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Ep. 5: How to Find the Perfect Integrator

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Episode 5 opens with hosts Michael Gaughn and Dennis Burger setting the stage for a discussion of technology integrators—what used to be called “custom installers”—the people you hire to install TVs, speakers, projectors, and security and lighting systems.

 

At 3:39, Josh Christian of the Home Technology Association, Eric Thies of DSI Luxury Technology in Los Angeles, Ed Gilmore of Gilmore’s Sound Advice in New York, and our our own John Sciacca join Mike & Dennis to discuss Eric’s “How to Find the Perfect Integrator” and John’s “Why HTA Is the Real Deal,” and to talk about how HTA can help somebody locate the right integrator to install their technology.

 

At 42:47, Mike, Dennis, and John talk about some of the movies they’ve seen recently—including The Umbrella Academy, Ralph Wrecks the Internet, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse; Mike talks about Pixar’s decline; and John discusses his fondness for the Mister Rogers documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

PODCAST GUESTS

Josh Christian, director of certification, Home Technology Association

Ed Gilmore, owner & founder, Gilmore’s Sound Advice, New York, NY

John Sciacca, co-owner, Custom Theater & Audio, Murrells Inlet, SC

Eric Thies, principal, DSI Luxury Technology, Los Angeles

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Forever

Amazon Prime "Forever"

I’m late to the party on this one, I know. But I have to assume that if I, a massive Fred Armisen fan, somehow just found out about the 2018 Amazon-original series Forever, there must be at least a few of you out there who would love this delightfully weird and wonderful series, if only you knew it existed.

 

Here’s the problem, though: Talking about Forever isn’t easy. Even explaining what the series is about isn’t easy. But to understand its charms, you really have to look no further than its opening five minutes. The show starts with what plays like an homage to the introductory scenes of Pixar’s Up. With nary a line of dialogue, we see the relationship between two awkward lovebirds—embodied delightfully by Armisen and fellow SNL alum Maya Rudolph—grow and mature and become what it eventually becomes.

 

What’s great about this silent-movie sequence is that you understand everything you need to know about these characters before ever hearing them utter a word to one another. Armisen’s Oscar is the sort of chap who was likely nicknamed “Grandpa” before he was twenty. He’s a creature of habit and longs for the stability of til-death-do-us-part. Rudolph’s June is a free spirit who’s stifled by routine and perhaps indeed the very notion of security. Familiarity doesn’t necessarily breed contempt within her, but she is repelled by it. Or perhaps she’s repulsed by her need for it. It’s an important but ambiguous distinction that the show explores but never fully resolves.

As wonderful as these opening moments are, though, Forever doesn’t really come into its own until the banter between Oscar and June takes centerstage. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen any movie or TV show so perfectly capture the almost-secret shared language that develops between mates. At times, watching Forever feels almost like an act of voyeurism, even if the conversation we’re snooping on is as mundane as the perfect beach food or the best position in which to sit.

Amazon Prime "Forever"

And, yes, conversations like that are plentiful throughout the show’s brief eight-episode run. But they aren’t the point. Forever ultimately serves to grapple with the question of what happens when two wholly incompatible weirdos are nonetheless perfect for each other and committed to spending eternity together, when the notion of eternity terrifies one of them and is taken for granted by the other. And what makes it work is that the series explores interpersonal conflict in such a way that there are no good guys or bad guys in the

impasse between commitment and wanderlust, comfort and excitement, routine and spice. Writers Matt Hubbard and Alan Yang have the courage to explore their subject matter with refreshing nuance.

 

If there’s one criticism to be leveled at the show, it’s that after all of that nuance, Forever comes to a tidy (though wacky) conclusion a little too quickly, and in choosing where to end this weird adventure, Hubbard and Yang do put their thumbs on the scales a little. Armisen—much as I love him as a comedian—also struggles to bring the same level of gravity to serious scenes as does Rudolph, whose talent for navigating complex emotional shifts is awe-inspiring throughout.

 

Those are minor criticisms, though. If you love quirky love stories with a heaping helping of metaphor and metaphysics, you owe it to yourself to check this one out.

 

The bigger criticism is that once again, Amazon makes it nearly impossible to find the 4K version of the series via streaming devices. Your best bet is to search for it on your computer and add it to your watchlist. Not that Forever needs to be seen in 4K HDR to be enjoyed, mind you. There’s nothing particularly outstanding about its cinematography or presentation for most of its roughly four-hour runtime. But still, if you’re going to watch it, one assumes you’d like to watch it in the best quality possible.

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.

Creating Rayva: Paul Stary, Pt. 2

Creating Rayva: Paul Stary, Pt. 2
Theo's Corner

In Part 2 of Michael Gaughn’s interview with me and Paul Stary, who engineered the Rayva theater designs, we talk about our efforts to ready the designs for manufacturing and distribution.

T.K.

 

Michael Gaughn  Have you hit any major hurdles in your collaboration? Has there been anything where you’ve said, “It looks good right now but as this plays out and has to be reproduced it’s just not going to fly.

 

Theo Kalomirakis  Every step of the way we had a challenge. We had challenges before we started dealing with them. For example, just stretching the fabric with staples around the frame looked good, and the end result was good, but it wasn’t practical for shipping the product in small boxes instead of having it crated. So that challenge led us to a solution.

 

Without challenges you get stuck in the initial concept and then you wait until the concept is applied in the real world and then it flies or it dies. Challenges during the course of engineering are a godsend. You come to see them as obstacles that need to be overcome in pursuit of a final, perfect product.

MG  It seems like there are two levels to this process, one level being the wall panels, which are a common element to every theater. But then there is the unique application of design elements on top of the panels. It seems like that second level has to be more flexible because you’re incorporating a lot of different elements.

 

TK  That’s correct. The panels provide the backdrop for the theater and conceal the engineering, the speakers, and the acoustical treatments. But the creative part is what goes in front of the panels. And that brings a unique set of challenges because those elements change based on the artist.

 

It’s like a gallery where you hang paintings on fixed walls, but one month the painter is Basquiat, the next month is Andy Warhol, the third month is Picasso. So you have very severely controlled backdrops, which Paul engineers, that artists can use as a depository of their ideas. They give us ideas and then we turn these ideas into something that can be built predictably and repeatedly.

 

MG  Are you at the point now where you feel like you can build this model out, where you can just keep scaling it up as you get more orders? Or is that a whole other phase of development?

 

TK  We have a perfect foundation for building up orders at any number or quantity we want. Paul has said it’s like building a skyscraper. If you don’t have a good foundation—and we didn’t have a good foundation at the beginning—

you’re going to build the first floor and the second floor, and then the third floor will collapse because its weight can’t be supported by the foundation.

 

So we’ve created a foundation that ensures repeatability and dependability no matter what the order or the scale of sales are. This is the brilliance of engineering properly. We create a repeatable result.

Paul Stary  Yes, like most products at the beginning, it’s not going to start out at the highest quantities; it will be a building process. So the elements of various designs and components are easily scalable by either increasing the volume with any one vendor or adding more vendors. Because everything is so well documented, we can draw on resources from around the 

Each of the wall panels in Marina Vernicos’ theater design “Pools” contains scores of parts engineered
to ensure the panels can be easily shipped and assembled. Each panel is designed to be able to support
decorative elements and lighting fixtures and to conceal speakers, acoustic treatments, and wiring.

world. We can scale it up pretty easily by just adding the resources necessary at the time to allow the building process to occur. So I think we’ve got a pretty good handle on being able to respond to the growth.

 

MG  Where are both of you in the process now? Do you feel like you have the Rayva model completely engineered?

 

TK  Yes, the engineering is nearing completion and then pricing will come next. I would say we’re about 70% done because we’ve built the foundation and are now adding the details to the foundation.

 

PS  Yes, all of the foundation has been laid, which means we’ve defined all the parts, determined how they interrelate, and what is required for manufacturing.

 

TK  We also had the luck of working with people who bought into the concept. One of which is our friend Savvas Stamatopolous from Greece, who is working with Paul on the next phase of the product development—how you implement the product. That means creating software that allows the product to be ordered, inventoried, and sold. So he had a very key role in creating a database of parts that is organized, codified, and priced so that at the click of a button we can get prices for every theater configuration based on the components that are used.

 

We have a team that worked in conjunction with Paul and me to create the parts we needed in order to develop the product. And that includes creating 144 templates with every possible important room configuration. Dimitris Theodorou, working under our project architect Eric Chuderewicz, created these endless templates that in turn allowed us to count how many parts per theater are in each room size and each design. It was a very complex process that took a few months, but we did it.

 

So this isn’t just developing the product, it’s developing a product based on a whole scheme of things where there is the inaugural vision and then you drill down to the details. Just like Paul described [in Part 1], at the beginning you see this from a 30-mile view and then as you go down you start tightening the loose ends and create the kind of product we believe will change the way people think about home entertainment.

Theo Kalomirakis is widely considered the father of home theater, with scores of luxury theater
designs to his credit. He is also an avid movie fan, with a collection of over 15,000 discs. Theo
is the Executive Director of Rayva.

VirtualGT: The Ultimate Racing Simulator

VirtualGT: The Ultimate Racing Simulator

When Mike Gaughn mentioned that he was interviewing Paul Stary for a story on Cineluxe, my Spidey senses started to tingle. Why did that name sound so familiar? Before I had time to figure it out on my own, Mike asked me if I was familiar Stary’s work in the field of racing simulation.

Uh, yeah. You could say that I am. As some of you know, I’m an avowed racing sim enthusiast. In a weird twist of fate, it was my love of racing sims that originally led to my writing for Mike in the first place. And I can tell you that in racing sim circles, Paul Stary’s work is the stuff of legend.

 

To understand why, you have to know a bit about the state of racing games and the lengths to which sim racers go to replicate the experience of driving a real car at home, in the living room or office or play room. In my own home setup, I’m using a steel-tube cockpit with a Sparco racing seat and 

a Logitech steering wheel and pedals clamped on. And it works for what it is, but I can tell you from experience that whipping around the virtual curves of Laguna Seca Raceway while sitting in a stationary cockpit with plastic pedals is nothing like manhandling a real car around the real curves of the real track.

Pricier simulator setups rely on motion actuators and such to give you some sense of the experience of G forces and the rumble of a racetrack under your butt to elevate the experience to another level.

 

But none, as far as I know, go as far as Stary’s VirtualGT.

VirtualGT: The Ultimate Racing Simulator

The VirtualGT’s frame showing the D-Box motion actuators

VirtualGT sets itself apart by being, in effect, a complete, self-enclosed AV system, on par with the best media rooms, coupled with the sort of sophisticated motion simulator that graces the best commercial cinemas. Everything about the system—from the birch wood and sheet-metal construction to the advanced audio processing system to the integration of D-Box motion controls (which you may be familiar with if you’ve ever visited a “4D” theater)—works in concert to create the illusion of racecar driving in a way that is, to my knowledge, unparalleled. 

 

Of course, a system this complex isn’t cheap. With prices ranging from $20,000 to $50,000, VirtualGT is well above my pay grade. But if you’re looking for a luxury entertainment system unlike anything else you’ve ever experienced (unless, that is, doing loops around the Nürburgring Nordschleife is just an average Saturday for you), Stary’s work is an absolute engineering marvel that elevates the sim racing experience to an artform.

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.

Creating Rayva: Paul Stary, Pt .1

Creating Rayva: Paul Stary

An admittedly fuzzy picture of me with some of the key contributors to Rayva (from left): Tim Sinnaeve (Barco),
me, Rayva CEO Vin Bruno, Anthony Grimani (PMI), Paul Stary, and Rayva president George Walter

Theo's Corner

I recently asked Cineluxe editor-in-chief Michael Gaughn to interview me and my key collaborators at Rayva about our efforts to create turnkey home theater solutions that can be efficiently manufactured and easily installed. The first interview was with engineer Paul Stary, who took my initial concepts for the Rayva theaters and came up with brilliantly practical ways to manufacture the designs without any compromises in quality.

T.K.

 

Michael Gaughn  Theo, what was the initial issue that led to you needing to engage an engineer in this? Was there a problem with a specific installation or whatever?

 

Theo Kalomirakis  Yes. We created the first two Rayva theaters more or less based on practices I used to use for custom designs, but they were not adequate to provide the kind of product we wanted Rayva to be. But I didn’t know any better and we did it. We met with a variety of challenges in installation, but also in creating predictable parts. Every part, because it wasn’t defined in an engineering fashion in detail, was prone to be misinterpreted by the manufacturer and built differently. This had the potential to create some problems, which we carefully managed.

 

What brought me to Paul, by serendipity, was his son, Steve, of Brilliant AV, who was the first one to install a Rayva theater. He knew what I was trying to accomplish, and he knew what his dad could do. And he said, “Talk to my dad, because it’s

not just that he’s my dad, I know he is a brilliant engineer and he might be able to give you the right engineering perspective.” So he made the introduction, I called Paul, and the rest is history.

 

MG  Paul, had you ever had any interaction with Theo before this?

 

Paul Stary  No, I had not. We’d never talked. Although I knew his reputation and, through my son’s dealings, had learned about the Rayva theater product.

 

It has been an interesting relationship because you can obviously tell that Theo is extremely interested in the unique nature and detail of his product and all the design, and rightfully proud of all that. I just wanted to take what he had done and change what’s behind the curtain in a way that makes it reproducible and better in terms of the form, fit, and function but without changing the appearance of it.

 

If you compare a theater from the first Raya installation to one installed a year from now, you won’t see any difference until you start taking things apart and then you’ll see a radical difference. There’s almost nothing recognizable behind the façade.

 

Another big part of the engineering is creating a group of people that works together with common goals to evolve the product and the process. We’re trying to take something that is more or less an individual idea and turn it into an organization where the organization has the power rather than one particular individual.

 

That’s what has to happen when you take a company that changes from an idea into a product. Theo’s great at setting the culture. He’s also been great at adapting to change, which is something a lot of people in his position are not able to do. I would have probably bailed on this project long ago if he wasn’t like that, or hadn’t been so willing to make the necessary changes.

 

MG  What was the first thing you guys took on when you started the engineering?

 

PS  Well that’s a difficult question because there really isn’t any one thing; you have to look at it as a system. My

Creating Rayva: Paul Stary, Pt. 1

ABOUT PAUL STARY

Paul Stary is the President and CEO of Virual-E Corporation is Costa Mesa, CA. He is the founder, designer, and developer of the company’s signature product the VirtualGT racing simulator, a $20,000-$50.000 machine sold to affluent motorsports enthusiasts and racers, corporations for marketing and promotion, and commercial racing centers.

