Home Theater

Ep. 15: Theo at Home

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Legendary home theater designer (and Cineluxe contributor) Theo Kalomirakis went back to Greece last year to supervise work on his summer home only to find himself locked down in the country, thanks to the pandemic. He quickly realized his confinement was a blessing in disguise since it allowed him to enjoy the cuisine, walking on the nearby beach, his work-in-progress home—and the attention of the Athenians, who have embraced him as a long-lost son.

 

Theo decided to have his personal home theater transported from the U.S. and reconstructed in the basement of his new home, where he implemented a number of upgrades (which we discuss in the episode).

He was also able to realize a childhood dream. Greece is famous for its outdoor theaters, and, wanting to emulate those, Theo as a teenager built his first home theater out on the terrace of his parents’ apartment in Athens. Never able to find a way to do something similar at his Brooklyn home, he seized on the chance to take advantage of the 10,000 square feet of property surrounding his summer home to create the ultimate outdoor movie space.

Our conversation covers the circumstances that brought Theo to Greece and the creation of his new personal theaters along with a slew of other subjects, including his latest work and his love for movies. Here’s a road map:

 

0:00    How the pandemic brought him back to Greece.

5:06    How he planned his new home theater.

5:49    How his new yard became an outdoor theater.

7:14    The status of his archives, which document the history of home theater.

8:18    How he’s been embraced by the Greek film community.

8:26    Donating his collection of 5,000 laserdiscs.

10:13  Donating his collection of 6,000 Blu-ray Discs.

11:40  The Greek passion for movies.

13:30  The effort to finish his home theater.

13:53  The improvements over his Brooklyn theater.

16:06  Theo’s preference for a clean, modern design style vs. the “movie palace” approach.

19:16  How his outdoor theater was inspired by Greek theaters & his first home theater.

22:45  A description of the outdoor theater.

25:17  His efforts to archive his collection of Blu-ray Discs and 9,000 DVDs.

27:35  The impressive recent re-issues of Technicolor movies.

30:49  What 4K brings to re-issues.

31:42  Technicolor vs. contemporary films (The Harvey Girls vs. Tenet).

33:10  Wrap-up / tweaking his home theater.

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

From Customer to CEO: A Conversation with Kaleidescape’s Tayloe Stansbury

Tayloe Stansbury Interview

I first had the opportunity to speak with Tayloe Stansbury last November, just days after his appointment as Kaleidescape’s new CEO had been announced. He took an interesting journey to becoming the CEO, going from being a customer to joining the board in August 2020 and then being named head of the company. During that earlier conversation, it was clear Tayloe shared our passion for movies and home theater, so we jumped at the chance to talk to him again to discuss home theater, trends in the industry, and his plans for driving Kaleidescape forward.

—John Sciacca

Could you tell me what got you into home theater and a little bit about your primary viewing system?

Sure. I got into it about 20 years ago when I got a projector. It was one of those “If You Give a Moose a Muffin” moments—the projector then turned into a whole bunch of other equipment.

 

Somewhere along the line my dealer got me interested in Kaleidescape. My first reaction was, “Yeah, so what’s wrong with Apple TV?” This was about 10 years ago. But he convinced me, and I bought a small system—an M500 movie player and a 1U server—and we loved it, just because of the convenience and not having to sit through all the FBI warnings and extraneous previews and so forth that DVDs used to force on you.

 

From there, the system has grown. We swapped out our Madrigal, Revel, and Proceed equipment for mostly Meridian equipment. The projector is now a SIM2. It’s about 10 years old but it’s just an awesome 5,000-lumen device. It’s still gorgeous and it’s still powered with a Kaleidescape M500. So we now have a Storm processor, Meridian speakers, SIM2 projector, and three 1Us serving up a whole bunch of content. We also have Stratos and Terras in some of our other systems as well.

 

What kind of insights did being a longtime Kaleidescape customer allow you to bring to your new role as CEO?

In any company, it’s best to think of the customer first because that’s who you’re serving and that’s who you’re building your 

Tayloe Stansbury Interview

products for. Coming into this as a longtime customer means I have a very clear outside-in perspective that’s enabled me to think about a number of problems a little bit differently.

 

One thing I know from having been a customer is that people don’t like having to buy the same content twice. You buy a movie at one resolution, and then you have to pay for it all over again when it’s offered in a higher resolution. Or 

you already bought the content on disc and loaded it onto a Premiere system, but now you want to get a Strato and Terra system but don’t want to have to repurchase a lot of the same content.

 

So one of the changes we’ve made is to offer format upgrades at a much lower price. And for people coming from a disc-based world, we’re offering disc-to-digital transition pricing for when you’re doing a Strato add-on to a Premiere system so you don’t feel like you have to buy your content from scratch all over again.

 

Spec’ing a Kaleidescape into a big six-figure system is a no-brainer, but how do you make the case for including one in a mid-to-low five-figure system where people tend to want to go with a Roku or an Apple TV?

Great question. First, not everybody who buys a high-end system gets a Kaleidescape. It’s crazy to think that someone’s spending $100,000 on a theater and then feeding it with a relatively low-bit-rate source device. When you’re playing a 4K HDR movie on a Kaleidescape compared to playing a 4K movie on a streaming device, you’re getting about four times the video bit-rate and about 10 times the audio bit-rate. It’s a pretty profound difference.

 

You might watch the streamer and say, “Wow, that actually looks and sounds pretty good.” But then play the same scenes again on a Kaleidescape and you’ll really see and hear the difference.

 

It’s just as important to build a balanced system whether it’s for a secondary viewing area or a dedicated theater room. It doesn’t make sense to have any weak links in the chain, especially with the source that’s feeding all your movie content. By overspending on the latter parts of the chain, like the video display, speakers, and amplification, and underspending on the

first part, which is the source component, you’re getting garbage in, which just doesn’t make a lot of sense.

 

As you transition to lower-priced systems, there does come a point where the advantage and richness of a high-end source starts to become 

Tayloe Stansbury Interview

overkill. But it actually happens at a much lower price point than one might think. Even a $25,000 theater or media room is going to be better served by having a Strato in it than by spending that same amount of money on better speakers or amplification. Having that clarity at the source driving what might be slightly less-expensive things downstream actually gives you a better balanced system overall.

 

And once you have a server, the cost of adding a player is only about three grand at current pricing. At that price, you’ve got to say, well, why wouldn’t you put one with every TV in your house, if it’s a 4K display and has a decent sound system associated with it?

 

Where are you seeing more pushback on the lower-end sales, from integrators or from customers?

It’s an awareness problem across the board, with people not understanding the difference it can make in the overall experience. For customers, it’s being aware of the importance of a premium content source to power their system. I think integrators get that, but may not be aware that Kaleidescape also offers integration options like being able to automate the room lighting and curtains, because the movies can cue the correct aspect ratio, they can lower lights and close curtains as the movie begins and can start raising the lights as the credits are rolling.

 

Theater closures due to the pandemic have upended traditional movie distribution. What impact has all this had on Kaleidescape?

Certainly there has been limited or no ability to go to theaters for a while, which is driving people who want to see movies to watch them at home. Twenty years ago, the possibility of having a home experience that would approach the theater experience wasn’t even there. But today, it absolutely is. So the content you’re getting from a Kaleidescape system is coming at a video and audio resolution that’s equivalent to what you’d be getting in a theater. And the sound systems you can get for the home have become much more affordable—and that’s now the more expensive part of the system. The ability to have an

Tayloe Stansbury Interview

absolutely cinematic experience at home without having to sit on somebody else’s popcorn is pretty amazing now.

 

Kaleidescape grew last year as a result of a lot of people watching more movies at home. We’ll have to see when theaters fully reopen whether people flock back to them or if this has put a permanent dent in their behavior.

