Look Inside a Great Room Home Theater Design and Installation

Even techies need AV integrators. For this great room home theater, an informed homeowner called in Brandon Smith Audio Design to install a Digital Projection Insight 4K Laser Projector, Screen Innovations screen, Control4 control and Gelenec speakers with custom cabinetry.

When it comes to home theater AV, many homeowners need a lot of direction. The integrator needs to pick out equipment, explain why it’s necessary, and even sometimes “sell” the client on its usefulness and price. That was far from the case with this homeowner.

Putting it mildly, this client is a techie. Although he wishes to stay anonymous and is in fact very modest, his resume explains a bit about his passion for having the best available technology in his home.

“I wrote one of the first MPEG-3 encoder-decoders for the Sun Microsystems workstation, and wrote a CD ripper and uploader program that basically allowed the whole company to the audio collection,” says the homeowner. “This was like Napster in 1997, but only inside of Sun. I also got into the MPEG-2 video encoding and decoding—just because that was a fun and interesting thing for me.”

He continues, “CERN uses some of the technology that I developed in terms of storing and filtering the data that came off the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Prior to its opening, I actually got to visit, taking an elevator one kilometer down to see the Atlas Detector and walk around on the catwalks through the LHC.”

Even Techies Need AV Integrators

While most go to the Nth degree building a dedicated home theater, the homeowner of this 12,000-square-foot house wanted something bigger, and yet more intimate.

“If there are special events, [for example] the Super Bowl, movies that are still only in the theaters or the premiere of Game of Thrones, it would be nice to have a venue where you can have a dozen or so friends over and watch something together,” says the homeowner. 

The grand home theater is located in the great room of the open-plan main floor with massive glass walls (without shades), 25-feet high ceiling and a floor to ceiling slab stone fireplace.

home theater

The great room is surrounded by glass doors and enormous windows, making projection a challenge. See more photos.

He knew what he wanted, but needed help making it a reality, so he called in Brandon Smith Audio Design, an integrator based out of Scotts Valley, Calif.

“He wanted it to be a big, open space, where you could watch TV, sit on the couch, relax, and feel like he was more in a home environment rather than in a theater environment,” says Smith, who was recommended to the client by Heather Harrington, the interior designer involved with the project. “It was a really interesting job because I worked pretty closely with the client—because he is so technical.”

The center of this $500,000-plus system is the Digital Projection Insight 4K Laser projector (see full equipment list below). This model can deliver a lamp-free 4096 x 2160 resolution, 4K 3D capabilities, and 12,000 ANSI lumens.

“Wherever the speakers are, you go through the calibration it takes the audio input—whether it’s Dolby Atmos or pick your favorite encoding technology—and renders it for the speakers as they’re configured. That, to me, was a big selling point.”

— Brandon Smith, Brandon Smith Audio Design

“We looked at various projectors and [the homeowner] selected this one himself, which is pretty cool,” says Smith. “He really liked laser technology, and I couldn’t argue with that.”

“Getting one of the early units of that was awesome,” says the homeowner. “And then figuring out how to distribute the various video feeds and how to connect it to everything—that’s where Brandon’s expertise came into play.”

Because it was not an option to put shades on the massive windows, the projector needed to provide a great viewing experience even during the day.

“We’re using that projector, number one, as a light cannon,” says Smith. “The color range on that projector is amazing.”

The homeowner agreed, “It’s pretty incredible compared to, say, your standard fixed light source with DLP chips in front of it. And especially the reds and the greens on the lasers—they just pop. The color you get is just very beautiful, especially at night.”

Of course, having a laser projector also meant that the homeowner never has to worry about changing bulbs.

“The physics of the situation is that lamp projectors get really, really hot, and that affects the lifetime. The last thing I want to do on a system like this is have to worry about changing bulbs every couple of years,” says the homeowner. “The laser had the advantage in terms of brightness, in terms of clarity, and in terms of longevity.”

Great Room Brings Great Challenges

The homeowner was a stickler for ensuring the cabinet for the projector, the housing for screen and speakers blended in with and met the high standards of the existing architectural elements. While intimately involved in all aspects, he credits the success of the final room to the co-design and integration between Brandon Smith Audio Design, Heather Harrington Design and cabinet maker, Wood Classics.

