May 01, 2008
by Lisa Montgomery
The mural depicting a scene from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid on the back wall says it all: This sensational home theater was a steal. Thanks to the money-saving design and installation techniques implemented by Robert Ridenour of Connected Technologies in Colorado Springs, CO, the owners were able to convert a basement storage area into an amazing entertainment space for less than $25,000 in equipment costs.
“They wanted something nice, but didn’t want to spend a fortune on it,” relates Ridenour. To keep the costs down, the seasoned audio/video pro used some of his tried-and-true “poor-man’s tactics” to work around some of the room’s structural and design limitations. Heavy draperies instead of expensive specialty fabric panels were hung on the side walls to improve the acoustic characteristics of the space. The drapes also serve as an affordable way to hide incriminating evidence of the room’s mechanical origins. Pulling them aside reveals the home’s main electrical panel. It was just one of many parts of the area that couldn’t be modified, altered or moved. “This was one of the toughest areas I’ve ever had to work with,” says Ridenour, who’s been in the business for more than two decades. “There were pipes hanging from the ceiling, concrete walls everywhere and a door once used to secure a bank vault lying in the middle of the floor.”
The vault became the inspiration piece of the project, as the homeowners and Ridenour continued to find ways to save money without compromising on quality. A 5.1 surround-sound system was chosen over a 6.1 or 7.1 arrangement, and a universal handheld remote was given the job of controlling the equipment instead of an expensive touchscreen-style controller. Ridenour rounded out the setup with a couple of no-frills components, including a Yamaha receiver, a Sony DVD player and a DirecTV satellite box. The speakers came from reputable manufacturer Triad but were selected from the company’s bronze line rather than from the ultra-high-end gold or platinum lines. Priced at less than $10,000, the Sony video projector was an affordable and high-performance 1080p projector choice. And the Da-Lite screen, stretching 106-inches diagonally, would provide plenty of visual impact but without bells and whistles like a motor to tuck it into the ceiling when it wasn’t being used. Ridenour did manage to install a bit of movie-time drama by covering the screen with motorized draperies that part when the owner presses the on button on the MX-850 from Universal Remote Control.
The custom-programmed remote makes operating the theater effortless for the owners. A play button dims the lights and starts the movie, pause raises the lights, and off shuts off everything and closes the drapes. on also activates the Yamaha surround-sound receiver, the Sony DVD player and the video projector. After everything’s revved up, play dims the lights and starts the movie. The room is ready in seconds.
But movie viewing isn’t the only activity this space accommodates. The owners made sure to design the room for karaoke when the grandkids visit. A small stage puts the singers front and center, where they can view the lyrics on the big screen.
From the selection of the gear to the dramatic transformation of a mechanical room to an entertainment showpiece, it’s clear that careful thought went into every detail, right down to the bags of “money” that serve as doorstops. “Although the system was not expensive, it had to be created to perfection, like having no visible wires or speakers,” Ridenour says. He even went so far as to calibrate the video to ISF (Imaging Science Foundation) specifications and “rattle tested” the room’s ductwork, plumbing and other mechanical systems before the drywall went up to make sure the items wouldn’t shake and vibrate while a movie was playing. “It took a lot of planning and precise execution to get the screen, drapes and other items into a room that’s built like a concrete bunker,” he explains. With the help of the owner’s architect friend, Ridenour was able to steal space from an unsightly unfinished area of the house and turn it into something of real value.
Lisa Montgomery has been writing about home technology for 15 years, with a focus on the impact of electronics on a modern lifestyle.