One of the other changes is the ability to watch a movie when it comes out, as opposed to waiting for it to show up on video distribution. And we now have a rental feature that includes Premium Video on Demand (PVOD), so certain content can be released the same day it appears in theaters.

 

How did the rental option come about and what does it mean for system owners?

We thought it was important to offer this to our customer base because there are times when you’re like, “Do I really want to buy this movie?” Now you can just go ahead and rent it, and if it turns out you love it, we’ll credit half your rental price to the purchase. And of course then you don’t have to download it again. The rental is downloaded exactly the same as before—it’s the exact same bits you get when you buy a movie, so there’s no penalty in quality.

 

We’ll see how this plays out and if it changes people’s behavior. It might enable us to go to a new class of buyer because a lot of people don’t consider themselves movie collectors; they just like to watch movies. But they don’t typically watch them more than once, or it’s once in a long while that they’ll watch a classic again, like a Star Wars.

 

I think there’s been a misconception that probably goes all the way back to the beginning of Kaleidescape that it’s really a product for people who want to be able to organize their disc collections and make them instantly available, that this is a product for collectors as opposed to cinephiles, who just love to watch movies. This new service makes it clear you don’t have to own a single title.

 

They say the first 100 days in office are some of the most important, and by my reckoning you’re coming up on that number.

Pretty close.

 

How far have you gotten with your wish list and where do you see things going over the next year or so?

Coming with the perspective of a long-time customer really helps bring more outside-in thinking into the company. So that 

Tayloe Stansbury Interview

was the big pivot I wanted to make. The examples I gave earlier were a result of thinking about things from the customer’s perspective.

 

That was the big mission I had, and it’s still ongoing. We have a large 

installed base, with many of them running older systems. We’d love to get them upgraded to Strato and Terra systems. So we’re putting together some programs to facilitate that.

 

It seems like there are three groups you’d want to talk to: The integrators who sell and service your product, current customers, and potential customers. What message would you have for each of those groups?

Since many of the dealers and integrators have a dated view of the company, it’s important to get the word out that we’ve got new changes coming, new policies coming, so it’s a different thing than when they checked in on us some years ago. Getting that message about vibrancy to dealers is super important.

 

With existing customers, we need to convey that we want to take care of them, we want to get the movies they might have in lower resolution upgraded to the highest res they can run on their system without price being a barrier. When they start running short of disc space, we want to make sure we notify them of the options they have for upgrading for more space.

 

For prospective customers who may not have heard of Kaleidescape, we want to get the word out through increased marketing testimonials and the like that this really does give you a better home cinema experience than you can get through any other source.

 

What trends do you see driving the luxury home entertainment market, and where does Kaleidescape fit into all that?

Watching movies at home has obviously grown in the last year. I don’t think theaters are dead, but if you can have a similar or better experience at home, a lot of people are going to be drawn to that. And that, of course, is the space we play into. And within that space, what we play to is the high end—people who care about excellence in their home viewing and listening experience. But we offer that at a price point that is reasonably affordable, even for systems that aren’t huge and aren’t intended for a dedicated theater room.

 

If all you’re going to do is end up with a cheap TV and no additional speakers, you may not want a Kaleidescape, but if you really care about what you’re watching, you probably do want one. So there are systems for streamers, and then there are systems for Kaleidescape.

 

There are basically two kinds of people: Those who have Kaleidescape and those who don’t but want it.

The problem is there are actually three categories. The third is the people who don’t know about it yet.

 

That’s true.

And we want to get it down to those first two categories—those who have it and love it, and this who don’t have it and want it. If we can do that, we’ll be in great shape.

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.

Home Theater Meets Home Conferencing

LED light panels and a PTZ camera concealed behind side panels and a NUC mini-computer
hidden 
beneath the screen allow the Minema home theater to be transformed into a state-of-the-art
video- and teleconferencing space

As a supplement to the “Inside the Minema” podcast episode, I thought it might be helpful to share some details of the conferencing system configuration in my home cinema (dubbed the “Minema” for Mini+Cinema), together with some lessons I learned along the way. Hopefully this will be a useful reference for Cineluxe readers who may have similar objectives for making the most of their entertainment spaces, particularly given the increased demand for conferencing capabilities in the home as a result of the pandemic. There are no doubt other ways of achieving the same objectives, but I hope this overview can help inform discussions clients will have with their integrators about their own installations.

 

DESIGN APPROACH

One of the things I like about the overall design for the Minema is that none of the conference-room functionality is visible when you walk into the room. The conferencing equipment (e.g., the camera, mini-PC, and microphone) is either stored inside purpose-built cabinetry on the screen wall or mounted on the ceiling behind acoustically transparent fabric. LED lighting for videoconferencing is also hidden behind hinged doors on both sides of the screen. Other conference-room features, such as connectivity for laptops (projector display, ethernet, power), are built into small discreet cabinets tucked behind the seating armrests.

Home Theater Meets Home Conferencing

click on the image to enlarge

VIDEO- AND TELECONFERENCING SYSTEM

The schematic above depicts the core elements of my videoconferencing and teleconferencing system. Here are some of the key design decisions reflected in the final layout:

 

Camera Location

In order to avoid problematic camera angles from above or below the screen, the camera is positioned in cabinetry to the right of the screen to get it more in line with the face height of anyone sitting in the theater seats. It is installed on a small custom-built shelf with an articulating arm so it can be stowed away when not in use. I use my Lumagen Radiance Pro video processor to shrink the projected video image onto the bottom right corner of the screen to make it easier for meeting

Home Theater Meets Home Conferencing

participants to look in the camera’s direction while watching the conferencing image on the screen. The Logitech Rally PTZ (pan/tilt/ zoom) camera is easy to control and the resolution is excellent even when zooming in on the faces of meeting participants in the center seats.

 

Use of Ceiling Microphone

The Shure MXA910 ceiling-array microphone (shown at left) came highly recommended by several conference-room integrators. I’ve found that it picks up everyone’s voices well regardless of where

they’re sitting, but by definition any ceiling microphone will struggle to compete with the quality of a headset microphone or other microphones that can be placed closer to someone when they’re speaking. The ceiling microphone is great for its wide coverage and its invisibility, so this was a compromise I was willing to make. 

 

One unintended benefit from an early design decision to use Wisdom line-source speakers for all seven horizontal channels in the Minema is that I have very little acoustic treatment in the ceiling. This left plenty of room in the area above the seats for the microphone (which is surprisingly large) and a WiFi access point. 

 

Location of Mini-PC (for videoconferencing codecs)

Although my conference-room integrator initially proposed putting an Intel NUC in the equipment rack, we ended up moving it to the screen wall to make for a much shorter cable run to the 4K camera, which requires a USB 3.1 connection. 

I primarily use the NUC with Zoom Rooms Conference Room software to host my meetings, which has the advantage that I can use the companion Zoom Rooms controller iOS app on the iPad Mini I use as the main Crestron controller for the theater. If I need to join a meeting hosted on another conferencing platform, it’s simple to exit the Zoom Rooms software on the NUC to do so.

 

The NUC is getting a lot of use beyond just conferencing since my personal computers are MacBooks and I need a Windows device to connect to some critical AV equipment (Lumagen Radiance Pro video processor, Biamp TesiraForté conferencing DSP, etc.). I’ve also found it very

handy to have a computer permanently connected to my theater AV system because so much movie and performing-arts content has migrated to the internet since the beginning of the pandemic. 

 

Adding Teleconferencing

The Biamp TesiraForté DSP comes standard with VoIP and analog telephony ports, which made it possible to add a telephone line to my conferencing system. I now often use the Minema effectively as a giant speakerphone. 

