It's done. Finally. Our home theatre is 100% installed and functional. The whole idea of building a home theatre started about two years ago. My wife and I are very much into music, movies, and TV and for nearly two years we have toyed with the idea of completely reinventing our living room experience. Until last week that experience included a 27" analog TV, DVD player, VCR, and two gaming systems (Wii and PlayStation 2). Today, the experience includes a complete lineup of high-definition video, high-fidelity audio, and a seamless integration of nearly everything digital in our lives. For the full story of how we created our home theatre - including pictures and the equipment we used - read on.
The first thing I want to mention is why it took 2 years to get this done. Building a home theatre is no simple task. Sure you can buy a TV, mount it on a wall, plug in some wires and be done. But I'm a perfectionist and it took me two years to make the decision that I couldn't take on this project. I did research here and there on what equipment to buy and how to integrate everything but in the end I decided to turn to a professional to ensure the job was done right. I had four different audio/video companies come to the house and give me estimates. Only one made an effort to answer all my questions and actually take the time to work with me in designing a solution that I would be happy with for years to come. I chose Audio Video Excellence (AVX), a company headquartered in Alabama with offices in Alabama, Tennessee, and Florida.
AVX worked with us to design a system that met our goals which included: an aesthetically pleasing appearance, a hidden installation of most equipment, single remote control integration, high quality sound production, high-definition video wherever possible, inclusion of all my gaming systems and the integration of our current digital media (photos, music, and HD home video).
Before discussing the entire installation process here are basic before and after photos.
Photo 1: Before
Photo 2: After
These two photos illustrate the visual transformation from what we were used to looking at to what we now see. In order to keep everything out of reach of our son and to provide the aesthetically pleasing appearance we were after, we decided to go with an on-wall install of the equipment. This included the Sony Bravia 46" LCD and the front, left, and center channel speakers, all Bowers & Wilkins FPM5's. Note the door in the hallway just around the corner from the TV. This is the door to the closet discussed below.
Photo 3: Top of closet before install
Photo 4: Bottom of closet before install
To accomplish the goal of having a hidden install we decided to convert the hall closet (also viewable in photo 1 and 2) to a media closet. This came with the added benefit of protecting the equipment from our 18-month old son. Shown in photo 3 and 4 is what the closet looked like before.
Photo 5: Top of closet before ventilation
Photo 6: Bottom of closet before ventilation
Given the size of the closet (very small) and the amount of equipment to be installed we decided it would be a good idea to create a ventilation system to help with heat dissipation. These two pics show the inside of the closet before we added the ventilation system.
Photo 7: Son's room / back side of closet. Before ventilation
Photo 8: Son's room / back side of closet. Before ventilation
Behind the back wall of the hallway closet is our son's room. Pics 7 and 8 show his wall before we added the ventilation system.
Photo 9: Tod O. working on the ventilation
This photo shows Tod O. working on the ventilation access into the back of the closet. Tod was the guy who also built the custom AV rack shown in the pics below. He did an amazing job!
Photo 10: Tod O. working on the ventilation
At this point Tod had cut both sides of the wall, in the closet and out. You can see the 2x4's he added to reinforce the bottom and sides of the hole in the event weight is ever placed on the wall.
Photo 11: View from inside the closet
Here's what it looked like from the inside of the closet at this point.
Photo 12: Complete hole
With the vertical 2x4 cut, the ventilation hole is now complete
Photo 13: Ventilation frame (son's room)
Photo 14: Ventilation frame (closet)
To complete the hole Tod made a frame to insert into the wall. This frame, shown in photos 13 and 14, gives the hole a nice look and allows the vent to fit nice and tight.
Photo 15: Return air vent (son's room)
Tod used a normal return air vent to finalize the hole and allow for proper venting of heat. With the hall closet door shut and the vent in place you would have no reason to believe there was any equipment in the closet. This met our goal of hiding the equipment from view.
Photo 16: Setting up the TV mounting system
The Bowers & Wilkins FPM5 speakers can be installed several different ways. We chose a Chief Universal HDTV mount that would allow us to mount the TV and the left, right, and center channel speakers together. Photo 16 shows the Chief bracket mounted to the back of the Sony Bravia and the center channel FPM5 mounted to the bracket. You can also see the Marantz receiver on the floor and the other two FPM5s on the couch.
Photo 17: Setting up the TV mounting system
In this photo, Ken (left) has the Chief bracket mounted to the wall and is working on the wiring. Ryan (center) is taking a break from programming the universal remote (see the laptop on the couch?). Also shown is the Bowers & Wilkins subwoofer on the floor to the right of the ottoman.
