Basement DIY Theater

In 2008, I started to design and build the home theater my wife, Allison, and I always wanted. I spent months pouring over home theater magazines and DIY theater websites learning what to do, and more importantly, what not to do. Having toyed around with home and car stereo in the past, I decided that there was no need to hire someone to install and calibrate my system. Taking a “hands on” approach helped me understand every aspect of the project and in the long run it should be easier to integrate new components in the future.

Located in my basement, the theater is roughly 12.4' x 21' (8ft ceiling) with no windows. I wanted a space where I could control the light so my picture would have the best possible contrast and color accuracy. The back row riser is 7.5' x 6' and leaves a 32" isle by the entryway and 26" isles on the back and far side of the room. The first row of seats is set back 11.5' from the screen and the second row is around 17'.

A few highlights of the room’s design include the pine columns and soffit (with rope lighting) that surround the ceiling, four Murray Feiss lighting sconces and twelve eyeball lights.

We budgeted $7000 for all the electronic components and were amazed at what we could get for this relatively low cost. What really helped was some do-it-your-self tricks I learned in all my research such as using a white laminate countertop material for the video screen. I paid $59 for a single 5' x 12' sheet of Wilsonart laminate (Designer White D354-60) to make a 2.35:1 aspect ratio screen. I coupled it with Sanyo’s economical PLV-Z2000 1080p Projector and a Home Theater Brothers Anamorphic Lens.

It took about an extra year, but there was a second phase where I hid the speakers, added wall panels by the entrance, installed a flatscreen TV to display movie posters, and incorporated a touch panel device to control everything.

Hiding the front speakers was important because I felt it would be less distracting and give the room a finished appearance. A hinged lid and acoustically transparent, removable panels was created so that the speakers and subwoofer could be accessed from the top and front of the stage.

Wall panels not only add a nice accent to the room but also help to eliminate audio reflection points. I followed good sound reproduction guidelines by using hard (or reflective) material on half the surfaces and textured (or non reflective) on the rest.

One of the most unique things in the theater is a dynamic piece of wall art, which is a vertically mounted 42” plasma TV (720p) that displays movie posters, There are 500 posters in rotation, which I got from . To make it work, I used the TV as my monitor on an Apple Mac Mini computer and rotated the “desktop” image to 270 degrees. The free software running the slideshow is called Boxee and is available for Mac or PC. With this program I can control how the images are displayed. Now that I’ve used it for a while, I’m finding other content to display such as free-to-use images from around the web and various screensavers.

To control everything in the theater, I use an Apple iPad with the HSTouch app for controlling HomeSeer-compatible components. This was a natural choice because HomeSeer has been running the home automation in our house for years. The app allows me to program the interface to my liking and the iPad is a great solution because of its low cost and flexibility.

There is still more that I want to do with the theater and have a third (and final phase) planned for this year. I want to add wine velvet stage curtains, which will be controlled by the iPad app, Tuscan tapered round columns above the stage, and something (maybe a tapestry) to liven up the back wall of the theater.

Equipment List
130" CIH Screen (optimized for 2.35:1
Sanyo PLV-Z2000 1080p Projector with a Home Theater Brothers Anamorphic Lens
DVDO Edge Video Processor
7.1 Surround Sound via the Emotiva UMC-1 Preamplifier/Processor
Emotiva UPA-7 Amplifier
Elemental Designs Custom 6T6 Towers in the front & center
Emotiva ERD-1 rear surrounds
RC55i Polk Audio 5.25"s side surrounds
Playstation 3 for games and Blu-ray
HTPC Including XBMC Media Center Software with the Aeon Skin, 3.1Ghz Dual Core AMD 6100 w/ 4 Gigs Ram, MSI Geforce 8600 GTS 256 HDMI Video Card, HT Omega Striker 7.1 Sound Card

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noctis's picture

guys, can you anyone tell me the difference between BOSE speakers with that large file of speaker!! will thus it made a difference? thanks in advance, noctis

Johnny's picture

Great looking room. Love the front speakers being hidden like that. You must be very proud of the end result of the room. Impressive list of equipment as well.

Eric's picture

I'm most impressed with the idea of the rotating posters from the flat screen! I tried to do something similar with a combination of video and pictures but I haven't found a video editing software that doesn't distort the color and quality of the images I want to use.

erick aponte's picture

wow! I think you did pretty good for yourself. It's always admirable when someone does a job by himself and it come out good. Are you satisfied with the audio and video quality?

davevancleve's picture

Sound bite version: BOSE stands for Buy Our Shit Everybody
Short version: Bose products use poor quality materials (paper and plastic), have a HUGE advertising budget built into their MSRP, and they are built for aesthetics in mind so they will have a high "wife acceptance factor" resulting in sound that lacks in frequencies on the high and low ends of the audible spectrum.
Long Version: There is a huge difference between your typical Bose speaker for the reproduction of sound. The main difference is the size of the cones and magnets that are used to create the vibrations that are the sound. A typical Bose system (they have made traditional loudspeakers but these represent a tiny fraction of the speakers they sell) has two plastic enclosures mounted on top of each other that swivel left and right. Inside each is basically a compromise between a tweeter and a midrange driver made from paper. The fact that these drivers are in the middle of these two typical driver classes makes them less likely to do the frequencies in the lower midrange or the upper high frequencies with nearly the effectiveness of actual tweeters or midranges. The midbass frequencies in a Bose systems are created by their "bass module". The problem with that design is that these midbass frequencies are directional and ideally should come from 5 or 7 different directions in a quality home theater. Finally, not only are tweeter and midrange frequencies not created by drivers ideally suited to create them, deep bass frequencies also suffer from reduced decibel levels because the "bass module": that comes in a Bose system only contains (2)5 1/4" bass drivers. Any theater would be better served by an equally priced subwoofer from a reputable brand, such as Paradigm, which would have a 12' woofer capable of very deep bass.

ouflavius's picture

This room does look like a rewarding one for you and yours. Great job! Thanks for posting!

tknice's picture

Thanks everyone for the nice compliments!

It was a lot of fun working on this room and I'm very satisfied with how everything turned out. I need to get curtains up on the stage before it feels complete, but the audio sounds fantastic (to me at least) and the video is pretty good. I'd like a better projector and higher quality anamorphic lens--but hey, there's always a budget and I did the best I could. :)

You can see more info and pictures here:

Thanks again for checking out my theater!


larree's picture

Tom, I used to have a DIY screen like you've got and then I spent about $1000.00 for a Stewart Film Screen firehawk screen material that I attached to a screen frame that I built myself. I was quoted about an extra $2000 to have the frame built for me but the guy offered to send me his plans and my frame is wonderful. When we fired up the projector (sony vpl-vw50) I was blown away by the picture quality on the new silver screen. WAY WORTH IT!!! It has a 1.3 gain which means more light leaves the screen than gets to it. It also makes the picture directional which means that anywhere is a good seat in the room. I can take some photos and send to you if you want.

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