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Diary of a Cord Cutter

Diary of a Cord Cutter

Humans are creatures of habit. We fall into routine with our diet, job, schedule and, for me, satellite service. I’ve been with DirecTV for well over a decade for no better reason than they had the best deal for my lifestyle at the time that I got fed up with the local cable company (which has since gone out of business). I’ve grown to appreciate the 4K they offer, the multitude of sports packages, and the DVR service. But as more of my friends eschew the traditional cable/satellite model, I yearn to know and understand the life of cord cutting.

 

Not to sound pretentious or elitist (which means I’m about to sound pretentious and elitist) but generally the home theater experience required by my friends doesn’t quite approach my expectations. Theirs involves uncalibrated televisions with the sound coming from the (gasp!) TV’s own speaker. Nothing like the 4K HDR and 5.1 (minimum) surround sound I’ve grown accustomed to. So while they’re happy with some limitations in their streaming services, I still need to fulfill my desire for high-end content.

 

And therein lies the challenge. How can I continue my indulgence of high-quality material and grow my offerings without losing key programming, such as sports and children’s shows. (I have a three-year-old son.) Is there enough Atmos content available to stream or download, or will I only find suitable soundtracks on UHD Blu-rays? Will relying on a collection of different services wreak havoc with my home automation? Over the upcoming entries, I plan to delve into what’s available that meets my needs, and describe how I overcome the hurdles and roadblocks I encounter. I’ll more than likely learn a few things about myself and the limits of my own sanity along the way.

 

But the big question is: Can I both cut the cord and create an even better home-entertainment experience than I have now. We’ll see . . .

 

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

We recently faced the challenge of trying to convert a clearly compromised—some would have said impossible—space into a reference-quality home cinema demo room. We’re going to tell our story over a series of posts, not because anyone should care about the innerworkings of a tradeshow but because we think anybody with a seemingly unusable room can learn from our experiences and will hopefully be inspired by them.

 

This series is an exercise in problem solving, meant to show that the technology and expertise now exist to take just about any room and turn it into a luxury entertainment space. In other words, don’t give up on the place you know you’ll be most comfortable just because it seems like a lost cause.

Michael Gaughn & Dennis Burger

 

M.G. sets the stage:

 

Kaleidescape tasked the extraordinary designer Marcelo Murachovsky, the equally extraordinary project manager Melinda DeNicola (of Detail in Design), and me with creating a booth for a recent convention. The booth was meant to show that luxury entertainment rooms aren’t just about dedicated home theaters anymore but can be just as satisfying in den/family-room/living-room/communal/mixed-use/multi-use/whatever spaces too.

 

We devoted about half of our design to an intimate, inviting area that would have been clearly visible to anyone walking by. No, you couldn’t blast Baby Driver in there without having it heard across at least half of the convention center, but our super-luxe media room would have definitely intrigued the showgoers.

So You Think Your Room's Bad

An early sketch of the booth, before Marcelo came on board.

But then, two weeks before the booth had to go into production, we were told to work a completely enclosed reference-quality demo room into the middle of the, until then, wide-open space. After a blizzard of phone calls, Hangouts, emails, sketches, renderings, and texts, Melinda, Marcelo, and I decided there was no way it could be done. But, given that the alternative was to have no booth at all, we decided to take a shot at it anyway.

 

Dennis had been involved from early on, initially a sounding board. But, citing his civil engineering background, he soon volunteered to create 3D renderings, which would prove invaluable in figuring out how to incorporate the demo space.

 

The four of us quickly came up with a layout that retained key elements of the original design—like an entranceway meant to evoke a hyper-modern theater proscenium, and canted walls that allowed big flat-screen TVs featuring promotional videos to be easily seen by passersby—while carving out an area in the midst of the booth just big enough for a theater room—maybe. If we got really lucky.

 

It would be hard to pinpoint the exact moment Dennis shifted from doing drawings to figuring out what gear we could use for the system without embarrassing the manufacturers. But I was eager for him to take over the system design, since I knew he wouldn’t feel constrained by any traditional notions of home theater or media room spaces.

The original sketch revised, with dividers placed between the demo area & the rest of the booth.
This is the design we were asked to add an enclosed room to.

