Installations: A League of its Own

Deadline pressures aren't exactly uncommon in the custom installation business. But racing alongside a team of builders to complete a dedicated home theater on time was probably the biggest challenge facing Michael Blacker, owner of Dallas-based MB Audio/Video, during a recent installation in Plano, Texas.

The homeowner, Dave Johnson, is the CEO of a hospitality-management company - and an avid Minnesota Vikings football fan who regularly flies off to see his team in action. But he also travels extensively for work. Dave's wife, Stacey, thought that having a home theater where he could watch the games with his friends would keep him home a bit more with her and their three daughters. So the couple decided to build an addition above their 31?2-car garage to house the theater. The only catch: The room had to be ready for the start of football season.

Michael was brought in by one of the project managers from LTC Professional Builders in Denton, Texas, who had met him while working on a job near Michael's home. When Michael was told of the project's 8- to 10-week deadline, he assumed that meant he'd have close to 2 months to complete the A/V and home-networking installation. What he quickly found out was that the entire project - from demo to décor - had to be done within that time limit, and the builders had already started framing.

"The framing kicked off Texas-style, with 4 days of catering food, barbecue, and beverages," Michael remembers. That incentive inspired the crew. "They ripped off the roof and framed the addition in 3 days. On Day 5, the last nail went in, and the work was inspected."

The nearly 1,000-square-foot addition encompassed the 28.5 x 19.5-foot theater room plus a small foyer, a bar area, and an equipment closet. Because the room is located away from the center of the house, construction was straightforward, except the walls were framed 12 inches on center (rather than the standard 16 inches) for greater structural rigidity, and the sub-floor was built with double-layer plywood. To help quiet the airflow from the HVAC system, the air-conditioning ducts have multiple 90° bends.

Michael's approach to planning the installation was a bit unusual. He never asked the Johnsons their budget. Instead, he asked Stacey what Dave is like as a person. "She looked at me a little strangely," Michael recalls, "and I said, 'I know that Dave's a mover and shaker professionally, but really, what's he like as a person? Is he quiet, or is he full-throttle, going 120 miles an hour all day?' She laughed and said, 'Yeah, he's full-throttle.'"

Similarly, Michael met with Dave and asked about his daughters, and how he thought the theater would be used. Michael then designed three room models that offered different levels of performance.

"Using Dave's football passion as an example, I said I could give them one design that would put him up in the stands at the game, another that would put him on the 50-yard line, and a third that would make him feel like he was on the shoulder pad of the right tackle." Not surprisingly, the Johnsons chose the last one.

Says Dave: "When you put that kind of money into a theater, you want to make sure you have equipment that matches the room. And it does. I couldn't be happier with the results."

The focal point of the theater is an acoustically transparent 140-inch ClearPix2 screen from Screen Research, which is mated to Sony's VPL-VW100 SXRD 1080p front projector. Helping to give the room a unified, custom appearance is a built-in wall unit, designed by Michael and made by a local cabinetmaker. It spans the front of the room - and along with providing the framework for the in-wall front left and right speakers and the projection screen, it has cutouts for the pair of 40-inch Samsung LCD TVs that flank the screen.