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Designing a DJ’s Dream Theater with Commercial Venue Grade Lighting and Sound

California integrator Movietime outfits this former DJ’s home with commercial grade lighting, sound and automation as well as a luxury home theater and outdoor space.

Alice Gustafson

Eye-catching from the outside due to being surrounded by palm trees and tasteful landscaping, a sprawling 2.5-acre Spanish-style home in California is nothing short of breathtaking on the inside.

This is all thanks to the efforts of Southern California based integrator, Movietime, which specializes in ultra-high end integration, audio and lighting.

The impressive home is owned by a former radio DJ, who most definitely was not going for subtle when it came to the technology he wanted in his home. In fact, he was insistent that his property had to look cooler and rock harder than the best of them.

Enter owner of Movietime, Ilya Kandibur, who also happens to be a long time friend of the DJ. Kandibur soon found he had an enormous challenge ahead. How do you integrate large concert-style speakers and commercial lighting while maintaining the aesthetics, while making it all invisible? 

“Anyone can hang giant subwoofers and spotlighting from ceiling tracks in a warehouse,” Kandibur states. “But how do you hide this kind of gear throughout a beautiful home? How do you turn a historic property into an audio and lighting tour-de-force while hiding everything that you’re doing? Commercial integrators would be a bull in a china shop on a project like this. You really need a mix of commercial engineering expertise and tech experts with many years of luxury home integration experience.”

Poolside

“From the beginning, everyone knew this project was going to be world-class,” Kandibur asserts. “This is something never done at a residence before on this scale.”

With over a quarter of a mile of commercial LED tape and six figures in architectural LED lighting, various challenges lay ahead with regards to hiding the electronics – on top of that, the implementation had to be flawless.

Movietime enjoys a close working relationship with one of the top DMX lighting designers and programmers in the U.S., whose portfolio includes various lighting shows, as well as design work for Disney and Universal Studios. This company was drafted in to work its magic on the residence.

For architectural fixtures, Movietime turned to Anolis and DTS Lighting, specializing in commercial and outdoor LED fixtures.

“We needed something that could handle the rain, the heat of a sauna and installation underwater inside a pool or spa,” Kandibur reflects. “One of the coolest features of this lighting is the ease of wiring and connection, as these lights all work over daisy chained Cat5e cabling.”

Depending on fixture type, lights can be daisy chained over 1,000 feet on a single wire, while the power supply can sit safely inside a cabinet far away.

Unfortunately, things became more complicated when it came to the flexible LED tape, which generally has a limitation of 30 feet from the power supply. When dealing with a pool patio over 150 feet long, challenges of weatherproofing, installation and proper engineering and wiring of the area become critical.


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Gallery

Go Inside This Spectacular Home Installation


According to Kandibur, there is no room for “fudging” in complex LED tape designs, especially outdoors. “All of the drivers, all of the tape and all of the wire lengths have to match. If one wire or tape run is longer than another, rows of tape right next to each other won’t match in color due to voltage drops. How do you hide and weatherproof over 60 LED drivers and power supplies around an open pool, all while keeping each power run at approximately the same wire length? It’s incredibly challenging and requires a lot of planning, project box building and creativity.”

Two hollow concrete benches are located on the west side of the pool, while decorative concrete columns sit on the north and east sides. All power supplies used were outdoor rated and all LED drivers were wired and built into weatherproof project boxes on a soldering bench, then installed in the various areas.

LED drivers and power supplies were located in various columns or benches, based on proximity to the LED.

“Just the pool and patio itself was a massive undertaking” Kandibur admits. “It took a solid two weeks of soldering on a bench to build all of this hardware, and at least another full week to install. That doesn’t include weeks of carefully installing and soldering the actual LED tape into every nook and cranny of this pool patio, whether it be in and around the pool and spa, or around the entire concrete perimeter of the patio itself. The end result is invisible…and phenomenal. During the day, one would never guess there was any lighting on the entire patio. And at night, this outdoor space is a spectacle to behold.”

Not to be outdone in the complexity department, the interior of the pool house also boasts some impressive displays of custom installation. Onyx bars and counters hide rows of LED tape, while light strips built into custom acrylic columns add mood and ambiance. Meanwhile, speakers light up from behind their grills when the music starts, and when ‘moods’ are selected, colors don’t just change, but flow from one theme to another as colors wash across the room.

“But the crown jewel has to be the spa, which has more than just lighting inside the dome above,” Kandibur points out.

When the night scene is pressed and the LED lighting dims low, a projector becomes the star of the show. Built into the ground underneath the tile with a small glass opening sits a custom boxed and aligned star projector with piped cooling into a nearby cabinet.{pagebreak}

“The light path is framed perfectly so it fills the inside of the dome above; no stars or light spills outside that space,” says Kandibur. “The net effect is as if this plaster dome just suddenly turned into a planetarium with moving star fields and subtle blue clouds. It may look cool in pictures, but to see the depth and movement in person is something else entirely.”

