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After Life

After Life

If you appreciate a show that grabs you by the hands and pulls you through all the feels in a short amount of time, After Life is for you. Ricky Gervais writes, directs, and stars in this series about a man who has lost his wife to cancer and is trying to find a reason to keep slogging through this life. He can’t bring himself to commit suicide, yet he sees no hope for joy. So he has decided to embrace bitterness and hopelessness as superpowers that allow him to do and say anything. His resulting interactions with the people in his life swing between funny, heartbreaking, wickedly off-color, and even downright sappy. 

 

After Life is British to the core—a quiet little show filled with quirky people talking to each other a lot. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I found it delightfully honest and poignant. If you only know Gervais for his more acerbic wit, you might be surprised how unapologetically sentimental he can be at times, and those opposing forces mesh perfectly here. It’s like brewing Kuding to make sweet tea.

After Life

Season One consists of just six 30-minute episodes, so you can easily binge this one in a weekend. Netflix presents the show in Dolby Vision and HDR10, with a Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack. The picture quality through my Apple TV was very good—it’s a clean, nicely detailed image that goes for a natural look, so don’t expect a lot of stylized shots to exploit the HDR. Overall, the improved dynamic range just lends a better sense of realism. Not surprisingly, the soundtrack is primarily dialogue through the center channel, with some music filling out the soundstage. Overall, it’s not an AV presentation to show off your system, but it suits the subject matter.

 

I was surprised and perhaps even a bit disappointed to see that a second season of After Life is in the works. This one seemed perfect as a limited-run series—six episodes that tell a complete story, capturing a time of painful transition in someone’s life. But Season One proved to be such a sweet surprise to me that I’m also intrigued to see what the show has in store in its next life.

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.

Musicals Are My Work—Movies Are My Pleasure

Musicals are My Work--Movies are My Fun

Gerard Alessandrini

Let me introduce myself. My name is Gerard Alessandrini. Although I am a writer/director in theatre (Forbidden Broadway and Spamilton), it’s little known that I am also a movie lover and have even been called an “expert” in many areas of film. One of the reasons I love movies so much is that I don’t work in film, therefore when I see a movie it’s a totally pleasurable experience because it’s never part of my job. In theatre, I am always looking at things with a critical eye and how they relate to my career. For me, movies are just fascinating fun.

 

I love all genres of films. I still purchase discs of films I would like to see and/or keep. Nowadays, most people watch films streaming on Netflix, Amazon, or Hulu, but if I love a film, I like to have it on hand for repeated viewings. I own a good amount of the Criterion Collection, which sadly is becoming harder and harder to find. Of course, I love high-quality imagery, so I have been buying many Blu-rays recently. Here’s a story of one of my most recent favorite purchases, The Nun. Not the recent horror film but the French classic from 1965.

 

Nearly 40 years ago when I first came to New York, I wandered into a revival house and saw Jacques Rivette’s The Nun (also known as La Religieuse). The film is 

mesmerizing as well as heartbreaking, and I have remembered it for all these years. During all that time, I have never heard mention of it! I wasn’t even sure if the film even existed and wondered if I had imagined the whole thing!

 

Well, you can imagine how happy I was when I walked into the Union Square Barnes & Noble and saw that Kino Classics DVDs had issued the film on Blu-ray. It’s a stunning restoration in 4K from the original film negative. The liner notes point out that The Nun was originally banned in France, I assume due to its controversial religious subject matter. It was not released in the United States until 1971, and eventually became a landmark of the French New Wave. It’s adapted from Denis Diderot’s

Musicals are My Work--Movies are My Fun

Anna Karina in Jacques Rivette’s The Nun (La Religieuse)

novel and it follows a rebellious nun who is forced into taking her vows—but this ain’t The Sound of Music. Anna Karina plays the title role and gives an “incandescent” performance. I’m so glad that I didn’t imagine this movie, and that it is finally available.

 

Some of the other Blu-ray discs that I happily purchased are David Lean’s final film, A Passage to India (one of my favorites of his), Safety Last (Harold Lloyd’s classic silent comedy filled with thrills and laughter), and two wonderful musicals, Silk Stockings with Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse and Victor/Victoria, starring Julie Andrews. Both of these film musicals have improved with age.

Musicals are My Work--Movies are My Fun

Sergei Bonarchuk’s War and Peace (1968)

On the other end of the spectrum, I was excited to buy the foreign-language Russian epic, War and Peace (1968). This is not the 1956 Audrey Hepburn version, but the 422-minute adaptation of the novel by Leo Tolstoy, and it follows the book so closely and completely that you could make the case that Tolstoy wrote the screenplay. This 2K digital restoration is completely in Russian with subtitles, unlike the over-dubbed English version that has been available for years. Experiencing it in Russian, of course, is the way to go. The film is directed by Sergei Bonarchuk, and is so authentic you would think you were looking through a window at the actual history as it took place.

 

Moving on to Westerns, I recently re-discovered another film from my past. When I was a young boy, I remembered seeing Audrey Hepburn in, of all things, a western! Again, the film was so obscure I thought perhaps I had imagined it, but Kino Lorber has issued a wonderful Blu-ray of this film, The Unforgiven, which stars not only Audrey Hepburn, but also Burt Lancaster, Lillian Gish, and, in a fantastic performance, Audie Murphy.

Musicals are My Work--Movies are My Fun

Audrey Hepburn in John Huston’s The Unforgiven

Today, the casting of Audrey Hepburn in this particular role wouldn’t happen, but it’s fun to see this visually gorgeous western with fine performances and hear the great music score by Dimitri Tiomkin. And if those names aren’t enough to impress you, it’s directed by John Huston. It’s great to own this film on Blu-ray, but it’s even better to see it in a movie theater on the big wide screen, where its mood and power will encompass you.

