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Can the Beauty Industry Save Specialty AV?

Can the Beauty Industry Save Specialty AV?

What if I told you the sky wasn’t falling. That AV enthusiasts weren’t dying off in droves due to old age and that young people didn’t only value convenience over quality? What if I told you that? Would you believe me?

 

As a fellow member of the AV press for going on 20 years now (OMG I’m freakin’ old), I have been party to the slow decline of what was once a flourishing hobby. For the past few years, specialty rags and manufacturers alike have been arguing over just what exactly the cause of their demise has been. Was it the housing bubble and subsequent financial crisis? China? Or Amazon that killed specialty AV? While compelling arguments could be made linking all of the above to the current sad state of affairs, I argue another point—that specialty AV continues to die by its own hand.

 

The problem with specialty AV—of which I lump audiophiles and home theater enthusiasts alike into the same overarching category—is that for all its so-called technological advancements, it lacks the imagination to go where its customers are. Ahh, but Andrew, you’re going to say the Internet, and plenty of companies sell their wares on the Internet. To which I say, there is a very big delta between making your products available and “selling” via the Internet. A lot of companies do the former, but outright fail at the latter.

 

Going back to the AV press for a moment, they are or continue to be destined to fail because the entire business model rests upon the same handful of people continuing to support the same handful of topics that are then devoured by the same handful of enthusiasts. Much like a snake eating its own tail, the “meal” can last for quite a while, so long as there are no distractions and the snake is allowed to just keep on eating. The problem is, over time, the snake will tire and either stop 

eating and choke to death, or spit out its own tail and slither on to greener pastures. Both scenarios are occurring, in real time, before our very eyes, as once great bastions of the medium continue to publish on borrowed time. Stereophile and Sound & Vision, I’m talking to you.

 

So where is this greener pasture? Well, it’s on the Internet, but it doesn’t take the form of an online store or the like. It’s in the power of video—more specifically, brand influence and marketing. My fellow writer, Dennis Burger, recently wrote an article entitled, “D&D and the Decline of Traditional Media,” in which he talks about how viewers no longer need to rely on the major networks or studios for their personal entertainment. Beyond entertainment, content creators are 

showing advertisers, manufacturers, and consumers alike just how much power they hold and how much sway over the conversation and our buying decisions they have. In turn, we’ve begun to realize the same. For together with our favorite influencers or personalities we can collectively prop a company up . . . or tear it down.

 

Case in point, the makeup/beauty community all but lives on YouTube, and as a result influencers on that platform churn out broadcast-quality content regularly, turning teens and young adults into millionaires and celebrities. Any one of these YouTubers can make or break a product in a single video—be it sponsored or not—and if they “make it,” the rewards are otherworldly. We’re talking millions of dollars earned in the span of minutes.

 

Now, you may be thinking audio/video is not makeup, and you’d be right, but in some ways they’re one and the same. Both genres play heavily on our emotions. Both try and sell you a lifestyle. Both can get very expensive indeed. But one is inclusive. The other resists change at every turn. Care to wager which is doing better?

 

This is the difference between making your wares available on the Internet and truly selling, in earnest, on the Internet. So to bring it back to my opening statements, it’s not that the sky is falling, and that specialty AV is dying; it’s just that those in charge have failed to read the tea leaves in time to save themselves. But rest assured, despite the establishment’s best efforts to kill it, specialty AV will live on. And the brands that start aligning themselves with other brands, personalities, and influencers now will be the ones left standing when the dust settles.

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.

They Shall Not Grow Old

They Shall Not Grow Old

By now, you’ve no doubt heard what a technological marvel Peter Jackson’s WWI documentary They Shall Not Grow Old truly is. On the off-chance that you haven’t, what sets this important film apart from previous such efforts is that Jackson and his team took hundreds of hours of raw footage from the Imperial War Museums’ film archives, cleaned it up, colorized it, and used video processing technology to transform the choppy, hand-cranked stock into smooth 24-frame-per-second film. That fact alone is what originally drew me to this documentary, although I never had the opportunity to see it in its brief run in American cinemas.

