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If Your Stream Looks Bad, Don’t Blame Netflix

If Your Stream Looks Bad, Don't Blame Netflix

We all take for granted that buying a better video display will result in a better home cinema experience. Ditto speakers and sound processors and amps and control systems and so on. But for some reason, even in an era where streaming has pretty much taken over as the dominant source of AV entertainment, we talk about services like Netflix as if the hardware delivering them doesn’t really matter.

 

This realization has been at the forefront of my mind recently, as I’ve had discussions with videophiles on Facebook and in the comments section of Home Theater Review about the quality of the streamed video experience. Even folks with roughly the same internet speeds as me, similar quality home networks, and comparable displays seem to be watching a wholly different Netflix than the one I enjoy.

 

This absolutely baffled me for the longest time. My first inclination was to write it off as pure bias. Or maybe even ignorance. But then I started asking about a variable we videophiles rarely discuss when we talk about streaming: “How, exactly, are you accessing Netflix?” (By the way, I’m using “Netflix” a bit like “Kleenex” here, as a synecdoche for high-performance streaming

video across the board. You could just as easily plug in your high-quality streaming service of choice, be it Vudu or Amazon or what have you. But none of this necessarily applies to lower-quality streaming apps like CBS All Access, etc.)

 

What I found is that almost none of the commenters who bemoan the quality of Netflix watch it the same way I do, via Roku Ultra. Some use cable or satellite boxes. Some rely on the smart apps built into their TVs. Some even have their laptops plugged into their TVs via HDMI.

 

This makes a difference. Way more than you would think. Way more than I would have ever imagined until I actually sat down for some exhaustive comparisons between the exact same Netflix programming streamed to the exact same display.

 

The first thing I discovered is just how substantially different loading times are between devices. I did all of this testing on my 75-inch UHD TV, installed just above my credenza, which houses my Roku Ultra, Dish Network satellite receiver, Kaleidescape Strato, and my other AV components. All are plugged into the same enterprise-grade, gigabit Cisco network switch, and as such have access to the exact same level of connectivity. If you’re a numbers nerd, you can check the “Netflix by the Numbers” sidebar below for a breakdown of exactly how long it took each device to load the Netflix app (after a hardware reboot), begin playing a title, and reach full UHD resolution and full bandwidth.

None of the above is even slightly shocking. What was shocking, though, is just how different Netflix looked via these different devices. Cueing up my recent favorite, Our Planet, I couldn’t help but notice that via the app built into my smart TV, this gorgeous nature doc looked a bit less gorgeous. A bit smeared. A bit noisy. A good bit less refined. A closer inspection of the screen revealed the cause: Numerous video compression artifacts, pretty much right in line with what all of the streaming detractors have been hollering at me about on Facebook.

If Your Stream Looks Bad, Don't Blame Netflix

Switching inputs to the Roku Ultra—again, via the same network connection—I was a little staggered to discover a complete lack of compression artifacts. Ignore, by the way, the subtle swirling bands of brightness fluctuation in the image below. Those are a result of moiré, a misalignment of pixels between my TV and the digital sensor in my cell phone.

 

Ignore too the slight softness in the upper row of leopard spots. This frame is from about half a second later than the one above, and as such the cheetah is moving a little faster, so there’s some motion blur. Also, don’t focus on differences in color—my smart TV’s integrated Netflix app is delivering the program in Dolby Vision, whereas my Roku Ultra only supports HDR10, but the camera in my smart phone can’t capture the gamut of either format. This image was also taken a few inches away from the TV, so what you’re seeing is a tiny fraction of the screen, blown up way larger than life-size.

If Your Stream Looks Bad, Don't Blame Netflix

But I think what’s clear here is that via the Roku Ultra, Our Planet’s image is virtually artifact-free. (As I mentioned in my review of the program, the only compression artifact I could find in the series’ entire run, at least from any reasonable seating distance, was about a second-and-a-half of very minor, almost imperceptible color banding in one early episode.)

 

I sent a series of images to colleague Andrew Robinson, since he and I have been discussing the geeky particulars of compression a lot recently. He immediately started poking holes in my methodology, at my request.

 

“Are you using the same picture profiles?”

 

Yup.

 

“Are you letting the smart TV buffer up to full resolution?”

 

Uh huh.

 

“Is your Roku running through the video processing of your AV preamp?”

 

Nope. I bypassed my preamp and ran the Roku straight into HDMI 1 on my TV.

 

I’ve done my darnedest to think of any reason why the same UHD/HDR program would look so rough via one streaming device and so flawless via another connected to the exact same network switch in the same room, running the same

streaming service from the same account. The only thing I can come up with is something Andrew touched on in his most recent piece about compression: HEVC (aka H.265), the video codec Netflix uses to deliver UHD/HDR, is very processor intensive. The cost of shoving such high-quality video through such a small pipe is that it makes the device on the playback end do a lot of heavy number crunching. And if those numbers can’t be crunched quickly enough, the results look a lot like the top screen shot above.

 

My guess here is that my Roku Ultra has the horsepower to deliver Netflix practically flawlessly, whereas my smart TV simply doesn’t. (And as gorgeous as the TV is with native 4K video, its middling performance in upscaling lower-resolution video to 4K is further evidence of this. That’s why I use my AV preamp to upscale video.)

 

And look, none of this is intended to be an advertisement for Roku. It may be my streaming player of choice because it consistently delivers the best performance for the streaming apps I use most. But I haven’t tested every single media streamer on the market to compare their video quality. (As our own John Sciacca has reported, though, even the highly lauded Apple TV 4K sometimes struggles on the audio front, and Andrew reported anecdotally in our most recent conversation that he noticed a significant improvement in video quality when he switched to Roku.) Nor do I have a representative sample of smart TVs to confirm that all of their built-in Netflix apps render such poor video performance.

NETFLIX BY THE NUMBERS

A nuts & bolts comparison of different streaming devices

 

I started with a simple load-time test, to see how long it would take for Netflix to launch to the user-select screen via devices that had just been powered up. All of these numbers are, of course, influenced by the speed of my internet connection (500 mbps) and the quality of my home network.

 

Roku Ultra  3.05 seconds on average from the time I selected the Netflix app until it loaded to the user-select screen

 

Dish Network Hopper DVR  4.41 seconds on average

 

Smart TV  22.38 seconds on average

 

I then selected three different Netflix programs (Our Planet, Love, Death + Robots, and Test Patterns) and ran numerous tests to find the average time it took each device to start playing the program after it was selected.

