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The Heartaches of Movie Collecting & Streaming

John Sciacca’s piece about his problems streaming movies on Netflix really struck a chord with me, so I’ve decided to share some of my own experiences.

 

I’m an avid collector of movies. (The video above will give you a good idea of exactly how avid I am.) Over the years, I’ve bought enough DVDs and Blu-ray discs that I’ll never have to worry about running out of movies to see. Instead, I’m worrying about running out of space! There’s no more room left on the shelves of my storage room. 

 

To solve the problem, I got a Kaleidescape player and transferred most of my DVDs onto it. This not only alleviated the storage problem, it also made my whole collection instantly accessible. With my entire collection at my fingertips, I started watching movies I hadn’t seen in years.

movie collecting

I’ve also started discovering various streaming services and, in the process, have became less dependent on physical media. I’ve found titles for streaming that I’ve always wanted to see that aren’t available on DVD or Blu-ray.

 

And as a diehard collector, I don’t rent themI buy them. Not because I have money to burn, but because whether on Netflix, Amazon Prime, or any other streaming service, a title can be available one day and gone the next. So, to make sure I can always see a movie when I’m in the mood for it, instead of renting, I buy.

 

But that doesn’t really solve the problem. Buying a movie from a streaming service instead of renting doesn’t guarantee you’ll always have access to it. A service can lose the rights to a titleor group of titlesor even go out of business completely. The only way to avoid losing what you’ve bought is to download and store the movies on a hard drive so you’ll always have them. That’s the ultimate protection for anal collectors like me. 

 

Now, if I could only find the time to start downloading all those titles . . . It never ends.

—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.

4 Great Reasons to Watch Movies at Home

watching movies at home

photos by Jim Raycroft

Typically when you read some post about why watching movies at home in a well-designed theater is better than going to a commercial cinema, it’s filled with arguments about how low commercial theaters have sunk. You’ll read about things like sub-par presentations (projector lamp not bright enough, sound not loud enough, blown speakers, distracting exit signs), other moviegoers (rudely texting, talking on cellphones, or just talking), poor conditions (bad seating, sticky floors), or the cost (either for the film itself or for concessions).

 

I’m not going to rehash any of those here.

 

Because I think there are still times when the commercial cinema is the perfect place to see a movie–mainly some event film like a new Star Wars movie or something else unique like Dunkirk in 65mm. Also, if you’re so inclined, you can often find a “high performance” theater near you where the picture and sound will be top notch, the seats will be luxury, and gourmet food and drink options are often available.

 

Instead, I’m going to tell you four big reasons why as a movie lover and family man in my mid-40s, it’s far more desirable to stay home and watch.

 

1. Convenience

I have a 10 year old and a 16 month old, which makes it a pretty major ordeal for my wife and me to arrange a night out at the movies. We don’t have any family near us, so going out means finding someone to watch the kids for 3 to 4 hours, which is easier said than done with an infant. We tried taking our girls to the opening night of Rogue One hoping the baby would sleep, but she started crying about the same time the title came up on screen, and my wife spent about a third of the movie in the lobby so as not to disturb others.

 

At home, we can enjoy a movie every night if we want to, with no need to find a sitter or worry about bothering anyone if little Audrey gets fussy.

 

2. Schedule

We aren’t very good at planning, and most of our viewing is spontaneous, like, “You know what we haven’t watched in a while? Let’s watch that tonight.” As I mentioned above, this doesn’t work so well logistically with the kids. And if we want to watch something that isn’t fit for 10-year-old Lauryn’s eyes or ears, we’ll often start a movie at 9:30 or 10 pm when she’s asleep.

3. Control

Besides being able to start a movie whenever we want, we can also pause it to go to the bathroom, get a snack, or if one of the girls needs something; rewind it if something was especially awesome or if there was a, “What did he say?” moment; fast forward it if something is offensive; or stop it if we don’t like it or just get too tired.