 

The VirtualGT simulator is based on home theater technology, and is widely considered the most realistic and exciting simulated driving experience available, which can be directly attributed to its custom audio and vibration system. (For more on, see Dennis Burger’s “VirtualGT: The Ultimate Racing Simulator.”)

 

He is also a principal at Audio-Video Engineering in Costa Mesa, which is a consumer electronics consulting, design, and engineering firm that specializes in the developing and manufacturing custom analog and digital electronics, computer control systems, and speaker systems.

 

The company recently completed the design of the TalkStar talkbox, a radical improvement in the performance, quality, and reliability of this obscure musical effect that was popularized on Peter Frampton’s Frampton Comes Alive in the ‘70s.

 

Paul is also the president and founder of AudioMobile, which pioneered many advances in high-end car-audio electronics, speaker systems, and installations techniques during the early days of that industry.

 approach to anything in life has always been to do a non-linear analysis, which means I start circling at 30,000 feet. You can’t see much down at the ground level at that altitude, but you have the big picture, you can kind of get an idea of the terrain, the scope, the whole package. And then you just keep circling, and as you circle you drop. And eventually you get down to Ground Zero where you’re into the minutiae.

 

That approach is useful for a project like this because if you take any one thing out of context and start to focus on it you eventually learn about some other aspect that changes the original premise, so it’s counterproductive. Even though this approach is more time consuming, it saves time in the long run because you have a more effective approach to managing all of the problems together as a unit.

 

So the problems typically are to take all the components and see how they fit together. And even that is difficult because there are multiple levels in terms of the manufacturing process of making it affordable, and maintaining the quality when it’s produced so it has consistent dimensions and finishes, and so forth. And then you might make the system easy to manufacture, but it’s a nightmare to install. So you have to keep all these other disciplines in mind.

Creating Rayva: Paul Stary, Pt. 1

The wall panels for the original Rayva designs had to be shipped pre-assembled
in large crates, and were difficult to install.

Then you have to define all the parts and build them, but you’re not done. You still have to kit them for shipment to the customer. We’re going to outsource that, so we have to find resources who can do that. And then the product has to be easy to ship. Right now, the Rayva theaters are shipped pre-assembled in crates, which makes it extremely inflexible.

 

And then there’s the installation. Even beyond that, there’s the ability to service and support, and to upgrade over time. Our clients are obviously homeowners with some degree of affluence. They often move and in the process may resell the house to someone who may not have the same tastes, so can you make upgrades and alter the designs of the theater after it is installed? Or is it so custom that it’s stuck that one way forever, so you have to rip it out and start over?

 

Those are the kind of things I looked at as we sought to make a Rayva theater a product that can be manufactured at a reasonable cost, then assembled by outsourced resources of various types, then easily shipped and installed so it can be readily upgraded, serviced, repaired, and supported in the field.

A brief video showing the installation of the Rayva wall panels
before they were engineered by Paul Stary.

We’re on that path right now, and understanding the unique nature of the product was extremely important as I circled down to the ground. I’m pretty much at the point where I understand all of the different elements, and it’s a very complex product because there are so many variations. There are angles and finishes and lighting systems, and things like that, that have to be integrated. I think we’ve moved Rayva from a custom theater to a turnkey product that anybody can buy and install.

MG  What impact does the complexity of a Rayva theater have on actually fulfilling an order?

 

PS  If this was a product where you simply took two or three components and put them together as a sub assembly, then put it in a box and shipped it, it wouldn’t be too difficult. But in this case there are hundreds of parts and they have to be assembled in stages and in different places.

 

So we’re putting together a software system to handle the manufacturing at the most sophisticated level where you can bring orders in random, and assemble those orders into production runs where the software manages the procurement, pricing, shipping, and all of the assembly with subcontractors. It automates the difficulty of bringing all these parts in, knowing what you have to order, when you have to order it—even more importantly, knowing what parts you have in stock, the lead times of all the parts you don’t have in stock, and then you can predict the delivery date with reasonable accuracy the moment you accept an order.

 

In Part 2, Paul and I discuss the significant challenges we encountered early on taking the existing Rayva designs and engineering them for production.

Theo Kalomirakis is widely considered the father of home theater, with scores of luxury theater
designs to his credit. He is also an avid movie fan, with a collection of over 15,000 discs. Theo
is the Executive Director of Rayva.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

I’ll be honest, I didn’t really have a lot of desire to see Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse when it was in movie theaters. Nothing about the trailer really grabbed me, but when it started getting rave reviews both from critics (97% on Rotten Tomatoes, with comments like “It is a game changer”) and audiences (94% positive), I figured maybe the trailer didn’t resonate with me but that the film would. Then, when it took home the Academy Award this year for Best Animated Feature Film, that clinched it.

 

Fortunately, Kaleidescape owners were able to get the film on February 26, a full three weeks before it’s released on disc on March 19, so I downloaded the film and settled in to enjoy.

