For all their entertaining, the couple more often than not uses the theater for themselves and their family. "The second screening we did - and I'm so glad we waited to have this space to do it - was Schindler's List," Natasha says. "We watched it for the first time since Liam and I saw it when it was released."
"I wanted to show it to my eldest boy because I knew he'd been learning at school about the rise of fascism in Europe," Liam says.
Natasha adds: "Now, to watch such an extraordinary, overwhelming movie in that kind of space was a very profound and special thing for all of us. I don't know that our son's attention would have been held as much if it had been just on a regular TV."
"Absolutely not," Liam says. "The movie is 3 hours, 15 minutes, on two discs, and he watched it straight through. I thought he'd last maybe 20 minutes."
The home theater also serves an important professional purpose. "I'm a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, as is my wife," Liam says. "So there are two votes, come Academy Award time, from this house alone. We get sent all the screeners of movies that are eligible. Before, we would watch them on a TV, which isn't fair to the people who are making the films. But now we've got this extraordinary image in a proper movie theater. We show the respect to the director and the artists when we see something how it was supposed to be seen, on state-of-the-art equipment. Then it becomes a celebration of cinema."
The vent for one of the two Polk in-floor subwoofers can be seen between the left and center front speakers.
Liam and Natasha's system is the work of last year's Sound & Vision Installer of the Year, Chris Wyllie of S.E.A.L. Solutions in Sound Beach, New York ("S.E.A.L. of Approval," October 2007. While it wasn't an overly complicated installation, Chris immediately found himself at a disadvantage. Because the room's design had been locked-in before he was brought onto the job, it was impossible to make any significant architectural changes.
For instance, many readers' ears must have pricked up when I mentioned the room's 29 x 29-foot dimensions - not what you want for great acoustics. Worse, the ceiling height is just about half the wall dimensions, and because the ceiling is part of the barn's former loft space, it comes to a peak - an installer's nightmare.
"Acoustically, I don't think it could have been worse," Chris says. "And there's also all of that reflective material in the room." While he was able to tame most of the problems, the theater could still use a few tweaks. "I would love to have absorption panels up in the peak," he says, "but that's an interior-design issue."
The theater's interior designer liked the look of the driver array in the Polk in-wall speakers so much that he left the grilles off.
One thing that helped the room's sound was Liam and Natasha's willingness to go with freestanding speakers for up front instead of the in- or on-wall models that have become a home theater staple. "They wanted to have that collage of movie posters in the front of the room, and they didn't want it broken up with in-walls," Chris says.
"In an ideal world, the speakers would be in the wall," Natasha says. "But it certainly doesn't bother me. With all the posters up, your eye isn't drawn to the speakers. And I can't imagine the sound being better. Liam, could you?"
"No," Liam replies. "Not at all."
"I love the sound," Natasha says. "It's fabulous. I just walk around admiring it."
"I was watching the sequence of Batman Begins where my character makes Bruce Wayne open this box," Liam says. "He's confronting his id, his inner self, his fear of himself - and these bats come out. Bloody hell, the sound just like threw me back, you know? It was like the real thing."
The suggestion to use tower speakers was Anthony's. "I've been told by audiophiles over and over that in-wall speakers simply don't provide the same clarity and depth as freestanding speakers," he says. "This is, after all, a media room, so seeing the equipment adds to the overall vibe that you're in a room to listen to and see something wonderful."
While most people shudder at the idea of showing home theater speakers with the grilles off, Anthony was so intrigued by the driver arrays in the Polk surrounds that he decided to let everybody else have a look, too. "When we took the grilles off and exposed the actual speakers, I thought they looked really cool," he says. "We weren't apologizing for or hiding the equipment; we were showcasing it."
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