 

LESSONS LEARNED

 

1) It may not be easy to find integrators with conference-room expertise who are willing to work on a residential project

In 2019, when I was in the design phase for my installation, I found it extremely difficult to hire an integrator with conferencing expertise for a residential project. Hopefully the situation is different today since there are so many more people working from home, but the only way I was able to get a commercial integrator to agree to help me was by tapping some former work contacts. Once the commercial integrator came on board, they collaborated closely with my AV integrator to add the conferencing piece into the overall theater AV system.

 

These are the key capabilities the commercial integrator brought to the table:

 

Specifying the conferencing equipment (audio DSP, camera, microphone, mini-PC)

Providing guidelines for conference-room acoustic performance (easy to surpass with the original theater design specs) and lighting levels

Developing a signal-flow diagram for the conferencing system

Programming the audio DSP

“Tuning” the beamforming ceiling microphone

 

2) Typical commercial conference-room equipment specs may not work in a home theater setting

It didn’t take long after installing the conferencing system for me to realize I would need to swap out the NUC that was originally specified. Since the NUC is always on, I could hear its fan noise in the background when I was watching a movie or listening to music. Replacing it with a fanless model that is completely 

silent solved that problem. I also needed to tweak the NUC BIOS settings to turn off the front LED, which was visible through the fabric covers on the screen-wall cabinetry.

 

When I opened the box containing the Shure ceiling microphone, I realized I had another problem because it was bright white, not optimal for mounting behind black acoustically transparent ceiling fabric. Fortunately, Shure makes the same microphone in black, so that was an easy fix. 

 

One minor change that made a big difference was swapping out the Bluetooth keyboard and mouse that were originally provided for a Logitech K830 illuminated living-room keyboard with a built-in trackpad. Using a mouse is simple when you’re sitting at a conference-room table but not so easy from theater seating. 

 

3) A commercial conferencing DSP may not be certified by some popular VoIP service providers

Although I am currently using the Biamp DSP with a Zoom Phone license, this has been challenging to set up since the Biamp isn’t a Zoom Phone-certified device. Biamp has certifications from Cisco, Avaya, ShoreTel, Mitel, and Skype for Business. I can use my Zoom Phone license seamlessly with the Zoom Rooms software, but since this would restrict me to using the VoIP line only when the NUC is selected as my video source, this isn’t an optimal solution either. Using the Biamp with an analog phone line may in some cases therefore be the simplest option for adding teleconferencing. 

 

CONCLUSION

I was very fortunate that my project was completed in February 2020, immediately before the lockdown. When I was in the planning stages, I couldn’t have anticipated how much we would use the conferencing functionality in the Minema. Now I can’t imagine living without it.

William Erb

William Erb is a longstanding movie enthusiast, music lover & home AV tinkerer. He has been using his spare time, now that he is semi-retired after a career in banking and biotech, to renovate his new home in Los Angeles with a private cinema and a distributed audio system, both state-of-the art. William became a client of Sam Cavitt’s Paradise Theater in the very early stages of his renovation project. He was lucky enough to get the private cinema completed just before lockdown, and is glad not to need an excuse to stay home to watch movies and listen to music.

Ep. 11: Inside The Minema with Sam Cavitt & William Erb

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This episode is the first chance we’ve had on The Cineluxe Hour to really dive deep into the creation of a luxury home theater. And the room explored here is a trailblazing effort that goes beyond being able to produce a better-than-movie-theater experience at home to include state-of-the-art video- and teleconferencing—a need that has come to the forefront as the pandemic has caused more and more people to work from home.

 

Since this theater, dubbed the Minema (for “mini cinema”), was essentially a collaboration between designer Sam Cavitt and his client, William Erb, we interviewed both William and Sam about the process that led to its creation.

 

Sam Cavitt (a frequent contributor to the site who we’ve featured in Cineluxe Trendsetters) is known for designing—and spreading the gospel about—no-compromise home entertainment spaces, which he prefers to call private cinemas.

 

William Erb isn’t a typical client. His enthusiasm for high-quality video and audio caused him to get deeply involved in the planning, building, and tweaking of the Minema. The mandate to create a high-end movie-watching and music-listening space that could also accommodate conferencing was difficult enough, but Sam and Willam had to make it all work within the constraints of a high-end LA condo.

 

Here’s an overview of the episode:

 

1:18  Sam talks about how a designer is different from an integrator, and how only a small group of people do what he does.

4:04  Sam discusses the kinds of clients he usually works with, and what makes someone a Cinema Connoisseur.

5:27  Sam introduces Willam, who talks about how he found Sam and brought together the team that created his theater.

10:34  What Sam and his company bring to a project like the Minema.

13:10  How Sam collaborates with integrators.

15:32  William describes his approach to finding the trades to create a theater.

18:01  William gives his objectives for the Minema.

20:12  The emergence of multi-use luxury theaters.

23:14  The problems of doing sound isolation in a condo.

29:00  William talks about how the theater was developed for more than just movie watching and what his expectations were for videoconferencing.

32:45  How to create a space where none of the functions are compromised.

37:19  The recent surge in demand for luxury home cinemas—and for making them more flexible.

42:10  William’s future expectations for his theater.

44:09  Sam on appreciating a private cinema as a luxury item.

46:29  William on how video- and teleconferencing is a great opportunity for integrators.

47:36  William on how beginning the planning of a theater by giving the integrator a budget number can actually hurt a client’s chances of getting what they’re looking for.

50:09  Sam talks about the importance of thinking of a private cinema as an experience and a luxury acquisition instead of just some room for watching movies.

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Sam Cavitt is the founder & CEO of Paradise Theater. His firm has collaborated with leading integrators, architects, designers & builders on nearly a thousand of the world’s finest private cinemas, employing an exclusive process that assures excellence always. Sam is also spearheading Cinema Connoisseur, an initiative to create a community of enthusiasts—cinema connoisseurs—both professional and public to embrace and enhance the world of private cinema and film. He likes to spend his spare time in Maui surfing, sailing, paddling & drumming.

William Erb is a longstanding movie enthusiast, music lover & home AV tinkerer. He has been using his spare time, now that he is semi-retired after a career in banking and biotech, to renovate his new home in Los Angeles with a private cinema and a distributed audio system, both state-of-the art. William became a client of Sam Cavitt’s Paradise Theater in the very early stages of his renovation project. He was lucky enough to get the private cinema completed just before lockdown, and is glad not to need an excuse to stay home to watch movies and listen to music. 

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

The Movie Theater is Dead–Long Live the Movie Theater

The Movie Theater is Dead

I realize that’s a really obvious—even dopey—title, but how many chances do you get in a lifetime to write something like that and actually have it be true?

 

There’s been such a delicious, grisly irony to events as of late that it all has a premeditated, End Times kind of feel.

 

The most over-hyped director in Hollywood irresponsibly insists on having his film released in theaters—and it becomes possibly the biggest tentpole turkey of all time, causing the movie theaters, operating at a loss, to go sour on the other new 

films waiting in the wings. In fact, Tenet tanked so badly that Warner Bros. finally blinked and opted to not send The Witches to theaters but straight to HBO Max instead.

 

Then, when MGM decided to hold the release of the next installment of the seemingly interminable Bond series for another six months, the owners of the Regal chain, sensing that the latest Wonder Woman dumbshow likely won’t be enough to sustain them until then—assuming it even makes it to theaters—decided it’s time to close their doors, maybe forever.

 

Like it was all that hard to see any of this coming. And like it wouldn’t have been a lot more responsible—and possibly profitable—for the studios to have sent their theatrical slates straight to the home market—like, to the place where people are actually watching movies instead of to the place where they wished they were watching them. (Disney made that work, big time, with Mulan—but why would they want to listen to Disney?)

