DIY Reader Home Theater: A Dream Come True

The Robelle: my labor of love.

The dream of one day having a movie theater in my home was born in the summer of 1976. I was impressed by my friend Brian's dad's theater. It had a dozen or so of those old wooden seats that you'd find in a school auditorium. It had a separate projection booth for the Bell & Howell 16mm projector, and it had an actual stage, with speakers built into the walls.

Flash forward to 2001. My wife Ellen and I were shopping for a home, and my only criteria for the house was an unfinished basement with ceilings at least 8 feet high. Ellen was interested in the kitchen, a dining room, bathrooms, and so on. We found a beautiful, five-bedroom colonial that fit the bill perfectly.

I immediately began designing the basement. I built a scale model of what it would look like—theater and all—so Ellen could clearly see what was in my mind's eye and green-light my project.

Using Home Theater magazine and the Internet, I researched and gathered my materials. I purchased my A/V equipment piece by piece whenever an electronics retailer had a sale. Patience truly is a virtue—I saved a lot of money by waiting for those sales.

The basement was one large open space, so I decided to make it into five rooms: a laundry room, a recreation room, a gym, a storage room, and finally my home theater. The theater's dimensions are 12.5 by 19 by

8 feet. Because the room would be constructed on a concrete slab, we needed to build up the floor. After all, subwoofers don't really work well on concrete. I started by laying pressure-treated one-by-threes, face down, spaced every 12 inches, and running length-wise from the front of the room to the back. Then I placed 0.75-inch plywood sheets on top to create a floor with hollow chambers running the length of the room. In effect, this created a drum that would vibrate and transmit the sound from the Velodyne CHT-12 subwoofer. The floor does not come into direct contact with the walls. There is a 0.5-inch space separating them. This prevents the low frequencies from transferring to the rest of the house.

I constructed the interior walls using the staggered-stud method for framing and included R14 insulation, as well as 0.625-inch sheetrock. I used coarse-thread drywall screws instead of nails to put up the sheetrock. Eventually, from the sound vibrations within the theater, the nails could have pulled out of the studs. Again, I did not want to transmit sound from the theater to the adjoining rooms. The interior walls of the theater are covered by 110 custom-made acoustical tiles. I made each tile using 0.5-inch Homocote board and 0.25-inch self-adhesive open-cell foam. I wanted to cancel the first-point reflections from the main speaker towers, so I constructed the first 4-by-8-foot sections of wall tiles using the foam over the Homocote, and then I upholstered the tile. This allows the tile to absorb both low and high frequencies. However, as you move toward the back of the theater, the tiles are more reflective (because they have no foam). This enhances the sound from the rear and side speakers by allowing greater reflection.

I upholstered each tile with a material called Prelude fabric. This stuff is like carpeting for walls. Once I explained to Ellen that brighter colors could reflect light back to the screen, she chose the blue, black, and purple combination.

I glued almost all of the tiles in place with contact adhesive. The tiles that frame the four Polk Fxi30 surround speakers are held in place by Velcro. I ran the Monster cables through a network of PVC conduit that I built into the walls. The tiles are removable just in case the speakers need servicing or replacement. Access to the Polk i150 towers on the stage is easy. I just open the front speaker panel doors on either side of the stage.

The screen is a story unto itself. A company called Goo Systems manufactures a highly reflective paint used to create movie screens. I bought a sheet of Sintra board, a non-porous, rigid plastic, to use as a screen. I mounted a 4-by-7.5-foot sheet to a wooden frame. Then I placed the frame on a track—like a big window. I needed access to the basement window located just behind the screen. This arrangement makes getting to the window a breeze. Total cost for the screen was $225, and the picture is amazing!

The projector was the last piece of equipment I purchased. I decided to go with Hitachi's PJ-TX100 HD LCD projector. I mounted the projector using a Vogel Evolution EPC-4010 projector mount. Because I planned to mount it to the ceiling, I needed to attach it to a joist. There was no joist in the exact spot I needed, so I extended the closest joist by building a series of interlocking blocks. The entire system comes together with the Onkyo TX-DS898 7.1-channel A/V controller.

Designing, building, and calibrating the theater in my spare time took exactly nine months. Therefore, I guess you could call it my baby. Ellen and I prefer to call it the Robelle. We love nothing more than our friends and family filling the seats and watching the latest releases on DVD or something in high definition on cable. With a little ingenuity, patience, and perseverance, dreams really can come true.

