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Democracy and Home Theater

I remember as a young teenager how thrilling it was to be able to own a piece of a movie I loved. It often was a lobby card I would beg a theater exhibitor to give me after the movie had ended its run. I still have hundreds of those cards that I brought with me from Greece when I moved to the US to study film at NYU. I don’t look at them oftentrying to relive my past as a movie-loving teenager is like gulping down three glasses of wine on an empty stomach. Nostalgia can go straight to my head, so I take it easy!

democracy and home theater

But there was an even stronger connection between me and movies in the late ‘60s and early ‘70sthe music of a film. Owning the soundtrack on vinyl was the next best thing to owning the movie itself. I would put Riz Ortolani’s soundtrack for The Yellow Rolls Royce or Maurice Jarre’s The Collector on my turntable, listen to it, and feel like the movie was mine.

 

I’ve replaced most of my LPs with CDs by now, but I’ve still kept most of those soundtracks. When I dust them off from time to time, there is still a palpable connection with the movies that shaped my early teens.

democracy and home theater

It didn’t occur to me back then that one day, in the not-so-distant future, I would be able to own not only a piece of memorabilia but the actual movie. Until then, we, the simple folk who loved movies, lived off breadcrumbsa poster here, a lobby card there, an original soundtrack. Owning a copy of a movie was strictly the privilege of Hollywood’s power elite.

 

But a seismic change began in the late ‘70s. Starting with Betamax and VHS, and then with LaserDiscs, movies began to appear one after the other on tape or disc. I remember the nearly bankrupt 20th Century Fox coming out with its catalog movies on both tape formats.

 

I had read that Beta was the superior format so I bet my money on an early Betamax machine. I think I bought my first prerecorded tape from the now defunct chain Video Shack on the corner of Broadway and 49 Street on Times Square. It was George Cukor’s A Star is Born. The movie itself was of course the main attractionand it didn’t even cross my mind that it was cropped. What mattered most was that I could own itin glorious stereophonic sound, no less.

 

It took a couple of years for me to realize the importance of the video revolution. Not only could I have the soundtracks to movies I loved, I could actually have the movies themselves! Suddenly, Ian underprivileged, powerless movie buffowned what the privileged and powerful Hollywood establishment owned, and I felt equal to them. I equated that with real democracymovie wealth that could be shared by all.

 

We don’t often view this important change from that perspective. But as far as I’m concerned, the real story is that the average person who had the space and could afford a home theater could now feel like a Hollywood mogul. The very fact we could experience our own copy of a movie in our own home made us feel more privileged and, yes, equal.

 

My collecting habit has continued unabated over the years. But, for me, the real benefit of yearning to experience a movie in a theater-like environment is that it has led to a career as a home theater designer. Good things can happen when you least plan for them.

—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.

Gentle Giant: Three Piece Suite

Gentle Giant fans are going to be thrilled by Three Piece Suite, the new Blu-ray/CD set of Steven Wilson 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio surround remixes, stereo remixes, and straight 96/24 stereo transfers of the band’s first three albums: Gentle Giant, Acquiring the Taste, and Three Friends. (There’s also a bonus demo track.)

 

Former Porcupine Tree member Wilson is renowned for his surround remixes of rock albums. It shows. And if you’ve never heard Gentle Giant, this is a wonderful place to start.

 

Gentle Giant was one of the most distinctive and individualistic 1970s progressive-rock bands. Brothers Derek, Phil, and Ray Shulman played a vast variety of instruments, with guitarist Gary Green, keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist Kerry Minnear, and drummer Martin Smith (replaced by Malcolm Mortimore on Three Friends and John Weathers on later albums) rounding out the lineup.

 

The band’s unique style encompasses almost unhumanly virtuosic ensemble playing, complex arrangements, circular, fugue-like passages, and vocals from the Shulman brothers and Minnear that range from sweetly plaintive (“Nothing at All”) to choral-like harmonies (“Three Friends”). A feeling of anything-goes adventurousness permeates the band’s work.

 

The original albums were well recorded and producednot surprising considering the involvement of people like Tony Visconti (David Bowie), Martin Rushent (Human League), and Roy Thomas Baker (Queen). The songs employ a dazzling range of keyboards, mallet percussion, woodwinds, violin, guitars, and more. (Ray Shulman gets a credit for “skulls” . . ?)

