Home Theaters and DIY Projector Screens

by David L. Debertin

The following illustrates construction of three screens for a projector. They are constructed of 1 x 4 lathe strips and 1/4 inch plywood at the corners, screwed together with 1 1/4 inch screws. This shows the framing for the 100-inch diagonal screen, 87 1/8 x 49 16:9 Wide screen aspect ratio.

This shows the frame for the smaller 70-inch diagonal screen, with the blackout cloth ready to be stapled. This one works out at 61 x 34 1/3 inches.

The 100 inch screen being tested with the projector in the living room.

The back of the 55-inch diagonal screen. The exterior dimensions here are 48 x 27 inches. I used lighter weight 1 x 2 boards for this size, to recuce weight and make the screen portable.

This photo shows all three screens, for a comparison of sizes.

Positioning the "Large" 100-inch diagonal screen in its new home in the sunroom. It just fits!

First tryout of the 100-inch diagonal screen. The picture is a Fencing scene from the James Bond movie "Die Another Day"

Temporary projector positioning using a boom box as a "sound system." THe DVD player is the famous Toshiba 3950 (unmodded)

The Big speakers are moved into position! The boom box sound system is no more!

The main amplifier WAS the Scott/Emerson receiver (50 wpc, $10 from ebay) but see below.

The throw rug and runner conveniently covers speaker wires for now. Yup, you CAN watch the big screen from the Hot Tub

Now we need to do something about the mess of power cords, since the projector needs to be positioned away from the wall

There, that's a little better, Anyway

Norah Jones is looking and sounding great now.

Here are the new "Toys" The Pioneer VSX 515K 6.1 surround sound receiver 110 W x 6 ($119 at CC on "black Friday) and the Toshiba V-393 Combo DVD and Hi Fi VCR ($79 at hhgregg on Black Friday)

Here is a shot of the new "Advent ASW 1200 Subwoofer ($99.95 at PE) along with the "identical" Jensen unit I use in my den system.

A couple more views of the Advent

Here is a shot of the current rear channel settup using BR-1's as rear side channel, and a DIY project as rear center channel. Note also the Advent sub in place.

This shot shows the Toshiba 3950 DVD player along with the Toshiba V-393 Combo Hi Fi VCD/DVD

This is the front center channel using the Audax neo dome.

I used the rug that was in front of the projection TV in my Den to cover the speaker wires, so I went shopping for a new rug. I found this 5 x 7 one at Lowes ($98-a $10 discount card) Anyway it matches the chair.

Here are the speakers I am using on the Den system. They consist of two DIY projects More info on these speakers Click here . Note the Jensen subwoofer here. This is driven by a 1972 vintage JVC receiver VR-5541.

Another "rug shot".

Screen Construction details

In combining some ideas I spotted on the Internet with a few of my own, Here is my cheap and effective way to build permanent screens for a front projector. I can do a 100 inch diagonal screen for $30 or so. Parts needed

Three 1 x 4 lathe strips (2.19 each at Lowes)

Two approximately 1 ft square pieces of 1/4 inch scrap plywood. Its nice if the corners of these these are as square as possible, bur the size can vary a bit

Room darkening rubberized backing drapery liner (5.57 a yard at Hancock Fabrics. For a 100 inch diagonal screen you will need approximately 8 ft, or just under 3 yards, so this will run $15 or so

50 1 1/4 inch screws

Tools needed

Circular saw

Power drill and screwdriver

Staple gun

Use a spreadsheet to calculate screen dimensions. For example, for a 100 inch diagonal screen in a 16:9 ratio, employing c^2=a^2+b^2 yields a horizontal external screen dimenion of 87 1/8 and a vertical dimension of 49 inches. THis is a good place to emply the trig you learned in high school. If you have the wall space 100 inch diagonal is a nice starting point for a theater-like screen, but you can scale these numbers up or down to suit your space and the screen size you want. For a 100 inch diagoonal screen, Cut the horizontal boards at 87 1/8 inches Cut the vertical boards at 49 inches less two times the board width. For 1 x 4 boards 3 1/2 inches wide subtract 7 inches from 49 inches and make them 42 inches long.

Cut your plywood pieces on the diagonal, so that your two squares become four triangles. These triangles both brace your frame and act as a square for making it true.

Assemble your frame by putting the best side of the boards on the bottom (which is where the cloth is stapled over), and then use the edges of the triangles to square everything up. Use the 1 1/4 inch screws to assemble, making sure you dont drive the screws so hard to come out on the cloth side. You may want to drill pilot holes for the screws.

Spread the cloth out on a carpeted floor so as to not soil or damage it. (Its helpful also to ask the fabric store put this on a roll for you id they can, to avoid folds that would need to be stretched out.) You can use either the rubberized or the textured side for your screen. I like the rubberized side because its perfectly smooth but you could use the cloth side with just a hint of a texture.

