The first room you see when you descend the stairs into A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge is the SHAG Tiki Room Theatre. This basement space has evolved since I first created it in 2006, when we built our house. Not just the furniture and decor, but the audio and video as well, which is the heart of the home theatre experience. Here are the mileposts of that A/V system evolution.
Before we even moved into our house, the idea of a basement home theatre was planted in my head. We were visiting our friends Melissa and Eric one night, and Eric showed me the projection TV they had in their living room. The picture was amazing! I clearly recall watching a college football game, and in a camera shot from behind the one end zone, I could make out the writing on the shirts that the people in the opposite end zone were wearing. Oh yes, I had to have this set-up in our new house under construction.
I remember Eric telling me that he regretted not having a basement in their townhouse. He said he could never get it dark enough in their living room to see the projected image well. This was okay for sports, but for movies, especially with any prolonged dark scenes, it wasn’t good enough.
Fortunately, we were building a house with a basement, so this wouldn’t be a problem for me. My wife and I made a deal before we moved in: she had the final say on all décor above ground, and the basement was all mine. There were three things I wanted in my basement: a tiki bar, a train room, and a home theatre.
With the rough layout of my home theatre room sketched out, I went to work on the components I needed. I already had the right audio system (for now), so I went to work on the projection TV. This required two things: a projector and a screen. Both of these items were still pretty expensive in 2006, but I managed to find a close-out deal on a Sony Cineza LCD 720p projector for $1300 (MSRP was $3500!).
Next I looked at projection screens. These were also ridiculously expensive, but I found a reasonable alternative, thanks to the internet. Somebody had posted plans on how to make your own screen out of firm wood (4”x1”), flat black paint, and black-out liner cloth for drapes. I had to stretch the cloth out using the same technique for stretching an art canvas, only in reverse (behind the wood). Another internet tutorial and about $67 in materials later, I had crafted my own video screen: 8’ wide by 5-1/2’ tall, or 110” on the diagonal. That’s a big TV screen!
The one hitch I encountered was with the wall where I planned to hang my screen. It didn’t show up on the house plans, but this basement wall was where the water meter was located. D’oh! Undeterred, I just built a wall about 2 feet out from the foundation wall. This was the first of many walls I’ve erected over the years in finishing off this unfinished basement. In retrospect, this turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as it was much easier to mount a 110” diagonal screen on a wall made of lumber and drywall than it would have been to drill into concrete! And the area behind this wall makes for nice storage space.
With the screen in place, the last thing I had to do was hang the projector. With the wall being 2 feet farther out than planned, I had to adjust the location of the projector to get the right image size on the screen. Fortunately, the exposed ceiling beams made this an easy fix. The projector hangs right above my dual recliners, about 12 feet away from the screen. At last, we had an operational big-screen TV in the Tiki Lounge!
Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound.
As I mentioned earlier, we were in good shape with the audio sound system when we first moved into our new house. With a Yamaha RX-V793 receiver, we had the capacity for Dolby 5.1 surround sound, which means 5 channels (left-center-right-left rear-right rear) plus a subwoofer. What we hadn’t had previously was the proper space to fit the two rear speakers. No problem now, as I had laid out the basement space to put two speakers on stands behind the main seating area. I even found two Advent Mini II speakers to use as the rear speakers. I just love the look and sound of old Advent speakers! All of our speakers in the Tiki Lounge were Advents at this point, including the center channel and subwoofer.
Dolby 7.1 Surround Sound.
Naturally, it took another visit to a friend’s house to realize that we were missing something in our home theatre system. I was at my friend Dennis’s house one day back in 2010 when I saw the nice system his son Denny had put in for him. It had 7 speakers (plus the subwoofer)! Three in the front, two in the rear, and two on the sides. I did a little research and realized that this was the new surround sound standard: Dolby 7.1. It was time to upgrade our old receiver.
Enter the Yamaha RX-V567. I don’t know why the number went down sequentially, as this was a newer receiver that was equipped to handle Dolby 7.1 surround sound. Now I just needed another pair of speakers to mount on the sides of the room. Breaking from my tradition of using Advent speakers, I found a pair of cool-looking Tiki speakers online. These would work great in the Tiki Lounge, and since the side speakers handle very little sound, I wasn’t worried about their sound quality. Mounted on the wall next to 6” bamboo poles on either side of the room, they look and sound great!
3D Projection TV.