 

Roku Ultra  3.20 seconds on average, from the time I pressed Select until the program started playing

 

Dish Network Hopper  9.64 seconds on average

 

Smart TV  13.15 seconds on average

 

Lastly, I cued up the Test Patterns again, specifically the pattern labeled “YCBrCr 10-bit Linearity Chart: 3840×2160, 23.976fps.” This test gives you a bitrate meter at the top of the screen, and also displays playback resolution, which let me gauge how long it would take each device to reach full bandwidth (16 mbps) and full resolution/color bit-depth.

 

Roku Ultra  Played at UHD 10-bit immediately, although it did start at 12 megabits per second and took 4.15 seconds on average to report full 16 mbps bandwidth

 

Dish Network Hopper DVR  Switched from 1920 x 1080 resolution to full 3840 x 2160 resolution after 15.62 seconds on average, and took an average of 46.26 seconds to reach full 16 mbps bandwidth

 

Smart TV Took 47.18 seconds on average to switch from HD to UHD resolution, and didn’t reach full 16 mbps bandwidth until an average of 142.54 seconds into the stream

All I can say for certain is that the device you use to access Netflix and all of the other streaming services you subscribe to does matter. And it matters way more than I would have predicted just a week ago. Simply put, if you’re streaming Netflix in your luxury entertainment system and notice that the picture isn’t up to snuff, don’t blame Netflix. Start pointing your finger at the device you’re using to access the app.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

The Lower Cost of Luxury

The Lower Cost of Luxury

Ed Gilmore in front of the Planar video wall in his midtown Manhattan showroom

Of all the radical changes happening in home entertainment, maybe nothing is having a bigger impact
than the unprecedented drop in the cost of reference-quality gear. We’ve already established on Cineluxe
that the once unassailable gold standard of the movie theater no longer pertains. The best possible
entertainment experiences are now happening at home. And not only has the quality of gear improved by
leaps, the cost of entry for a complete luxury system has tumbled just as dramatically.

 

But it’s not clear if most people understand how much has changed, and how fast. Today bears little
resemblance to five years ago, and the next three to five years are poised to bring vast changes in home
entertainment that will make today’s innovations seem hopelessly quaint.

 

Wanting to get a perspective on all this from somebody who spends every working day on the luxury
frontlines, I recently sat down with Ed Gilmore, founder and owner of Gilmore’s Sound Advice in midtown
Manhattan. Ed’s high-end clientele is, knowingly or not, at the very epicenter of the entertainment
revolution, and his vast experience in the installation world gives him unique insight into the changing
cost of luxury.

—Michael Gaughn

 

 

Michael Gaughn  What would a typical luxury system have come in at five years ago, and why?

 

Ed Gilmore  Five years ago, we were putting in Runco projectors that were in the vicinity of $40,000, and as much as $100,000. Even today, you’d pay close to $50,000 for a three-chip 1080p projector with a decent anamorphic lens. But you can get a great 4K laser projector for about $30,000, which is definitely a big drop.

 

For people who want to put together a home theater for, say, $30,000 all in, they have a wide variety of choices from projection companies. And they’re not horrible projectors by any stretch of the imagination. SonyEpson, and Wolf Cinema

have laser projectors that are less than $10,000. You can even get a decent projector for $7,000. That’s a huge change.

 

MG  How big will you go with a flat-screen TV?

 

EG  I won’t go bigger than 85 inches. I won’t do 100, because the delta becomes just too big.

 

MG  Do you consider that a media room at that size?

 

EG  Yeah. That’s not a home theater. I don’t think anything with a flat screen is a theater, sorry. Some people want to put a 100-inch TV in there. But if I’m going to put an LED or OLED that big in a room, you’re going to spend at least $60,000, so why wouldn’t you do a projection system?

 

Plus, you have a huge piece of glass sitting in your room. And there’s no way to locate the speakers properly behind that. It’s a compromise.

 

Besides, there have been big improvements in projection-screen technology over the past few years. Before, you had 

to be in a man cave—more like a bat cave, actually—but we’re now seeing decent results with ambient-light-rejection screens, decent enough where people can have a projection system in a room with windows, maybe with solar shades on them, maybe with lights dimmed.

 

Screens are less expensive, certainly, and projectors are plummeting in cost. As for receivers—you can buy a pretty darned well-equipped AV receiver for $1,700.

 

MG  Do you spec any disc players at all?

 

EG  Very rarely.

 

MG  That would be pocket change anyway, right?

 

EG  I think the only one out there that we’d consider a premier brand is the Pioneer Elite.

 

MG  But five years ago that would have still been standard equipment.

 

EG  Absolutely. Now you don’t need it. I mean, everybody is streaming one way or another.

The Lower Cost of Luxury

One of the home theater demo rooms at Sound Advice  (photo by Gusto Multimedia)

MG  It’s amazing how quickly discs died.

 

EG  Yeah. Streaming has really brought the whole world of entertainment to people at their fingertips, for better or worse.

 

MG  You’ve even got YouTube offering great-looking 4K—even 8K.

 

EG  Absolutely. We’re just seeing a huge change in terms of that kind of content availability. And it’s gotten cheaper and cheaper as well.

 

MG  So what’s the typical pricing for a luxury system today?

 

EG  A lot of components are no longer necessary, right? So, if you’re talking about a Kaleidescape and Apple TV, some type of a video and audio processing, then amplification and speakers, and of course, whatever choice you’re using for your video display, you can have a system for as little as $30,000, $35,000 now.

 

MG  That’s with control?

 

EG  Control, add another $1,500 to $2,000 max. If you then move up the ladder to say somewhere between $60,000 and $75,000, that’s a quantum leap actually. Then beyond that . . .

 

In our showroom we have Steinway Lyngdorf speakers, a Barco projector, and a Stewart screen with dual masking. So I have a room right now that’s about $175,000 all in, and it’s a phenomenal experience. I don’t think I could have possibly done that

five years ago. Back then, we were talking about a quarter of a million, easy. That’s a substantial drop in price.

 

MG  If somebody comes in and says, “I have Apple TV,” or, “I’ve got Sonos—or I’ve heard about Sonos,” what do you do to get them out of that paradigm where they think that’s somehow the ultimate?