Equipment List:
Note: Everything on this list was purchased on sale.
Commercial-Grade Carpeting (Installed) $600
Hitachi PJ-TX100 HD LCD Projector $2,900
Homemade 7.4-by-4-foot Screen $225
Marquee Theater Seats (8) $1,400
Monster HTS-3600 Power-Management System $300
Monster THX SP16 Speaker Cable $250
Monster Gold-Plated THX-GP Connectors $50
Onkyo TX-DS898 A/V Receiver $900
Polk i 150 Tower Speakers (2) $1,000
Polk FX i30 Surround Speakers (4) $300
Polk CS i40 Center-Channel Speaker $200
Prelude Fabric, Homocote, and Foam Padding for Acoustical Wall Tiles $1,000
Sony DVP-NC675P F-ive-Disc Player $140
Velodyne CHT-12 Subwoofer $350
Vogel Evolution EPC-4010 Projector Mount $120


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DeWayne's picture

What uncomfortable seats. Yuk!

Robert Barbiero's picture

Thank you all for the positive comments. If any of you plan on using the Goo System to create a screen. I recommemd that you use SINTRA board as the base. It is, by far, the BEST material to use for a fixed-position screen. Also, it is very important to follow the application directionsWhen applying the "Screen Goo" You MUST use a high quality Roller to apply the paint. Do NOT attempt to use a paintbrush. Apply very thin amounts of the paint and do not try to cover more than a foot or two,of area, at a time. The peopleat "Goo Systems" are very helpful. Good luck to all with your DIY theater projects.

Todd Hartsell's picture

I'm curious about the Sintra board. I've looked online and it ends up that the shipping costs for the board are as much as if not more than the board itself.Has anyone had any luck finding the Sintra board at a local retailer?

Alan's picture

I love the way you finished your walls, and the way you went from absorptive to reflective. I notice that you used a t-bar ceiling, I've heard mixed reviews on them and am a bit confused as to what to do for my HT. As someone who appears to know something about acoustics, do you think T-Bar is better than sheet rock or was it just easier and less expensive? Thanks,Alan

Gevork's picture

What is a Homocote board? I googled but couldn't find anything by that name.

gevork's picture

I actually found it, its called Homasote sound barrier 440 boards.

Robert Barbiero's picture

To answer Tim's question: The floor was built-up at the SAME TIME that the room was being built, so the floor height vs. door clearance is relative. Before the theater was built there was NO door. The room itself didn't exist.

Peter's picture

Hi Rob.I also have a Vogels EPC 4010 to install but cannot locate installation instructions. are you able to help at all? Thanks

James Perez's picture

Love the blue color.

Robert Barbiero's picture

The T-Bar ceiling was the better choice. Here's why: Sheetrock is a hard surface that can cause unwanted audio reflections. The primary sound waves, generated by the speakers, are also known as "Incident Waves". When incident waves strike a surface like sheetrock, they can become phased"Reflective Waves". When that happens you end upwith "Standing Waves". This is why the dialogue track is sometimes overwhelmed by the other speakers in a poorly designed theater. The T-barceiling (with all it's nooks and crannies) diffuses the Incident waves thus preventing phasedreflection. Check out the "Laws of Reflection" for more details. Hope this was helpful.

Tim's picture

Great looking room. Not haveing started my room yet, I was esp interested on the comments about the T-Bar ceiling. A question - what you did with the height difference at the door due to the raised floor.

John F. Graham's picture

Who knew you were so talented? Rob & look fantastic.....and your media room looks fantastic. Great job!!!

Miguel Rosario's picture

I have plans to create my own screen and one of the alternatives is to use the painting of goo. I would like to send me some pictures of ecenas movie of your screen to evaluate whether I should or not. thanks so I can help.

Brian's picture

Hey, nice article. Thanks for showing the costs, it is great to know that an awesome home theater can be made for only $10,000. I plan on making one a few years from now, but definitely can't spend $100k like some of those really fancy ones.

Thomas J Coyle III's picture

I am presently building a home in the north Dallas area that will have an unfinished home theater that has the same dimensions as the one in this article. Since I am a diy type like the author of the article, I have learned what I can do on a budget from this very excellent article. Many of the attributes of this home theater are what I have planned to incorporate into my own theater. A very nice home theater and a well written article.

Javier Schmidt's picture

I have to agree with Thomas, I have learned quite a bit and it is a fine example of DIY. The things that caught my eye was the screen, I would love to see that in action

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