The Beginning

I moved into this apartment in March of 1997. The apartment has always had two conspicuous features.

The first is this space above the balcony:

And with some context:

As you can tell from these "before" pictures, I didn't exactly do a lot with it. Sure, it's a great place to highlight my extensive dust bunny collection, and the Skyy bottle looks kinda neat for a few hours of the day, but for the most part, it's a big huge space waiting to happen.

The next area of neglect is the loft:

It just occurred to me to try to calculate how much money I could have saved over 8 years if I had all that crap in a storage locker and rented a two bedroom instead of a two bedroom with loft, but part of the reason I've been living in Pasadena and commuting to Santa Monica for the last five years has been the 16' ceiling in the main part of the room. So no regrets there. But clearly, this is a space that was just BEGGING to be better utilized.

But for seven and a half years, with the exception of one party where I put all the food in the loft to try to encourage people to go up there, what you see in the pictures above basically marks as far as those spaces ever were used.

Then in 2004, two things happened to change all that.

The first event was that I accepted a job at Technicolor Digital Cinema. I've always loved movies, and I've always loved technology. I'd argue that the two were irrevocably entwined from the day in 1977 when I saw Star Wars for the first time (an event that almost didn't happen-- I was supposed to go see the movie with my Dad that day, but I did something to get in trouble, and he was going to cancel going. But he changed his mind, we went, and the rest is history. Interesting side note-- it's the only movie my father and I have ever seen together in a theater.)

Now I'd always been interested in electronics-- I remember begging for the early home-TV versions of Pong and the Telstar shooting games. Seeing Star Wars was like giving Jim Morrison the key to his own private distillery. I was endlessly fascinated with all the technology they showed, and from that point forward, was nuts about science fiction. I had to see Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rodgers, and when they showed the truly awful computer graphics (ever notice how every single Cylon ship got shot down in the same pattern?), I wanted to know how to make that happen. That lead to my eventual career in computers, which has allowed me to indulge in my high-tech toys.

Technicolor allowed me to put all that back together-- 18 years of fascination with technology, combined with a love of movies. But the greatest part about all this is that I was actually getting to learn the specifics of the technology behind the movie industry-- I always had a passing interest in how things evolved, and could quote some generic specs about the process, but now I was actually getting my hands right on the equipment itself, learning the specific differences between different pieces of hardware, etc.

As one of my college professors used put it, I now knew enough to be dangerous.

Cut to November 20th. Specifically, a New York Times article describing that two different manufacturers were releasing wide-screen LCD TVs that would compete against plasma screens. The real attraction to me was the resolution of the devices-- unlike most large TVs out there right now, which are around 1280x720, or some strange variation along those lines, these devices were 1920x1080. Meaning that they not only supported the highest level standard for high definition, they would make about the most bitchin PC monitor that you could imagine.

As much as I love movies, I haven't been as passionate about home theater. About every five to seven years, I get sick of what I've got, and start looking to upgrade. I went to DVD in '97, upgraded the TV from my 20" that I had since college to a 37" in '98, and somewhere along the way, dropped in a nice 5 channel surround sound system (no subwoofer, I try to be nice to the neighbors). In '03, I made the radical move to replace my VCR with a HTPC. But that's about it. Cable, DVD, and PVR. I tried at one point to go to satellite, but my apartment faces the wrong direction. No satellite + crummy cable company = no HD. With no HD, there didn't seem to be a big point to changing the setup.

Back to Technicolor. The project I'm working on basically involves the satellite distribution of HD video content (ok, commercials, there, I said it) to movie theaters. Now you've probably all seen demonstrations at the local electronics store where they try to show you the difference between SD and HD, but let me tell you that that's nothing compared to seeing a professionally produced HD clip projected onto a 20" screen in a private screening room, then comparing it with SD. I was sold on the concept, and when I saw the article on the LCD TVs, I decided that maybe it was time to upgrade again.

I started talking with one of my colleagues about it-- since he's probably going to read this, I won't go off at length talking about what a genius he is in this area, but suffice it to say that working with him is one of the greatest experiences and privileges that I've ever had. I'll learn more in an hour talking to him that I would during the course of an entire tenure at another job. He cut to the chase pretty quickly-- what was I going to want to watch on this thing. We quickly figured out that it was going to be two things: football and home theater. Based on that, he made the recommendation that kicked this whole thing off: get a projector. Cheaper than a TV, but with a bigger picture, and a much greater "wow" factor.

I know that it wasn't immediate, but at some point after that conversation, the idea hit me like your favorite cliche about ideas hitting you-- hang a screen above the balcony, drop a couple couches in the loft, and turn that whole space into a home theater.