There were two mileposts in the evolution of the SHAG Tiki Room Theatre that were effected by a piece of software. Here was the first. The Disney animated film Moana was released in November 2016. I saw this much-anticipated movie twice in the theatre, both times in 3D. I cried both times! When the home video was released in early 2017, I bought it on Blu-ray disc, including the 3D version. Only I had no way to play it in 3D.
So now came the next major upgrade: 3D home theatre. To accomplish this, I needed three things. First, I needed to upgrade the firmware in my now 7-year old receiver. Fortunately, the Yamaha RX-V567 was “3D Ready,” but upgrading the firmware to make it “3D Capable” was a tricky thing. It wasn’t as easy as upgrading a computer, but after 5 pages of instructions and some trial and error, I figured it out and got it done.
The next thing I needed to do was upgrade the projector. I had been meaning to do this for a while, as the projector I bought back in 2006 was only 720p resolution, and the current standard was 1080p, with 4K on the way. Yes, I had gotten a good deal on the old one, but fortunately, prices had plummeted in the ensuing decade. I managed to find a highly-rated Optoma HD142x 1080p projector for around $500. Talk about a good deal! This new projector was much smaller, lighter, with higher resolution, and could handle 3D.
The third thing I needed was to upgrade my blu-ray player to one that could handle 3D discs. For this purchase, I pulled double duty, as I wanted a player that could also decode SACD, DVD-A and Blu-Ray audio discs. You see, I also started getting into 5.1 surround sound audio mixes at this time, and I wanted a player that could handle all of these. Through a little research, I found the Sony BDP-S6700 that could do all of this. For $99. Who says good home theatre has to be expensive?
Oh yeah, I almost forgot: we needed 3D glasses! I bought 4 pairs of active DLP link shutter glasses that are rechargeable, so I never have to worry about batteries. I just have to keep them charged before watching a 3D title. Now we were ready to watch Moana at home!
Dolby Atmos 7.2 Surround Sound.
The second piece of software which has inspired the newest evolution in the SHAG Tiki Home Theatre is a most unlikely title. A Charlie Brown Christmas from the year of my birth in 1965 is one of my all-time favorite shows, in large part because of the amazing soundtrack by the Vince Guaraldi Trio. Just before Christmas of 2022, that soundtrack was re-released in a special 5-disc set, which includes a Blu-ray disc with the original album remixed in Dolby Atmos surround sound. This led me down a new rabbit hole of spatial audio so I could figure out what Dolby Atmos is and how to make it happen!
So, now I needed to upgrade my home theatre system to handle this new spatial audio format. This would require two things. The first was a new receiver. It had been almost 13 years since the last upgrade, so we were due. I did some research on new Yamaha receivers that handle Dolby Atmos inputs. What can I say, I’m brand loyal, and have good luck with Yamahas! The new ones were pretty expensive ($850 and up), so I found a deal on a discontinued model that was Yamaha factory refurbished. For $450. With a free 3-year warranty.
Besides cost, the other reason I chose the older model was because it still had some of the older A/V inputs I need to hook up things like our old VCR. I don’t often play VHS tapes, but when I need to, it’s nice to know I still can.
The second thing I needed to complete this upgrade was another pair of speakers to mount in the ceiling. Here’s where a funny story with serendipity comes in. My friend Tom, one of two audiophile geeks I know, had a gift for me. The last time we played cards together, he brought me a pair of old Advent Mini speakers he no longer needed. Tom remembered that I was a big Advent fan, and it was very kind of him to think of me. I immediately replaced the Advent Mini IIs I was using as the rear surround speakers with these older models. They were a better match for my system, aesthetically speaking. Which means I now had an extra pair of speakers sitting around, doing nothing.
Two speaker mounting brackets, terminals and wiring later, I now have these Advent Mini II speakers back in action. They are hanging from the ceiling, mounted directly to the exposed rafters. One of these days I’ll get around to finishing the basement ceiling, but for now, I’m glad I haven’t yet. With these “Front Presence” speakers in place, we now have 9 total, plus a subwoofer, providing the soundtrack to the newly upgraded SHAG Tiki Room Theatre.
Epilogue: Star Date 01.07.2023.
I don’t know where this audio/video odyssey will lead me next. Hopefully it will be a few more years before the next upgrade! Today, I can begin enjoying new content in Dolby Atmos spatial audio. Oh, the places you’ll go…