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Video Displays: How Good Is Good Enough? Pt. 2

video display innovations

The Avatar sequel is reportedly being shot at 120 frames per second—5 times the
frame rate of the traditional 24 fps.

In Pt. 1, I discussed how improvements in color space and dynamic range are bringing video displays closer to the abilities of the human eye. Here I’m going to discuss the impact of spatial resolution and refresh or frame rate.

 

Pixels get all the attention when most people pick out their TVs. 2K, 4K, 8Khow many K’s do I need? But just because a display can put more pixels on the screen doesn’t mean they’re better pixels. 

 

Everyone has had the experience of going to the eye doctor and straining to see if that E is pointing up or down, or left or right. As you go from the top line to the bottom, there’s a point where you can no longer determine which direction the E is pointing. This is how the eye doctor determines your sensitivity to spatial resolution.

 

My eyes aren’t quite as good as they used to be, but on a flat-screen TV, I can see pixels on a 1080 display when I’m standing about 3X the picture height back. On a 4K, I can’t see pixels until I get inside of 1.5X the screen height. With projectors, you need to be even closer to see pixels as a result of the natural smoothing affect of convergence and optical lenses.

 

If I’m staring at a spreadsheet, those pixels and distances are pretty accurate, much like staring at those E’s at the eye doctor. But if I’m watching a movie, I’m not straining my eyes to see pixels but instead want to take in the whole image, so I’m moving further back. 4K allows me to sit comfortably about 2X the screen height back, which is as close as I’d ever want to watch a movie. So for the future, don’t give me more pixels, give me better pixels!!!

 

So far, I’ve been talking about pixels, but unless I’m only talking about spreadsheets, I need to understand more about how the human eye sees motion. After all, I want to watch movies!

video display innovations

James Cameron, of Avatar fame, was one of the first Hollywood producers to push HFR (high frame rate). The original movie spec was 24P, and it was chosen because it was the lowest refresh to allow acceptable audio quality. This means that the entire image on the screen is refreshed 24 times per second.

 

If I’m watching two people sitting across a table from each other talking, slow frame rate doesn’t bother me. But if I’m watching a plane fly across the sky, or Matt Damon jumping from one building to another in a chase scene, I need faster refresh rates. When you look in the sky and see a plane fly by, you see it move in a nice, smooth continuous motion. But when you watch a movie in 24P, the plane will seem to jump across the screen as it moves from frame to frame. Your brain naturally tries to smooth this out, but when you watch two scenesone with HFR and one withoutyou appreciate the difference.

 

The critics say HFR makes images seem “soap opera”-like, but honestly, isn’t that the way we see things in real life? When we walk through everyday life, does the world look more like a soap opera or a movie? (I did say “look” and not “feel.”)

 

So currently we hover between 24P for movies, and 60P for video. Experts seem to feel that the threshold for the human eye is around 120Hz (which is what the Avatar sequel is rumored to be shot in). Let me please note that HFR means the movie or content was shot or captured in this high frame rate, not just displayed at faster refresh.

 

Many flat panels tout 240Hz or even 600Hz refresh, but that is just refreshing the same content on the panel and is intended to fix deficiencies in the panels, not in the quality of the movie. HFR requires a lot of bandwidth, so improvements here are costly, but they have a big impact on the way we see images. So expect this to take a little longer than the other items discussed here.

 

In the past 10 years, we’ve seen improvements in all aspects of display performance that affect visual acuity. In the next 10 years, we will see even more improvements. The most important thing is that it’s not just about resolution. Getting to 8K will not bring us to the ultimate display.  In fact, most people won’t see any improvement from going from 8 million pixels to 33 million pixels. If we all want to watch video and have it replicate real life, we don’t really need more pixelswe need better pixels. Give me pixels with more color, more contrast, and refresh them on the screen faster. In the meantime, give me content that will really take advantage of all that my current 4K UHD display can handle. 

—George Walter

A 25-year veteran of the video-display industry, George Walter has been a vice president
at Digital Projection, where he founded its residential division, and a board member for both
CEDIA and Azione. George is the President of Rayva.