 

This is and also totally isn’t the Spider-Man story that you know. It begins with the Peter Parker (voiced by Chris Pine) we’ve always known, and has animated versions of several of the marquee scenes you’ll likely remember from the multiple live-action Spider-Man movies from recent years. But the real star of this movie is teenaged Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore), who was unknowingly bitten by a radioactive spider (don’t you hate when that happens?) and then crosses paths with Parker while he is in the midst of battling some baddies to save Brooklyn (again). During the battle, a particle accelerator opens up portals to alternate universes, bringing five alternate Spider-people into Brooklyn, where they all work together to stop Kingpin from unleashing the accelerator that could destroy not only our world, but the entire universe.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

I loved Spider-Man: Homecoming for a few of reasons. One, it didn’t get bogged down in its own origin story, forcing us to relive —once again—how Spider-Man becomes Spider-Man. At this point we all know the story, and this was a theme that Spider-Verse repeatedly poked fun at. Two, after the recent Toby Maguire and Andrew Garfield outings, Tom Holland’s Spidey just felt fresh and new, more wide-eyed and trying to figure things out. Three, it gave us

 a great sidekick in Ned (Jacob Batalon), who provided a much needed second personality as well as adding enough Tony Stark/Iron Man to keep the film feeling bigger than just “another Spider-Man” movie, while also giving it a place in the much larger Marvel universe.

 

I say all of that because I think those things equally apply to Spider-Verse which feels both the same (but in a good way) and yet totally new and fresh.

 

What really sets Spider-Verse apart is its totally unique visual style. And as much as I loved Ralph Breaks the Internet and The Incredibles 2also nominated in the Best Animated Feature category—after watching Spider-Verse, it’s not a surprise that it took home the Oscar as it has an innovative style and look that is really unlike anything that has come before it. You can tell you’re in for something different right from the opening Columbia title screen.

 

Animation always looks fantastic in 4K HDR and this is no different. The colors are bright and vivid and pushed to the boundaries, with the reds of Spidey’s suit particularly vibrant and heavily saturated. The blacks are also deep, with HDR used throughout to provide extra punch.

The visual look and style of Spider-Verse constantly changes throughout the movie, often during the same scene, and it definitely embraces its comic-book roots, with a style that often feels like comic panels have been brought to life. Images are

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

near photo-realistic, then switch to a cartoon panel-style, then to the Pop Art style of Roy Lichtenstein. The image has an incredible depth of focus that looks truly 3D at times. Frequently, things in the near- or background are heavily blurred to make you focus on specific portions of the frame. The style in some scenes reminded me of the film noir storytelling style of the Max Payne video game from years ago.

 

Beyond the visuals, a modern animated film often succeeds or fails based on the quality of the story and voice acting. While the theme of a band of strangers coming together to defeat a common enemy is nothing new, Spider-Verse never feels like a retread and manages to work in enough pop culture references to be clever.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

The voicing is great, with Nicholas Cage as the black-and-white Spider-Man Noir, a private eye from 1933 who likes to drink egg creams and fight Nazis. Jake Johnson brings his hilarious Nick Miller New Girl vibe and mannerisms to Peter B. Parker, a Spidey who has gone through a nasty breakup and let himself go. You even get Oscar-winning Best Supporting Actor

Mahersala Ali as Miles’ Uncle Aaron. John Mulaney does a good job with Peter Porker, aka Spider-Ham, though something about his delivery reminded me of Nathan Lane’s Timon from The Lion King. (Also, I couldn’t get “Spider-Pig, Spider-Pig, does whatever a Spider Pig does. . .” out of my head whenever I saw Spider-Ham.)

 

The Dolby Atmos audio mix is very aggressive throughout, with many discrete effects routed to all

channels and lots of height-channel information. There is also some serious low-frequency information that will rattle your windows and slam you in the chest. Dialogue is well recorded and remains easy to understand regardless what world-ending event is happening onscreen.

 

Spider-Verse is a fresh take on the superhero genre, and a visually stunning film that will look fantastic in a home theater, and is sure to entertain family members of all ages.

John Sciacca

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

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.

D&D & the Decline of Traditional Media

D&D & the Decline of Traditional Media

If you heard a clatter coming from the direction of the west coast earlier this week, it was probably the sound of dozens of studio executives kicking themselves for their own myopia. To understand why, though, we need to back up a few years.

 

As I’ve written about before here on Cineluxe, one of my favorite TV shows isn’t a TV show at all. It’s Critical Role, a weekly livestream of a Dungeons & Dragons home game, played by eight best friends (shown above) who also happen to be professional voice actors. You may not know all of their faces, but you definitely know their voices, whether you’ve played Overwatch or the most recent Spider-man game on PS4, or perhaps watched Marvel’s current slate of cartoons, or even NBC’s popular crime drama Blindspot.

Their home game started in 2012, and they began streaming it online in 2015, meaning there were three years’ worth of story that we viewers never got to see. So, the cast decided they’d like to adapt some of those early adventures into an animated special.