D.B. picks up the ball from here:

 

If you’re unfortunate enough to work in an office environment littered with cubicles, imagine taking one of those infernal things, sizing it up to the dimension of a decent living room, slapping some foam-core board on top of it for a ceiling, and then lopping a couple of corners off for good measure. Now imagine that your job is to turn that area into an unimpeachably high-performance movie-watching space.

 

That is, essentially, the puzzle we had to solve with our design for the Kaleidescape booth. My efforts were at first focused on the 3D engineering and CAD drafting of the space based on Marcelo’s 2D drawings and Mike’s vision, with Melinda’s design input. But as we approached our deadline, I was also tasked with engineering the AV system for this quickly built temporary structure in such a way that it would deliver an immersive, full-fidelity audiovisual experience. One good enough to make attendees forget that they were actually sitting inside a jumbo-sized Erector Set covered in essentially the same material that we all used to make our middle-school science projects from.

 

Even though we were tight on space, part of our mandate was to incorporate an Atmos sound system complete with ceiling speakers, so picking the right speakers was critical. And we needed to find electronics with digital room correction to deal with such unenviable room geometry and atypical surfaces. I also knew early on that acoustical treatments were a must, but I expected a bit of pushback here because our goal was to create a room that looked like a relatable living space, not a recording studio.

 

If we’d had months to figure out how to make all of this work, I probably would have panicked at the impossibility of it all. But as is the case with so many home entertainment installations—in which construction and design schedules create an unavoidable ticking clock—we didn’t have time to panic. So we spent many a sleepless night collaborating, arguing, doing complex math, arguing about the math, revising our designs, and realizing that every problem we solved created another problem, right up to the minute in which our designs were locked and we couldn’t make any more changes because the booth was literally being constructed.

 

In followup posts, Mike and I will be digging into the specifics of the decisions we made along the way, and how we ended up turning this weird overgrown cubicle into a beautiful and effective luxury home cinema environment. Because if we accomplished anything, it was to demonstrate that practically no room is completely untameable.

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.

Homecoming

Amazon Prime Homecoming

The brave members of the Armed Forces face numerous atrocities daily while on deployment, and the friendly staff of Homecoming is there to help ease their transition back into normal life. Heidi Bergman (Julia Roberts) is the therapist on site who leads the facility while also answering to her boss-from-afar, Colin Belfast (Bobby Cannavale). Colin is voraciously interested in the outcome of the experimental treatment Heidi was hired to facilitate.

 

We see the beginnings of this experiment with war veteran Walter, played beautifully by Stephen James, although we aren’t privy to the specifics and depths of the treatment until later. Then something happens, and a complaint is filed. But we have no idea what it is, and thus begins the psychological thriller/mystery at the heart of this series.

Homecoming began its life as a scripted podcast, and the Amazon Prime series honors that source material. (Although there are some major alterations later on, the first TV episode is almost exactly the same as the podcast.) We follow two timelines—one before the incident with Heidi and Walter at the facility, which is shown in a widescreen aspect ratio, and one after, shown in a constricting 4:3 ratio with muted colors, as Department of Defense investigator 

Thomas Carrasco (Shea Whigman) tries to determine if the complaint is valid and worth elevating to his superiors.

 

The acting throughout is excellent. The chemistry between Roberts and James pulls us in to the intimacy of their private counseling sessions and carries us along on their journey. There are some wonderful moments from supporting members Sissy Spacek and Dermot Mulroney. And Sam Esmail (creator of Mr. Robot) is masterful in his direction of all episodes. The visuals and quirky music choices do a fantastic job of alternately keeping you on edge and settling you into the experience.

 

Homecoming is available in 4K HDR with a 5.1 soundtrack. An initial search for it through the Amazon app will probably come up with the non-4K version since Amazon doesn’t seem to push their 4K offerings as hard as they should. So be sure you’re getting the proper high-resolution experience. The image quality is stunning and serves the cinematography exceptionally well. The surround speakers are utilized well, and the 5.1 mix never sounds gimmicky but is only there to increase the ambiance or, at times, the tension. There are no explosions or intense car chases to test the limits of your system—it’s not that kind of show—but the subtle use of sound effects throughout leads to some startling moments for the characters.

 

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.

Is Personal Luxury Cinema Really a Thing?

Is Personal Luxury Cinema Really a Thing?