 

EG  If you’re fortunate enough to be able to demonstrate the difference, that’s the easiest way to do it. With 

music streaming, it’s really difficult to get people who have only experienced Sonos off of it. It’s almost kind of its own cult. But if you can play Spotify or Pandora for them and then play Tidal MQA, they clearly hear that difference. And once they hear that, some of them—not all, but some will say—“Oh my God, I had no idea.”

 

And you can play exactly the same clip—whether it’s a concert or a movie—on an Apple TV and a Kaleidescape, and people will not only see the difference, they’ll hear it as well. And the people who are discerning will say, “Absolutely, let’s do this. Let’s do Kaleidescape. I get it.”

 

But in no way, shape, or form do you say it’s Kaleidescape or Apple TV. It’s always going to be, “I’m going to have Apple TV and Kaleidescape.” I use Apple TV when I want to watch something on Amazon Prime or Netflix or YouTube. But when I want to watch a movie, and it’s something I really want to see, I download it and watch it on Kaleidescape. There’s just no other experience.

MG  Is there still the perception that Kaleidescape is only appropriate for the most expensive installations and Apple TV is OK for everything else?

 

EG  Yes, because Kaleidescape used to be so high priced—$30,000-plus.

 

MG  The first unit was $35,000, wasn’t it?

 

EG  $35,000, yeah. That was a big ticket item for people. And it could go up 

Sound Advice’s work for this Central Park apartment features a completely
concealed home theater with a dropdown screen, a projector firing from
a porthole in the wall, 5 invisible speakers, and a subwoofer vented from
a closet 
 (photos by Gusto Multimedia)

from there. But now with the Strato at much lower price points, it’s really not a home theater until you have one. You can put a great projector and great surround sound system in. But if you’re not feeding it the best possible quality content, it’s like having a really wonderful car and giving it the lowest-grade gasoline. If a client’s already invested even $35,000 in a system, what’s another $7,000 for the 12-terabyte Strato S?

 

Let’s face it, five, six years ago we were putting $30,000-plus Kaleidescape systems in. Some systems were coming out to $50,000, $60,000 by the time all the storage was done. Now we can do the same thing for five or seven grand.

 

MG  How big is movie collecting a factor in all of this? Because when you rely on streaming, movies disappear all the time. You really don’t own a collection then.

 

EG  If you’re going to purchase a movie, and it’s going to cost you $28 or $30 to buy it in a 4K HDR format, then you’re making a commitment. It’s not a huge commitment, but you’re making a commitment to something you want to see time and time again. You’re also expecting that you’re going to see it in bit-for-bit resolution. I think that’s a wonderful trade-off. It’s affordable, and anybody who cares enough about that experience will say, “Yeah, this actually has value.”

 

If you look at the Kaleidescape experience from five years ago, we had clients who were buying discs and then ripping them into their system. And then there was that period with Blu-ray where you had to buy the carousel to do it. I think people lost interest in doing that. Plus it kind of defeated the whole purpose of having a server.

 

So, when you could start downloading Blu-ray, there was a little bit of a shift in terms of the value. Then the prices started coming down, and the Movie Store became accessible. I think there’s a lot of excitement about Kaleidescape now.

 

The biggest difference between now and five years ago with me and my clients is that you had to justify making a $30,000 investment. It was easier for people to say, “I’ll just buy a disc. I’ll have a bunch of discs.” Then there was Apple TV. So, “We’ll

rent a movie instead of buying it.” It’s much easier now for them to wrap their heads around the fact that they can start building a collection of their favorite movies, movies they want to see with their family and friends.

 

My clients aren’t necessarily making huge decisions about something that’s four digits anyway. I mean, they’re making $100,000 decisions, or $1 million decisions. They’re not making an under $10,000 decision. That’s just not part of their M.O.

 

MG  Can you think of anything else, when you’re spec’ing stuff in, that still carries a similar stigma?

 

EG  Control systems. There’s nothing inherently wrong with them. There never was. But a lot of people feel badly scarred by their experiences.

 

MG  It all hinged on the competence of whoever was doing the programming, right?

 

EG  Yeah. The client may have not had any real say, in terms of that engineering. Or they might’ve been ignored. Because let’s face it, when you’re creating a program pretty much from scratch, you’re going to put your own things in. You’re going to have it somewhat templated, and it may not jibe with what the client really wanted.

 

On top of that, you have a third-party control system. You’re trying to control components that have zero standardization, and that’s a recipe for frustration. People don’t like being frustrated. So that’s something where we have to push back all the time.

 

MG  What do you tell people is the current state of control, based on whatever their past experience was?

 

EG  Most of these systems are now app-based. So they already have those instruments in their hands. Whether it’s an iPad or an Android device they’re carrying around with them, that’s what they’re typically using to control the system. Remote controls still exist, especially for video

rooms. We think it’s a good idea. And in some cases, touch panels still exist.

 

But even the prices of these things have really plummeted. So you’re not talking about a $60,000 to $80,000 investment for a control system anymore. You’re talking $5,000, $6,000.

 

But even if a control system doesn’t cost a lot of money, the first time something doesn’t work, the client starts to question the wisdom of that investment. So if you’re talking about equipment that’s reliable, there’s this little thing called Kaleidescape that always works. It’s bulletproof.

 

MG  With Apple TV, Roku, or whatever, you don’t have system monitoring going on.

 

EG  Not at all. You’re in the dark with it. But Kaleidescape is really proactive when there’s an issue. They’ll let us know—we’ll know on our extranet, then get email notifications, telling us what condition that equipment is in.

 

Apple TV, you’ll get a client calling saying, “I have a spinning wheel here, and I don’t understand what’s going on.” You know how that usually translates, right? “I get the spinning wheel—I hate the whole system.”

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs,
couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

Dead to Me

Dead to Me

In Netflix’s new original series Dead to Me, nothing is quite as it seems. Even the show itself isn’t exactly what you might glean from a casual viewing of the Netflix teaser. You think it’s going to be a show about a grieving wife who lost her husband in a violent accident and is trying to move forward with the help of a support group—and especially another grieving woman that she meets there.

 

Perhaps you tune in because you love the two female leads, Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini, and you think it’ll be fun to watch a sharp-edged show about two middle-aged woman who suddenly find themselves single and must help each other navigate grief, dating, parenthood, etc.

