Building a Home Theater – Part 2
By Chris Heinonen on
In our first part of this series, we covered our room design and some of the issues we would have to overcome. We also painted the walls to be more ideal for a home theater environment and decided to install some wall shelving to hold media and equipment. This installment we are going to focus on installing that wall shelving and how it works out and then the selection of gear for the room.
Algot Installation and Use
The Algot system of shelving from IKEA is much more affordable than the other options I considered. The Elfa system from The Container Store is more attractive and has some other accessories that I would like, but was going to cost 3-4x as much to purchase. Given that I’d much rather spend that money on other areas of the home theater, and that most people won’t even see this room, I decided to go with the Algot system. The only designer from IKEA made it easy to pick out what parts I needed and design a layout. It also gives you a shopping plan with locations and quantities so your trip can be quick.
Installing the Algot was fairly easy once I learned the best method. First, locate the wall studs. If you attach these columns to the studs, they’re going to be rock solid. The key step is to align all of the columns, with the shelves installed, before you screw the columns into the wall. If you remove the shelves and then screw, you’ll be slightly mis-aligned. It’ll still work, but it won’t be perfect. Trust me, I learned. Instead get everything setup to the right distances, make sure you’re still on the studs, and then start to screw them in. After a few screws you can then move the shelves around to get the final screw locations and you’re good. I also recommend finding screws that accept a star bit or square bit, as they’ll drive directly into the studs much better than a phillips head.
Once assembled, the Algot system has been great. It holds hundreds of Blu-ray discs and records and doesn’t sag at all. My computer has a nice desk with a few shelves above it to store equipment, and I still have lots of space free. The flexibility means I can adjust the shelves as I see fit, and I can easily take them off when I need to route cables or anything behind them. One thing I did have to do to make it more usable is to get some matching white bookends off Amazon. Otherwise records and Blu-ray movies at the end of the shelves would start to fall. I wish there was an easy way to add some dividers for records to make them easier to stand up, but I can figure that out down the road if necessary.
Before I could build out the room, I had to decide what to do for gear inside of it. I knew I would need to install a drop-down screen because of the wall I was using. To free up more space in this relatively small room, I also wanted to go with in-wall speakers. When I was renting, cutting out big pieces of drywall wasn’t something I could easily do. Now that I own the house, I was free to install whatever I wanted and do as much damage as I cared to do. I also needed to put a TV behind the screen, but was going to choose whatever won for Best TV in my testing at Wirecutter this year.
I also wanted to hide as much of the wiring as possible. For me this meant putting the gear into the closet and then running all of the cables in the wall or in the crawl space as possible. It would open up more of the room and keep it clean while not requiring any compromise. The overall goal of this entire situation was to keep as much open space as possible to allow for review gear while still having a high-end system that works for testing that gear. My prior home theaters have always been very cave-like and uninviting. People often wound up watching movies on the Panasonic VT60 plasma with a sound bar instead because the living room was just more comfortable to be in.
Finally, with the lesser amount of space available to me than I’ve had in the past, I wanted to downsize to a single receiver instead of running separates. I sold off my Parasound and Emotiva amps as well as my Marantz preamp to get ready for this. I never have to test amps and preamps for work anymore, so keeping them around wasn’t necessary.
For a drop-down screen, there were two major companies that came to mind: Stewart Filmscreen and Seymour Screen Excellence. I’ve reviewed screens from them in the past and they have been very impressive. One major difference is that the Enlightor 4K from Seymour Screen Excellence is a woven material while the Snomatte 100 from Stewart that you can get motorized in a Microperf X2. My prior time with the Seymour screen was great. It had very little visible texture and was almost completely acoustically transparent when in use. It did let a lot of light pass through, but since my room size meant 92”-96” was the largest screen I could do that was not an issue.
In the end I decided on the Stewart screen. The main reason being that Stewart is well known for being the reference quality screen. Snomatte 100 is completely neutral with no gain. No matter what angle you view it from it will look great, and it introduces almost no color shift at all. When you want a reference standard, that is what Snomatte 100 is for screens. Because of throw distances and room size, I had to go with a 92” screen. While smaller than the 100” and 120” screens I’ve had in the past, I’m only sitting around 7’ away from the screen in this room so the image is very large. Stewart is also able to customize the screen to work with your situation. In my case, that meant placing the wall mounting on the opposite side as normal to fit inside my ceiling beams while giving me the maximum throw distance.