One of the things we’re trying to encourage here at Cineluxe is ongoing dialogue, debate, and discussion. As we’ve stated before, the term “luxury” can be a moving target and mean different things to different people—or to put it more crudely, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

 

Dennis Burger recently wrote a post, “Luxury System Basics: Another View,” in response to my post discussing the minimum electronics required to outfit a system capable of delivering a luxury home experience. Reading Dennis’ post made me think, “Well, would he consider a laptop and headphones a luxury experience?!?”

 

I’ll admit, at first that voice in my head had a pretty sarcastic edge.

 

But then I started thinking on it a little more. I mean, could a laptop and pair of headphones deliver a luxury experience?

 

I think that answer is simultaneously “no” and “yes,” but most likely “a definite qualified maybe . . .”

 

Before I give a more considered response, let me start with a story for a bit of perspective.

 

After I got married, my wife and I moved into an apartment building in Walnut Creek, California. My entertainment system at the time consisted of a 25″ Proton CRT tube, some Boston Acoustics towers and matching center channel, a Yamaha surround receiver, and a Definitive Technology 15″ sub. Our first night in the new apartment, we watched Babe—yes, the talking pig movie—on VHS at a volume level that I would describe as modest at best. The next morning we found a note on our door that said (to the best of my memory), “You don’t live alone in the woods! You need to keep the volume down!”

 

This was crushingly disappointing to me as I knew it meant I’d no longer be able to enjoy movies or music at any kind of volume level until we moved out. And this on the second day of our one-year lease.

 

So, what if you love movies—or music—but live in a similar situation, where you’re unable to have a system due to neighborly issues? Or if you have a space that just can’t accommodate a massive screen? Or you travel a lot and want to have the best possible experience wherever you go? Or if you’re like Dennis’s friend Sara Beth and just find large screens overwhelming?

 

Modern laptops can deliver 4K HDR resolution, which is insane pixel density when compared to screens four or more times larger. They also have ultra-powerful processors, many gigs of RAM, and fantastic video cards for wonderful video scaling.

 

Some laptops even offer an HDMI input, meaning you can connect an external 4K HDR source like a UHD Blu-ray, Apple 4K TV, or Kaleidescape Strato and watch it on the laptop’s screen.

 

By the numbers, a decent-sized laptop screen—say 16″ diagonal—sitting in your lap would achieve both SMPTE and THX recommended viewing angles for an immersive experience. This would actually deliver the same visual experience as sitting 12.5′  from a 100″ screen. (If you’re curious about calculating recommended screen sizes for your seating position, this is a great site.)

 

Regarding screen size, I’d also say that I’d rather watch a great image on a smaller screen than a good one on a large screen. In other words, a 75″ screen doesn’t always trump the experience of viewing on a 55″ or 65″.

On the audio side, headphones can definitely deliver the luxury Schiit. (I’m referring to Schiit Audio, of course.) In fact, in some ways, a good pair of headphones with an outboard DAC and amplifier can get you far closer to the source material than audio systems costing many times the price. If you’ve ever had the opportunity to audition a pair of truly cost-no-object phones like Sennheiser’s Orpheus 2 or HiFiMan’s Shangri-La, then you know how truly jaw-dropping audio can be. Headphones can reveal micro details and subtleties that can be lost when listening on a traditional pair of loudspeakers, with bass response, dynamics, and isolation from outside noise that traditional systems struggle to match.

 

Headphones also aren’t impacted by the room’s acoustics, typically deliver fantastic audio at less-than-reference

Orpheus Comes Alive

Powering on Sennheiser’s $52,000 HE 1 (also known as Orpheus 2) headphones initiates an elegant ballet, the controls slowly extending from their recessed positions on the front of the marble plinth, the eight tubes rising and slowly warming to life, and the storage cover gently rising to reveal the headphones themselves, enclosed in a luxurious storage case. This orchestration is designed to entice and excite as the system slowly comes online, timed so Orpheus is fully ready to entertain upon completion.

—J.S.

levels, and won’t have your neighbors (or roommates) leaving any snotty notes on your door.

 

With virtualization software and processing like DTS Headphone:X or Dolby Headphone, you can even get a simulated surround experience while wearing a pair of headphones. Is it as immersive as having an actual dedicated 7.1.4 Dolby Atmos speaker array, which can place sounds discretely anywhere in the room including directly over your head and behind you? No, but it can be pretty damn impressive.

 

The place where this kind of experience truly falls short is when it goes beyond an audience of one. Sitting hunched over a laptop screen side-by-side with a group of headphone-wearing friends is certainly no one’s definition of luxury.