 

4. Comfort

I’m not talking about the actual comfort level of the seats, but rather just the comfort factor of being at home. We don’t have to get dressed up, drive anywhere, find parking, or do anything more than press “Watch Movie” on our automation system. And since we often start movies so late, we can immediately go to bed right after, or if one of us–cough, my wife, cough–falls asleep during the movie, it’s no big deal. Also, if I want to have that second or third drink, I don’t have to worry about driving somewhere later.

 

For our family, watching at home is often the difference between seeing a movie or not. And having a high-performance theater with terrific picture and sound makes that experience the best it can be!

—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.

The Key to Home Theater Sound Quality–Pt. 2

home theater sound quality

In Pt. 1, I talked about how you can’t assume that something on a lossless source like a CD, DVD, Blu-ray Disc, or high-quality download will sound great just because it was recorded, mixed, and mastered by “name professionals.”

 

While I won’t publicly call out any aurally-disappointing disc titles out of respect for my colleagues in the recording industry, I did recently have an opportunity related to a friend who has grown into a world-famous Grammy-winning jazz vocalist but didn’t have a concert video yet. I encouraged him and his manager of the importance of not only having one but making sure the sound quality was top notch. (Of course, I told him I’d promote the heck out of it, if done well, in the world of CEDIA demo material.)

 

They agreed, and his label brought an A-list production team to the table to make the video during one of his concerts in Europe. When the time was right, the artist sent me the final edit of the surround mix to evaluate in some of my favorite local-area private theater rooms.

 

Much to my surprise (or maybe not), the balance between instruments was way off. Even more astounding, the editor had the same mono mix of all voices and instruments playing on the left, center, and right speakers! (Is this a new mode called Tri-ono?) No matter where you sat in the theater, the entire audio program was coming directly from the speaker in front of you, regardless of where the actual visual images of the voice and instruments were coming from!

 

Of course, I gave critical feedback to the production company, and the response I received from the lead engineer was:

 

My mix is essentially a 3.1 mix with some bled into the center speaker and the documentary
elements entirely in the centre speaker. This was deliberate, as 98% of people listen in their
living room on stereo or not well set up 5.1 systems and they will hear this mix as intended.
Those of us lucky enough to have full blown cinema rooms would possibly be better served
with a traditional 5.1 mix with the vocal in the centre speaker etc. as I would do if this were a
cinema release. The decision as to whether it should be a mix suitable for the majority or a
cinema-style mix I shall pass on to others. Happy to do either but would recommend the former.

 

This was the eureka moment that began to let me see first-hand just how disconnected the world of production can be from consumer audio. (I’m sure my video colleagues have many similar stories about video quality.) And why I always listen to new discs on known systems first, so I never have to wonder about the quality of what I’m evaluating.

 

Maybe it’s time we demand better recording/editing standardsespecially on consumer releases of media contentto ensure we all receive the best quality in our private theaters and listening environments.

—Steve Haas

Steve Haas is the Principal Consultant of SH Acoustics, with offices in the NYC & LA areas.
Steve has been a leading acoustic and audio design & calibration expert for over 25 years in
high-end spaces ranging from home theaters, studios, and live music rooms to major museums
and performance venues.

Netflix, Where Are My Movies?

Netflix movie streaming

If you follow the news, you might have heard a fairly big announcement from Walt Disney Studios earlier this month. At the company’s latest earnings report, Disney announced plans to remove all its movies from Netflix’ streaming service at the end of 2018. This will include all Pixar titles and likely Marvel films, though Marvel TV shows will remain. (Lucasfilm titlesnow owned by Disneyhave never been available for streaming on Netflix.) The announcement caused Netflix’ stock price to drop more than 6%.

 

Beyond the loss of film content for the streaming giant, this brings up another perfect argument for downloading and owning a beloved film instead of trying to stream it. Forget about all the quality and performance issues—the transitory nature of streaming licenses means content can definitely be here today and gone tomorrow. And try explaining contract shifts, licensing agreements, and content negotiations to your 5 year old when she’s crying out to watch Frozen for the umpteenth time!