 

You have to feel bad for any lower-echelon people who might be losing their jobs because of all this, but civilization did just fine in the wake of the arrival of the automated loom, and there’s no reason to think this will be any different. But you can’t feel bad for the owners of the theater chains. They had all done a lousy job for decades of making their properties suitable for actually watching movies. And when they finally woke up to the threat posed by radically improved home viewing, it was way, way, way too late. All the pandemic has done is accelerate the inevitable.

 

But I don’t want to dwell on that very steep downside because the future, oddly, couldn’t look brighter. That is, if you’re talking about the future of watching movies—and about the future of movie theaters, if you’re willing to call any home space that can match or exceed the experience of a commercial cinema a movie theater.

 

As I was writing up a review of The Shining to post later this week, I realized we’ve reached a tipping point with luxury home cinema. We’ve all sensed this coming for a while, and we’ve frequently documented the various developments here on the site. (Vide the sidebar to the immediate left for a sampling.) But the proliferation of big-screen displays capable of cinema-level performance, the 4K release of what would have normally been theatrical titles straight to the home market, and the rush to meet the increased demand for home viewing by upping catalog titles to 4K HDR has created a world where having a movie-theater-quality experience at home is shifting rapidly from being the exception to the rule.

 

As the rise of that market continues to accelerate, you can expect to see the number of older titles receiving the 4K HDR treatment accelerate as well. Sure, every new format has meant seeing the studios shine up their catalogs so they can trot them out yet one more time. But no previous format could match that movie theater experience. This one can. And that changes everything.

 

Both the gear and the playback have gotten to be so good that even putting together a basic system for a secondary room can result in performance that can at least match your local theater (when it’s open). And what you can achieve with a professionally engineered and calibrated system can blow any commercial theater out of the water.

 

We do need some commercial theaters, but only a few, and 

only as revival houses and for savoring the occasional (increasingly rare) film that really deserves a big, big screen. As for chain theaters, who needs ‘em?

 

At a time when it can be damn hard to find an upside to anything, we can at least look forward to a flood of titles once meant for theaters heading straight to the home, and an increasing profusion of older titles looking better than they ever have. All of it to be enjoyed comfortably, on our own schedule, and on a personal system that puts any cineplex auditorium to shame. As a temporary refuge from the raging nuttiness of the outside world, I’ll take that any day.

Michael Gaughn

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

A Media Room by Any Other Name

Making sure we have access to a high-quality movie-watching experience may become more important
now that our entire cinema experience may be our home cinema experience

In 2018, the last time I was in Paris, my wife and I were fortunate enough to visit the Musée de l’Orangerie before the crowds arrived. The Orangerie is where, along with many Impressionist paintings, Claude Monet’s extraordinary Water Lilies paintings are exhibited. Spellbinding! Unfortunately, many will never experience this in person; however, many will “see” these works in print, on screen, or via some other convenient conveyance. I assure all, until I visited Water Lilies at the Orangerie, I had not truly seen the masterpiece that Monet created. Being in the presence of the works themselves was indeed an advantage, but that is not all. The environment completed the experience. The artist knew this. In fact, Monet assisted architect Camille Lefevre with the architectural design. He even required skylights so the paintings would be viewed in natural light. The result, an experience I will repeat as often as I visit Paris!

 

What about Film? It has been called “the most complete, truly contemporary art form . . . a most marvelous machine for emotion” (Renzo Piano, architect of the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures). Film, as an art form, has as unique a set of challenges. Its artistic value is in its effect on the individual, when tears, laughter, memories, or thrills materialize unforeseen. Does the environment play a part in this interaction? It might be said that those who want to experience the film art-form at its best should seek out those exhibitions dedicated for that purpose, the commercial cinema. Although, even if it 

A Media Room by Any Other Name

Claude Monet’s Water Lilies at the Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris

were possible during this pandemic (or advisable after), most commercial cinemas fall far short of that standard! Many may say that the right environment for viewing movies in the home is not a theater but a media room. But such blanket statements do not address important considerations, and labels such as commercial cinema, home theater, and media room do not unequivocally describe ideal solutions.

 

What considerations are vital in choosing the right environment to enjoy movies and other forms of entertainment in our homes? To truly get the most enjoyment from any media, be it movies, television series, music, or games, we need to become fully engaged. The state of full engagement is that magical time when the participant experiences the fullness of whatever media they are involved in. With music, the performance, timbre, rhythm, and mix coalesce into a whole in which a listener can be captivated. In games, the avatar becomes of greater substance than oneself. In film, the story, drama, imagery, sounds, and more create a realism that captivates us like no other experience. This “suspension of disbelief” is the essence and objective of these forms of entertainment art. It cannot be experienced when multi-tasking. It cannot be sustained when distracted. It is magic and is to be desired. This ability to be fully engaged should inform all considerations when determining the type of media environment to acquire for our home. 

 

This engagement requires a distraction-free environment. It may surprise many that this quality is not exclusive to dedicated home theaters. It is certainly much easier to do so within that configuration; however, many traditional home theaters fall far short of that objective. Distractions can be caused by many sources, but the most commonly discussed is noise. Noise is particularly distracting because humans are designed to detect sounds, and once we do, it is very difficult to ignore them. 

The damage to the state of engagement and the suspension of disbelief is significant, immediate, and persistent. Our experience is visceral, emotional, and transient. Once a magical moment is disturbed, it is lost. Think of how frustrated we feel when someone’s cellphone rings in a movie theater. That moment in time is lost and cannot be regained, even when the content is replayed. It is different.

 

This is where the discussion of the right media environment—dedicated theater or media room—can become confusing. The labels do not help. For instance, even a beautifully decorated dedicated theater that has inadequate wall construction, noisy HVAC, projector, and other equipment fans (to mention a few common oversights), will be fraught with distractions and as prone to destroy magic moments as any room. On the other hand, a media room that shares space with other activities has inherent distractions in addition to those mentioned above. If those activities produce any noise at all and will be engaged in while participants are attempting to enjoy movies, music, or other media, distractions will result. But if such a multi-use room is designed to be acoustically isolated, and HVAC 

and other ventilation is kept to an inaudible level, such a room can provide a distraction-free environment. Of course, it will be necessary to limit competing activities when it is desirable to be fully engaged in a movie, music, or other program.

 

Distractions are not limited to noise. While sound quality is key to the experiences available in today’s movies, games, and productions, the quality of the visual imagery is just as important. Ever-increasing resolution, color gamut, and high dynamic range provide the tools to display astounding cinematography. Combine that with immersive sound, great stories, acting, and production, and you will want to get lost in the experience! Unfortunately, many popular design trends are not conducive to that goal. Natural light, light colors, competing design elements, casual seating arrangements, and other factors can compete with the visual experience. These are clearly desirable attributes for living spaces, but if the best media entertainment experience is a goal, they must be considered accordingly. 

 

Many will point to the rapidly developing LED technology as a solution that negates abundant natural light and lightly shaded décor as an issue. While it is true that these displays can provide hyper-realistic imagery even in high ambient-light conditions, the viewer is still part of the equation. If the objective is maximum enjoyment of an art form, especially movies, but also games and musical performances, distractions will impede that goal. When we are distracted, the engagement is broken and the magic is lost. If that were not the case, Monet would not have insisted on the right environment for his form of visual art! In fact, to achieve the desired results, what may initially seem to be desirable may be counterproductive. An example of this is the recent advent of immersive sound. Notable film producers, directors, and sound editors caution the overuse of these “desirable” effects because they take the audience’s attention away from the screen and subsequently out of the “spell” or suspension of disbelief. It requires a higher standard and is a more difficult challenge to achieve the artful and appropriate application of immersive sound to achieve the desired effect. In the same way, if we are to create media rooms that perform, we must not blindly follow design trends or even personal bias but instead accept the challenge and create interior environments that both support the purpose and are aesthetically pleasing. 

