The Good Stuff
The budget aspect of this project put some definite limits on what could be bought for the audio surround sound and video projectors. The surround sound system is an Onkyo HT-S760 (Black model). We got it from Circuit City for $523. The side and rear speakers have been rated by others as somewhat weak, but the front, center and sub-woofer are given decent marks. I figured I could always replace the side and rear speakers later if that is the case. The A/V receiver (the Onkyo HT-R510) has tons of audio and video inputs and outputs, and I plan on using most of them. I didn't run all those cables for nothing. The easiest way for me to do this was to pull the cables through the equipment cabinet and to flip the A/V receiver upside down on the cabinet. Once everything was hooked up, it was easy enough to fish the cables back out of the back of cabinet.
Turning our attention to the video projector, after weeks of scouring home theater sites and user forums, we decided on the Sanyo PLV-Z1. I purchased this projector from B&H Photo-Video for $1100. B&H also kicked in a Sanyo DVD-8000 DVD player (with surround sound). Our current DVD player was a bit iffy in this new setup, so the freebie was definitely welcome. The PLV-Z1 is a "1/4 HD" projector with an actual resolution of 964x544 (where 1/4 the pixel resolution of the full 1920x1080 HD size is really 960x540). It does a wonderful job of scaling HD content down because of this. One of the key selling points for me was the Z1's short throw lens. Because of the bulkhead in the middle of the room, it would be difficult to mount the projector much farther back from that. With the Z1 mounted as far back on that as possible on the bulkhead (which also bolted it into the main beam of the house), the distance was just about 11 feet to the screen. At that distance and with this lens, the picture was 110" diagonally. That'll do.
The projector wouldn't do much without a screen to project onto. Determining what screen to use took almost as much research as the other equipment. It's incredible how many choices there such as painting a wall with white paint, buying a cloth screen (of which there are 100s of varieties), painting the wall with special mixtures like "Mississippi Mud," painting the wall with a commercial screen coating like Screen Goo. I couldn't digest it all in the time I had, so I decided to make a cheap cloth screen as a starter. I figured that when I had time later, I'd figure it out. (A decade later, I never did. The fabric screen is more than good enough.)
For the temporary screen, we turned to Ebay and Home Depot. We bought a bolt of 54" wide white matte non-perforated screen material from Dazian Fabrics. I think the piece was 110" long. We bought a number of 1"x3" strips from Home Depot. We found that buying the more expensive type of wood (Maple?) gave us much sturdier and straighter pieces. Fastening those together with the appropriate L's and T's made a good frame to stretch the fabric over. We lapped the fabric just over the edge and stapled it in place with an electric staple gun. Use lots of staples and continue to stretch the fabric tight as you go along. As a final touch, we used black electrical tape to cover the staples on the edge of the frame. Altogether, this cost under $100, but it looks very good.
To quote Hannibal, leader of the A-Team, "I love it when a plan comes together." The sound system sounds good and the projector looks great on the homemade screen. To house the A/V equipment and provide storage for movies, game consoles and remotes, we purchased an equipment cabinet, several types of wall storage, and a floor unit (meant to hold a TV as an entertainment center) from Ikea. These were all from the Kaxås line, which just by happenstance, had a gunmetal gray version that matched the wall color perfectly. The fortunate thing about Ikea furniture is it's inexpensive. The bad thing about Ikea furniture is they drop and add models all the time. We went back later in the year to get some more of the DVD/CD storage cabinets, and they had closed out the line entirely. We've never found anything close ever again. Once we got everything put together and cleaned up the area, we had a very nice home theater for around $2,000.
We would be remiss if we didn't include a few pictures of the projector working. Unfortunately, our camera doesn't work all that well in the dark. We need to get a better camera. Next project maybe? The next step is to tune in all the colors and set up the audio balance. We already noticed that the projector favors green. At least, we've got some cool new toys!