Netflix Movie Streaming

Further, the illusion for many users is that they’ll be able to watch any movie they desire when streaming on Netflix. While that’s true for Netflix’ enormous disc-by-mail rental library—a service I’ve used since the company’s inception—it’s decidedly not the case with streaming.

 

In fact, perusing the AFI Top 100 Movies list reveals that Netflix only has 7 of the movies available for streaming. No Citizen Kane (No. 1), no The Godfather or The Godfather Part II (No. 2 and No. 32), no Jaws (No. 56), no Shawshank Redemption (No. 72), no . . . You get the point.

 

You know what never goes away? Films owned in your disc library—or stored on a hard drive on a Kaleidescape server. Those cherished movies are always there, instantly available for consumption in the best quality possible.

—John Sciacca

Netflix movie streaming

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.

The Key to Home Theater Sound Quality–Pt. 1

Home Theater Sound Quality

You’re probably all thinking this is going to be another blog post about acoustics, right? Well . . . I guess it could be, but, no, we’ll have to save that for another entry.

 

There’s something beyond the room, the acoustics, the system, and the calibration that most people don’t realize can have a significant effect (positive or negative) on the experience of listening to music or movies in your theater—the quality of the source media itself!

 

While many people realize the compromised quality of compressed audio like MP3, the average consumer just assumes that a lossless source like a CD, DVD, or Blu-ray Disc must have the best tonal and level balances and spatial quality because it was recorded, mixed, and mastered by “name professionals.”

 

Most of the time, that’s true. But there are plenty of occasions where I’ve acquired a stack of new discs to try out on my reference system for my own listening/viewing pleasure and am incredibly surprised that the quality is all over the map. This seems to be especially true with concert videos, where the recordings of even well-known artists have turned out to be very underperforming when it comes to imaging, surround placement, noisiness, dialogue clarity, and other quality factors.

 

I’ve even been in the final stages of calibrating the audio of a theater and the client urges me to try out the concert-“X” Blu-ray that I’ve never listened to before. And after a few minutes of listening, we both sit there and look at each other in disbelief at how mediocre the system sounds. Fortunately, I know to quickly grab my Top 5 sound-quality reference movie and concert discs and play them so we can (hopefully) breathe a sigh of relief that everything is all good with the calibration and our ears!

 

In Pt. 2, I’ll tell the story of a Grammy-winning vocalist I know whose concert video didn’t turn out the way I thought it would.

—Steve Haas

Steve Haas is the Principal Consultant of SH Acoustics, with offices in the NYC & LA areas.
Steve has been a leading acoustic and audio design & calibration expert for over 25 years in
high-end spaces ranging from home theaters, studios, and live music rooms to major museums
and performance venues.

The Guns of Navarone

Kaleidescape Guns of Navarone

I logged in at the Kaleidescape Store last night to look for a movie I might not already have in my collection. I wasn’t looking for a new title but for a catalog title that had been upgraded to 4K. Two movies attracted my attention: The Bridge on the River Kwai and The Guns of Navarone.

 

I had seen Kwai on regular HD recently, so I settled for Navarone, which had a special emotional appeal for me. Along with a few other American productions of the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s (like The Boy on a Dolphin, The Island of Love, It Happened in Athens, and Forty Carats), it had been shot entirely in Greece.

 

Regardless of my biases for liking this movie, The Guns of Navarone is still a very engrossing war epic. It tells the story of a team of British commandos sent to Greece during the German occupation to destroy a huge German canon that commanded a key sea channel. The movie is a solid adventure that focuses on action but not at the expense of characters. It’s as rousing today as it was when I first saw it as a kid at the Orpheum Theater in Athens.

 

I remember the movie always being grainy and dark on video. The Blu-ray release was a substantial improvement, especially in sharpness. But you can’t improve a movie much unless you go back to the original negative, and it seems that Navarone’s negative has been lost either out of neglect or overprinting.

 

The Kaleidescape 4K edition further improves the picture’s sharpness and the contrast ratio, but the grain from duping is still there. Nothing can be done about itI’m afraid this is as good as The Guns of Navarone will ever look.