“Not only for how the screen looks in comparison to the rest of the house architecture, but the actual design of the cabinet so it could house the 4K projector, which by no means is a tiny thing—it is kind of giant—that looks like something that belongs in the house, looks very nice, is unobtrusive, and has all the air-handling, baffling, and sound-deadening so when that thing is going crazy you don’t really hear it in the room,” says the homeowner. “The integration of the speakers and the vibration isolation for these subwoofers—all of that was just pulled off very, very well.”

Cabinetry was also designed to house the speakers on either side of the fireplace. And when not in use, mounted to the stone fireplace a motorized 114-inch Screen Innovations Slate projection screen hides behind an enclosure designed to complement the wooden arches found throughout the home.

home theater

Custom cabinetry houses the speakers on either side of the fireplace. See more photos.

To match the eye-popping image, Smith put together a killer sound system for the room, with Dolby Atmos decoding and Genelec in-ceiling speakers for a truly immersive experience. It even has a Datasat processor, which is something that’s typically reserved for large professional venues.

“The way it works is, wherever the speakers are, you go through the calibration and it takes the audio input—whether it’s Dolby Atmos or pick your favorite encoding technology—and renders it for the speakers as they’re configured,” says Smith. “That, to me, was a big selling point.”

However, there is one part of the sound setup that the homeowner loves the most. “The subwoofers are probably the coolest feature ever. They literally will shake the couch in front of it,” he says.

Because the Insight 4K Laser was one of the first 4K laser projectors on the market, and one of the first units to ship, having support from Digital Projection was crucial to the project. Smith cites the Digital Projection’s Concierge Service as being instrumental, since it provided support from beginning to end.

“The Concierge Service worked with us to give us control and take our feedback to work with engineering to make changes to the projector,” says Smith. “We’ve had some changes and some firmware updates.”

That service also helped get things like specs, airflow requirements, and other essentials to the team during the installation process.

Content Is King

A high-end AV system deserves the best content, which is why Smith installed a Prima Cinema system. This $35,000 player can stream first-run movies that are still playing in theaters, ranging from $500 to $750 a pop, per viewing. This level of access to first-run content is usually reserved to cinemas. To ensure piracy is not a concern, to purchase a Prima Cinema requires an application process and background check.

The Prima Cinema system features two power supplies and two network ports. There’s also a fingerprint reader to authorize film purchases, which are then routed through the equipment rack downstairs.

home theater

Look inside the installation from beginning to end. See photos here.

“If you unscrew the box, it will actually self-destruct,” says Smith. “So yeah, it’s quite a system.”

To accommodate the Prima Cinema system and other new components in the house, Smith also updated the home’s entire network infrastructure, as well as the multi-room audio system and equipment racks. Everything is tied into a Control4 remote for easy control throughout the house.

It’s About the Experience

“I’d say it’s a superior experience to going to a theater,” says the homeowner. “I would argue that my furniture is more comfortable than what you find in a theater.”

Of course, there’s always the ‘pause button’ you can’t get at the theater.

“The sound is as good if not better, the projection is as good if not better. And when you’re watching a movie in there, it’s a really awesome experience, especially at night when the brightness and the clarity of the projector really comes through and shows its stuff, so to speak.”

The Team

Equipment List

  • Control4 HC-800 Controller
  • Datasat RS20i Digital Audio Processor
  • Digital Projection Insight 4K Laser Projector
  • Genelec AIW26 Active In-Wall Speakers (4)
  • Genelec AOW312B Active On-Wall Speakers (2)
  • Genelec HT208 Powered Speakers (2)
  • Genelec HTS6 Subwoofer
  • Kaleidescape Strato Movie Server
  • Panamax M4320-PRO Power Conditioner
  • Panamax MB1500 Battery Backup
  • Prima Cinema Player
  • Screen Innovations 114-inch Slate Projection Screen
  • TiVo Bolt 4K DVR Cable Box

Look inside the great room home theater here.