 

Honestly, this is the sort of gold mine that any studio exec should have leapt at. It’s hard to pin down exactly how many people watch the show every week, since it streams on 

Twitch, then airs on demand on that platform and YouTube. On the latter alone, though, the first episode of the current campaign has been streamed 3.8 million times to date, and that’s not even its primary channel of distribution. Until recently it was also available on Legendary’s Project Alpha streaming service, but when Critical Role severed ties with that corporate entity a few weeks back, the service closed its doors forever.

 

Collect the numbers from various streaming services, though, and account for the fact that Critical Role’s viewer base is growing every day, and it’s pretty fair to guesstimate that the show’s fan base is at least on par with something like AMC’s The Walking Dead. But for some reason, while TWD is considered as mainstream as mainstream gets, Critical Role is still relegated to geeky niche status, due to the establishment bias that permeates the entertainment industry.

 

As of this week, though, that perception has to change. Unable to strike a deal with a studio, the cast of Critical Role decide to crowdfund their animated special via Kickstarter.

The goal was $750,000, which they zoomed past in minutes. Only two previous Kickstarters have managed to make it to the $1,000,000 mark faster. And as I write this, on the second day of the campaign, the project has already gathered more than $4,500,000 in pledged funding—six times its original goal. What was planned as a 22-minute special is now a multi-part mini-series. And with 44 days left to go in the campaign, the projections for how much it could raise when all is said and done are mind-bogglingly insane (not to mention highly unlikely, given that many potential funders were sitting on the Kickstarter homepage, F5ing it in anticipation of the project launching).

 

If this isn’t a massive indication of just how much the media landscape has forever changed, I don’t know what is. We at Cineluxe applaud companies like Netflix and Amazon for taking risks on shows and movies that old corporate media monoliths never would have greenlit, and we’ll continue to do so. But even those streaming platforms are simply tweaking the old studio playbook. And look, I’m not saying that the corporate suits at the big studios should have predicted that a Critical 

Role cartoon would be this successful. Even the cast of the show has been stupefied by its success. What I’m saying is that literally anyone paying attention should have known that it would, at the very least, be financially lucrative.

 

I do have concerns about all of this. For one thing, the history of Kickstarter is littered with scams and failures—projects that were successfully funded and never delivered. I don’t have that worry with Critical Role, but I think this campaign is going to spawn bushels of imitators who have an idea and circumvent the studio system in attempt to get funding, only to find they’ve bitten off more than they can 

chew. Or that their idea only sounds good on paper. The gatekeepers of old may have kept audiences from seeing any number of potentially amazing movies and TV shows because they simply didn’t fit inside some preconceived box. On the other hand, they also kept a lot of worthless crap from flooding the airwaves, movie shelves, and online platforms.

 

So, in the end, despite my excitement for this particular crowdfunding project, I’m not saying that a more decentralized media landscape is necessarily a good thing, nor necessarily a bad one. I’m simply saying that we’re quickly approaching a time in which this sort of thing is the norm. In which the gatekeepers of old have little to no power. In which movie theaters and linear TV channels are a novelty at best. In which we the people have more direct control of what movies and TV shows get produced in the first place.

 

And the changing nature of entertainment funding is also going to have an impact on how we consume our entertainment. Will this Critical Role cartoon end up UHD Blu-ray? Highly unlikely. Netflix or Amazon Prime? Almost certainly not. Hulu or Vudu? (Shakes Magic 8 Ball.) Outlook not so good. I’m honestly just holding out hope that it’s available in some form via the Roku Ultra streamer in my main media room.

 

I can say this with some certainty, though: The media room as we know it (or the home theater, or family room, or whatever you want to call it) is going to adapt to this new media landscape, not the other way around. Because there’s no way the cork is going back in this bottle.

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 Digital Future of Movie Posters

I recently had the good fortune to review the Meural Canvas for my YouTube channel. The Meural, for the uninitiated, is a large-format (27 inches diagonally) digital picture frame sporting a matte screen making it one of the best digital picture frames—if not the best—on the market today. I reviewed the Meural through the “lens” of a photographer, seeing if it was a viable alternative to printing one’s works. Spoiler alert: With a few minor caveats, I concluded that, for me, it was.

 

Towards the end of that review I began experimenting with other ways with which to enjoy the Meural. When one of my viewers asked how movie posters looked digitally reproduced via the Meural it hit me: Is this a home theater-decor lover’s dream?

 

Having worked as a projectionist for all my teens and into my early twenties, I know all about the art of displaying movie posters. During my tenure as a projectionist, it was my responsibility to change out the posters and marquee every

Thursday evening in preparation for the Friday premieres. While I don’t believe there is any replacement for a true one-sheet—especially vintage ones—displaying movie posters in one’s theater has always been a favorite go-to for enthusiasts. But like real commercial cinemas, it might be time to embrace our digital future.

 

The theaters in my area no longer use print posters, opting instead for digital signage displays. I don’t have an issue with this, though I do miss 

the old-school bulbs surrounding the edge of each poster and seeing the cheap marquee above each saying, “Coming Soon” or “Now Playing.” 

