Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Home Theater Progress

Putting together a home theater is harder than I thought. I figured the hard part was getting all the right equipment installed and working. But it turns out, for me, that's the easy part. Deciding what the room should look like is proving to be a real chore. We talked to a cabinet maker. He measured the room and we discussed ideas. About a week later I drafted up (by hand) some plans for what I want the cabinets to look like. I sent him copies of the plans and dimensions of the things that need to fit in the cabinets (screen and speakers, primarily). And I have heard nothing. Meanwhile we had to decide on chairs and wall treatments, while continuing to discuss (in other words, repeatedly change our minds about) the appearance of the cabinets. We were kinda hoping that we could walk in to a home theater store, look at the theaters that they have in the showroom, perhaps look at a book of photos, and say "we want one that looks like that." But things aren't that simple.

We have been making progress, however. We finally ordered the chairs (which take 6 to 8 weeks to be delivered). They are Berkline "Matinee" chairs. We had to hunt around a bit but we ended up getting a good deal on the chairs. The projector arrived and we have already used it to watch a few movies (projected on the wall). I ordered the speakers, which should arrive this week. I also have the receiver (more on that later). I ordered an APC equipment rack that I just finished assembling tonight. It sits in the unfinished basement space behind the theater room and is waiting for shelves, power strip, and cable management stuff.

For future plans, I have located a surplus computer store in Atlanta and I will be visiting it (very soon I hope) to pick up whatever equipment I can. I need a computer to run the automation system, and I need an ethernet switch to put in the rack. I hope to pick up a rack-mounted keyboard and monitor as well. I have finally decided on a Blu-ray player: the Oppo BDP-83. The reviewers all rave about it and it appears to be well supported. I also want to try to pick up a used Sony 400-disc DVD changer from eBay. That will be enough to hold our DVDs and will provide the basis for hands-off movie selection.

After much debate and research on a suitable receiver I finally settled on the Integra 8.9. Although the amp is more powerful than I need (140 watts per channel for 7 channels) the deciding factor was the unit's ability to "upconvert" video to the full resolution used by the projector. Face it, when you project an image to be over 100" wide any little defect becomes pretty glaring. DVD resolution is fine for 40" or 50" TVs, but when you go to something this large it starts to suffer. All the movies we own are on DVD and I don't have plans to convert the whole library to Blu-ray. So it is important that we be able to play DVDs and have them look good. The Integra will convert the lower resolution (480 lines) of a DVD to the higher resolution (1080 lines) of the projector, and it does this using one of the best video processing chips in the industry -- the Silicon Optix Reon. And of course the receiver does an excellent job with the audio too.

The final piece to the puzzle is the automation system itself. There are several manufacturers for these "high end" automation systems, such as Control 4 and Crestron. But they are all very expensive, completely custom, and completely controlled by the vendor. The end-user can't make any changes to the system without paying someone to come out and "reprogram" the system. I think I would rather have a Pronto remote than be hamstrung like that. So I am still looking at a software solution call Cinemar. It is fully programmable by the end-user which gives me enough room to tweak and play to my heart's content. I still have concerns about it, however. There are no custom remotes for it, so the best "remote" ends up being a touch-screen tablet PC. That's a tad on the large & expensive side just for a remote (I'm investigating its support for the iTouch, which would be ideal). Also, Cinemar doesn't seem to have solid support for some of the components that I will be using, so I will have to do a lot of interface work. In that regard it is kind of the Linux of home automation. Except you have to pay for it.

Our goal is to have the theater done by Christmas. If we can come to a conclusion on how to decorate the room we have a good chance of hitting that goal.

No comments: