Brent Meyer (meyer64) has dreamed of having his own home theater since high school. “I built my first entertainment center and subwoofer enclosure in tenth-grade shop class.” After discovering online-shashki Forum in 2003, Brent’s passion for home theater grew. “Once I decided that I wanted a dedicated home theater, I spent an immense amount of time reading the forums and researching. I have gained an incredible amount of knowledge from this excellent community.”
A software developer who now works as an IT manager for a manufacturing company, Brent bought a house in rural Wisconsin in 2006. “I immediately decided that the basement would include a dedicated home theater. For several years, it was a hodge-podge setup with a piece of blackout cloth stapled to bare studs. The official build started in 2010.”
Brent drew up the floor plan of his basement using SketchUp.
“High performance on a limited budget” was his mantra. “I didn’t have huge amounts of disposable income to spend on the project, so the room was built over the course of seven years as I had the time and finances available. The room is 100% DIY—floor to ceiling, wall to wall.”
Despite the financial constraints, Brent’s plan was ambitious. “I wanted 7.1 sound—I started long before Atmos was a thing—and as large a screen as I could fit in the room. After discovering acoustically transparent screens, I decided that was a must, since it allowed me to have a wider 2.35:1 screen. In addition, I wanted some sort of acoustic treatment, but I didn’t go to the lengths that many others do. Also, I opted not to worry about sound isolation because of the cost and limited space. Viewing movies is a family event, so I’m not too concerned if the sound can be heard throughout the rest of the house.”
Brent built columns to hide the surround speakers. “I settled on a ‘half octagon’ design that give the columns an angled look. This also reduced the footprint of each column, preserving some valuable floor space.”
The columns are made of solid oak with cherry stain. Not seen here are black removable grilles that conceal the surround speakers.
The walls are divided into decorative panels above the midline and acoustic treatments below. “Each wall panel starts with a simple frame made from OSB strips. I had a few sheets of 1/2″ OSB cut into strips about 2.5 inches wide at Home Depot. Each frame is made of two layers of these strips with simple lap joints at the corners. The frames were very cheap to make and don’t have any fancy beveled edges, but they serve their purpose, they are strong, and they will never warp.”
The wall-panel frames are simple but sturdy.
“I covered the frames with fabrics I found at a local fabric store. The green fabric used on the top half of the wall is an upholstery fabric. The black along the bottom of the wall is a suit material that I found to be fairly acoustically transparent based on the ‘blow test.’ The black panels are also backed with duct liner I picked up from a nearby HVAC shop. Each panel is held in place by friction and a small amount of Velcro.”
The acoustic treatments are also home grown. “I didn’t use a particularly scientific method of determining acoustical treatment. However, I did base my decisions on approaches taken by others with the goal of reducing reflections, but not so much that the room felt dead. The entire front wall behind the speakers is covered with duct liner, and so is the bottom half of the room behind the black-fabric panels. The top half of the wall was left untreated.
“I constructed bass traps in the front corners of the room using fiberglass ceiling tiles I got for free. I removed the white plastic face of the tiles and cut them into triangles that were then stacked in the corners and covered with the same black fabric as I used on the walls.”
In this photo, you can see the duct lining that covers the wall behind the LCR speakers and DIY subwoofer as well as the triangular bass traps in the corners.
As you might expect by now, the subwoofer is also DIY. Brent used the plans offered by fellow online-shashki Forum member lilmike. The Cinema F-20 is a front-loaded, folded-horn design with a 15″ driver; Brent used a Dayton Audio DCS380-4. To enhance the low frequencies even more, he installed Aura AST-2B-4 Bass Shakers under the seats.
Here we see Brent working on his DIY Cinema F-20 subwoofer.
One of the most impressive features of the Great Dane Cinema is the fiber-optic star ceiling. “The ceiling is made of four 3/4″ MDF panels. I used an old projector to trace out a slightly modified map of the night sky, including the Milky Way and several real constellations. Then I drilled a hole for each of the approximately 1000 star points. After the holes were drilled, I covered the panels with black GOM FR701 material, which has an open weave that allowed fiber optics for the star points to be easily pushed through.”
Brent wanted his star ceiling to represent the real night sky, so he mapped out the Milky Way and various constellations using an old projector.
“I used three different sizes of optical fibers—smaller ones for the Milky Way and larger ones for the constellations. The fibers are illuminated by two CoolSky LED illuminators. Most of the Milky Way stars run to one illuminator, which I have set to provide a shimmering effect. The constellation stars run to the other illuminator, which is on all the time.”
Optical fibers extend from the illuminators to each individual star in the ceiling.
The screen is Seymour AV Center Stage XD acoustically transparent material. “The screen is about 117 inches diagonally with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. I built the frame using extruded aluminum bars I was able to source locally for very low cost. It simply bolts together using brackets. I installed grommets in the material spaced about every three inches along each edge. The material is stretched and fastened to the frame using O-rings around screws in the frame. The screen is trimmed with a frame made from window trim and covered in black velvet.
The screen frame is made from extruded aluminum bars that bolt together.
Even more impressive is Brent’s DIY screen-masking system. “I use the zoom capability of my Panasonic PT-AE8000U projector in a constant-image-height system. I designed and built the masking system using a curtain track from Ikea and an Eagle Aspen ROTR100 remote-controllable antenna rotor. The ROTR100 turns a large pulley that opens and closes the masking panels at programmable stop points. I use an IR blaster connected to my automation server to send commands to the masking system. I have stop points set for 2.35:1, 16:9, and 4:3 content. When loading media from my HTPC, the masking is automatically set to the correct stop point. I can also set positions manually using my home-automation interface.”
The screen-masking motor brings masking panels in from the sides to demarcate various aspect ratios. The panels are made with the same more-or-less acoustically transparent, black suit fabric as the lower wall coverings.
Brent is especially proud of the digital movie-poster display outside the entrance. “MoviePoster is an application I developed to display posters and trailers on an LCD TV in my lobby—a 43” 4K/UHD Sceptre U435CVU that I bought as a Black Friday special for $220. The program runs on a spare PC I had lying around, and it integrates with my HTPC to show the poster and playback status of the movie currently showing in the theater. There is an active discussion thread on this in the Theater Room Items & Accessories forum. It’s a great feeling knowing that so many people like and use something I created.”
The lobby includes a digital movie-poster that turns on when someone enters the room. The bar is still under construction.
With a background in software development, Brent had little trouble designing a control and automation system. “The system is based on EventGhost with a custom web interface. The entire theater is controllable from any smartphone or tablet. The web interface lets me control the lighting, projector settings, temperature, and more. Macros control common sets of functions, and a single button powers up the equipment, sets lighting, etc.
The entire theater can be easily controlled from any smartphone or tablet.
“I designed some custom devices for this to work, including a module to power the HTPC on and off based on the 12V trigger from the AVR. I also designed and built a motion-sensitive controller to turn the MoviePoster TV on and off based on motion in the room. I built a motorized duct damper to control air flow into the room, which is controlled by an Arduino module with a temperature and humidity sensor. It’s also controllable from the automation web interface.
“The lighting is controlled by a Lutron GrafikEye using IR commands sent from the automation server. Recently, I implemented a custom interface with Amazon Alexa to control certain functions of the theater with voice commands.”
Brent decided to name his theater the Great Dane Cinema in honor of his faithful dog Madi, who kept him company as he worked on the theater over the long years. “Sadly, she passed away last year, but I now have a new Great Dane puppy named Daisy who happens to love watching movies, so the tradition lives on.”
Brent’s new Great Dane Daisy loves watching movies as much as her late predecessor Madi did.
Perhaps most amazing is the total cost of the build—under $11,000! “I utilized eBay, Craigslist, open-box sales, garage sales, Goodwill, and other outlets to save on cost anywhere I could. Much of the AV equipment is used or older models. Since everything was DIY, there were no labor expenses.”
The columns nearest the screen have no speakers in them yet, but they could be outfitted with front-wide speakers.
The Great Dane Cinema is the epitome of DIY. “The process itself was very rewarding. I enjoy learning new things, and I have learned a lot along the way. I’ve also discovered a new hobby in woodworking, and I hope to do more speaker building. This was a project that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.” Bravo, Brent!
Watching movies under the stars takes on new meaning in the Great Dane Cinema.
Check out Brent’s YouTube video about his screen-masking system:
Here’s another video about the MoviePoster system in the lobby:
For much more detail about how the Great Dane Cinema came together, check out the build thread here.
If you’d like your home theater considered for Home Theater of the Month, send an email to [email protected] with a few photos, a brief description, and a link to your build thread if available.
Seymour AV Center Stage XD (DIY, 117″ diagonal, 2.35:1, acoustically transparent)
DIY masking system (constant image height)
Polk Audio Monitor 60 Series II (LCR)
Polk Audio Monitor 30 Series II (4, side and rear surrounds)
DIY lilmike Cinema F-20 subwoofer with Dayton Audio DCS380-4 15″ driver
DIY automation system based on EventGhost with custom web interface
Amazon Alexa voice control
Seatcraft Argonaut (6, manual recline, 2 modified into loveseat)
All seats equipped with Aura AST-2B-4 Bass Shakers
Finished Room Dimensions
18′ 11″ (L) x 10′ 9″ (W) x 7′ 9″ (H)