Author:admin

The Expanse (Season 3)

Amazon Prime "The Expanse"

Back in May 2018, there was a disturbance in sci-fi TV culture. In the midst of broadcasting the third season of The Expanse, SyFy decided not to renew the show even though it was garnering its best reviews so far. This wasn’t the first time the channel had canceled a series at the height of its popularity. SyFy (then called the Sci Fi Channel) nixed Farscape in the middle of its fourth season after renewing it less than a year earlier for a fourth and fifth season.

 

The Expanse was reportedly cancelled because of broadcast rights. Unlike in the early aughts, options today go beyond network and cable distribution. International streaming rights for the series belonged to Netflix, while Amazon owned the domestic streaming rights. SyFy was only getting first-run rights, and that wasn’t enough for them so they killed the show. But after a #SaveTheExpanse fan campaign, Amazon worked out a deal and picked up the show. A happy ending for all!

 

The series is based on rich source material—a series of books by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, who go by the pseudonym James S. A. Corey. It’s an epic space opera about citizens of Earth, Mars, and The Belt, and how they deal with each other after the introduction of an unknown infectious molecule. The story centers on the remaining crew of a ship destroyed in a mysterious attack. As they try to figure out what caused the attack, they’re pulled into a system-wide struggle between the political juggernauts of Earth and Mars.

 

To say the source material is dense is an understatement, but it’s translated to the screen exceptionally well. The outstanding ensemble cast includes veteran actors like Thomas Jane, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Chad L. Coleman, François Chau, and David Strathairn. There are also relative newcomers, including Cara Gee, who has a breakthrough performance opposite Mr. Strathairn during Season Three.

 

You can stream the first two seasons for free on Amazon Prime in 4K with 5.1 soundtracks. For now at least, Season Three is only available for purchase in 1080p with 5.1. But, with Season Four expected in 2019 (and possibly in 4K HDR), a 4K version of the third season seems imminent.

 

SyFy originally aired the first three seasons with HD broadcast masters, but the show was shot in 4K, and that’s what the UHD presentation is here (although visual fx were done at 2K and upconverted to match). The images look fantastic, and you’d be hard-pressed to see any degradation from the vfx being upped to 4K. Colors are vibrant when they need to be, and beautifully muted for some space shots—especially on the asteroid Eros towards the end of Season One. You can feel the oppression of being in a space station built into an asteroid.

 

The sound design is excellent throughout the series, although it really hits another level starting in Season Two. The Expanse begins by being true to the source material’s insistence on hard sci-fi—that is, a strong accuracy to the physics of being in space. Starting with Season Two, the series is a bit more lenient with its science, which leads to more engaging moments. The surround channels are used judiciously to enhance the atmosphere of the locations.

 

It’s been a while since I’ve experienced as much enjoyment from a sci-fi series as I have from The Expanse, both in book form and on screen. There are thousands of fans, myself included, who are incredibly grateful Amazon decided to pick up the show for another season. But best of all, watching the UHD presentations on Prime is a great way to get ready for what’s to come next year. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to start another re-watch from S1E1.

John Higgins

John Higgins lives a life surrounded by audio. When he’s not writing for Cineluxe, IGN,
or 
Wirecutter, he’s a professional musician and sound editor for TV/film. During his down
time, he’s watching Star Wars or learning from his toddler son, Neil.

Specs vs. User Experience

Specs vs. User Experience

Earlier today, I had a sponsored post from Samsung pop up on my Instagram feed. It was for an 80-some-inch 8K QLED display that could be mine for the paltry sum of $15,000.

 

On one hand, $15,000 could be seen as somewhat of a revelation, for it wasn’t too long ago that TVs of this ilk commanded price tags double that of what Samsung is asking. On the other, 4K is in its infancy, and here we are now having to debate over the need—dare I say relevance—of 8K. And yet, despite all my years in this business, the notion that an 80-inch 8K display exists does little to rev my proverbial engine. Samsung’s 8K display does little but make me spec drunk.

 

Many products over the years have made me spec drunk. That is to say, they’ve been beyond impressive on paper. Upon closer inspection or following first-hand experience, they proved no different than much that came before them. Specifications only tell half of a product’s story, and it’s the half that makes for a juicy Internet post, not so much what it’s actually like to live with and use said product.

 

For example, I am a photographer by day, and in that community the camera of the moment belongs to Sony and their A Series of mirrorless cameras. On paper (and on vlogs), the A Series cameras are without equal, and yet I don’t think you could give me one—again.

Yes, I once spent thousands of my own dollars chasing specs and joining the rest of the photographic world in switching from DSLR to mirrorless. I spent almost two years trying to convince myself of Sony’s superiority. I was desperate to fall in love with my camera’s specs and to see that love somehow manifest itself in the work I was creating.

 

Only I didn’t, and it didn’t. I became so frustrated with the user experience that I began to dread picking up the camera. Eventually I sold all my Sony gear and went back to the camera system that had served me well since Day One.

