New Theater Room Help

Hi All,

I need to jump in and ask for help on something I know very little about. We just moved to Michigan and have purchased a spec home that is about a month away from completion. The builder has laid out a theater room in the basement and run some basic wiring for speakers.

The room is 11 feet wide by 15.5 feet deep with 8 foot ceilings. There is no problem with getting the room dark. It can be pitch black. The room is a little smaller than I would have liked, but the builder has done a beautiful job with wall panels and decorative moldings. The room will have acoustic tile ceilings and carpeting on the floor. I'll work on the acoustics separately, but I need some help on layout before we put the ceiling in.

I am much more into audio than video and will have a separate room for my audio listening. I do not need audiophile quality in the theater room right now as I am spending most of my cash on the house. But I would like to get the room set up.

Here's the help I need:

1) Based upon my room size, what size of screen do I get and how about some projector recommendations?

2) The door to the room is in the rear against one of the side walls, so I can't mount a speaker on the right rear wall. I'm guessing that means I'll have to use ceiling speakers or suspend some from the ceiling.

I have a set of Magnepan MGIIIa's lying around unused. Can these be used? If they would be too hard to blend in, I'd like some good speaker recommendations--front, side, rear, and sub(s). I do have a good Energy speaker I could use for the center for now. I'm okay going used. I'd like something good, but like I mentioned, audiophile is not important right now.

3) I have a workable 5.1 source. I'm inclined to use it for now. I'll run wires for a seven channel setup but may not add the amp right now. Unless you have some affordable recommendations.

I guess what I'd really like to do is spend the money necessary to get a good projector. I'd probably pick up either some good used speakers or okay new ones that could be swapped out when I decide to upgrade the audio. I'll just use my existing 5.1 amp and player for now. This should get me started.

Whatever you can do to help out with speakers and placement as well as projecter, placement, and screen size would be much appreciated.


You ask a lot, but I will give you an ear full.

I would recommend about 85"-90" wide screen. If you are going to invest in projection "size matters". The bigger the screen the more it will feel like a cinema which is what this whole thing is about. Your depth is fine for one row of seating. If you need two rows, the front seats will be too close. A 12'-13' viewing distance will be acceptable for that size of screen. You have 132" of real estate up front, so that leaves about 20" on each side to sqeeze in your left and right speakers. You are a hi-fi guy so you know about first wall reflections etc... so here is your first compromise between screen size vs. speaker placement.

As for screens I recommend Stewart with the Delux Velux frame. The extra wide frame really makes the theater look much better, plus the Velux treatment sucks up the overspray from the brighter DLP projectors of today. This will give you a nice clean edge and is worth the extra bucks!!! As your eyes adjust you will see this overspray. Old CRT projectors had blanking adjustments and less light output so this was never an issue in the old days. The only downside is the cost and the extra wide frame eats up some of that L/R speaker real estate.

Screen fabric is another issue. I recommend a plain non-perforoated 1.3 gain. GrayHawk and FireHawk screens were engineered for early DLP and LCD design projectors. Now that black levels have improved, these fabrics are not needed any longer. Perforated screens cost a lot more and have moire problems with DLP projectors. You are a hi-fi guy so you know about how speaker grilles effect sound. Perforated screens do the same thing, only worse despite what anyone claims. Future projectors will look best on a 1.3 gain. Buy a 1.3 gain Stewart and it will be the last one you buy.

Locate your screen image about 36" off the floor. Start there and move up or down if you have design or speaker placment issues.

Locate your center speaker tweeter as close to the bottom of the screen as you can. Locate the left and right in the bottom third just outside the screen. This will give you a near even plane across the front 3 channels. Rear speakers should be mounted 2'-3' above your head at the seated position. since you have a door in the corner I would wire for a center channel in the rear. You could do two rear channels if you want. Wire is easy now. If you do two you could always drag a little extra over to the center so you could go either 7 or 6 channel.

