Mundane home improvement projects rule the day for most contractors, from basic home repairs to get a place ready for sale to upgrading necessary items like heating and air or electrical. Sometimes it really feels like you’re just doing the same job over and over again, without a lot of variety or challenge to really take advantage of your problem-solving skills.

If you’re looking for a different kind of project to get involved with, you may want to consider taking on some custom home theater work. Not only is every single custom home theater a unique proposition of its own, the sky’s often the limit when it comes to creativity, giving you lots of ways to work out those mental muscles.

Considerations for Custom Home Theater Installs

Multiple experts will be needed on a custom theater install project. There are obvious trades like electricians that are indispensable, but a lot of not-so-obvious players are also required. Your homeowner may also be able to provide some expertise, especially if they’re an audio/visual enthusiast.

For example, they may already have a projector system in mind, like the Sony VPL-VW715ES or Sony VPL-VW915ES. It’s important to start with the equipment because these machines can have very different needs. The VPL-VW715ES is a lamp-based projector, where the VPL-VW915ES is a laser light projector. The differences in performance are many, but one that’s vital for you to keep in mind is that lamp-based projectors aren’t as bright in general, so light-proofing and any theater lights that would remain on during a film will need to be considerably dimmer than if your client selects the laser light projector.

Both the VPL-VW915ES and the VPL-VW715ES are High Dynamic Range (HDR) projectors, using technology similar to what’s used to improve the contrast in digital photography. So, instead of just displaying a snow-covered field as an endless expanse of white, for example, these projectors will produce highlights and shadows among the white to make the experience more lifelike. Coloration is far more delicate and richer, making HDR the way to go for a higher end theater install.

Sony’s invested deeply in HDR in its new projectors, using the X1 processor for projector to allow the projectors to look at each object in the frame to improve visual clarity. X1 for projector looks for both light and dark in each frame, processes each area individually and intelligently, then outputs it to the audience. This kind of number crunching takes lightning speed that’s not been seen in projectors like this before.

Users can choose between three levels of magnitude to customize screen size and gain for an ideal picture. The Sony VPL-VW915ES and VPL-VW715ES also produce a true movie theater widescreen experience, as well as the 16:9 widescreen televisions utilize. And, of course, they’re both going to produce a true 4K picture, with lens shift technology that allows you to set the projector to either side of center of the screen for more flexibility in planning.

Custom Everything - Even the Insulation

A custom theater is more than just a room with a projector and some seats in it. It’s almost always going to be a high-end build, with all that entails. Because the project will generally be retrofitted into the space, you’re looking at custom everything and then some. Customers want their theater experience to be the theater experience of a lifetime, especially after investing so much in those spaces; it’s going to be your job to make their dream come to fruition.

Not only may you be charged with designing custom seating or risers, custom cabinets and access panels, lighting, and extras like wet bars - all the hidden elements of a theater experience could be yours to manage, too. These would include elements like theater-grade insulation to silence the sound of the latest blockbusters in the rest of the home, ventilation for the theater itself, location of switches or smart home panels, flow control for safe ingress and egress in case of fire, sprinkler systems and alarms, and so much more.

Custom home theaters are, without a doubt, huge projects, but they can be extremely rewarding for contractors and the subs they bring in to get the job done.

Your Usual Suspects

Knowing just who to hire for a custom theater install can get overwhelming fast, since a lot of small jobs will need to be completed by a variety of competent experts. Just managing the manpower may become a full-time job, depending on who’s available and what overlapping skills and equipment they have available. Here are a few that you’ll almost certainly need, and maybe a few that would be nice to have:

Architect/Engineer. When you’re building something like a home theater, it’s going to pay to have some detailed drawings for all your team members to work from. A small home theater in a small room is probably something you may be able to wing okay, but the bigger the build, the bigger the investment and the larger the liability if you get it wrong. So plan for plans.​
Carpenters. Not only may you need to hire carpenters and framers to build walls and design risers for seating, they may also be handy to help frame in openings for custom theater elements like your projector, sound systems, or other bonus features like wet bars and snack areas.​
Electricians. When it comes to home theater, electricians are always front of mind. They’re going to be essential to help with lighting design and actually running new wires to equipment. They can also determine whether or not a home theater should have a separate service panel, based on the usage expected.​
Insulation Installers. Home theaters aren’t just your average rooms with big TVs, they require specialty insulation that helps keep sound where it belongs and prevent the loss of impact from movie sound effects. Sometimes, bouncing noise around the room will be to your benefit, but sometimes it’ll cause more problems than it solves. Your insulation and acoustics experts can help with this.​
Fire Suppression Experts. Because home theaters are often constructed in basements or other areas with no ingress or egress, it’s important to count on high caliber fire suppression. A fire that starts in a home theater from malfunctioning equipment, for example, can quickly get out of control if no one knows it’s occurring, since the room is kind of an island unto itself. Fire suppression should be front of mind during your design phase.​
HVAC. Not all home theaters will need help with HVAC, but many may. Adding an extra drop to the existing system can be plenty for a small theater, or your homeowner may want a stand-alone system they can control for the perfect theater weather every time. This can have another advantage, in that it will avoid transmission of sound through the ductwork.​
Plumbers. Wet bars and extra bathrooms are not uncommon wants from a home theater build. Your plumbers will get you on the road to whatever extras may be needed and even suggest some you and your client may not have considered before.​
Drywallers. At some point, you have to close up the walls and who better than a drywaller at the top of their game? They’ll minimize the mess, ensure that the drywall that’s being used is rated for a home theater as far as fire and water protection go, and give you a totally professional finish.​
Painters. Paint matters, more than you might think in a home theater. It’s not always enough to just paint everything black, some homeowners will want a different experience for their perfect home entertainment room. Dark colors are definitely important, but a painter can help choose hues that are both impactful and functional.​
Cabinet Builders. Custom home theaters call for custom cabinets. You won’t find what you need to store and properly ventilate theater equipment at your local hardware store. Working with custom cabinet builders ensures your project looks perfect, the equipment can breathe to ensure a long working life, and all your equipment and connection points will be much easier to access with custom covers, rather than simply drywalling over wiring that may require service or expansion at some point.​
Flooring Experts. Oh, the floor. We almost forgot that. Since many home theaters are built on concrete floors, a lot of homeowners will want to add a little pizazz. That might mean carpet, but it could also mean polished concrete with stains and etching. Your flooring installer can help navigate this minefield.​

Where Do You Go for More Info?

There are plenty of spaces on this forum where you can ask questions and get great advice from experts in and related to your own field, but when it comes to something as detail-oriented as theater design and construction, you may want to reach out to people who are heavily invested in the concept.

That’s where the Dedicated Theater Design & Construction Forum at AVSForum.com can help you. Just like on this site, you’ll find all kinds of people with widely varying expertise and who have been where you’re about to go. Just pop on by and read up a bit before you even bid your first custom home theater job.

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