Home Cinema

So You Think Your Room’s Bad, Pt. 3

Dennis BurgerAt the end of our previous post in this series, I teased the fact that one pair of speakers at the back of the room ended up driving the decision-making process for the entire Atmos surround sound speaker system. It’s worth digging a little more deeply into exactly why that’s the case.

So You Think Your Room's Bad, Pt. 3

Just to remind you what the geometry of our demo space looked like, here’s an overhead view of the back of the room. The rear wall is at the top. You can see a rough approximation of what we thought our seating may look like, as well as the canted walls that made the outside of the booth look so great, but crunched us a bit in the demo space.

 

If we had gone with seven ear-level speakers, that would have meant four speakers in the back of the room, at positions marked A and B. But this would have caused problems for anyone sitting in the back row. Someone sitting next to speaker A on one side of the room wouldn’t have really been able to hear speakers A and B on the other side, and the speakers at the front of the room—for dialogue and screen sound effects—would have been drowned out. Sometimes more isn’t necessarily better.

 

What I really needed was a speaker I could position somewhat closer to the points marked C, but a little higher on the wall so as not to overwhelm any one seat in the back row. The extra height was also added to accommodate anyone standing in the back of the room, so they wouldn’t block the surround sound effects for anyone sitting in front.

 

I desperately needed a speaker that would project its sound out into the room authoritatively, while also spreading its sound out less like a spotlight and more like a floodlight. 

 

I also needed an in-wall solution, for reasons discussed in our previous post. One speaker came immediately to mind: GoldenEar Technology’s Invisa MPX MultiPolar in-Wall speaker. The MPX’s bass/midrange drivers don’t point straight out into the room, as do those of most speakers. One of the drivers is rotated a bit to the right, the other a bit to the left. Combine that with the company’s High-Velocity Folded Ribbon tweeter (which squeezes air sort of like an accordion to create low-distortion, room-penetrating high-frequency sounds, rather than pushing air like a normal dome tweeter), and you have the makings of everything I needed here—wide, deep, enveloping sound that wasn’t diffuse.

So You Think Your Room's Bad, Pt. 3

And with that piece of the puzzle solved, the rest of the speaker system started to fall into place. To match the sound of the MPX, I specified three of GoldenEar’s Signature Point Source (SPS) in-walls for the front left, right, and center speakers, and four of the company’s Invisa 650 in-ceilings for the overhead channels.

 

We also had just enough space at the front of the room for subwoofers, so I opted for a pair of SuperSub X subs. Why two subs for such a small space? It wasn’t so much about producing enough volume as it was about delivering rich, even bass in such a weird acoustical environment and making sure every seat in the room experienced the same level of bass.

 

With those decisions made, I called GoldenEar’s Vice President of Marketing and Sales, Jack Shafton, and asked him if I could take him on a virtual tour of our most current 3D design for the booth. I wanted a second opinion from an industry expert, just to make sure I had made the right choices given such compromises. I also wanted his advice on exact speaker placement.

 

Here’s Jack with his reactions to seeing the 3D renderings for the first time, along with some thoughts on what makes GoldenEar’s architectural speakers unique:

Jack Shafton: When Dennis shared his plan for this booth at CEDIA, my first reaction was, “YIKES!” GoldenEar always uses a fully enclosed sound room for our own trade-show demos, so this was certainly a new challenge. We agreed that this room would never be ideal, but could certainly be done effectively using the Invisa speakers and SuperSubs. Dennis hit on one of the reasons the Invisa MPX was such a good choice: It’s a direct radiator (important for today’s surround formats) with very wide dispersion. But I would also mention that the power handling and efficiency of the speaker are of great importance given the semi-open nature of this sound room.

