From the Ground Up
Jerry Rice's dream family theater.
It's no secret that Jerry Rice is a man of many talents. The Internet encyclopedia Wikipedia notes that many people consider this man to be not only the best receiver of all time but perhaps even the best football player, period. Ever.
Not only that, but Jerry Rice can dance. A contestant on the 2005–2006 season of Dancing with the Stars, Rice and his partner scored a second-place finish, proving that Rice can not only catch touchdowns while dancing away from would-be tacklers, he can also do a mean cha-cha.
And yet, sometimes, even the great Jerry Rice needs to take a break, sit back, relax, and spend some quality time with his loved ones—his wife Jackie and his three children. What's Rice's favorite way to unwind? "There's nothing better than sitting back and relaxing with the whole family while watching a movie in the privacy of our own home," says Rice.
The Rice family lives in the San Francisco Bay area, where Jerry has spent nearly all of his career as a pro football player with the 49ers. That means the odds are good that going out means getting recognized. "Being a celebrity makes it tough to spend quality time together with my family while out in the general public," explains Rice. And making that quality time for his family is key for Rice, whose Dancing with the Stars biography notes that "family is still the most important thing" for this much celebrated star of sports and entertainment.
Fortunately, the very talents that have made it hard for Rice to have a quiet family outing in public have given him the resources to build a home theater that makes movie watching at home a memorable experience. When it came to designing the theater and the house in which it resides, Jerry's wife Jackie played the leading role.
"We had a vision from the time we started building the house—we knew that we definitely wanted to have a home theater put in," says Jackie, whose vision of the theater had some definite parameters. "We wanted it to be a really comfortable place where we could show movies to friends who wouldn't be afraid to relax, but we still wanted it to have the warmth of a traditional movie theater with its art-deco décor."
To build the technical guts of the theater, Jackie turned to Andy Chen, owner of Pacific Audio/Visual, a firm with offices in San Francisco, Houston, and China. Chen came highly recommended as a skilled craftsman who had turned a background in sound installation and recording engineering into a thriving business building audio/video systems for the homes of some of the San Francisco Bay region's leading residents. In addition to Rice, Chen has designed A/V systems for 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia, the Schwab family of investment fame, a Hearst family, and executives from corporations including Intel, Pixar, and Applied Materials.
In other words, Chen knew how to design audio/video on a grand scale—and the Rice home called for a grand sound system. Since the Rices wanted just one intuitive type of keypad throughout their house, Chen settled on an AMX system and ended up placing 80 keypads throughout the home to control audio, video, temperature, and lighting. The 20,000-plus-square-foot Rice home has a lot of rooms, and some of the larger rooms have more than one keypad—there are up to four or five keypads for the biggest rooms to ensure that one would always be close at hand. Indeed, Chen believes that the Rice project may have been the largest AMX residential project at that time.
Chen started working with the Rice family in 1998 when construction on the house was just starting. The building process stretched over the next three years, during which time a large rectangular theater was constructed inside the home with approximate dimensions of 30 feet long by 25 feet wide. "Jackie and Jerry wanted an awesome theater," says Chen. "The space is pretty big, so we put a stage in the front for live performances, then three levels of seating wired for Bodysonic so that you could feel the sound system through the floors."
Chen likes to use professional-grade gear in all of his home theaters, so he installed four Crown Reference amplifiers rated at 30 amps each. "I think I used 10,000 watts in that theater," he muses. Chen then used a programmable equalizer for every speaker with a Lexicon main processor, the best available at the time. Although home theater equipment makers were just starting to switch to DLP, single-lens systems, Chen decided to go ahead and use a refined and dependable CRT video system. As usual, he got the best, which, at the time, was a Vidikron Vision One, and he says it still works fine today.
When it came to the speakers, again Chen used all professional equipment—Tannoy speakers with Electro-Voice subwoofers. "The Rices' theater sounds better than an IMAX," proclaims Chen. "The sound pressure in there is so low that it can make your clothing or your hair move."
Jackie Rice, the guiding force behind the theater, told Chen that she wanted booming sound, but the former sound engineer knew that just pushing the volume would create distortion problems. That's why Chen focused on the sound pressure, also called overhead in the studio-recording world. With 5,000-watt subwoofers and Crown amps pushing through the power, Chen knew that he could get power and punch without cranking up the volume so high that it would bust someone's eardrum.
The sheer size of the project ensured that the prewiring would be a monumental job. Chen says it took a crew of five men a full six months to wire Rice's home. "There was just a massive amount of wiring," he recalls. "We had 80 speakers throughout the house with individual amplifiers using a Knox control system, which, at that time, was the only one to give volume control from an AMX touchscreen. Every zone is independently run. The programming, which I did myself in C++, had almost 100,000 lines of commands."
Despite all this effort behind the scenes, running the house via the touchscreen panels is now a piece of cake for the Rice family. If she likes, Jackie can see the temperature in any of the home's seven separate HVAC zones and adjust or program them via the touchpanel in her bedroom.