 

Specialty AV is no different, and the constant “noise”

Specs vs. User Experience

that specifications generate can be daunting, if not overwhelming. Moreover, specs are designed to create a sense of FOMO in consumers, for who wouldn’t want eight times more of something? Eight times more TV than the TV you’re likely watching, which was sold to you as being four times the TV of your last TV—and so it goes.

 

And yet, when pressed, my friends in and around this business rarely, if ever, speak fondly of the latest equipment adorning their racks or walls, but rather of equipment of systems past. Is this due to nostalgia? Is it because products of yesteryear were simpler, more straightforward? I don’t pretend to know. What I do know is that the user experience tells a lot more of a product’s story, and it’s the part of the story that resonates long after the newness of a billion more this and a trillion more that wears off.

Andrew Robinson

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

The Trials & Tribulations of Amazon Streaming

The Trials & Tribulations of Amazon Streaming

Sitting back and relaxing with a favorite movie or TV series is a luxury we can all appreciate. High-end picture and sound are the ideal, but getting to the opening credits can be an experience in and of itself. If we own the content, popping in a Blu-ray is a painless endeavor. Doing the same with a streaming service should be just as painless. That’s not always true, however.

 

When the Amazon series Homecoming was released, my wife and I sat down, turned on our home theater, and opened up the Amazon Prime Video app on the TV to start watching. Since the show was new, and Amazon was promoting it heavily, it was right at the top of the menu. No searching necessary. It was a pretty straightforward experience—at least for a few minutes. I knew from advertisements that Homecoming was offered in 4K, but what we were watching was most definitely

1080p. I found that, unlike Netflix, which automatically shows the best level of content available that your home setup can handle, with Amazon you need to actively search out the UHD version.

 

You’d think it would be as easy as typing in “Homecoming UHD 4K” or something similar. You’d be wrong. That search term, in fact, comes up with no hits. Zero. A show produced by the service itself, heavily marketed with billboards (around the Los Angeles area at least), its stars 

The Trials & Tribulations of Amazon Streaming

frequenting late-night talk shows, nominated for multiple awards—and the app search engine is unaware a 4K version exists. In order to find it, I had to scroll down their category listings until I found “Original Series in 4K Ultra HD.” I would have expected that option to be at or near the top, instead of a few scrolls below the fold.

 

I encountered similar problems when I searched for past seasons of The Expanse, a fantastic adaptation of the book series that Amazon recently picked up from SyFy to produce a fourth season. Even worse than my Homecoming experience, there was no way to find the 4K version through the TV app. (I checked the apps that are integrated on my Samsung QLED, a Vizio P-Series, and my Xbox One X.) The workaround (suggested by Dennis Burger) was to find the 4K-version listing on my computer browser, add it to my Watchlist, and then go back to the TV to select it from the Watchlist. Far less than an ideal situation.

 

So, what’s the solution? I’d say burn it down and start from scratch, using Netflix as an example. But considering the vast amount of work necessary for something like that to happen, it isn’t remotely feasible. This past summer, Amazon did announce an update is in the works, but it sounds like it will be limited to the mobile-app search function and won’t be a part of the TV app. Until then, the only option seems to be to grin and bear it. Or just open up Netflix instead.

John Higgins

John Higgins lives a life surrounded by audio. When he’s not writing for Cineluxe, IGN,
or 
Wirecutter, he’s a professional musician and sound editor for TV/film. During his down
time, he’s watching Star Wars or learning from his toddler son, Neil.

So You Think Your Room’s Bad, Pt. 3

Dennis BurgerAt the end of our previous post in this series, I teased the fact that one pair of speakers at the back of the room ended up driving the decision-making process for the entire Atmos surround sound speaker system. It’s worth digging a little more deeply into exactly why that’s the case.

So You Think Your Room's Bad, Pt. 3

Just to remind you what the geometry of our demo space looked like, here’s an overhead view of the back of the room. The rear wall is at the top. You can see a rough approximation of what we thought our seating may look like, as well as the canted walls that made the outside of the booth look so great, but crunched us a bit in the demo space.

 

If we had gone with seven ear-level speakers, that would have meant four speakers in the back of the room, at positions marked A and B. But this would have caused problems for anyone sitting in the back row. Someone sitting next to speaker A on one side of the room wouldn’t have really been able to hear speakers A and B on the other side, and the speakers at the front of the room—for dialogue and screen sound effects—would have been drowned out. Sometimes more isn’t necessarily better.

 

What I really needed was a speaker I could position somewhat closer to the points marked C, but a little higher on the wall so as not to overwhelm any one seat in the back row. The extra height was also added to accommodate anyone standing in the back of the room, so they wouldn’t block the surround sound effects for anyone sitting in front.

 

I desperately needed a speaker that would project its sound out into the room authoritatively, while also spreading its sound out less like a spotlight and more like a floodlight. 

