Feature Friday: Spending Money to Save Money

Posted By: Team XBMC on May 20, 2011 in Site News

Jon Barrow is married with four children. An average trip to the movie theater for a family of that size would require two $10 tickets, plus four $8 tickets. That’s $42 $52 before the candy, popcorn, and soda.  Most times, they have to leave the youngest with a sitter, as the little one is still too young to really appreciate movies.  Needless to say, for a family of movie buffs, all of that can really start biting into the pocketbook.

Let the demolition begin!

Let the demolition begin!

Fortunately for Jon, the family had been using XBMC since 2004, when he installed it on an old Xbox.  About two years ago, Jon and his wife bought their first home.  A top priority in this search was space for a DIY home theater.  After some time, the family settled on a really delightful home that, most importantly, had a spare basement room that measured 9 feet by 13 feet and might have been the inspiration for the basement of That 70s Show.

The plan was relatively simple. Demolish the old room. Rip out the fake wood and cabinets, and then make use of the resulting space as efficiently and inexpensively as possible.

Goal #1 was to make the room as movie theater-like as possible. This meant a massive screen was necessary.  But a massive screen was simply not going to fit in the relatively small room and still leave space for all the necessary front speakers for 5.1 sound.

So Jon did a great deal of shopping around and ultimately decided that the relatively inexpensive additional cost of some Center Stage XD screen fabric could be justified in the quest to have as large a screen as humanly possible.  After making this decision (and making a few calculations and realizing that the distance necessary to through such a screen was actually going to push the projector into the next room in the basement), Jon had everything he needed to start working.

He began with Google Sketch-up, an absolutely invaluable tool for amateur DIYers set on totally reconstructing their room on the cheap. In Sketch-up, Jon designed a plan for his new room.

The New Home Theater Mock-up

The New Home Theater Mock-up

As you can see, Jon carved out some space on the back wall for the equipment and made room for a faux front wall. He also planned on theater style seating and indirect soffitted lighting.

Demolition began. Demolition ended. For a time, the place looked absolutely terrible. Holes were cut into the back wall for the projector and A/V equipment. The place was a warren of stripped wood, unfinished lighting work, and random wires skittering in every direction.

Nice Soffitting

Nice Soffitting

Fortunately, Jon is much more willing to push forward with projects than I am, so he didn’t let that sight discourage him.  He finished the true wall behind the screen, complete with Klipsch Synergy Quintet speakers, which are pretty inexpensive, yet do a great job of filling the space in your smaller home theater rooms.

Klipsch Synergy Quintet speakers

Klipsch Synergy Quintet speakers

Then a faux wall with the acoustically transparent screen was placed in front of the speakers, along with an attractive lighting effect for when nothing is being projected on the screen.

Acoustically Transparent Screen with Accent Lighting

Acoustically Transparent Screen with Accent Lighting

Next, a 1×6 inch poplar trim was hung at just above waist height around the room. Above and below the strip, for sound purposes, fabric wall panels were velcroed in place. Inside each panel, for sound dampening, are 1×3 inch furring strips.

With a family of six and a room that was only 9 feet wide, Jon was forced to make some seating concessions. At the back of the room are four narrow theater rockers with cupholders. Those seats are modular in nature, so Jon was able to order four that could go together.   In the front row are two kid chairs made by Dozy Dotes for Jon’s two youngest children.  With chairs in place, the room really starts to warm up.

Seating

Hey! You in front!

In the back, as you can see from the above photo, are the projector and A/V equipment.  The overhead lighting from the soffitting helps to add a diffuse glow to the room.

Finally, for those of you who have been patiently waiting on the HT specs, Jon and family are rocking an Optoma HD20, an extremely well reviewed projector which has finally managed to drop below the $1k line. For the audio receiver, Jon is using an Onkyo TX-SR606, which is actually possible to buy below $200 at the time of this publishing, and which Jon managed to find inexpensively on Craigslist. And, for XBMC, Jon built himself an htpc using the ASUS M3A78-EM motherboard and an AMD Athlon 64 X2 5200 CPU, each of which can be found for as little as $50 these days, running Vista with its DXVA2 capabilities.

When he was finished, Jon had transformed his basement room from the leftovers of That 70s Show into what you see below.  Hats off to you, Jon. Well done!

Finished Room

Now that's what I call a Home Theater!

As a final note, Jon suggests that all readers, when starting the business of making a dedicated home theater room, to do your research. Spend a lot of time on AVS Forums. Engage vendors in discount battles. These items can all be cheaper than vendors let on.

Until next time, remember, send your interesting XBMC room, build, or idea to natethomas AT xbmc DOT org and maybe we’ll feature you some upcoming Friday.

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Discussion - 38 Comments

  • Me May 20, 2011 

    I want this… (apart from Vista)

  • XC Techs May 20, 2011 

    wow, i wish i could make something like that i am a Huge Fan of XBMC

  • bobo1on1 May 20, 2011 

    The light output of the beamer is pretty impressive, considering that the lights are on.

  • Brian May 20, 2011 

    $52 ;-)

  • Jon May 20, 2011 

    @bobo1on1
    LOL @ Vista, yeah I really need to do something about that. Regarding the last picture, it’s a composite of two photos (lights on and lights off.) A nice way to get a single “showy” picture of the room but not representative of the PJ image with the room lights up that high.

  • Rekoil May 20, 2011 

    For the record he chose the wrong motherboard, good luck getting it to play nice under Linux.

  • Rekoil May 20, 2011 

    Other than that, epic setup! :D

  • cowfodder May 20, 2011 

    Well done setup, and the Klipsch speakers rock for the price.

  • Rob May 20, 2011 

    Wow great set up very jealous :)

  • Daniel Morales May 20, 2011 

    GOD! I gotta play the lotery! and WIN :-( HOW d-pressing!

  • HMR May 20, 2011 

    @Jon congratulations for your hard work!

  • Stephanie Grey May 20, 2011 

    How much was the cost?

  • nextcomment May 21, 2011 

    Well done mate. You obviously put a lot of time and effort into it for you and your family. Job well done. Enjoy it.

  • Pete UK May 21, 2011 

    Pure brilliance !

  • Anonymous May 21, 2011 

    I like the setup but spending a tousands of dolars to save 50 per visit to cinema does not really count as spend some to save some:-)

  • Tekkamanraiden May 21, 2011 

    Excellent work! I hope to be able to do something similar some day.

  • Niclas May 21, 2011 

    As it works out, it’s gonna take quite a few visits to the movie theater (sitters’ are, what, $40 a night?):

    Optoma projector ~$1000,
    (could it be a 100″ screen perhaps, needing ~8ft of Center Stage XD?) ~$160
    Klipsch speakers ~$500,
    4 seats ~$1200
    2 kids’ seat (unknown price but ~$500 (?))
    Onkyo reciever ~$150,
    PC ~$150 (dep on what he had laying around),
    cables ~$50 (?)
    And wood, panels, fabric, lights, work hours etc not included…

    ~$3700 is around 40 movie nights (incl sitter but not gas, parking, sodas, popcorn) ;D so… Note to self, I guess in a year or two it’d have payed for itself..

  • Jon May 21, 2011 

    @Stephanie Grey
    The major expenses (HTPC, NAS, projector, screen, Harmony remote, receiver, 5.1 speakers, seating, carpet, lights, fabric & construction materials) came in under $5k. I saved and planned for about 3 years before diving in, and saved a lot of $ by waiting for deals and learning to do the work myself (I was also lucky to have an electrician in the family for the lighting install – I would have fried myself I’m sure!)

  • natethomas May 21, 2011 

    Anonymous :

    I like the setup but spending a tousands of dolars to save 50 per visit to cinema does not really count as spend some to save some:-)

    It wouldn’t have been 50 per visit, unless you assume zero cost for snacks and gas. I’d be pretty surprised if a family of that size didn’t weigh in pretty close to $100 per visit. As Niclas said, in a year or two that build would pay for itself.

  • Jon May 22, 2011 

    I wouldn’t justify the build on *purely* financial grounds as it would indeed take quite a few trips to pay for itself. However, I do think we’ll get there and let’s remember, people give you funny looks when you go to the theater in your pajamas and they don’t have HD showings of Formula 1, Game of Thrones, or that wedding between Prince William and Katie Perry. I might have that last bit wrong; it was way past my usual bedtime, but wifey sure appreciated the effort :)

  • Gil Disatnik May 22, 2011 

    Hi Jon, great room!
    I have a few questions, any way for me to contact you? my forum username is gibsonlp

    Thanks!

  • Gil Disatnik May 22, 2011 

    @Gil Disatnik
    I see that my full name is displayed… my email is firstname@lastname.com

  • Jon May 22, 2011 

    Sure Gil, I’ll drop you a line. If anyone else has questions as well, I’d be happy to help. PM on the xbmc forum (my username is juanflaco) works best.

  • Joram May 22, 2011 

    The room looks seriously awesome! But what if you have more people than seats?

  • Chris May 22, 2011 

    Nice job Jon. Your good planning and research on your part really paid off. Excellent choice on your equipment as well as your screen. I have one myself and Wow what a difference having your speakers up front behind the screen. It really anchors the sounds you the picture. Each movie from now on becomes a whole bunch cheaper each time you use it. Have fun..Enjoy.

  • Xeno May 23, 2011 

    Gah I wish I had a basement so I could do something like this :P Love the set up you have, definitly worth the cash!

  • Anonymous May 24, 2011 

    @Niclas

    Yes because he’s not going to have to spend money renting/buying movies, right?

  • Anonymous May 24, 2011 

    The math in this completely stupid. We have to take into account, not only the money spent to build the room, but the room itself (how much money did that room cost?) and the money you’ll have to spend buying and or renting a movie.

    You do this kind of thing because you can and you want to, not because it will save you money.

  • natethomas May 24, 2011 

    @Anon, First, thanks for making yourself so identifiable. Very friendly. Second, you are welcome to say the math is stupid then second you actually PRESENT the math. Until then, I intend on completely ignoring you.

  • Jon May 24, 2011 

    Here’s a way to look at it. Because of the cost of going to the theater, we don’t go as often as we’d like. Replicating the experience at home allows us to “go to the movies” more often. As mentioned before, it’s about $75 to take the family out to the theater. Now, if we include the cost of the room+equipment, the recurring cost of our Netflix subscription, and seeing one movie per week at home, after 5 years our price-per-movie at home is about $30 including cost of snacks with each show. And that cost only diminishes the longer we use the room. Of course, over those 5 years there may be additional upgrade costs at home, new PJ bulbs, etc. *but* we also get to use the room for gaming, regular TV watching, sporting events, etc. Additionally, had we not built out a full projector-based home theater we’d still have paid for some sort of home entertainment system. The theatrical “upgrades” that make the experience more movie-like are just one portion of an overall home entertainment set up (which we would have had anyway) but they add a lot to the experience and help us not feel so bad about going out to the theater less often.

  • Jade May 25, 2011 

    @Rekoil
    It actually works rather nice with Linux, I can vouch for that as I have it running right now, though with a different processor and a discrete RadeonHD 4850 graphics card.
    Linux Mint and Windows 7 Pro 64bit are running without problems.

  • Ollie May 27, 2011 

    I agree that it’s an awesome setup, I won’t argue with anyone there..

    But I also agree it seems strange, to spend thousands and thousands of dollars to save $60-70 a time..

    Let’s just say I hope the novelty of it doesn’t wear off before it pays for itself :)

    Kudos for actually doing it though. It’s a great project nonetheless and you’ve done a professional job of it.

  • Jon May 27, 2011 

    Jade :
    @Rekoil
    It actually works rather nice with Linux, I can vouch for that as I have it running right now, though with a different processor and a discrete RadeonHD 4850 graphics card.
    Linux Mint and Windows 7 Pro 64bit are running without problems.

    I assumed maybe he was talking about some specific aspect of XBMC performance, as I’ve booted into a Linux live distro to recover data from an XFS-formatted drive when my first NAS failed. No problems at all, and very snappy. Didn’t try XBMC at the time, maybe it’s a 1080p playback limitation or something. One of these days I’ll get around to trying it, because I’d like to keep an MS partition for a few apps, but boot into Linux for XBMC.

  • Sean May 27, 2011 

    WIN!!

    I like! Very professional install. Agree 100% about a home theater versus $50+ every weekend. We use ours every weekend. Guess I might be wrong, but our basement home theater was cleaner, clearer, louder, and generally more comfortable than any theater in our town, so to us it was a no-brainer…And the only other folks in the room were our friends, so no rowdy kids in the theater.

    And there has to be something said about doing something as nice as yours on your own. And the small kiddy-recliners are classic!!

  • bunnyfeet May 30, 2011 

    I like that room!!! If there is a option of a huge sofa I will opt for it. I like lying down when watch movie.

  • Jones May 31, 2011 

    If only i could afford something like this im starting out with a beefy couch and a tube tv…. but this has given me some ideas thank you

  • kevcampbell May 31, 2011 

    I would love something exactly like this one day when i am no longer unemployed and live in a much larger place with a dedicated room or garage for this kind of thing

    so very well done, now you just need to start handing out invites to us all, take care

  • Pauly May 31, 2011 

    When are we going to hear more about Sigma Designs MIPS port of XBMC?

    Sigma Designs media player’s with XBMC should make cheap 1080p HTPC!

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