Gerard Alessandrini

Gerard Alessandrini is a Tony Award-winning writer/director of musicals. He is best known for
creating & writing the long-running musical satire Forbidden Broadway. Since 1981, he has
written & directed all the versions of FB in New York, LA, London, and around the world. He
has won numerous accolades, including two Lucille Lortel awards and seven Drama Desk
awards. As a lyricist (and sometimes composer), he has written over a dozen musicals—
including Madame X, The Nutcracker & IScaramouche, and the Paul Mazursky musical of
Moon Over Parador. He’s also written many special-material songs for stars like Angela
Lansbury, Carol Burnett, Bob Hope, and Barbra Streisand.

Tube-Based Home Theater–Why Not?

Tube-Based Home Theater--Why Not?

the Zen Ultra 5.1-channel preamplifier

Many audiophiles love tube gear. So why do we almost never see or hear about tube-based home theater systems? If tubes sound so luxuriously great, why aren’t they more common in home entertainment installations?

 

Multichannel-friendly tube products do exist. Decware makes a multichannel tube preamp— the Zen Ultra, a $2,995 six-channel unit that accommodates up to four program sources. Butler Audio offers its five-channel TDB 5150 tube power amplifier ($2,995) and three-channel TDB 3150 (price currently unavailable). For a program source, there are the

Tube-Based Home Theater--Why Not?

ModWright Instruments modifications of the Oppo BDP-105 (shown at left), BDP-105D, and UDP-205 Blu-ray players ($2,495 for the base modification only; user must supply player). Note that the players themselves are discontinued—you’ll have to search to find one.

Not exactly a big list.

 

In fact, I couldn’t find any other tube Blu-ray players or multichannel preamps other than out-of-production ModWright mods of other models—the Fosgate Audionics FAP V1 preamp/processor and the Conrad-Johnson MET-1 multichannel preamp. (If

readers know of any other products, please let me know.) There are also Samsung components that have tubes in their amplifiers, but they’re home-theater-in-a-box systems, not luxury AV products.

 

On the other hand, there is a plethora of tube amplifiers (in addition to the Butler Audio models) that could be used in a home theater system. In a 5.1 system, for example, 

Tube-Based Home Theater--Why Not?

the tubes in Samsung’s HT-H7750 home-theater-in-a-box system

you could employ stereo amps for the main and the surround channels and a mono or bridged stereo amp for the center channel. Or use five separate mono amps. (This is assuming a powered subwoofer in the system; a passive subwoofer would require another amp to drive it.)

 

So—other than tube amplifiers, there’s an obvious lack of tube home theater components.

 

Also, to use a multichannel tube preamp, you’d want to pair it with a source component with discrete (separate) multichannel audio outputs. You guessed it—there aren’t many around. Other than the ModWright/BDP-105, BDP-105D, and UDP-205 (and other models they’ve offered over the years), there are only a few other (solid-state) Blu-ray players with such outputs, 

like the highly regarded Ultra HD Panasonic DP-UB9000 or the Denon Professional DN-500BD MK II, recommended by Decware head honcho Steve Deckert. (You could use an HDMI-to-multichannel analog converter box with a Blu-ray player or other A/V source without multichannel analog outputs, but such a kludge would almost certainly degrade the sound.)

 

What about those tube amps? There are plenty available. But you’d have to use amps that are powerful enough for home theater, which limits the range of choices. Just picture a phalanx of big, hot, heavy, energy-sucking amps in your home-entertainment room—maybe not something that

would fit into your living environment. And as I mentioned in an earlier post, tube components do require some attention and maintenance.

 

But the main reason tube-based home theater systems are rare is that there’s almost no demand for them. As Stereophile’s Kal Rubinson noted, “There are too few people to make tube home theater components a viable market for manufacturers. Even 10 years ago, when we were in what we might call a ‘golden age’ of home theater popularity, it was hard to find such components or customers who wanted them.”

 

Based on my experience over decades of going to countless audio shows, dealers, and homes, I agree. And there are those who would say, “Why bother? Tubes don’t sound any better than solid-state.”

 

That said, having a tube home theater system is more than just some outrageous idea dreamed up by the editor and myself.

 

While not wanting to reveal sales figures, Decware told me the company sells several of its six-channel tube preamps each year. And between 2010 and 2019, ModWright has sold an average of 100 tube Blu-ray players each year (in addition to

other tube and hybrid components). That’s hundreds of listeners—maybe not McDonald’s numbers, but proof that there are enthusiasts out there who prize tube home theater sound. (How many home theater systems have tube amps? As of now, I don’t have an estimate, if one is even available.)

 

Also, although they’re not multichannel, there are countless stereo tube CD players, DACs (digital-to-analog 

converters), and even phono stages that could be incorporated into home entertainment systems, the $2,999 PrimaLuna Prologue Classic CD player (shown above) being just one example.

 

In fact, there are some who feel you don’t even need multichannel to enjoy spacious home theater sound. A well-set-up 2-channel or 2.1-channel system (two speakers and a subwoofer) can offer a compelling listening experience, maybe even fooling listeners into thinking they’re hearing surround sound. And there’s a wide variety of tube stereo components out there with which to create such a system.

 

Certainly, most people are going to go with a standard home-entertainment installation. Yet if you want to experience some sonic tube flavor in your system, it might be an uncommon option—but it’s a viable one.

Frank Doris

Frank Doris is the chief cook & bottle washer for Frank Doris/Public Relations and works with a
number of audio & music industry clients. He’s a professional guitarist and a vinyl enthusiast with
multiple turntables and thousands of records.

Cineluxe Talks To Paradise Theater’s Sam Cavitt

A sampling of Sam Cavitt’s theaters, showing the wide variety of his work

Lisa Montgomery recently talked to Paradise Theater‘s Sam Cavitt about his advocacy for no-compromise high-performance home theaters in an age of “good enough” entertainment spaces. As you can read in Sam’s “A Great Home Theater is Like Fine Wine,” he feels that the move toward non-dedicated spaces is keeping people from appreciating the extraordinary playback quality contemporary gear can achieve. Sam further develops that theme in his conversation with Lisa, while also discussing the true definition of “luxury.”

—Ed.

How has the perception of home theater changed over the years?

