Our theater furniture was coming soon (since delayed until January), so I had to get our theater equipment bought and installed soon. It took about 2 weeks to pick the equipment and get it installed. It was all done just in time to watch Cars 2, the kids’ new favorite movie.

Watching Cars 2

I spent a few days researching equipment. First was to get speakers. Because the ceiling is exposed wood, I couldn’t get in-ceiling speakers, much less then Noble Fidelity ones that I got for the rest of the house. I could have gotten in-wall speakers, except for the center speaker which has no wall space to mount it.

I ended up with free-standing monitor speakers: ProMonitor 1000s for the 4 surround speakers, a ProCenter 2000 for the center channel and the ProSub 800 for a subwoofer. A very reasonably-priced setup. I used the ProMonitors for music in my office while I was waiting to install everything and I’ll probably replace my existing 4-foot floor-standing Klipsch speakers with those – they sound better, which is amazing considering they’re 10% as big. I was also surprised by how beautiful these speakers are. The pictures on their web site don’t do them justice. They have a nice shape and the paint is a glossy black, like the black you see on a nice piano, it’s quite stunning.

I mounted the speakers on the ceiling joists with the very sturdy mounts. This is not an optimal location to audiophiles, but I’ve never been in a theater where the speakers are mounted where audiophiles claim they need to be (ear-level), yet audiophiles use commercial theaters as the standard by which theater sound is judged. Go figure. Besides, theater speakers are just for movies and TV, which is a much lower bar for sound compared to music-listening. I can’t even tell that the sound is coming from above and they look pretty good against the ceiling near all the exposed cast iron pipes and lighting. The speakers are from Definitive Technology, my second choice for speakers when I was testing them early this year. I only installed 5 speakers (4 plus center) and a subwoofer. If/when 7.1 movies are the norm, I’ll add a couple rear speakers.

Next was to decide on a projector and screen. This turned out much easier than I thought. Stewart is the brand to get for screens (and what we had in our  old house), but they’re pricey. Instead, I chose an Elite Screens that cost at least half as much and is well-respected. The screen material is really all that matters and it’s hard to argue Stewart’s screen material is significantly better. Our basement is also our kids’ playroom, so I expect the screen (and everything!) to get damaged, so when I replace the screen in 3 or 4 years, I won’t feel bad (or angry at the kids;-). The big problem with a screen was that we had to have the cast iron pipes moved that were in the top right corner of the screen area. Months ago, I assumed I could fit a screen in without a problem, but it turned out that when I was really looking at the screens and their dimensions, the pipes were in the way. It was pretty simple, though difficult given they’ve been there for 100 years, to cut them short and re-route them for the radiator on the floor above. Mark came over to help me install the screen and it was pretty easy.

For choosing the projector, I did what I usually do with consumer electronics: go to Amazon.com and see what the best-sellers are and read reviews there and elsewhere. That usually gets me down to a few choices that can be narrowed down to one quickly. This time, my best options were the Benq W6000 and the Epson PowerLite 8350 – both great values for their price. Conveniently, one is a DLP and the other is an LCD, so I, not being convinced that DLP is any better these days, chose LCD. I bought my favorite brand of mount, Chief, and could mount it flush to the ceiling. I just put some blocking up between two joists and drilled the necessary holes and I could mount the projector all by myself. I used my sloppy soldering skills to rig up a trigger wire to lower and raise the screen when the projector is turned on and off and that was done.

The A/V receiver is an Onkyo TX-NR709. I like Onkyo and see no reason to get anything else, so that was easy. The receiver is in the same rack as all the other equipment for the house in the storage room of the in the basement – no need to cool the equipment and I can’t hear their buzzing at all. Wiring for the theater is trivial since the ladder rack runs the length of the basement and all the speakers are accessible – no running wires behind drywall. The subwoofer is located in the cabinetry beneath the screen, so I did have to run some speaker wire behind the cabinet wall. A 50-foot HDMI cable runs across the basement to the projector – no HDMI-over-Cat6 extenders here like I’m using in the rest of the house. The Xantech DL-85 IR receivers/emitters plus their CB-12 connecting block work great over long distances so remote controls work as if the equipment was in the same room.

I’m not using any additional amplifiers as the Onkyo and the Definitive Technology speakers and subwoofer sound great and, again, this is just for movies, not music. I don’t even have a DVD player in the theater since we haven’t watched a plastic disc in months – we use Netflix only for streaming now –  and I don’t expect to; any DVDs we do own were ripped to iTunes and we stream them over Apple TV.