Back in the theater itself, Chen made sure that the powerful sound the Rices had requested would stay sequestered within the screening room. This task was particularly important given that the theater is located in the middle of the house. He put soundboard between sheetrock and, in some places, used a special fiberglass compound for additional soundproofing performance. Padded fabrics on the wall add one final layer of sound protection to make sure no noise leaks into the rest of the house.
The theater's functional lighting is designed to enhance the overall cinematic experience. The 10-inch AMX touchpanel in the theater allows the user to choose from various lighting scenes or to slowly dim the lights before a show begins, giving an audience plenty of time to reach their seats. Chen used plenty of rope lighting in the theater and made sure to have lots of running lights along the floor so that the Rice family and their guests could still get up and walk around during the show if they had a sudden urge to scoop up some popcorn from the candy counter at the back of the room.
Chen estimates that the total equipment budget for the theater came in at around $200,000. This amount includes the professional Tannoy speakers that provide recording-studio-quality sound. The speakers on the stage are stacked from floor to ceiling and flanked by 18-inch subwoofers. On the video side, a curtain opens to reveal a 123-inch-diagonal Stewart screen onto which the Vision One projects its image with the help of a Faroudja processor.
Chen attributes the success of the Rices' theater to its integration into the architectural plans from the start of the home-building process. "This project came out well because we had total control of the house from the beginning," he says. "A lot of times, you begin work on the audio/visuals after the room has already been designed, and there's nothing you can do but try to fit everything into it. Sometimes rooms aren't shaped right; sometimes there's a window in the room or a lack of acoustic paneling."
In the Rice home, Chen worked with the architects and builders from the start to make sure that he had the space he needed to build a great theater. For those who might want to someday build a home theater into a new home's architectural plans, Chen suggests a rectangular room in which the seating is oriented lengthwise (i.e., with the screen along one of the room's short walls). "You want a long throw for audio that results in the least sound bouncing through the room," he explains. Another option is to build a room that's narrower at the front and gets wider toward the rear, thus creating space for a horn type of audio effect.
When the Rices want to enjoy satellite TV, DVDs, or video games in their theater, they just sink into the three rows of graded seating—16 CineLounger chairs with two love seats in the front. "Our chairs are so comfortable that, a lot of times, the theater winds up being the bedroom!" laughs Jackie. "Sometimes the whole family will fall asleep, and we won't wake up until the next morning." Jackie notes that her oldest daughter, a college freshman, heads straight to the theater with a blanket and settles in to watch movies when she comes home for visits and vacations. On the Brazilian cherrywood stage, their youngest daughter performs dance shows and plays for family and guests.
Rice enjoys using the theater for sports or action-packed movies like The Godfather, but Jackie says she prefers classic films, like the Lana Turner tearjerker Imitation of Life. When the Rice family has guests over, Jackie likes to demonstrate the theater's capabilities by showing Planet of the Apes. She calls the action sequence at the start of the movie where the astronauts crash into the ape planet an amazing way to show the theater's strengths.
The theater has not only proven to be one of the most used rooms in the Rice home, it's also lent itself to social gatherings and charitable causes. Over the last few years, Jackie has hosted playoff parties for the wives of football players, and the Rice family has periodically auctioned off movie nights to raise funds for their youngest daughter's school. "Whoever is the highest bidder can invite 10 children and their parents to come and watch the movie," says Jackie. "The last movie we had with the kids was Robots, and they had a great time with their popcorn buckets, candy, soda, and pizza. Their parents had a wonderful time, too."
And Jerry Rice is ready to give her a standing ovation. "I have to hand it to my wife, because she is the one who designed our home from the ground up," says Rice. "She thought of everything—we even have a marquee."
Of course, Jerry Rice has seen his name in lights more than a few times already at stadiums coast to coast and on television screens across the country. But, for a family man like Rice, perhaps the sweetest sight of all is the name of his family scrolling across the marquee of his home theater. The greeting can be changed at will, but, most recently, it read simply, "Welcome to the Rice Family."
AMX AXT-CV10 Color Active Touchscreen
Vidikron Vision One Projector
Projector ceiling mount
Stewart Luxus Deluxe 123-Inch Screen
Vidikron VDP3500 Quad Multiscanner
Lexicon MC-1 Sound Processor
Tannoy Speaker System 215 (2)
Tannoy Speaker System 1200 (4)
Tannoy In-Ceiling Speaker System (2)
Electro-Voice TL880D Subwoofer (2)
Crown Amp Micro-Tech MT-1200 Speakers
Crown Amp Studio Reference 2 Speakers
Crown Amp Studio Reference 2Subwoofers
DBX 31-Band Graphic Equalizers, Speaker System, Auto-Power Switcher, and AC Conditioner
JVC HR-S9600U VCR
RCA HD Satellite Receiver
Pioneer Elite DVD-09 DVD Player
How It Works For You
• Like the Rice family, if your theater is going to be in the middle of your house, sound isolation should be a primary objective.
• Can't afford AMX system control and have a smaller theater? Check out the NevoSL from Universal Electronics.
• Want to personalize your theater but don't have the space or budget for a marquee? Bass Industries offers an extensive collection of reasonably priced accessories.
• Your theater's lighting should never be an afterthought—not only for functionality, but also for a sense of heightened drama.