Today, when I tell someone my company designs home theaters, it’s likely they think I’m talking about as little as a single soundbar-style speaker and a big-screen TV in the family room. Home theater has become such a generic term and the products so seriously commoditized that it’s lost much of its significance. People no longer look at home theater as what it can be—what it can bring to their lives—but instead focus on how conveniently and affordably it can be added to a home. Building a special space for the enjoyment of movie viewing is often deemed to be unnecessary.

 

It sounds like home theater has become a more mainstream amenity instead of a luxury item. Is this a bad thing?

If you mean the difference between a commodity and luxury item, the answer is yes. Today the word “luxury” is misinterpreted. The true definition of luxury is something that is so clearly superior to alternatives due to quality of materials,

Sam Cavitt Interview

Sam Cavitt

workmanship, and design that it is inherently of a greater value; whereas a commodity is something that is only differentiated by low price.  Which would you prefer?

 

While mass-market home theaters may have exposed more people to the concept of home theater, it devalues the art, craftsmanship, and difference inherent in a genuine, state-of-the-art private cinema that’s been designed expressly for movie viewing. The general public isn’t being shown the differences between the experiences you get from a home theater “kit” versus the bespoke private cinemas we provide.

 

I notice that you’ve been referring to home theaters as private home cinemas. Is this intentional?

Yes. The level of engineering and design that goes into the theaters we create for our clientele is so many levels above and the results so substantially different from what you can get from “off the shelf” alternatives that we must be differentiated from what is commonly called home theater. The elements of a theater we think are vitally important simply can’t be achieved through easy-does-it 

types of approaches. We want to set ourselves apart as “cinema sommeliers,” an organization that helps our clientele understand and appreciate the differences we offer. One way to do this is to stop referring to our completed projects as home theaters and instead refer to them as “private cinemas.”

 

As a cinema sommelier, what level of service can clients expect to receive?

Like a wine sommelier imparts their knowledge to help each client select the perfect wine pairing, as cinema sommeliers, we help our clients understand the value of improved sound quality, video quality, acoustics, and aesthetics of a space, the differences between a great private cinema and an out-of-the-box home theater. We can identify the specific elements—from a room’s geometry and sonic signature to the expectations of those who will be enjoying it—to enable us to transform the space into something that’s truly amazing.

 

In our industry, most home theater specialists fail to identify and promote the value of what they do for their clientele. We feel home theaters have become a pleasure unexploited. I’ve made it my personal mission to spread the word to the public that it’s possible to have something great, that it is worthy of their consideration to acquire a private cinema that will enhance their enjoyment and that they can share with those they love—similar to what people now do with fine art, personal wine cellars, gourmet kitchens, and so on.

 

How does Paradise Theater handle the actual design and installation of the elements that make up a private home cinema?

We provide comprehensive private cinema design and engineering, including design of what we call the chassis or how a room is built, acoustical engineering, system specification, interior design services, and full documentation to support the build-out of the space as well as quality control and performance verification throughout the construction process. What we

don’t do is sell equipment. We leave that to the many well-qualified integration companies we partner with on projects. This allows us to focus on our core competency—ensuring that each phase of the project is completed to perfection. We are like an architect who leads the construction of a home, but providing complete quality assurance for private home theaters. From the first glimmer of an idea to the final experience, we handle the entire process from A to Z.

 

Your projects represent the upper echelon of home theater design. What can potential customers expect from Paradise Theater that they can’t get elsewhere?
Every theater we create is bespoke—there are no

cookie-cutter theaters. Each one is purposely designed to the specific objectives and desires of the client. The reason Paradise Theater exists is its commitment to excellence. Other firms might talk about “how” they do theaters and “what” they do to create theaters, but we focus on the “why.” Why do we create home theaters? Because creating something excellent is the basis of everything we do. It’s in our DNA—our raison d’être.

 

Given the high-end nature of your theaters, your target customers are those with the disposable incomes to afford them. What is it that inspires this group of consumers to invest in a private cinema designed by Paradise Theater?

The love of finer things. Paradise Theater clients are the same people who buy fine art and luxury automobiles. They are investing in things they love. We position a home theater the same way as any other luxury item—people should have one because they love movies, but even more so for the love of having an environment that lets them connect with friends and family and create unforgettable moments. We want our theaters to bring people together, share special experiences, and connect.

 

Have any of your clients found that your theaters have, in fact, enhanced their lives in some significant way?

Two top executives who were previous clients had such busy lives that they told us that they had never watched a movie together. After we created a private home cinema for them, movie night became a regular part of their personal and social lives—it was game-changing for them.

With more than 20 years under her belt covering all things electronic for the home, Lisa
Montgomery 
has developed a knack for knowing what types of products and systems
make sense for homeowners looking to update their abodes. When she’s not exploring
innovative ways to introduce technology into homes, Lisa breaks away from the electronics
world on a bike, kayak, or a towel on the beach.

Air Force One

Air Force One

Here we are with another classic Sony Pictures Home Entertainment film getting the 20-year-plus 4K HDR makeover—and I’ll admit, I’m a big fan of Air Force One.

 

Sony gave the film a full 4K HDR restoration from the original 35mm print, along with retooling the soundtrack for a dynamic new Dolby Atmos mix. While it was released on 4K Blu-ray disc last November, the new 4K HDR version recently arrived at the Kaleidescape Store. Because I already owned the film on Blu-ray, I was able to upgrade to the 4K HDR version for only $11.99, making it an easy decision.

 

It’s hard to think of another actor who would have been more perfectly suited to play President James Marshall than Harrison Ford, and the film largely succeeds because of his likability and believability, essentially being the type of commander-in-chief everyone could get behind.

 

When the film came out in 1997, we were already well familiar with Ford in the role of leading-man action star from such films as the original Star Wars trilogy, the Indiana Jones trilogy, The Fugitive, and Blade Runner. More appropriately, Ford had also taken over the mantle of portraying Tom Clancy’s character Jack Ryan in Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger. Clancy fans will know that as Ryan’s story arc progresses, he eventually moves up the ranks to become President of the United States, so in some ways you could consider AF1 a not-so-distant relative to the Clancy stories.