REVIEWS

Wonder Woman review
Blade Runner: The Final Cut review
Lawrence of Arabia review

Fear & Loathing in the Star Wars Ticket Line

My dad and I were cruising up I-65 this past weekend, on our way to enter our droptop ‘Vette in a local car show, and since I was the one in the driver’s seat I got to pick the tunes. Pop’s a mountain man, mind you, raised on the outskirts of the Cumberland Plateau, so to his ears any music that could even vaguely be described as pop or rock is positively pornographic. And not in a good way. So, to play it safe I queued up the score for The Empire Strikes Back.

 

“Hey, that’s Star Wars, aint’ it?” he asked, delighted with himself for actually recognizing a piece of music in my library. “You gonna camp out overnight for tickets for that new one?”

Star Wars ticket line

There was a mocking twinkle in his eye when he asked that. To this day, he still ribs me for being the first person in line for tickets to see Episode I, the first person in all of Montgomery to procure tickets after 18 hours of standing/sitting/
sleeping in that line, and for making the front page of our local newspaper as a result.

 

That’s just not how it works anymore, I explained. The Internet, I told him, has pretty much killed the whole camping-out-overnight-for-tickets experience.

 

Here’s the thing, though: After suffering through the unpredictability and panic of procuring tickets for The Last Jedi this week, I miss those good old days of sleeping on concrete overnight in oppressive Alabama air. This year, as with The Force Awakens two years ago, Disney decided in its infinite wisdom to tie the onset of ticket sales to the release of the trailer for the film. And some knucklehead in marketing learned zero lessons from 2015 and decided to again tie the unveiling of the trailer to the halftime show for Monday Night Football.

Star Wars ticket line

Innumerable Reddit threads were created in an effort to foretell exactly what time that might actually equate to in the real world. Theater chains across the nation were flooded with calls from panicky nerds like myself begging for a more precise window. “After the trailer airs,” is all we were told. But we were told the same tale two years ago, and tickets actually went on sale hours earlier with no notice, famously breaking the Internet.

 

So, the missus and I, in an effort to avoid a similar technological meltdown, drove to our local AMC just before the start of the game and formed what quickly became a line. The ticket agent was clueless as to why. “That movie doesn’t come out until December!” We implored her to call her manager. “He says he thinks they might go on sale tomorrow.” We insisted they should be on sale any time now. “It’s not even in the computer!”

 

Around that time, a hooded nerd near the back of the line announced that tickets were on sale at the other big cineplex in town, two hours earlier than promised, but their website had just crashed. Half the line fled immediately for their cars. The crowd that remained teetered on the edge of rioting, because if there’s one thing we nerds just don’t know how to deal with, it’s unpredictability.

 

Thankfully, just before things turned really ugly, the woefully uninformed ticket agent announced that, hey, whatdoyaknow?—tickets for the first IMAX showing just popped up in her computer. $25 apiece. Some special fan event or something. Do we want to buy those? And almost instantly, that semi-chaotic line of nerds turned into a mosh pit. 

Star Wars ticket line

I understand the position Disney is in. They’re in possession of one of the few movie franchises guaranteed to turn a profit at the box office, in a market that’s definitely trending toward Slumpsville. They want to drum up excitement. They want the Internet to be abuzz.

 

There’s a fine line, though, between excitement and anxiety, and for the second time in two years, Disney has managed to drum up consternation and angst in the lead-up to pre-sales of pretty much the only movie event temping enough to get my butt into a cinema seat. And, hey, I’m sure it worked to their financial advantage again this time, especially given that they duped so many hopped-up Star Wars fans into paying double-price to see the first showing. But how long can this bubble possibly last?

 

Speaking as the biggest Star Wars fan in the known universe (and yes, I have the prize from besting the president of the Star Wars fan club in a trivia contest to prove it), I’d say not much longer. Because if the chaos and uncertainty of buying tickets this time around has even me considering sitting out opening night when Episode IX rolls around in a couple of years—or, shudder the thought, waiting for the home-video release—then big cinematic tentpole events like this are surely doomed. At least when they’re as poorly planned and misleadingly marketed as this one.

—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.

