Secret Entrance Leads to Old Opera House
High-end components and old-style design (with hidden door) make up this homeowner's fantasy theater.

- Home Theaters $250,001+

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April 30, 2009 by Steven Castle

Editor’s Note: This article was originally posted on May 1, 2008.

On our checklist for an award-winning, super high-end home theater: Flap-your-pants sound system, eye-popping superwide CinemaScope picture capability, “Full HD” 1080p resolution, very serious sound control, gorgeous room design, lighting control and automation systems, and optional things that make us go ga-ga like a separate lobby and a secret entranceway.

This over-the-top Houston theater has it all. “I wanted to build a space in my home that was almost a fantasy land,” says the proud owner. “You can step into this, and suddenly you feel you are not in the home but in an old opera house.” Indeed, old-style sconces illuminate columns and arches, crisscross flairs highlight a soffit of rich blue, and lights from the ceiling shine down from medallions. An arched ceiling in the lobby displays a twilight sky of fiber-optic stars above burgundy walls and a black marble floor. Then there’s the hidden door to the theater that looks like a mirror and cabinet in an upstairs hall.

It’s not the stars on the ceiling or the decor that shine most brightly on this stage, however. Here, the drama is provided by the audio/video gear, including the powerful Theta Digtal processor and amplifiers, Aerial front speakers and three front subwoofers, 12-foot-wide Stewart Filmscreen CineCurve screen, and Runco top-of-the-line 3-chip 1080p DLP projector with an anamorphic lens that allows the owners to see superwide CinemaScope pictures in their original 2.35:1 aspect ratios. Talk about theatrical. “It’s like going from 4:3 to 16:9,” says the homeowner. “Now I don’t want to watch anything in 16:9.”

The front Aerial speakers and subwoofers are hidden behind the acoustically transparent microperforated screen, and six Triad speakers are mounted in the side columns nearest the seats and the two rear columns for surround sound. One column even has a game port, and there’s another secret door that allows access to the theater’s own air-conditioning system. The Runco projector shines through a cutaway in the back wall.

The family also enjoys both Blu-ray and HD DVD high-definition disc players, an HD TiVo for recording shows, an ADA Sirius satellite radio tuner and a 1-terabyte Niveus hard drive media server. The rack of goodies is flush mounted in the lobby area.

The installation was a challenge for Design Cinema Privée of Atlanta, GA. “I had some good equipment over the years, but I never had a room,” says the homeowner. He had a drop-down screen and audiophile-grade Theta gear, including a Casablanca processor and Theta’s powerful Citadel and Dreadnaught amplifiers, in an informal living room. “But the room used to get really hot, and my family was always concerned about the noise,” he says. So a space over the bedroom was allocated for the theater addition. In fact, the bedroom roof had to be raised for the theater.

“This space was going to be located directly over the master bedroom suite, says Dennis Erskine, CEO of Design Cinema Privée. “Thus, sound isolation became a critical component of our design.” The floor joists of the theater actually ride above the joists of the master bedroom and are supported by their own concrete piers. In addition, the floor and walls of the theater are separated by isolation clips to prevent sound from traveling through them, a 5⁄16-inch Acoustik Mat sound barrier was placed over the floor, and 15 inches of insulation and a 5-inch air gap between the floors were utilized to cushion the remaining noise. “We measured the noise in the bedroom before we began construction to provide a baseline,” Erskine says.  “Upon completion, we measured zero increase in the noise in the master bedroom [in the lower bass range].”

“They put in a lot of soundproofing, but the sound in the theater is still good for music,” says the homeowner, whose taste in movies runs toward musicals.

Erskine also says the addition of two Triad Bronze subwoofers helped smooth the bass response in the theater. Design Cinema Privée also added a Lutron Grafik Eye lighting system and Crestron automated control, allowing for several preset scenes ranging from critical viewing with all the lights down to game viewing with some lights on to just having the soffit lights on.

The lobby has its own dramatic scenes. Even the homeowner’s wife, who reportedly wasn’t crazy about this project, has come around to enjoy the theater. And their two kids are having more friends over for sleepovers. “My theater is a result of a hobby that has been dear to me since 1996,” says the homeowner. “Until the theater was completed, I never had the perfect room, which I believe I have now.”

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Steven Castle - Contributing Writer
Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates.

Equipment List

Runco  VX55D DLP Autoscope with DHD processor
Stewart Filmscreen CineWide screen

Audio/Video Components
Theta Digital Casablanca III processor
Theta Digital Dreadnaught amplifier
Theta Digital Citadel amplifiers (3)
Toshiba  HD-DVD Player
Niveus n7 Media Center
QSC Audio DSP322UA
Richard Gray’s Power Company Powerhouse
Sony PlayStation 3 video game console

Aerial Acoustics  20TLCRs (3)
Aerial Acoustics SW12 subwoofers (3)
Triad  InWall Silver LCRs (6 for surround array)
Triad InWall Bronze 6 subwoofers (2)

Control & Lighting
Crestron AV2PRO
Crestron thermostat
Crestron  STX-1700CXP touchpanel

Systems Design & Installation
Design Cinema Privée
Atlanta, GA

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