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

Outside of the Box

Room challenges make for an innovative design in this dream home theater, which sounds as good as it looks.

When you think about growing old with your significant other, you probably think of retiring to a secluded community and maybe traveling together. But did you ever consider home theater as part of your future plans? It is for this couple in Chino Hills, California, who had the luxury of building their dream house—the house they will eventually retire in. They fitted it with all the amenities they know they will want down the road. Thinking long-term, they installed a complete home-automation system with lighting control, security cameras, an alarm system, climate control, and wholehouse audio, as well as a putting green and an elevator. Their plan also includes a dedicated home theater on the bottom level of their home, where they can enjoy their favorite movies in a perfectly controlled environment.

Making for an interesting installation, the homeowners brought in Josh Christian of DSI Entertainment Systems after they’d allocated the space for the theater. “We were about six months too late for the planning stages and had to work within the confines of what was available,” says Christian. “The theater room was square. Standing-wave acoustic problems are much worse if the room dimensions are square or divisible by one another.” Luckily, the room adjacent to the space originally planned for the theater, which was designated as the gym on the blueprints, was rectangular. Christian persuaded the clients to switch the rooms and use the room with the more acoustic-friendly dimensions as the theater. The homeowners agreed.

Secret Room, Superior Sound

Still, the room had a design issue: “There was a jog in the wall, so the room wasn’t a perfect rectangle,” says Christian. He decided to think outside of the box and used that jog to form a false fabric structure that would serve as the screen wall. This would create a hidden room behind, accessible by a hidden doorway to the right of the screen and behind the curtain. The false wall is covered with acoustically transparent fabric, so the speakers housed behind it can fire through unhindered.

The homeowners had only one parameter: They wanted to use M&K; speakers based on previous good experience with them, and they wanted the sound to blow them away. The false wall was a blessing in disguise, as it allowed enough space behind the screen for ideal speaker positioning. Normally, space constraints behind the screen force you to place the speakers right up against the wall. However, “front-channel speakers are designed to be positioned a few feet from the wall,” says Christian. “If not, the voices sound honky or otherwise distorted because the midbass is boosted. Many speakers have a boundary-compensation switch to compensate for this dynamic, but the M&K; 150 monitors we used don’t. Because of the generous depth of the hidden room, we were able to move the speakers 4 to 5 feet away from the wall, which is similar to placement in an audiophile setup. You get great front-to-back imaging, and the speakers are totally hidden.”

Christian, having recently studied the latest acoustical research from sound guru Floyd Toole, wanted to install four subwoofers instead of one. “If you don’t use several subwoofers and equalize the bass, the bass at different seats is going to sound varied,” says Christian. The M&K; LCRs, with two M&K; MX-350 subwoofers, took care of the front part of the room. For the rear subwoofers, DSI installed two more MX-350 subwoofers in the lower cabinets on both sides of the doorway cabinetry at the back of the room. The tops of the cabinets on both sides are filled with Von Schweikert TS-150 surround speakers. (This model has since been discontinued by the manufacturer.) Two more are hidden in custom wood columns at the sides of the room. They feature backlit mica panels and wrought iron above and below the speaker niches.

The secret room also houses an equipment rack with two Meridian G57 amps and a balanced G68XXV digital preamp. Christian used the preamp’s DSP room-correction mode to tighten up the sound. To do this, an installer simply wires a sound-pressure meter and a laptop to the back of the preamp, which then sends out test tones to the speakers in a preset sequence. The computer then downloads the data and figures out which bass frequencies have problems. “Every enclosed room has standing waves and gets boomy at certain frequencies,” says Christian. “The Meridian works by shortening the time that these frequencies are played back. You hear cleaner, tighter bass, and that boom frequency is not noticeable.” Also, the secret room is entirely acoustically absorptive, so you don’t hear any equipment noise when you sit in the audience.

Categories: Formal, High End, Pro Interiors

The Philharmonic House of Design

It’s almost out of vogue to champion the merits of a hidden install in today’s home theater magazines. As technology becomes more and more efficient and form factors shrink, blending interior design and technology has never been easier. At this year’s Philharmonic House of Design project, however, sleek flat panels and discreet in-wall speakers were just the first step in creating a home where technology plays as important a role in the overall design as the gorgeous old-world Spanish fittings.

The Philharmonic House of Design is a traveling home showcase that happens once a year, featuring cutting-edge interior design from some of California’s top designers. This year, 19 different designers descended upon the location, a 8,700-square-foot new home construction in the exclusive Village of Covenant Hills in the Ladera Ranch community in Southern California. Each designer was given his or her own room to design, creating an opulent dream home with breathtaking views of the surrounding hillside.

Many of the past Philharmonic House of Design projects have included technology in the form of a simple dedicated theater or media room. But this time, technology became part of the interior design planning itself. In fact, the technology, like the Spanish Revival dcor, is a theme that unites the various rooms in this home. Rather than simply one room with technology included, this year, the home got a head-to-toe whole-home infusion of audio and video, complete with carefully labeled and organized structured wiring.