 

You’ll realize before the end of Episode One that Dead to Me plans to tell a different—and much more interesting—story. And if you’re at all like me, you’ll be instantly hooked and burn through all 10 half-hour(ish) episodes in a weekend.

Dead to Me

One thing that does meet expectations is the performances, as both Applegate and Cardellini are a joy to watch. But the real credit goes to show creator Liz Feldman and the writing team for giving them such great stuff to worth with. This kind of story could easily slip into a stereotype: “One is hard and angry. The other is sweet and quirky. Don’t they make a wacky team?” But both characters are fleshed out with depth and believability. Yes, Applegate’s Jen has a hard time keeping her anger in check, but she’s written as a real woman, with a real vulnerability underneath that helps her remain the sympathetic heroine.

 

Dead to Me is presented in Dolby Vision or HDR10 with a Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack. I streamed it through my Apple TV to an LG OLED TV, and the picture quality was excellent. The show is meant to have a very natural, everyday look, so there’s nothing particularly stylized about the cinematography. But the image is clean, colorful, and razor sharp, and the many Orange County, CA landscapes provide some nice eye candy. It’s beautifully lit, and the HDR just serves to reinforce that, be it through bright patches of sunlight streaming in through windows or the flicker of a firepit’s flames against the dark night sky.

 

Dolby Digital Plus is just fine for this type of dialogue-driven content. Your surround speakers and subwoofer won’t see much action here, although there is some effective LFE use in certain key scenes.

 

I must admit, I’m not sure if Dead to Me has the legs to run many seasons without the story devolving into absurdity. But I thoroughly enjoyed Season One, and I look forward to seeing what surprises Season Two will throw our way.

—Adrienne Maxwell

Adrienne Maxwell has been writing about the home theater industry for longer than she’s
willing to admit. She is currently the 
AV editor at Wirecutter (but her opinions here do not
represent those of Wirecutter or its parent company, The New York Times). Adrienne lives in
Colorado, where she spends far too much time looking at the Rockies and not nearly enough
time being in them.

Cold Pursuit

Cold Pursuit

If the plot of Liam Neeson’s latest action/revenge thriller Cold Pursuit seems a bit too much like déjà vu, don’t be alarmed—you aren’t losing your mind. This is a remake of the 2014 Norwegian film Kraftidioten, which was renamed In Order of Disappearance for its release here in the States.

 

I say this because my wife and I spent most of the movie with back-and-forth, “We’ve totally seen this right?”

 

“I mean, it feels like we’ve seen this already. Are you sure we didn’t see this?”

 

“Oh, yeah. I totally remember that part. We’ve definitely seen this.”

 

But, of course, we hadn’t seen this yet. We were just remembering Disappearance, which we’d rented from Netflix years back. That film starred Stellan Skarsgard in the lead role of Nils Dickman, replaced here by Neeson and renamed Nels Coxman—see, totally different.

 

Neeson, of course, is a man known for having a particular set of skills and a guy you definitely don’t want to piss off . .  especially when it comes to his family. But those skills in this case include being awarded Citizen of the Year for being the primary snowplow driver for the Colorado resort town of Kehoe, where he’s responsible for keeping the main route in and out of town cleared and passable.

 

(You might also recall this film from the uproar over some of Neeson’s racist comments during the promotional tour.)

 

I have nothing against remakes, especially when they offer some new, different, or updated take on something. The Magnificent Seven, both the 1960 original—which was a “remake” of Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai—and the 2016 Antoine Fuqua version, which featured a ton of modern star power, is one example. The Clooney-Pitt redo of the 1960 Rat Pack vehicle Ocean’s 11 is another. These films both brought a different vision to the source material, especially considering that 40-plus years had passed.

 

But sometimes remakes can just seem gratuitous and solely for the sake of grabbing more money, and that’s how Cold Pursuit feels. Perhaps even more surprising is that the same director, Hans Petter Moland, made this version barely three years after the original. It’s clear Moland had nothing new to say, just a different set of actors to work with. While this isn’t a (near) shot-for-shot remake à la Gus Van Sant’s 1998 Psycho dud, it lands awfully close to the original.

 

Now, that’s not to say that Pursuit is a bad film, or that it isn’t fun to watch, especially if you’re going into it fresh. The movie has plenty of action, and a dark comedy streak à la Fargo that will delight many and helps ease some of the more violent scenes. Neeson handles his role of Coxman convincingly—a father who can’t believe his son died of a heroin overdose and then accidentally discovers he was actually killed by a drug cartel. Coxman works (i.e., “beats and kills”) his way up from the bottom of the drug gang, seeking revenge until he ultimately reaches the man at the top.

 

The story has some nice twists, a decent amount of action, and a clear plot that is easy to follow. Sure, we have no idea where Coxman acquired his fighting skills, but, heck, it’s Liam Neeson doing what he seems to do best, and multiple similar roles have conditioned us over the years to just go along for the ride. (Also, unrelated, but a nice bit of trivia, Pursuit features

stars that bookend the current Star Wars franchise: Neeson from Episode I: The Phantom Menace and Laura Dern from Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, playing his wife.)

 

Filmed in ARRIRAW at 3.4K and taken from a 4K Digital Intermediate, I expected Pursuit to have a ton of detail and a razor-sharp image. And, well, I was a bit surprised to find it really didn’t. Images are clear and totally free of any noise, but they rarely revealed those ultra-sharp micro details the finest transfers do. There’s almost a softness to some of the long shots and background images, which looked more like a 2K upsample. Closeups don’t disappoint, showing a lot of detail and texture in fabrics and the weathering of Neeson’s face.

 

What does work especially well here is the HDR, as much of this film takes place in bright, snowy outdoor scenes. These pop off the screen, and a well-calibrated TV will reveal lots of detail in the snowbanks and mountains. There are also numerous nighttime or dark indoor scenes with deep, clean blacks, and pops of bright lights and color.

 

Don’t expect an over-the-top, reference Dolby Atmos soundtrack, as the height speakers are used pretty sparingly. But, there is some full, deep bass, particularly 

Cold Pursuit

in the opening, and the outdoor scenes feature some nice ambience to expand the atmosphere of your listening room, as well as some good directionality in the gun battles. Dialogue is also clear and intelligible.

