The first-place winner at the CEDIA Home Technology Professional Awards this year was a basement-level, ultra-high-end home cinema in a new house in Nantucket, Massachusetts. This project took two years of development as part of the overall construction of a gorgeous villa nestled among pine forest. The client is a detail-oriented audiophile and videophile who owns an aerospace engineering company, and demands nothing but the best. He had owned several systems before, and was familiar with the products and brands of our industry. He wanted absolute perfection in picture and sound reproduction, and after intently studying all the options, was willing to take the time it took for thorough engineering and project management; a rare privilege!
The interior architecture and design of the theater was to be “clean, slick, and modern”, and we completed the design work and lighting design in-house. After several months of deliberations and listening tests of various sound systems, we set to work on the design and development of the project, following an exact set of agreed-upon specifications and rules. Quite a rare process for this industry that really needs more of this type of exacting work flow. We learned a lot from the rigor of the aerospace world, and had great fun along the way!
The engineering, design, and integration effort for this project was outstanding, as was the meticulous wiring of the racks, and the programming of the fully automated house and cinema. Also, the fact that absolutely everything had to be brought in by ferry to this idyllic island location added challenge and complexities to this world-class project. We even commissioned a full electrical ground analysis since the soils in Nantucket are all sandy, causing us to fear high ground impedance. Proper grounding practices ensured low noise and low hum. And finally, state-of-the-art PMI 2.0 projection system with fully configurable aspect ratios and viewing angle selections, all property automated are still rare in this industry, but are essential for rooms with large screens.
The original architectural plans called for a flat floor for a two-row cinema. Of course that wouldn’t have worked for sightlines with a huge screen, so we re-configured the room entrance area, adding an elevated transition deck outside the room, to a re-positioned doorway in the middle of the back wall.
The room is fully sound-isolated and even at 115 dB you do not hear nothing anything anywhere else in the residence. We didn’t need to build heavy concrete walls/foundations to achieve these results – we developed innovative lighter weight materials and solutions expressly for this kind of application. The combination of properly engineered decoupled structures with resonance frequencies below 5Hz, along adequate visco-elastic damping ensure that the sound track sounds stay inside the theater.
An NC15 ventilation system able to condition the room without adding any noise was engineered and fitted into tight passages of the hallway and soffits. We installed a huge Torus isolation transformer system for the power supply to the room to protect the sensitive digital electronics and ensure reliability – this not only ensures very little variation in voltage but reduces noise, and lowers both signal and ground impedance to very low numbers.
The projector was located outside the room, hidden in a soffit above the entrance atrium, and it now shoots through an optical port glass in the back wall. The projector is suspended from vibration isolation springs and mass-loaded with a heavy metal plate, all tuned for a 3Hz resonance. We had to do all this just because the projector was set to be installed directly below the laundry room, and we needed to prevent any vibration effects of the washer spin cycles upon the floor ceiling structures – the last thing you need is your image vibrating during each spin cycle! Ventilation for the projector is timed to continue the cooling cycle well after the power-down command.
PMI engineered and designed a room with the right proportions, the right wall structures, the right internal sound reflection patterns, acoustics and the right optics to support the requisite ultra-high end experience. The room proportions and materials were optimized for standing wave patterns with best distribution over the frequency range of 20 Hz to 150 Hz. A wall and ceiling construction system was designed for an overall STC of 65 or better. The speaker and seating locations were optimized for best frequency response and soundstage.
A carefully engineered combination of Wisdom Audio front speakers, Triad bipole surround speakers, and ProAudio Technologies subwoofers produce clean and dynamic sound pressures. The audio package includes a Crestron Procise PSP-HD surround decoder, Ashly NE24.24 digital audio processor, and a full complement of LabGruppen studio-grade amplifiers.
The entire house is driven though Crestron for lighting, climate, security, and of course AV control. So it was only natural to also automate and outfit the cinema with Creston gear. All switching is conducted through substantial Crestron DM matrix units for flexibility of program sources.
A large Screen-Research woven acoustically-transparent screen was selected for its optimal picture and sound qualities, with PMI 2.0 4-way masking variable aspect ratio, and viewing angle adjustments. The Clearpix2 surface offers an acoustical transparency that is less than 1 dB attenuation across the entire range from 20 Hz to 10 kHz, and is barely 2 dB down at 16 kHz, so it behaves like a speaker grille cloth.
The video performance is also excellent, fully resolving the interpixel area of a DLP 1080x1920 projector, which corresponds to a resolution that is 10 times higher than what HD video requires. The Digital Projection Titan projector includes multiple lens zoom and focus pre-sets programmed for several aspect ratios including 2.35, 1.78, 1.33, in both high-definition and standard-definition viewing angles. All of this is automated through a Creston intelligent remote control system to help the client pick the best picture option for each movie with ease of use.
A full complement of MSR Dimension4 Sonata acoustical tuning modules including thick and deep absorbers, 2D and 3D diffusers, and bass traps, etc was engineered for the proper target reflection decay time of 0.3 seconds, and concealed behind a deep stretched fabric wall decorative scheme. We chose all dark and neutral fabric colors to ensure best picture quality and contrast ratios. The lighting in the room is chosen for proximity to D65 color range. A set of tight-beam LEDS are over the seats to illuminate them with adjustable low level in case the client wants to preserve some visibility of drinks, remote controls, etc.
The lighting scheme included the obligatory sconces and step lights, along with a set of tight-beam lights over the seating to illuminate them at low level without any spill onto the screen. The sconces were selected for both style fit and absence of rattles in conditions of loud bass sound pressure levels. Although this was designed as a dedicated 9.4 theater with multichannel sound, the 2-channel stereo performance of the aesthetically integrated speakers is absolutely stunning, and the four subwoofers crank up to 118 dB of clean bass with barely any variation from seat to seat. Imaging is deep and clear, and the sound stage clearly extends well beyond the Left and Right speakers.
Since the room is sound-isolated, an audible alarm annunciator was installed in case of emergencies. The automation system relays emergency conditions to the room as detected through the whole house Crestron system. The ventilation system is integrated through ducting, soffits, and plenums to keep the noise down to NC15. The supply is two long rattle-proofed vertical diffusers flanking the screen, and the return is a plenum silencer scheme built under the seating platform.
The final touch was to perform a thorough commissioning and calibration of the audio and video. No automated process could be allowed for this meticulous project! We implemented speaker control externally using the Ashly 8x16 digital audio processor. Settings in the surround decoder are all zeroed out; all delay and level settings are instead implemented in the Ashly EQ. This way, a change of decoder later is just an easy drop-in replacement, after enabling bass management. Any future replacement of the Ashly EQ would simply require a reload the configuration and settings program. We verified impedance and rub/buzz and distortion of the speakers. We initially found a few issues, and these were corrected after a factory replacement. The Ashly processing unit also ran the Wisdom Audio bi-amplified speaker crossovers and full room correction equalizations.
The final result is truly a marvel of premier picture and sound quality. The client’s comment after watching Flight of the Phoenix on opening night was “I loved it; I had to hold my breath through most of the movie!” Note that the client is a fully licensed IFR private jet airplane pilot, so the choice of movie was ironic!