 

That’s just one speaker, though (well, two in the case of this room). As for why GoldenEar’s Invisa speakers were the right choice overall, remember that this system needed to impress consumer electronics industry members, not the average consumer who has never heard a great-sounding home theater. One thing that I think sets our in-wall and in-ceiling speakers apart is that we design them using the same drivers and technology employed in our award-winning Triton tower speakers. There is no good/better/best stratification in the GoldenEar architectural speaker lineup; just the best of everything we do. The folded-ribbon tweeter offers exceptional dispersion, amazing fidelity, and great power handling, and it is found in every Invisa speaker. Combine that with our mid/bass driver

So You Think Your Room's Bad, Pt. 3

GoldenEar Invisa MPX

technology, crossover design, and GoldenEar speaker voicing, and the result is exactly what Dennis needed to blow people away in a space that had no business sounding as good as it did. Of course, the two SuperSubs helped a lot, as they provide big sub performance in a tiny, vibration-cancelling design.

 

 

DB again: In addition to confirming my speaker choices, Jack gave me some helpful advice in terms of placement, especially of the front speakers and overhead channels. That guidance was invaluable given the weird geometry of the room. Mind you, the odds you’ll be installing a cinema sound system in a room as compromised as ours are slim. The lesson to be learned here is that when taming a problematic home cinema space, you’ll sometimes find that solving your most daunting problems first makes all of the other pieces fall into place.

 

Still, as amazing as GoldenEar’s speakers are, if we had merely slapped them in the walls and ceilings and provided them with power, they wouldn’t have sounded their best. In our next post, I’ll be discussing how Trinnov’s Altitude 16 home theater preamp/optimizer helped us tame some of the room’s worst acoustical problems and give the GoldenEar speakers room to shine.

Jack Shafton is a 40-year veteran of the consumer electronics industry who has been
involved in the design, manufacture, and marketing of some very successful specialty
audio products, including two highlighted in
Stereophile’s “100 Most Important Audio
Products in the Last 40 Years.” Jack’s love of music and movies, combined with a
passion to bring better sound into everyone’s home, has been the driving force in his
commitment to help the industry grow. He also loves fast cars and
cats. (Sorry, dog lovers.)

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.

A Tribeca Trendsetter

Cineluxe Showcase

Ed Gilmore casually bringing some shots of an install he’d done in Tribeca up on his computer monitor was a major “a-ha” moment for me. The first shot showed a stylish, obviously comfortable living area that also served as a billiards room, dining area, and kitchen. The second showed the same room transformed into a home entertainment space a lot of people would kill for. That, a completely intuitive part of me screamed, perfectly represents the new paradigm.

 

Others must agree with that conclusion because people just won’t leave Ed alone about that space. Ironically, even he admits it’s not perfect—but it’s getting there, as the client invests more and more in turning what was initially a whim into a room that can blow most movie theaters out of the water.

 

Having since visited the apartment, and shot some video there, I recently circled back around with Ed to talk about all things Tribeca.

Michael Gaughn

 

 

People seem to love that installation because it says that almost any room can now be transformed into a legitimate entertainment space.

 

I think what we did was to, in a minimally invasive way, create a home theater experience in a room that, if you looked at it from any angle, you would immediately say it couldn’t be done there. There was just no way.

 

Aesthetically, the room had already been designed before you came into the picture. How were you able to navigate those waters?

 

We just needed to be open and try to find really unique solutions that would both satisfy a high-end level of performance as well as maintain a certain aesthetic value the client wanted us to maintain, and be true to the bones of that room. I don’t think that’s any rare talent. The issue was that he had interviewed a lot of other AV guys who told him right off the bat, “No, we won’t do that.” And that wasn’t the answer he wanted to hear. So we were lucky enough to be able to convince him that we could do it, and it could be compelling.

That communal area wasn’t supposed to be the main entertainment space, right?

 

Right. The den [shown at right] is the room where he really sits and watches most of his TV. That was the room he wanted to spend some money on. This other room was kind of an experiment for him.