 

I also needed an in-wall solution, for reasons discussed in our previous post. One speaker came immediately to mind: GoldenEar Technology’s Invisa MPX MultiPolar in-Wall speaker. The MPX’s bass/midrange drivers don’t point straight out into the room, as do those of most speakers. One of the drivers is rotated a bit to the right, the other a bit to the left. Combine that with the company’s High-Velocity Folded Ribbon tweeter (which squeezes air sort of like an accordion to create low-distortion, room-penetrating high-frequency sounds, rather than pushing air like a normal dome tweeter), and you have the makings of everything I needed here—wide, deep, enveloping sound that wasn’t diffuse.

So You Think Your Room's Bad, Pt. 3

And with that piece of the puzzle solved, the rest of the speaker system started to fall into place. To match the sound of the MPX, I specified three of GoldenEar’s Signature Point Source (SPS) in-walls for the front left, right, and center speakers, and four of the company’s Invisa 650 in-ceilings for the overhead channels.

 

We also had just enough space at the front of the room for subwoofers, so I opted for a pair of SuperSub X subs. Why two subs for such a small space? It wasn’t so much about producing enough volume as it was about delivering rich, even bass in such a weird acoustical environment and making sure every seat in the room experienced the same level of bass.

 

With those decisions made, I called GoldenEar’s Vice President of Marketing and Sales, Jack Shafton, and asked him if I could take him on a virtual tour of our most current 3D design for the booth. I wanted a second opinion from an industry expert, just to make sure I had made the right choices given such compromises. I also wanted his advice on exact speaker placement.

 

Here’s Jack with his reactions to seeing the 3D renderings for the first time, along with some thoughts on what makes GoldenEar’s architectural speakers unique:

Jack Shafton: When Dennis shared his plan for this booth at CEDIA, my first reaction was, “YIKES!” GoldenEar always uses a fully enclosed sound room for our own trade-show demos, so this was certainly a new challenge. We agreed that this room would never be ideal, but could certainly be done effectively using the Invisa speakers and SuperSubs. Dennis hit on one of the reasons the Invisa MPX was such a good choice: It’s a direct radiator (important for today’s surround formats) with very wide dispersion. But I would also mention that the power handling and efficiency of the speaker are of great importance given the semi-open nature of this sound room.

 

That’s just one speaker, though (well, two in the case of this room). As for why GoldenEar’s Invisa speakers were the right choice overall, remember that this system needed to impress consumer electronics industry members, not the average consumer who has never heard a great-sounding home theater. One thing that I think sets our in-wall and in-ceiling speakers apart is that we design them using the same drivers and technology employed in our award-winning Triton tower speakers. There is no good/better/best stratification in the GoldenEar architectural speaker lineup; just the best of everything we do. The folded-ribbon tweeter offers exceptional dispersion, amazing fidelity, and great power handling, and it is found in every Invisa speaker. Combine that with our mid/bass driver

So You Think Your Room's Bad, Pt. 3

GoldenEar Invisa MPX

technology, crossover design, and GoldenEar speaker voicing, and the result is exactly what Dennis needed to blow people away in a space that had no business sounding as good as it did. Of course, the two SuperSubs helped a lot, as they provide big sub performance in a tiny, vibration-cancelling design.

 

 

DB again: In addition to confirming my speaker choices, Jack gave me some helpful advice in terms of placement, especially of the front speakers and overhead channels. That guidance was invaluable given the weird geometry of the room. Mind you, the odds you’ll be installing a cinema sound system in a room as compromised as ours are slim. The lesson to be learned here is that when taming a problematic home cinema space, you’ll sometimes find that solving your most daunting problems first makes all of the other pieces fall into place.

 

Still, as amazing as GoldenEar’s speakers are, if we had merely slapped them in the walls and ceilings and provided them with power, they wouldn’t have sounded their best. In our next post, I’ll be discussing how Trinnov’s Altitude 16 home theater preamp/optimizer helped us tame some of the room’s worst acoustical problems and give the GoldenEar speakers room to shine.

Jack Shafton is a 40-year veteran of the consumer electronics industry who has been
involved in the design, manufacture, and marketing of some very successful specialty
audio products, including two highlighted in
Stereophile’s “100 Most Important Audio
Products in the Last 40 Years.” Jack’s love of music and movies, combined with a
passion to bring better sound into everyone’s home, has been the driving force in his
commitment to help the industry grow. He also loves fast cars and
cats. (Sorry, dog lovers.)

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.

Luxury Isn’t About Price–It’s About Pride

I’ve written professionally about the consumer electronics industry since I was 20 years old, which in a few short years means I will have been lovingly doing this shit for half my life. When I first started out, I will admit I was all about the gear. I loved it. I wrote my ass off in hopes of impressing my editors enough to trust me with the truly blue chip products in the future—products such as loudspeakers from Wilson Audio, or electronics from Mark Levinson, and perhaps a projector from Barco. I rose through the ranks of this business, and before I knew it I was the managing editor of (arguably) the largest consumer electronics publication in the world. And I loved it . . .

 

Until I didn’t.