 

If you’re going in fresh, there’s no question Cold Pursuit is the better-looking, better-sounding, higher-budget version of the two. But Disappearance was better received by critics, garnering 86% at Rotten Tomatoes versus Pursuit’s 69%. At only $19.99 in 4K HDR from the Kaleidescape store, it certainly qualifies as a candidate for a fun night at the movies. Or you can download Disappearance as well for only $13.99 and then compare them for yourself.

John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Compression Revisited

Compression Revisited

an example of the compression artifact “banding”

If my last post made it seem like I hate compression in all its forms, you’ll have to forgive me. The simple fact is, without compression, there would be no digital video. All video is compressed. Period. Usually at the point of capture, then for exhibition at movie theaters, then again for home video. Even movies or TV shows shot on film are later transferred to digital for post production and compressed. There is no way to have a moving digital image of any kind without some form of compression.

 

For years, most popular digital video formats and capture devices have used H.264 compression. You don’t need to know exactly what H.264 is or how it works. Suffice to say, it’s been with us for a long while now, and it’s time in the spotlight is 

running out. Why? Because we’re moving ever faster towards needing video that maintains H.264’s quality, but with much better efficiency.

 

Enter H.265 (aka HEVC). While the similarity in naming to H.264 suggests there’s not a big difference, H.265 is an entirely different beast and the next frontier in compression.

 

So why are we, or am I, suddenly talking about the AV industry’s most boring topic? Well, because of Game of Thrones naturally. What, did you think I was going to ramble on about a Starbucks cup? No, compression is a big deal now because winter came and for a lot of folks it didn’t come with a very spectacular view! Suddenly the whole world cares about compression, even if HBO and the show’s creators would rather blame it on our lack of calibration. (Don’t get me started.)

 

You see, compression not only allows for digital video to exist in the first place but  also allows for so many of us to enjoy it all at the same time. So when a lot of people all decided they wanted to see some dragon porn at precisely 8 p.m. on the same Sunday night, it took a fair amount of compression to make that happen. Why?

Because digital video files are huge—not to mention complicated. Not like, “Oh, you attached a big file to that last email,” but rather, “Damn, you know I don’t have unlimited data on my cellular plan!” They’re actually even larger than that. In many ways, we’ve long since taken digital video for granted, because prior to the Battle of Winterfell, the only people who really griped about compression were AV nerds like me.

Compression Revisited

For what it’s worth, even most AV nerds misrepresent compression. To give you an idea of what I mean, here’s a comparison between the amount of data it takes to deliver a 4K HDR stream via Netflix (or similar services) compared to the amount of data that UHD Blu-ray discs and your local cineplex deliver.

 

Most nerds will tell you (ignorantly) that the line between unacceptable 

garbage and perfect quality video falls somewhere between the bottom line and the middle one. That argument looks sort of silly, though, when you compare all of the above with truly uncompressed 4K video (see the chart below). The difference between the most and least compressed digital video you as a consumer can access is minuscule by comparison.

Compression Revisited

Again, this isn’t a conversation most people are having. But when everyone’s favorite cousin-f’ing dating show suddenly looks like The Lego Movie, well, people notice.

 

Mind you, as I indicated in my last post, I’m not saying there’s no such thing as too much compression. As we saw with Game of Thrones, you can reach the breaking point of any codec. But it’s not anyone’s fault. You see, we’ve only had digital video in a

meaningful way for a very short time. While digital video has existed since the ‘80s and ‘90s, it didn’t really become the standard until the early 2000s—which means we’ve covered a hell of a lot of technological ground in a very short time.

 

H.264 has been a godsend for digital video both at the capture and exhibition levels. But it does have limitations—not in quality, mind you. Believe it or not, H.264 is robust enough to handle even 8K-resolution files. No, H.264’s limitation is that for as compressed as it is, it actually doesn’t compress enough, so one of two things has to happen. Either you need to compress the files right up to their limit so more people can watch them on demand—thus the GoT debacle—or two, you need a new compression scheme. That’s where H.265 comes into play.

 

H.265 doesn’t really promise to do anything better than its predecessor, except retain the same or better quality but at a quarter of the size. That is all great news. But to get the same horsepower from an engine one quarter the size, you need to do some tweaking—or in this case, some fairly substantial computing.

 

As a result, not everything in today’s modern AV eco system is H.265 equipped, or compatible. Moreover, not every modern camera has H.265 capabilities despite being so-called state of the art.

 

In other words, we find ourselves in a bit of in-between state, a mixed bag of both H.264 and H.265 content and capability. That’s why, at the moment, Netflix can even rival silly spinning discs when it comes to picture quality, whereas other streaming providers, like HBO Go or HBO Now, can end up looking awful while eating up the same amount of your internet data.

 

The good news is that we’re marching ever forward toward the full-scale adoption of H.265—which, in theory, should make something like that disastrous Thrones episode a thing of the past. But until that day comes when we’re all able to get on the same page, more and more of us may have to come to grips with compression and why it is both the lifeblood of digital video and its achilles heel.

Andrew Robinson

Andrew Robinson is a photographer and videographer by trade, working on commercial
and branding projects all over the US. He has served as a managing editor and
freelance journalist in the AV space for nearly 20 years, writing technical articles,
product reviews, and guest speaking on behalf of several notable brands at functions
around the world.

“Game of Thrones” Sheds Darkness on the Real Issue

"Game of Thrones" Sheds Darkness on the Real Issue

Hey, did you rage tweet after Episode 3 of Game of Thrones because, well, you couldn’t see it? Did you blame the filmmakers and HBO for an experience that was tantamount to trying to watch porn at 3 a.m. through lines of static like when you were a kid? Did you?

 

We’ve all come to the same conclusion in the weeks that have followed, and that is that compression is the villain here, not HBO, not TV manufacturers, and, of course, not us the viewers. It’s compression’s fault. To which I say good. I’m glad this happened because maybe now we can have an honest conversation about the issue of compression.

 

I feel like I’ve been stuck on an island these past 15 or so years, droning on about compression while the rest of the AV world ran full steam ahead into HD, then 3D, and now 4 and 8K. HD, 4K, 8K all sound sexy, and like the exterior of a car they’ve

marketed to get your ass in the showroom. So, if 4K is the body, compression is the engine, and, well, she’s a two-cylinder with some rather old horses under the hood.