Photo 18: Setting up the TV mounting system
Photo 18 shows a closer view of the mounting system with all three FPM5s attached. Though it's still hard to see any detail, Ryan's laptop - with the remote control configuration software running - is in view.
Photo 19: Mounting the Bravia on the wall
Here the three of us work to get the Sony Bravia mounted onto the wall. I'm plugging in a bunch of wires (component and HDMI) while Ken and Ryan hold the TV.
Photo 20: Setting up the TV mounting system
With all the wires plugged in I move around to the front to help support the TV as we place it on the Chief mounting system attached to the wall.
Photo 21: Custom AV rack and equipment
Photo 21 shows the first pic of the custom AV rack built by Tod O. Almost all of the rack is made out of birch, with a small piece (shown in photo 22) made out of tiger maple. If you look close enough you'll see the shelves are completely adjustable and the sides are completely open. This openness helps the equipment breathe and dissipate the heat upwards and out of the ventilation system in the back. The equipment shown (from bottom up / left to right) is a Nintendo Wii, Apple TV (160 GB), Direct TV HD plus DVR receiver, progressive scan 5-disc Sony DVD player (standard def), and Marantz SR5002 AV receiver.
Photo 22: Custom AV rack and equipment
Moving further up in the closet you can still see the Marantz receiver and the top of the rack. The front-facing piece of wood at the top of the rack is made out of tiger maple.
Photo 23: MRF350 RF Extended receiver
Sitting on top of the Marantz receiver is the MRF350 Universal Remote Control RF extended receiver. This nifty device is the communications piece that allows a single remote to control a bunch of infrared equipment. To the right of the MRF350 is the Marantz AM/FM radio antenna that at the time this photo was taken was not hooked up.
Photo 24: Portable equipment box / PS2 / PS3
Sitting on top of the rack is a portable equipment box. This handy piece, also built by Tod O., can be taken in and out of the media closet. The PlayStation 2 is the one piece of equipment that cannot be wired up with infrared (IR), radio frequency (RF), or Bluetooth. Because of this any time I want to use the PS2 I have to take it in and out of the closet. Tod built the portable box to be taken out of the closet and placed on the floor below the Sony Bravia. The PS2 can then sit on top of the box and plug-in to the component/composite outlet on the wall. When not used as a stand for the PS2, the box sits vertically on top of the equipment rack and stores the PS2 as well as Blu-ray movies, games, joysticks and any other needed items. Note the hole in the top of the box which is used as a handle when moving it in and out of the closet. The bottom of the box (not shown) has a handle as well. These handles are really on the sides of the box, but in order to fit everything in the closet the box had to be oriented vertically to allow room for the PS3.
To the right of the portable box is a Sony PlayStation 3. While the PS3 doesn't stack up to the Xbox 360 in terms of games, it is awesome as a Blu-ray playback device which is primarily why I bought it. It's cheaper than standalone Blu-ray units and the video quality is fantastic. As more big name game titles come out this year I think more people will be interested in the PS3.
Photo 25: Portable equipment box / PS2 / PS3
Here's another look at the portable equipment box and top of the rack.
Photo 26: Back of the rack
From my son's room you can open the return air vent to get access to the back of the rack. This is how all the equipment was wired up. You can see the back of the MRF350 as it sits on top of the Marantz receiver. Each one of the wires coming out of it go directly to one of the pieces of equipment in the rack. Attached to the left of the rack is an extended antenna for the MRF850 remote (discussed later). The antenna is wired to the MRF350 receiver. The closet wall to the left of the equipment rack is the living room wall the Sony Bravia is mounted to.
Photo 27: Closeup of Bowers & Wilkins CWM650 surround speaker
The surround sound speakers, both Bowers & Wilkins CWM650s, are installed in the wall to give a flush-mount appearance. Like so many other things with this system this was designed to meet our appearance goals.
Photo 28: Another view of B&W CWM650
Here's a zoomed out view of the left B&W CWM650.
Photo 29: Final view of B&W CWM650 and Subwoofer
Zooming out a little bit further you can now see the B&W AS2 10" subwoofer under the end table.
Photo 30: View when standing in living room
Here's a shot standing just off-center of the Sony Bravia with Tomb Raider on in HD (DirectTV). If you look closely you can see the Wii sensor bar mounted beneath the center-channel speaker. You may also see a small black "dot" located on the bottom clear bezel of the Bravia. That's the MRF850 remote sensor (more on the remote later).
Photo 31: Another view in living room
Another shot of Tomb Raider standing a little further to the left.