Projector recommendations are tough as these things get better every few months. Screen size will dictate projector location as there is usually a ratio or formula to determine the throw distance and hight offset from the top edge of the screen. Some projectors offer a long throw option that will allow you to mount the projector further back. This is worth it if you can get it in or near the back wall and enclosed if possible. No projector hanging in the center will enhance the looks as well. Ventilation will need to be adressed if it's enclosed. Being a hi-fi guy you will forever thank me for getting that projector fan and color wheel noise out of your room. This will bug you so much that you may never want to use the room.

Some qick math on offset.
96" = 8' ceiling
-36" screen hieght off the floor
-50" screen hieght on a 90" wide screen.
This leaves about 10" between the ceiling and the top edge of the screen. Figure the center of the lens would be about 4" from the ceiling if it was mounted right to the ceiling on a bracket. You would need 6" of offset. If your projector has less offset you need to raise the screen or lower the projector. Some projectors have fixed offset. More expensive projectors have adjustable offset. Some projectors offset increase as you move the projector back, so check the specs. Tilting the projector can work too, but you need keystone adjustment to fix the image shape. It's best design it right from the start and use adjustments to fine tune. Designing and building projector mounting systems and boxes are easier if they are level and square.

Throw distances usually have a range base on screen width. Once you determine your screen width you will be able to calculate the aceptable range to the front of the lens. Try and design such that you don't fall near the end of the range. Another anoying problem is that most lenses are off to one side of the chassis. This means your mounting system will be off center, and if you build an enclosure most of the guts will be to off to one side so the lens fires out the center. Keep this in mind with your design. Plan for the future as your next projector will probably be the opposite. Don't forget to plan for power and cabling to the projector too. Conduit back to the rack is a good idea here and a dedicated AC line. Another trick is to have your electrician pull an SO cord (like an inwall extension cord) from the projector location to your gear so you can plug that into your line conditioner. Plan for rear access to equipment if possible. This will be a life saver down the road.

Speakers... Another huge topic. My peev is to match all speakers. Anything else is a compromise. My suggestion is to use what you have if you can make them fit and go with more maggies. Buy a MMG Center and two MMG Wall mounts for the rears. You will need more power for maggies, as you know, and a good sub of your choice. The maggies are cheap cheap and Sounstage review raved about them. If the IIIa's won't fit, sell them and buy 5 MMG's and just do it right.

Good luck.

I'll check back, or e-mail me if you have more????


Thanks for the very thoughtful response. I need to spend a little time digesting everything you commented upon. I know I'll have some questions as I start laying things out, so I appreciate the offer to check back. I'm off to the inlaws for the long weekend. I'll do some noodling then get back to you.

Thanks again!

If you plan on having a low rack on the floor in front of the room below the screen, better check on its specs (LxWxH) first. And add in the height of the components, if they're placed on top shelf. Take a measurement of where a comfortable point above the components to where a dropped ceiling or top of drywall ceiling would be. That's the realistic vertical size space you have to work with. It will restrict your screen size. If you don't work with these variables, you could end up in serious trouble putting it all together, i.e. screen too big for space.

Your budget will determine your projector. I also built a HT; and also am primarily an audio vs. videophile. How much will you spend on the projector? If it's under 2k, you're probably looking at an LCD or very low end DLP. And it goes up from there.

Look for projector with a low noise/power mode. Fan noise will be kept to minimum. If you've got a separate audio room and aren't expecting perfection for low budget, then the minimal fan noise will not bother you. I'm a stickler for sound and I never notice any fan noise during movies.

Want to save money? Build your own screen for under $100. I did and no one has ever figured out that it's home made.
You can see my system comments for more info on the screen.

Consider black ceiling tiles, like a real theater. Very nice for visuals, and makes the room look like an actual theater.
White/ligher ceiling tiles may be distracting in a dark room with visuals.

Lighting is critical. Don't put sconces on screen wall, etc. Take your sweet time thinking out lighting. Lutron remote lighting systems are terrific. I'm very happy I spent the extra on them.