Ken Hoffman and his partner Cesar Guerrero, of Digital Home Design in Irvine, California, had worked very closely with several ASID (American Society of Interior Designers) members, who began encouraging him to get involved. “As high-end clients bring in high-end interior designers, they are asking to incorporate technology into the design,” says Hoffman. “This pushes interior designers to learn more about technology and what is actually possible. If a project isn’t coordinated well and interior designers, architects, and installers work in a vacuum, then the home will seem disjointed. I think we’ve accomplished quite the opposite in the Philharmonic House of Design.”

Hoffman and his team began wiring the home for technology back in December of 2005, having only four months to do the entire installation. He began meeting with each of the interior designers to ascertain their technological needs. Most of them, Hoffman states, had no idea the extent of customization that was available to them. “It was an interesting experience working with so many interior designers,” says Hoffman. “We tried to identify what the vision of the room was and how technology could compliment the design and the dcor of the room.”

As you walk into the Philharmonic House of Design, the first thing you notice is the gorgeous family room just off the kitchen with bright sunlight washing in. The eye then goes to the fireplace and the 61-inch plasma, framed to match the wood furnishings in the room, one of many custom solutions to follow. But the real wow factor was the X-arm, an innovative robotic display mounting system by CLO Systems that lets you control the angle of the plasma. If the light changes throughout the day, say, or you switch seats, the plasma can be tilted left, right, up, or down for the best viewing angles. When Hoffman asked me to identify the speakers in the room, I couldn’t. They were completely invisible speakers in a 5.1 array. The five speakers and the subwoofer were in-wall models that had been drywalled over and painted to match the rest of the ceiling or wall.

Moving on to the kitchen, I was tempted to ask myself, “Where’s the beef?” But, before I could get the words out, Hoffman had pressed a button on a remote, and out of gorgeous custom cabinetry above the countertop, two Sharp LCD panels descended. Of course, I only knew it was a Sharp because I asked—Hoffman had custom-framed these LCDs, again, to match the woodwork. He says that such custom bezels can add about $1,000 to the cost of the display.

We then traveled downstairs to the wine cellar and secondary dining space with a completely customizable and interactive proprietary touchpanel on the wall, whose sole function is to monitor the wine cellar. This amazing little bit of custom installation lets you scan the bar code of the wine, which then enters all of the details, the name, the year, the type of wine, and even what the wine might go well with into the hard drive. You can then search by wine type—champagne, syrah, merlot—or any other criteria. The touchpanel even monitors the temperature of the wine cellar.

On the second story, a full-blown media room features a 7-foot-wide Stewart Filmscreen, which offers an amazing image, even with some ambient light. The Vidikron two-chip DLP projector fires from the custom coffee table/ottoman. When the screen is not in use, a gorgeous Media Decor HideandChic motorized 7-foot-wide art screen of a Whiteface Mountain artwork replica silently rolls down over the screen. “Once the other interior designers saw this, they all wanted one in their respective room,” says Hoffman. A proprietary quad processor allows the Vidikron to project four separate 16:9 images, with four different cable-box feeds so homeowners can watch PIP programming on the big screen. An IP-based NetStreams automation system allows easy access to the wholehouse system and includes custom graphics based on the environment. For movie-watching duties, a Kaleidescape DVD server lets potential homeowners store and access their DVD collections at the touch of a button.

Hoffman and his team worked around the clock to meet the opening day in the third week in April. All the different trades converged on the house at one time, including designers, cabinet makers, plumbers, and the A/V crew, which made for an extremely hectic work schedule. “Working during the day, we had to park several blocks away and trudge equipment up the hill,” says Hoffman. “That’s why we put in 12-hour nights.

“I think by participating, we were able to show off what can be done with high-level technology,” says Hoffman. “By showing potential clients how clean the wiring can be, how you can actually hide an LCD behind a mirror in your bathroom, and how you don’t have to be stuck with the oftentimes unattractive industrial design of products, we make our industry more user friendly.”

Entertainment, comfort, and security are perfectly integrated throughout the kitchen, the bath, intimate spaces, entertainment areas, patios, and the spa and pool area. Donations from the public benefit the wide range of music and education programs that the Philharmonic Society provides.


Designers participating are Lori Hankins, Sheldon Harte, Elizabeth Burris, Adriel Cogdal, Jason Titus, Michael Fullen, Steve Stein, Frank Pitman, Wendy Miller, Marvin Stark and Kerry Harker, Anne Figueroa, Chris Kittrell, Beth Whitlinger, Barbara Coulter-Phillips, Susan Wesley, Gayle Lee, and Joan Wilson. Built by custom homebuilder David Mulvaney of Mulvaney & Co. Installation by Digital Home Design. Photography by Martin King and Stephan Brown.

How It Works For You

Think big. Just because a plasma or speaker doesn’t fit with your dcor, if you have a truly innovative interior designer or custom installer, you can have custom solutions for your particular environment.

Don’t miss out on technology. If you think you don’t want audio/video capability in your home because you don’t like the way it looks, consider options like in-wall speakers that can be covered with drywall and painted to match your dcor or an automated screen that covers plasmas or projection screens with world-renowned artwork.

Categories: Formal, High End, Pro Interiors