MEDIA ROOM INSIDER: SENECA CINEMA

BY BOB ANKOSKO

MIKE BATURIN is an avowed technology enthusiast and proud owner of a Tesla Model 3, one of his “favorite pieces of tech.” As cool as the Tesla is with its cutting-edge all-electric design and ability to rocket to 60 mph in 3.1 seconds, it still ranks second behind his most prized possession—a dedicated theater he designed and built from scratch for his new home in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. The theater started with a vision or, as he put it, “an amalgamation of ideas curated over more than 10 years of participating on home theater forums, listening to and watching podcasts, and engrossing myself in the techniques and best practices of setting up a home theater.” The space he imagined would put the enjoyment of movies above all else while doubling as a place to watch sports, play videogames, and listen to music.

As soon as he signed the contract to build his new home, Baturin—an IT professional for one of the U.S.’s largest building materials companies—used simple 3D software to model the entire house. Doing so enabled him to not only visualize the overall space to make sure he got everything just the way he wanted it but to create detailed plans for the A/V utopia he had in mind. The renderings showed a basement featuring a 21.5 x 14.5-foot theater space with a 9-foot ceiling with specs for a ledge and matching soffit in the front of the room where the screen would go, a niche for his A/V gear, and a back-row riser for three of the recliners he planned to install with a diagram for wiring and electrical outlets. He also specified a grand, double door entry in the back wall of the theater that opens into a playroom he built for his three young children.

Baturin presented his plan to the builder and worked with him to make changes needed to accommodate the theater, playroom, and two offices—one for him and one for his wife, Danielle. The revisions called for relocating the home’s mechanical systems into one corner of the basement and moving windows, a stairwell, and sump well. During the framing stage of construction, he showed the builder where to run wire for the planned 7.2.4 speaker layout.

Months later the Baturin family moved into their new home, which included the space destined to become “Seneca Cinema”—built to spec, complete with a ledge for speakers that would be hidden behind a massive video-projection screen and insulated to achieve “mild” soundproofing. “The riser, ledge, and soffit were also all filled with insulation,” Baturin explains, noting that he used solid-core entry doors to “prevent as much sound leakage as possible while still having a nice open entry to the room.”

The Fun Begins

While his family settled in to their new digs, Baturin began the two-month process of converting the empty space into a first-class home theater. One of his first challenges was to mute noise from the HVAC system in the mechanical room just outside the theater. The room is accessible through a second door on the left wall of the theater, as mandated by the local building department, so “I built a floor-to-ceiling panel [to conceal the door], filled it with Rockwool insulation, and covered it with black fabric” to make it disappear. To further deaden noise coming from mechanical room, he covered the heating unit and ducts with Kilmat, a self-adhesive-backed deadening material commonly used to soundproof cars.

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Drawing on inspiration from the many home theaters he had read about over the years, Baturin knew he wanted a dark room and considered painting the entire space flat black but ultimately decided that wasn’t the best idea with three young children running around, so he opted for a two-toned look with matte gray walls and matte black trim. “The room is still dark, but with a more elegant style that gives the room more character than a full black out,” he observes.

When it came time to select the A/V gear that would bring the theater to life, Baturin was understandably feeling a bit tapped out having just spent beaucoup bucks building his dream home so he looked for ways to save money without compromising performance. He didn’t have to look far.

“By reusing some of the speakers and equipment from the 7.2.4 setup in the living room of my previous home, I was able to stay within a reasonable cost range and still get extremely good Dolby Atmos performance,” he says. Reusing five perfectly good Bowers & Wilkins speakers and his trusty Marantz SR6011 A/V receiver made it possible to complete the project for just over $36,000 all-in.

The Bowers & Wilkins speakers that gained a second lease on life were a pair of 10-year-old 684 S1 towers, retained for the front left/right positions, the CM Centre 2 S2 center-channel speaker, and a pair of 685 S1 two-way bookshelf speakers, deployed in the rear corners to handle surround duties. The LCR trio is joined by a pair of 12Hz-capable Rythmik Audio FV15HP subwoofers, each of which houses an amplifier and servo-controlled 15-inch driver in a ported enclosure; all are located behind a Silver Ticket 158-inch (diagonal) acoustically transparent screen whose 2.35:1 aspect ratio screams Movie Theater.

The back and sides walls of the speaker alcove are lined with acoustic foam to treat rear reflections from the LCR speakers, which Baturin says helps prevent intelligibility issues and all of the surfaces facing out into the room are covered in triple black velvet chosen for its excellent light absorbing abilities.

For the side surrounds, which sit halfway between the first and second row of seats, Baturin went with a pair of Bowers & Wilkins CWM362 two-way in-walls, mounted flush in the walls and concealed behind black-fabric panels, to avoid having speakers protruding from the walls. The covers match the floor-to-ceiling acoustic panels in the front of the room. He completed the surroundscape with four RSL C34E in-ceiling speakers, equally spaced to create a compelling sense of height with Atmos soundtracks.

Except for the self-powered subwoofers and two of the height speakers—which are driven by an AudioSource AMP100VS stereo amplifier—all of the system’s speakers are powered by the Marantz A/V receiver. “I plan to upgrade to separate components in the future,” Baturin confides, “but the [five-year-old] SR6011 still offers up-to-date features like Dolby Atmos and has been a solid amp and processor from Day One.”