—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

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

Dunkirk, IMAX & the Power of the Image

Since Christopher Nolan’s new movie Dunkirk is just playing in theaters, it’s going to be a while before it makes it to video. But because the movie puts tremendous emphasis on the proper presentation (which is what Rayva is all about), I thought it would be worth catching on the big screen. I wanted to see for myself what Nolan is talking about in the video clip above.

 

“I wanted to give people a really intense ride,” he says, and he accomplishes it in two waysfirst through superb storytelling, with the viewer placed front-seat center during the tragic evacuation of the Allied Forces from the coast of Dunkirk. Second through shooting the movie in the IMAX format, resulting in breathtaking cinematography.

 

About 70% of Dunkirk was shot in full IMAX while 30% was shot in 70mm, so it gave me an interesting opportunity to compare the two formats. The IMAX aspect ratio is 1.9:1 while 70mm uses the slightly wider 2:1. But the main difference between the two formats is that 70mm has 5 perforations per frame, while IMAX has 15.

 

The difference in picture quality between the formats was very noticeable. The full IMAX image was impeccably smooth and sharp, delivering long shots of stunning clarity. The 70mm was impressive but less overwhelming, with less dynamic range in the dark scenes and with a subtle grain that was completely missing from the IMAX segments of the movie. If you haven’t seen Dunkirk yet, do yourself a favor and see it in IMAX, not just in 70mm. You’ll be glad you did.

 

It will be interesting to see how the movie translates to video. I know it will be sharp. It will probably set new standards for home theater presentation. But will it have the emotional pull of seeing it on the huge screen of an IMAX theater? Maybe, if your home theater screen is big enough.

 

But the truth is that Dunkirk is so emotionally involving that after a while you’ll probably forget you’re watching a movie on video. That’s the power of great storytelling combined with brilliant technology.

—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.

The Biggest Home Theater Audio Mistakes

A good home theater experience starts with clean and intelligible dialogue, and I see lots of mistakes there. Here are the most common:

home theater audio mistakes

1) All the speakers are in the ceiling, pointing down at the floor

Having sound firing down 15 feet in front of you puts you so far off axis from the speakers that the dialogue will sound mumbled, and the sense of surround-sound imaging is pretty much lost. You’d actually be better off with mono sound!

 

2) A traditional horizontal center speaker laid down on its side

It might look alright, but most of these woofer-tweeter-woofer speakers create holes of sound at the seats to the left and right of the center. That can sound OK if you’re in the middle seat, but dialogue will sound mushy elsewhere. Get a 3-way center speaker instead, or one with a 2-½-way crossover design.

 

3) A projection system without an acoustically transparent screen

This setup forces you to place the center speaker either below or above the screen—or worse, have speakers both above and below. The dialogue won’t be coming from the picture, and it will sound bad because the speaker will be too close to the floor or ceiling. There are some very good woven screens that won’t affect either the sound or the picture—get one, and put the speaker where it belongs.

 

4) No equalization

All speakers are affected by the room’s acoustical thumbprint. The dialogue can suffer from excessive bass and there can be missing midrange. You need to equalize out these spectral errors—tune it or lose it! Many auto-EQ schemes do a poor job of correcting these issues, so you might want to go with manual EQ and a decent analyzer (check out roomeqwizard.com) or have a pro do it for you.

 

And here’s my last piece of advice: Mind the center-speaker dialogue quality before you worry about choosing and placing the other speakers!

Anthony Grimani

A former executive at Dolby and Lucasfilm THX, Anthony Grimani is an expert in home
theater acoustics & design. He developed the Home THX program and invented the
revolutionary Surround EX 6.1-channel audio format. He is co-founder of Grimani
Systems
in Novato, CA.

Why UHD Is Way Better Than HDTV–Pt. 2

Ultra HD

In yesterday’s post, I talked about how resolution and HDR (High Dynamic Range) contribute to making Ultra HD TVs and projectors a huge leap over traditional HDTVs. Here are the other two things you need to know about UHD.