 

My falling out of love with the consumer electronics industry and all things specialty audio/video coincided with my departure from my other profession of nearly as long, advertising. It was 2008, everyone was in the throes of the housing crisis, and I’ll be the first to admit I was hit very, very hard. I lived in Southern California, and I saw my property value plummet and the neighborhood I had purchased a home in not two years prior become littered with foreclosure and auction signs. To say that my priorities shifted would be a massive understatement, for I (let alone anyone else) had little use for the bells and whistles of specialty AV that once warmed my heart.

Luxury Isn't About Price--It's About Pride

photo by Jens Kreuter

I downsized in an attempt to stay afloat, a tactic that worked for me, though it did cost me one very nice, very trick, custom whole-home audio/video installation. From its ashes arose a new type of setup, one that was neither trick, nor custom, but that consisted of a handful of 55-inch flat screens and an equal number of soundbars. Until recently, this barebones-type setup is what I called my reference, and to be honest I was never embarrassed by it, because it just worked. Sure I had seen and heard better in my travels, but I didn’t miss “better,” for I had grown accustomed to the simplicity of this new “world.”

 

About six months ago, I was in the market for a display as my last remaining HD display was a bit long in the tooth and I wanted to use my new-ish UltraHD living room display as its replacement. This meant needing to shop for a new TV. Initially, I thought I’d just go on Amazon and order up another 65-inch something or other that cost roughly a thousand dollars and wait for my Prime shipping to bring it to me in 48 hours or less. But then I thought, what if instead of doing what I always did, or had been doing for the past few years, I was a little more selective? Choosing to buy based on quality and perhaps longevity (if there is such a thing in technology) rather than purely on budget—what doors or options would that open for me?

 

It would be the quintessential question that would reunite me with the hobby I had left, and set me on a new path of discovery. A path that wasn’t about quantity—be it number of channels or features—but rather quality, for I knew if I was going to spend money, I only wanted to do it once if I could help it.

 

We’ve been brainwashed into thinking that because technology changes so rapidly, we must change in kind, when that’s not really realistic, nor even the truth. True, new products come out each and every year, or sometimes more frequently. Yet if you really stop and compare them, there is often little, if anything, that separates the old from the new. Conversely, buying solely on price doesn’t always go hand-in-hand with quality, or longevity. Which brings us to luxury goods.

 

To me, luxury isn’t about price, though the two often are interchangeable. Luxury is more about the ownership experience, for long after you’ve swiped your credit card, or emptied a portion of your bank account, you have to live with your buying decision. Some of the most financially painful things I’ve ever purchased, I still have to this day, no doubt due to their superior craftsmanship and usage of materials that, while expensive, have stood the test of time. And that fills me with a kind of pride. It doesn’t make me better, but it does feel good, and that’s worth something.

 

If there’s one thing I think Millennials get right, it’s that they seem to value an experience over superficial goods. They’d rather have one truly great, timeless experience than several mediocre ones. Maybe this has to do with their fiscal outlook, or perhaps it’s their form of silent rebellion—who knows. But I do think that as things progress, we’re going to begin to place higher and higher levels of importance upon getting more from less.

 

This is what I believe, and this is what I wish to explore as a writer and regular contributor to this publication going forward. So, stay tuned, I guess . . .

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.

Small Room–Big Sound

Generally, when you think of a media room or home theater, it conjures up images of a fairly large space. Lots of seating, huge screen, drapes, columns, etc. And I would say most of the media/theater rooms I have worked in over the years are in the 18 x 25-foot ballpark, usually with 10-foot ceilings. Sometimes the areas are much bigger.

 

But do you need a large room to enjoy a luxury experience?

 

A few months ago, I reviewed a dARTS (Digital Audio Reference Theater System) audio system. Generally, I review gear in my living room, which is a fairly large space that opens up to both a kitchen and a nook area. With the room’s layout, I sit about 13 feet from my front channels and screen, and about 15 feet from my side surround and rear surround speakers.

Small Room--Big Sound

dARTS 535 Series digital surround theater system

But, due to the style and design of the system I was reviewing, installing it in my living room wasn’t practical. Instead, I installed the 5.2.2-channel speakers in a new bedroom we had built onto our home a couple of years ago. The room measures roughly 13 x 15 feet and has 9-foot ceilings—in other words, a bedroom size you would find in just about any home.

 

When I first started listening to the system, I was amazed at how much more detailed things sounded. Not that dialogue was suddenly clearer or that music notes were sharper, but how I was just constantly more aware of and noticing those distinct little sounds and Foley effects that are often buried in the background of a movie’s soundtrack. Small creaks and subtle ambient cues like leaves rustling, footsteps walking around in the distance, rain pattering outside. Watching It on this system—a movie with an absolutely fantastic and immersive Dolby Atmos mix—was absolutely terrifying, especially the scenes within the sewer and in the house on Neibolt Street.