I would get a subscription to "Home Theater Builder" magazine! Exceptionally helpful. Articles on all sorts of HT topics. You can get back issues as well. Before you push too much further, you'd do well to glance at about 6-8 issues of that magazine!

Lastly, don't be afraid to spend a bit of money on expertise. I hired an HT consultant for 1.5 hours to answer every question I had. I had 11 pages of notes/questions, and told them I wanted quick, no fluff answers (it was on my dime). I recorded the conversation for playback later. That was some of the best money I spent on the project. It helped me change several things which made the room turn out beautifully acoustically and aesthetically.

This is certainly an exciting time for you! Enjoy!
First, I'd stay away from acoustical tiles on the ceiling, definitely! Your small acoustic space (and that's still small) needs more diffusion, not absorption in the mid/high's, with the limited bass absorption pressent in your room, Basically, it's going to be too warm sounding, and a bit dead. YOu do however need to treat ceiling reflections between you and speakers, unless you either sit closer, or use more controlled dispersion (vetical) speaker designs, which the Maggies are.
Still, I'd NOT use the Maggies with your receiver, as Maggies are low efficiency, low sensitivity, limited in dynamics(not what good HT needs), etc.
If I knew your receiver, I could make more solid recommendations for cheap.
However, in general, lower model KLipsch horn speakers are very dynamic, easy to driver, controlled focused, and make great home theater speakers for little! They also make acoustics more managable with their controlled dispersion.
In short, the dynamics will be 3x's stronger with something like Klipsch SB-1's or RB-25's or whatever, yes! And this IS an HT system, right? These speakers are also pretty clear and uncolred from my recollection.
As for the PJ, I'd go with cheap DLP for now, or a Sony LCD S51(best black level of LCD's out, marginally acceptable).
However, my first choice is the bargain on "used" CRT projectors right now, either mounted on ceiling in a box, or in an enclosure between the front seats on the floor. This IS THE BEST PICTURE you'll ever get for any reasonable money, period!
Case in point: You can get an 8" CRT pj for around $2500 with minty tubes, that will last you years, and give you a world class picture for as cheap as possible.
If it where my money, and I was using your receiver, I'd go used CRT, maybe Barco 801 or better Sony G70 on the high end for $3500 range used. OTherwise, I'd look into NEC PG9200 or whatever. World class pics here folks
Down side is these are bulky, and need tweaking.
As for back door on back wall, you can do 6.1 set up just fine there.
Actually, I think 7.1 setups are recommended with two speakers right next to each other in teh middle back anyway. So this should work.
Good luck
Thanks for the input folks. A little more insight on the room. I do have a recessed area built into one wall where all my equipment will be. This area will be accessed from behind, so all cables will be fed in from an adjoining storage room. This will keep all wires hidden and easily passed to the audio equipment.

The 5.1 channel amp I have is a Mitsubishi M-VR1000. It is a relatively high output unit with dual amplifiers. I believe one drives the front speakers and the other the surround, but I don't recall. It is nothing like my Audio Research VT-200 and SP-8, but I'll have the audio room elsewhere in the house. I'm sure I'll upgrade the receiver sometime down the road, but I'd rather put the money into video and speakers now.

If I could get the maggies to work in the room, I believe my receiver has a pre out so I could run the mains out to a Threshold amp I have sitting around that is perfectly capable of driving them. However, as Steuspeed warned, I may not have enough space for them. I looked into the MMG's. Seem to be an attractive option if I have enough amp to drive them all.

To tell you the truth, I am not a really big video buff. The room is more for my wife. I'd rather spin vinyl. She is not nearly as picky as I am on sound. However, I'd like the setup to be passable so I can watch a movie and not be annoyed by either the picture or the sound. I would like to keep the immediate cost below $10K if possible. If I can get extremely good results by staying away from the latest and greatest and pick up some great 2nd gen used gear at a huge discount relative to new, I'd do it. I appreciate Flrnlamb's recommendations in this regard.