 

Distractions are not the only concern. There are many elements that need to be correct if the optimum media experience is the goal. This holds true in both dedicated-theater and media-room applications. In order to achieve the elusive suspension of disbelief, a lot has to take place. Of course, the production of the art itself must be well executed. Amazing cinematography and artfully crafted and often thrilling sound combined with compelling plots and talent is job one. But all that is for naught if it is not presented in such a way that faithfully reproduces the artist’s intent. Video imagery must be presented to viewers correctly and unimpeded. Listeners must receive the audio information accurately and as intended.  Achieving these characteristics requires careful engineering and integration of the technologies with the design. This is required in either a dedicated theater or a media room.

 

Labels can obscure the objectives. Thinking that a dark room with rows of seats and acoustical fabric walls will necessarily provide proper sight lines, viewing angles, and balanced immersive sound is just as inaccurate as thinking that these considerations don’t matter as long as the room looks good. Whether in a theater or a media room, sight lines, viewing angles (horizontal and vertical), as well as light and color considerations must be planned. Speaker positioning, dispersion, sound power, and acoustics must be correct as well. When we have properly addressed all the design and engineering considerations, the difference between a well-designed media room and a well-designed dedicated theater is hard to distinguish. However, if the term media room is being used to describe a great room with a large screen over the fireplace and speaker locations compromised due to traffic patterns, billiard table, windows, and vaulted ceilings, the difference is unmistakable.      

 

A great room as described above can be a wonderful part of the home, offering casual socializing, convenience to kitchens, patios, and access to other fun diversions. But if we were to modify the design of that space to support the performance we desire for our movies, music, and other beloved media, what would that look like? Would we be willing to lose the fireplace, the billiards, and the windows? Does the ceiling have to come down? But is that even necessary? What about those pivoting and invisible speakers, or a bigger screen over the fireplace, and doesn’t that room-correction system fix the acoustics? While these devices are available and even advisable for great-room applications, do not be deceived. There is a discernible and measurable difference between the entertainment experience in a multi-purpose room that includes the aforementioned compromises and that of a performance-engineered room that is not compromised, whether that room is called a cinema, theater, or media room. 

 

All of these rooms serve a purpose. More important, though, is the question of whether the room we design serves the right purpose. The pathway to success is not labels but thoughtful, objective design, scientifically valid acoustical engineering, meticulous engineering of systems, mechanical, and ergonomics, quality assurance, and professional-quality workmanship.The key that will unlock that pathway is communication. If the audience is not aware of the difference, and more importantly, the value of that difference and the impact it will have in their lives, the audience will not listen. However, like Monet’s Water Lilies, once experienced, there is no acceptable substitute for the real thing in the right setting. We should accept no less. 

Sam Cavitt

Sam Cavitt is the founder & president of Paradise Theater in Kihei, HI and Carlsbad, CA.
Sam hails from Maui, where he can be found surfing, sailing, drumming, and paddling
when he is not designing.

Video Options

The Cineluxe Guide to Media Rooms: Video Options
The Cineluxe Guide to Media Rooms

photo by John Frattasi

Our ongoing series on media rooms has, to this point, focused primarily on audio solutions, and with good reason. When constructing a stereo, surround sound, or Atmos audio system for your entertainment space, you’ve got a wealth of options, from soundbars to in-room speakers and discreet architectural speakers, on to completely (or almost completely) invisible speaker systems.

 

When it comes to video displays, though, the choice seems a little simpler: You either get a big TV or you get a projector, right? Actually, no, it’s not that simple. Once you move beyond media-room setups for smaller spaces like bedrooms or home

offices, where a TV is really the only way to go, you’ll want to weigh the pros and cons of a TV versus a projector. You might even find that the solution is to have both—as it is for our own John Sciacca.

 

That may spark a few questions for the uninitiated—namely “Why?” and “How?”

 

To get to the why, we need to back up to something I said in the first post in this series: We here at Cineluxe consider home cinema to be a shared experience. So, while a 75- or 85- inch TV may be more than sufficient to give two or three people sitting on a couch a panoramic viewing experience if the screen is a mere six or seven feet away, your room may be far too large for that sort of setup. If you’re 10, 12, 15 feet away from your screen, no reasonably-priced TV is going to give you and your family enough screen real estate to create a truly immersive viewing experience. A projector and screen, on the other hand, can. Quite easily.

 

So, why not just go with projection and forget the TV? To answer that, we need to remember that media rooms are also called multi-use spaces. The same room where you gather the whole family together to watch The Last Jedi may also be the room where you watch Last Week Tonight on Sunday evenings. And far be it from me to besmirch John Oliver’s looks, but do you really need to see his face at IMAX proportions? Because we’re talking about a media room and not a dedicated home theater, it should be able 

to accommodate casual watching but be able to transition to a more focused and immersive experience for more serious viewing. And depending on the size of your room, a single display may not give you that kind of flexibility.

 

Having a dual-screen setup means you can match the display to the needs of the moment. But how does it work, exactly? It usually involves a retractable screen that slides down from a hidden compartment housed in the ceiling (or in the floorspace above a room in a multi-story dwelling). Stewart Filmscreen’s Cascade is a great example, although other screen manufacturers offer their own variations on the theme: Evanesce from Elite and the gorgeous Zero-G from Screen Innovations (shown below), just to name two.

The Cineluxe Guide to Media Rooms: Video Options

Mind you, going this route does complicate things a bit, at least in terms of using your system, so you’ll definitely want to add a good control and automation system to your media room budget. This will allow you to drop the projection screen down in front of your TV for movie night at the press of a button (or the uttering of a simple voice command), and still access your source devices with a single remote.

 

And it probably goes without saying that if you’re going through all this trouble to ensure the most spectacular video presentation, you probably don’t want to rely on a soundbar for your audio experience. Instead, you’ll want to spec in all of the speakers and processing necessary for true 5.1 to 9.2.6-channel surround sound, depending on your appetite for aural immersion.

 

So, putting it all together, what would a complete dual-screen media room system look like? Combine a 124-inch SI Zero-G drop-down screen with an 85-inch Sony Z9G Master Series 8K LED TV, and add to that the sound system and sources detailed in our previous post: An Anthem AVM 60 or Lyngdorf MP-50 surround sound processor, driving three GoldenEar Technology Invisa Signature Point Source in-wall speakers, two or four GoldenEar Invisa MPX MultiPolar in-walls, four Stealth Acoustics SLR8G invisible speakers, and two Stealth Acoustics B30G invisible subwoofers. Throw in a Kaleidescape Strato Movie Player and Roku Ultra streaming media player, and you’ve got the makings of an incredible home cinema system that practically disappears when not in use. If you want to take that ethos to the extreme, you could even add a TV lift and projector lift from Future Automation to keep your gear completely hidden when not in use.

 

Tie it all together with a professionally installed home control and automation system like Crestron, Control4, or Savant, and you’ll have the power to transform your unassuming living room into your own private cineplex at the touch of a button.

 

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.

Inside a Film Connoisseur’s No-Compromise Home Theater

Michael Kobb isn’t just a casual film fan but a true connoisseur who both loves movies and savors the whole movie-watching experience. So it’s not too surprising that he’s the principal engineer of user experience for the premium movie-download service Kaleidescape, nor that he has a reference-quality theater in his Silicon Valley-area home.

 

What really sets him apart from most film lovers, though, is how deeply he became involved in the process of researching, planning, and executing his theater—a process he recently recounted for Cineluxe’ John Sciacca.

ed.

Inside a Film Connoisseur's No-Compromise Home Theater

Michael Kobb

Most people have a story about how they got involved in home theater. For me, I saw Speed on LaserDisc at a friend’s house, and that was it. What is your story?