 

Besides his physicality, Ford was the right age to still be believable as someone capable of holding his own in a scuffle, and had the gravitas to pull off the role of commander-in-chief in the non-fight scenes. He was also backed by a strong supporting cast that includes William H. Macy, Dean Stockwell, Glenn Close, and Gary Oldman as ultra-loyalist Russian baddy, Ivan Korshunov.

 

The film opens with special forces parachuting into a compound to capture Kazakhstan dictator General Alexander Radek (Jürgen Prochnow) in a nighttime raid, and then cuts to a banquet in Moscow where President Marshall declares the US’s new “zero-tolerance” policy toward terrorism. He and his family (and the presidential entourage) then board Air Force One to return to the States, but during the flight, a group of terrorists loyal to Radek and led by Korshunov take over the plane, killing many of the Secret Service detail aboard. Instead of escaping the plane in a specially designed pod, President Marshall stays aboard trying to use his ex-military skills to save the hostages and retake the plane.

 

This all happens in roughly the first 20 minutes, leaving a lot of time to build drama and play out the cat-and-mouse hunt aboard the plane as well as the political turmoil back in Washington as the assembled cabinet tries to come to terms with the fact that the President is possibly dead along with having a hijacked AF1 full of high-value passengers quickly flying its way back toward enemy territory.

 

Video quality is greatly improved throughout, with sharp and defined edges. Closeups especially benefit from the restoration, clearly revealing more details, such as individual strands of hair. Overall the film has a nice layer of cleanness to the print,

Air Force One

The same shot from Air Force One, from the Blu-ray version (above)
and the 4K HDR version (below)

Air Force One

making this the best AF1 has looked by far.

 

There was definitely a regrading of the color for this release, which is especially noticeable in the opening scenes. In the Blu-ray version, the sky is a dusky blueish purple, with some shots looking near daytime bright—not a time when you’d do an airborne assault on a compound. In the new HDR version, the sky is much darker, with the action clearly taking place at night, making it more believable.

 

While they didn’t push the HDR grading too aggressively, it’s definitely used to nice effect to 

improve images overall, which results in the film having greater depth and pop than the Blu-ray version. Many scenes benefit from the added pop of brightness and expanded white level and shadow detail.

 

Notice the detail in the parachute canopy in the opening raid compared to how blown out the white levels are in the Blu-ray version, or the detail in the shadows under AF1 and around the MOCKBA sign as the Presidential party is boarding to leave Moscow. You also get far more impact from the displays and sensors in the plane’s communications room, the bright lights around Moscow at night, and the jet’s afterburners. And when a big KC-10 tanker explodes, the flames have bright, vivid red-orange colors.

 

But a 20-plus-year-old film will never look as sharp and clean as a modern digital image, and there is some occasional noise and excessive grain, especially in the dark night scenes like the opening parachute attack. Also, some of the visual effects look truly dated and are almost laughable by current standards—for example, as the staffers escape by parachute and the big tumbling crash at the end.

 

As nice as the new video transfer is, the new Dolby Atmos soundmix is the real gem here. They clearly took every opportunity to have fun with the mix, and the results are phenomenal. Years ago—in 1999, I believe—I attended a CEDIA Expo where many manufacturers were using the airplane takeover scene from AF1 as a demo. That meant I got to experience the same scene on many systems, giving me a real sense of how it sounded. Polk Audio and Cinepro built a system designed to deliver realistic, lifelike audio levels, with every speaker having a minimum of 1,000 watts of power sent to it. I can remember 

watching that demo, and even though I’d seen it multiple times already, hearing Korshunov rack the slide on his weapon sounded like he was right next to you, and when he fired the first shot, everyone in the room jumped. The dynamics were so insane, you felt like a gun had gone off right next to you.

 

This new Dolby Atmos mix got me back to that experience.

 

You can hear the difference right from the beginning as the title score swells over the opening credits with far more space and width to the presentation. The score is also gently mixed into the front height speakers to expand the soundstage. The opening commando raid also reveals that this is going to be a fun mix, with shouts, echoes, and gunshots filling the room along with fairly serious LFE engagement from your subwoofer.

 

The sound mixer also uses the speakers to put you into different acoustic environments, such as the President’s opening speech in the Moscow banquet hall, which has tons of ambience and reverb to accurately place you in that acoustic space, and the subtle ambient sounds aboard AF1.

 

Probably nothing benefits from the improved audio more than the F-15 fighter jets

Air Force One

scrambled to protect/escort AF1, which sound absolutely awesome whenever they’re on screen, with their engine sounds mixed at a high and realistic level. The jets go ripping through the room, tearing overhead and to the front of the room with incredibly powerful deep bass you feel in your chest from their afterburners.

 

Air Force One is just a fun popcorn movie that holds up incredibly well 20 years later, and it makes for a terrific evening in your home theater.

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.

What You Need to Know About Disney+

What You Need to Know About Disney+

The Simpsons will stream exclusively on Disney+

Even if you pay no more than a middling bit of attention to the streaming-video landscape, you likely felt a great disturbance in the Force in the past few months, as if millions of voices cried out and said, “Take my money!” That disruption, of course, has been caused by Disney+, which was met with skepticism when it was originally announced two years ago. (Yours truly called it a “huge mistake,” words I would like to eat with some ginger and a few shavings of fresh wasabi root, if you don’t mind.) But in the time since, numerous announcements about exclusive content and the service’s price structure have turned it from an inconvenient extra bill to a legitimate threat to Netflix.

 

There’s still a lot we don’t know about Disney+, mind you, and probably won’t know until closer to its November 12 launch date. But for now, here’s what we can say about what makes Disney+ different from the competition, and why you should care.

 

1) It’s got the content you want for a price you can’t refuse

If you’re a fan of, well, pretty much anything, chances are good Disney owns a piece of it. It goes without saying that Disney+ will have a large collection of Disney movies (with none of the Vault shenanigans that we’ve come to know and loathe in the home video era), as well as Pixar offerings, to choose from. It’ll also have every Star Wars movie except for The Last 

Jedi and Solo at launch (those are coming in the first year), as well as original Star Wars programming like the new live-action show The Mandalorian and a brand-new season of the highly acclaimed The Clone Wars animated series.