REVIEWS

Wonder Woman review
Blade Runner: The Final Cut review
Lawrence of Arabia review

The Future of Home Theater: A Manifesto

There’s been a lively exchange in these pages lately about the rise of high-end media rooms and what impact that could have on dedicated home theaters. So I wanted to take a moment to explain this site’s position in this debatenot as an effort to guide, let alone stifle, the discussion but to encourage an even more vigorous debate.

 

There’s a tsunami forming that could have as much impact as the iPod on how people experience entertainmentand we’re not just talking home entertainment here but all forms of entertainment everywhere. And it’s being formed by the largely chance convergence of the widespread acceptance of 4K, increased awareness of beyond-5.1-channel surround sound formats like Atmos, the surging popularity of streaming (fueled in part by the marked decline in quality of Hollywood films), and, maybe more important than any of these, increased bandwidth and its wider distribution.

 

But there’s another big factormaybe the biggest: Gender. Tech used to be an almost exclusively male domain. Those days are gone forever. Everybody not only uses but feels comfortable with smartphones, tablets, and myriad other forms of extremely sophisticated lifestyle tech. And hardly anybody looks under the hood anymoredigital makes that almost irrelevant.

 

But it’s not just a girl/guy thing. Anybody old enough to grasp the concept of a reboot realizes the potential of both contemporary and future tech, and feels comfortable swimming in that stream.

 

That means they want their tech to be a natural, and preferably effortless, extension of how they live their lives. That means the days of the man cavewith its connotations of a forbidding space, unusable by anybody but its overlord—are numbered.

 

But that does not portend the demise of home theater, whose best days probably lie ahead.

the future of home theater

The contemporary dynamic goes something like this: Almost everybody has a media-room system, even if it’s as rudimentary as an Internet-enabled TV. Incredibly sophisticated tech like 4K HDR and Atmos is becoming more and more affordable, and thus more and more pervasive.

 

Almost everybody wants the best home-entertainment experience their budgets can handle—and for an increasing number of people, that means being able to cobble together a system that can rival what they find at the local multiplex. But they also want to integrate that high-end entertainment experience into the flow of their day-to-day family life.

 

Thus the rapid rise of the media room.

 

But almost everybody knows a media room isn’t the ultimate at-home experience. And it’s part of the American DNA to keep pushing for something better (although that part of our heritage has taken a hell of a beating lately).

 

Bottom line: A dedicated theater room will always be the ultimate home-entertainment experience, and no media room will ever be able to make that claim.

 

But, to survive, home theaters can’t continue to be shrines devoted exclusively to moviewatching. (Like the male domination of tech, those days are gone too.) They also have to be the ultimate gaming experience—and live-concert experience and streaming experience, and ultimate form of whatever entertainment any member of the family can find to throw at it.

 

In other words, home theaters have to shed their reputation as tomb-like retreats dominated by all kinds of intimidating technology and learn to embrace all forms of entertainment, and every member of the family.

 

There is no doubt the herd is being culled, quickly, efficiently, and without remorse. Multiplexes and other inferior venues and forms of playback probably don’t stand a chance. But four things will likely survive: Media rooms, event theaters, drive-ins, and home theaters. Why? Because each, in its way, makes the experience of entertainment something special.

 

But of these four, only a dedicated home theater can offer the ultimate experience, because only a dedicated home theater allows you to hold all the distractions of day-to-day life at bay, allowing you to focus all your attention on the optimally reproduced and calibrated picture and sound. Even the most tweaked-out state-of-the-art event theaters can’t match that.

 

And theater rooms will always have the edge over media rooms because everybody yearns to enjoy the best entertainment in the best possible way. And the only thing that can consistently deliver that experience is a home theater.

—Michael Gaughn

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

Video Displays: How Good is Good Enough?

TV innovations

The last few years, we’ve seen continual improvement in the performance of flat-panel TVs and projectors. Where will it stop? What is the Holy Grail in video display anyway?

 

The answer to that question is different for everyone, but the solution is the same. When the display is capable of creating an image that meets all the limitations of the human eye, there’s no reason to keep improving. Everyone’s eyes see the world slightly different, whether it be color, contrast, sharpness, or action. That’s why some people hate 3D and others love it. (But that’s a topic for another discussion.)