Thus, this project was born.

Week One, November 28th: Sizing it up

The first thing I did was size up the space above the balcony. I knew that it was going to be large, so I had to figure out if I was going to be able to afford a projector that would both fill the space, and be bright enough to actually be worth watching. Breaking out the tape measure, I came up with the following:

Hmmm, 8' x 10', not too shabby. I should be able to do something interesting in there. Running through a variety of online calculations, I discovered that I could easily get a 120" diagonal screen in that space.

The next step was to find a projector that would fill the space. As luck would have it, on the 19th, ran a review of several new, high contrast LCD projectors. These projectors didn't have the same killer resolution of the LCD TVs, but they were cheaper and were going to throw a nice picture.

After reading a ton of online reviews, I decided that the Panasonic PT-AE700 was the right tool for the job. Great contrast, favorable reviews, and a street price that I could live with.

Now the only issue was getting that HD signal.

First, the obvious. Called Adelphia, sat on hold for 30 minutes, came up with the answer I expected to hear anyway-- no HD, no idea when it's going to be out there. I already knew satellite wasn't an option, unless I wanted to fight with my apartment building about it. Only thing left: over the air.

That's not the horrible option that it sounds like-- since HD is a digital signal, it's really a binary situation: you can either get the signal, or you can't. It's not like analog TV, where you sort of get the signal. And on this front, I was in pretty good shape-- a quick check of my location on confirmed what I already suspected-- those radio towers on Mt. Wilson are pretty darn close. 7.2 miles, and nothing between me and them. Getting an HD signal over the air should be a slam dunk, but before this went any further, I needed to know for sure.

Back to the web. I need an over-the-air HD receiver. I would have thought this would be a simpler search (and if I'd hit the home theater forums earlier, it would have been. Google is not always the shortest distance between two points), but this actually took a few hours of searching.

I wanted digital audio output, as well as digital video output, and I didn't need a PVR or satellite receiver built in. I was on the verge of settling on something that did satellite when I locked into the LG Electronics LST3510A-- it's a combination HD receiver and upconverting DVD player in one box. For those that aren't into this stuff, HD actually has a higher resolution than normal DVD, so as great as DVDs might look on a normal TV, they don't look as good as HD TV when viewed on an HD set. This box tries to correct the issue by taking the DVD output and ramping it up to HD levels.

Back to the online reviews, all pretty positive. Over to Froogle, and hey, Circuit City carries the thing for a comparable price to what I can get online. Call the store, they have one in stock. It's go time. I'll pick the thing up, see if I can get a signal over the air-- if I'm good, we carry out the plan. If not, I have 20 minutes in the return line in my future, time I can spend dreaming about the day that I get real cable. Will probably happen about 2 years after all that stuff moves online, I figure.

So I head to the store, and discover that the only unit they have in stock is in this box:

I tell ya, nothing screams "consumer confidence" more than a box that clearly made some enemies on the loading dock.

Figuring that the worst that can happen is that I open it up and discover something that looks like a dropped disco ball, I buy it. Never let it be said that I am not an optimistic person.

I knew from my online research that I would probably need a UHF antenna for this thing, but I'm hedging my bets-- I'm so close to the transmitter that I figure I could probably use NO antenna and get a signal. I had an old antenna kicking around from something-- for the life of me, I don't know if it's for TV or radio, and it's probably not UFH, but it's got the right connector on it, and it appears to conduct electricity. I dragged an monitor out of the office, hooked it up to the receiver, and hit autoscan.

Pay dirt. Over 30 channels found. The heck with getting HD for Los Angeles, I'm actually picking up San Diego on this thing. I think I might even be getting a couple Vegas channels on it-- there's a company called US DTV that buys unused HD signal capacity from local TV stations, then broadcasts an encrypted HD signal out over it. The upshot of this is that if you have their $99 receiver, purchaseable at Wal*Mart, and you pay them $20 a month for a decoder card, you can pick up the HD versions of some cable channels, including Discovery and ESPN, over the air. This is looks like a decent alternative to cable or satellite for HD, as long as you only want to see those channels, and don't want to have a PVR hooked up. While I'd love to get Discovery HD and the late ESPN football game, I don't think it's worth $20 at this point. Maybe if they build a receiver with a PVR and a digital output... They're also not officially in Los Angeles at this point, so I don't know if I got the "coming soon to L.A." signal, or the actual signal from Vegas. Hmm, according to Orbitz, they're only about 200 miles away. Remember what I said about digital signals and "you either get it or you don't?" :)

This was the point where things really gelled, as far as the project was concerned. I knew it was possible, and now it was time to build the thing. I decided to put a goal behind the whole thing in order to give myself some real incentive-- the grand unveiling of my new home theater: the 39th National Football Championship (more commonly known as Super Bowl XXXIX). That night, I sent out an Evite to basically everyone I knew, inviting them over for the game. Then I started to plot.

