Trekkie Theater

I have been involved in the consumer electronics industry since 1972 and have always had some type of theater, so when I built my home I wanted to incorporate all my accumulated knowledge with the latest smart-home products and technologies. The theater was an integral part of the whole-house design that features multiple zones, automatic shades, cabling and a high level of control. Not only do I have the best home theater I could build, its performance surpasses many commercial theaters. For the whole-home AV, everyone in the family can choose their own personal source from any room in the house.

A Trekkie since the original series, it stands to reason I’d give the dedicated theater a Star Trek theme. The design was taken from various internal ship plans and photos. I drew the plans with exact specifications for the room, the lighting and the “Bridge”. The panels you see throughout the theater came from Paramount, however, the custom light boxes were built based on my design.

The ceiling is hung on springs to isolate the room’s 12,000 watts of power from the upstairs. Additionally, the upstairs floor is made of metal pan decking with 2” of concrete and nothing can be heard in the theater below. The drywall in the theater is mounted to 8” concrete (sides-only)walls using rubber isolators. The walls do not have physical contact with the ceiling making the entire room completely isolated from every part of the house.

The theater is 20’ X 50’ and pitched downward like a commercial theater. Three Klipsch KPT-941T Cinema’s are installed on a platform behind a Stewart 16X9 foot Studiotek 130 perf screen with horizontal masking for viewing 2.35:1 cinemascope films displayed by the Digital Projections 1080P Titan 3D reference projector. There are four 18” Velodyne 1250-watt subwoofers below the screen. Klipsch KPT-250 THX speakers are used for the side (2) and rear (3) surrounds using only the highest quality connectors. The front speakers are biamped using DX38 Electrovoice crossover/equalizers and powered by three McIntosh 501 mono block amplifiers. Four McIntosh MC252 amps power the front horns and five surrounds. The heart of the systems is a McIntosh MX150 12-channel, 2-zone preamp

Electrically isolated from the rest of the house, the theater’s equipment room is powered by its own 200-amp voltage stabilizer feeding a dedicated 200-amp panel. All sub-woofers have their own 16-amp circuit and all the amp and theater switching is done by Lutron. There are four Middle Atlantic racks where all the computer equipment, AMX controller, Autopatch, DISH satellite receivers, digital amps and other equipment reside. All zone amps, computer networking equipment including a commercial router and about 45 Ethernet ports are integrated here, too. Digital amps power all the zones in the house except for the library, great room and hearth room which use separate Denon 7.1 channel surround systems with a variety of Paradigm and Klipsch speaker systems. In essence, we have four theaters throughout the house.

The main theater sources are located in the theater for easy access, including a Sony Blu-ray player, a Pioneer Laser Disc Player, and an SVHS player for all the various media I’ve collected over the years. I can monitor all sources including four DISH satellite receivers from the “Bridge”. There is also an analog editing system for 8MM tapes, which will be converted to computer digital editing later for home movies. Yes, I’ve had a lot of hobbies over the years.

In a separate music room, there is a Request music server mixed in with some “antique” equipment I like to keep around including a cassette player, turntable and a classic Crown open-reel tape deck. Everything is connected to a Lexicon MC12 Preamp, the hub for another Klipsch 7.1 channel music system powered by a McIntosh MC207 amp. I guess you can tell I’m partial to the McIntosh/Klipsch combination, which I’ve used most my life. Only the models change.

I installed a complete AMX control system under the supervision of Digital Home Design of Indianapolis, which runs all the various AV systems throughout. I programed all the page and screen designs while they provided the interface and complex programming. Following my specifications, AV Solutions in Cottonwood, AZ pulled and terminated all the wiring and set up the racks. Both companies have been a key player in harnessing the complex control required in my overall house design.

RPG Acoustics handled the room layout to ensure optimum acoustics and seating positions. There are four base traps in each corner tuned to four different frequencies, utilizing five different types of panels. The two seating areas are recessed in the concrete, plus shock supported platforms where constructed for the seats which are powered by four Buttkicker transducers driven by two, 2000-watt Carven amps.

Lighting control is part of a 180-circuit Lutron Home Works system that I designed from scratch which is located in six mechanical rooms around the house. For the theater, lighting is a combination of back lighting and dimmable Lutron fluorescents with Rosco color tube filters. The blue stripes were created with electro-luminescent light strips covered with Rosco color film, and the star field consists of 750 strands with 1400 points of light that extend through the acoustical material creating an increased depth of field. There are multiple Lutron scenes depending on what we are watching. For instance, the ceiling stars and Trek panels stay on when watching sports but for movies, all lights are turned off except for 70 fiber-optic lights that are gradually dimmed over 15 minutes, allowing the eye to adjust to the darkness. Additionally, no light leaks into the room when people enter and exit from the theater.