Stretch and staple the cloth around your frame.

This is a little like wrapping a gift, but work from opposite sides side to side as you go along. The cloth is 54 inches wide which works well for a 100 inch diagonal screen.

I assembled the large screen in about an hour and it worked wonderfully well in my tests. I also built a scaled-down 70 inch diagonal version and a 55 inch diagonal version that is small enough to fit in a car.

Larger screens sizes than 100 inches diagonal will require finding true screen material on the Internet that comes in wider than 54-inch widths, but I see no problems with the cloth I used as screening for these sizes. Best of all, if the screen gets soiled or damaged, its cheap enough that I can simply replace the cloth by stapling over another layer--for about $15 For a proper 16:9 relationship, a screen 4 ft wide needs to be 85 3/8 inches long.

Commentary on Integrating Vintage Speakers and Electronics Gear into a Home Theater System

Having now built two home theater systems, an 46" RPTV setup with stereo speakers plus a sub in my den/family room, and a 100" front projection setup with 6.1 surround sound in my sunroom, some thoughts on integrating the building of these systems with Vintage and DIY speakers and other gear have occurred to me, and may be of interest to you as well.

1. If all you want is good stereo sound plus perhaps a sub, a vintage 2 channel receiver will do perfectly fine. There may be an audio out on the large screen TV that would allow you to output a preamp level signal from the TV to the sub, but, if not, just connect the sub as the second pair of speakers from your vintage amp.

2. For surround sound 5.1 has become pretty much obsolete, and you don't find many 5.1 receivers any more. I think its best to go with 6.1 or 7.1. There is little difference between the two as if there is more than one rear center channel speaker (7.1) both speakers get the same mono signal. The 6.1 receivers often have connections for 7 speakers plus the sub, but simply use the same amp for both of the rear center speakers.

3. To do the surround sound, you will need a modern surround sound receiver that has all of the various decoders for DTS and Dolby built in. Very good 100 watt per channel receivers x 6 or 7 are readily available for under $200 at the big box electronics retailers. You can easily spend $1000 on a receiver too. Interestingly most of these claim no more power per channel than the $200 variety but are bigger and heavier and some of these might actually come close to being able to put out 100 watts with all channels driven at once, something the $200 variety wont do. Another future thing to watch for is that THX decoding is now starting to show up in receivers under $500, tho I haven't seen any DVD's yet with THX sound. This is one of those things that probably awaits the next gen HDTV DVD's and when they get that now-raging format battle settled.

A 6 or 7 channel system is good in that you will be able to find use for at least 3 pr of orphan speakers, plus perhaps an odd "single" you own. If you can find a solution that works cosmetically you will end up with way better sound than from a new set of home theater speakers systems purchased from a retailer. Those tiny speakers sell not because they are somehow superior for Theater but because of their WAF and the idea that they van be hidden. If you are like me your only sound investment will be in the modern receiver.

4. Start by deciding on your front channel stereo pair. I would sort through what you have in storage. I think a fairly tall vintage or DIY big woofer 3-way is a better idea than a 2-way because three ways often tend to have a bit solider mid range, and may have better power handling. Here the old three-ways may make more sense than an early Advent or EPI. In particular, consider speakers in storage you rejected for Hi Fi Listening because you thought the mid-range was a bit too emphasized or elevated.

5. Then decide on your rear side channels. DIYers almost invariably have built too many of those half cubic ft 2-ways with 6 1/2 inch woofers and small textile dome tweeters and have some they rejected for stereo listening in storage. These are perfect as rear sides. I'm using a pair of PE BR-1's that have spent most of their lives in a closet. Keep in mind here that absolute linearity of response is not as important here as it might be for stereo music listening.

6. Finally decide on your front and rear center channels. In the last week or so we have had something of a debate going on as to whether a flat 3-4 inch midwoof MMTMM design (or even MMMTMMM) is a superior front channel to a conventional MT. I think the conclusion we reached is that if the MT works cosmetically, it can do as well or better that the flattened design seen in Sound and Vision magazines. The rear center(s) can be the same, or not. What do you have on hand that can be pressed into service. The front center channel I am using currently is a failed 2004 DIY project the listeners complained had too much mid range and not enough deep bass. Perfect!

7. On the subject of subs, I think the $100-$150 subs do a fine job of recreating deep bass movie experience. The larger, bigger subs only make sense if you have a sub in your car and want your theater to draw the same attention you get driving down the street. In short I don't quite see the point of the 3 cubic foot 15 inch woofer with 500 watts.

More Home Theater Photos

These are for my DIY Home Theater speakers 13 x 32 inches.

