A tour of my home theatre room

One of my earliest tech-related memories is going to Harvey Norman in the 90s and drooling over the A/V receivers they had on display. The nonsense acronyms, a bajillion inputs and loud noises were just the right combination for my developing teenage brain to obsess over. Since then I’ve always wanted a dedicated room just to watch movies or play games in, but finances and circumstances never crossed paths to make it happen - until now. Two months of planning and $13,000 later, I have a home theater.

Watching movies in there is awesome, I’m very happy with how it turned out. I forget I’m at home and get totally immersed in what I’m watching. I’m still tweaking the setup to get the best out of it, but I thought I’d go through my decision process with all the gear and setup so if anyone is lucky enough to be able to do the same thing, they can learn from my mistakes.

ROOM
My room is 4.2m wide by 5.5m long and 2.7m high. It was a study but I moved all my computer crap into a smaller spare room we weren’t using for anything important and freed up the larger room. Did you know that Australian homes are on average the largest in the world?


undercoat


first coat

I painted the room in Haymes Stormy Blue, with a matt finish. Ideally it would be totally black but that’s kinda ugly. Why paint the room? Because the projector’s own light will reflect off white walls and wash out the image.

A tip for those deciding to paint a room using dark, matt paint: double your estimate for how much paint you’ll need. I ended up using almost double the paint the Hayme’s calculator and paint shop staff suggested. Matt paint is also really sensitive to scuffs and marks. If you have kids (or careless adults) you might want to stick with low-sheen.


painted room after 24hrs drying

Light control in this room is pretty good already as there’s a roller shutter on the exterior window, but during the day a little light still leaks in with the blinds closed and some light sneaks in under the doors and between the sliding doors when closed. It’s super important to get the room as dark as possible when using a projector, even a tiny bit of light impacts the image quality. With the lights on or window open, the projector is useless.

VISION
4K TVs are mainstream, but 4K projectors are not. Many projectors claim they’re 4K but actually use a technique called “pixel shifting” that does some optical trickery to get a 1080p image sensor to show more pixels. Some projectors do pixel shifting better than others and some are actually native 4K sensors and don’t pixel shift at all. Here’s a good video explaining the differences:

I narrowed the choices down to two projectors - the Epson EH-TW9400 ($3,832) or the JVC DLA-N5 ($6,889). The JVC is native 4K and is supposed to have better colours, but the Epson is half the price, has almost as good colours and is brighter. Ultimately I went with the Epson EH-TW9400 because I already blew past what I was comfortable spending (~$10k) and most of the content I watch is 1080p anyways (fuck all TV shows are in 4K, maybe 30% of the movies I watch are in 4K).


pardon the plaster dust fingerprints left on the unit by the installers, I’ll get up on the ladder and clean it properly one day

The Epson projects onto a 140" Encore CineVue 16:9 fixed screen with 1.1 gain from Selby. Why the Encore? Other brands are too expensive and cheap screens can sag and have poor colour reproduction. The installers reckon it was a pain in the arse to assemble. I was also looking at the Majestic Evo Ultra 4K, but it costs $800 more and the lead time was a few weeks versus next day delivery from Selby.


projector screen in the hallway before it got mounted

To work out how big of a screen you can go, how bright you need your projector to be and how far away you should sit from the screen, Carlton Bale’s spreadsheet is absolutely fantastic. To know where to place the projector, Epson has a calculator that’ll work it all out for you.

I regret using Epson’s ELPMB30 mount. It’s very neat and tidy, but the installers reckon it lacks a few adjustments that would have made it easier for them to perfectly align the projector lens with the screen. In normal viewing it looks totally fine, but throw up a chart and there’s a little skew due to my shitty house’s imperfect walls.


notice how the left of the screen isn’t the same as the right? we spent hours trying to adjust it without using the keystone setting to no avail and it’s the projector mount’s fault

AUDIO
My first instinct was to go the whole 7.1.4 hog but after pricing it and planning where the speakers would go in the room, it was going to be impractical. Placing the left and right surrounds would have been a challenge due to the room layout and the cost of two extra surrounds and a much more expensive 11.2ch amp lead me to settle on a 5.1.4 setup.