The house has 19 HD sets not including the four theater screens that vary in size from 19” to 73”. Even the indoor pool has a 50” rear screen projection system. Thirteen AMX touch screens are located in different areas of the house and we added two iPads for the great room and library. All in all we pre-wired over 100,000 feet of cable plus installed 2” empty PVC pipe for future upgrades. Perhaps, I go a tad overboard but this is my passion, so I image this will be a constant work in progress, yet, it’s been meticulously customized so that every member of the family can easy operate the various systems.

Wide Open Spaces

Coming up with a unique, never seen, theater design takes some creative genius, and the folks at Woodbridge Stereo along with the homeowner and theater fabricator, HTL, delivered this one-off theater that is both eye-catching and surreal. Circling the theater are custom printed fabric panels of locally photographed images of the Jersey Shore, creating the effect that this home theater is sitting right in the middle of the beach.

While this 3-story home is 10,000 square feet, the theater space is actually very modest (13.5’ w x 16.9’ L x 8’ h). “The smaller dimensions made it challenging to fit eight full seats and the necessary equipment,” said Tom Altobelli, President of Woodbridge Stereo. “We placed the projector behind a lighthouse photo and shot the lens through a special glass element to open up the space. It also eliminated projector noise that would have seemed extremely loud in such a small room.”

Even in this tight space they were able to install a 42” x 99” 2.35:1 cinemascope screen with 2-way motorized masking for 1.78:1 content. It was coupled with a Runco projector equipped with an anamorphic lens. Powered by a Marantz receiver, a Triad 7.2 (two subwoofers) speaker system was mounted in-wall. An AMX touchscreen was Integrated into a motorized dock in the center console between the rear seats. The final touch is the picturesque ocean view, created by the fabric panels, which makes the room appear far larger than it is in reality.

“With the collapse of new home construction, large, dedicated theaters are simply less common,” says Altobelli. “With more clients choosing to integrate theaters in smaller spaces, effective acoustical design and noise isolation techniques are more critical that ever. Moreover, improvements in broadcast, disc, and streamed content, as well as lower cost video projection hardware, allows us to create very compelling theaters and possibly a home automation system in a wider range of applications and at price points not previously possible.”

In addition to the theater, Woodbridge Stereo installed a 14-zone whole-home audio system that is expandable to 20 zones, which is controlled by 12 AMX touchscreen controllers located throughout the house. Architectural and outdoor speakers from Triad, DALI and Stealth are mounted throughout every living space making it possible to listen to music from any location. There are nine independent video zones with various size NuVision flat panel TVs installed in every major room of the house including two family rooms with 5.1 Music and Cinema systems (one is located in the basement), a gym, a playroom, the master bedroom, the master bath and two other bedrooms.

Sources for the whole-home AV include a four-zone Request hard drive DVD/music server with a storage capacity of 1000 DVDs or 15,000 CDs, however, it is expandable should the homeowner exceed it’s current capacity. There are five globally-accessible HD/DVR cable receivers in addition to both satellite and FM/HD radio.

Other systems installed by Woodbridge include a Panasonic cellular phone system with 16 locations and a wireless Internet network, which included three access points. The remotely accessible AMX system is capable of controlling further upgrades for HVAC, CCTV, security, weather and Internet radio.

Terminator Theatre

You never know where a service call can take you. We were called out to install additional wiring to add satellite receivers to other rooms in the homeowner’s house. While there I happened to ask the owners if they had any plans for the room where they currently had a Sony projection TV. They said they wanted to replace it with a plasma and while a dedicated theatre interested them, they didn’t know the first place to begin. Well, that’s where we come in.

I convinced them to consider a projector/screen combination rather than a plasma. They didn’t want to always be in a dark environment and I explained how current projectors and screen combos provide a high level of quality even in high ambient light conditions.

Since both the homeowners were unanimous that The Terminator was their favorite movie, it seemed natural to transform their 14’ x 21’ bare room into a “Terminator” themed theatre. The adventure had begun. This had to be an over-the-top theatre so I watched all the Terminator movies from the beginning that night well into the morning, taking notes on set design, shooting locations, and what elements we could integrate into the design. The majority of the design elements were inspired by the second movie: T2 – Judgement Day.

