Reader's cinema: One-man movie den

An HCC reader reveals how his cinema 'dog house' was a real passion project

HCC reader Jag Phull is the proud owner of this stunning cinema room... at the bottom of his garden. How did achieve his high-end dream? With a lot of hard graft, a lengthy build process and a few upgrades along the way.

Why did you decide to build your own cinema room?

My brother-in-law once brought a projector over to my place. The image it fired up left my jaw on the floor. I wanted it. I wanted the cinema experience at home.  

Over the years, I’ve developed my passion and at one point converted my main reception room into a part-lounge/part-theatre. However, with the pending patter of tiny feet 
I began having nightmares as to what a toddler could to do with their prying fingers to my beloved amp, speakers and retractable screen. It was impossible to child-proof everything. 

Whenever I watched a film I was eventually asked to turn the volume down. I simply couldn’t enjoy my movies. So, with garden space available a decision was made. I needed a mancave, a retreat, a sanctuary – and, whenever I was in trouble with the missus, 
a ‘dog house’. 

That’s what I eventually labelled it. It became a pleasure being sent out to my very own dog house. I could crank the volume up as loud as I wanted. It was a no-brainer!

How long did it take you to complete the project?

Building work commenced in August 2009. Builders completed the shell by the end of October 2009. The remaining construction work was completed by myself between October and early February 2010.

Since then I've done further works in the theatre, namely the building of a stage for additional seating, painting the walls a darker lush suede paint and adding velvet panels closer to the screen to reduce reflections. The eventual outcome produced a much better and deeper image. The project is never, however, totally complete as the upgrade bug seems to bite time and time again.

What was the hardest part of the build?

The most difficult point in the build came during the groundworks. It almost felt like 
it was all over when the building inspector arrived and instructed us to dig deeper – now for the third time! We had initially dug for some one-and-half metres. Tons and tons of very hard and dry clay soil had been dug out but 
we expected to find harder ground. I was advised that if we didn’t reach harder ground the project would be brought to a halt. My dream was almost over and I had 2.2m deep trenches in my back garden with piles of mud mounting up in my driveway! Eventually we were given the go-ahead, but the thought that the whole meticulously designed project was about to come to an end left me very stressed and anxious.   

Other more difficult parts in the build were generally those many occasions when works requiring at least two people had to be done 
by me, myself and I. My builder had been contracted to build the general shell and complete the electrics. The room was given 
a skim, the floor was laid and that was it. 
The wiring had been prepared in accordance with my design ideas and wires were left capped off for my as-yet-unpurchased wall lights. There were many occasions when I’d have to setup a pile of crates to hold bits in place whilst I joined wood and hung up MDF. Metal clamps were employed in bulk! The most depressing moment came when I entered the room, having loosely hung up the underside of a pelmet, only for it to have sagged overnight. 

Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed the process – I chose to work on my own. I wasn’t willing to share the process with anyone else. The elation I felt as each stage was completed was amazing and I’d do it again tomorrow.

If you did do it again, is there anything that you would do differently?

The one structural change I’d perhaps have made is the addition of a toilet. Either myself or guests often need to make the long march back indoors since the theatre is around 40 metres away from the house. The beauty 
is that I can pause a film if I need to!

Internally, I have had infinite thoughts on what I could do differently and have already upgraded. Added to the mix now are an ISCO II anamorphic lens, four-metre CinemaScope ratio screen, Sony VPL-HW50ES projector and a Darbee Darblet.

I had an issue with my original three-metre wide, 16:9 screen. Isn’t it just innate in our makeup to want to go bigger with everything in life? It just didn't seem big enough to me after a rare visit to my local plex. The four-metre 'Scope screen produces a greater level of 'wow factor' and a more involving cinematic experience without the dreaded black bars. 
3D is also so much more immersive with the larger screen.


As for the new projector, having demo'd it against recent JVC and Epson models, I settled with the Sony – it's super-bright and handles with aplomb the huge image it pushes out. 

The great thing with the ever-evolving technology, of course, is that there are constant advances and improvements in what's out there. Soon 4K will become the norm and I look forward to moving ahead with the times and technology, budget permitting of course!

What’s your current favourite Blu-ray?

I make a point of waiting for big movies to release on Blu-ray rather than visit my local cinema. I’ve broken the rules just three times 
in three years to date – more to prevent friends thinking I’m a socially-inept hermit. On at least two of those occasions I wish I’d waited for 
a Blu-ray release.

There have been a few movies which have reminded me as to what a complete privilege it is to have my own theatre. Most have typically been either action/sci-fi but I’ve also enjoyed non-action movies like The Social Network and the original Swedish The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, both of which were truly stunning on Blu-ray. Action flicks like Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and less popular movies like The Sorcerer's Apprentice also blew myself and my wife away.

How often do you use the room?

Here I’ll confess that the answer is ‘not often enough’. Probably three or four times a month if I’m lucky. Unfortunately, it's not always easy to make time with a young family to sit and watch a complete movie. 

Each occasion is, however, an event and memorable. For me there's nothing more pleasing than taking a big cup of cappuccino and some cake across to the theatre, clicking the macro on the remote and watching the electric curtains open, lights dim and the projector fire up.

Roughly how much did you spend on the project? 

The erection of the general build was costly. 
If I’d had a shell to work from – perhaps an old storage room or garage – I’d have saved lots of money. As it was, I had a very large garden which took ages to mow and a concreted-over patch that had been left bare for years before I’d purchased the property. 

Focusing on expenses once the shell 
was up I’d say the overall cost was less 
than £8,000. I was able to save a substantial amount of money having carried out the hard 
graft myself. 

I literally searched the world for bargains online. For example, my electric curtain track was shipped to me from China (with illegible instructions). The screen came via the Midlands from the US. 

To demonstrate the extent of bargains achieved, the wall lights as seen in the room were purchased at the grand rate of £1 each 
by selecting suitable items from a discontinued range. Everything within the theatre is operable from the comfort of an armchair, quite literally. Remote controlled main dimmers, which look amazing in a lush chrome finish, were sourced at just over £20!

What do your friends and family think of your AV passion?

Initially, both my parents and wife were very sceptical. They thought I was having an early midlife crisis and investing in a money pit. However, once complete they absolutely loved it. No one had entered the theatre for months whilst I laboured away – I did a huge reveal (in true DIY SOS fashion) and the look on their faces was priceless...

Cinema room kitlist

Screen: Four-metre CinemaScope ratio
Projector: Sony VPL-VW50ES with ISCO II anamorphic lens
AV receiver: Arcam AVR350
Speakers: Monitor Audio RS range
Subwoofer: BK Monolith
Remote: Logitech Harmony One
HTPC: Custom-built with Windows 7 Media Centre and 7TB HDD setup
Blu ray player: Sony BDP-S370
Games Console: Xbox 360