 

Ditto Marvel. The only movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) that won’t be available at launch is Avengers: Endgame, which is slated to hit Disney+ in December. That, by the way, gives us some interesting insight into how long it will take new theatrical releases to stream after they’ve been released to home video. Then there’s the mountain of new, Disney+ exclusive MCU programming in the works, including original TV series based on Hawkeye, Vision & Scarlet Witch, Falcon & Winter Soldier, as well as everyone’s favorite bad boy, Loki.

 

Out of the gate, the service will launch with 300 theatrical films, and by the end of the first year we’re promised 500 films and 7,500 episodes’ worth of TV programming. All of that would be worth $6.99 a month even if the service didn’t also include a ton of National Geographic content to boot.

 

 

2) Bundles will sweeten the pot

Disney recently announced that in addition to its main subscription plan for $6.99, you’ll also be able to drop $12.99 on a bundle that includes Disney+, ESPN+, and the ad-supported version of Hulu without live TV. In other words: Pay for two, get one for free.

 

This makes sense, given that Disney now owns a controlling stake in Hulu (with Warner going its own way soon to launch HBO Max, another studio-exclusive streaming service), and seems to be positioning Hulu as the home for its more adult-oriented programming (including former Fox properties like Deadpool, as well as more mature original shows).

 

Interestingly, that $12.99 price point is also exactly what Netflix charges for its most basic, HD-only subscription tier. That can’t be a coincidence.

 

 

3) Disney isn’t skimping on AV quality

The company has already made some reassuring statements about Disney+ supporting 4K video and HDR. While we don’t know what sort of compression codecs the service will employ, that promise means it’s using HEVC at a minimum. In other words, Disney+ will be in the top tier of streaming providers from a video-quality perspective.

 

Here’s what we don’t know, though: Will you be able to access 4K HDR video for the aforementioned $6.99 subscription price? Netflix charges for 4K HDR. Amazon doesn’t. So, it’s difficult to guess.

 

What’s more, we also don’t know if opting for the Disney+/Hulu/EPSN+ bundle will force you into accessing all three services from one app. If that app is Hulu, that could also be bad news in terms of video quality. Although Hulu recently re-introduced support for 4K video, it doesn’t

offer HDR, which is a bummer since dynamic range has much more impact on picture quality than pixel count.

 

In other words, if you care about video performance, it may be that you’ll need to skip the bundle and just subscribe to Disney+ directly. But again, nobody knows for sure just yet.

 

 

4) They seem to have solved the biggest problem with most streaming services—the user interface

Here’s a fun experiment for you bored masochists in the audience: Load up Netflix and attempt to find all of the existing Netflix-original (but Disney-financed) Marvel TV shows in one place. This is a little easier if you remember the names of all those series (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, The Defenders). But search instead for, say, “Marvel,” and you end up with a mess of unrelated content with no clear indication of which shows exist in the same continuity. (Particularly troubling for nerds, you’ll also find a lot of cartoons based on D.C. Comics properties.)

 

Netflix isn’t alone in this, of course. The user interfaces for all of the major streaming platforms are just terrible.

 

Disney+, by contrast, has developed a user interface that seems to do all the things normal streaming UIs do—track your viewing habits, give you recommendations based on your preferences, spotlight new releases by category, etc.—but it also

curates its content and allows you to hone in on specific universes it owns. Just want to watch some Star Wars but not sure exactly what you’re in the mood for? The Galaxy Far, Far Away will have its own separate section of Disney+. So will Marvel. So will Pixar and NatGeo.

 

If other streaming providers don’t figure out how to do something similar—not 

necessarily segregating their home screens by shared universes, but coming up with some way of streamlining the process of finding something worth watching that matches your current mood—this could be the Number One thing that threatens the competition.

 

 


Add it all together, and it’s really not a question of whether or not you’ll subscribe to Disney+. Because of course you will, especially if you have a kid, know a kid, or remember being a kid. The real question is whether or not you’ll start dropping your subscriptions to other services once Disney+ launches.

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.

A Great Home Theater is Like Fine Wine

A Great Home Theater is Like Fine Wine

The integrator (Station Earth), interior designer (Red Theory), and theater designer (Paradise Theater)
teamed up to deliver the best of all worlds with this unique private cinema

Years ago, when the term “home theater” originated, it was used to describe something exciting and new. For the first time, the window to the world of fantasy, formerly only available through the venerable “silver screen,” became available in the home. Larger-than-life images, the first immersive audio, and the rooms themselves—from Art Deco to classic to modern, reminiscent of famous theater palaces—started appearing in the homes of those who had the passion and the means to pursue the emerging amenity. A new community emerged, and for the first time we became home theater enthusiasts.

 

In the beginning, those who took up the challenge to bring this experience into the home were inspired by the challenge and the opportunity. The objective of the film producer, to achieve the willing suspense of disbelief, became the challenge for home theater designers. This suspension of disbelief is what great films produce, enabling the viewer to become fully

A Great Home Theater is Like Fine Wine

There are no limits to style when aesthetics are artfully integrated with engineering

engaged in the cinematic experience. To quote Roger Ebert: “Movies are the most powerful empathy machine in all the arts. When I go to a great movie I can live somebody else’s life for a while. I can walk in somebody else’s shoes.“ It takes a great theater environment to realize this experience.

 

On one hand, this earlier era might be considered the “heyday” of home theater, when owning one was considered a worthy

aspiration, and the professionals who designed them were part of an elite group committed to delivering spaces that included emerging technology, aesthetic elements, and performance. Home theater was emerging as a considerable pursuit with a growing community of enthusiasts and professionals. 

 

Ironically, this heyday, while enjoying the enthusiasm of a new idea, fell far short of today’s capacity to deliver excellence. In fact, we were learning, and made many mistakes along the way. However, those who have stayed the course now have the ability to deliver cinematic experiences in the home far superior to any past home theaters—and, in fact, far superior to all but a very few elite commercial or professional screening rooms. The images, the sound, the acoustics, and the knowledge enable us to deliver a level of quality we could only dream of in the past. Unfortunately, along the way home theater has taken on so many forms that those who might have an interest in the experience face a confusing set of options.