 

So, can a laptop and headphones deliver a luxury experience for a solo cinephile? You tell me.

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.

Luxury System Basics: Another View

As you’ve probably guessed by now, we’re trying something new here at Cineluxe. We’re trying to find the boundaries of a relatively new phenomenon—one that combines the best elements of the old home theater and media room concepts, while rejecting their downsides. Out with the man cave. Out with isolated spaces in the home that merely ape commercial cinemas. (Because, seriously, mimicking that outdated and dying concept makes about as much sense as having a phone booth in the hallway. No offense to you Doctor Who fans in the audience.)

 

What we’re chasing after here is living spaces where all of a room’s purposes are served by its design on co-equal footing. In his latest piece, John Sciacca gives you a pretty good idea of what sort of electronics and effort it takes to appoint one of these spaces. It’s a good place to start if you’re wondering what the heck we’re all about here. But given that we’re a diverse bunch of folks with a diversity of thoughts on the matter, it’s no real surprise that my own opinion on what it takes to deliver a better-than-movie-theater experience at home is a little different from John’s.

 

His approach is an attempt at objectivity. Mine is a little more subjective. So, when John says that the minimum screen size should be around 75″, I get what he’s going for. But it gives me pause.

And it gives me pause because of my friend Sara Beth, with whom I’ve been to the movies once or twice when that was still a thing I did. SB refuses to see a movie in IMAX. And when we went to the movie theater together, she always wanted to sit in the back row. That struck me as odd, until I learned that she’s a hyper-focused person who can’t really concentrate on a movie unless she can take it in all at once. Any on-screen action that takes place outside of her paracentral vision is overwhelming to the point of distraction. If she had a 75″ TV, she would need to sit in her neighbor’s kitchen to watch it.

 

Does that mean she couldn’t benefit from a better, more immersive, more luxurious home cinema system? Of course not. It just means that her idea of “immersive” and mine are radically different.

 

So, when you see one of us throw out minimum standards like “75″ screen or larger,” keep in mind that what we’re trying to convey is that a Cineluxe environment should be one in which the screen commands your attention and removes distraction. So, too, should the sound system. Control and operation should be seamless and intuitive. When you dim the lights and press Play, the world should disappear. But just as importantly, when you press Stop and raise the lights, your room shouldn’t look like a Black Friday sale at Best Buy.

 

Do I absolutely agree that there are some minimum standards for achieving this? Of course I do. And I completely agree that a ratty old 720p TV with a soundbar plopped in front of it won’t do the trick. But I think those standards are different from person to person—because what matters is the experience. And that’s unique to you, your family, and those with whom you choose to share it.

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.

Papillon (2017)

One of my favorite, truly epic “inspired by actual events” films is Papillon. Released in 1973, it stars Steve McQueen as Henri “Papillon” Charrière, a safecracker framed for murder and condemned to a life of hard labor at the notorious French Guiana penal colony on Devil’s Island. The film is balanced by a terrific performance from Dustin Hoffman as Louis Dega, a counterfeiter who agrees to finance Papillon’s escape in exchange for protection.

 

I can clearly remember the first time I saw this movie, watching a late-night cable presentation at my grandmother’s house on a 20-inch tube TV, where the marathon tale of survival and escape from the brutalizing French penal system seemed like it ran for four hours.

Papillon (1973)

Papillon (1973)

Whether you saw and remember the original Papillon, I’m betting you weren’t aware it was recently remade. The new version came to theaters in a very limited release this past August with little to no fanfare, and moved on to home video shortly thereafter. When I saw that both versions were available for purchase on the Kaleidescape Movie Store in HD quality, I downloaded them to see how they compared.

 

Both films are based on Charrière’s international best-selling autobiographies, Papillon and Banco. (It’s interesting to note that the 1973 film features a screenwriting credit by Dalton Trumbo, whose own incredible life was the basis for the film Trumbo.) Whereas most “prison break” films spend the majority of time following the plotting of the escape, Papillon instead focuses on the characters and their daily nightmarish existence on Devil’s Island, where treachery lurks around every corner and 40% of prisoners died within the first years, with only two prisoners successfully escaping.

Papillon (2017)

Papillon (2017)

The remake is based on the 1973 screenplay, and thus borrows heavily from the original film’s storyline. Here, the titular character of Papillon (which means “butterfly” in French, for a prominent tattoo) is played by Charlie Hunnam, with Rami Malek (of recent Bohemian Rhapsody fame) taking over Hoffman’s role of Louis Dega. 

