Unfinished Basement Becomes Cinematic Family Retreat in Cincinnati

Scott in Cincinnati, OH

Turning an unfinished basement into a home theater where family and friends can congregate for movie nights or special events is one of the best remodeling investments you can make in your home. When Scott from Cincinnati decided he wanted to build a killer home theater in his basement, he went all-out during the planning phase to ensure he got the best value possible and had no regrets once the curtain was raised. Between the sound proofing, custom framing, electrical work and other tasks, things could have gotten out of hand quickly. But through meticulous research and planning, Scott was able to finish his basement home theater project on time and on budget.

Between his two Pixar-loving kids, his wife who enjoys hosting award show parties and his own personal interest in blockbuster movies, there’s no doubt the now-finished basement will get plenty of action for years to come. Plus, as the kids get older, is there any doubt where their friends are going to want to hang out on Friday nights?

Read about Scott’s basement renovation project in the Q&A below. You can also watch some Youtube videos he made about the initial planning of the theater on his channel here.

The Setup:

Here is the equipment I ended up getting for the system. I was very patient and watched several websites so all equipment except the screen was purchased as factory refurbished, open box return, or outlet prices. This saved me approximately 25% on equipment costs.

Questions and Answers:

What were the greatest challenges you had to overcome when setting up your home theater?

Planning and budgeting were the most time consuming and challenging parts. I started out with some specific goals in mind for the theater, and I also listened to podcasts for ideas, specifically AV Rant. Rob and Tom (the hosts) were very helpful during my planning phase.

The room is 11x25x8 and built in an unfinished section of my basement. Since the house is open concept, we wanted the new room to be somewhere to watch movies and have friends over without disturbing the rest of the house. Because of this, soundproofing was a top priority. Since we planned to host in the room we also wanted to have cabinetry to hold serving items, a counter to place food, and a built-in fridge to store beverages. I had several conversations with my brother-in-law who is a contractor about the items I needed to budget to build the room. I then started a massive spreadsheet to account for all the materials and labor needed for the room. Gathering price estimates, determining labor I would do (installing modular carpet, painting, AV wiring, etc.) and things I wanted to pay my brother-in-law to do (framing, finish drywall, electrical, etc), and acquiring the AV equipment took months. Once I had some minimum and maximum estimated costs, my wife and I set a final budget. Determining what items to increase budget, and others to trim was a tricky balancing act.

Here are some things we decided to spend the most of our budget on:

  • Soundproofing the room. Based on the advice of soundproofingcompany.com we went with Green Glue between 2 layers of 5/8 drywall, a clips and channel system for the ceiling, backer boxes around each can light, a dead vent with a separate blower so the HVAC is not connected to the house duct work, and an entry hallway to the room to better isolate it from the house. About 3/4 of the total budget went to room construction and soundproofing. The net result - we can push performance of the system to near reference levels and the main floor does not hear a thing.
  • Speakers. I see speakers as a long term investment. The technology of speakers does not change as rapidly as video or electronics. I know a good investment in speakers will last a long time. I also wanted the room to be compatible with Dolby Atmos and DTS X. Based on my research a 7.2.2 setup was optimal for my budget, but that meant getting 11 speakers and a new Atmos/DTS X receiver (which are pricey). I know some say you should spend 50% of your AV budget on sound and 50% on video. I spent about 80% on sound and 20% on video. One helpful thing is that you can now get very good 1080p projectors for much less that just a few years ago. When my 1080p projector is ready to be replaced, I’m betting the 4K projectors will be very affordable and 4K content will be more readily available. But I should not need to upgrade my speakers or receiver for a very long time (if ever).
  • Cabinets and under counter beverage cooler. To make this an entertaining space we needed cabinets and a counter. Fortunately I found a "re-use" center where I got five cabinets for $300. That gave me more budget to get the under-counter fridge.
For speaker research I created a tab for each manufacturer I was considering. I ended up with 20 tabs. This allowed me to quickly compare prices. In the end the best price to performance ratio that fit in my budget were SVS Prime Speakers.

    How has SVS impacted the performance of your system?

    I heard great reviews and recommendations for SVS subs from Rob and Tom on AV Rant. On Labor Day 2015, SVS had an outlet sale and I got a great price on a PB-2000 subwoofer. I have an existing $2000 highly-rated 5.1 system in my great room and thought this would be a good chance to try out SVS with the 45-day trial. As much as I was impressed by the performance of the PB -2000, I was equally blown away by the service and support from SVS.

    Most of the people who I have demoed the room for have never heard a real subwoofer. The visceral impact of the dual subs placed in diagonally opposing corners provides even bass response across the room. The subs provide that sense of impact even we are playing the system well below reference volume. I think that is the most impressive part of the system.

    What are some of your favorite music and movies for showing off your audio gear?

    My system has only been up and running for about three weeks (and two of those weeks I was out of the country for work). So far the movies that have impressed my family are:

    • The Incredibles (during the build we picked that to be the movie to break in the theater)
    • Interstellar (we felt like we were being sucked into the wormhole with the crew)
    • The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (the only Atmos track we heard so far, the scene where they are preparing for the air raid and the intercom voices come from the height channels made me feel like I was in the building, and the subs shook the room with each concussive explosion)
    • Sound of Music (this is a family favorite and we love singing along to it together)

    The kids also love the Dragon Encounter demo on the Sleeping Beauty Blu-ray and I recently bought the new Mad Max Blu-ray, but I am waiting for some of my friends that helped build the room to free up so I can watch it with them.

    Why is having a home theater important to you?

    Our kids are 4 and 8. They LOVE Disney and Pixar films so having the room now is great for them. We also wanted to build a fun room that will motivate the kids to invite their friends over to our house for the next 10-15 years. We figure it is better for our house to be the hangout house than somewhere else. My wife also likes to host nights with her girlfriends. They usually have award show parties. This room will let them gather and not worry about keeping the kids awake while they chat.

    For me it a mix of my love of movies combined with the satisfaction of DIY projects. The fact that this project is enjoyed by my immediate and extended family is really gratifying.

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    Apr 11, 2024