We took a small suburban townhouse basement and converted it into a media room. I should mention that from the start this was intended to be a dedicated multimedia room. The viewing and/or listening experience was not be compromised by sharing the room with bulky work-out equipment, pool tables, or other distractions. We’re after that immersive experience that today’s technology is so capable of delivering.
Large or small, every home’s basement imposes constraints on design. Sure, plumbing and ductwork can be relocated but that would be prohibitively costly for this project. In an effort to make lemonade from a few lemons, I collaborated with Joe, my good friend and contractor for the project, to come up with imaginative work-arounds in cases where existing ductwork and plumbing was obstructing an otherwise decent design. One of my original designs placed a steel beam post in an awkward location. With Joe’s input, a new design took the post right out of the room without any major impact on room size or function. Joe’s extensive experience in renovation has obviously helped him develop a good eye for design and space efficiency. The end result was a simple design with a main seating area in an intimate recessed alcove. The room of nominally 17’ x 12’ will seat 5 to 6 people comfortably. Viewing distances are ideal for a 1080p flat panel display in the range of 50” to 56”.
To keep lines clean and enhance the illusion of a spacious environment, the main component cabinet is recessed. In addition, all surround speakers for this 7.1 room are recessed in the walls and ceilings. While I admit this is a compromise on sonic performance, I did insist the left, centre and right channel speakers be of the traditional floor standing variety – my rational being that, as a music lover, at least the room would be optimized for music. Cinema audio would be slightly compromised but still quite satisfactory.
While on the subject of sound, another requirement was to install Roxul Safe & Sound acoustic insulation. Isolating the room from the rest of the house was secondary; the primary requirement was to protect the poor neighbor I share a common wall with from having to suffer through my ‘unique’ musical taste during those times when the volume gets cranked up.
Another consideration was the air quality of the media room. There has been much written about radon gas in basements. While I could have paid for the basement to be tested for radon, I purchased a Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV) anyway – the justification being that air quality in tightly sealed modern homes like this is quite poor with or without the presence of radon. Now the entire house benefits from the introduction of an outside air source.
A key feature is a LAN/Network facility in a small room behind the media room’s equipment cabinet. As the name suggests, this is where server and network equipment for the home network will reside. Other peripheral equipment supporting the media room will also be placed here. Joe constructed a bench which will make network administration and other related tasks a breeze. A bit of a bonus in that this is now a fully functioning work room. Another good suggestion from Joe.
The beauty of working with a clean slate as Joe and I had the advantage of doing is cable fishing is kept to a minimum. A few CAT5e cable runs were fished to the main floor while copious runs were made within the media room during the framing stage. Naturally, all runs terminate at a panel in the LAN/Networking room.
Since a technology selection for the media room had not been made at the time of construction (and in fact remains undecided to this day), I opted to run PVC conduit from the display location back to the LAN/Networking room. While today it’s virtually assured an HDMI cable would run to the display from the equipment cabinet, as little as a year ago, there was a distinct possibility that a proprietary display cable from a ‘media box’ might have been be required. The conduit obviously left options wide open. A second conduit was run parallel with the display cable conduit for what is known as bias lighting. While the subject of a separate post, in a nutshell bias lighting introduces soft, ambient light at a colour temperature of 6500 degrees Kelvin around the display to reduced viewer eye strain.
A final feature is the room lighting. As with many basement renovations these days, mini pot lights were installed. The switches are arranged such that two sets of lights can be dimmed to different levels. This allows for viewing and non-viewing lighting modes, all eventually controlled by a master remote via infrared controlled dimmers.
It was exactly a year ago that Joe and I were at the mid point of this project. I remember that initial site walk-through where I’d point out challenges I foresaw and Joe would always respond with “That’s a no-brainer”. He turned out to be right in every case. In addition to his high construction standards, Joe has much life wisdom to share and his quick wit kept the laughter going as the project progressed. It was also a bit of a paradox for me to be playing parallel roles of client and apprentice. Everything worked out, however, and it was a great experience to take a break from my desk job, roll up my sleeves and do this kind of work. No stranger to renovations, my close friends Jack, George and Ron took time out of their busy schedules to help out at some critical points. The room currently has an old Arcam D290 integrated amplifier along with a pair of old but very faithful Heybrook HB2 speakers. The audio source is a Slim Devices Squeezebox supported by Slim Server.
While a far cry from a full functioning media room at this point, the infrastructure is certainly in place for a state of art, albeit ‘intimate’, viewing and listening environment. Using this house as our palate, posts in the weeks and months ahead will discuss present and future technology options to bring this space to life.