sell-sheet-5.1.4-mounted
click to embiggen

  • 2x Krix Lyrix Gold floorstanding speakers - bloke in Hawthorn was selling these for $500 on Gumtree
  • Krix KDX Centre v3.1 centre channel - got it from a dude in Preston for $100 off Facebook
  • 2x Accusound Reference 8.6XD surrounds - have been using these as fronts & surrounds for years in my living room
  • Accusound Reference 8.6XD 12" 200W subwoofer - got it along with the surrounds, it’s pretty good for how cheap it was ($499 for the entire 5.1 setup!)
  • 4x Selby CS808 8" in-ceiling speakers - got these from a bloke in Woodend on Gumtree for $100

It’s a mish-mash of speaker brands and quality, but the important ones (front & centre) are great and 2nd hand were super cheap. I was tossing between the Monitor Audio Blimey Pack for $2000 or the Polk S50 5.1 pack for around $2300, but going with used speakers and what I already own, I saved around $1200-$1500.


a subwoofer with a cable I need to hide

In hindsight, I shouldn’t have bothered with the 4 ceiling speakers as the distance between the front and rear ceiling speakers is so narrow. For the size of my room, two would have been great and much cheaper, as it would mean less speakers to install, less speakers to buy and a cheaper 7.2 reciver.

RECEIVER
There’s many different brands out there for receivers, but I chose Denon predominately due to the Audyssey XT32 speaker calibration. From what I absorbed via various A/V forums, all the dorks said that Audyssey is the best audio calibration system in this mid-level range. Denon/Marantz are the only ones that use Audyssey XT32 at the moment - so the choice was pretty easy.


unboxing the receiver

Other than the audio calibration stuff, it seems all the receivers pretty much do the same thing, have more or less the same features at the same price points and all would sound fine for my untrained ears. ZK Electronics has an excellent website to compare different receivers.

I picked the AVR-X3700H because it’s Denon’s cheapest 9.2 receiver. Simple as that really. It’s got a zillion features I don’t really use, but they’re there if I want em. I do like the smartphone/tablet app and how it shows you what’s going on with the sound and vision specs. Besides this concerning out of box experience, it’s been working fine since.


first thing on the screen that greeted me when I powered the receiver on - fixed it by holding the power button down for 6 seconds

SOURCES
I’m using an Nvidia Shield Pro because as far as I can tell, it is the only media player that’ll send a pure bitstream of audio to the receiver with Plex or any other app. The Apple TV says it supports Dolby Atmos audio, but it doesn’t mention that Atmos audio is only supported in certain apps like AppleTV+, Netflix or Disney+. I initially had an Apple TV 4K but not getting Dolby Atmos audio in Plex or VLC was a real disappointment. The Apple TV decodes it to PCM and strips the Atmos metadata out. This thread on the Plex forums summarises what the deal is for Atmos audio.


the shield is a small box!

This isn’t a review of the Nvidia Shield Pro, but I like it way more than the Apple TV. For a proper review, check out the Lon.TV video below. The Shield Pro can even be a Plex server and can run Kodi and all its delicious illegal plugins. In my opinion, the Shield Pro is the best media player you can get if you care about things like Dolby Vision/HDR10 and Dolby Atmos/dts:X audio. I wrote a more detailed article about all that technical crap and what standards you should care about for the best experience.

I’ve also got a PS4 but haven’t tried it out yet. I might fire up the PS4 soon as I finish writing this post! Actually, I should turn it on now and let the bastard update whilst I finish writing…

$300 was spent on two HDMI cables. A 10M one to go in the ceiling and wall between the projector and receiver for $250, and a 2M one for $50 to go from the Shield to the receiver - both from Altronics.


check out this $250 HDMI cable

Many people still think a digital signal means any HDMI cable will work, but from my own personal experience that is not true. For 1080p30 stuff under 2-3M, sure, a $2 cable will do, but when you’re pushing 4K 60fps 4:4:4 over a long distance, a cheap cable will crap out. Seeing as I was putting this cable in a wall, I figured I’d get the best I can so if/when 8K is ever a thing, I don’t have to change the cable.

