When the tech-savvy owners of this beautiful Texas Hill Country abode decided to remodel, a home theater with a larger-than-life 4K Ultra HD system was at the top of their wish list. That desire proved to be a tall order, fraught with challenges.
With the residential 4K Ultra HD projection market still in its infancy, there were not a lot of Ultra HD projectors available for the home, and no defining connection standard. Additionally, the homeowner wanted both deep black levels and an image bright enough to watch movies during the day in a room with no less than 13 windows. Add to this a stunning, but colossal, 12-foot Stewart StarGlas projection screen that wouldn’t fit through the front door, and you can see how Dennis Erskine (The Erskine Group), system mastermind, had his work cut out for him both technically and logistically.
“One of the current problems with 4K projection is that there is no defining connection standard for projectors,” says Erskine. “If you look at what HDMI can handle in terms of 4K bandwidth, the frame rate goes down to 30 frames-per-second when 4K is capable of 60 frame-per-second.” To get native 4K Ultra HD material at this high frame rate required four DisplayPort connections into the projector, plus an HDMI cable. “The scaler is taking in the native 4K content on the DisplayPorts, while 1080p high-def content goes over HDMI, which is then up-converted in the scaler and sent to the DisplayPort connectors.”
To meet the homeowner expectation for a bright image with good black levels, Erskine had to look beyond the residential market to custom engineered commercial-grade projectors. “In no way would a residential 4K projector be able to produce 65 FootLamberts on a 12 foot wide screen in that room,” says Erskine. Ultimately, he specified a Display Development film 4K projector. The image from this six-figure commercial unit was poised not only to be bright enough, but big, beautiful, and ultra high-definition. The light path from the projector is folded by a custom Stewart Filmscreen rear-projection mirror system, also located behind the screen, built to order with the proper screen angles, number of mirrors, and focal length. To ensure a bright image, Erskine designed the room so that the screen itself received no direct light from any of the windows. “Right now, with one projector, we are getting 70 FTL off the screen,” says Erskine.
Often, the compromise with bright projectors is faded black levels. As a failsafe, Erskine designed a spot for a second projector that could be lowered in front of the StarGlas rear-projection screen should the homeowner ultimately be dissatisfied with the system’s black levels. This isn’t necessary, however, because blacks are well beyond the homeowners’ expectation.
The glorious image onscreen is in no small part due to the 12-foot Stewart Filmscreen StarGlas rear-projection screen itself. “StarGlas provides the highest image quality of any rear-projection system that we’ve ever found,” says Erskine. “Plus, it does a far better job of attenuating noise from the equipment room behind the screen than flexible screen material would.” The screen had to be craned into the room before walls were erected because it simply wouldn’t fit in through the specified doorway. To accommodate this request, Stewart had to speed up its production schedule to get the screen into the room before construction was completed.
Originally, Erskine designed the system with a StarGlas model that incorporated variable vertical masking, but in mid-production the homeowners decided they really wanted the ability to cover the entire screen with masking when not using it. So Erskine called Stewart and asked for them to fabricate and ship a Director’s Choice system, which is the only screen capable of four-way variable masking system. Stewart representatives flew up to the job site personally to work with Erskine to re-engineer the Director’s Choice system to reduce the gaps of air between the screen and the masking system caused by the masking motors.
“Stewart is really good at tackling unique engineering problems, and sometimes these refinements filter down into their product line,” says Erskine. “I don’t know of another manufacturer on Planet Earth that would fly out to the job site to re-engineer a product.” The result: A truly stellar StarGlas installation, that provides a unique, one of a kind product incorporating Stewart’s four-way masking system with a rigid screen.
Of course, the projection system is just one piece of the larger puzzle that, when combined, make this room a refined, high-performance escape. A lot of time and effort went into ensuring clean and protected power in the theater, for example. Erskine worked very closely with Torus Power engineers on the two Torus Power units in the equipment room. One is a standard production model, the AVR2. The other was custom-manufactured to Erskine’s specifications. “What we needed was a device that would assure us of clean power to the projector,” says Erskine. “The AVR2 has a standard 240-volt in and 120-volt out. However, because this commercial projector needed 240 volts out, we asked Torus Power to modify the AVR2 to do that, and they delivered. They did a great job.”