My dad took me to visit a friend of his who had a home theater. He had a CRT projector with a ridiculously ahead-of-its-time control system called Frox with an onscreen display to control all of the components. The system looked and sounded great for the day, but ironically the thing that really stuck with me was that he had his equipment in a bookshelf on the back wall with a closet you could walk in to access the back of the gear. When I built my theater, I put the equipment in a separate room for sound reasons but I made sure to incorporate access to the back of the racks.

 

How has your theater system evolved over the years?

My first system was just a big rear-projection TV with a LaserDisc player and VCR. After that, I moved to a front projector. Then I bought my own house and planned on 

converting an existing room into a theater, but the dimensions were really wrong, making it hard to arrange seating. We basically had to restructure the house to accommodate my current theater.

 

Your space isn’t really a traditional man cave or reference movie theater, but more of a hybrid. How did that design come about?

It was really an interesting process. I hired general contractor Bob Byrne with the intention of converting that existing room, but as I was explaining the project to him, he realized that if we took out a wet bar and relocated a bathroom and a 

mechanical room, we could gain a lot of space. It went from a 13 x 19 room to 19 x 24, which was a crucial change. It required taking out a load-bearing wall, pouring a couple of footings, and putting in a steel I-beam. A lot of work, but incredibly worth it.

 

I also brought in theater designer Keith Yates, who gave me two proposals for having two rows of seats [shown at right]. One had a riser, and the other required cutting the concrete slab and excavating down a foot to lower the front row, which I never would have thought of, but was the way to go for a host of reasons.

 

I wanted a big bookcase in the room, both because I needed someplace for my books and also to make it feel more like a study than a scaled-down commercial theater. Bob designed the aesthetics of the bookcase and Keith’s team did the engineering to incorporate the center speaker and two subwoofers, air returns for the HVAC system, and acoustic treatments behind all the books. We also have acoustically transparent motorized shades that mask the outer shelves when the screen is down, to eliminate visual distractions.

A Film Connoisseur's No-Compromise Home Theater
Inside a Film Connoisseur's No-Compromise Home Theater

I requested the curved stage, having seen a similar design in a magazine. I picked tanoak flooring for it, which is a really pretty wood with a little red tone in it that fits in well with the sapele mahogany used for the bookshelves and the other woodwork, and with the rosewood on the floorstanding speakers. Originally, the boards were going to just run front to back, but Bob proposed tapering them to follow the curve, and that totally took it to a new level. If you follow the convergence point the tapers make, the really cool thing is that the focus of those boards is the front-row center seat, which is my seat.

Inside a Film Connoisseur's No-Compromise Home Theater
Inside a Film Connoisseur's No-Compromise Home Theater

A clamping system was used to hold the curved boards for the stage in place
while the glue dried so there would be no visible nail holes

Tell us about your current theater system.

Unsurprisingly, the primary content source is the Kaleidescape—a combination of the Premiere components for disc-based media and our Strato family for downloaded media and 4K content joined through a software and hardware solution called Co-Star that makes it all act like a single system. I have about a thousand movies in my collection. I also have a TiVo and a streaming player to be able to watch other stuff.

 

It wasn’t possible to have a booth or hush box for the projector, so I needed a model that was quiet. I’ve had a series of Sony projectors, culminating with a Sony 995ES. With its laser light engine and ARC-F lens, it produces fantastic bright and vivid images while still being reasonably quiet.

 

Video processing is handled by a Lumagen Radiance Pro, which works with the motorized screen-masking system from Screen Research and also provides the HDR tone mapping. The screen is 96 inches wide, or 110 inches diagonal in a 16:9 aspect ratio, but masks down to 104 inches diagonal for 2.4 aspect-ratio films. I went with a motorized screen because I

Inside a Film Connoisseur's No-Compromise Home Theater

Trinnov MC processor was used during construction to create two
separate calibrations for the theater—one for group viewing and one
optimized for solo listening from the center seat

wanted this room to be multipurpose, with the screen out of the way of the big bookshelf up front when I’m not watching movies.

 

The front speakers are Aerial Acoustics, and the subwoofers are a mix of three Seaton SubMersive HP subs and four Velodyne SC-IWDVR in-wall models, three of which are in the ceiling. I’m currently upgrading my audio processing from the Trinnov MCwhich handles the system’s room EQ and speaker correction, to the Trinnov Altitude 16.

A Control4 system operates everything, including automated screen masking and lighting scenes, triggered by the Kaleidescape system. I have to laugh because the thing that really floors new visitors to my theater is that the lights come up by themselves when the end credits start.

 

How about acoustic treatments?

The acoustics were designed by Keith Yates and his company. All the walls and the ceiling are covered with fabric that conceals the acoustic treatments and the surround speakers.

 

I spent lots of time auditioning fabrics because the material had to be aesthetically appealing, meet certain acoustical characteristics, and not reflect light coming off the projection screen. I bought extra fabric and have it squirreled away in case it’s ever damaged or we have to take fabric down for a repair or upgrade.

 

Keith’s team also designed ultra-quiet HVAC for the room, and sound isolation. The theater achieves an NC-14 noise rating with the HVAC and the projector running, which is comparable to many recording studios. Even the lighting transformers are remote-mounted to eliminate hum. Bob also took great care to ensure that there would be no rattles or vibrations. All the construction is glued and screwed rather than nailed, and even the speaker wiring is glued to the walls. We also did an extensive vibration/rattle test before installing the fabric.

Inside a Film Connoisseur's No-Compromise Home Theater

An interactive 3D tour of the theater

People don’t generally consider seating essential theater equipment, but I know you spent a lot of time researching your chairs.

I had previously sat in various dedicated theater seating that I found uncomfortable so I wanted seating comfortable enough for the length of the movie. I happened across these chairs made by a Norwegian company called Ekornes that lift your head slightly as you recline, which seemed perfect for movie theater seating, and there were many models to choose from. I went to the local dealer, told them I was building a theater room, and asked if I could come by from time to time and sit in a chair and read a book for a couple of hours, and that’s what I did until I found the right ones. You can sit in these chairs for hours and hours.

 

Do you have any upgrades planned?

My system is 7.1 right now, but I will be able to use my new Altitude 16 processor to add ceiling speakers to do a 7.1.4 Dolby Atmos system. Once we do that upgrade, the room correction processing will move from the MC to the Altitude, and the MC will be retired.

 

With a room like mine, some upgrades are easier than others. Changing the projector is comparatively easy, and we were smart enough to run conduit for any cabling changes. But the speakers behind the fabric are not easy to change. Adding new Atmos speakers will likely mean redoing the entire ceiling. Fortunately, I do have extra fabric. Also, the ceiling is acoustically treated, so I’ll work with Keith to identify where those speakers will go and if anything else will need to be changed acoustically; and of course Keith will update the calibration.

 

Do you plan to upgrade to 8K as well?

On my screen, a 4K pixel is less than 1/32nd of an inch. Obviously, those pixels would be bigger on a larger screen, but I would also want to be sitting farther away from a larger screen. So, do I need my pixels to be smaller than 1/32nd of an inch when viewed from 12 feet away? I don’t think so. It’s already hard enough to get a 4K image in sharp focus—just imagine what an 8K lens will cost!

 

The exception might be something like IMAX. But, in my opinion, IMAX-size screens are only appropriate for content that is shot for an IMAX-style presentation. When you take content shot for cinematic presentation and blow it up to IMAX size, it’s 

too big for my comfort. It doesn’t become more immersive for me, it just becomes too big. If I were watching IMAX nature features at home on a screen double the size of mine, but from the same seating distance, then sure, 8K would be dandy.

 

Has spending time sheltering at home caused you to rethink the space? Are you finding you are using it more for non-movie viewing like TV, concerts, or gaming?

