Fitting a home theater into a multipurpose finished attic
February 12, 2017 1:24 PM   Subscribe

Given my family's predilection for older houses, the 40'x20' attic space in our new house may be my best shot ever at having a semi-proper home theater. Its theatre aspect will be at most a weekly use, however, and the room will function as our den the rest of the time. Cross beams in the attic will let me hang both the projector and a screen so they will be out of the way except when needed.

So, a few questions:

- What are the best DIY home theater resources? I did purchase the O'Reilly HOME THEATER HACKS in their current Humble Bundle, but its utility seems limited for this non-dedicated use.
- What home theater tips are overrated, and which are underrated? I expect the primary use to be movies, possibly streaming but usually disc-based, with a separate TV used for casual viewing and gaming.
- The attic ceiling is currently exposed boards, stained caramel. We're debating painting it, and specifically painting it white. Obviously white is not ideal for a home theater set-up, but how not ideal is it?
- Our everyday TV setup will be perpendicular to our theater -- in other words, the left speaker of our theater would be the front right speaker while watching television, and the right speaker of our theater would be the rear right speaker while watching television. Are there receivers out there that will understand this?
posted by blueshammer to Home & Garden (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The ProjectorCentral projector calculator is critical to planning placement of your projector and screen.

I feel like a lot of people get tied up picking parts and doing some crazy stuff, but really having a big screen in a dark room with a projector is magic. Things that matter:
  • Dark Room
  • Correct spacing/alignment of projector and screen
  • Sound Volume
  • Projector screen being level
I would guess that after using your projector for a few weeks the primary tv is going to feel really small. I would consider using the projector as the primary video device.

Typing this message on my home theater PC.
posted by gregr at 2:13 PM on February 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

A few suggestions.

1) Make the setup as simple to use as possible - one button and off you go. If there is any setup involved it will limit your use.
2) Scrap the idea of sharing speakers - this will never work well (see #1)
3) Get a good center channel speaker.
4) Think carefully if you really need a screen. You can spend lots of money on a high quality screen, but you can also get exceptional quality with minimal effort. Rather than buy a screen we actually painted a wall - if you look around carefully you can find how to do this w/ HomeDepot paint. Get the right shade of gray, plus lots of sanding on a flat wall and it's really magic - plus you can't beat the size we're at close to 150", colors are great - we don't get any "gain" from the screen but if you are in a dark room that shouldn't matter much...
posted by NoDef at 3:08 PM on February 12, 2017

I've just installed a fairly basic home theatre in my home office - it'll be dual-use, so the kids can watch a film at the weekends or play a few games in the evening on a nice big screen. We're in the process of getting all of my old consoles connected, and so far it's been great fun. My one piece of advice is not to overthink. The step up from a standard TV to a projector, screen, amp and speakers is a pretty massive one, even done on a budget.

We went fairly cheap. A low-to-mid-priced Sony amp with upconversion for component and composite inputs turned out to be ideal for our purposes. The screen is manual and not enormous, the projector is an Optoma that was a best buy in a few reviews of budget models. The speakers are a cheap Yamaha 5.1 set, with four identical speakers and a subwoofer. So far the only other thing we've done is to clear a space for a sofa between the two surround speakers.

Our white ceiling doesn't bother me - once you're watching something it pretty much fills your visual field (or feels like it does). As long as the lights are off and you have blackout blinds or curtains on any windows, I wouldn't worry. You can always paint later if it bothers you.

We haven't run any calibration yet. It sounds fine to me. I'll probably give calibration a try this week though, as it looks fairly painless, and I might even notice a difference.

I don't recall seeing the ability to switch the functions of individual speakers in the surround system in any of the amps I looked at. Seems a bit niche requirement.

Mount the projector so that the lens is exactly centred horizontally on the screen. Keystone adjustment won't always compensate properly for an off-centre projector.

It's amazing how much wiring you end up with. Five or more speaker cables, power and video signal to the projector, the usual rat's nest of cables behind the amp... Give some thought to how you might want to conceal some of this. Wooden beams are good for cable runs, but you might also need some trunking/conduit to do a tidy installation. Cable ties and those self-adhesive anchors that you can strap them to are handy.
posted by pipeski at 3:16 PM on February 12, 2017

Correction to the above: five identical speakers (of course)
posted by pipeski at 3:59 PM on February 12, 2017

If there's anyone else in the house (kids, etc), you might want to look into soundproofing.
posted by blue_beetle at 6:15 PM on February 12, 2017

You will not have a good time getting the speaker setup working the way you expect. Either get a separate sound bar for the TV so you can keep the two setups completely separate or set up the screen and projector so you can raise/lower it in front of the TV screen when you want to use it. Any current decent quality home theater amp will have two HDMI outputs so that it can drive whichever of the the TV or the projector you want to use at a given time (or both at the same time if you had some burning desire to do that), but I haven't seen one that holds two speaker output configurations at a time and allows you to switch between them. Reassigning channels, yes, but it is a tedious process.

The only alternative I can think of still requires two extra speakers, so a sound bar on sale wouldn't be much more money and would be easier to use.

Some amps can drive a second zone, which is generally intended for playing music on outdoor speakers, but could be used to have two speakers on zone two for the TV. You would be limited to 5.1 output on your main zone and stereo sound on zone two from a 7.1 channel amp, though, as the extra two are permanently connected and configured as zone two speakers and wouldn't be positioned properly for 7.1 sound when you're facing the projection screen.

Really, your best option is just to use a retractable screen in front of the TV or a separate sound bar, but at least there is a way to make things work if you absolutely must have the seating different for TV vs. projector and must use the same amplifier for both.
posted by wierdo at 10:20 PM on February 12, 2017

Oh, and for the love of Pete don't buy a home theater in a box. Almost any matched set of bookshelf speakers plus the corresponding center channel speaker will sound noticeably better. A decent center channel improves the intelligibility of dialog by leaps and bounds.

You'd be better off with 5" bookshelf speakers and no subwoofer than you would with tiny HTIB speakers and a sub if you can't do it all at once. I should know, I've done both, and I'm not even particularly snobbish about sound quality. That said, there are subwoofers as cheap as $150 that are decent enough.

AVSForum has a sub forum dedicated specifically to "HTIB alternatives," by which they mean same price-to-maybe-$100 more money and light years better sound. The biggest problem with the HTIB setups is that the included amplifier won't drive bigger speakers satisfactorily, so you have to toss the whole damn thing if you decide to upgrade later on. Even a low end Onkyo can be used with larger speakers in the future and will not cost any more than a HTIB kit when paired with a set of tiny kit speakers.
posted by wierdo at 10:35 PM on February 12, 2017

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