I built the grilles.

1. Home Depot has 3/8 inch square stock 36 inches long for 89 cents each. I bought 7 of those.
2. I cut to length and then clamped each corner in a picture frame type corner clamp, drilling a small pilot hole for an inch long very thin drywall screw at each corner.
3. I used just a 3/8 inch drill bit to recess so the flat screw head would be flush.
4. Be careful here the small wood won't split if you do the pilot hole unless you get aggressive with your electric screwdriver. Drive the screw with each corner still in the clamp.
5. I also put a center cross brace in the position between the woofer and mid.
6. This seems flimsy at this point, but I cut 1 1/2 x 1 1/2 inch squares of 3/16 inch Poplar stock (also available at Home Depot in small pieces. any thin scrap lumber would do.)
7. I considered using mechanical connectors to position these squares like I had used on the projection screen corners , either screws or brads, but was in link below but I was fearful of cracking the frame.
8. What I did was glue these squares at each joint including the center brace joints using Aleene's tacky glue the Quick Dry version. This is a wonderful product and is carried in the Wal-mart and other crafts departments. It looks like Elmer's but stickier and dries much faster. This glue would also work very well to attach foam surrounds and for general speaker building as well. Plus as glue goes it's pretty cheap. Every speaker builder could use a bottle.
9. I clamped my little squares using a couple of large spring clamps I had found at a local dollar store. I wasnt sure if they would do the job but they worked perfectly. Check your local dollar stores for these as they are coming out of China, and for a dollar each you could even afford to own more than two. Interestingly the wood squares were secure with only about 20 minutes of dry time and I moved along pair by pair.
10. The frames then got spray painted flat black.
11. The grille cloth is the stuff PE sells. I had some on hand waiting for this day.
13. I cut, stretched and stapled the grille cloth in place using the same techniques I had learned building home theater screens (see below)
14. I attached the grilles just using velcro strips. Some may prefer the plastic deals but they are tough to align perfectly. The frames are so light I don't think anything more than Velcro is needed. Besides the little corner and brace blocks provide a great place for the Velcro. The grill sits 3/16 out from the speaker--ie there is a 3/16 inch gap except at the corner blocks. I am fine with this. The framed grille cloths look quite good as in like a commercial speaker. The flash gives an uneven sheen to the satin black paint that looks better in real life

I'm "auditioning" the Insignias as a alternative to my now black-painted front and rear center channels. I havent decided which I am going to stick with.

Rear sides are BR-1's. That's the buyout PE/Advent 12 inch sub.

I have now finished framing the HT screen. Recall that the screen itself is 100 inches diagonal and made from a shy 2 yards of 54-inch wide drapery blackout cloth (under $4 a yard at Hancock fabrics) stapled to 1 x 4 boards in the appropriate 16:9 ratio, which puts the screen hight at just over 4 ft (almost exactly 49 inches) and the width at just under 8 ft (87.16 inches). As you can see I was dealing with a brick wall in a sunroom with a wide board at the very top, so mounting the screen was even more difficult than normal. I finally used 3 large hooks in the wood board at the very top and gold lampchain. Each of these main support chains connect to a chain link that has a woodscrew-type end at the top edge of the screen. Using this system I could slowly raise the screen to the exact location I wanted it as well as make sure it was exactly level.

After that, I mounted a 1 x 2 board horiziontally through the edge at the very base of the screen with wood screws and plastic screw anchors, first drilling holes in the red brick. The tricky part was aligning the screws with the screw anchors. I used two shorter blocks of wood in the same way at the outside corners of the top of the screen secured into the brick. This also allowed me to drill holes from these corner boards into the screen to better secure it in place. The screen frame boards, actually inexpensive 1 x 4 lathe strips, were reasonably straight but any curvature of the boards results in the screen hanging further away at one corner than another. By securing the screen in this manner I could pull everything back straight at a consistent distance from the wall.

I then found some trim boards at Home Depot that are called lattice boards. They look like a standard 1 1/2 inch wide lattice but are manufactured material and only about 3/16 inch thick. I didn't want to use black paint around the screen cloth. One spill would ruin the entire project, so I covered the trim strips with, interestingly enough, black duct tape! The only tricky part in doing this is that it is not that easy at first to lay this down without getting a few wrinkles, but with a little practice I got better at it. I also discovered that the black duct tape facing could be installed on the trim boards, in shorter foot-long pieces and the seams are practically invisible! Along the sides I used a different type of trim strip, a 3/4 inch corner molding from the same supply source at Home Depot. These also got covered with black duct tape. All the moldings were installed using short black screws (oddly enough I had found a suppply of these in an assortment of lengths at a local dollar store).

