When we started looking at finishing the basement at our house, I really wanted to put in a home theater. Eventually we ended up with a 6 seat theater with a 12 foot screen and surround sound. The total cost was less than you might pay for a large screen television and it was a lot of fun to setup. Now instead of going to the theater and paying $6 to $8 per ticket, we rent a video and have friends over to the house. Here is how we set things up.
Yahoo has a credit card that earns points that can be redeemed for SuperCertificates that can be redeemed for Amazon.com gift certificates that can be redeemed for Amazon merchandise. It is rather round about, but we were able to get our projector for free using the method. It took 2 years of saving our points, but we weren’t in a hurry and it was a lot easier to justify the projector when we got it for free.
The projector is an InFocus X1A DLP Multimedia Video Projector. I believe it has now been replaced by the InFocus X2 Multimedia Projector which is a little brighter, but very similar. Both projectors have a theater mode that helps keep the color realistic like film. Many “business presentation” projectors distort the color in order to make a brighter image so they don’t look as good for watching movies. The X1 can handle a wide variety of inputs making it idea for a budget home theater where you may want to start with your existing components and upgrade in the future.
After looking at several different options for screens, we eventually just went to Lowes and asked for the whitest paint they had available. Since we have a high degree of control over the ambient light in the basement, we get a great image with just a white wall. I’m sure we’d get a brighter image from a high-gain screen or using screen goo, but as long as the room is dark the image looks great. When you put the X1 in film mode it reduces the brightness, so it is best to test it
We placed the DVD player/amplifier in a closet and ran component video cables to the projector along with an extension cord. The component cables were the single largest expense of the system. Later I discovered that the DVD player can’t convert a normal composite signal into component. This means that we have to rewired the back of the projector and the dvd player each time we want to watch television, VHS or video game. This isn’t too bad because we mainly watch DVD’s, but I wish I had run an s-video cable along with the component cables. The X1 automatically will switch between inputs so if I add an s-video cable it will choose which ever one is sending a signal.
For the surround sound, we used the Sony DAV-C770 Dream System. I like the dream system, but I wouldn’t recommend this particular model. There seems to be some type of problem that makes it skip on certain DVDs. Sometimes cleaning the DVD helps, but sometimes it doesn’t. On the sound quality side of things, we are very happy with it. Generally we don’t listen to movies super loud, so it meets our needs. If you like to really feel the room shake you might want something with a powered subwoofer instead. This DVD player can send progressive scan through the component outputs and works well with the X1. It is important to make sure that your DVD and projector are both compatible at their highest quality output.
I wasn’t sure how we were going to install everything until after we had finished the walls in the basement. This made running the wires much more difficult. We were able to get most of the speakers in place by using a long thin piece of metal to fish the wires through the walls. There were a few places where we had to cut access holes in the drywall to help guide the wires to the right place, but they patched up well once we were done.
I bought a mount for the projector and mounted it to a board that was long enough to screw into two of the joists in the ceiling so it would be solid. I left a medium sized hole for the wires, just in case I need to run any more cables in the future. The mount is adjustable, but we had to be careful when deciding how close to place it to the screen. The X1 has a zoom lens which gives you a little flexibility, but we wanted the image to go from corner to corner. This took a little bit of playing around with it before we screwed it into the ceiling.
We also had to test to make sure that when people were watching the movie, their heads wouldn’t cause a shadow. We put the projector on a shelf that held it very close to the ceiling and then experimented with moving it to different positions. When we had it where we thought was best, I tacked a long red thread to one wall from the ceiling where the projector would be mounted to the floor where the bottom of the image would appear. This allowed us to see where we could sit without causing a shadow. We experimented with different chairs and by moving the platforms different distances from the screen before we found the right balance and went ahead and mounted the projector.
At first we had some problems with the X1 whenever there was a white flash on a DVD. It would think that there was no longer a signal on that input and go to a blue screen while it looked for the signal. We discovered this when watching Paycheck. It has a lot of white flashes toward the end, so we weren’t really sure how it ended until the next day when I fixed the problem with the projector. It turned out that there was a newer firmware available that gave you an option to increase the amount of time before the projector decides that a signal is missing. This fixed the problem and it hasn’t happened since.
Since our DVD player was in the closet we had to get up and open the closet door to use the remote. Some friends bought me a remote control extender for my birthday. We put one on the lower right hand side of the screen on the floor plugged into the wall outlet. The second one goes in the closet on top of the DVD player. The receiver gets the infrared signal from any remote and signals the remote end to output a duplicate infrared signal. It seems to work quite well and we can now control any equipment in the closet from the theater area.
We built two platforms for the seating. Both are on wheels and covered with carpet. One is 6 inches high and the other is 18. Since the platforms are on wheels we can move them to the sides of the room if we need more space for something else in the basement. Originally I wanted to put actual theater seats on the platforms, but most of the seats I could find that looked comfortable were $1,200 to $1,400 apiece. We finally found two couches with three individually reclining sections. They give the feeling of a theater seat because each person can adjust their own headrest and reclining back, but you can lock the reclining feature and fit 4 or 5 people on each of them like a couch if needed. Together they were less expensive than one theater chair and they give us a lot more flexibility when we have larger groups of people over.
In the end we ended up with a nice theater for watching movies. There are other projectors on the market that produce higher resolution images that are brighter, but the X1 is very adequate for our needs. This image shows a long exposure (I paused the DVD) of a movie being projected on the wall with the lights turned off.