In part 1 of Building a Home Theater on a Budget, I talked about selecting components for your theater. Now, I’m going to talk about installation. There are a couple of things that you need to understand before you start that will make it much easier.
The first is that spackle is cheap. When you make a mistake, and you will, spackle is your friend because a dab and a scrape, and the mistake is gone. And you wanted to repaint that wall anyway, right? So don’t get upset when you make a mistake.
The second is that drywall has very little structural strength. That means you don’t want to use it to support anything expensive, like your new projector. Make sure when you mount it that the screws hit wood, whether rafters or joists. A stud finder comes in handy here, but a push pin works almost as well. Just poke holes in the drywall until you find a spot where the pin won’t go through. Typical joists and rafters are 16″ on center, so measure 16″ to find the next one. Verify that there is a rafter by using the pin or the stud finder.
The first thing I did was to take some old floor to ceiling bookshelves that I had removed during the kitchen renovation (doesn’t everybody have a built in book case in their dining room?) and installed them on the wall where the screen would be. This gave me storage for movies,books, games, and all the associated electronics. The shelves are 12″ deep, which is perfect for books, but a little too deep for DVDs and Blu-rays. At some point next year, I will remove the shelves and install 8″ shelving with moveable shelves for more efficient storage, but for now, these work, and,work with my budget.
Next, I hung the screen. Now this seems simple, but there are some thing to consider, particularly if you go big, like I did. A 125″ screen works out to be just over 9’wide. In a 13′ wide room, that leaves roughly 2′ on either side. It’s also just over 5′ tall. Add in a 1’border on the top., and 5″ on both sides, and you don’t have a lot of free space left. You are going to have to mount the screen as close to the ceiling as you can.
You also need to make sure you have a source of electricity for the screen, and a way to hide the cord, unless you just like looking at cords.
It isn’t critical that the screen be completely parallel to the wall behind it, or perpendicular to the side walls. The only thing that matters is that the projector is installed square to the screen.
After the screen is hung, it is time for the projector.
First, you have to figure out where to put it so that you can get your screen fully illuminated. You can do a lot of math, or just go to this handy little calculator that does it for you. Just type in the make and model of your projector, then adjust the sliders to match your desired image size and it will tell you where you need to mount your projector.
IMPORTANT TIP! You will be tempted to measure the distance along your floor then ‘eyeball’ the position on the ceiling. If you do this, you will need to use your spackle and try again.
Trust me on this one.
The calculator gives you a range which is very important. It allows you to shift the mounting spot backward and forward which does two things for you. First, it lets you install the mount to a joist or a rafter, and second, it allows you to use the zoom on your projector and mount it closer to the screen, resulting in a brighter image. This is important if you aren’t going to be in a completely dark room all of the time when watching movies. The more light in the room, the brighter your picture will have to be to compensate.
Now that you have the distance right, it’s time to line the mount up with the screen. You want your projector to be as close to the vertical centerline of the screen as possible. For every little bit you are off, you lose focus and resolution.
Be very picky.
IMPORTANT TIP! Many projectors have a lens that is not centered on the projector. This means that you will have to displace the mount to one side or the other based on the projector lens position. Also, remember that your projector will likely be upside down, which affects which way you compensate in placing the mount. The mount I chose has about 4″ of horizontal movement built in, which made this much easier.
Once the mount is installed, and the projector installed onto the mount, next, you need power. Generally, ceilings don’t come with electrical outlets. If you know what you are doing, you can convert a ceiling light fixture into an outlet. If you don;t know what you are doing you can hurt yourself badly.
Pay an electrician.
Or, you can route the cord (and extension cord. I don’t know whay projector makers don’t put extended cords on projectors, knowing how they will be used, but I bet there’s a government regulation involved somewhere.) across the ceiling and down the wall to an outlet. Your home improvement store will have hangers and hooks for this purpose, as well as covers to make it pretty.
Now that you have power, lower your screen, turn your projector on, and use its set-up menu to get the best picture you can. Use the focus and zoom to get the image to fill the screen. Adjust your mount to level the image with the screen, and turn the projector to get the side to side adjustment even. You will be doing this again after you hook up your Blu-ray player, but the better your adjustments are now, the easier final calibration will be.
It pays to be finicky here. The better your projector is adjusted, the better your picture will be. You paid good money for 1080p resolution; losing it to skip a half hour of adjustment is silly.
Once the projector is adjusted, tighten all of your mount bolts to lock in the position.
Then loosen them, re-adjust the projector because it moved while you were tightening it down.
Repeat as needed until the image completely fills the screen.
Congratulations! The hardest part is done. Next, connect your Blu-ray player, satellite, cable, etc to the projector using extended cables bought online, where they are significantly cheaper than what you would find in a brick and mortar store. Use a kit available from any home improvement store to cover your cables to make it look neat and professional.
The final step is to use a calibration disc to fine tune your system. Disney has a calibration disc with enough tools to please the most demanding user, but laid out so the newest home theater owner can adjust their system to maximize its potential.
Next post, I’ll finish up this series with some pictures of my installation, a few more tips, and my plans for making it all pretty. Now, if you will excuse me, Iron Man 3 in 3D is about to start.