I have definitely been using the space more! I usually watch a movie a week with friends, but since that is not 

Inside a Film Connoisseur's No-Compromise Home Theater

feasible at the moment, it’s freed me up to watch a movie any time I feel like it, without the pressure to save the good ones for when people come over. So I’m really enjoying that!

 

There have also been some very enjoyable series streaming recently—Watchmen, Westworld, The Mandalorian—though you see the shortcomings of streaming video pretty readily on a big screen, which can be distracting. But The Mandalorian was 2.35:1 aspect, which made it feel more cinematic.

 

I love music and concerts, and I have a bunch of concerts on the Kaleidescape system I watch when I’m in the mood. There are a few I go back to again and again because they look and sound so darned good! Cream: Live at the Royal Albert Hall is one of the best mixed concerts I’ve ever heard.

 

Any closing thoughts?

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of hiring great people. Bob was the perfect contractor for this complex and detail-oriented project, and he brought in numerous craftsmen whose skills all contributed to its success, especially Steve Kent, the cabinetmaker and finish carpenter. Keith and his team did a fantastic job with the acoustical and technical requirements of the theater and making it all work within the existing framework of the house. Every time I go into my theater, I’m grateful to everyone who built it.

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.

Inside the Ultimate Home Entertainment Space

photos by Randall Michelson

Legendary designer Theo Kalomirakis and acoustician Steve Haas have collaborated on a number of cost-no-object home theaters, but probably none of those efforts has been as ambitious, versatile, or well-realized as the Paradiso. Seventeen years in the making, this Southern California gem is actually an entire home-entertainment complex built around an Italianate piazza. The reference-quality 15-seat home theater doubles as a fully-fledged concert hall. The nightclub features a hydraulic stage and can handle anything from a rock band to a jazz group. Next door to the club resides an arcade, containing the homeowner’s extensive collection of pinball machines and video games. There’s even a g-force flight simulator.

 

At a time when people are developing a new appreciation for what home entertainment has to offer, the Paradiso provides the ultimate example of what can be done when you venture outside the home theater box. I recently talked to Steve and Theo about the project’s genesis, execution, and legacy.

—Michael Gaughn

THEO KALOMIRAKIS: The client had been dreaming about doing a theater with me and asked me to do the basement of his house, which is next to where the Paradiso is now. It had a seven-and-a-half-foot ceiling, so it was only a modest room. I did it because I liked the guy very much. He was passionate about doing something, but there was not much I could do with the space. So he sensed I was kind of compromising.

 

One day, he called me and said, “Theo, I have good news and bad news for you.” I said, “What is the bad news?” He said, “I have to pull the plug on the theater downstairs because I cannot see myself working with you in such a compromised space.” 

“So, what’s the good news?” “I bought two lots next to my house, and I want to set you free to design whatever the hell you want. Let your mind soar. I trust you.” It was the best thing I was ever offered to do.

 

Since the house is located in an Italianate enclave, he said, “We need to do something that would be very much in keeping with 

the neighborhood.” Which is fine, but I realized the size I had in mind for the theater exceeded the one-story height that would be allowed there. That started our endless process of digging down to create a subterranean environment.

 

Originally, there were going to be two more floors below the piazza level, and he kept pushing. “Let’s dig some more. Let’s put the bowling alley there. Let’s have a restaurant for 30 people.” I said to him, “If we dig anymore, we’re going to reach China before we do the theater. So let’s put a stop on it.”

 

And then 2008 came. When the bubble burst, he called me and said, “There is no budget to excavate, so we have to scrap the basement. Can we limit the scope to make it into just the piazza level?” And of course, we redesigned the whole thing.

Inside the Ultimate Luxury Home Entertainment Space

click on the image to enlarge

The idea of adding multiple environments is an extension of what I have described in my book, Great Escapes, as my need to break away from the constraints of a very limited room where you only watch TV. I was dreaming of spaces where before you go into the theater, you have to go under marquees and through lobbies and other areas. And now, here I had the room to do it.

 

We ended up creating a city environment based on his desire to bring in Italian architectural influences. He sent me to Italy and I spent 10 days in Siena. I took about 2,000 photographs in nearby villages for reference. I came back and showed him some incredible charcuterie stores that sold cheeses, and pizzerias, and this and that, and he said, “Let’s do it.” The only things that were dictated by him were the arcade, because he had a very nice collection of pinball machines and video games, and the nightclub because he wanted to have gigs for jazz.

 

He basically gave me permission to go crazy. He didn’t ask me to do this village or do this or do that. I presented the ideas that he gradually grasped and accepted. It’s usually a collaborative effort. The client lets his imagination go to think about the things that mean something to him, and I put them into context.

 

Steve, you were obviously heavily involved in the theater space, but I would imagine you worked on the nightclub as well.

STEVE HAAS: We were involved in all the spaces, really, because acoustics and audio mattered in the pizzeria, the arcade, and even the lobby. For all of these, we provided general noise control, sound containment, and acoustic treatment, as well as audio system design and calibration. But the premier spaces were the cinema, the nightclub, and the pizzeria. This wonderful client was just so open in sharing his goals and desires. In addition to his love for arcade games, he also loved live music. His daughters were both learning to play string instruments, so he wanted the ability to have everything from a more formal concert environment to a loose hangout-type of club where you can have rock bands or jazz groups come and play. He can have a chamber trio performing in the theater and a rock band in the club with no sound bleed between them.

 

Somebody coming into the theater cold would think it’s just for watching movies, but it’s actually a fully-fledged performance space as well.

TK: I want to remind you, Mike, that the theaters that have inspired me over the years were never just for watching movies. The movie palaces were mixed-use spaces where you could have an orchestra and also acrobats or a comedy act or whatever, which is exactly what the Paradiso can do. So it’s not like we suddenly came up with the novel idea of using a

theater this way. This project brought us back, completed the circle to what the movie theaters were supposed to be.

 

Does the desire to be able to do live performances in a home theater come up very often with clients?

TK: Yes, but usually at a much more elementary level.

 

SH: It doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should. And, yes, that’s a biased perspective, but I think a lot of people just don’t realize what can be done. 

Inside the Ultimate Home Entertainment Space

And even if you don’t go to the nth degree like we did with the Paradiso, there are many ways to upgrade a theater space, and it starts with the layout. You have to have the space to be able to have one to four people be able to play and perform, and have a system that can support it—not just audio, but lighting, because that’s different from what you need for a home theater system.

 

TK: Because live performances require specific lighting, we brought in a very well-known lighting designer with a background in theater. This is probably the only project I’ve done in the US that incorporated so many different disciplines. It’s not just the clients who don’t realize all the possibilities. Even the designers cannot wrap their heads around how many wonderful things you can do in a space like that.

 

Steve, the theater had to have a traditional surround sound system for watching movies, but you also have your Concertino system in there for live performances. Are they two discrete systems or is there some overlap?

SH: I think we did share a couple of components. Maybe some of the subwoofers were relay switched back and forth, but inherently quite independent.

 

There was a lot of control programming. If you could see all the bells and whistles switching behind the scenes, it would be amazing. Almost a dozen processes switched in a sequenced manner to go just from theater mode to live concert and back, 

but the user interface was as simple as pressing a button for the initial selection and then there were custom presets within each mode.

 

What did the Concertino system bring to this project in particular, given what the client wanted to do?

SH: The Concertino, which is in the nightclub and pizzeria as well, expanded the ability to have various kinds of live music in an acoustically dry room. As Theo knows, we don’t design “dead” home theaters. However, even a mildly dry diffused home theater appropriate for cinema presentation doesn’t provide the right acoustic for many types of live music.

 

This acoustic-enhancement technology allows the performance space to become a true-sounding

concert hall, cathedral, or any other space you can imagine. So if they want to have a choir, string orchestra, or even a jazz group with a bit livelier sound, you can do that and then blend it with more traditional amplified sound as needed.