 

Despite that—despite having watched all of the behind-the-scenes material I could get my hands on, despite having seen many an A/B comparison between the stock footage and the restored film—I wasn’t quite prepared for the emotional impact 

trailer

behind-the-scenes documentary

transition to color

of this technological wizardry. There’s a scene, about 25 minutes into the film, in which the grainy, torn, jerky black-and-white transitions into artfully colorized, naturally fluid high-definition video. In that instant, a switch flips in your brain. The historical characters on the screen suddenly become living, breathing men. Or boys, to be more precise. They magically transform from flat artifacts to three-dimensional human beings. And the psychological impact of that phase transition is equal parts wonder, empathy, and horror.

 

That’s really your first clue that these restoration efforts have nothing to do with spectacle or presentation. The goal here isn’t to make your display come alive with pretty pictures. It’s to bring the men who fought the “the war to end all wars” to life in a way that’s never been possible before.

 

That fact is borne out in every other aspect of the film, most pointedly in the fact that there is no overarching narration here, no real historical perspective. The footage focuses solely on the efforts of the British infantry on the western front, but that’s never explained. Aside from reenacted dialogue created to match the footage, the only voices we hear here are taken from interviews of the survivors of these battles.

 

And the story they tell is a complex one. Yes, we get insight into the horrors they faced. But we also get some shockingly honest recollections 

of pleasant memories. One interviewee describes the early days of the war as something akin to a camping trip. And the dark humor that these men and boys relied on to take the edge off of their squalid conditions permeates the film as well.

 

But more than anything else, what’s shocking about the narration is how blunt the survivors of WWI are in coming to terms with their own experiences in the war. There’s a strange dichotomy that arises from the fact that, for the first time, we as viewers feel that we can relate to these brave warriors, only to have them explain in their own words why any attempt at empathy on our part is ultimately futile, because the only people who truly understood them were their own brothers-in-arms.

 

At any rate, for all of the fuss that I and others have made about the technical aspects of the film, it may come as a surprise that it’s only being released to the home in 1080p, not 4K with HDR. After seeing the film, I can understand why. Despite the impressive cleanup job done to the footage, we’re still talking about 100-year-old film here. There almost certainly weren’t any additional pixels to be extracted from the source material. And the colorization, while truly stunning, always errs toward the side of subtlety. A wider color palette would simply be wasted here, driving up the price for no good reason.

 

What’s more, even in HD, you can see some occasional imperfections introduced by the restoration process: Skin sometimes looks waxy, eyes and mustaches occasionally morph and jump in a really wonky way as the computers try to recreate frames that never existed or were damaged beyond repair, and occasionally the textures are a little off. That’s not a criticism, mind you, especially given that Jackson and his team made a 140-minute film on a budget allocated for thirty minutes tops. (They also restored a total of 100 hours of footage for the Imperial War Museums, pro bono.) It’s simply to reiterate that you shouldn’t view They Shall Not Grow Old as an AV demo.

 

But you should enjoy it on the best home cinema system possible, nonetheless—especially to appreciate the work that Jackson et al. did in recreating the sonic landscape of the war. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack accompanying Kaleidescape’s release of the film does a wonderful job of complementing the video in its efforts to bring this old (silent) footage to life.

 

Also accompanying the Kaleidescape release is an important bonus feature that seems to be missing from the Vudu release: A 28-minute interview with Peter Jackson conducted at the BFI London Film Festival. The personal and historical perspective that this interview brings to the table is welcome, but it isn’t necessary. The film really speaks for itself.

Dennis Burger

They Shall Not Grow Old

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.

What Makes a Projection Screen Luxury?

What Makes a Projection Screen Luxury?