 

To compare what a typical person can see versus today’s top displays, we need to look at four areas that affect the imaging in the human brain: color, contrast, spatial resolution, and refresh or frame rate.

 

First, let’s look at color. We’ve recently heard talk about “color space” or “color gamut.” This is defined in fancy three-dimensional charts, but basically it’s the total volume of color the eye can see or a display can create. 

 

When REC 709—the color standard for HDTV—first came out, it could reproduce about 35% of the total colors the human eye can see. P3, or digital-cinema color space, took the amount to about 50%. Most of us—especially those of us who remember NTSC—think this looks incredible, and yet we’re still only at 50%.

TV innovations

The triangle within the chromaticity diagram on the left shows the color space for HDTV while
the triangle on the right shows the significantly expanded color space for 4K Ultra High Definition

New discussions are about REC 2020, which will take the total color space to 75% of what the eye can see. Some flat panels can do this now, but projectors have a tough time reaching this with conventional lamps and will require pure RGB laser to achieve both the color space and light output needed to really appreciate all those colors.

 

In roughly 10 years, we’ve doubled the color space that can be seen on a consumer display, yet very little content is available to appreciate the full scope of this improvement. There’s still some room for improvement, but the big gains have already been accomplished.

 

Now let’s look at contrast. The human eye is an amazing organ. If you remember from science class, it’s made up of cones and rods, which are microscopic sensors that can detect content and send images to the brain.

 

Rods work at very low light levels (like when you wake up in the middle of the night) and cones need a lot more light and are used to see color. At night, the iris in our eye opens up to let more light in, but the rods don’t detect much color so we pretty much see in black and white. In this condition, we can see a lot of detail in black levels. On a nice sunny day, we get lots of light and color into our eye, and the cones take over. If we compare what the human eye can see in low light levels to what we can see in bright daylight, our range of contrast is huge.

TV innovations

HDR (high dynamic range) comes much closer to approximating human vision than
does SDR (standard dynamic range)

This is the magic of HDR. By applying different values to bright scenes than it does to dark ones, it more closely matches how the human eye responds, providing much more dynamic contrast. HDR has the most overall impact on picture performance than anything we’ve seen since HDTV, and yet few can explain how and why it works. (Not to mention that there are so many watered-down variations.) But let your eye decide, and it will see the impact of HDR every time from anywhere in the room. 

 

In Part 2, I’ll talk about spatial resolution, refresh or frame rate, and why pixel counts aren’t as important as you might think they are.

George Walter

A 25-year veteran of the video-display industry, George Walter has been a vice president
at Digital Projection, where he founded its residential division, and a board member for both
CEDIA and Azione. George is the President of Rayva.

REVIEWS

Wonder Woman review
Blade Runner: The Final Cut review
Lawrence of Arabia review

Media Room or Home Theater? It Depends

media room or home theater

In a post last week called “Media Room or Home Theater?” Theo discussed the inherent limitations of a media room/multi-use space versus a home theater/dedicated movie-watching space, and admitted to struggling with the best way to come up with designs for media rooms. Having installed dozens of media-room systems over the yearsand lived with one in my own home for nearly as longI thought I might offer my take on some of Theo’s comments.

 

I totally agree with him when he says, “A media room is fine for watching something casually on TV.” But let’s be honest: Most viewing these daysregardless of where it’s doneis casual. As I’m writing this, I’m in my media room and the TV is on. So are all the lights in the media/family room and the kitchen behind it. I’m typing on my laptop and listening to Tidal on headphones. My 11 year old is splitting time between finishing up a homework assignment and watching the screen. My wife is in and out of the room folding clothes while checking her phone. None of us are actively watching the TV.

 

Theo felt one of the inherent problems with media rooms is “visual distractions,” and said things like windows, doors, and fireplaces can take you out of the movie. But by far the biggest distraction I see has far more to do with the modern, active lifestyle, not any limitations of the room. And if you told people they could only watch TV if they stopped everything else they were doing and committed all their attention to the screen, many would pass. (One of the major reasons why 3D failed, in my opinion.)