 

That being said, displaying posters via the Meural is a decidedly more upscale affair as the images themselves are matted and framed in your choice of black, white, or wood. But the benefit of displaying posters digitally is that you’re not married to any particular poster for life. This means you could literally show the poster for whatever movie you’re playing at that moment or use it to notify the family of what film or films are on the docket for later. The fact that the Meural uses a matte-finish screen means printed works look as if they were printed on paper versus digitally recreated—at least in ambient lighting conditions. With the lights off the backlighting is a bit strong for my tastes, but not too strong that I think it would compete with the action unfolding on your screen.

 

No, the biggest drawback to the Meural as a poster display device is its size. Twenty seven inches diagonally is not a true one-sheet size, nor is the Meural’s aspect ratio of 16:9. I do wish the Meural was larger, because I believe the point of any digital frame—apart from convenience—is to make a statement, and a larger surface simply does that. All that said, the Meural could represent a very cost-effective way for fans of movie posters and memorabilia to display those types of works in their personal theaters easily and frequently. And since we’re already talking about tech-savvy users, the fact that you might have to hide a simple power cord isn’t as big a deal breaker with the home theater crowd as it might be for the casual art lover wanting to use a Meural in their living or family room. 

 

Regardless, while the folks behind the Meural may see their audience as being fine-art aficionados, I think their future—and the future of digital signage—may just rest in home theater.

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.

Can a Short-Throw Projector Replace a Big-Screen TV?

Can a Short-Throw Projector Replace a Big-Screen TV?

We’ve been talking a lot lately about front projectors versus direct-view TVs in the luxury home market—about the pros and cons of each. In general, the same truths apply now that applied five to 10 years ago: Front projectors are best suited for dark rooms and deliver the best value in screen sizes over 100 inches, but TVs are still the best choice for bright, multi-purpose rooms where you want a clean, all-in-one video solution.

 

One topic we haven’t discussed is how the ultra-short-throw projector fits into the equation. This is a product category that projector manufacturers are positioning to compete directly with big-screen TVs. UST projectors allow you to produce a very large image from a very short distance, oftentimes casting a 100-inch or larger image from less than a foot away. They’re usually designed to sit on a low stand and project the image upward against the wall. So, even though we’re still talking about

sorry (again) about the music

a two-piece solution that requires a projection screen, at least both pieces can be grouped together in one part of the room, more like a big-screen TV.

 

UST projectors are generally brighter than dedicated home theater projectors (ranging from 2,500 to 4,000 lumens), they usually rely on an LED or laser light source to provide a longer life span and instant on/off capability, and they often contain built-in speakers. A growing number even

include Web apps and/or TV tuners to more closely replicate the TV experience. A few examples of UST projectors include Epson’s LS100, LG’s HF85LA, Sony’s VPL-VZ1000ES, and Optoma’s upcoming P1.

Perhaps the most notable UST offering for this discussion is the $6,200 Hisense Laser TV, a complete AV system that includes a 4K DLP projector with a built-in TV tuner and Web apps, a Harman/Kardon sound system with a wireless subwoofer, and a 100-inch ambient-light-rejecting screen. It took a long time for Hisense to actually bring this system to market, but it’s finally available, and the company announced a larger, brighter, HDR-capable version at CES 2019.

 

Clearly Hisense is going right at the big-screen TV market, going so far as to put the word “TV” in the product name (since it includes a tuner, it is technically a TV). And while $6,200 isn’t cheap, it’s far cheaper than any 100-inch TV you’re going to find.

 

But is the Laser TV or any UST projection system really a better option than a large-screen TV? Based on what I’ve seen performance-wise from a couple of these projectors, I’m going to say no. The inherent problem with projectors is that they present an either/or performance proposition: Either you get a great black level to produce the best image contrast in a dedicated theater room, or you get a lot of light output that works in a brighter, multi-use space—but the minute the sun goes down or the lights go out, the contrast plummets. Even the brightest of these projectors can’t compete with an LCD TV, so they can’t do justice to new HDR source content the way even a mid-priced TV from the likes of Vizio or Samsung can.

 

At this moment, you can get a new 2019 82-inch Samsung QLED 4K TV for $4,500. For less than $2,000 you could assemble a good sound system to go with it and enjoy a true multi-purpose AV setup. Admittedly, 82 inches isn’t 100 inches or 120 inches, and prices in the TV market go up exponentially once you hit the 85-inch screen size.

 

So, if you’re thinking about assembling a media room in a multi-purpose space, you need to ask yourself a question: What do I value more, performance or screen size? If you want good performance that remains consistent regardless of room lighting, a big-screen TV is still your best bet. But if your heart is set on a 100-inch or larger screen, then an ultra-short-throw projection system may be the solution to deliver an immersive big-screen experience in a more room-friendly form.

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.

What Makes a Video Display Luxury?

What Makes a Projector Luxury?

