Retrofitting - Home Theatres Dont Have to Take Over Your
By Jim Bray
How hot are home theatres?
Extremely, if the number of flourishing electronics retailers - and DVD titles
- are any indication.
Its becoming a hobby, says Darren Lane of K&W Home Automation
in Calgary, Alberta. It crosses all demographics and is something the
whole family can use.
Why? Have movie theatres priced themselves out of the market? Or has the technology
merely come of age.
Yes. A night out can be expensive, what with ticket prices, food, baby sitter,
gasoline, etc. If you like watching movies, investing that cash into your own
theatre can make sense.
And the technology really has advanced so that you can have a better movie
experience at home than in the neighbourhood cinema. Prices have come down,
too, as capabilities have gone up.
But what if you dont want to destroy your rooms existing look
by loading it with hulking TVs and speakers, and a pasta salad of wires?
We wanted our home theatres speakers hidden to leave room for pictures,
says Calgarian Justin Norris, And the wires tucked away to keep our young
one from tripping over them. Others may just want an unobtrusive big screen
Tall orders? Not necessarily.
Anything can be done, says Lane. It only takes money and, though
retrofitting is often more expensive than building a theatre in an undeveloped
room, there are strategies that can save you some cash.
But the first step should be to consult a pro to discuss what you want and
how to accomplish it.
This should include drawing up a floor plan, preferably right there
in your house, says Jim Gray of A/V Basics in Calgary, whose company did
First, decide where you want the electronics, including speakers, and what
type of video display you prefer - colossal rear projector, elegant front projector
or wall-hanging plasma.
The trend when retrofitting is toward plasmas or liquid crystal (LCD) front
projectors, though both have downsides. Plasma is expensive and limited to about
sixty inches (measured diagonally). And while front projectors can offer breathtaking
screen sizes, they require strict control of the room lighting and so may not
be practical in bright rooms. You also need to hang the projector (hiding its
wires) and screen.
Projection screens can roll up when not in use, or mount directly on the wall
behind curtains or doors.
You should also decide where to put, and how to wire, the speakers. You need
5.1 or 7.1 audio channels, so besides the main stereo speakers youll want
a front centre channel, two to four surround speakers, and a subwoofer.
Subwoofers are hefty boxes, but their placement is flexible so theyre
easily hidden - even in plain sight. The remaining speakers can be hung out
of the way or, if you want them to truly disappear, they can be installed right
into the wall with or without visible grilles.
As for the stack of amplifier, DVD player, etc. Electronics define their
own space, Lane says, And only a few areas in most retro installations
are suitable for putting a rack once other considerations are taken into account.
If youre planning to use a big armoire or cabinet to house your electronics,
Gray reminds you to Make sure theres access to the connectors on
the rear of the components to hook in the multitude of wires and cables.
Speaking of wires and cables, speaker wires can be strung to ensure your room
doesnt look like a spaghetti farm but, Lane warns, Retrofitting
wiring to minimize damage to the existing structure is potentially the most
time consuming and expensive because it involves removing moldings, finding
fire breaks, etc.
On the upside, the cost can be reduced by demolishing a wall, as opposed to
the more time consuming method of cutting holes in the walls and feeding the
cables through. And though bulldozing your walls may not seem like the best
way to maintain the original look, they can be rebuilt to match their original
appearance once everythings installed.
Wiring can also be hidden by putting tracking over the existing
drywall, stringing the wires outside the old wall, and adding a new drywall
or fabric layer outside. This cuts down slightly on the rooms size, but
it works. It also lets you add sound deadener into the wall.
There are easier ways, too. Wires can be hidden under the carpet or,
if the basement isnt developed, they can be strung through the floor to
the basement below, says Gray, adding that baseboards can also be pulled
off and wires run behind, though thats more labour intensive.
You should also think about sound quality and soundproofing. Rooms often require
some kind of damping or sound traps to smooth out the sound. And to keep your
home theatre from annoying the neighbours, materials like Isobloc - a rubbery
substance denser than lead that installs right inside the wall - can help contain
your noise. This can be difficult in some retrofits, however.
The cost of such installations can be anything imaginable, though Lane estimates
the average retrofit falls in the $20,000 to $30,000 range.
A lot of money, perhaps, and a lot of work, but to many people its worth
Im extremely happy, says Norris of his retrofit. Its
better than I thought it would be, and it sounds great!
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