It was now time to bring in a custom installation firm. Polk turned to one of its local dealers, eMagine Technology Systems, located about an hour away in the Detroit suburb of Clarkston. Company president Ken Eagle told me his first impressions of the room. "Polk and XM had planned on a rear-projection DLP TV on a stand, which would have been easy to set up and would have made a great entertainment room. But you don't get a theater feel from a TV - you need larger-than-life images for that. Since we're comfortable with retrofit work, we wanted to push things up a few levels and create a home theater the Ludlows would really enjoy. So we recommended a high-definition projector and a 9-foot-wide screen. The cost was almost the same, but the effect is incomparable."
Not surprisingly, this was Kevin's first experience working with a custom installer. "I really wanted to hear what Ken and designer Phil deJarnett had to suggest, because they were the professionals. But I was smiling inside when Ken suggested that a projection system would be right for this room, since that's what I had really wanted."
Like any good installers, Ken and Phil didn't come in with preconceived ideas. "What was cool about working with these guys," Kevin says, "was that they started by asking, 'What do you want to do with this room? Who is going to be in here, and how is it going to be used? Will you be watching movies or listening to music?' They weren't telling us what they were going to do, but leading us into making decisions that were right for us."
It was Ken's idea to distribute music beyond the theater. "We felt it would be nice to be able to enjoy the XM radio in more rooms than just the theater. The budget allowed for two inexpensive ceiling speakers, and since the Denon AVR-2105 receiver provided a full second zone of audio with a dedicated amplifier, it came down to the work involved in getting wire to the speakers."
Having settled on an InFocus ScreenPlay 5700 DLP projector, the installers turned to Polk for the speakers. "Before selecting a system," DiComo recalls, "I asked Kevin what he had in mind for performance and placement, and what would work best with their long-term decorating plan. He wanted high-impact, wide-dynamic-range performance, so we opted for full-range floorstanding speakers. And since the Ludlows had ordered cherry furniture, the RTi10 front left and right speakers and matching CSi5 center, finished with cherry-wood veneers, were the logical choice. I selected the TC60i ceiling speakers for the surrounds because they use the same tweeter and 61/2-inch driver as the RTi10."
One of the most important elements of any home theater is killer bass that shakes the walls and floors. For this, DiComo says he "calculated the volume of the room and picked a subwoofer that would fill the space with dynamic range to spare - the 12-inch PSW505."
While Kevin was excited about the theater, it was music that won Cara's heart. "What got me excited was the XM satellite radio, and that I could be listening to my Broadway music [XM Channel 28, "On Broadway Showtunes"] on really good-sounding speakers. My mom says that Kevin's Christmas present from here on out will be a year's subscription to XM."
Kevin is excited about XM as well, but he's not sure how much listening time he'll get. "I'm hoping I'll get to hear something other than the Broadway channel. I love everything from Elvis Costello to Green Day to classical, and I hate commercials. I listen to the radio to hear music, not ads." Since all of XM's music channels are commercial-free, that shouldn't be a problem.
John Sciacca began his career as a custom installer in 1998 at Custom Theater and Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, where he still works. He's still trying to figure out how to get the members of his family to turn the lights off when they're actually in the house, let alone from hundreds of miles away.
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