 

At 133 minutes, the new film certainly isn’t short, but is 18 minutes shorter than the original. This helps it feel faster paced, with less time spent on the solitary-confinement scenes, and quicker transitions to the film’s many dramatic moments. It also excises scenes from the original (notably the visit to the leper colony), but offers a bit of backstory at the beginning showing Papillon’s life outside of prison, in a very Gatsby-esque Paris.

 

In many ways, the new version reminded me of Gus Van Sant’s (in)famous Psycho remake. While Papillon isn’t a shot-for-shot remake like Van Sant’s Psycho, it leans so heavily on the original storyline, and even dialogue, that it ends up feeling like the same film. Hunnam does an admirable job portraying Pappy, but never seems to hit the same level of rock-bottom despair and suffering McQueen portrayed. Malek, however, does a fantastic job filling Hoffman’s shoes as the out-of-play and overwhelmed Dega just trying to survive to the next day.

 

One thing that can’t be faulted with the new film is the picture and sound quality. While not available in 4K HDR, it has nice detail and solid black levels. The color palette is mostly restrained by design, with drab prison and guard uniforms and hardscrabble landscape. But the images are natural looking, and outdoor scenes are bright, showing off the vibrant blues of the inviting waters surrounding the island. The 5.1-channel DTS-HD audio track is also quite active and does a great job keeping dialogue intelligible. It also upmixes wonderfully to a Dolby Atmos speaker layout, with nice overhead fill from the score and well-placed ambient effects, such as aboard the prison transport ship or during exterior scenes.

 

Critics and audiences alike greatly preferred the original film, with the 1973 version scoring 83% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 90% audience rating, while the new film only mustered 52% on RT with a 69% audience score. While I’d agree that the original is the superior film—and certainly the one to watch if Papillon is new to you—the remake is far from unenjoyable, and provides a great way to revisit an old favorite in a spruced-up manner. 

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.

Creating a Luxury Entertainment System: The Basics

Now that we’ve roughly established what a luxury experience is, it’s time to start talking about the minimum components required to create an entertainment system. In my experience working with thousands of clients over a 20-year career as a custom installer, I’ve found that the vast majority of people starting out don’t really have an idea what is required to create a surround system.

 

And whether you’re spending $5,000, $50,000, or $500,000, there are some essential components that are needed to create a luxury entertainment experience in your home—namely, a display, speakers, an audio processor and amplification, source components, a control system, and installation. Highly recommended would also be some comfortable seating, lighting control, and room treatments to tame the audio “beasties” that live in all but the most bespoke entertainment spaces. Here are brief descriptions of each essential ingredient—future posts will dive into greater detail.

 

Display

Frequently the most visible portion of an entertainment system, the display—whether a flat-panel TV or a projection screen—needs to be big enough to provide a cinematic viewing experience while not being so big that it overwhelms the room or 

makes viewers sitting close feel like they’re watching a tennis match. While not set in stone, for the purposes of Cineluxe, the minimum screen size should be around 75”.

 

Speakers

With few and rare exceptions, the speakers built into modern TVs are garbage and should never be considered adequate for providing decent sound, let alone a luxury experience. At a minimum, a surround system requires a 5.1-channel speaker configuration. This includes three front speakers near the display—left, center, right; two surround speakers often at the side of or behind the listening position; and a subwoofer (the .1), which handles the LFE (Low Frequency Effects) channel (that is, bass information like explosions and dinosaur foot stomps). As you get into larger rooms—and more advanced systems—the speaker count can go far above 5.1 to well over 30, with multiple subwoofers.

Audio Processor & Amplification

Surround sound audio is typically delivered in a digital format called a bitstream, which is made up of the 0s and 1s necessary to deliver an immersive audio experience. But you need a component that can decode all of this information and route it to the correct speaker. The most common surround formats are from Dolby and DTS, and they come in multiple formats such as Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Atmos, DTS-HD, and DTS:X. Once the signal has been decoded, it needs to be amplified before being sent to the speakers. Many systems combine these functions into one device called an AVR, or audio/video receiver. But many luxury systems use separate, specialized components for these tasks, to improve performance.

