for surround systems, although I found the runner up at the time, the NHT Absolute 5.1 system more interesting.  However, I had an existing sub that was more than adequate for the room, so I ended up with the NHT Classic Three bookshelf speakers as the fronts, the Classic ThreeC as the center, and their thin Absolute Wall Speakers as rears.  I've been very happy with them so far as well.

While I had an existing Sony Blu-Ray player, I decided to upgrade it because I wanted to move it to another room to replace an existing DVD player.  For this, I ended up going with a popular selection from the AVS Forum, the OPPO BPD 103D.  I really like this player, but I'm not totally convinced on the Darby processing.  I have the Darby signal processing applied to both the  OPPO sourced video as well as running the DirecTV video through it.  I can certainly see some differences in the side-by-side option it has, especially when you crank the processing up high.  I have mine set at 35 I believe, and mostly take it on faith that it is better.  That said, as the owner of a phenomenal early DVD player, the DVP-7000, I've been mostly disappointed in every DVD or Blu-Ray player I've purchases since then.  The OPPO is the closest thing to the DVP-7000 that I've owned since, and that his high praise.

To round out the electronics portion of the upgrade, I bought a Harmony 650 remote.  I've used Harmony remotes for as long as I can remember and I've been happy with all of them.  I was somewhat leery of moving from a Harmony One to the 650 based on some feedback I had read, but I was very please with the 650 and it does everything I need.

For the furniture, the room wasn't quite wide enough to put 4 seats and leave enough room for an aisle, so I ended up with two rows of 3 HT Design Devonshire chairs.  Since I could only fit 6 chairs, I added a bar behind the chairs with 4 stools, increasing our capacity to 10 people and providing a space to eat and socialize when we had people over to watch games, etc.  I'm generally happy with the chairs.  They are very comfortable and feel well-built.  I think the back-lit buttons are a bit too bright, and could generally do without the lights on the chairs, as guests have a tendency to turn them on without realizing it.  I need to just disconnect them, but have not gotten that far.

The riser is a bit time-consuming to build, and the instructions are horrible.  There were some YouTube videos, but they seemed to use slightly different hardware and were of minimal use.  We did re-carpet the basement towards the end of the project, so we were able to get the riser carpeted to match the rest of the room easily.  The riser is really just tall enough, although anything taller and you'd be banging your head on the ceiling when you stood up, so it works well.

I purchased all this from the following sources, and had good experiences with all:
Craig at AV Science, Inc. set me up with the projector and the Chief mounts.
Alan at HT Market set me up with the chairs, riser, and bar.
I bought the speakers directly from NHT.
The rest was purchased on Amazon or elsewhere.

Here is the finished product: