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Feature Friday: Spending Money to Save Money

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.