The Torus Power units regulate the power, ensuring the entire system has clean, balanced power. “Torus takes the 240 volts and drops it down to 120 to service all the equipment, significantly reducing line noise, hums, and buzzes,” says Erskine. A TrippLite 240V battery backup ensures that gear doesn’t fry when the generator powers up during a power failure. “When we detect a power failure and power is not restored in five minutes, there is enough juice in the battery to keep the fans going to cool the projector lamps and equipment racks,” says Erskine.
While an architect designed the entire addition and all the structural roofline and support elements in the room, the Erskine Group designed and constructed everything else in the room, from construction of the millwork to equipment installation to audio calibration. The homeowners wanted the windows to match the rest of the home, yet Erskine refused to have sound seeping in from the outside world. “With this affliction called audiophilia, we weren’t going to tolerate that.” Erskine therefore designed a second set of double-paned interior windows to match those on the outside. “When the theater was finished, we couldn’t even hear the workers using jackhammers to install the swimming pool outside,” says Erskine. Each window has a motorized shade on the outside as well as in between the two windows for both acoustic purposes and natural light control.
Speaking of acoustics, Erskine’s specialty, the room presented another problem. On the floor plan was a niche for an interior saltwater aquarium bigger than most people’s swimming pool, which made quite a bit of noise. Erskine and his team designed a steel frame for the aquarium along with custom cabinetry to attenuate the noise pumps and motors so they wouldn’t interfere with the main attraction.
The room is, of course, acoustically isolated. “We don’t think about it from the perspective of stopping the theater from waking the baby, we just don’t want to hear the baby cry,” says Erskine. One feat of engineering is the sound-attenuation entry door to the theater, which is four feet wide and has a concrete center, causing it to weigh a whopping 450 pounds. “It’s mounted on ball-bearing hinges, so you can open it with your little finger,” says Erskine. There are six Procella surround speakers, LCRs, two main subwoofers, and three balancing subwoofers, all of which are invisible to the audience. The entire system, including the eye-catching color-changing RGB lighting, operates on the Crestron control platform.
From studs to shell, the room build-out took nine months. “We operate on a basis of informed consent,” says Erskine. “The homeowner comes to us with a vision and we will put that vision into CAD and modify it to make sense from acoustic interior design, and engineering perspectives. That is when we have reiteration and dialogue with the homeowner, and if they want changes, we make sure they know that these changes may impact sound and video quality. Occasionally, we have refunded design fees because, with homeowner changes, we wouldn’t have been able to make a room that sounds phenomenal. After all, we have a reputation to protect.”
That reputation is only reinforced by this acoustic, visual, and structural marvel that combines the very best of all worlds, creating an outcome that not only has the homeowner satisfied, but completely floored.
For additional information please see the review at Electronic House
Integrator: Dennis Erskine
The Erskine Group
Audio Control Maestro M4
QSC Audio DSP322UA x 2
TrippLite SU6000RTU4UHV x 2
Torus Power AVR2 60 BAL RK
Torus Power AVR 30 620R RK
Celerity Technologies Fiber Optic HDMI Cables
Crestron Lighting Control System
Crestron Shading System (26 shades)
Crestron Network Video Streamer
Crestron AV3 Processor
Aurora Multimedia HDMI & USB extenders
Middle Atlantic Racks (x4)
Display Development Digital Film 4K Projection System
Display Development 4K High Frame Rate Upgrade
Procella Audio P815 LCR speakers
Procella Audio P18 Subwoofers x 2
Procella Audio P6V surround speakers x 6
Procella Audio DA2800 Amplifiers x 5
Procella Audio P10SI subwoofers x 2
Stewart Filmscreen Director's Choice ScreenWall, StarGlas 60, Custom
Stewart Filmscreen Rear Projection Mirror system
Quest Acoustical Interiors Treatments
Interior construction and millwork by Erskine Group
Erskine Group Sound Isolation Doors
Erskine Group Custom Sound Isolation Windows