A Great Home Theater is Like Fine Wine

A bespoke interior design conceals a state-of-the-art immersive audio system
and theater chassis in this luxury-resort amenity cinema

Manufacturers today offer many alternative solutions that can transform family rooms, dens, even spare bedrooms into what are now called home theaters. It’s not necessarily a bad thing that a larger population of homeowners has an awareness and opportunity to enjoy home theater in some form. The problem is the inference that this defines home theater, that the difference between these solutions and a fully engineered high-performance home theater has become obscured. The rhetoric in some circles is that there is very little difference or that most people can’t tell the difference.

 

But these systems are a far cry from what is readily obtainable today and, most importantly, the purpose of home theater as it originated—a space created to support the artists’ intent, a willing suspension of disbelief; and the potential of the art today—a window to experience a world of art and fantasy like never before. 

It’s like wine. Some people are fine with a mediocre wine, while others have learned to appreciate the qualities of a finer, more expensive wine. People will always find a less expensive and less perfect way to do something, and, until they are shown the difference, will not realize there’s a big difference between the ordinary and the extraordinary. This is especially true when it comes to home theater.

 

Rather than merely focus on the technology behind the movie magic, my company applies a holistic approach, where every aspect of the environment—construction, engineering, aesthetics, and ergonomics—is crafted for the purpose of producing the finest private cinema experience every time. Consider us a bit of a unicorn in the home theater industry by focusing on what we have done and still do best: Designing luxurious, high-caliber, private spaces dedicated to superb movie viewing for our clients around the globe. 

ABOUT
PARADISE THEATER

 

My company, Paradise Theater, which has offices in both Hawaii and California, engineers and designs extraordinary high-performance private cinemas worldwide. Working with integrators, architects and interior designers, Paradise Theater provides the value-added services of optimized room acoustics, private theater performance engineering, design development and integration of theater interiors, and performance verification. The pursuit of excellence in private cinemas is the raison d’être for both me and my company.

—S.C.

Although a lot has changed in the home theater world—the types of technologies available, the variety of professionals who install them, and a looser definition of the term—my team and I have stayed true to the original goals of home theater design by customizing each and every room specifically to provide the best experience possible.

 

We have indeed carved a niche for ourselves in the home theater market by giving consumers a high-end option with high-end results. Yes, technology plays an integral role in the rooms we create, but amazing movie viewing is best achieved when in a space that’s been built, engineered, and designed for that one pastime. Light from windows, noise from a busy street, the hum of a video projector—nothing interferes with the movie-viewing action in an expertly crafted private home cinema.

 

Our mission is to create excellent home cinemas. It’s my passion, and the reason I continue to do what I do.

Sam Cavitt

Sam Cavitt is the founder & president of Paradise Theater in Kihei, HI and Carlsbad,
CA. 
Sam hails from Maui, where he can be found surfing, sailing, drumming, and paddling
when he is not designing.

Alita: Battle Angel

Alita: Battle Angel

Marketing-hype phrases like, “From the team that brought you two of the most successful films of all time . . .and, “From the director of Sin City . . .” carry with them a level of expectation that can end up being too much for a film to live up to. This, in part, was the burden that preceded the release of Alita: Battle Angel, and in some ways parallels another film, Mortal Engines.

 

Like Engines, Alita burst onto the cinematic consciousness with an impressive trailer that was full of flash and promise, with incredible detail, effects, and world building. It was also based on a story only familiar to hardcore fans—in this case a 1990 Japanese manga series Gunnm (or Battle Angel Alita) by Yukito Kishiro.

 

Alita takes place roughly 550 years in the future, 300 years after a massive interplanetary war known as “The Fall” has devastated much of Earth. While hunting through a scrap yard filled with trash discarded by the last great sky city of Zalem, Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) discovers the upper half of a large-eyed female cyborg with a fully-functioning human

RELATED REVIEW

Mortal Engines

brain. He brings her home and gives her a body he originally designed years ago for his deceased daughter.

 

The cyborg (Rosa Salazar), whom Ido names Alita after his daughter, has no memories of her past and spends the film trying to discover who she was (and is), what goes on up in Zalem, and how to survive on the mean streets of Iron City, where Hunter-Warriors, cyborg serial killers, and giant Centurion sentry robots create constant sources of conflict. Along the way, Alita discovers she possesses unique and powerful long-lost fighting skills known as “Panzer Kunst,” as well as an innate ability to play Motorball, a futuristic and far more violent/deadly version of roller derby.

While we typically recommend online versions of films here, especially when downloaded in full resolution from the Kaleidescape Movie Store, this is a case where I’m suggesting you go and purchase the physical 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray. Why?

 

For one, 20th Century Fox still refuses to provide Kaleidescape with the lossless Dolby Atmos audio mix with its 4K HDR version, leaving you instead with a much less impressive 5.1-channel DTS-HD mix. (I’m hopeful Fox’s recent acquisition by Disney—which does provide Kaleidescape with the best audio elements for all 4K titles—will rectify this going forward.)

 

For two, the 4K Blu-ray version comes in a three-disc set that includes the Blu-ray disc with tons of extras, a digital download code, and a third disc with a 3D version of the film that is an absolute blast to watch, if your system is capable. Alita was shot natively in 3D, and with James Cameron involved—the guy responsible for what is still widely considered the greatest 3D film experience ever with Avatar—this is worth the price of purchase alone. 

 

Alita was shot in ARRIRAW at 3.4K resolution, and while it lists the digital intermediate as “master format,” I’m assuming it was taken from a 2K DI. While the film looks gorgeous, it doesn’t exhibit that ultra-fine level of detail in closeups found in true 4K-sourced films. Another mild disappointment is that while some of the movie was filmed in IMAX for its theatrical release, the home version doesn’t include the IMAX-resolution scenes, which are often some of the finest 4K video available.