Photo 32: View when sitting on couch
Most importantly, here's the view when sitting on the couch which is pretty much directly in-line with the Bravia. I have all the lights turned on for this photo so it doesn't demonstrate the "movie experience" but it does show the viewing perspective.
Photo 33: View when sitting on couch
Here's another shot of what it looks like when sitting on the couch.
Photo 34: HDMI and Component/Composite Outlets
Ad mentioned previously, the PlayStation 2 must be removed from the media closet in order to use it. The outlet on the right runs directly to the TV and allows any device, including the PS2, to be used with component or composite connections. The left outlet is HDMI and also runs directly to the TV. I use this with my Canon HV20 high definition video camera to watch our HD home movies on the big screen. I was incredibly impressed, as were the AVX folks, when we first plugged in the camera to test the outlet. It was the first time I had watched any of my HDV footage on an HDTV.
Photo 35: Closeup of HDMI and Component/Composite Outlets
Photo 36: MRF850 Remote
Finally, photo 36 shows the device that powers the entire system. The MRF850 remote from Universal Remote Control is a fantastic device that works with thousands of programable pieces of equipment. The AVX guys programmed it to work with all the devices shown on the remote. I use it to completely control the DirectTV satellite system, the Sony 5-disc DVD player, the Apple TV, and the FM/AM radio. It's also used to switch the Marantz receiver and Bravia TV to the correct inputs so the Wii, PS2, PS3, or wall outlets can be used.
Once the "Wii" button is selected, the Wii must be powered on separately using the Wii controller. Then you just operate the Wii like normal. The same is true for the PS3. The system must be switched to "PS3" then the PS3 can be powered on using the SIXAXIS bluetooth controller or the power button on the PS3 itself. Once the system is on, Blu-ray movies and games are controlled by the SIXAXIS remote or other remotes integrated into game devices like Rockband's drums or guitars.
What makes this system so great is that it takes everything important to our digital life and brings it all together in a seamless, integrated environment. Moving from satellite TV, to movies, to music and gaming is as easy as pressing two buttons. Having all of this equipment driven by a solitary remote makes all the difference in the world. If we had to rely on the 6 remotes that are now stored away we'd likely go insane. In essence, something easy to use will be used.
In terms of audio quality, I couldn't be happier. I spent a lot of time in high-def stores listening to my demo CD on different speakers. Certainly there are speakers that sound better than the FPM5s and the CWM650s but I'm quite pleased with the combined appearance and sound result. Bowers & Wilkins make some of the highest quality best sounding speakers in the world.
One of the biggest surprises with my system was just how much I enjoy the Apple TV. It's a fantastic product that works incredibly well. The behind-the-scenes synchronization between my Macbook Pro and the Apple TV mean the living room is always ready to queue up any digital music in my library. Having every tracks play count sync back to my Macbook Pro as I listen is also an added benefit. I also enjoy streaming the latest movie trailers from the Internet to my 1 TB Time Capsule and then to the Apple TV on the big screen. One feature I haven't tried out yet is Apple TV's ability to rent movies from the iTunes Store. If it weren't for Netflix being so much cheaper, I probably would have already tried the new rental feature.
Finally, I can't stress enough the benefit of knowing my system was installed correctly by professionals. I learned quite a bit listening to Ken and Ryan discuss things and I have a certain comfort level knowing the quality of the install and the calibration of system components is top notch. If that weren't enough, I have a support system I can call on should something malfunction or should I decide in a year to add something new to the mix.
Sony Bravia 46" LCD HDTV (KDL46XBR4)
Sony PlayStation 3 (for Blu-Ray mainly)
Apple TV (160 GB)
Bowers & Wilkins flat panel speakers (FPM5 x 3)
Bowers & Wilkins in-wall flush mount surrounds (CWM650 x 2)
Bowers & Wilkins 10" 150W subwoofer (AS2)
Chief Universal speaker mounts (for mounting FPM5's to Sony Bravia and Bravia to wall)
Marantz AV Receiver (SR5002)
Panamax Max 8 power protector (M8DBS-EX)
Universal Remote Control (MX850)
Universal Remote Control RF Extended Receiver (MRF350)
Equipment already owned
Sony PlayStation 2
Sony 5-disc progressive scan DVD player
Consulting & Installation
Audio Video Excellence (AVX)
1917 29th Avenue South
Homewood, AL 35209
1801 West End Ave.
Nashville, Tennessee 37203
Tod Ode (contact me for Tod's info)
Custom AV rack
Custom portable equipment box