I put together the following list of things I was going to have to get done before the game:

  • Figure out what to use for a screen
  • Purchase a new audio system for the loft
  • Find some suitable couches for the loft
  • Build a platform for the couches so that people are looking over the railing, not through it
  • Clean the whole neglected mess up. Finally, as the last thing to get accomplished in Week 1, I placed the order for the projector. First place I tried had it for $50 less than everyone else, but they were out of stock. Canceled that, ordered again from a place that actually had it. It's easy to wait for delivery when you've got plotting on your mind.

    Week Two, December 5th: Who's going to pay for all this mess?

    First thing to settle on is the audio. I had to make one of three calls on this-- either move all my existing audio stuff to the loft, repair my old receiver that blew up while watching Ronin and get some new speakers to go with that, or just get a "home theater in a box" audio kit and be done with it.

    I killed the first option pretty quickly-- my PVR is tied into my existing receiver like Borg nanoprobes into a redshirt's nervous system. (I don't care if they now wear gold; if you die without getting a line, you're a redshirt.) I don't plan on using this setup for normal TV; SD signals are going to look better on the 37" downstairs than they will on the projector, and the more I use the projector, the quicker I'll kill the LCD panels and bulb. So re-purposing what I have already is off the list.

    Down to two options-- repair the toasted receiver, or buy a new setup. Now for those of you about to email saying "Jim, you probably just blew a 30 cent fuse! Go repair it!", I know that I blew a fuse. I know this because after I blew the fuse, I spent three days trying to find a replacement fuse. I finally got what I was told was the correct fuse, plugged it in, turned it on, and watched something else on the circuit board go up in smoke. Literally. So I know that there's at least two things broken on that receiver right now-- the component that fried, and the component that's sending too much juice to the rest of the board. I assume that this means getting a whole new circuit board for the receiver. Given that the receiver is at least 5 years old, I'm guessing that it's going to cost as much to repair the thing as it will to get a whole new one, and I'd still need to purchase speakers.

    Scratch option #2.

    Only one left: go buy a new one. I did something that I don't think I've done in at least a decade, if not more: I went to the Sunday paper, and pulled all the home electronics circulars, and started looking for home theater in a box packages. Amazingly enough, it worked-- I found the Sony HT-DDW660 in a CompUSA ad, of all places.

    Specs on this are so-so: it's got optical digital audio in, and all the usual Sony tweaks & preconfigured equalizer settings, but only a wussy 70W/channel, including the subwoofer (I figure that with the subwoofer in the loft, the neighbors below are less likely to suffer, so it's back in the mix).

    However, the reviews on Amazon are mostly positive, including a lot of references like "best system you're going to get for under $200," and "sounded better than my $xxxx system," so I figure I'll bite. At $200, so far this is one of the cheapest items in the whole setup, and how good does the sound really need to be for a football game anyway? I figure that it will be good enough to get to a point where the wallet has recovered from the beating it's starting to take.

    CompUSA is an interesting place.

    Didn't see the box on the shelf, spent 10 minutes waiting for a salesperson. Finally got one, he looks it up in the computer, says they have it in the back, disappears for another 5 minutes. Comes back, no box, claims he can't find it. Feeds me some story that it must be damaged, and that's why he can't find it. I immediately think about the receiver box. I tell him that the CompUSA web site said that the Monrovia store showed them in stock, and that I would head over there. Now that the guy realizes that I'm not just asking him to pull the box out of the warehouse so I can admire the packaging, that there's an actual sale at risk, he heads back into the warehouse, and appears 10 minutes later with the box. But he can't just let me take it to the register, he's gotta wait on line with me. Could have been worse, the guy in front of me was told that the printer he was buying had a $60 gift card that came with it, but in order to get the card, he had to return the printer, then buy it again. I considered myself lucky to only have to pay once for my purchase.

    Cut to the end of the list-- the neglected mess. As you can see from the 4th picture, I have a lot of books. A former co-worker once asked if I actually read all of them. Like I'd try to impress people by filling my bookshelves with paperback thrillers. Yeah, I get all the ladies with my extensive collection of Star Wars novels. Anyway, almost of that collection is sitting on the floor for lack of shelf space.