 

But when it comes time for active viewingsay, when we want to watch a movieit’s a completely different story. The lights all go off, the small screens go away, and the big screen rolls down. With the lights off and the projector on, all attention is focused on the screen. Doors, windows, and fireplaces all disappear into the periphery. And I can promise your our media room has no shortage when it comes to delivering screams, cheers, frights, or tears.

media room or home theater

If I was ever lucky enough to have Theo design a dedicated home theater room for me,
his famous Paramount Theatre would be a great place to start.

I couldn’t agree more that “there is no substitute for a dedicated home theater.” And if I had the limitless budget of many of Theo’s clients, and a home design that could support it, there is no question I would have a dedicated room as the ultimate sanctuary for indulging in movie watching. I’d have Theo design me the sickest of spaces, worthy of any A-list Hollywood director’s screening room.

 

But honestly, knowing our family’s lifestyle, I’m sure an isolated roomno matter how amazingwould see far less use than our centrally located media/gathering room.

 

In Part 2, I’ll talk about how home theaters and media rooms have some “flaws” in common, and how Theo’s talent could help make media rooms more palatable for discerning movie lovers with active families.

—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.

Theo’s Corner: How to Keep a Client Happy

keeping clients happy

The other day, a writer from Luxury asked me: “What’s the most challenging thing for you in designing a dedicated theater?” It only took me a second to come up with the answer: “Windows,” I said.

 

I wasn’t joking. Half of the time I spend creating a new design goes toward figuring out what to do with the windows most rooms have. I would rather not cover them with curtains as I did for a client in Beverly hills a few years ago. (See the photo above.) Curtains in front of windows is a design copout. The only curtain in the room should be the one in front of the screen. When I must deal with windows, I usually try to hide them behind some type of treatment, usually operable panels that conceal acoustic treatments. (See the photo below.)

keeping clients happy

With Rayva, things have gotten easier for me. The large acoustic panels in these designs can be placed in front of blacked-out windows without fussy customization. (See below.) The trick is trying to persuade a client to agree to cover their windows permanently.

keeping clients happy

I had such a conversation earlier this week with a Rayva client on the west coast. He would have liked to have kept the windows accessible. But when he realized how cumbersome it would be to make floor-to-ceiling panels operable, he gave me the reason why we should leave the windows concealed. “How many times will I watch a movie,” he said, “while I’m staring out the window?” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

 

Nobody likes to be told they’re stuck with an unsolvable problem. In a situation where a decision needs to be made, all it takes is laying out the options and letting the client decide. A happy client is a client who’s given options. And a good designer is one who makes sure the client is happy.

—Theo Kalomirakis

Theo Kalomirakis is widely considered the father of home theater, with scores of luxury theater
designs to his credit. He is an avid movie fan, with a collection of over 15,ooo discs. Theo is the
Executive Director of Rayva.

Theo’s Corner: Media Room or Home Theater?

media room designs

The answer to the question “Which is bettera media room or a dedicated home theater?” is simple: Both, if you have the space. A media room is fine for watching something casually on TV. Visual distractionswindows, doors, fireplaces, etc.become part of the experience. But for being immersed in a movie, there is no substitute for a dedicated home theater.

 

All of my Rayva designs so far have been for dedicated theaters. To showcase these design themes in the best possible way, the rooms must have four walls with no window “perforations.” But such a room is a luxury in most homes, particularly ones without basements.

 

So, what can we do to make having a media room as good as having a home theater? Not much, really, except understand the limitations of a media room and do what we can to minimize them. You can’t do much with windows except cover them with shades to block the light. You can’t do much with the walls except install acoustic treatments in the spaces between openings. And avoiding bright, light colors will minimize reflections from the screen.

 

There are two other areas where we can help compensate for the inherent limitations of a media room: The seating arrangement and the wall where the projection screen (or TV) is displayed. One approach is to treat the room as if it were a stage set where the spotlights hit just the sofa and the screen wall. You can do this with soft recessed lighting from the ceiling and with table lamps placed in key locations around the room. Diverting attention from other objects in the space helps viewers focus on where the action ison the screen wall.