Gentle Giant Three Piece Suite

I compared Three Piece Suite with the BGO Records CD reissue of Gentle Giant/Three Friends (BGOCD1095) and the original Three Friends vinyl LP (Columbia PC 31649).

 

The 5.1 surround remixes (there are 10 on the Blu-raynot all the original multitrack masters could be located) are a resounding artistic success, enhancing the clarity and separation of instruments and vocals, and adding varying degrees of surround sound immersion. Dynamic contrasts are much better, and there’s none of the exaggerated, gratuitous placement of instruments off to the side and rear that plague other surround remixes I’ve heard.

 

Both the surround and stereo remixes have a warmer tonal balance, with a better defined low end, along with a richer midrange and detailed highsalthough the vinyl has that all-analog sweetness the digital formats don’t quite capture.

 

Wilson changed some of the vocal and instrumental balances. For instance, you can hear details like the “Oh! Yeah!” exclamations in the background during “Giant” that were almost inaudible before.

 

Whether the gorgeous acoustic guitar and vocals on “Nothing at All” or the synthesizer intro to “Pantagruel’s Nativity,” everything sounds more substantial and dimensional. (The vibraphone solo on the latter is simply stunning.)

 

The straight CD transfers of the three albums were done flat, making them quite faithful to the originals. I applaud Wilson’s decision not to hype them up with “improved” highs and lows or gratuitous compression and processing.

 

The Blu-ray Disc’s visuals complement the songs in a simple, deliberately unfolding manner without being overly garish or distracting, like the surreal floating images of office chairs, paper clips, and briefcases that complement the mood of “Mister Class and Quality” and its businessman protagonist. All in all, Three Piece Suite is a superb addition to Gentle Giant’s body of work.

—Frank Doris

Frank Doris is the chief cook & bottle washer for Frank Doris/Public Relations and works with a
number of audio & music industry clients. He’s a professional guitarist and a vinyl enthusiast with
multiple turntables and thousands of records.

Gentle Giant Three Piece Suite

Gentle Giant: Three Piece Suite

Alucard ALUGG057 Two-disc
Blu-ray/CD set

 

Blu-ray audio formats: DTS-HD
Master Audio 5.1 surround, 96/24 5.1
LPCM, 96/24 stereo LPCM. Includes
CD with stereo remixes.

REVIEWS

Dangal

Netflix Dangal

I have been a fan of Bollywood movies since I was still living in Greece. They’re usually melodramatic but always sincerely heartfelt, with family relationships providing the core of most plots.

 

Bollywood reminds me of the Greek movies of the ‘60s, which is considered the golden era of Greek commercial cinema. In both Greek and Indian movies, the drama usually revolves around a disciplinarian patriarch and a sonor a daughterwho want to escape the father’s rule and pursue their own destiny (usually by marrying the one they love). It’s a well-honed formula that works most of the time because nobody is trying to shove some political message down people’s throats. That family life complies to societal rules is the accepted reality in India, and the audience never gets tired of seeing their experience magnified on the big screen.

 

Dangal is no exception to this formula. Against the accepted tradition that wrestling is a man’s sport, a father (superstar Aamir Kahn in one of his most disciplined performances) trains his two reluctant daughters to become word-famous wrestling champions. The girls try to rebel at first but eventually succumb to their father’s wishes because they realize that his heart is in the right placehe wants to see his kids to bring glory to their country and family

 

In an American movie, the girls would have become independent and left their father behind, with his ambitions for them crushed. But this is an Indian movie that’s a true mirror image of Indian culture. Whether, as westerners, we accept itor even like itthe message is that, in India, family is king and “father knows best.”

 

I was surprised to read in the NY Times recently that Dangal broke attendance records not just in India but also in China. In just two months, it took in more than $194 milliona number that, until then, had been only achieved by Hollywood blockbusters like Transformers, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Star Trek.

 

I’m not usually a social commentator, but this highly unusual performance of a non-Hollywood film has me thinking: Are audiences around the world getting tired of movies built around special effects? Could it be that people are identifying with something more substantial and satisfying than a premise put together by a committee after “market research? In the case of Dangal, that “something” is a beating heart and a culture that audiences can identify with

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.

REVIEWS

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.