 

Those nits aside, Alita frequently fills the screen with eye candy, captivating to look at and behold. Every scene and background bristles with set dressing and design—whether it is machines, buildings, vehicles, or people with a variety of cyborg limbs or appendages, the world of Alita is stunning to see and rich with detail. The film features a fairly drab color palette for many of the daytime outdoor scenes; however, the nighttime scenes exhibit deep, clean black levels, with nice use of HDR highlights in many of the city scenes, with spotlights, signs, and streetlights having extra punch. HDR also benefits the brightly lit interior of the lab of Dr. Chiren (Jennifer Connelly) and the Motorball arena.

Alita: Battle Angel

While the film relies heavily on Weta Digital’s computer effects throughout, its greatest effect is Alita, a fully computer-generated character. At first, her significantly oversized eyes and slightly smaller mouth (to reflect her manga origins) make her noticeably different, but the caliber of the CGI work—particularly in her eyes, which are incredibly expressive, emotive and, well, human-looking—is so impressive that you quickly just see Alita as a character. (The only thing that slightly pulled me from my suspension of disbelief was a slight disconnect between Alita’s voice and her mouth. Not that it is out of sync by any means, but just something that my eyes and mind couldn’t fully mesh.)

 

As good as the 4K HDR version looks, there’s a definite extra dimension (pun definitely intended) that comes from watching the 3D version. Instead of going for gimmicky shots that come out of the screen towards the viewer (and which frequently cause headaches and eye strain), Alita uses 3D to deliver an amazing sense of depth and dimension, with many backgrounds appearing to just go on forever. One of my favorite shots is when Alita comes out of the water inside the United Republics of Mars (URM) ship, with the water shimmering and waving all around her with incredible depth. The many computer screens throughout also benefit from the 3D presentation. There are definite benefits and advantages to watching either the 4K HDR or 3D version, and I’d highly suggest enjoying both.

 

One drawback of the 3D version is that it replaces the Dolby Atmos soundtrack for the inferior DTS-HD 7.1-channel mix. While still impressive, it didn’t have the depth and immersion of the Atmos soundtrack.

 

Speaking of the audio, Alita features an active, immersive, reference mix throughout. Whether it is the small, atmospheric background sounds that bring life to scenes, or the big, demo-worthy scenes with their massive audio cues that rip and pound through the room, Alita’s audio mix constantly entertains.

 

The first major audio moment comes at the 11-minute mark when Alita rescues a dog from a walking Centurion. The mech moves over Alita’s (and your) head, with its feet slamming into the ground, producing concussive bass waves. You clearly hear all the whirrs and hums of the mech’s motor servos and hydraulics as it moves around the room, putting you right in the middle of the action. 

 

Other big reference audio moments include Alita’s first fight, in an alley, at the 27-minute mark, the Motorball stadium at 42-minutes, and the fight with Grewishka (Jackie Earle Haley) inside the Kansas Bar at little more than an hour in. In these big scenes, you are in a hemispherical audio cocoon, with sounds clearly emanating from all points of the room around you, such as Grewishka’s metal claws launching right past your head and his voice mocking Alita from all around.

 

Even non-action scenes are filled with sounds, such as the water dripping all around you inside the URM ship, or the sounds of various machines and computers in Ido’s lab.

 

When you remove the pressure and high expectation that surrounded Alita’s release, in many ways you’re left with exactly the kind of movie that home theater was designed for. It’s big, it’s flashy, it has incredible detail, and it rocks an absolutely reference Dolby Atmos sound mix. Is it a perfect movie? Far from it. But is it a fun movie that will push your display and sound system to their limits, impressing you and your guests in the process? Absolutely.

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.

Demo Scenes: Avengers: Endgame

Demo Scenes: "Avengers: Endgame"
“Avengers Assemble”
(Chapter 16, 2:16:02–2:19:42)

 

Martin Mull (or maybe it was Frank Zappa?) once opined that talking about music is like dancing about architecture. Trying to convey the benefits of high dynamic range video can feel a little like that at times, given that most web browsers don’t support HDR by default, and still images just can’t do it justice. So, those of us who champion this video innovation in written form are often reduced to hyperbolic-sounding statements that still don’t effectively get the point across. It’s brighter! It’s darker! It’s billions of colors!

 

Want to see for yourself the difference that HDR can truly make? Fire up your Kaleidescape, download the 4K HDR version of Avengers: Endgame, and cue up the climactic moments of the big final battle when (spoiler alert, in case it wasn’t already obvious) the heroes who fell in Infinity War return from non-existence and are magically teleported by Doctor Strange onto

the battlefield alongside Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man. On Kaleidescape, it’s the scene named “Avengers Assemble,” for obvious reasons. If you’re watching via some other platform, you can skip to the timestamp listed above.

 

But don’t press that Play button just yet. Before you watch the scene in 4K HDR, check out the same sequence in the HD version first. It’s epic, to be sure, even in Blu-ray quality. The battlefield feels immense. The shadows that hang over the sundered pile of rubble where Avengers HQ once stood are deep and inky. The layer of grime and streaks of blood marring Cap’s face are tangible and perfectly textured. Once you’ve soaked in all of that and gotten a good reminder of what state-of-the-art home video looked like barely more than three years ago, switch over to the 4K HDR version and prepare to have your hair blown back.

 

Truth be told, there isn’t much of a difference in terms of resolution, given that Endgame was sourced from a 2K digital intermediate. And yet, the enhanced contrast HDR brings with it makes every shot feel crisper, more detailed, more dimensional, more lifelike. (I mean, as lifelike as a 

scene can look when it involves a bunch of grown folks running around in armored pajamas fighting a big purple space fascist.)

 

This isn’t just an academic study in video specs, though. What makes the HDR presentation of Endgame work so well—in this scene, particularly—is that it genuinely enhances the passion and poignancy of these moments. The portals Doctor Strange opens aren’t merely razzle-dazzle circles floating in the darkness, as they are in high-definition and standard dynamic range—they’re blinding rips in the spacetime continuum. The sun hanging over the horizon isn’t simply a yellow-white spot on your screen—it’s a stunning light source that pierces the darkness of the battlefield, and indeed of your room.