 

My colleagues at Rayva have asked me to come up with a media-room concept. That’s a tremendous challenge for me. I wish I could have the same design control in a media room that I have in a dedicated theater room, but I can’t.

 

I’ve been pondering this problem a lot lately. I keep closing my eyes and trying to visualize the screen wall. The surface around the screen has to help keep your attention focused on the screen. And let’s not have a credenza under the screen, please. Credenzas are the predictable companion of a TV set, and they become a visual cliché no matter how useful they are for hiding the electronics. But what if you could place something there that is slicker, slimmer, less obtrusive? I’m working on it.

 

Rayva deserves itand those without the room for a dedicated theater deserve it too. I’ll solve the problem one of these days, and will write about it when I do. But for now, it’s just a concept in my mind.

—Theo Kalomirakis

Theo Kalomirakis is widely considered the father of home theater, with scores of luxury theater
designs to his credit. He is an avid movie fan, with a collection of over 15,ooo discs. Theo is the
Executive Director of Rayva.

Gaming Is Way Better With Atmos

It’s 1989 and I’m helping my dad buy a new TV, because even at a young age I was that kid. The kid who knew things about technology. (Granted, that reputation was pretty hard-won after an incident at age seven when I dismantled the backside our then-new 25-inch solid-state Zenith console TV, fresh off the truck, and exclaimed that the delivery guy was ripping us off because the set was missing all of its vacuum tubesbut that’s a story for another day.)

 

Anyway, back to 1989. Pop and I are standing in our city’s brand-spanking-new Circuit City, right in front all of the Sonys and JVCs and Sylvanias, barking at each other like a couple of rabid mutts. The source of the conflict? I needed—needed, I tell you—a stereo TV. The old man just didn’t see the point.

 

“My Sega Genesis, though! I can route audio out of the headphone jack and into a splitter, and actually play video games with stereo sound!”

 

Long story short, I lost that fight. But it was the beginning of a complicated lifelong relationship between me, video games, and nascent AV sound formats. (Because, yes, in 1989, video + stereo audio at home was pretty cutting edge.)

 

When I acquired my first surround sound receiver (ProLogic, baby!), it was my PlayStation that drove the decision, not my Laserdisc player. On the other hand, after upgrading my sound system to support Dolby Digital and DTS DVDs, it felt like a long and torturous wait for video games to finally catch up with the times. ProLogic II’s stereo-to-surround-sound conversion capabilities had to suffice for a while.

 

Fast-forward to present day, and I find myself in a squabble just as fierce as the one I had with my dad back in 1989, and for very similar reasons. But the struggle is entirely internal. The audio innovation in question this time around? The new object-based sound formats, Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, which add overhead surround sound effects to the audio coming from in front of and behind your head.

 

I’ve reviewed any number of Atmos-equipped receivers and speaker systems for other publications. And I’ve always found the effect neat enough for movies and music. Enough so to get me to actually upgrade my reference home theater system permanently, though? Ehhhh, not so much.

Atmos video games

Video games, though? Now we’re talking! There’s nothing in the realm of cinematic audio that can quite compete with playing Overwatch, for example, and hearing Parah’s battle cry from above—actually being able to pinpoint her location as she drops rockets in the direction of your noggin. Just as effective is the Atmos mix for Star Wars Battlefront, in which the truly three-dimensional soundscape gives you an edge in locating the drop pods that rocket toward the planet from outer space with fresh supplies.

 

Sadly, for now, these experiences are all too rare. Until recently, video games with Atmos sound were pretty much limited to the aforementioned titles, along with Battlefield 1, and only on the PC. Seriously, though, how many of us have home theater sound systems attached to our PCs?

 

Thankfully, Xbox One recently joined in on the Atmos action with the release of Crackdown 3 and Gears of War 4. Sony, meanwhile, seems to be taking a wait-and-see (or I should say wait-and-hear?) approach to this most expansive of audio innovations with its PlayStation 4 console. As such, for now, so am I. But you can rest assured that as soon as the gaming industry as a whole finally embraces the first and only sound format to fully flaunt its immersive superiority over movie sound mixes, I’ll but cutting holes in my ceiling and snaking wires through the walls faster than you can scream, “Justice RAINS from above!”

