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Screen Gems

Although prices for home theater technology are plummeting, there are those for whom budget is no object. Here is a trio of Southern California's most tricked-out cinema paradisi.

September 26, 2004|Barbara Thornburg

The owner of the Italianate seaside villa--Lee Perlman, an admitted audiophile and chief executive of New Age Electronics--set no limit on his budget and simply requested "the finest picture, best sound, best environment and comfort," says Keith Willis of Santa Monica-based Innovative Theatres. Working with business partner Jon Heberling and Los Angeles interior designer Mark Enos, Willis helped create a yacht-like Art Deco home theater with Queen Mary opulence.

They started from scratch. The mostly subterranean storage room adjacent to the garage had two structural columns and a long beam running the length of the room. "We couldn't move them," Enos says, "so we designed other columns and pilasters to incorporate them as design elements in the room." To add drama to the columns, Willis outfitted the custom stainless-steel capitals with fiber-optic lighting. Colors cycle from yellow to cobalt blue, creating accent lighting evocative of an old movie palace.

The theater contains three tiers of luxurious seating flanked by a pair of elevated galleries. Two oversized golden-hued mohair love seats and matching ottomans sit closest to the screen. Directly behind, four faux alligator-embossed armchairs recline and, when needed, lift electronically and set the occupant on his or her feet. "Good for friends who have imbibed too much from the nearby wine cellar," says Perlman, laughing. A pair of curved 9-foot sofas form the last tier. They are backed in polished makore (African cherrywood) with ebony accents, mirroring the room's millwork.

A champagne bar is in one corner, adjacent to a smoking area that Perlman, who has since sold the house, calls "the peanut gallery." It overlooks the main theater and features a trio of chairs that face a built-in table, making it a good place to dine. Wireless 5.1 Sony surround-sound headsets allowed Perlman to enjoy a cigar while watching a pair of Sony video monitors at the end of the corridor.

To keep cigar smoke out of the main theater gallery, Willis specified an industrial-strength "evacuation blower," which, he says, is "similar to the kind you might find in a supermarket frozen-food section."

Nestled between the first and second rows in the center of the theater is the room's technological piece-de-resistance: a pair of Vidikron Vision One CRT high-definition projectors that work together to create an extraordinarily bright image quality. Roughly the size of a Cessna airplane engine, they cost about $50,000 each and weigh about 210 pounds each--a tough design challenge. Coupled with the Faroudja digital video scaler, which improves resolution to high-definition quality, the Vidikron system has the most film-like quality of any CRT projector available, Willis says. "It gives the light amplitude for a bright, clean, life-realistic picture."

To balance the acoustic tone, compressed fiberglass panels wrapped with transparent fabric are scalloped across the ceiling. "The sound goes up and gets trapped and then absorbed," Willis says. Side walls are covered with polyester batting topped with a velour-like acoustical fabric. The floor is poured concrete topped with wool carpet, "which allows the subwooofers to sound as designed without being influenced by the floor and construction materials," Willis says.

Some of the sound-system's speakers are obvious, and others are hidden. The fully displayed side and rear channels of the 7.1 JBL Synthesis Two speaker system guarantee a more dynamic sound field. "So when a bomb goes off in a movie, it sounds like it's all around you rather than coming from a single point," Willis says.

Front speakers, on the other hand, are hidden behind stretched black fabric in the proscenium. The covering prevents ambient light from reflecting back to the audience, Willis explains, which makes for better viewing.

Directly behind the 118-inch-wide Stewart Filmscreen, a small closet holds DVDs, CDs and other program material. The "electronic brain" is to the left of the screen, mounted in exposed metal racks. Its control panel operates the functions of the theater as well as the sound system throughout the home's 24 zones, allowing the owner to play satellite music in his bedroom or listen to talk radio in his bathroom. Four Sony satellite receivers, a Denon DVD player and a laser disc player are also controlled from the panel.

Although this was a theater sans budget, Willis says that "with the falling prices of the technology, there is a home theater at a price point to suit nearly everyone these days. You really don't have to be a millionaire."

But for couture theaters, it helps. The systems described in this section, including only the audiovisual components, range from $100,000 to $300,000.


Consultants: Keith Willis and Jon Heberling, Innovative Theatres

Room size: 25 by 40 feet

Ceiling height: 8 feet

Screen: Stewart Ultimate Four-Way Masking Filmscreen (118 inches wide, 66 inches high)

Video projectors: Vidikron Vision One

Speakers: 7.1 JBL Synthesis Two

Touch-screen controller: Crestron VT-3500


Resource Guide

Keith Willis and Jon Heberling, Innovative Theatres, Santa Monica, (310) 656-0065. Mark Enos, Enos + Co., Los Angeles, (323) 655-0109. Stewart Filmscreen Corp., Torrance, (800) 762-4999, JBL Synthesis speakers, (516) 255-4525, Crestron touch-screen controller, (800) 237-2041, Lutron lighting control, (888) LUTRON-1, Vidikron Vision One video projector, (888) 4-VIDIKRON, JBL surround-sound processor, (516) 255-4525. Faroudja video processor,

OTHER RESOURCES: Trade associations include Custom Electronic Design & Installation Assn.,; National Systems Contractors Assn., Reviews: Motorized drapery/window treatments: Solar Shading Systems, (800) 432-7526, Custom lift and mechanical elevator systems: J & R Engineering, (818) 842-3393.

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