Unlike traditional LED tape, Movietime used something called pixel tape for key areas, which allows for individual pixel level control over the entire tape. Light bars in the recreation room start pumping up and down like equalizers to the beat. Onyx glass features on the patio start flowing back and forth like rivers of color, bumping and fading to various beats of the music.

“It’s all very surreal how this traditional space suddenly becomes a dance club,” Kandibur adds. “You would never have guessed it was there. It’s the customer’s favorite feature of this property. Almost every time we talk, the customer waxes poetic about how beautiful the property is and how he loves that you don’t know anything is there. Until it’s party time that is, when this serene garden becomes a venue of color and spectacle that most clubs could only dream of replicating.”

Concert Audio Meets Living Space

“What good would all this gorgeous lighting be without a killer audio system to match?” asks Kandibur. Well, how about enough gear and amplification to require 120 amps of dedicated power.

For starters, a total of three custom JBL Synthesis installations backed up with commercial subwoofers and amplification were installed into the property. The recreation room opens to a dance patio, meaning the two adjacent JBL systems had to be equalized as a single space.

This space features the JBL Synthesis SAM1/2 speakers both inside and out, along with two commercial JBL 18” subwoofers, powered by dual 5,000W Crown Macro-Tech amplifiers. A total of 18 channels of equalization are used between these two spaces alone. In all, over 25,000W of amplification was required.

Equally important was a clear and noise free distribution system for the vast property. Movietime installed and terminated 12 strand OM4 fibre between all key locations, then used Crestron Sonnex digital distribution for all audio transmission across the property to various amplifiers.

An Autonomic music server passed through an asynchronous USB DAC provides the main zone of audio, while multiple DJ ports throughout the property allow local connections for parties and ultimate fidelity. 

Custom openings were carved into the concrete for all large speakers and subwoofers, creating an in-wall installation where none could otherwise exist. Flush grills were fabricated and backlit with LED lighting to illuminate the hidden speakers.

“On the massive outdoor patio and pool, things became a bit more complicated to hide as space was limited,” Kandibur explains candidly. “The client wanted concert-level playback, but without compromising the daytime aesthetic.”

For this installation, Movietime once again turned to JBL Pro, but for custom built, weather proofedAE Compact series speakers. Loaded horns and dual 8” drivers provide dynamic range and punch for this outdoor space, all while hiding inside concrete benches at the corner of the pool. To back them up, CBT series column speakers are used in the decorative pool columns, flanking the other two sides of the pool.

“They sound about the same within their range, whether several feet from your ears, or 30 feet away across the pool,” Kandibur reports. “The combination creates an even sound without any hotspots for people to avoid when standing near the speakers.”

In areas of extreme temperature and moisture like the spa and sauna, James marine grade speakers were used to fill in the sound. For the bass, four 15” James in-ground subwoofers were installed at the pool perimeters, with the extruding pipes hidden by large ceramic flower pots to achieve invisibility.

On the nearby patio, a huge JBL 18” commercial sub is hidden, suspended in the framing. All of the outdoor audio is amplified by high power Crown amplifiers with DSP, allowing for fine-tuning of the sound. At full tilt, this system could likely be heard from a few streets away.

World Class Theater

“Building an incredible theater is challenging in itself, but doing so within the confines of a limited space increases the challenges significantly,” Kandibur admits. “With less than 25 feet of depth to work with, integrating this much visual and aural horsepower was a massive undertaking. Not only does this theater house its own equipment, but all of the electronics for the pool house and outdoor areas as well. “

Two full-size Middle Atlantic racks had to be silent and hidden, yet accessible within this two-tier theater space. Because the original equipment rack was already wired and installed prior to the theater project, moving everything to a different location was not an option. Instead, these two racks became the cornerstones, literally, of the theater room.

The existing rack, fully wired and full of a few hundred pounds of electronics, was hoisted into the air with a pulley system. A concrete slab was created underneath and a custom rotating base was installed. The rack was then lowered onto the base and secured, allowing for 360-degree rotation. An identical concrete slab was poured on the opposite front corner of the room, to house an identical rack for the theater, also sitting on a custom rotating base.{pagebreak}

Once the preliminaries had been handled, digging of the front row pit could commence, along with the sweeping stairways down into the space. Because there would be no space to either pull out or work on these racks from the front due to the sweeping stairways that crossed them, the rotating bases would allow access from the sides and behind the screen.

“While two full size racks sound like a lot of equipment space, it wasn’t nearly enough to house everything for the theater, pool house and outdoor areas,” Kandibur insists.

The enormous amount of LED lighting alone required its own separate wall. The entire front wall of the theater – almost 15 feet wide between the racks – was used as the equipment wall.

A custom pivoting film screen was designed with Vutec to swing upwards into the room for service. When swung forward, access to the entire front wall, along with both corner racks is possible. And when maintenance is complete, acoustic panels are re-installed to the sides of the rack, isolating them in their custom cooled boxes, so they are silent from within the theater​.