    First step in "Operation: See the Floor Again" is to get that stuff in book cases. Ok, the first step was really to get all those empty boxes out of the loft and into the trash, but the first significant step was to get book cases. Ikea is in the same complex as CompUSA. :)

    Editor's note: This page was originally going to be just pics, dunno when it turned into a diary. I need to drop pictures in here, this page is way too gray. But here come a ton for you:

    Wow, there is a rug under there. Scroll back to the top of the page to see what a mess this was originally. I'll wait for you to come back.

    You can see that most of the boxes are gone daddy gone. The remaining ones are mostly expensive wine my Dad had shipped to me that's being systematically turned into vinegar due to crummy storage. Sorry Dad. Apparently a wine fridge is now en route, and that was before he saw the pics.

    Now, let's look at what we're dealing with. Too much literature is the problem:

    And Ikea is the solution:


    (If you have iTunes installed, click here for some montage-viewing music.)

    Gotta sort things out...

    Rack em, pack em, and stack em.

    And the original is clean as well!

    So "Operation: See the Floor Again" has had a resounding first success. The only books in my apartment not in a case are the ones I'm still reading. However, work still remains:

    Ah, the problem kids. In that pile, you see a 486, three Pentium 133s, a Pentium Pro 200, a pair of Pentium II 166s, and the laser printer I bought in teh fall of my senior year of college, also known as 1991. The printer works, mostly. Two of the 133 mini towers should work, but until I decide to bite the bullet and relearn Linux, are worthless to me. Everything else is a boat anchor. I will get the stuff to recycling before the party.

    The Soloflex is another matter. When I used it, I liked it, but the leg extension never really fit right, and now that the thing is 10 years old, the bands are all dried out and snapping. I should probably put it on eBay or Craig's List and try to get some cash for it. Urk, $250 for a new set of bands. Maybe I can just replace the broken ones... or I can just try to move the leg extension kit, and keep the nice bench that's in my office.

    More technology that's past it's pull date. My dead receiver, a few dead CD changers, a pair of dead VCRs, and a dead Tivo. The boom box still kicks ass, though. I can at least feel a bit better knowing that a lot of that stuff isn't mine. Ok, not a lot. Some of it. Two things belong to others.

    The last of the stuff to get dealt with. First, the stack of books that ex girlfriends have left behind. That's the benefit of only dating smart women, they leave books and not makeup or something. Ladies, if you're reading this, you've got until the end of the year to put in your claim or the stuff is gone.

    The rest isn't as easily dealt with. Dad's wine won't be too bad, but I'll need to hold onto the boxes to bringing it back home to him. Most of those books are reference manuals for programs that don't exist any more, gone. Bed rails, off Craig's List or something (anyone need a queen size frame?). But the chairs will need a home, and I hate to part with the Star Destroyer box. Hmmm, when I finish this, I can display it upstairs, cool. Two birds with one stone.

    Well, if you're still reading, and not just looking at pictures, that gets us up to Monday. Yes, just Monday :) The one thing that really had me nervous about the whole project is seating. If you've ever been here, you know that historically, my taste in furniture sucks. The apartment is in bachelor black and white, and consists of a leather couch that is less than comfy, an Ikea futon that makes a much better mattress than a couch, a beat up Ikea chair that I hardly use, and the folding chairs in the picture above.

    But for this, I wanted to kick it up a notch. I wanted something that you'd look at it, and immediately say "wow, this is awesome." (Note: a few of you will say this just because I wrote that. I know who you are, and I'm keeping files on you.)

    But at the same time, I wanted a setup that was comfortable enough that you could sit there and watch every single DVD in the Matrix box set, and not need to see a massage therapist the next day. And since I just invited something like 90 people to a party at my apartment, I needed something that would hold a lot of people. :)

    I also knew that because of the railing issue, no matter what I put in, I was going to need to put it on some kind of raised platform-- I don't want to put all this time and effort into the project only to have every seat have an obstructed sight line. So armed with only those guides, and a vague idea that oriental rugs might somehow factor into the picture, I started looking.

    My folks gave me a reference to a company in North Carolina that cuts deals on furniture, but their web site just linked to other web sites. No easy online catalog. I saw one couch on one site that had a kind of explorer's club feel to it, which would also work with that whole oriental carpet idea. But it wasn't knocking me over. I ran through Ikea, and found a couch that was comfortable and big, but it was still from Ikea. A friend mentioned that she had been to some place in Carson that had "some funky stuff." Well, back to the net. Google search for funky, sofa, and Carson.

    I never found the site that she was talking about, but I did find the answer to my whole interior design issue. Serendipitously, it came from a web site called

    This sofa in particular jumped off the page at me:

    Her name is Marilyn. Could anything be more appropriate for a home theater?