I'm pretty clueless on what to look for that would work well given my space requirements. I'll see if I can track down some Home Theater rags and also research some of the suggestions from Flrnlamb.

Thanks again!

Well I'll throw in my two cents on this one;

1. Stewart is right on the money about the screen. Avoid a perforated screen. But I'd offer different reasoning. One of the problems I see with projectors is a lack of optimal lumen power or brightness capability. A perforated screen absorbs more light than a solid white screen. Absorbing light with Lumens at a premium simply makes it more difficult to get the optimum contrast ratio. The audio stuff is correct as well, but from a video side, those lumens absorbing perforated screens are a loser.

2. Projector mount/Wiring/Cabling-- Critical!. You maywant to really spend some time thinking this out carefully. Reason? Stuff is cheap and if done wrong, regrets will occur later/sooner. You will want a code-meeting electricl outlet in the ceiling frankly. This is just my opinion. You'll have a metal pipe like mount attached to ceiling joists coming down through a removable trap door with a circle cut in the middle ti fit the pipe. Of course this is one scenario out of many- the point I am making is to try and visualize exactly what you are doing. Try the hometheter builder forum at I have a whole folder of pictures from each construction phase from different home theater construction projects. I see no reason why many of these wouldnt still be viewable. I also agree with using PVC conduit for cabling pass through. I like the idea of guide wires to allow pull through as well as removal of new and old cables. You are attaching material flags to cables and pulling through, always leaving ebough behind to do it again.

3. Projector recs-- I am weak in my knowledge in this area. heres what I know-- the technology changes fast so folks dont always put a lot of money into this one at first. If memory serves, there was a Yamaha FP reviewed in Widescreen Review magazine within the past year that got praises from the writer, a member of our HT group here in Houston. He seemed pretty up on that one for the cost. Also, those lamps for these things seemed a bit pricey.

4. Speaker placement-- all that stuff that Stewart said.Instead of wiring for one rear channel though, you might consider wiring for two. IN the back the placement for an eventual 9.1 or 9.2 theater ( even if never done in your medium sized space) is cool with the two rears being close together, hopefully avoiding the door opening al together. Also, kinda wondering if you are considering two subs, one in front and one in back. Not necessry but ya never know. Anyway-- I'd really focus on one good HT sub and not go too much on monies into the other speakers given what you have writeen. The sub can make an HT experience really great. A single good sub. So-- which one? Well since we are HT and no music-- HSU makes several at differeing price points. Check em out. Get the VTF/STF 2 or higher. OR-- look at SVS subs. The cylinder ones are tall and black- but you will leave the rom shaken after Master and Commander. IN the basement is good-- no nails to come out of the walls. SO here we are talking a PB2 plus or a PB Ultra. I have heard all the subs I am referring to. Speakers- ya know-- lots of fine choices for HT here. Remember- you are crossing over to the sub at 80 HZ with your 5.1 receiver; so you don't need to pay for full range speakers; just down to 60 HZ or thereabouts will be just fine. There really are so many very acceptable options that it would be hard for me to say this is better than that blah blah blah. I agree in driver matching/brand matching. My main comment is that finding a good maker of center channels probably is a starting point for paring down the field. To that end-- why not visit They make a good center, and AScend CBM 170s, at 328 a pair, are cost effective, power efficient at 8 OHMS with 90+ sensitivity and quite good acoustically as far as flat anechoic chamber response curves. 4 of em plus a center and an SVS or HSU sub and you and your wife should be contented acoustuically for HT viewing. I like AAD E-Series as an inexpensive yet pleasing HT expereience as well. And Klipsch RB series is fine for HT, despite not even coming close for audiophile music. Totem Dreamcatchers are nice, but are more pricey and power hungry than the ones mentioned above. Paradigm makes a nice center channel series as well and decent mains surrounds. I dont carer for Definitive technology, Phase Velocity or Bose for HT. I dunno-- so much stuff out there. BTW-- I dont recommend in ceiling speakers at all. Sorry.