The natural followup to my post “What Makes a Video Display Luxury?” is to talk about projection screens. There is a reason why projection systems—whether front or rear—are often referred to as “two-piece,” because the projector and screen play near equal roles in delivering the best image quality possible.

 

Fact is, no matter how fantastic your projector is, the image you‘re watching is reflected off of a screen, and an inferior one will rob a projector of its maximum performance potential by actually introducing artifacts or color shifts to the image or by just not delivering all the detail and resolution the projector is capable of.

For some assistance with this, I reached out to Robert Keeler, Vice President of Sales at Stewart Filmscreen. Stewart has been building high-performance screens for the luxury commercial, professional, and home cinema markets for the past 71 years, and is widely regarded as a leader in the premium screen category.

 

BETTER BUILD QUALITY

Like any premium product, a luxury screen will exhibit better build quality. This means frame corners that meet perfectly and screen material that’s tensioned to remain perfectly flat. A fixed screen (as opposed to a motorized model that rolls up and down) will have a velvet-like coating around the frame to absorb stray light and enhance contrast, and motorized models use quieter motors. And, since the screen is  the most visible part of most theater systems, it’s important to have one that looks good whether the lights are on or off. 

 

While not part of build quality per se, luxury screen systems also offer more ways to interface with advanced control systems, say either via contact closures, relays,

infra-red, RS-232, or IP. This ensures that the screen can accept the correct cues from, say, a Kaleidescape system when you’re switching between movies that have different aspect ratios. 

 

MASKING SYSTEM

Speaking of aspect ratios, the best luxury projection screens incorporate masking, which is black material that closes off, or “masks,” the unused screen area so just the projected image is visible. This eliminates any distracting white space around the image.

 

According to Robert Keeler, “The majority of [TV and projection] screens sold are 1.78 to 1, 16 by 9 aspect ratio, so we are used to seeing black bars either on the top and bottom or the sides of the image depending on the content aspect ratio. As good as projectors are getting, they are still widely based on a 16 by 9 chipset, so content with any aspect ratio other than 16 by 9 will have visible black bars showing.”

 

With front projectors, these black bars aren’t truly black because the projector is emitting some stray light. This ends up lowering the contrast ratio of the image. So having masking to cover these unused parts of the image visibly improves the picture quality.

 

But, aspect ratios can be tricky, since filmmakers choose different ratios based on the look they’re hoping to achieve. (See the diagram below.) For example, older films like The Maltese Falcon or Casablanca are 1.33:1, many documentaries like Free Solo are 1.78:1, some directors prefer using 1.85:1 such as Spielberg for Saving Private Ryan, E.T., and Jurassic Park, and you have “widescreen” films like Lawrence of Arabia at 2.2:1, Star Wars at 2.35:1, Bohemian Rhapsody at 2.4:1, and Ben Hur at 2.76:1.

What Makes a Projection Screen Luxury?

The ultimate solution is a system that can adjust all four sides of the screen image, like Stewart Filmscreen’s Director’s Choice, which uses a 4-way masking system.“This is the epitome of Hollywood,” Keeler says, “with the ability to frame the content so the black bars are invisible and only the content is being shown, whatever the aspect ratio.”

 

SCREEN MATERIAL

Choosing the correct screen material is about more than just its color. Screens use something called gain, which can increase or decrease the amount of light coming off the screen, but can also limit the viewing angle. Also, screens with high amounts of gain can introduce artifacts known as “hotspotting,” where images are brighter in the middle of the screen than at the sides, and “color shifting,” where colors can look different depending on where the viewer is seated. Discussing your media room needs based on its size, seating layout, and lighting conditions with a qualified installer will allow them to guide you in selecting the correct screen material for your installation.

 

“With more than 25 material choices, Stewart Filmscreen can offer end users the right material for the task at hand, rear projection and front projection alike,” Keeler said. “While some may choose not to go with the ultimate cinematic experience, they can at least purchase the very same screen material used by Hollywood directors, post-production departments, colorists, studios, etc.”