    In one fell click, the whole loft takes focus. Art Deco movie palace. Two of those couches, on platforms. Cover the platforms with dark blue oriental carpets, run a dark skirt around the edges to hide the legs. Chrome coffee tables & lamps, maybe some red velvet curtains in the corners. All the electronics are already in silver. Hell, from what I can tell online, even the spiral staircase leading to the loft fits into the theme.

    This is looking like a slam dunk at this point. I pass the link around to some friends, and they all approve of both the couch and the concept. The price is under what I was planning on paying in the first place. Only one issue comes up: a friend points out that the seat depth is only 20". Same as my current less than comfy couch. Only one thing to do: test it out.

    Shift time ahead to Saturday. I break out the Vette and point it south to Carson. Allow me to just reiterate what a wonderful purchase that was. I hadn't driven her in about a month, and it was 80 in L.A. that day, so the top went down, the volume on the iPod went up, and we headed to South Bay to look at couches.

    It took a little doing to find the warehouse/showroom, which may have worked in my favor, because by the time I finally stopped driving past it, the owner of the company was out front and saw us pull up. He started to show me around, and I explained what I was looking to do-- he loved the idea, and started showing me all the stuff that he thought fit the theme.

    Being a rather observant gentleman, he specifically pointed out the bigger sofas, ie, the ones that a giant like myself would feel more comfortable on. I mentioned that I wanted to see the Marilyn, since it was the inspiration for the whole project. He immediately guessed why I wanted to see it-- the seat depth-- and said two things that were like magic to my ears.

    The first was that the web site was wrong, the actual seat depth was 22". Things are looking better.

    The next was that they could customize it to add another three inches to it.

    Needless to say, I pretty much had my checkbook in hand at that point. He showed me a similar sofa with the 25" seat depth, it felt great. We looked at the fabric samples, and the Lipstick SoftSuede looked and felt even better in person than it does online. I'm no art historian, but nothing says "art deco" to me like soft red fabric. I don't even care if it's not really art deco, it's going in my home theater. This guy was really on my wavelength, because he again addressed my concern before I asked-- yes, it cleans up easily.

    All that settled, he went off to put together the quote. Price came back with a nice discount and well below my budget. We talked a bit, and when he found out about my web design expertise, he started to feel me out on a project he needs a programmer for. As tempting as it was to try to cut a barter deal-- my couches in return for a new e-commerce web site-- I'm still not done de-stressing over my last job, and didn't want to take on the commitment. He understood, and with a promise that I'd have the couches before the game, I headed back to Pasadena.

    Cut back to Tuesday, and the list. The only thing that I haven't really worked on at this point is the screen. I knew from some tests that I ran over the weekend that I couldn't just throw it on the wall-- for starters, it's actually curved, so the image was going to be distorted. Next, the brightness was pretty low. It was watchable, but I work in Digital Cinema. This thing had to kick ass.

    I spent a fair amount of time looking at pre-packaged screens. Obviously, the coolest thing would be to have something electronic, so I could hit a button (preferably on a remote control) and have the screen come out of the ceiling. The "problem" is that I knew I could get a 120" diagonal on that surface, and I wanted it, but getting an electric screen that large was going to run another grand. I groused about this with my boss at work, and we debated just throwing it up on a white sheet. I figured I'd get back online and see what people had to say about that idea.

    This is where I finally found the home theater forums, and it became pretty clear very quickly that people didn't think too highly of that idea. However, I discovered almost as quickly that there's practically a subculture devoted to making your own screens. After a couple hours of reading, I was sold-- I'd build a wooden frame, stretch screen material over it, mask the edges with velvet, then figure out some way to get it up on the wall without completely losing my security deposit.

    The biggest problem here was finding the screen material itself. Most of the forums recommended blackout cloth, but I couldn't find the size I needed-- the screen will be 104" by 58", and the best I could find online was 54". Emails to fabric companies turned up no results either.

    I eventually stumbled on a post that pointed me to, featuring 110" wide screen material. Given how long it took for me to find, I want to put about a million keywords in here to help people find the place: blackout cloth extra wide screen projector diy home theater. There. I did my part. Anyway, I ordered 2 yards of it. Gonna be a little tight, given how I expect to make the frame, but I think that it's going to work. I'm planning on starting with just the basic material, and if it's not bright enough, I'll coat or paint the screen. Ironically, one of the sites that tried to exhaustively test coatings decided that Rustoleum worked better than all the custom products.