I used my power screwdriver and drilled pilot holes so as to not crack the wood or thin lattice trim pieces. The overall effect is quite good I think. The short chains that actually hold most of the weight of the screen are less obvious than before. I had been contemplating covering that entire section with a narrow stretched-panel cloth to match the draperies in the rest of the room, but at this point I think what I have looks ok and theater-like.

Painting the speakers black and adding the black stretched grille cloths makes them visually go away (even tho the front sides are physically quite large), particularly as the room begins to darken in the evening. All of this seems perhaps a bit too simple and understated, but I believe that a case can be made that bright colors or speakers that call attention to themselves actually detract from the Home Theater Experience. Fancy speaker cases may be great for home stereo but in a theater setup like this what you really want to have happen is for the speakers and everything else that is not the screen to visually just "go away."

I wish all of you were here to see and hear how this largely DIY system works on a movie like Star Wars Episode III or King Kong! Somehow everything works as I have been planning all along!

Still More Home Theater Photos

In the last couple of months, I have made several upgrades to my home theater. The first was an upgrade to a Panasonic PT-AX100U projector ($1299 inc rebate at proje ctorpeople.com This projector is being replaced by Panasonic by the similar PT-AX200U, same resolution and brightness and similar design with a few feature upgrades, and I suspect prices on left over 100 models will be dropping a bit after the 200s are in the stream). This is a full 720p projector, an upggrade to the Mitsubishi Colorview HC3 with 1/4 HD resolution. The panasonic is brighter in ambient light and a little sharper as well, and does a rather nice job of making standard definition 480p DVDs look like they are high definition. Plus they have eliminated the screen door effect, barely visible with the HC3 close up.

Both projectors are LCD not DLP, which means really saturated colors and no rainbowing either.

But the real reason for getting the Panasonic is the fancy 2x lens which means that I can now move the projector back against the wall, 20 ft not 12 ft away from the screen.

The above photo shows the AV pier I have everything on now, and back against the wall. The top shelf of this pier ($44 for the knockdown at KMart) is the perfect height for the projector. The middle shelf houses the Toshiba combo DVD/VCR outputting component video to the Panasonic, as well as the Toshiba 3950 DVD, which, at the moment I do not have hooked up.

On the bottom shelf is my Pioneer VSX-515K 6.1 surround sound receiver, which is doing a great job. I feed composite video into the receiver and switch back and forth between SD cable signal, coming in wireless from my Terk unit using the cable box in the adjacent den, and the VCR output.

In the photo above you see the same equipment plus several speakers for surround sound. I had been using the BR-1's for right and left surrounds, but I decided to try my DIY 3-ways using the Classic Dayton 10-inch woofer as an alternative, and I am using those now but can switch back and forth whenever I feel like it. I have been using the DIY speaker to the left of the projector as the rear center channel, and the small RCA/Radio Shack speaker is not hooked up at the moment.My receiver is set to power seven speakers, and at some point I may dream up a twin powered two in one box rear center speaker. The Advent Sub on the right continues to do a great job. This is a 5-remote system, on top of the pier as is the receiver part of the Terk Interestingly I can control the den cable box from here using the Terk receiver and remotely change channels on the cable. Neat stuff, in a situation where running cable wires are impractical. I'm still not running HDTV off cable,nor have I dove into HD-DVD or Blue Ray. Truth is, everything is working so well in standard definition I'm reluctant to go the next step.

The above shows the Advent sub and the right surround channel with both the BR-1 and the three way DIY.

I decided to bring the big old recliner out of the bedroom and set that up as my main viewing chair. It actually works pretty well. Sometimess I fall asleep 15 minutes into the movie. Never one to sell or discard previous equipment, then I got the bright idea to set up the Mitsubishi Color View 3 on a cart in front of the recliner. Now the electric could be strung conveniently right beside the recliner. I "Y"ed the composite video output from the stereo, and that was the only other wire I needed to run the projector. But, the composite video signal on DVDs was not all it could be. Conveniently I had an S-video connector in my parts bin I wasn't using, and there was an S-video output on the Toshiba combo. The Mitsubishi normally runs component video into the VGA port, and this requires a heavy cord. But the S-video connector is just a single, relatively thin wire. The S-video input on 480p DVD on the HC-3 is beautiful, very comparable to the Panasonic. I've been playing around comparing 480p DVd using component video on the Panasonic versus the same movie running S-Video on the HC-3. THe HC-3 is very very good, but the Panasonic on the right DVD is nothing short of breathtaking in brightness, clarity and color saturation. And both projectors work perfectly filling the screen in their current configurations.

Nothing much has happened at the front of the room. I have partly constructed a stand for the front center channel which I intend to incorporate some drivers for an alternate center channel, but haven't finished that part yet.

David L. Debertin DLDebertin@aol.com