 

DIFFERENT SCREENS FOR DIFFERENT CONDITIONS

Say you have a room you use for a variety of activities. Maybe for a lot of gaming or TV watching during the day, but mostly for movie watching at night. Or maybe sometimes you like to watch with the lights up, and other times you want it pitch black. A screen that works best for one of these situations might not be right for the other. One incredibly innovative solution for this is Stewart’s Gemini.

What Makes a Projection Screen Luxury?

“Gemini [shown above] is a unique product that addresses a varied usage model,” Keeler explains. “While masking screens exist to accommodate a variety of aspect ratios, Gemini addresses the variety of usage model. Watching movies [usually] suggests a completely light controlled environment and the content is often in Cinemascope, 2:35 to 2:4. Whereas watching TV suggests the lights are on and the content is 1.78, 16 by 9. The screen material choice for one activity is likely the wrong choice for the other activity. With that in mind, Gemini is a dual-roller motorized screen that deploys a reference-grade material for movies, and an ambient-light-rejecting material when watching TV, giving viewers the best performance whatever the situation.”

 

ACOUSTICALLY TRANSPARENT

Another potential benefit of a luxury screen is using a material that’s acoustically transparent. Initially acoustically transparent screens used lots of tiny perforations to allow sound to pass through, but all of these holes allowed the projector’s light to pass through as well, resulting in a loss of brightness. Also, the holes would actually interact with the pixel structure of the projector and introduce a video artifact known as moiré.

 

While perforation technology has advanced to address these issues, another option pioneered by screen manufacturer Screen Research is to use woven material that allows sound to pass through without being degraded by the screen. Kind of like a special-purpose speaker grille cloth, these screens let you position your main three front speaker channels directly behind the screen just like at a movie theater. The benefits of this are twofold. First, you don’t have to worry about the speaker’s look or style impacting the overall look of the room, which can allow the installer to use a larger/better speaker that otherwise wouldn’t fit with the room’s décor. Second, with the speakers located behind the screen, the audio cues precisely track the onscreen action, perfectly marrying the picture and sound.

 

 

To wrap up, Keeler commented, “There is some science behind integrating the projector and the screen along with the room and viewing habits, and a luxury brand should be able to not only help with selecting appropriate screen size and material choices, but be well versed in other aspects of the project such as audio and video, and the rest of the package and maintain relationships with all sorts of ancillary brands to support the Big Screen Experience.”

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.

Why HDR Matters

If you read the reviews here at Cineluxe with any frequency, you’ve probably noticed that we make frequent reference to HDR—high dynamic range–video. By now, it’s a term you’re almost certainly familiar with. But if you’re not really sure what it means, you can be forgiven, because most of the standard marketing materials are confusing and misleading.

 

Here’s a perfect example. This image is representative of the images that most TV manufacturers use to convey the advantages of HDR. Look at that dull and washed out image on the left. Marvel at how it pales in comparison to the vibrant image on the right side of the screen. See how much better HDR is?

Why HDR Matters

There’s just one problem with this. This entire pictured is rendered in standard dynamic range (SDR). That vibrant, lifelike image on the right? Your old, non-HDR display could almost certainly render it with no problem. The image on the left? It’s artificially toned down and muted. This analogy isn’t really helpful. And mind you, I’m not knocking the graphic artist who made this particular example. The entire electronics industry seems content to rely on some variation of this example on every piece of marketing material promoting the advantages of HDR. I’m simply saying that if this is the only sort of comparison you’ve seen, you’re right to be skeptical.

 

So, how is one to understand the actually differences between SDR and HDR video? One easy way is to visit your local tech expert, be it a custom integrator or an electronics store you trust, and ask for a demo.

 

But you can also understand it with just a little math.