Trinnov Altitude 32 audio processor

Source Components

These provide the content you’re watching and/or listening to. Typical source components include a cable or satellite set-top box, a Blu-ray Disc player, a video game console, and a network streamer. To be considered luxury, a system needs to contain at least one 4K HDR-capable component, such as an UltraHD Blu-ray player, Kaleidescape Strato, Xbox One X, or AppleTV 4K.

 

Control System

By the time you combine all of the components required to create an entertainment system, you’ll have amassed a pile of remote controls. No system—but least of all one striving for luxury performance—should require multiple remotes to operate, so a single control system should be employed that can operate the majority of tasks with one, simple button press . . . or even a voice command.

 

Installation

In the hands of an untrained cook, even the most fantastic ingredients can result in an unappetizing or substandard dish. Similarly, no matter how great each of the individual pieces are, the entire entertainment system needs to be installed, integrated, and configured correctly to deliver its maximum performance. For most people, this requires hiring a professional installer whose job it is to tie everything together correctly.

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.

Who We Are

Editorial: Who We Are

If some of this site seems familiar, that’s because Cineluxe began life as the Rayva Roundtable. After a seven-month hiatus, we’re back, having retained the most relevant of the Roundtable’s content.

 

So, why Cineluxe? Because we are all poised on the cusp of vast and tremendous changes in how we experience not just movies but pretty much every form of entertainment, and there isn’t any other website devoted to documenting, describing, analyzing, and debating all of that.

 

Most of the change is happening in the middle to the high end of the market. And the biggest changes—which will influence the rest of the market soon enough—are happening in the luxury segment. So that’s why we’re focusing on what we call luxury home entertainment—a not entirely accurate, or graceful, phrase, but it will do for now.

 

Any resemblance this tsunami bears to the man cave days will be mainly superficial. Because maybe the biggest irony of this new wave is that it’s not tech leading the way this time but lifestyle, with the tech scrambling to find ways to serve the needs of an affluent demographic that wants instant, effortless access to all the best entertainment, in every form, reproduced in the best possible quality, and seamlessly integrated into their everyday lives.

 

Another irony is that a large swath of the population can now have a reference-quality movie-watching experience at home. Movie theaters used to represent the standard, but not anymore. And filmmakers are beginning to realize that the experience that’s truest to their intentions is increasingly happening in homes, not at the local theater.

 

But those two things are just the beginning of the very long list of radical innovations that are already taking home entertainment someplace completely new. Cineluxe exists to help you make sense of it all—in a straightforward, jargon-free way, driven not by tech but interest and enthusiasm—so you can find the best way to have the ultimate entertainment experience at home.

Michael Gaughn

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.

Luxury Defined–Take 2

Luxury Defined--Take 2

Following up on Dennis Burger’s “What is Luxury Home Entertainment?” and my own “Luxury Defined,” I feel that a site calling itself Cineluxe needs to be able to pin down not just what luxury is in general but exactly what it means for a home entertainment space. Does it mean a private IMAX screening room with a 20-foot-wide screen, seating for 30, and a price tag north of $1 million? Definitely. Is it a big-screen TV with a well-designed and integrated surround system that puts you in the middle of your favorite film or concert? Most likely. Is it slapping a soundbar beneath a flat-screen TV and streaming Netflix? Probably not.

 

The dictionary actually lays out a pretty broad definition of luxury: “a condition of abundance or great ease and comfort, or something adding to pleasure or comfort but not absolutely necessary; an indulgence in something that provides pleasure, satisfaction, or ease.”

 

So, when we’re talking about luxury as it pertains to the entertainment space, we need to first clarify what is “absolutely necessary,” and then anything beyond that would be luxurious. Well, potentially.

 

For an entertainment system, there are some barebones components that are “absolutely necessary” in order to have a functioning system: A display, sound system, and source components. In theory, this could all be rolled up into a modern smart TV, which provides the display/picture, the sound (albeit via abysmal internal speakers), and the source via built-in streaming. I dare say, no one would come over for a Netflix-and-chill and consider a solitary flat-panel TV on the wall as “luxury” in any sense.

 

A basic upgrade from the bare minimum would be transitioning to a larger screen, an improved sound system, and higher-quality sources. This could be the typical bedroom 55”-and-up screen with a soundbar and wireless subwoofer, and maybe a Blu-ray player or UltraHD streaming capabilities. A definite step up from the minimum of “absolutely necessary,” but still a real stretch to call it “luxurious,” even if you watch while ensconced in 1,000 thread-count sheets, wearing a cashmere robe, and sipping Cristal from Baccarat flutes.