 

Color

A new term you might hear when considering Ultra HD is “wide color gamut,” which refers to the significantly larger amount of colors a UHD set can produce compared to an older TV. Imagine the colors a TV can produce as a triangle, with the primary colors red, green, and blue making up the three points. Those three color points determine the number and accuracy of all the colors a TV can reproduce. New TVs produce an expanded triangle of colors, pushing the boundaries of the triangle further out at all three corners to encompass more of the colors the human eye can see. That means you’ll notice brighter, more vibrant colors than ever beforedeep crimson reds, vibrant greens, and cool, tropical blues that will pull you into the image.

Ultra HD
Bit Depth

The most technical area of the bunch, bit depth refers to the number of shades of color a TV can produce. TVs in the past used 8-bit color depth, which meant they could produce roughly 256 shades for each of the three primary colors256 shades each of blue, red, and green. Multiply those together and you arrive at the nearly 16.8 million colors a last-generation TV could produce.

 

Modern Ultra HD sets up the ante to 10 bits, and while a couple of bits might not seem like a lot, since bit rate is logarithmic, it’s actually a massive improvement. How massive? Modern sets can produce 1,024 shades per color, making for the ultimate Crayon box of more than 1 billion colors! That means not only a tremendously more lifelike image, but it also eliminates any color banding as colors transition from one shade to another.

Ultra HD TV

Individually, any one of these four improvements would be a big step beyond HDTV, but when employed together, these upgrades mean Ultra-high-defintion TVs produce the best, most lifelike images imaginable, making UHD TV a must buy for any true videophile!

—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.

ALSO ON CINELUXE

Why UHD Is Way Better Than HDTV–Pt. 1

HDTV vs Ultra HD TV

If you’re in the market for a new TV or projector, you’ve likely been bombarded by a lot of new terms and technologies you haven’t heard before. Ultra HD (aka Ultra-high-definition or UHD) burst onto the scene a few years ago and brought with it some major changes and improvements to our display systems. And now that prices are reaching mass-market levels, it would be foolish to buy a new set that wasn’t Ultra HD.

 

Wondering what all the fuss is about? In today’s post, I’ll talk about the first two things you need to know about this exciting new video tech and will discuss the final two tomorrow.

 

Resolution

The height of home video prior to Ultra HD was called 1080p, with the “p” standing for “progressive.” Those sets produced 1,920 horizontal pixels and 1,080 vertical pixels for a total of just over 2 million pixels on screen at any moment. UHD doubles the number of pixels in both directions, producing a resolution of 3,840 by 2,160, delivering nearly 8.3 million pixels on screen, or four times the amount of 1080p. That is why Ultra HD is often referred to as “4K”.

 

What do all those extra pixels mean? Greater definition, razor-edge sharpness, and finer details. Video artifacts like “jaggies” and “moire” are a thing of the past. Every strand of hair, every blade of grass, every grain of sand shows up like never before. As an illustration, imagine if you had a pencil and drew two same-sized circles, one with 10 dots and one with 40 dots. The 40-dot circle would have more resolution and be better defined. That’s the difference between 1080p and UHD.

HDTV vs Ultra HD TV
HDR

HDR is another term you’re going to hear a lot. It stands for High Dynamic Range, and it’s actually more important for picture quality than all those extra pixels. If you’ve taken any pictures on a modern smartphone, you’ve probably noticed the HDR tag. It works by capturing images with different exposures and then combining those separate images into a single photo that maintains the detail from the darkest and brightest regions.

 

In the past, TVs would “crush” the image at one end of the spectrum or the other, sacrificing black levels in bright scenes or lowering overall light output in dark scenes. But new Ultra HD TVs can simultaneously produce deep, dark blacks and bright, brilliant whites, meaning they can deliver images more like what your eye is capable of seeing. This gives the image great contrast, and delivers punch, depth, and reality like never before.

 

In Pt. 2, I’ll walk you through the other two crucial things you need to know about Ultra HD.

—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.