 

And due to how the overhead speakers were installed (using a portable lighting rig re-purposed as an in-ceiling speaker holder to avoid cutting 10-inch holes in my new ceiling), they were 8 feet off the floor, or about 4 feet above my seated listening height. Compared with the “reference” system in my living room—which has vaulted ceilings spanning up to about 15 feet at the peak, with the four height speakers about 10 feet above my seated position—this produced overhead audio that was far more noticeable and localizable. When something was meant to sound as if it was happening above you, it happened right above you. Being in the center of this 5.2.2 speaker sphere produced incredible audio pans—front to back, side to side, top to bottom, sound just traveled with perfect tracking all around and over me.

 

Because there is less air to “energize” in a small room, you can use smaller speakers and still hit high sound-pressure levels, which helps from both a design and budget standpoint. Instead of one or two massive subwoofers, four small subs will deliver greater and smoother bass throughout. And because you’re physically closer to the speakers, you can generally listen at lower volume levels and still get a reference experience. I wasn’t blasting the system to feel bass impact waves or to be aware of the overhead and surround channels. In fact, I often listened at 10 to 15 dB lower than usual.

 

The smaller space also meant there were far fewer sonic distractions from other parts of the house—you know, the background-of-life sounds that every home has. Those hums, clicks, whirs, and other environmental noises all must be overcome in order to hear the soft sounds within a film or audio recording. Lower the background noise, and the sounds you want to hear are much easier to pick out.

 

In a way, this intimate, small-room experience was like listening to a pair of really nice headphones . . . but better! For one, I could share it with others. Two, headphones can’t deliver the same full-body bass impact of a great subwoofer. And three,

where headphones struggle to produce and place actual surround sound, this system did that in spades.

 

And guess what else? Because I was sitting much closer to my display, the 60-inch screen seemed far more cinematic.

Small Room--Big Sound

To be fair, some credit certainly needs to go to the fantastic sounding dARTS audio system and Marantz AV8802A processor (shown above). This combination would retail for just north of $20,000, and dARTS’ unique implementation of Audyssey room correction is a fair measure of the system performance’s “secret sauce.” Had I just tossed some entry-level gear together, the experience surely wouldn’t have been as impressive. (You can read my review here.)

 

Not only does every home have a small space or two that could be the perfect media room candidate, it might just turn out to deliver the best experience in the house. (For more on making the most out of a small space, read the “So You Think Your Room’s Bad” posts from Mike Gaughn & Dennis Burger.)

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.

Hans Zimmer: Live in Prague

To show that home theater and media rooms are for much more than just movie and TV watching, this week I’m reviewing Hans Zimmer: Live in Prague, available on Blu-ray Disc or for HD download from the Kaleidescape Movie Store (the version I watched).

 

If you’re a film fan, you’re likely familiar with Zimmer’s work, since it’s spanned the past 30 years. He has scored more than 150 films, including many for Ridley Scott, Jerry Bruckheimer, and, most recently, Christopher Nolan. Zimmer has received numerous Grammys, two Golden Globes, and an Academy Award in 1995 for Best Original Score for The Lion King.

 

Filmed in Prague, this concert captures an evening during Zimmer’s 2016 European concert tour where he plays 35 songs spanning decades of his work and includes music from Sherlock Holmes, Crimson Tide, Gladiator, The Lion King, Pirates of the Caribbean, the Dark Knight Trilogy, and Inception. (Sadly, this concert pre-dates Zimmer’s fascinating and intense score for Nolan’s recent Dunkirk.)

 

An interesting (in a good way) twist is the concert’s Dolby Atmos mix, meaning it’s recorded to really shine in a luxury home surround setup. Now, you might or might not love the decisions made in this very aggressive mix, but no one will watch this and leave wondering whether all of their speakers were active or not. 

 

Years ago, I had the privilege of seeing Star Wars in Concert in person, an event that brought together the 86-piece Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus along with a giant high-def LED screen, measuring some 60-feet wide by 30-feet tall. This two-hour performance featured music spanning all six Star Wars films, blending music, film, lasers, pyrotechnics, and spectacle into a fantastically memorable evening.

That experience set my expectations for this concert, so I assumed there would be video and effects accompanying the score, but I was wrong. In fact, the concert opens with no dialogue or introduction whatsoever. It merely begins with Zimmer alone on stage at a piano playing the opening notes from “Driving” (Driving Miss Daisy). He is soon joined by another musician on flute, and then another on accordion, and soon there is a full stage of musicians, along with a full orchestra, and backing vocals provided by the

Hans Zimmer: Live in Prague

Czech national choir, making 72 musicians in all—including Johnny Marr of The Smiths fame on guitar.

 

After playing the opening three songs, and at various points throughout the concert’s 138-minute run time, Zimmer steps to the mic to say a few words, introducing members of the band, and sharing some memories or anecdotes about the compositions.

 

Shot digitally on Arri Alexa, the 16:9 image looks beautiful. Colors are bright and punchy, black levels are deep and solid with no banding or noise, showing off clear differences between the different shades of black in the performers’ outfits, and there is plenty of detail.