 

In short, the SDR video we’ve grown accustomed to for the past few decades, through DVD, HDTV, Blu-ray, and even non-HDR 4K, uses 8 bits of data to represent each primary color: red, green, and blue. What this means is that you can have 256 different shades of each of those colors, which are then combined to create the entire visual spectrum. 256 shades of red, 256 shades of blue, and 256 shades of green combine to create nearly 17 million total shades that can be displayed on a SDR screen, or captured in a video format like Blu-ray.

 

HDR, by contrast, relies on 10-bit (or even 12-bit) color. To understand what a monumental increase that is, understand that 10-bit color allows for 1,024 different shades of red, green, and blue, which when combined result in over a billion different shades onscreen.

 

Here’s a visualization of the difference between 10-bit and 8-bit, when limited to the blue channel alone:

Why HDR Matters

And grayscale, which represents every step along the way from pure black to pure white:

Why HDR Matters

Again, you’re seeing these images presented in SDR, but hopefully they convey the point that 10-bit video, and hence HDR, allows for more subtle variation in color and grayscale. Which means that you see more detail in the shadows of darker images (or darker areas of a complex scene), and more variation in the highlights of brighter images (or brighter areas of a complex scene).

 

But that’s not all. HDR also allows for greater image brightness, and more control over which areas of the image are dark and bright. Your old HDTV might be capable of delivering 300 nits (a standard unit of measurement for brightness), whereas many of today’s better HDR-capable displays can easily deliver 1,000 nits or more. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the entire 

image is brighter, mind you, as if you just took your old HDTV and cranked the brightness control. Turn up the brightness on an old TV, and the blacks get washed out and turn gray. Turn up the contrast to compensate, and what you end up with is an image with stark blacks, bright whites, and not much in between.

 

A good HDR TV, on the other hand, can make a small area of the screen—a flashlight beam, for example—shine with all the intensity of the real thing, while keeping the shadows wonderfully and natural dark, without robbing you of those all-important mid-tones in between.

If you’ll allow me my own dubious analogy, think of it like this: Imagine a piano that only had 22 keys. The key on the left is still low A, and the key on the right is still high C, but there are only twenty keys in between them and they can only be played with the soft pedal depressed. Compare that imaginary hobbled instrument to the rich sonic output of an 88-key Steinway Model D concert grand piano played at full volume, and you can start to really wrap your brain around the differences between SDR and HDR.

 

The bottom line is that good HDR displays do a much better job of matching our eyes’ (and our brain’s) ability to differentiate subtle differences in color and contrast, as well as the natural variations in brightness we experience out in the real world.

 

There is one other confusing aspect to all of this, though: The fact that there are competing HDR standards—which you may have seen referred to as HDR10, HDR10+, Dolby Vision, and Hybrid Log Gamma. You don’t really need to understand the differences between them to understand what HDR is and how it works, but we’ll dig into those competing standards in a future post and explain what sets them apart.

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.

Aquaman

Aquaman

I grew up a fan of DC Comics—which is the other universe outside of Marvel—that includes the Justice League comprised of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, and Aquaman. And while I’m assuming Aquaman was given his fair share of ink over the years, I can’t really remember anything about his backstory, or him doing anything stand-out. Thus, his storyline never really resonated with me, and I remember him as just being kind of an “extra” figure who only really came into the action when things moved to the water.

 

Starting with 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, DC looked to “Marvel-ize” its extended universe of heroes by introducing other characters. In that film, Wonder Woman was introduced and given a fairly significant role, but we were also given glimpses of other heroes, namely The Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman. Those heroes would ultimately be brought together to make up the recent Justice League film. While B v S was generally panned, we can thank it for at least one thing: It gave us Wonder Woman, a fantastic film that showed our favorite Amazon warrior princess’ origin story perfectly portrayed by Gal Gadot.

 

Looking to capitalize on Wonder Woman’s momentum, DC delivers the second spinoff of its Extended Universe with Aquaman. As is the recent trend, Aquaman was available for digital download in 4K HDR with a Dolby Atmos soundtrack as of March 5, a full three weeks before it is released on physical media.

