So you got all the crappy Christmas gifts you can handle, and you decide it's time to get yourself what you really want: a home theater room.
Maybe the wife talked you in to one of those Aquos TVs for your family room, or maybe you're an HDTV newbie. Either way, what you really want is the mother of all televisions in a secluded room for under $2000. This aritcle will provide you with a step-by-step, do-it-yourself way to impress even your father-in-law.
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Time needed: 6 beers
Power Tools: None
Start this project out with a beer because the scope of it could be daunting, especially if you're used to just calling the cable company and having them plug your television in for you. A suitable theater room needs to be identified, and all your wife's sewing equipment or Christmas decorations need to be thrown out of it. The room I chose is about 10' X 15'. You need to make sure the room can fit some furniture and can give the projector enough room to throw the image up on the wall. My projector gives me a maximum of roughly 10' wide projection mounted about 15' away, and the minimum size I can project from that distance is about 5'. I'm not sure if the minimum matters much, but some people like to know that kind of thing. I guess all that really shows is that at its minimum size, mine is bigger than yours.
Now that you've found a room, you need to get the right projector. Don't go and talk to any of the clowns at one of those chain electronics stores. The only reason they'd have a good home theater system is to watch porn and play video games, and even if those goals seem admirable to you, you can find the projector cheaper online. I tried to establish an affilation with the company that sold me my projector, but they didn't get back to me, so I won't recommend them by name. However, there are a number of sites that compare projectors. You'll need one that is for home theater, not some computer VGA projector that some ball jugglers will try to sell you and say will work fine for a nice big picture. Don't listen to that noise. You need something that projects in 16:9 and can handle 1080 lines of resolution. I don't care if you want to pay more and go with the DLP version because you like those ads with the creepy little girl and her DLP mirrors. However, I bought an LCD projector. It's the Panasonic PTAE-900U, and I'm sure it's called something else by now. I paid around $1700 before a $300 rebate, 40 free movie rentals from Blockbuster, and a free 3-year bulb-replacement guarantee. The LCD wasn't as good as some of the DLPs at the time, but it cost about half as much, so I figured I'd go with it. Anyhow, get the projector.
Now, you're going to have to get some HDTV service. I use Dish Network and am roped in for a couple of years. If you can get AT&T, look into it. Don't even talk to me about the cable companies. If you want to throw money away, just send it to Real Wisconsin News and we'll put it in our drinking fund, but don't give it to them. I'm sure Direct-TV is pretty good, too, but I have Dish. Anyway, find the right service, and give yourself a few days to finish setting up the room. Keep in mind that nothing broadcasts in 1080p right now, so don't get all retarded with the sales people and ask about that.
You can start putting your theater room together at this point, and I'll provide you with the easy steps of doing it pretty much for free.
To mount the projector, you can go and buy a ceiling-mount device for about $50, or you can save that money for a lap dance at your local gentlemen's club and build your own. I just used a bit of wood that was sitting around and nailed it up. It's probably sturdier than a ceiling mount dangling from my accoustical-tile ceiling, anyhow. You can use a level to make sure it's plumb, or you can just rely on the projector, which can be adjusted for idiots who can't figure that kind of stuff out. I just nailed it up and turned the projector on in order to adjust the levels on each side of the mount. Don't drop your projector while doing this, however, because you'll still be driving that Toyota a few more years if you pull some crazy junk like that.
Now for the wall. If it's big, flat, and white like the girl I dated in high school, you might want to just use it as your screen. Some people sell special paint for walls, but if it's a fairly flat paint, you'll probably be happy with the results. The room in my basement had a big window in the middle of it, so I just used some extra peg boards I had and nailed them up to cover the window. Don't block any windows you want to open, though, but if I have to tell you that, you're probably really lost already.
I happend to be shopping for a new projector screen (around $500 for the size I wanted) when I ran into a guy I knew and told him what I was looking for. I told him that I'd read that big sheets of photo paper work pretty well as projector screens. In a strange coincidence, he worked at a place that used rolls of photo paper, and he offered to donate one to my cause. I told him I needed about 10 feet of stuff. He gave me a 100' roll, so even if I throw a ladies' drink at the TV when the Packers lose, I have nine more screens available. Anyhow, I guess you can buy the stuff, too. The rolls are 4 feet wide, so doing a little math, a 16:9 aspect ratio on a 4' high screen can give you about 7' width, or about 85". Measured diagonally, it's about 8' or 96". That's about three times the size of your $1000 32" HDTV. Keep in mind, however, that a 100" plasma TV will run you over $60,000.
Back to the screen... if you use photo paper, I've found that pinning it up on the wall works sufficiently. Yes, pinning it up! Like eight or so around the outside. I tried using Gorilla Glue on the back, but it didn't stick, so the pins have worked for over a year. There's probably a better glue out there, so you can try that, too. Maybe even masking tape. Who the hell cares, as long as you get that big-ass screen up on your wall. Once the lights are off, all you see is TV the way it should look, and if you mount it fairly straight, it'll be just fine. You can let your mom make you some red velvet curtains for the outside if you want.
The last thing you need is a kick-ass sound system, and you don't need the big money for this, either. I picked up a Pioneer--that's right, I said Pioneer--7.1 receiver ($150 from a local electronics store) that puts out more than a hotel heiress, and then I bought a clearance 5.1 speaker system with a powered sub for less than $100. I use my old MTX box with twelves from my car as the front left and right speakers. I know, I know, the audiophiles will tell you not to mix speakers, but most of us are a little tone-deaf anyhow, and 770 watts and a powered subwoofer in a 10' X 15' room can get it done. Besides, you can tweak the levels and get it sounding pretty sweet. Mind you, I'm not recommending you grab some 6X9s out of your Camaro and mount them on the wall, but make due with the means you have. You can hide all the speaker wires if you want (and you should get some nice thick ones to carry the noise properly), but, again, it's going to be dark, and you're not really going to notice. Making all the connections can be daunting, but like finding your perfect mate, just keep plugging all the holes you can until one seems right.
I eventually picked up a cheapo up-convert DVD player, but the picture isn't much better than the old DVD player. I expect a high definition DVD player to be pretty nice, but the wife may not allow that upgrade right now. Anyhow, the picture quality is pretty phenomenal. Sports and travel shows are simply amazing at the size and resolution. Some action movies are hard to follow, but unlike a television, I can resize the screen if there's too much going on to catch everything. Standard def signals suffer, just like in any HDTV, so you'll mostly want to watch HD programming or DVDs. Local HD channels are available with an antenna, but I've had mixed success getting a signal in my basement.
As far as seating is concerned, you can go and get stadium seats and really pretend you're in a theater, or you can just add comfortable chairs or couches. I've got a leather sofa and two recliners, as well as a bean bag. My friend says buying one of those big bean bag dealies from the mall saved his marriage, so you might want to consider one of those. Just get something in there to sit on... most of the stuff you watch will be by yourself anyhow, so one big comfy chair would be fine.
Lastly, enjoy your new theater room, and tell all of your friends that you love their new 32" anemic televisions and piss-poor "virtual surround" sound systems. Laugh to yourself when you see a 60" plasma hanging from a wall, pretending to be an actual big screen. And when you truly upgrade to HDTV, thank Real Wisconsin News for pointing you in the right direction.