 

These brilliant spots of light dancing through the darkness actually have a physiological effect, dilating your pupils a bit and tickling your wince reflex—though not pushing it to the point of discomfort. And given that you’re genuinely, physically engaged with the imagery, you can’t help but be drawn more deeply into it. You’re not merely a passive observer of this shield-throwing, lightning-calling, web-spinning battle for the fate of the universe—you’re more invested in the action because all of those photons pouring off of your screen literally invoke an involuntary biological response, yanking you into the heightened reality of it all. At that point, you’re not just watching a movie; you’re having an experience. One that simply wouldn’t be possible without HDR.

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.

Getting Into Vinyl? Find Yourself an Expert

Getting Into Vinyl? Find Yourself an Expert

Photo by Ivan Boban from Pexels

Listening to a luxury turntable can be a sublime musical experience. However, actually buying an ultimate record-playback setup can be daunting, especially if you don’t know who to turn to for advice. There are so many choices for turntables, tonearms, phono cartridges, and electronics . . . where to begin?

The short answer: Rely on an expert.

 

The obvious first place to look is a good specialist audio/video retailer, custom installation firm, or systems integration company. You want companies that sell and install high-end turntables and are knowledgeable about these things. (Luxury turntables require expert setup.)

 

Do a search, and you’ll find that some dealers focus on home audio and video, while other companies lean toward home automation, business, and corporate services, and may not even have turntables on their line card. Traditional “stereo stores” (boy, does that sound dated, but do a Google search and they’ll come up) will likely be your best bet, but don’t rule out others without checking. Stirling Trayle of the consulting company Audio Systems Optimized notes, “The consumer/dealer relationship is vital. Find a good dealer and stick with them.”

 

See if the potential dealer carries reputable brands. Ones you can expect to find at a dealer who’s on top of his game

include Brinkmann, Clearaudio, Linn, McIntosh, SME, Tech DAS, and VPI.

 

Even if you don’t know a platter from a pizza you should be prepared with as much knowledge as possible. As the old Syms clothing store commercials used to say, “An educated consumer is our best customer.”

 

Good articles about buying turntables can be found online at Engadget, CNET and Make Use Of. Although these tend to focus on lower- and mid-priced models rather than ne plus ultra gear, they’re good reading. For articles about and reviews of ultimate-performance gear, check out some of the websites listed in the “Sites & Sound” sidebar below.

And if you feel up to some old-school book-length reading, I highly recommend two volumes, both written in a clear, non-intimidating style. The Complete Guide to High-End Audio by Robert Harley, editor of The Absolute Sound, contains a wealth of information on turntables (and every other type of audio component). It’s available from Amazon, HiFiBooks.com, and other outlets. The Friendly Audio Guide by veteran A/V writer Mark Fleischmann is exactly that, filled with useful material about turntables and everything audio. You can buy it from Amazon, Quiet River Press, and elsewhere.

 

As for online and Facebook forums and discussion groups, you’ll need to keep things in perspective. Audiophiles tend to be opinionated, with adherents and detractors for analog vs. digital, tubes vs. solid-state, and every conceivable audio-related topic, with no consensus on what’s “best.” That said, reading posts, some from honest-to-goodness audio-industry experts who are friendly and generous with advice, can be extremely informative.

 

However . . . there’s also an epidemic of misinformation online. Without getting 

into the sociological “why,” it’s well-known that social media sites are filled with people posting uninformed and rude comments. Sadly, audio forums and discussion groups aren’t immune. Beware of self-styled “experts” who are anything but, not to mention the flat-out trolls. If the poster is inflammatory, dogmatic, condescending, seems to have an agenda, or all of the above, those are the typical tells of someone to ignore.

Once you feel like you’ve identified some potential places to buy your dream turntable setup, go and take a listen. Buying a high-performance, luxury turntable-based audio system is not unlike buying a sports car—and can cost as much, all told. So you’ll want to be as comfortable with your audio dealer as you are with your car dealer.

 

Check out a variety of turntables. This is important: Ask the dealer to take you through the process of actually playing a record—putting it on the platter, cueing up the tonearm/cartridge, and so on. Playing a record without damaging the disc or the turntable takes a little practice. And you’ll want some instruction in how to maintain your gear over time. Bring some good-sounding records you’re familiar with so you’ll have a consistent point of reference as you check out different models (see “A Newbie’s List of Reference Discs”).

 

 A great turntable setup should sound astoundingly lifelike, detailed and dynamic with an almost tangible presence to vocals and instruments. It should absolutely, completely, utterly blow you away.

 

Oh, and one more suggestion . . .

 

If you can, attend an audio show! If you’ve never been to one, you’ll be dazzled by the variety of turntables and audio gear to listen to. They’re a wonderful opportunity to meet the designers and manufacturers first-hand, along with hundreds of enthusiasts. They’re also tremendous fun! With more and more audio shows happening around the country—like AXPONA (Chicago), Rocky Mountain Audio Fest 

Getting Into Vinyl? Find Yourself an Expert

A NEWBIE’S LIST OF REFERENCE DISCS

If you already have some albums you’re well familiar with, bring those along when you go to audition a turntable. But if you’re looking for a place to start, you can’t go wrong with these classic choices:

 

Miles Davis, Kind of Blue (Mobile Fidelity re-issue)

The Eagles, Hotel California

Diana Krall, All for You

Pink Floyd, The Dark Side of the Moon

Shelby Lynne, Just a Little Lovin’ 

Cecile McLorin, WomanChild

(Denver), Capital Audiofest (Rockville, MD), the Florida Audio Expo (Tampa), the California Audio Show (Oakland), The Home Entertainment Show (Long Beach, CA), and the New York Audio Show (Manhattan)—not to mention international shows, you can find one just about anywhere.

 

There’s no one “right” way to buy a vinyl playback setup. While the opinions of an expert will be invaluable, ultimately, you should buy what makes you (and your fellow listeners) happy.

Frank Doris

Frank Doris is the chief cook & bottle washer for Frank Doris/Public Relations and works with a
number of audio & music industry clients. He’s a professional guitarist and a vinyl enthusiast with
multiple turntables and thousands of records.