INSTALL
Here’s the list of things I needed to install:

  • power outlet in ceiling for projector (1x GPO)
  • HDMI run for projector (ceiling to rear of room ~5m, customer to provide cable only)
  • install projector mount on ceiling (customer to provide Epson ELPMB30) and attach projector
  • install 4x ceiling speakers (customer to provide speakers)
  • 7x speaker cable runs to rear of room (center channel, front left, front right, 4x ceiling)
  • replace batten light with recessed LED downlight (customer to provide SAL S9522TC light)
  • install fixed projector screen on wall (customer to provide)

Most of it could have been DIY except for the power outlets, but I hate going up in the roof so paying someone to do it for me was an easy choice.

I posted this list on Twitter and someone that follows me has a brother that does this for a living who called me and came out a week later to do the work. It took two blokes a full day to get it all done.

FURNITURE
Finding a goddamn place to put my arse was one of the hardest parts of this entire setup. Ideally I want to sit smack bang in the middle of the room to hit the speaker sweet spot, so a 3-seater sofa would work well. Problem is, the smaller ones that would fit in the room don’t give the middle seat arm-rests, so even though it would be the best seat in terms of A/V, it’s the shittiest seat in terms of comfort.

There are smaller seats with armrests that could have fit in the room and given us 3 seats all up, but they were pretty expensive (over $2,500) and the lead time was 4-6 months. A 4 seater sofa just wouldn’t have worked as the people on the sides would be right up against the wall and have had a shit experience.

The room size also meant I couldn’t get two rows of seating in so more people can watch simultaneously. A second row would mean the front row would be too close to the screen. Not a big problem as 95% of the time it’s just me and Natalie, but it would have been nice to have more than a single family member or friends over to watch stuff.

Ended up going with a recliner from Fantastic Furniture called Convertible, which is modular and can have more or less seats as needed. I think I’d have preferred the chaise than the recliner to be honest.

The cabinets at the front and rear of the room are just IKEA’s Besta. Nice coincidence that the doors are a similar blue to the walls and ceiling.

FURTHER TWEAKS
Whilst everything is set up now and working, I still reckon I can get a bit more out of the setup with some tweaking.

  • Spend some time properly calibrating the projector. Not just colours, but also focus and lens shift. Not sure how to do this exactly, so need to research it. Probably need a calibration Blu-Ray disc.

  • Align the speakers more accurately. Like get out a measuring tape and a protractor so the heights and angles are more in line with the Dolby recommendations for a 5.1.4 setup.

  • Curtains over the blind and door, just to stop those light leaks on sunny days and to darken the room a little further as the door is a large gloss white surface.

  • Possible upgrade of the entire speaker setup so they’re matching. To get anything better sounding I’d need to drop a fair bit of coin ($2k-$3k) and I’m tapped out for a while, so probably won’t happen any time soon.

  • A 5K console to replace the PS4 and gets me a 4K Blu-ray disc player. Leaning towards Xbox Series X for the GamePass stuff, but I like Sony’s exclusive games too, so dunno. I’ve got a few months to decide as there’s fuck all stock anyways.

  • Maybe fuck around with a universal remote so it’s easier for people that aren’t me to turn everything on and enjoy a movie without juggling multiple remotes.

  • Pay an electrician to replace the front ethernet & power outlets with black ones. It would probably cost ~$200. Not sure if I want to spend $200 on that kinda thing.

PRICE LIST

  • Encore 140" projector screen - $1249
  • Epson TW9400 projector - $2699
  • Epson ELPMB30 projector mount - $248
  • Nvidia Shield Pro - $328
  • Denon AVC-X3700X receiver - $2499
  • 5.1.4 speakers - $952
  • 10m 8K HDMI cable - $249
  • 2m 8K HDMI cable - $48
  • 3m RCA subwoofer cable - $20
  • 28x speaker banana plugs - $43
  • SAL S9523TC LED downlight - $86
  • IKEA Besta - $930
  • Fantastic Furniture Convertible Package 2 recliner - $1058
  • Paint & painting related bullshit - $600
  • Installation - $1440
    Total cost: $12,449