Some views of my home theater space, pre upgrades
photos by Jim Raycroft
The first home theater component I ever purchased was a subwoofer back in 1995. It was a big 15-inch black cube Definitive Technology model that I drove into San Francisco to buy after researching everything I could find for weeks in all the enthusiast magazines at the time. From there, I bought a Yamaha digital surround decoder and Dolby Digital RF demodulator
for a laserdisc player, connected it all to some speakers and a 25-inch Proton tube TV, and voila! I had my first home theater system.
It didn’t have a lot of style or elegance, and it certainly wasn’t luxury, but I was on the cutting edge of 5.1-channel technology, and it sounded better than anything my friends had.
And I was hooked.
Over the years, my system has seen a lot of upgrades, most frequently in the preamp/processor section, as I chase the technology dragon of trying to stay current with surround formats, channel counts, and HDMI processing. (For the record, the 13.1-channel Marantz AV8805 is currently serving processing duties in my rack, and doing a very fine job of it, thank you.)
Speakers get upgraded the least often, as a good speaker rarely stops sounding good, and, if cared for, rarely breaks. Sources come and go as technology improves. Gone are the VCR, and the LaserDisc and DVD players. Currently in use are a Kaleidescape Strato and M500 player, Samsung UHD Blu-ray, Apple 4KTV, Dish Hopper 3, and Microsoft Xbox One.
Lying in the upgrade middle ground is my system display. Long gone is the 25-inch Proton, having been replaced by a 35-inch Mitsubishi, then a 61-inch Samsung DLP, then a 60-inch Pioneer Elite Plasma. Currently, my primary display is a Sony XBR-65X930D, a 65-inch 4K LED. However, it’s a D-
generation, and Sony is now on G models, so it might be due for replacement next year.
One device in my system that has never been upgraded is my video projector.
I always wanted a truly big-screen, cinematic experience, and this meant a projector and screen. So I purchased the best projector Marantz made (the VP-11S2, shown below) back in 2008, along with a Panamorph anamorphic lens and motorized
sled system. This setup fires onto a Draper MultiView screen that has masking to show either a 92-inch 16:9 image or a 115-inch 2.35:1 Cinemascope image.
The first time we dropped the lights, powered on the projector, and lowered the screen, I was ecstatic. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to have this amazing system in my own home, and we essentially stopped going out to the movies.
I continued to feel that way about my projection system for years. It
provided an amazing, truly cinematic experience that made me happy literally every time we used it. And use it we did, generally watching two to three movies per week on the big screen.
But then, technology moved on.
Principally, HDMI went from 1.4 to 2.0, resolution went from 1080p to 4K, and video went from SDR to HDR.
While the Marantz still worked, it was now by far the weakest link in my theater chain, and it no longer supported any of the sources we wanted to watch. In fact, just watching a Blu-ray on the system via our Kaleidescape meant going into the Kaleidescape’s Web setup utility and telling the system to “dumb itself down” to output HDMI 1.4 signals. A huge hassle.
So, a couple of years ago, we basically stopped using the projector at all.
But, some things changed in the projector world at the recent CEDIA Expo in Denver that inspired me to finally make the upgrade plunge, and that’s what I’ll dive into in my next post!
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.