 

While there are no laser effects and very little accompanying video (some pulsing lights and symbols that enhance the beat, rhythm, and mood of the score, not displaying any movie footage), the show features plenty of dramatic lighting to illuminate the performers and punctuate the intensity of various tracks.

 

One great benefit of owning the Kaleidescape version is that all of the songs are bookmarked, allowing you to easily jump to your favorite moments, or just press the “Info” button to bring up the title listing to identify what you’re listening to.

 

Like Zimmer’s scoring style, the audio from this concert is big and bombastic. It also differs from the original works in that it has more of a rock concert, electronic vibe to it, which arguably works better, and is more entertaining, for a live show. “Why So Serious?” from The Dark Knight is one of my favorite Zimmer works, and here it plays a bit like a Blue Man Group performance, with heavy percussion and an intense light show that well capture the Joker’s manic personality.

 

Played at reference volumes, this concert is quite loud, and has a surprising amount of deep low-frequency information, especially the opening notes of “Half Remembered Dream” from Inception. In fact, while watching this I had to remove the filter on my SVS sub that boosts bass at 32 Hz to give a bit of punch to films because it created just too much low-end bloat.

 

As mentioned before, the Atmos mix is highly immersive and aggressive, but also . . . interesting. Often concert or performance mixes are done from either an on-stage or in-crowd perspective, but for most of this show, you’re positioned primarily in the middle of the mix, with instrumentation and vocals frequently wrapping all around the room. The primary instruments and backing vocals are mixed heavily into the front channels, but also spread overhead and into the sides. If you find yourself too overwhelmed by the Atmos soundtrack, the Blu-ray also features a two-channel PCM mix. 

 

For fans of Zimmer’s works, this is an absolute must-get. For those who love watching live performances, or are looking for an entertaining evening at home that doesn’t involve explosions, jump scares, or the latest rom-com, this belongs on the shortlist.

John Sciacca

Hans Zimmer: Live in Prague

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.

A Tribeca Trendsetter

Cineluxe Showcase

Ed Gilmore casually bringing some shots of an install he’d done in Tribeca up on his computer monitor was a major “a-ha” moment for me. The first shot showed a stylish, obviously comfortable living area that also served as a billiards room, dining area, and kitchen. The second showed the same room transformed into a home entertainment space a lot of people would kill for. That, a completely intuitive part of me screamed, perfectly represents the new paradigm.

 

Others must agree with that conclusion because people just won’t leave Ed alone about that space. Ironically, even he admits it’s not perfect—but it’s getting there, as the client invests more and more in turning what was initially a whim into a room that can blow most movie theaters out of the water.

 

Having since visited the apartment, and shot some video there, I recently circled back around with Ed to talk about all things Tribeca.

—Michael Gaughn

 

 

People seem to love that installation because it says that almost any room can now be transformed into a legitimate entertainment space.

 

I think what we did was to, in a minimally invasive way, create a home theater experience in a room that, if you looked at it from any angle, you would immediately say it couldn’t be done there. There was just no way.

 

Aesthetically, the room had already been designed before you came into the picture. How were you able to navigate those waters?

 

We just needed to be open and try to find really unique solutions that would both satisfy a high-end level of performance as well as maintain a certain aesthetic value the client wanted us to maintain, and be true to the bones of that room. I don’t think that’s any rare talent. The issue was that he had interviewed a lot of other AV guys who told him right off the bat, “No, we won’t do that.” And that wasn’t the answer he wanted to hear. So we were lucky enough to be able to convince him that we could do it, and it could be compelling.

That communal area wasn’t supposed to be the main entertainment space, right?

 

Right. The den [shown at right] is the room where he really sits and watches most of his TV. That was the room he wanted to spend some money on. This other room was kind of an experiment for him.

 

But as he saw it implemented, immediately he thought, “I’m going to

A Tribeca Theater to Die For

photos by John Frattasi

sink some more money into this room.” And that’s exactly what he did. That’s what he did with the Kaleidescape Strato, that’s what he did with the Steinway Lyngdorf speaker system, and what he’s about to do with projection, by upgrading the projector there as well.

 

Are people fascinated by that room because it’s a kind of outlier or because it represents a trend?

 

I think it’s a little bit of both. It’s tapping into a trend, that trend being that people aren’t interested in having dedicated rooms for specific purposes like a theater, or even a dedicated music room.

The promotional media-room tour I produced of the Tribeca space.

There’s an aspirational aspect to it as well. It resonates with people because it’s well done. I mean, it’s a really beautiful space. And it’s well thought out. And that goes back to the developer, who did a really nice job on that building. The dimensions of the room are great, and it has this wonderful warm feeling to it without really needing much in terms of other types of interior design.

 

But these particular clients do have taste, and they’ve been around the block a few times in terms of renovations. He is a serial renovator. And so their choice of artwork, their choice of furnishings—those little details that they have there are great. And I think that resonates with a lot of people too.

 

If luxury is really about details—about somebody caring enough to make sure every last thing is done right—Tribeca would seem to qualify.

