My DIY Home Theater Makeover

We had a saying back when I worked in the golf business: "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach." For a while, I felt like I was getting into the rut of teaching and not doing. While my Custom Installer column strives to help you get the most out of your system, I allowed technology to pass my system by. My setup was serviceable, with an HDTV, a Blu-ray Disc player, and 7.1 channels of sound, but many elements in it were out of date. The display was an older, 720p Samsung DLP rear-projection TV with a single DVI input. While I always liked the sound from my Denon receiver, its lack of HDMI inputs meant that I couldn't enjoy Blu-ray's new audio formats. And while my 20-year-old Boston Acoustics speakers were decent, I didn't want to settle for just decent any longer; I wanted kick-ass. And that meant giving my system a makeover that would return it to being truly reference-quality.

Before doing the makeover, I thought about many of the things I've recommended in my column over the years. I wanted to make sure I obeyed as much of my own advice as possible because, heck, if I don't listen to myself, why should any of you?

The first pieces of advice I took were to get my wife involved and to set a budget. I described to her what I had in mind and, in probably the ultimate A/V wife move, she said, "Whatever makes you happy." Then, sensing she'd just been dealt a Titanic-size bargaining chip, she mentioned that she sure would like to get our backyard redone. Touché!

Many of my columns recommend finding a custom installer to handle your project, and I obviously had a leg up there. To help out, I brought in Tom Ramirez and Andrew Petroski from my company, Custom Theater and Audio, in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina. Between the three of us, we knocked out this relatively complex install in a single day!

For years, my home theater Holy Grail has been a front projector. But my quest, like the Crusaders', had long been in vain. The projectors I wanted were too expensive, and there didn't seem to be a room in my house that would support one. This is where my next piece of advice came into play: build a dual-display system. I knew that my living room would never be dark enough that I could use a projector for daytime viewing, so why not get a large plasma set for TV watching and a projection system for movies?

I settled on a Pioneer Elite Kuro 60-inch plasma because of its amazingly deep blacks and because it's more calibration-friendly than the non-Elite version. Since I'd have a projection screen dropping down in front of the set, I went with OmniMount's ULPT-X mount because it hugged the set closer to the wall than anything else I could find. As a bonus, it has a really slick "kickstand" feature that lets you swing the set's bottom away from the wall, making it a breeze to access the TV's rear panel for any future tinkering. The TV and mount also covered the access hole we needed to cut into the wall so that we could run all of the video and power cabling through my attic to the projector and screen.