“When isolating equipment in this way, it’s critical to have easy reset procedures for the electronics,” Kandibur advises.

Wattbox products from SnapAV were used to provide outlet level reset control for every piece of equipment. A single press of a button can reset any component, like a hung cable box or Apple TV, without ever needing to access the equipment behind the screen.

Another space challenge presented itself when tackling the projection system.

When Digital Projection’s Highlite Laser was selected as the projector of choice – not to mention being the very first such residential installation at the time – Movietime knew it could not be installed inside the room itself. Outputting an eyeball-searing 12,000 lumens of light, both the fan noise and heat output needed to be controlled and isolated from the theater.


Photo Gallery: Movietime Designs Commercial Grade Dream Theater


To make matters even more difficult, directly to the rear of the home cinema is an outdoor space, meaning building a small projection room was not an option. Complicating things further, the other side of this wall contained two enormous outdoor HVAC units for the property, as well as spa equipment, meaning noise control would be critical.

The entire back wall of the theater, along with the inside of the projection enclosure, was lined with special mass loaded vinyl, along with other acoustic blocking material, to silence any noise from directly outside the wall. 

In addition, the entire rear-supporting wall of the room was existing concrete, making opening a huge hole in the wall not an option. Instead, a weatherproof six-sided enclosure was created on the outside wall, 2.5 times the width of the projector itself.

This enclosure would not only house the projector, but a dedicated closed HVAC system installed specifically for the projector. Completely sealed on all sides, only a small front opening with projection glass had to be cut from the concrete, to allow for the light path.

“Not only does the AC unit keep the projector cool during operation, but also heats the interior of the enclosure when not in use and the temperature inside falls below a certain level. It’s a projector with its own climate control!” Kandibur enthuses.

Theater Lighting

The LED lighting in the two-story screening room includes a star-field ceiling with shooting stars, backlit wrought iron archways and a glowing bar.

“But the standout lighting feature of this room is the sweeping glass stairways that descend five feet down into the front row,” Kandibur explains. “Each individual step has a dedicated pressure sensor which allows the steps to change color as they are walked on. Imagine walking down an elegant, glass stairway lit amber and having each step change to red as you walk on them, then change back to amber when you step off. Pretty much the coolest thing ever.”

This was achieved by using a combination of flat pressure sensors under each step connected to Crestron DIN-IO8 sensing modules. The feedback is then sent to the DMX lighting system to react accordingly.

At the heart of this lighting system is an ETC DMX lighting controller, boasting two universes of 1,024 channels. Much like the Crestron processors that control the automation, this controller has advanced scripting capability with few limits.

A custom module was written to allow communication and feedback between the ETC and the Crestron. The end result is a color wheel on every iPad and Crestron touchscreen with over 16 million colors to choose from, which can be used for any area, or any individual zone. “Needless to say, almost every one of those 1,024 channels was used,” Kandibur points out.

An ETC audio module allows custom programming of audio integration. Music from the house system is fed into this module, which analyzes various frequencies and allows custom programming of lighting responses. That means a single press of the ‘Audio Sync’ button turns any area, or the entire property into a musical light show. Suddenly the spaces begin to fade and strobe, with various areas bumping to the music and fading through various color schemes.

Theater Audio

The third JBL Synthesis system is housed inside the theater, and may be the most unique of the three. Unlike a traditional cinema, the front and back rows of this room are isolated from each other, with the front row not only being five feet deeper than the back, but also partially underneath.

For the front soundstage, an acoustically transparent screen was used, allowing the JBL Array speakers to be placed at the perfect height for both front and back rows.

The surrounds were another matter, as Kandibur explains. “The customer wanted to create a sort-of pit with privacy for the front row, something that sits underneath the rear balcony and can be an isolated – an intimate space,” he says. “The challenge with this configuration is you have two sitting areas, both using the same front speakers, but using independent surrounds. If you’re in the back row, you don’t want to hear the front row surrounds coming from the pit in front of you. And vice-versa. So we needed a solution that could equalize both areas independently from each other, almost like they are in separate rooms. That’s where something like the JBL Synthesis custom equalization comes in handy.”

The end result is two separate seating areas that can’t hear each other. “If you’re sitting in the front row, you can only hear the surrounds near your head. If you’re in the back row, you can only hear the surrounds in the walls around you. It basically sounds perfect for your location, regardless of where you are sitting, and you can’t hear the other row’s speakers at all,” Kandibur says proudly.

“Except for the massive bass provided by the four subwoofers, which are not only heard, but felt by everyone!”

The end result is a gorgeously lit, AV tour-de-force, with all of its secrets hidden away behind pivoting screens and silenced walls. “The DPI Highlite laser in the theater lights up the enormous 160” wide, acoustic curved screen, while the 11.4 JBL Synthesis system rocks the house,” Kandibur grins.

“The customer absolutely loves the incredible color and brightness of his projector. Between the awesome video and perfectly equalized audio, every seat in this room is the best seat in the house.”

This article was originally published on CE Pro Europe.

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