 

Nothing makes or breaks a digital video presentation more than compression. Before those physical-media stalwarts start typing See, I told you so, may I remind them that their precious silver coasters are compressed to shit just like the rest of today’s digital video feeds. Now, I can hear them saying, Yeah, but discs are less compressed. True, but the argument is weak, for discs can vary wildly in their levels of compression (just like streaming). Moreover, no one wants your silly discs, so it’s all moot.

 

Getting back to the topic at hand, compression and streaming (i.e. the video format that will ultimately “win”). Presently most video is compressed using the H.264 format, which back in the day was fine—hell, it was great!

 

But when H.264 revolutionized digital video, it mostly had to contend with SD content and all that it entailed. Now, that same compression scheme is being pressed into service in a radically different world. It is because of compression that the promise of 4K—hell, HD—has been curbed over the years. Did you know the HD spec encompassed 10-bit color and a larger color space too? These are not 4K-exclusive selling points, but rather bits of information and performance left on the AV battlefield due to compression and our collective digital eco-system being unable to handle the demands of more.

 

So, what did we do?

Naturally, we gave poor old H.264 more to choke on, because no one understands compression, only what it looks like. They don’t want to accept why it’s happening, they just want to be mad at it. Thankfully H.265 is here, and is slowly being adopted, only it’s very hardware/processor intensive, which makes it expensive to implement.

 

H.265 promises higher quality at lower file sizes. For example, if 1 hour of content using H.264 comes to 4 GB, then H.265 should give you equal or better quality but with a file of only 1 GB. These are not exact figures, but rather an illustration I hope is easy enough for everyone to understand. With smaller file sizes, the hope is that it’s then easier for feeds to stream faster, further, and with more consistency, thus resulting in (hopefully) a better viewing experience. Of course this is all predicated upon the notion that the hardware at either end can do some of the heavy lifting itself, as H.265 is more complex than H.264. Thankfully we’re getting there, and will ultimately get there in the end. It just takes time.

 

So the next time you turn on Netflix or HBO Go and watch whatever drama turn into The Lego Movie, don’t get upset. Know that it’s happening because once again, we demanded to run before we learned to walk.

—Andrew Robinson

Andrew Robinson is a photographer and videographer by trade, working on commercial
and branding projects all over the US. He has served as a managing editor and
freelance journalist in the AV space for nearly 20 years, writing technical articles,
product reviews, and guest speaking on behalf of several notable brands at functions
around the world.

Why We Don’t Deserve Day & Date

Why We Don't Deserve Day & Date

John Sciacca has been on a tear as of late with respect to breaking down the nitty-gritty behind day & date film releases. For those of you who don’t know what day & date is, in a nutshell it refers to the ability to watch the premiere of a film in your home the same day it hits theaters. Simple. Now, John tackles the subject from a rather logical place—price. Only he makes the mistake of asking enthusiasts–you know, people like you and me–what we’re willing to pay for it. An overwhelming majority who took John’s survey replied that they would be willing to pay between $25 and $49 for the privilege of enjoying a day & date release in their home. Fifty-five percent of those surveyed said this.

 

Fifty-five percent of enthusiasts are bald-faced liars. Allow me to explain.

 

At $25 to $50 a pop, enthusiasts are basically saying that they want to enjoy premium content in their home for less than what it costs to travel to a specialty location in order to have a premium experience. (Throw out the argument that every theater experience is premium.) The fact that enthusiasts are willing to pay less for more is, well, not shocking at all! Had there been 

an option to pay under $25, that would have won. Because enthusiasts want to have their cake and eat it too, as well as be allowed to walk out with the silverware, dishes and linens, if they feel like it.

 

Asking an enthusiast of anything what they think something is worth, and you’ll get a rather lopsided answer–one that clearly favors the enthusiast and to hell with everything and everyone else. This is why day & date continues to stumble, despite its eventual eventuality. Studios are willing to provide day & date to the one percent, but what industry the world over doesn’t bend over for the one percent?

 

Truth is, enthusiasts don’t deserve day & date. Sorry. They’ll get it, and sadly they will still find a way to bitch about it too. The current state of content delivery is better than it has ever been, with more choice and quality at our fingertips than ever before. Entertainment is instant . . .  and cheap! But say “streaming” to an enthusiast, and brace yourself. Say “UHD Blu-ray and physical media are dead” to an enthusiast, and watch as their head explodes. Say “Netflix is raising its prices $2 a month,” and watch them rage.

So if enthusiasts can’t be happy with what we have currently, what makes us think they will be happy with day & date? It likely will never be cheap enough. And if it is, it won’t be 4K enough, or possess the billion point two billion channels no one has but demands, and so on and so forth. If day & date is to be a reality, it’s coming via streaming, and if you have an issue with streaming, DRM, or what have you now, hang on to your hat ‘cause ain’t no way Disney is letting you watch Endgame without some hefty assurances.

 

Day & date is coming like a freight train in the night. There is no stopping it. The proof isn’t in the starting of all these cottage businesses pushing expensive players to the one percent; the proof is in the diluting of the time window between theatrical and home video release. In the old days (circa early 2000s and before), the minimum window was 120 to 160 days. That’s four to six months from the last date of theatrical release to when a film was allowed to be put on sale for home viewing. Now, that agreed-upon window is 30 to 45 days. It will be down to 7 to 10 days inside of two years. And at that point, you’ll have day & date.

Andrew Robinson

Andrew Robinson is a photographer and videographer by trade, working on commercial
and branding projects all over the US. He has served as a managing editor and
freelance journalist in the AV space for nearly 20 years, writing technical articles,
product reviews, and guest speaking on behalf of several notable brands at functions
around the world.

The Bridge on the River Kwai

The Bridge on the River Kwai has never been a great-looking film. I mean, at least not in my lifetime. Whether via VHS, widescreen VHS, LaserDisc, DVD, or even high-definition Blu-ray, it has long been plagued by an overly contrasty, crushed, murky look that didn’t quash its emotional impact but nonetheless seemed like a missed opportunity, especially given the film’s lush setting.

 

Since the biggest problem marring the look of the film has been blacks that are too black and highlights that are too bright, an HDR release may seem somewhat pointless—or even perhaps detrimental. But if anything, The Bridge on the River Kwai’s 4K HDR release via Kaleidescape does a wonderful job of conveying the difference between “contrast” and “dynamic range.” Yes, the new HDR grade darkens the darks a little, and brightens the highlights spectacularly. But the most important thing it does is to introduce more steps between those two extremes, breathing subtlety and richness into the shadows and bringing the image to life in ways I never would have imagined possible. In short, it delivers the nuances inherent to the original film that have never survived before now in the transition to home video.