 

But as he saw it implemented, immediately he thought, “I’m going to

A Tribeca Theater to Die For

photos by John Frattasi

sink some more money into this room.” And that’s exactly what he did. That’s what he did with the Kaleidescape Strato, that’s what he did with the Steinway Lyngdorf speaker system, and what he’s about to do with projection, by upgrading the projector there as well.

 

Are people fascinated by that room because it’s a kind of outlier or because it represents a trend?

 

I think it’s a little bit of both. It’s tapping into a trend, that trend being that people aren’t interested in having dedicated rooms for specific purposes like a theater, or even a dedicated music room.

The promotional media-room tour I produced of the Tribeca space.

There’s an aspirational aspect to it as well. It resonates with people because it’s well done. I mean, it’s a really beautiful space. And it’s well thought out. And that goes back to the developer, who did a really nice job on that building. The dimensions of the room are great, and it has this wonderful warm feeling to it without really needing much in terms of other types of interior design.

 

But these particular clients do have taste, and they’ve been around the block a few times in terms of renovations. He is a serial renovator. And so their choice of artwork, their choice of furnishings—those little details that they have there are great. And I think that resonates with a lot of people too.

 

If luxury is really about details—about somebody caring enough to make sure every last thing is done right—Tribeca would seem to qualify.

 

I think you and I agree on this, right? Attention to detail is really what matters in a luxury space. People have asked me about what luxury is, and I typically say that it needs to be inspirational. But that doesn’t mean it really needs to be noticeable. It’s something that kind of unfolds. And by the time you realize what’s happening, you’re kind of taken by surprise by it. And it’s organic—it feels like it was always part of what was meant to be there.

 

 

In a followup post, Ed will talk more about turning problem rooms into great theaters and about the increasing importance of interior designers in home entertainment spaces.

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

Ed Gilmore

Since 1991, Ed Gilmore and Gilmore’s Sound Advice, Inc. have been designing, deploying, and servicing hundreds of integrated systems by strictly adhering to a word-of-mouth recommendation policy. Typical systems consist of audio & video distribution, home theater, lighting & shading systems, enterprise-level network/WiFi & telephony, along with HVAC & security systems integration. In 2016, Gilmore created one of the most unique showroom & event spaces in New York City. Increased space also allows GSA to rack-build, program, and test systems prior to deployment.

About HTA

The Home Technology Association is an independent organization that connects homeowners with the most reputable and qualified professionals in the home technology industry. In an industry that has no barriers to entry, it has created a rigorous set of standards for companies to adhere to. Only firms that meet the 60-plus points of evaluation criteria are granted certification status. Once certified, these firms must maintain HTA standards or risk losing certification.

 

Gilmore’s Sound Advice is an HTA member, and Ed Gilmore believes it provides an indispensable service. “I think the value of HTA is that it’s a vetted process. It’s a certification program that vets integrators and lets the general public know that we hold ourselves to very high standards. And no other organization does that.”

HTA Logo

REVIEWS

Hans Zimmer: Live in Prague
Superman: The Movie
Amazon Prime "Homecoming"
Papillon (2017)

ALSO ON CINELUXE

Specs vs. User Experience
So You Think Your Room's Bad, Pt. 3
Small Room--Big Sound

So You Think Your Room’s Bad, Pt. 2

So You Think Your Room's Bad, Pt. 2

We concluded our last post facing two major challenges: Squeezing a completely enclosed space into the middle of what had previously been an open-floorplan tradeshow booth, and then outfitting it with the kind of reference-quality movie system you usually only find in luxury home theater rooms.

 

It would seem like creating the room should have been easy. Just throw up four walls and drop a ceiling on them, right? Well, yeah—if you have enough space to work with. But the booth needed to be able to handle a constant flow of business traffic, and filtering all those people through a movie theater almost continuously in use for demos wasn’t an option. So we had to strike a balance between having a theater that groups could rotate in and out of while also having enough room on the outside for meetings and product spotlights—all within the confines of a 20 x 40-foot space barely large enough to hold a typical dedicated theater room.