 

I think you and I agree on this, right? Attention to detail is really what matters in a luxury space. People have asked me about what luxury is, and I typically say that it needs to be inspirational. But that doesn’t mean it really needs to be noticeable. It’s something that kind of unfolds. And by the time you realize what’s happening, you’re kind of taken by surprise by it. And it’s organic—it feels like it was always part of what was meant to be there.

 

 

In a followup post, Ed will talk more about turning problem rooms into great theaters and about the increasing importance of interior designers in home entertainment spaces.

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

Ed Gilmore

Since 1991, Ed Gilmore and Gilmore’s Sound Advice, Inc. have been designing, deploying, and servicing hundreds of integrated systems by strictly adhering to a word-of-mouth recommendation policy. Typical systems consist of audio & video distribution, home theater, lighting & shading systems, enterprise-level network/WiFi & telephony, along with HVAC & security systems integration. In 2016, Gilmore created one of the most unique showroom & event spaces in New York City. Increased space also allows GSA to rack-build, program, and test systems prior to deployment.

About HTA

The Home Technology Association is an independent organization that connects homeowners with the most reputable and qualified professionals in the home technology industry. In an industry that has no barriers to entry, it has created a rigorous set of standards for companies to adhere to. Only firms that meet the 60-plus points of evaluation criteria are granted certification status. Once certified, these firms must maintain HTA standards or risk losing certification.

 

Gilmore’s Sound Advice is an HTA member, and Ed Gilmore believes it provides an indispensable service. “I think the value of HTA is that it’s a vetted process. It’s a certification program that vets integrators and lets the general public know that we hold ourselves to very high standards. And no other organization does that.”

HTA Logo

REVIEWS

Mission: Impossible--Fallout
Blue Planet II
Netflix' "Filmworker"
Hans Zimmer: Live in Prague

ALSO ON CINELUXE

The Rumors of the Death of Home Theater
Luxury Made Easy, Pt. 1
So You Think Your Room's Bad, Pt. 4

Superman: The Movie

Superman: The Movie

Let’s talk about courage for a moment. Not the courage it took for Ilya and Alexander Salkind to make a sentimental and sincere big-budget superhero film when there was no precedent for that sort of thing at the time. Nor the courage it took for director Richard Donner and casting director Lynn Stalmaster to take a risk on unknown Christopher Reeve for the lead role, when so many other famous names were contending for the red cape and spit curl. You’ve no doubt heard those stories before.

 

Let’s talk instead about the courage it took for Warner Bros. to release a 4K HDR version of the film in 2018 that preserves all of the celluloid flaws (and charms) of the original cinematic release, in an era where so many studios are glossing up, de-noising, sharpening, and generally attempting to modernize the standouts in their classic film catalogs.

 

Superman: The Movie is one of those films I buy on any new home video format the day it’s released. Which isn’t to say that every home video release has been a major improvement over the ones before it. This is an intentionally soft and heavily filtered film, after all. It lacks rock-solid blacks. There’s a prominent graininess to the image, especially in special effects shots.

 

If Kaleidescape’s new 4K HDR release of the film weren’t true to all of that, it would be a bit of a betrayal. So why release it in 4K HDR at all? What stands out most in this release as compared with previous efforts (including the Blu-ray-quality 1080p version of the film, also 

included with the Kaleidescape download of this one) is the richness and saturation of its colors, especially in those early sequences in Smallville.

 

Before that, the scenes on Krypton also get a nice boost from the enhanced brightness afforded by 

Superman: The Movie

HDR. I finally think I get what Donner was going for with those silly reflective suits that Jor-El (Marlon Brando) and Lara (Susannah York) wear as they ponder the fate of their infant child before rocketing him off to earth. They have a pop and sizzle here that they’ve simply never had on home video before.

 

Other than that, it’s as if a layer of haze has been wiped off of the film. Granted, what was buried under the haze was a late-70s work of photochemical film. It’s fuzzy. It’s muted. Its effects shots look kinda laughable. But that’s long been part of the charm of this film, so kudos to Warner for having the cajones to release it as such, and kudos to Kaleidescape for delivering it with all of its textures and nuances intact. This isn’t the movie you’re going to whip out if you simply want to show off all of your projector’s or TV’s pixel-pumping, high-contrast capabilities. Still, it’s hard to deny that this is the best that Superman: The Movie has ever looked or will likely ever look. I daresay the original 70mm print didn’t shine this brilliantly the first time it was spindled through the projector on opening night in 1978.

 

One thing worth noting is that the Kaleidescape version of the film doesn’t include the new Atmos remix included with the UHD Blu-ray disc. I’m not sure how you feel about that, dear reader, but I don’t miss it. The new DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix included with the Kaleidescape download is a big step up from previous efforts, especially in terms of its rich, bombastic delivery of John Williams’ iconic score. The fidelity here is simply flawless, yet it isn’t an outright betrayal of the film’s original aesthetic.