 

That’s not to say that the film now looks perfect, mind you. Kwai was shot with cobbled-together CinemaScope cameras, without the benefit of zoom lenses. As such, the very first scene we see, of a soaring and circling hawk, was quite obviously blown up extensively, resulting in an overly grainy, noisy mess.

 

Thankfully, such scenes are rare. A more common occurrence, though, is the optical fade transition between scenes. These have always looked rough, but here they look even rougher, if only by comparison to the gorgeous presentation of the rest of the film. To my eyes, it appears that these fade transitions weren’t sourced from the original negative that served as the basis

The Bridge on the River Kwai

for the bulk of the restoration. They look at least a generation removed, and my guess is that in restoring the film, they had to pull the fades from a print. So, as one scene transitions into the next, you’ll go from a vibrant, gorgeously textured scene into an overly contrasty, noisier fade, then right into another lovely scene.

 

Until you get used to this, scene transitions can be a little more jarring in the 4K HDR presentation than they are in the Blu-ray-quality download also included with this release. So, you’re left with a choice: Do you watch the film in truly lovely quality with the occasional, fleeting downgrade to a second-generation source, or do you opt for a sort of bleh-but-acceptable presentation that’s more consistent from beginning to end?

 

Personally, I’ll opt for the former any day, secure in the knowledge that this is absolutely the best The Bridge on the River Kwai will ever look. I’m guessing that the original negatives for those fade transitions were damaged beyond repair in post-production, and as such there’s no good source for additional restoration. But once you accept the fact that a second or two here and there will look a little less than stunning, the HDR download of the film—released here in its proper 2.55:1 aspect ratio, not 2.40:1 as the tech specs would indicate—is an absolute revelation.

 

The Kaleidescape download is also supported by a 5.1 surround soundtrack that seems to be identical to the 2010 Blu-ray release (which itself was based on the restored and enhanced audio track I believe I first remember hearing on the 1994 LaserDisc release). There are some additional ambient sound effects I don’t remember hearing on the VHS releases, which I 

The Bridge on the River Kwai

no longer have the ability to play. The good news is, this isn’t one of those ham-fisted surround remixes that attempt to make the film sound more modern. Everything in the mix evokes the original (which I think was a four-track magnetic soundtrack).

 

I almost completely skipped the Atmos soundtrack included with this release, since I’m not fond of that format for movies to begin with, much less 60-year-old classics. But I’m glad I gave it a listen on a whim. It sounds like the Atmos mix was mostly based on the 2010 remix, which itself was based on the 1993 reconstruction of the original audio elements, but there are a few key differences. Dialogue that was obviously overdubbed sounds less obviously overdubbed, and the height channels open up the sound field and expand the film’s ambience in a truly subtle but effective way. If you’re looking for a soundtrack that pushes your ceiling speakers to their extremes, keep on looking. But if you’re looking for an audio experience that’s true to the original, just with some extra breathing room, give this one a listen. Even if 

you generally like Atmos less than I do.

 

As for extras, you’ll have to download the Blu-ray-quality version of the film from Kaleidescape to check them out, but it’s worth the extra effort. In addition to a trio of period promotional materials and a short documentary about film criticism made for USC film students, there’s a really fantastic retrospective documentary by Laurent Bouzereau made for the two-disc collector’s edition DVD release from 2000. While somewhat glossing over the film’s historical inaccuracies, the doc is a bit more forthright than most retrospectives, and is certainly worth a look.

 

Even if you don’t care about supplemental material, though, The Bridge on the River Kwai is a film that belongs in any good film collection. This isn’t one you want to wait for TCM to air, since it rewards repeated viewings. Consider, for example, how its complex themes evolve as you shift attention from William Holden, Alec Guinness, and even Sessue Hayakawa, and focus on one above the others as the story’s main driving force. It isn’t really until you watch it again, placing all three on equal footing, that you can get to the heart of what the film is about: The consequences of ideology crashing into principles, when neither completely comports with reality.

And unless you’re still buying discs, Kaleidescape is just about the only way to own this 4K HDR presentation, since for whatever reason Vudu, Amazon, and many other digital providers are limited to the HD release.

 

Again, due to the way it was shot and edited, and the ravages of time, The Bridge on the River Kwai isn’t a technically perfect film. But Kaleidescape’s presentation so far exceeded my expectations that all of the above nitpicking feels like pedantry. For the first time, the film lives in a form that’s worthy of the best display in your home. And if for whatever reason you’ve never seen it, I must admit, I’m a little jealous that this is how you’ll get to experience for the first time.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

How Much Would You Pay for Day & Date? Pt. 2

In Part 1 of this post, I referenced comments from users of the Kaleidescape Owners Forum who answered my question, “How much would you be willing to pay for Day and Date?” I expected these luxury system owners to have no problem with paying a substantial amount for the ability to see a movie at home the day it opens in theaters. But even among this group, not a single person was willing to pay even the minimum amount—$500—Prima Cinema charged and Red Carpet Home Cinema expects to charge for day & date viewing.

 

Casting the net to a wider audience, I ran a poll on the Sound & Vision website, which caters to enthusiasts of all income levels, where I again asked what they would be willing to pay for day & date. After nearly 350 responses, it’s clear that the

How Much Would You Pay for Day & Date, Pt. 2

Table 1

How Much Would You Pay for Day & Date?, Pt. 2

Table 2

How Much Would You Pay for Day &was Date, Pt. 2

Table 3

How Much Would You Pay for Day & Date?, Pt. 2

Table 4

click on the tables to enlarge them

vast majority of people aren’t willing to pay a very high premium at all.

 

In fact, the enthusiast responses from Sound & Vision far more support the likely pricing for movies available at home a week or two after they premiere in theaters than the $500 low end of the current day & date pricing schemes (see Table 1).

 

As you can see, out of 348 answers, only 43 people (roughly 12.6%) were willing to pay $100 or more. But when you go down to the $50 to $99 range, the group jumps to over 32%. This is a pretty large crowd, and a price that might be realistic three to four weeks after a movie hits the cinema. When you get to $25 to $49, more than half the responders would bite.