 

We also didn’t want to give up the canted divider walls in the middle of the booth since they’d be used to hold big TVs showing videos that would lure people into the booth. And we didn’t want to completely give up offering a glimpse of the den-like theater room, since we wanted to make a statement that luxury cinema isn’t just about home theaters anymore.

The early, open floorplan, followed by the revised design incorporating
a self-contained room for a reference-quality home theater.

The solution was to cheat—a lot. Dennis, Marcelo, Melinda, and I kept moving the walls around, our fingers crossed the whole time, until we found positions for them that might allow the demo room to hold about a dozen people while about 40 other people milled around in the rest of the booth. The fire marshal nixed our plans to cover the whole booth, but we did get approval for a roof over just the demo area.

 

We eventually arrived at a 22.5′ wide by 14′ deep space—but remember that the back two corners were lopped off, thanks to the angled walls, so it was actually smaller than that. And, yes, under saner circumstances, the room would have been 14′ wide by 22.5′ deep—but that’s a whole other story.

 

So we ended up with a seriously space-challenged demo room with angled walls and the wrong orientation, the whole thing built out of narrow metal supports, thin fabric, a bunch of foam core, and not much else. And here’s where Dennis returns to continue the tale.

Michael Gaughn

Needless to say, getting a roof on the theater room was a boon for a few reasons. One, it meant we could control the light coming into the room. Two, it meant we could do an Atmos surround sound system, which was top on the client’s priority list. But it’s a pretty big step from figuring out, OK, yeah, we can do Atmos in this room, to actually deciding which components are going to come together and create such a system.

 

If you’ll indulge me some basic home theater ABCs here, I need to walk through the components of an 

In our sixth revision of the booth design, you can see how the shape of the demo room was defined by the needs of the booth exterior. The overhead view gives you a sense of what little space we had to work with, how the angled back walls ate into that precious space, and why in-room speakers were ruled out.

Atmos sound system, not because I assume you’re not familiar with them but to illustrate my thought process.

 

To do Atmos (or DTS:X) surround, you need to start with the components of a typical home theater system: Three speakers at the front of the room to deliver dialogue, music, and sound effects to the sides of the image, two or four speakers at the sides and/or rear of the room to deliver the offscreen ear-level sounds, and at least one subwoofer to deliver really deep bass.

 

To get from there to Atmos, you need to add two or four (or in some extreme cases six) channels of sound overhead.

 

Notice that I said “channels” there, not speakers. Because you can actually create those overhead sound effects by bouncing sound off the ceiling from little modules that sit atop your ear-level speakers. And that was certainly one possibility I explored for this room, since I wasn’t sure our ceiling would be strong enough to hold speakers.

Using sound reflections to create ceiling channels

This illustration shows a
driver on top of a soundbar
firing upward to create
sound reflections in order
to simulate Dolby Atmos
ceiling channels.

 

graphic courtesy of Dolby Labs

But at the same time, I also didn’t know how high the ceiling would be (it changed a few times) or if we would have room for physical speakers sitting out in the room. How many seats would we have in here? That question wasn’t going to be sufficiently answered until the last minute. So I decided that we needed to go with in-wall speakers all the way around, except for the subwoofers.

 

Mind you, there are some speaker manufacturers that make in-wall speaker modules designed to reflect off the ceiling to create those overhead effects. But while I was juggling all of the information above, I also had to consider the speakers in the back of the room. I needed a very specific type of speaker that would generate wide, immersive sound that would reach out into the room, no matter where people were seated. And I wanted all of our speakers to match in terms of the quality and character of sound. I quickly figured out GoldenEar Technology offered the ideal solutions.

 

We’ll dig into GoldenEar’s in-wall and in-ceiling speakers in the next post, explaining the exact problems their speakers solved, the guidance they gave us in terms of placement, and how I nearly had a nervous breakdown over the rotation of a single tweeter.

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.