—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.

The Big Short

Netflix The Big Short

The Big Short is episodic, top heavy with stars, blatantly political, shamelessly didactic, feels a lot like an economics lesson, doesn’t have any romance or sex, doesn’t have any violence, doesn’t have any role-model female leads, and is sometimes just plain ineptin other words, it’s everything a big Hollywood film’s not supposed to be. But it worksand it works so well that you wish Adam McKay would swear off Will Ferrell comedies for a while and make more serious, flawed, I’ll-try-anything-as-long-as-it-works films like this one instead.

 

I guess it’s a good thing mainstream audiences will now accept heavily fragmented movies about process. (There’s a steep downside to that that I won’t go into right now.) But there’s nothing radical about The Big Shortit’s basically an old-fashioned men-at-work tale filled with lovable losers that reaffirms some traditional values that probably haven’t had a meaningful presence in American society in over 30 years. But it does get you to consider the country’s financial and moral bankruptcy, how pervasive they are, and how deeply they’re intertwinedsomething well beyond the means of almost any American filmmaker.

 

Ryan Gosling does his Ryan Gosling thing, Christian Bale does his “No, I’m an actorreally” thing, Brad Pitt turns in another solid performance that makes you wish he’d take more chances, and Steve Carell, as usual, steals the show. McKay seems to be good at handling actors, but it’s hard to tell because the action’s so disjointed and, for the most part, superficial, and Carell is the only one who goes anywhere new.

 

It’s almost impossible to put your finger on why this film works. It’s like somebody put on a shaggy dog costume to tell a deeply serious tale, and you can’t ignore it because it won’t stop slobbering all over you. (That’s not a criticism, by the way, but said instead with a kind of awe.)

 

The cinematography is nothing spectacular, varying between undistinguished and standard-issue contemporary pretentious, so streaming doesn’t do it a lot of harm. That doesn’t mean The Big Short isn’t cinematic, but it’s one of those films you could watch on your cellphone and maybe lose only 5% of the impact. Maybe.

 

And that, in this case, is a good thing.

—Michael Gaughn

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

REVIEWS

Theo’s Corner: Working With Vincenzo, Pt. 2

Call it the Movie Palace influence. In my career as a theater designer, I have focused predominantly on traditional-style theaters. But, for some reason, I couldn’t come up with anything for the Rayva design library that would read “traditional.” Maybe it was a mental block, or maybe an inability to stylize traditional design elements and make them work inside the minimalist environment of a Rayva theater. At some point, I stopped trying and started talking to other designers who weren’t as close to the subject matter as I was.

 

The evening I met Vincenzo Avanzato for dinner to discuss traditional designs for Rayva, I knew we were on to something. As soon as Vin was engaged in the conversation, he started sketching ideas on the paper napkin at the restaurant, and I was hooked. You know the feelinga gut reaction that you’re on the right track.

 

That was a month ago. Hurricane Irma made it difficult to talk to Vin again until last week. He emailed to tell me he had some concepts to share with me, and we discussed them via Skype yesterday.

 

As I’d expected, they were bold and original. They were all based on pen and ink sketches of architectural details he had done in the ‘90s. Twenty years later, they were still fresh and exciting. The fact that the concept was different from the collage of images typical of the Rayva design themes didn’t bother me. I loved the boldness of the sketches, which fill a whole wall in the room with one monolithic concept.

 

One of the concepts has the primary image at the back of the room, as opposed to the front of the room, which is what I expected. The design elements at the front of the room usually act as a proscenium frame around the screenbut not in Vin’s design. The area around the screen in some of his concepts is totally empty. This ends up emphasizing the screen area, the focal point of the theater, just as much as the most ornate proscenium. Silence is sometimes more eloquent than words.

 

I will continue to keep you updated as I work with Vincenzo to thoroughly flesh out these ideas.

—Theo Kalomirakis

Theo Kalomirakis is widely considered the father of home theater, with scores of luxury theater
designs to his credit. He is an avid movie fan, with a collection of over 15,ooo discs. Theo is the
Executive Director of Rayva.

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