Reader's cinema: 'I want a big screen!'

How a visit to a local multiplex inspired a own home cinema project

This cinema setup is the pride and joy of 37-year-old Brian Campbell. An accountant living in Northern Ireland, Brian says he got his first proper hi-fi when he was 12 and has been an AV addict ever since...

When did you decide to tackle your own cinema room? 
My project to convert my loft room into this was started in Christmas 2012. I was fortunate that the largest cinema screen in Ireland was built less than a mile away from my house, the Antrim OmniMaxx. I went to watch The Dark Knight Rises and was blown away – the screen was huge, wall to wall, floor to ceiling. It was during that epic movie that I thought it would be amazing to try and replicate that at home – my own personal IMAX – so I did it. 

I knew that to have such a large screen I needed to be aware of the viewing-distance-to-screen-size ratio but with 4K on the horizon, I knew that the technology would soon support that. I got three projectors head-to-head – the Sony VPL-VW85, the JVC DLA-X70 and the JVC DLA-X90. Naturally, the high-end DLA-X90 won the battle with its amazing contrast and 4K e-Shift upscaling. The image is so contrast-rich, and with e-Shift engaged a large screen and close viewing distance is not a problem. 

I have the Sony VPL-VW500ES 4K projector on my radar and will be viewing it soon when I fly over to Kalibrate Limited in Surrey. It won't have the inky blacks of the JVC  – that I know already – but if it can make improvements in other areas then I'll certainly give it strong consideration. The JVC DLA-X90 is holding up fine right now! 

So how big is the projector screen?
It's positioned along my sloping ceiling and it's over 60sq ft. When people ask me screen size, they are used to talking inches but I talk in square feet! It's basically wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling. As planned, this has created the effect I was after. You are totally absorbed in the viewing and that’s just 2D. When watching 3D, because the screen starts on the floor, its almost like a portal into another world – on some scenes it feels like you could just get up off your chair and walk into the movie – totally surreal!

It's a custom D.I.Y. screen, built to the exact dimensions that my room will allow, and uses milliskin spandex. When I demo the Sony 4K projector I'm going to look at some different screen materials (Enlightor, Center Stage XD and Screen Innovations). With such a large screen, the challenge is to find a material that retains decent light, shows little or no sign of moire or other artefacts, has little or no viewing cone, and retains good sound dispersion.

What other kit is in your system?
I’ve paired the JVC projector with the Onkyo TX-NR3008 AV receiver, which has the HQV Reon-VX chip that is pretty decent. This upscales my Sky+HD 1080i images to 1080p very well and then the JVC takes it to 4K with e-Shift. This pairing gives Sky HD a sharper and more solid-looking presentation, and sports and movies look so much better with this combination – an absolute must see!

I also have a Darbee Darblet in the video chain which adds a very nice sharpening/contrast enhancement to my images, without overcooking it or causing ringing – not the most well-known device but very big in America. So it’s a pretty impressive video chain, and I also do my own calibration and have various sensors for ensuring my image's colour, gamma and brightness are bang on, to get me the best image possible.

The Blu-ray player is a Panasonic DMP-BDT320 and I’ve also got a 3TB NAS drive for storing my movies. My media player is the 3D Mede8er 600x3D. I also have an Xbox 360. Most of my games are 3D-capable as that’s how I like to play – so much more immersive. 

All these devices are hooked up to my network. My router has an extender switch box for extra ports as I like to have everything connected via LAN. My home automation of choice is LightwaveRF and I can control my lights/sockets, etc, from anywhere in the world. The LightwaveRF also connects to my iPad Roomie Remote app. This a lot simpler to set up than others, such as iRule, and non-professionals like me will find it much easier to integrate without the need to employ an installer. And, because all my kit is in a separate room, I need the iPad to control everything and Roomie Remote does a brilliant job. The Mede8er media player is also a great piece of kit and I can use my iPad to scan through all the covers of my BDs. Then it's just a click and it's playing on screen.

What about the audio side?
The speakers are the Special ‘W’ edition Focal 800 series for my front three – Focal 816W floorstanders and the Focal 800CCW centre speaker. These are hidden behind the screen. My Onkyo receiver allows front height speakers so after the front left/centre/rights, I have two Linn Komponent 106s for front heights and another pair for the surround channels. The Linn Komponent has the Linn 2K array tweeter so effectively each speaker has two tweeters (along with the additional driver). This works well for the 'effects' speakers; the Linns deliver every nuance with a lovely sense of clarity and space. My subwoofer is a REL Q400e – 400W continuous power but with loads of headroom to reach 1,000W when required for impact moments. More than enough for my room size!

Those seats look comfy...
They're dedicated cinema seats from El Ran, (imported from Canada) with electric recliners and mandatory cupholders – the front three are 11ft from the screen and the back chair, (the ‘Directors Chair!’) is about 15ft from the screen on a custom-built riser. 

It's not the biggest room but it goes to show that with new technology you can have a high-quality largescale cinema experience in even a modest-sized room like mine – as long as you know how to get the best out of your equipment, of course. 

The lighting is all controlled via iPad – LED mood lighting and normal spotlighting as well. I’ve quite a lot of blackout velvet around the walls and ceiling as this supports reflection reduction and gets me higher contrast. I've also built a hushbox (which I’m calling an 'incognito' box) for my DLA-X90 projector as it makes it almost inaudible. And because it's blacked out, you wouldn’t even know it's there.

How often do you use the cinema?
I'll watch Champions League football matches and all the major golf tournaments by myself or with friends (The Masters in 3D is the next best thing to being at the tournament!). For films, it's about two movies a week with the kids and maybe one or two grown-up flicks.

What are your current favourite discs? 
For 3D, Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2. These are great kids' movies and the 3D is amazing. Reference adult disc for 3D is The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. With my calibrated JVC PJ, the deep blacks, rich colour and 3D effect is spectacular.

My reference 2D discs are Skyfall, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (astonishing contrast and deep blacks) and Art of Flight. The latter is a snowboarding movie and is made with high-grade 4K RED cameras. The helicopter panoramic views of the snowy mountains with these wonderfully sharp images gives a sense of scale (and a bit of vertigo!) when watching at this size.

Overall, though, my favourite disc has to be Tron: Legacy. The thumping Daft Punk soundtrack matched with the high-contrast images from my DLA-X90 gives everyone a 'jaw hits the floor' moment every time. I'm sure I'm not alone in saying Tron... is a feast for the senses!