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

So You Think Your Room’s Bad

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

 

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

Michael Gaughn & Dennis Burger

 

M.G. sets the stage:

 

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

 

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

So You Think Your Room's Bad

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

D.B. picks up the ball from here:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

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

Is Personal Luxury Cinema Really a Thing?

Is Personal Luxury Cinema Really a Thing?

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

Orpheus Comes Alive

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

—J.S.

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Luxury System Basics: Another View

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

Creating a Luxury Entertainment System: The Basics

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

 

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

 

Display

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

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

 

Speakers

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

Audio Processor & Amplification

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

Trinnov Altitude 32 audio processor

Source Components

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

 

Control System

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

 

Installation

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

John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Luxury Defined–Take 2

Luxury Defined--Take 2

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Explaining the “Luxe” in “Cineluxe”

Explaining the "Luxe" in "Cineluxe"

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Michael Gaughn

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

Luxury Defined

If you asked 10 people for their definition of luxury, you’d probably get 10 similar but also wildly varying answers. For some, it might mean a five-star vacation; for others, it might be a chauffeured ride in a Bentley; for others, flying First Class in a plane; while others would describe luxury as popping open a cult Cabernet.

 

But what differentiates something that is luxurious from something that isn’t?

 

Consider a Rolex timepiece.

 

By nearly any metric, a Rolex is a luxury product. But what actually makes it luxury?

 

Is it simply because the least expensive model—the “humble” Oyster Perpetual 34—sells for just north of $5,000? Does the high price define it as a luxury product?

Rolex OP 34 Watch

In part, maybe. By commanding such a price, it means fewer people can own one, thus creating more brand cachet and demand.

 

Does the $5,000 Rolex do more than other watches? Hardly. In fact, the OP 34 has but one function: It tells the time. As those in horology would say, it offers nary a single additional complication. No date, no alarm. It won’t take your pulse. It won’t display text messages. It just displays the time—via old-school analog hands.

 

But surely, as far as timekeeping goes, a $5,000 Rolex is unequaled, offering accuracy rivaled only by laboratory-grade atomic clocks. Umm, again, no. In fact, Rolexes are notoriously inaccurate, frequently running several seconds fast or slow—per day. A $10 quartz watch would trounce any Rolex in timekeeping accuracy. 

 

So, why would anyone possibly choose to spend 100 times more on a Rolex than another watch, making it the Number Four top-selling watch brand in the world?

 

Because frequently a large part of luxury goes beyond performance and into things more tangential, like pride of ownership. The Rolex owner is proud knowing they own something that was crafted by hand, in limited numbers, with higher-caliber components, and with superior craftsmanship. They feel good about owning it, wearing it, checking the time on it, and showing it off.

 

The superior craftsmanship does offer some actual performance benefits, such as being truly waterproof, with a sapphire crystal that’s virtually impervious to scratches, and a 28,800 beats-per-hour movement that produces a lovely sound and that—if well cared for—will provide decades of service so the watch can be handed down to the next generation. (Also, since 

Meridian DSP80002 Speaker

Rolex’s Oyster Perpetual movement never requires a battery change, the watch will practically pay for itself after like 500 years!)

 

These same analogies can certainly be applied to luxury home-entertainment components.

 

Do the iconic glowing blue lights and dancing VU meters make a McIntosh component perform better? Does a Meridian speaker sound better for its meticulously finished cabinet? Does a movie collection navigated via Kaleidescape’s gorgeous interface look and sound better? Do these products costing hundreds of times more than entry-level models in the same category deliver an experience that is 100 times better?

 

Sadly, no.

 

But these luxury products have a very necessary place in the world of home entertainment.

 

Luxury is often a feeling that comes from purchasing something superior to the norm, when striving to attain an elevated experience. It is part of a commitment to having far more than just a passing interest in your entertainment experience. And in the home entertainment world, luxury components often come with improvements—sometimes incremental, sometimes considerable. But it is often many little things that add up to a better whole.

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.