Shake Your Booty

In a move sure to surprise some enthusiasts, our intrepid theater builder installed tactile transducers (a.k.a. “bass shakers”) under six of the seven recliners (which explains why he ran electric to the riser). He set up six recliners but added a seventh later to accommodate a group of friends who come over regularly and is planning to add a shaker to it as well. He wasn’t looking to spend a ton on this indulgence, so he opted for Clark Synthesis’ entry-level TST209 transducers and used a second-hand Crown XLS 2000 amplifier operating in bridged mode to power them. Cost of the shakers and amp: $880—just over 2 percent of the overall spend.

“The TST209s perform exceptionally and can really turn up a movie watching experience to 11,” Baturin insists. “You’re able to literally feel the T-Rex in Jurassic Park stomping away and feel the shockwave from Tony Stark’s Jericho Missile (Iron Man) reverberate through the chair.” But there’s another benefit: “I can still enjoy some of what the LFE (low-frequency effects) track has to offer during late-night viewing when my kids are sleeping—I turn the subwoofers off and keep only the tactile transducers on.”

Cinema Cravings

Knowing that movies would be the undisputed king of Seneca Cinema, Baturin made the executive decision to install a fixed-frame screen with a cinematic 2.35:1 aspect ratio (instead of the 16:9 screen he originally set out to buy) and paired it with S&V’s 2019 Top Pick of the Year in projectors: the Epson 5050UB, which relies on 2K pixel-shifting technology to achieve brilliant 4K images at an affordable price. “The extra-wide screen provides a better experience most of the time by eliminating the letterboxing above and below the image,” while the Epson delivers an “incredible picture with very dark blacks and amazing color” even when the screen is maximized for 2:35:1 movies.

Making a good thing even better, Baturin was delighted to discover the 5050UB projector’s screen blanking and lens memory features. “This meant that I could deal with aspect ratios switching during a movie, something that happens often in movies made for IMAX screens and helmed by directors like Christopher Nolan. I set a lens memory to blank off the top and bottom of the image and zoom to fill the screen. While I realize this wastes light and chops some of the picture away, I’m still left with a spectacular-looking image. If subtitles are present I just watch in 16:9 with pillar-boxing on the sides. The room is fully light controlled so the pillars aren’t visible.”

Key system components are readily accessible from a rack Baturin custom-built to fit in a nook hidden behind a dark-tinted-glass door. A Pyle power supply/surge protector that’s tied into a dedicated 20-amp circuit provides 19 total outlets and the gear is kept cool by a super-quiet Panasonic Whisper-Choice exhaust fan that runs constantly.

Streaming has improved to the point where much of Baturin’s A/V time is spent watching movies or TV using an Apple TV 4K box. “Black Widow on Disney+ is a great example of this,” Baturin says. “The soundtrack is crisp and tactile, something previously (and still often) lacking from streamed movies, especially Disney films. The Expanse on Amazon Prime also looks and sounds fantastic.” Even so, his venerable Oppo UDP-203 is still king when it comes to picture quality. “A good Blu-ray or 4K disc looks and sounds phenomenal on this player.” When it’s time to take a break from movies, the family is happy to engage in a little mega-screen gaming on a PlayStation 5, Xbox One X, or Nintendo Switch console.

Everything in the room, including smart lighting, is operated through Logitech’s Ultimate One remote and Harmony Hub, which is linked to an Amazon Echo Dot for voice control. An IR receiver above the A/V rack sends the commands from the hub, which is mounted on the side of the projector, to an IR repeater in the AV closet. While this control setup would suffice for most, the IT pro took automation a step further. He programmed the Harmony to run a web service that relays lighting commands via IFTTT when you press Play or Pause on the remote. The commands instruct the nine Yeelight RGB bulbs in the ceiling to turn off when you press Play or to run a scene that dims the rear row of lights when you hit Pause. This is important for safety as the riser steps can be dangerous to navigate without light,” Baturin informs.

All of the hard work and planning paid off. Big Time. “The theater is fantastic and very close to how I envisioned and modeled it,” Baturin gushes. “It’s like watching movies in a commercial theater. Only it’s better because friends and family can do things that are taboo or impossible in a commercial setting—like adjusting the volume and temperature or pausing the movie for a bio break or to refill the popcorn. But more than that, we can feel okay about cracking jokes out loud. It truly feels like a theater, but at home.”

A/V Equipment List

Epson Home Cinema 5050UB video projector

Silver Ticket STR-235158-WAB 158-inch acoustically transparent fixed-frame screen (2.35:1)

Video sources: Oppo UDP-203 4K Blu-ray player, Apple TV 4K media streamer

Gaming consoles: Microsoft Xbox One X, Sony PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch

Marantz SR6011 9.2-channel A/V receiver

AudioSource AMP100VS 2 x 50-watt power amplifier (drives two of the four Atmos height speakers)

Crown XLS 2000 2 x 650-watt (4 ohms) power amplifier (drives six tactile transducers)

Bowers & Wilkins 684 S1 speakers (2, front left/right)

Bowers & Wilkins CM Centre 2 S2 center speaker (1)

Bowers & Wilkins 685 S1 speakers (2, rear surround)

Bowers & Wilkins CWM362 in-wall speakers (2, side surround)

RSL C34E in-ceiling speakers (4, Atmos height effects)

Clark Synthesis TST209 tactile transducers (6)

Rythmik Audio FV15HP powered subwoofers (2)

Additional Gear & Accessories

Logitech Harmony Ultimate One remote control and Harmony Hub

Amazon Echo Dot smart speaker (for system voice control)

Penn Elcom 19-inch x 28U AV rack

Panasonic Whisper-Choice Pick-A-Flow 80/110 CFM exhaust fan (AV rack cooling)

Pyle PCO860 rackmount 19-outlet PDU (power distribution unit)

Valencia Pavillion home theater recliners (7)

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