    Finally on Tuesday, the projector, which was ordered the previous week, was supposed to arrive, but I missed UPS by about 20 minutes. I took off an hour early on Wednesday, and this time, success:

    So now we hit the critical moment. I bust out the audio setup, because video without audio is weird, and wire the whole mess together:

    Then I fired it up. I took pictures, but they don't really convey how things look-- once I got a full HD signal, the picture was very sharp, with no visible screen door effect from the loft. (For the newbies, screen door effect is the result of projecting pixels-- you wind up seeing the gaps between the pixel sources projected onto the screen, and it looks like you're looking at the picture through a screen door).

    I flipped over to DVD, and ran through some scenes in Attack of the Clones-- as I expected, I wasn't getting a lot of contrast out of the dark scenes, but the bright scenes looked pretty darn good. The upconversion of the DVD player seemed to be doing its thing; the picture I was getting was comparable to the HD TV signal I was previously watching. I could see where issues were occurring, but it was extremely easy to just ignore them and lose myself in the picture. I had quite a few points where I would suddenly be taken by surprise when I would notice the piece of matt board that I put over the window in the wall-- my brain literally was either erasing the shadow, and when it finally forced it's way back into my brain, it was trying to make it part of the movie. It was only when it was clear that the line wasn't part of the movie that I'd remember that I was shooting the picture onto a screen that a drunk fratboy would reject.

    I messed with the projector settings for a while, and was able to clean some things up, but it was clear that I was going to need a screen, so I didn't bother tuning it. I did turn out all the lights in my apartment, which made an incredible difference-- now I was getting back my contrast, and the picture was jumping off the screen. Not sure how this is going to bode for watching football on Sunday morning, but it's pretty clear that movie nights are going to rock.

    Week Three, December 12th: Hit and miss

    Week started off pretty well-- football. I blocked out the window in the wall and closed the drapes, and hoped for the best.

    Turned out to be pretty good.

    Since football doesn't generally involve lots of really dark scenes where the contrast comes into play, even in my non-light controlled environment, the picture was still light years ahead of normal SD TV. And once it started to get dark outside? Just looked beautiful. Instant replay takes on a whole new life when you've got all that extra resolution to deal with. I even got around the lack of platform issue by using 4 folding chairs as a base, then putting another chair on those:

    Pretty white-trash, I know, but it beats standing or looking through the railing.

    The one thing this system doesn't do that well is video games, but that's really just a limitation of the game consoles. I had the PS2 hooked up to this, and was checking out GTA: San Andreas. Sadly, we only had the normal composite video hookup, not the S-Video one, and I didn't think to have the projector stretch the image, but it looked pretty weak. Playable, but still kinda week.

    Had a bit more success with the X-Box, although not in this room. My buddy Mike regularly organizes Halo nights where we hook a couple together and throw down. I dragged the projector over for a party on Saturday night. We managed to get a pretty impressive 100" screen in a fairly short space, and people were generally blown away by the way it looked, but again, we only had the composite video (tried to get the HD adapter so we could at least get 480p out of the game, failed. Don't trust Blockbuster employees who "think" they have it in stock. Go to a real store.), so I was seeing all the artifacts. Plus, we had 4 people on our setup, so by the time you finished doing all the math, it was getting fuzzy. But still better than the 27" TV that we might have been on :).

    After 5 hours of killing each other, we fired up the single player-- that looked much more impressive. After 10 minutes of watching Mike kill all his buddies in the initial stages, and laughing like the sleep-deprived maniacs we were, we packed it in for the night. Or morning, whatever you call it when you quit playing games at 4AM.

    Not much else to report for the week. Screen material didn't show up as expected, which means I won't be able to think about working on it until NYE weekend, which will kinda suck since I doubt I'll get much done on the 1st, particularly if I can't order supplies during the week.

    Did a bit of poking around for some art deco furniture. I think I need to make some field trips to some of the local art deco movie palaces to get some more ideas. I also need a place that makes knock-off art deco stuff. Yes, many of the lamps I found looked great, but I don't need the originals at $5000 a shot, thanks.

    I think on some of this, I'm going to need to actually get the couches here before I can move forward-- it's not clear if I'm going to have enough room to leave the bookcases up there, and if they move, the whole thing probably changes a bit. And I just moved all the DVDs upstairs...

    Week Six, January 2: Making up Lost Time

    Man, more or less nothing on schedule at this point. The week before Christmas, the big accomplishment was getting all the junk out of the loft. Unfortunately, it just all went into a big pile in the living room, so now the whole apartment basically looks like one giant hell hole. Actually, a hell hole would probably be an improvement at this point-- the place is well and truly a wreck. But that's easily fixed this week.

    Still no word on where the screen material is-- I guess they took last week off, because they didn't bother to answer my email about it.

    Now, on to good news.

    First off, got wood?

    Believe it or not, I hauled that whole mess, along with a circular saw/drill combo & a ladder in the back of my Prius. Ah, Hybrids. Is there anything they can't do?