 

To get into the realm of true “luxury entertainment,” we need to push the performance boundaries well beyond just what is necessary and start considering things like room integration and functionality. While not a hard-and-fast definition, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to say that at a minimum a luxury entertainment system would feature a 75” or larger TV or projection system, a multichannel surround sound speaker system with Dolby Atmos, and 4K HDR sources capable of delivering the best picture and sound quality. Additionally, a luxury experience would feature a well-designed control system to simplify operation, acoustical treatments to improve sound quality, comfortable seating, and lighting/shading control.

 

Luxury tends to have a nebulous definition as it is a bit of a moving target based on one’s finances at a given time in their life. For example, while I was in high school, eating out with friends at a place that required leaving a tip was a luxury. Today, it’s a luxury when my wife and I have a dinner bill that crests $200. My first “luxury” home entertainment purchase was a 15” Definitive Technology subwoofer that cost $700; today my system includes two subwoofers that sell for $2,000 apiece.

 

While you can’t put a dollar amount that defines a luxury experience, it’s safe to say that it does come at a price. Granted, a price that is many thousands less today than it was when I started in this industry 20 years ago.

 

When you have made a commitment to wanting something that is not truly one of life’s necessities—in this case, an entertainment system—luxury means aspiring towards achieving the best experience possible within your means. To paraphrase Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, “I shall not today attempt further to define what is luxury. But you’ll usually know it when you see it.”

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.

Explaining the “Luxe” in “Cineluxe”

Explaining the "Luxe" in "Cineluxe"

I hope this doesn’t sound like too lofty a pronouncement, but the whole landscape of home entertainment is going to change completely over the next two to three years. And most of the ferment feeding that vast wave is currently happening in the high-end part of the market that Cineluxe embraces.

 

Early on in “What is Luxury Home Entertainment?” Dennis Burger writes: “[Y]ou can now achieve a level of cinematic performance with a few thousand dollars’ worth of gear that would have been unimaginable at any price just a few years ago.”

 

If you had to narrow it to one thing, that’s what this site is all about. To put it another way, a good chunk of the population, for a relatively small investment and with relative ease, can now have an entertainment system that rivals or outperforms what they can experience at their local movie theater. And that changes everything.

 

Given that, how does luxury enter into the equation? Well, if you don’t narrow it down, that’s also what this site is all about.

 

Luxury, more than anything else, is getting things as right as humanly possible. And, while money can be a factor in that, it’s not the most important one. It’s taste.

 

Most things can never qualify as luxurious because nobody ever cared enough to get them right. Almost everything we encounter is in some fundamental way slipshod; and even when people aspire, they usually settle for good enough. Cineluxe is about pushing past all of that to the ultimate.

 

But the tech is only a means to that end—ditto for the space, and whatever is done to that space to make it suitable for enjoying entertainment. Every luxury home entertainment system is a unique creation, and achieving the goal of making both the tech and room disappear so you can become lost in the entertainment takes both a strong human impulse and a discerning eye. And that’s where taste comes into it.

 

Not the integrator’s or the designer’s, but the owner’s—more pertinently, owners’—taste.

 

To have a truly luxurious space—one that not only achieves ultimate performance but deftly addresses the needs of every member of the household—you need the input of everyone who will be using that room. (Which shows how far we’ve come from the days of the man cave.) And some member of the household needs to be responsible for defining the goals and ensuring they’re achieved.

 

And that’s kind of why we’re here—to bring people up to speed on what luxury home entertainment is and give them a way of guiding the process without ever getting mired in the jargon or the tech.

 

Most of the time, almost all the actual work will be done by the designer and integrator, of course. But the homeowner’s vision—which is just another form of taste—has to lead the way. The landscape is strewn with more than enough evidence to prove that money can’t buy taste, so it’s just as important to find the right people to help collaborate on a system as it is to find the right room or gear. We’ll try to help with that too.

 

Crafting an ultimate entertainment space shouldn’t have to be a chore—it should be a creative act, a unique expression of the interests and enthusiasm, and even passions, of everyone in the household. It can be complicated, but it doesn’t have to be—and we’ll do what we can to make the act of creating a system and a space as enjoyable as actually using it.

 

Michael Gaughn

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.