 

Am I alone in this, though? Would you rather see a classic like Superman: The Movie presented as a product of its time, in the best possible light of today’s home video technology? Or would you prefer that the studio iron out the grain, sharpen up the edges, slap on a fresh coat of paint, and try to make the film look (and sound!) more like the current crop of superhero flicks that owe so much to this cherished classic?

Dennis Burger

Superman: The Movie

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.

So You Think Your Room’s Bad, Pt. 2

So You Think Your Room's Bad, Pt. 2

We concluded our last post facing two major challenges: Squeezing a completely enclosed space into the middle of what had previously been an open-floorplan tradeshow booth, and then outfitting it with the kind of reference-quality movie system you usually only find in luxury home theater rooms.

 

It would seem like creating the room should have been easy. Just throw up four walls and drop a ceiling on them, right? Well, yeah—if you have enough space to work with. But the booth needed to be able to handle a constant flow of business traffic, and filtering all those people through a movie theater almost continuously in use for demos wasn’t an option. So we had to strike a balance between having a theater that groups could rotate in and out of while also having enough room on the outside for meetings and product spotlights—all within the confines of a 20 x 40-foot space barely large enough to hold a typical dedicated theater room.

 

We also didn’t want to give up the canted divider walls in the middle of the booth since they’d be used to hold big TVs showing videos that would lure people into the booth. And we didn’t want to completely give up offering a glimpse of the den-like theater room, since we wanted to make a statement that luxury cinema isn’t just about home theaters anymore.

The early, open floorplan, followed by the revised design incorporating
a self-contained room for a reference-quality home theater.

The solution was to cheat—a lot. Dennis, Marcelo, Melinda, and I kept moving the walls around, our fingers crossed the whole time, until we found positions for them that might allow the demo room to hold about a dozen people while about 40 other people milled around in the rest of the booth. The fire marshal nixed our plans to cover the whole booth, but we did get approval for a roof over just the demo area.

 

We eventually arrived at a 22.5′ wide by 14′ deep space—but remember that the back two corners were lopped off, thanks to the angled walls, so it was actually smaller than that. And, yes, under saner circumstances, the room would have been 14′ wide by 22.5′ deep—but that’s a whole other story.

 

So we ended up with a seriously space-challenged demo room with angled walls and the wrong orientation, the whole thing built out of narrow metal supports, thin fabric, a bunch of foam core, and not much else. And here’s where Dennis returns to continue the tale.

Michael Gaughn

Needless to say, getting a roof on the theater room was a boon for a few reasons. One, it meant we could control the light coming into the room. Two, it meant we could do an Atmos surround sound system, which was top on the client’s priority list. But it’s a pretty big step from figuring out, OK, yeah, we can do Atmos in this room, to actually deciding which components are going to come together and create such a system.

 

If you’ll indulge me some basic home theater ABCs here, I need to walk through the components of an 

In our sixth revision of the booth design, you can see how the shape of the demo room was defined by the needs of the booth exterior. The overhead view gives you a sense of what little space we had to work with, how the angled back walls ate into that precious space, and why in-room speakers were ruled out.

Atmos sound system, not because I assume you’re not familiar with them but to illustrate my thought process.

 

To do Atmos (or DTS:X) surround, you need to start with the components of a typical home theater system: Three speakers at the front of the room to deliver dialogue, music, and sound effects to the sides of the image, two or four speakers at the sides and/or rear of the room to deliver the offscreen ear-level sounds, and at least one subwoofer to deliver really deep bass.

 

To get from there to Atmos, you need to add two or four (or in some extreme cases six) channels of sound overhead.

 

Notice that I said “channels” there, not speakers. Because you can actually create those overhead sound effects by bouncing sound off the ceiling from little modules that sit atop your ear-level speakers. And that was certainly one possibility I explored for this room, since I wasn’t sure our ceiling would be strong enough to hold speakers.

Using sound reflections to create ceiling channels

This illustration shows a
driver on top of a soundbar
firing upward to create
sound reflections in order
to simulate Dolby Atmos
ceiling channels.

 

graphic courtesy of Dolby Labs

But at the same time, I also didn’t know how high the ceiling would be (it changed a few times) or if we would have room for physical speakers sitting out in the room. How many seats would we have in here? That question wasn’t going to be sufficiently answered until the last minute. So I decided that we needed to go with in-wall speakers all the way around, except for the subwoofers.

 

Mind you, there are some speaker manufacturers that make in-wall speaker modules designed to reflect off the ceiling to create those overhead effects. But while I was juggling all of the information above, I also had to consider the speakers in the back of the room. I needed a very specific type of speaker that would generate wide, immersive sound that would reach out into the room, no matter where people were seated. And I wanted all of our speakers to match in terms of the quality and character of sound. I quickly figured out GoldenEar Technology offered the ideal solutions.

 

We’ll dig into GoldenEar’s in-wall and in-ceiling speakers in the next post, explaining the exact problems their speakers solved, the guidance they gave us in terms of placement, and how I nearly had a nervous breakdown over the rotation of a single tweeter.

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.

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