Our design team was to give a fresh spin on the vault in the Cyberdyne building where the T-800 arm and chip were housed in the movie. Seeing as this was supposed to be a vault, the original door was replaced with a steel door, the door frame was built out and covered in aluminum plate with the trademark vault bolts surrounding the frame on both sides of the entrance. A decoy security camera pans back and forth activated by a motion sensor. A customized “Skynet Research Containment Facility” sign was placed next to the entrance to complete the illusion.

The colors and decor were based on the lobby entrance of the Cyberdyne building. Special drywall techniques were used to replicate the ‘layered’ effect of the lobby wall panels. The “research components” consisted of a full-scale endoskull modified to have the eyes glow red at the push of a button. There is a scale Sideshow collectible Endoarm and a custom-fabricated Neural Chip placed here. Specially machined metal serial number plates with fabricated tech specs flank the airtight sealed display boxes. A custom made stainless steel /acrylic LED Cyberdyne logo is located above the screen.

The electrical panel was stealthy installed inside the theatre behind the cabinet doors to the left of the front wall. However, all the electronic components were housed in the mechanical room, three rooms away. Since this was going to be an industrial style decor anyway, the decision was made to run an oversized exposed armoured electrical cable across the ceiling and into the cold air return. A second hollow armoured cable run would be used to house the video and control cabling to the projector . The cabinet doors were trimmed with diamond plate inserts and Halon control/First Aid signs to hide the electrical panel location. To further the industrial look, large laser cut foam gears were designed as a centrepiece on the ceiling to take attention away from the conduit runs. The entire ceiling was surrounded by a custom made “I-Beam” made of MDF, with a metallic look. The LED lighting was installed in the I-Beam to provide the appropriate eerie blue glow. The LED lighting is controlled via a URC MX-3000 touchscreen through 6 RF dimmers and switches.

The standard hush box we normally use to house the projector would not work with this design, so an open design was utilized to ensure adequate ventilation. The hydraulic arms used to hold the diamond plate shelf were custom built from scratch using various types of metal rods, piping, wiring, hoses, MDF and assorted hardware. Using the Panasonic PTAE4000 projector’s quiet fan and superb picture helped maintain the design and kept the video under budget. A Screen Innovations Black Diamond HD fixed screen was coupled with the Panasonic to enable the video system to be used with the lights at any desired level without sacrificing picture quality.

The robotic plane appears to come out of the back wall of the theatre and is a full-scale (6 feet wingspan) replica of the Hunter Killer aerial drone that flies through the hallway of the Skynet facility in the third Terminator movie. The plane was painstakingly carved entirely out of high density Styrofoam over two weeks. Various metal and wood elements were used to create the underwing missiles, cameras, spot lights, machine guns and plasma cannons. Remote controlled LED lights give the “Eyes” the red evil color. Time consuming sanding & painting techniques and multiple coats were used to create the brushed metallic finish.

Finally, over $2000 worth of diamond plate aluminum sheeting was used to cover the entire proscenium, door inserts, and speaker columns. Using all of this metal should have had an adverse affect on the sound quality, but actually improved it by creating the perfect reflection points so very little had to be done as far as acoustics after calibration.

Equipment List

Panasonic PTAE4000 1080P Projector
Screen Innovations Black Diamond II HD 1.4 wall screen
DVDO VP50 THX Pro Video Scaler
Octava 1080P Active HDMI Video Balun
Onkyo Pro THX ultra2 PR-SC55886 Preamplifier
Parasound THX ultra2 M5125 5 CH Power Amplifier
Audiocontrol Bijou THX Room Correction Equalizer
BG Radia PD-6LCRi Planar In-Wall Speakers with PDR 3” ribbon tweeters
BG Radia PD-6i Planar In Wall Surround Speakers
Velodyne SC-IW Vibration Cancelling In-Wall Subwoofers
Velodyne SA-200 Subwoofer Power Amplifier
Buttkicker LFE Transducers
Buttkicker BKA 1000-N Power Amplifier
Universal Remote MX-3000BLK RF Touchscreen and MSC-400 RF Basestation
APC H15 Power Conditioner and J15 Power Conditioner/Battery Backup
Sony Playstation 3, X-Box 360 and Nintendo Wii game consoles
Bell Express Vu 9142 Dual Tuner PVR
Sony Blu Ray Disc Player
Apple TV
Monstercable THX/Ethereal cabling

Categories: Moderate, Pro Interiors, Theme