 

Is this an unrealistic price? Perhaps. But consider this: The current state of the art for home video viewing is 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray discs, most of which sell for around $20 to $35. Since this is what you now pay to own a movie and watch it as many times as you’d like, would it be so unreasonable that the movie studios would let you watch it once for $49 at some point later in the movie’s theatrical window? Maybe not . . .

 

A common theme among the Kaleidescape owners was that they want this premium rental to also come with the right to own/download the movie when it goes into mass release on home video. When asked if they’d be willing to pay more for this right, the responders were almost split in thirds (see Table 2).

 

Almost 39% said they would actually pay more. So, maybe at $125 to $150, you would get to watch the movie once while it’s still in the theater and would then be able to download it as soon as it’s in wide release. That seems like a pretty palatable choice that also wouldn’t erode the studios’ profits from traditional home releases.

 

Finally, I asked how often they would actually rent a movie if it were priced at just $50 (see Table 3). I was surprised to find that most enthusiast owners wouldn’t do it very often.

 

Slightly more than 5% would do it once a week, with about half saying they would rent a $50 movie once or more per month. Shockingly, more than 45% said they’d only do it a few times per year. And remember, these are audio/video enthusiasts responding to a hypothetical day & date price of just $50.

 

As for the necessary hardware, with Prima at $35,000, Red Carpet at $15,00, and Kaleidescape starting at $4,500, the systems required to play these movies aren’t cheap, which was another huge barrier for entry for many.

 

When asked how much they would pay for the hardware needed for day & date playback (see Table 4), more than 50% said they would only pay less than $500. Again, that seems highly unrealistic, especially when you consider the security measures that need to be employed, but it does bode well for Xcinex, which says its Venue will come to market for less than $30.

Also, these prices address the per-viewing model, which means it’s the same cost whether there are 1 or 50 people watching. The other option is the same per-viewer or per-ticket model theaters use, which is how Xcinex plans to operate. Other than the potential issues and privacy concerns with a sensor monitoring and counting viewers, it again seems difficult to believe Xcinex could come to market and offer day & date viewing at literally fractions of what the other companies are charging. But the company says it’s firmly committed to launching by the end of this year, and that it will have content and deals in place, so time will tell.

 

What impact will day & date have on your movie watching habits? And how much would you be willing to pay for the privilege?

John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

How Much Would You Pay for Day & Date? Pt. 1

How Much Would You Pay for Day & Date?, Pt. 1

Wrapping up my recent series of posts on day & date, I thought I’d cut right to the heart of it: How much is day & date worth? In other words, how much would you pay for the privilege of watching a first-run film in the comfort of your own home, either on opening night or some short time later?

 

As I wrote in “Why Kaleidescape Could Own Day & Date, Pt. 2,” at the moment it appears Red Carpet Home Cinema has set the benchmark for what it will cost, at somewhere between $500 and $3,000. This is up from Prima Cinema’s $500 for each 

viewing. It could be that the Prima folks were better negotiators than Red Carpet, or that Hollywood has decided day & date is worth more now that it was a few years ago. We won’t know for sure until we see if Prima is able to return to operation.

 

But the simple truth is that, as much as we might want to be able to watch movies at home instead of going to the theater, most of us can’t afford these prices.

 

This is where I see a sliding scale coming into play. If you want to watch the movie on opening night, you’re gonna have to pay the ultra-premium price Red Carpet is demanding. But, if you’re willing to wait a week . . . or two
. . . or four, as theater audiences have slacked off to nearly nothing, the studios might allow for more affordable pricing.

 

This is why some kind of premium window for early theatrical release might be a more realistic hope for luxury home viewing than actual day & date. At least at first.

 

That conclusion was echoed by several commenters on the Kaleidescape Owners Forum when I posed the question:

 

“How much would you be willing to pay for Day and Date?” Here were some of the responses:

 

• I would like to see a sliding scale based on timing:

Week 1: $300

Week 2 to 4: $150

Week 5 to 8: $75

• I for one would also be willing to pay a premium for the privilege of watching movies at home
while they’re still out in the theater. That would be an awesome feature if it could be incorporated
into existing hardware.

 

• As for how much, it would depend upon the movie. [Star Wars]—maybe $300, other blockbusters,
maybe $150, comedies and “chick flicks” $75-100.

 

• I would pay maximum $75-$100 to watch with just my wife or kids, and maybe $200 once or twice
a year and invite friends over.

 

• With 4-8 $25 seats and a $100 fee for download etc then $200-300 on day one, week one is a
good no loss to the studio price point.

 

• I’ve said it before, I will say it again–I would pay $500 to watch any theatrical movie in my home
on opening day, even without the ability to stop/pause/rewind or be given a digital copy. Watching
Star Wars opening night on my couch is cooler than a sports car IMO.

 

• $500 for one viewing at midnight the release date. Watching [Star Wars] in my living room would
be incredible.

 

Remember, these answers all came from people who already own luxury entertainment systems, and have shown their willingness to invest in premium-price hardware like a Kaleidescape. (An entry-level Strato system—the unit most likely to support day & date—currently costs $4,500.) And none of them said they’d be willing to pay more than $500. That is why

I wonder if Red Carpet’s exorbitant pricing will be able to find traction even among the ultra-wealthy.

 

I first started thinking about what I’d be willing to pay for this experience six years ago, when I had the chance to live with the Prima Cinema system.

 

When I see a movie, it’s almost always with my wife and frequently with my 12-year-old as well. So, figure we’re in for around $30 in movie tickets. (I realize this is at the low end of the market, with many parts of the country paying upwards of twice that.) Then factor in popcorn, drinks, and snacks for another $20 to $30. Since we have a 3-year-old, figure another $20 to $30 for a babysitter. I don’t have to deal with parking (or hiring a car service), but for many this is another cost of movie-going. So, for me, a $100 movie purchase is something I would consider for many films.

 

And after my recent lackluster experience seeing Avengers: Endgame at my local cinema—where I didn’t eat or drink anything for 8 hours prior to showtime to ensure I could make it through without a bathroom break—with all of

the popcorn rustling, drink slurping, side conversations, an infant watching YouTube videos on an iPad (not kidding), and a very noticeably blown subwoofer that totally took me out of every bass-heavy moment, being able to watch at my own home almost sounds worth any price.

 

In Pt. 2, I’ll give you the surprising results of an extensive survey I conducted to find out how much home theater enthusiasts would be willing to pay for day & date.

John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.