    Actually, there is, and it's haul plywood. Had to rent a truck from U-Haul for that. Which was a pain, mainly because I forgot to get something to tie the sheets down with, and I had these horrible visions of plywood flying free from the back of the truck on the highway. So I guessed at how to get from Glendale to Pasadena on surface streets. Figured it out, but I don't think the fact that it was raining cats and dogs helped any. I figure that platform will eventually level out...

    First thing I did was put together the frame for the screen. Got busted in two places here-- first, I couldn't get 10' wood, so instead of one giant rectangle with a bunch of supports, I'm making two smaller ones and will attach them together. Second gotcha was that the store I went to didn't have 1x3"s, so I had to get some crummy 1x2"s that are designed to be hidden behind a wall. It worked, but I'm not completely happy with it.

    On the other hand, they forgot to charge me for it when I was at the store, and I discovered that the Home Depot has 10' 1x3"s in theory, so I might rebuild it if I don't like the way it looks when I get the screen material.

    Enough talking, on to the pics:

    This the left half of the screen. Or it could be the right. Either way, put two of those side by side, and that's how big the screen's gonna be. 9' wide. Oh yeah.

    Detail on the corners. Now that I think about it, that's probably not the best way to keep em square. Yet another reason to rebuild it.

    One half, finished. Eh. We'll see what winds up on the wall.

    The platforms for the couches went much better. It's pretty funny, I've been debating how high to make these things for over a month now, but it wasn't until I was talking about it with my mom on Christmas Eve that I realized that anything I put in was going to make it so that I can't stand up straight on the platform! 8' - 6'10" = 14". I've always figured I'd need at least 16", and I finally went with 18" in deference to my shorter friends.

    The first one finished.

    I made all the legs first, then attached them to the platforms. Was easier than trying to attach them after the fact, especially once the first one was done, allowing me to use it as a base for the other ones.

    Detail of the screw work. Those legs aren't going anywhere, trust me.

    First two done...

    And a front view. Eventually, that will all be covered with a black curtain. Or skirt. Or whatever you call it. Point is, you won't be able to see the legs once I'm done.

    Here's where I left off for the night-- three platforms done, one to go. Sadly, the book cases are going to have to come out. I'm 1" short. Maybe I'll try to take that inch off the plywood, but I think it's going to be too much trouble, and in the end, I'm losing 12% of my usable bookshelf space with the platforms in the way anyway. Of course, I've no idea where to put them in here if I move them from the loft-- I just lost all my storage space!

    At this point, I'm a bit ahead, in some respects. The platform wasn't supposed to be done until Saturday, and at this point, I've got about an hour of work left. Should be able to kick that out on Monday night. The rest of the week is going to be spent cleaning this whole mess up, but hopefully I'll get to the screen material in and can kick that out, and I'd like to resolve what I'm doing with the audio as well. But really, if I get my living room back, I'll be happy at this point.

    Week Seven, January 9: A Stitch in Time

    Two big accomplishments for this week. First, I finished the platforms. I had no idea how much that wall curved until I tried to fit my rectangular platforms into the space:

    Ew. Compromised by angling the platforms so that they more closely followed the curve of the wall. Going to get interesting when I finally put the rugs on there. Here's the finished product:

    See that nice big gap on the right? That's how much of an arc is in that back wall. Silly funky apartment building designers. Curves are for hot chicks on Sunset!

    In order to make this all fit, the bookcases had to move downstairs. Ironically, for such a large apartment, with the loft taken up with the theater, I was left with only two places to put the cases, one of which I already had earmarked for a photo gallery. So they had to go into the bedroom.

    The look is growing on me, but I think that the book-related dust might be making my cold worse.

    The rest of the week was quite a departure from the previous two. The power tools went away, and I made a trip to the fabric store to pick up some skirt material.

    I should have taken pics, but I busted out a power tool that I haven't used in quite a while-- my iron. Instead of actually sewing everything up, I cheated and used that iron-together stuff. Looks like it worked pretty well, and I probably saved quite a lot of frustration with the sewing machine.

    Starting to tack it all on.

    I thought about making the pleats with a couple quick stitches with a needle and thread, but why bother?

    Yay for electric staple guns.

    And the final product in all it's glory. I'm really happy with the results, although I should have never given the cats such a great hiding space. Poor things will never see the inside of a vet's office again.

    Week Eight, January 16: You've Got Mail!

    Lots and lots of stuff happened this week. Just about all the remaining construction projects are now done, thanks to a few timely postal deliveries.

