Feature Article

My Winter Home Theater Construction Project

March, 2004

Brian Weatherhead



Winters here in Idaho are very cold. With the Jet-Skis winterized, and the Corvette convertible put away for the season, it's a depressing time for me. In late fall I sold my reference equipment after several years of service, in hopes to acquire something new and different.

Here is what I previously enjoyed:

Main Speakers: Klipsch KLF-30

Center: Klipsch KLF-C7

Surrounds: Klipsch Dipoles

Processor: Pioneer Elite 27TX (120x5) 5.1

Subwoofers: SVS CS-Ultra Pair

Now, don't get me wrong. I loved that system. It was set up and tuned for my bonus room. I loved it. But, I also had been tinkering with the idea of front projection, and moving away from horn speakers.


Every project is only as good as its preparation. Everyone who worked with me on this project was driven nuts by my constant planning. I knew that I wanted to do it "right", and for me that was front projection.

Many condos come with what contractors call a "Bonus Room". It is basically some additional space that they don't call a bedroom, bathroom, den, etc. It is an extra room . . . a bonus room. With a bonus room comes interesting challenges: limited floor space, slanted ceilings, unusual shaped windows, and many more.

I started by digging out the blueprints for the house, and specifically the bonus room where I would put my home theater.

Since I had a large set of windows in that room, I knew that to achieve 95% light control, I would need black out blinds. Of course, I still wanted to use the windows for looking out (they overlook the mountains you know), so I needed a motorized drop down screen. The question of the hour was, how much space is there in the ceiling? I called up my builder and got the plans for my ceiling trusses. I also measured the actual truss width to determine that they were 2x8 trusses over the bonus room.

Using geometry and measuring, I discovered that, at the ceiling, I had 102.5" worth of width where I could place the screen. A quick look on the internet indicated that Stewart Screens makes a drop down electric with outside case measurement of 102". This tensioned screen with minimized black borders gave me a 100" diagonal 16:9 screen . . . just what I was shooting for.

The Projector

Now that I knew a motorized screen was feasible, I moved on to selecting the projector. This is where individual budgets come in. (In any case spend the $$$ for a nice screen from Stewart . . . they are among the best there are.) I wanted a film-like experience and capability for HD. Even though I love DLP and LCD they just don't look like film yet. What I really wanted was a CRT projector. They still have the best color saturation (because of their blacks), and can show 1080 x 1920. I knew buying a new one was out of the question, but what could I get for under $7,000?

I hung around the CRT forums on www.AVSforum.com, to learn as much as I could from the CRT gurus. I then shopped around the used market and made a few contacts. I settled on a used Runco DTV-933 which is a rebranded NEC 6PG, a popular projector on the forums. It had 700 hours on it, and came with a Runco line-tripler. I was lucky to get mine local.

The 933 is HD capable and has 7" CRTs, plenty for 720p. I scoured the internet and made a few calls to Runco, and after some patience had the install and user manuals.

All projectors have a throw ratio, and CRTs are no different. With a 1.33 throw ratio (the distance between the lens and the screen divided by the width of the screen), I knew that the projector would need to be [screen width]*1.33 = [Distance] from the center of the screen to the center of the green lens. Using that with the projection angle and mounting heights, I figured that the top of the screen needed to be about 13" from the ceiling, Since I am using a ceiling projection configuration, the ceiling becomes the reference for everything. With a screen case height of 6.5", that gave me a 7" drop for my screen. I rounded and ordered the screen with an 8" drop, as you can always adjust out 1-3 inches of drop using the screen stops.

So with a 100" screen ordered, and my projector sitting on the floor, it was time to make some changes to the room.


The house was built with track lights in the bonus room. This presented a problem. How to project onto the screen without the track lights in the way. So I ripped out the track lights :->. I chose to put in six 75 watt halogen recessed can lights with adjustable direction. I got them for $50 each at Home Depot. I pulled the wire from the existing track lights, and connected the new can lights. The 5" holes in the ceiling were a daring move, but nothing compared to what would come.

Screen Install

I cut a two foot wide swath out of the ceiling in the front of the room, all the way across. I then framed in the supports to hold the screen, leveled it, measured, leveled, measured, leveled . . . you see a pattern? I utilized a low voltage switch box to control the screen, and mounted that above the projector. With a few wires connected and some juice, we lowered the screen to make sure it wasn't binding. Out of the way it went now, until we were done.

It took a lot of time to reframe in around the projector, drywall, retexture, and paint. In the end, only the ones who did it know how painstaking we were about the details.


During construction, painting everything white seems like a good idea. Unfortunately, white is the worst color when it comes to light control. The goal was to pick a color other than black that would control light reflections, yet not make the room appear to be a cave. We chose a dark blue, flat enamel, as shown on the right. It took a colored primer, and two coats to cover the white. The trim remained white for contrast. Talk about a dramatic change.


Since I kept nothing other than the 36" TV and the SVS subs, it was time to go shopping. After having Klipsch horns for several years, I wanted a change to dome tweeters. Some very good if not the best speakers I have heard (in my price range) are the Paradigm Studio series. They are very clean, and simply one of my favorites. So, I bought myself the set.

Mains: Studio 100's V3
Center: Studio CC-570
Surrounds: Studio ADP-470's
Rear Surround: Studio 20's V3


The AVM-20 from Anthem has won our SSP of the Year award (2002) for good reason. It is one of the best processors out there.

Anthem's continued support and upgrades were one of my largest deciding factors in buying the AVM-20. Where previously I was in an all-in-one mind set, this time I would go with separates. I bought matching Anthem MCA-50 and MCA-20 amplifiers to round out my 7.1 experience. To date I could not be more happy with my equipment choice. The AVM-20 and the MCAs go so well together sonically.

Now that we had the components, it was time to build a closet to hold them. I'm a little put off by $1000 racks for stereo gear. That money should be spent in cables and equipment. So I built it myself. I cut a two foot by four foot opening in the side of my room, and framed in a closet, I used melamine board (plywood with a plastic surface for use in shelves) from Home Depot, and I drilled it every 1" for the adjustable shelves. I then trimmed it out to match the room. All in all it turned out fantastic. I placed the screen controls next to it so that it would be easy to later wire in an IR trigger for the screen when my budget allowed.

On another note, each of the MCAs drew too much current for the power loops in the bonus room. I paid the $200 and had three thirty amp circuits pulled to the new closet. This way the power-hungry amplifiers wouldn't be in contention for any current.

As you can see in the photo above, from top to bottom we have:

  1. Runco Line tripler
  2. Xbox
  3. Dish Network Receiver
  4. Pioneer 300 disk DVD changer
  5. Anthem AVM-20
  6. Anthem AVM-50
  7. Anthem AVM-20
  8. Sampson 1000 Watt Power Amp for the SVS Subwoofers

The Results

So how did it turn out? With the screen up we can watch the 36" Sony XBR by using Zone 2 of the AVM. Notice that the ends of the screen enclosure are recessed into the diagonal ceiling.

You can see the screen is a tight fit.  Planning and measuring were key factors in making this all work. With the screen down it's a dramatic change.

Here is a shot of the screen in all 100" of its glory through the Runco, line-tripled, with the dimmer all the way off.

The picture is fantastic. The colors are vibrant, the image is film-like with no pixilation.


After four weeks of drop dead weekends, and late nights, not to mention the copious amounts of beer and pizza for my helpers, it was done. I learned a lot about CRT projectors and how to set them up. I couldn't have done it without the tips from AVS forum (or the instruction manual).

Now it's time to watch the rest of the movie . . .


- Brian Weatherhead -

Copyright 2004 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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