Barco’s Loki 4K laser projector

One of the first posts I wrote for CIneluxe was “Luxury Defined,” where I took a stab at defining just what luxury is. To illustrate something luxurious, I could think of no better example than a Rolex timepiece, something nearly any person would consider a luxury purchase. When you look at a Rolex—regardless of the model, price, or number of complications—it is still a pretty “dumb” watch by today’s metrics. It does a decent job of keeping the time, never needs a battery change, and can survive underwater much further than you can, but doesn’t really do anything special when compared to watches that cost considerably less.

My second post here, “Luxury Defined—Take 2,” tried to define luxury as it pertains to home entertainment. To quote myself, getting “into the realm of true ‘luxury entertainment,’ we need to push the performance boundaries well beyond just what is necessary and start considering things like room integration and functionality.”

 

When it comes to a video display—one of the key components of any entertainment system, luxury or otherwise—what separates a luxury experience from something more typical? In his post, Luxury Isn’t About Price—It’s About Pride,” Andrew Robinson wrote that owning a luxury product like a pair of Wilson Audio speakers or a Mark Levinson amplifier resulted in feeling a pride of ownership. But you’re not likely to develop an emotional attachment to a video display. You could certainly love the picture and the experience, but you likely wouldn’t feel any deep connection to the physical technology itself. You often don’t spend time gazing at a projector, and virtually never touch it, so you don’t develop that prideful connection.

No, with a display, the luxury metric is generally measured in improved performance resulting in superior image quality. Adrienne Maxwell described the luxury direct-view displays featured at CES this past January, so in this post I’m going to focus on the luxury aspects of the front-projection market and five benefits gained from investing in a luxury projection system. (This post focuses on video projectors. But since a high-quality screen is just as important in any luxury entertainment system, I’ll be discussing those in a future post.)

 

Better Light Engine

One of the improvements in a luxury projector over lesser models is a better light engine. This can come in the form of either higher light output (measured in lumens), and/or a better light source, such as a laser instead of a traditional lamp-based design. A projector with higher light output is beneficial both for driving larger screen sizes and for delivering the high-brightness peaks required from HDR (high dynamic range) content. A laser light engine powers on and off far more quickly,

meaning significantly faster power on/off cycles. The laser light output can also be used dynamically to improve contrast ratio, and has a far longer lifespan (typically 20,000 hours) with significantly less dimming over its lifespan compared to a traditional lamp. Also, a better light source contributes to the projector’s ability to produce a wider range of the color spectrum.

What Makes A Projector Luxury?

JVC’s $35,000 DLA-RS4500K D-ILA 4K Projector

Better Lens

One of the factors that most influences image quality in traditional photography—either with a cellphone or traditional camera—is the quality of the lens. A larger lens with more glass elements does a better job of accurately capturing light and images the way we see them. Similarly, the quality of a projector’s primary lens greatly impacts the image up on screen. Consider Sony’s and JVC’s high-end projectors. These both use massive lenses featuring 18 all-glass elements. If bought separately, the lens alone would likely cost upwards of $10,000. The result is tighter focus, superior pixel detail, better corner-to-corner sharpness and color accuracy, less light loss, and tighter color alignment, all of which add up to superior images on screen.

 

Better Video Processing

Movies are typically filmed at 24 frames per second, this can result in having nearly 199 million pixels up on the screen every single second. That requires a lot of processing horsepower to make sure things look their best. This is especially important when watching non-native 4K content, such as traditional broadcast TV, DVD/Blu-ray discs, and much of the content on streaming services like Netflix and Amazon, which the projector’s video processor upscales to its 4K resolution. This is most essential with moving objects, and a good video processor will keep diagonal lines sharp and straight without introducing any “jaggies.” The quality of the processor also determines how well a projector tone-maps HDR images, delivering the widest range of contrast without crushing either blacks or whites.

 

Multiple Aspect Ratio Support

One of the real benefits of a luxury projection system is its ability to handle content filmed in different aspect ratios in the most cinematic manner. With a traditional 16:9 aspect ratio direct-view display, anything not 16:9 (including almost half of 

What Makes a Projector Luxury?

A Panamorph Paladin DCR anamorphic lens
mounted on a Sony VPL-VW885ES projector 

Hollywood movies, and an increasing amount of original content on streaming services like Netflix and Amazon) is shown with black bars at the top and bottom of the image. This makes these movies appear much smaller and less cinematic. By using a projector with either lens memory or a separate anamorphic lens such as a Panamorph Paladin along with a screen that incorporates variable masking à la Stewart Filmscreen’s Director’s Choice, you will always have the largest, most cinematic image on screen regardless of the aspect ratio the filmmakers chose, with no distracting black bars.

Better System Integration

Luxury projector manufacturers understand their products are likely to be part of a larger luxury system, so they are generally designed to better integrate with other components. Whether it is tighter, more reliable integration with a third-party control system like Crestron or Control4, the ability to generate and send notifications to the dealer if there is a problem, or offer advanced adjustment tools for a professional video calibrator, these projectors are meant to play nice with the entire system and ensure they deliver the goods whenever you press “Play”!

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.