    On the same day, I received (finally) the screen material, the surround speaker stands, and the audio rack. This gets me down to just needing to get rugs, tables, and lamps, and I'm officially done. Or as done as I need to be, anyway, I'm sure I'll be playing with this for quite a while.

    Anyway, let's get started. First, in unison everyone: nice rack!

    Way more than I wanted to pay, but I really like the way that it looked, particularly since I think it's going to fit in with the coffee tables I'm looking at.

    Next, speaker stands:

    Nothing too amazing. I liked the glass bases.

    And finally:

    Tossed the original frame, picked up some 1x3"s, started over from scratch. Stretching the screen material was a bit of a pain, although not as much of a pain as getting the masking straight. I still need to put some work into tightening it up. The speaker wire was also pretty annoying-- wound up getting three spools of speaker wire, used tiedowns to bind it all together, then strung it up. Don't like the way it looks, but don't think there's any way around it.

    One thing that was a little disturbing to discover-- it looks like my existing wall was actually higher gain than the new screen:

    Still looks pretty good, but I suspect I might be spending some time with a can of spray paint in the future.

    At this point, I'm essentially functional. I need to wire up the surround sound speakers, but I want to see the couches & tables first. Couches should be here this week. Rugs will come after I see the couches. Tables after I see both of those :) With three weeks left to go, I'm feeling good.

    Week Ten, January 30: Over the staircase

    Well, this was pretty much the end of the work-- first, on Monday, the rugs arrived:

    For $26 each, they're pretty good. On Wednesday, the couches arrived. Had to help the delivery guys get them up into the loft, but I'll give them a lot of credit-- they only flinched a bit when I explained what they had to do. As it turns out, my friend Chantel dropped 15 minutes after they delivered the couches, and even in it's 90% complete state, she still reacted exactly the way I was hoping-- absolutely blown away.

    On Thursday, I picked up some black floor mats from Home Depot, then cut em up to fill in the spaces on the platform that the rugs didn't cover:

    I also finally got around to putting all the junk I had to get rid of on Freecycle-- for the cost of about 10 minutes time online, and having to sort through a whole stack of email, I was able to get almost everything out of my place in one fell swoop. Very nice.

    Finally, on Friday, I made what's hopefully the last round of purchases. First, a new lamp for upstairs:

    I wish it didn't have the reading lamp thing, because it almost exactly matches a '30s art deco lamp I saw online.

    Next, a few end tables:

    Ah, Ikea. I was hoping for something chrome, but I couldn't find anything locally. No doubt I'll upgrade them at a later point.

    The last thing that I did was to drag out some of the old free junk I got from X10-- I now have the big lamp on a remote for on-off, and can use a dimmer for two smaller lamps, if I wind up going that route.

    I'll put up pics of the final thing after the game, I don't want to spoil the surprise for anyone who's coming.

    The last thing I had to do was finish cleaning up my apartment-- I still have some touch-up work to do, and some junk to take to Goodwill next weekend, but for the most part, the place hasn't been this organized in years. I must have tossed 100 pounds of junk over the last two weeks. I also finally gave in and got some decent storage stuff for all the computer bits and pieces that used to live in boxes, so hopefully things won't degenerate the their previous state again.

    Everything from this point out is simple-- order food, buy snacks & drinks, enjoy the game!

    COMPLETED: February 5, Updated 2 years and 3 months later...

    Yes, it's taken over a year to get the final pictures up. Part of the problem was that I forgot to take pics during the game. The bigger problem is that all the pictures I've taken in the meantime fail to really capture the effect that you get when you come up that spiral staircase and see the thing for the first time.

    Almost univerally, the reaction has been the same as Chantel's the first day that the couches showed up-- people just can't believe what they're seeing.

    I've had two Super Bowl parties in here so far-- the second one had at least 15 people in the loft, mostly sitting on the platform watching when we ran out of couch space. Movie night is beyond description. In the last few months, we've really kicked up the digital cinema efforts at Technicolor, and even though I work with absolute state-of-the-art equipment in some of the best conditions for seeing movies, I'd still rather curl up on my own couches to catch a flick. I can just imagine how much better things might get when the format wars are over.

    I'll let the pictures speak for themselves:

    And some shots of the cable management in the rack:

    I've got just about everything I could ask for. I need to lose Dad's wine fridge and replace it with a beer fridge, and I could use some better pillows, but otherwise, it's all good. Remote control for the lights, WiFi for the laptop, either for managing my fantasy football league during the season, consulting IMDB on movie night, or for streaming Battlestar Galactica off the DVR downstairs. The cats LOVE it-- they're either crashed on the couch or hiding out underneath the platform.

    All in all, a great project that still makes me happy every time I use it.