 

Aquaman was one of those films on my “definitely want to see” radar, but not high enough that I wanted to go through the hassle of seeing it in a movie theater. I thought Jason Mamoa’s portrayal of Atlantis’ rightful heir-to-the-throne, Arthur Curry, in Justice League, was pretty great. He was about as reluctant a hero as possible, wanting nothing to do with the limelight, and spending his days saving wayward fishermen and drinking at the local pub.

 

This movie begins by introducing us to Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), queen of Atlantis who is rescued by a lighthouse keeper. They fall in love, and young Arthur is born. However, Atlanna is forced to return to Atlantis, and she entrusts Arthur’s training to her advisor, Vulko (Willem Defoe). When Arthur learns his mother was executed for having a half-breed son with a human, he swears off Atlantis, and returns to his unassuming life of protecting sailors. Arthur is ultimately drawn into a battle between his half-brother, Orm (Patrick Wilson), who wants the sea kingdoms to unite and declare war on the surface world. To claim his rightful place on Atlantis’ throne and prevent this all-out war, Arthur begins a quest to find the Trident of Atlan. He is aided along the way by Mera (Amber Heard), who ultimately becomes his queen.

 

At 2 hours 23 minutes, Aquaman is not a short film, but there’s no shortage of action and beautiful onscreen visuals and sonic mayhem to keep you engaged along the way. In fact, it almost feels like James Wan’s (Furious 7, Saw) directorial direction was, “That looks great, but is there any way we could work a fight scene or some other bit of action in here?” The result for me was a movie that was entertaining to watch, but a tad short on substance, so that I’m not left remembering a lot of specifics or story in between all the mayhem and destruction.

 

You’ve got to hand it to Mamoa in that the dude sure looks like he can fight. The fight scenes with him really look like he is utterly smashing people with crushing blows, and when he picks up some massive object (say, a Russian nuclear submarine), you have the impression that he could actually do it. Also, who knew Aquaman was bulletproof? Mamoa does a good job injecting some sarcastic humor into the role, and, like Gadot as Wonder Woman, it is difficult to imagine another actor that could have pulled off Aquaman.

 

While taken from a 2K Digital Intermediate, I never felt the image lacked detail. In fact, far from it. Water is one of those things that can really benefit from HDR’s wider color gamut, and the underwater scenes all look gorgeous, with lots of bright and delineated blues and greens. There is a lot of phosphorescence in the undersea kingdoms, with colors that pop off the screen. You also get excellent shadow detail and no banding issues. The various characters’ hair all flows and gently waves around their heads while they are underwater, further adding to the illusion. Closeups have a ton of detail, like the detailing in the characters’ costumes or individual water droplets. There is nary a bit of grain, and black levels are deep and solid. One of the many fight scenes takes place outside in Sicily, and has several long shots where the camera pulls back to see the housetops. It looks fantastic—edge detail is sharp and the HDR highlights really come through.

 

Sonically, the Dolby Atmos soundtrack is quite aggressive and plays wonderfully in a luxury home theater. There is a lot of deep, seismic bass info to keep your subs happy, and the surround channels are used frequently and effectively to put you in the action. The sound design team also uses the height speakers to frequent and good effect, placing appropriate sounds above you like rain and footsteps. Also, I’ve noticed many recent films are over-mixing action into the center channel, which can make dialogue difficult to understand, but I (happily) didn’t have any issues with dialogue intelligibility here.

 

While some of the talk about sea kingdoms and rulers reminded me of the Senate redistricting mess of Star Wars: Episode I, and some of the underwater alien battle scenes were reminiscent of Starship Troopers, and visually I was often reminded of Pandora from Avatar, overall Aquaman makes for a fun night in the home theater. And after raking in over $1.14 billion at the box office, a sequel is already in the works.

John Sciacca

Aquaman

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.

Ep. 5: How to Find the Perfect Integrator

The Cineluxe Hour logo

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

CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT MORE EPISODES OF THE CINELUXE HOUR

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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.