 

I’ve heard that people have been in that space and didn’t even know there was processing going on because it sounded so authentic, or is that an exaggeration?

SH: That’s exactly right. This is a world of difference from the Concert Hall and Cathedral modes you get in your car stereo or home receivers. This is recreating in the digital virtual electronic world exactly what a real hall of a different size, different shape, a different acoustic will do to enhance sound—the early reflections, reverberations in the proper timing and frequency manner. The technology can be described for days, but in the end it’s all about what happens when somebody presses a button and sits down and that string quartet, that cellist comes out, and just like, “Wow.” It’s just a great experience for performers and audience alike.

 

Theo, you weren’t here when Mike and I discussed how things are changing with music performances over livestream during the pandemic, but having spaces like this, whether it’s to this degree or even one or two degrees lower—I think a lot of affluent homowners are going to say, “You know what, I don’t want to be in a theater with 1,000 or 2,000 other people for quite some time. So why not create great-sounding spaces that will allow me to bring that type of experience home, literally, for not just movies, but for live music and other types of live entertainment?”

 

TK: I am hearing from people, “I don’t want to go to the movie theaters and catch a disease. I want to make my house be more like a theater.” This is an incredible new opportunity. And it’s up to us to capture it and relay the message that you can have this kind of theater space in your home.

 

SH: Am I hearing Theo saying he’s getting back into custom theaters again?

 

TK: I do want to do custom theaters but very, very selectively. If there is something of the caliber of the Paradiso, I will do it.

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.

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

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.

Cineluxe Talks to Kaleidescape’s Cheena Srinivasan

Cineluxe Talks to Kaleidescape's Cheena Srinivasan

Last week, I had the opportunity to chat with Kaleidescape’s CEO Cheena Srinivasan about the current state of the movie industry and home entertainment. Among other things, with theater chains around the world being closed due to the pandemic, movies are being released in the home market far earlier than usual, and the studios have held the release of some major films and delayed production on others. Cheena shared his insights on Kaleidescape’s movie sales, the quality of streaming versus downloading, and day-and-date film releases.

—John Sciacca

We are in uncharted waters when it comes to traditional film distribution, with some studios releasing movies to the home market right after they were in theaters for only a short time. Are you seeing customers exploring catalog or older titles or are they primarily going for new releases?

Kaleidescape is interesting in that we cater to a movie-loving audience that has invested in a high-quality media room or home theater experience. These people are generally affluent and also tend to be very busy, so they are looking for great content to watch in the time they have. But when it comes to great content, it’s hard for the latest releases to make up for what a hundred years of movie-making has already contributed to people who love cinema, so there’s always good stuff to catch up on. Kaleidescape has a deep library of more than 11,000 titles, and historically we’ve always seen a 65/35 split between customers purchasing great catalog library titles and new releases.

 

We have agreements with 44 movie studios now, giving us a complete content offering. In general, the number of movie downloads increases each year, and for March we saw a 70% growth. New titles being released early certainly helped these 

numbers, and we also had a nice injection from the recent 4K James Bond releases.

 

Besides movies, we also have a large selection of concerts, TV series, documentaries, and even operas. If you want to enjoy a nature series, there is nothing better than the rendition of Blue Planet II available in 4K HDR from BBC. No one else offers that with the level of 

quality we do. Ditto with some of the Disney 4K HDR titles with full Dolby Atmos audio. We are very proud to have the kind of offerings we do for the cinema connoisseur, people who really care about that experience—because that’s what it’s all about, the experience.

 

We also offer a movie pre-download service enabling dealers to provide a turnkey solution for their clients. Clients can choose from the finest curated content that is important to them, which is then purchased and downloaded at the factory onto their new Kaleidescape system. When the system is configured in the client’s home cinema, all of their pre-purchased fantastic content is available to watch immediately.

 

Most other internet services rely on streaming for content delivery, but Kaleidescape employs a download-only model. Why is that?

To ensure that predictable, always-great experience we’re known for, content must be downloaded instead of streamed. This is something we have taken as an anchor for our brand. With Kaleidescape, you can schedule downloads to happen when everyone is asleep, and once downloaded, the content resides on a server in your home and you aren’t reliant on the

internet or delivery speeds to dictate the highest fidelity picture and sound playback.

 

With recent improvements to our system and a gigabit internet connection to your home, we’re able to deliver a full 4K movie with lossless audio soundtrack in 15 minutes or less. We can’t provide instant streaming playback without sacrificing what the brand stands for, which is the finest quality experience every time.

 

Increasingly, studios aren’t releasing 4K versions of movies on Blu-ray but instead sending them directly to the download and streaming services. The recent Kristen Stewart film, Underwater, is one example, as are the older, non-Daniel Craig James Bond films. Is this the next step in the demise of physical media?

Disc-based products have declined rapidly in the past couple of years, which makes total sense to me because there is more complexity with anything physical. You have to forecast how many quantities are needed for different markets, then edit, review, test, approve, and manufacture the discs. This is followed by working with retailers on the logistics of stocking the right amount, and, finally, working with the retailers to dispose of unsold inventory at a discount or loss. This is too much work, and you have none of this complexity or uncertainty with digital. Internet entertainment will be the way consumers will watch Hollywood’s greatest movies for years to come.

 

Universal tried something unprecedented with the release of the Trolls sequel as a $19.99 premium video-on-demand rental the same day it was scheduled to be released in theaters. Do you think we will see any long-term changes to traditional theatrical release windows after things open back up, and will this help ease the move to more widespread day & date releases at home?

We have not seen other studios following NBC Universal’s lead. Most studios, especially with big, blockbuster titles, have opted to push them out until later when theaters reopen. That’s because it’s very risky to release movies early. It all depends on how much money you put into producing the movie and what kind of confidence you have in terms of monetizing that content over a period of time to break even on the investment. There’s no proven model for doing early releases, and I think studios will embrace the age-old belief system: If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it. And if you’re going to fix it, you better have very high confidence it’s going to work. What is clear is that more mid-range and low-budget films will be hitting the home entertainment window, skipping theatrical releases.

 

If consumers get used to the in-home convenience of enjoying movies, especially as they come closer after the 

theatrical release, they might decide to just wait and not go to the theater. But there is a case to be made that blockbusters and tentpole films are mutually beneficial for both content owners and theater chains. The big question no one can really answer is, “What can we expect in the future?” It doesn’t make sense to have a tentpole and require people to sit six feet apart from each other, because tentpoles are as much a social driver as the movie itself. And what if customers get frustrated that tickets are sold out because the theaters are operating at 50% capacity? This is why I think many studios have decided to push new releases out many months to when theater operation returns to normal.

 

Now that people are aware that they can find themselves at home for long periods, do you think they will start improving their entertainment systems and we will perhaps see a boom in media room installations?

The resurgence of interest in home theater and media rooms suggests that people are looking at it and saying, “It may not be a bad idea. We could enjoy it for many years to come.” And once they do that, that’s a psychological, mental preference change. But I think no matter what, content owners always win. It’s a mere matter of figuring out the economics, and the market will adapt and evolve.

 

It’s also very clear that the home entertainment experience is improving, and people are becoming more cognizant. Just look at the millions of soundbars and millions of 4K TVs, or even general consumer awareness of technologies like Dolby Atmos. The more that large-TV big-screen viewing happens, the more people will decide, “Hey, I’m going to find out if I could have somebody come and put a media room together!” We have always diverged from the general market in that our audience

tends to be pickier about how and with whom they spend their time—the emphasis is as much social, big-screen home cinema experience with the people you love. This is about quality entertainment time.

 

It’s been interesting to see the vibrancy of home entertainment in a very big way, and I’ve been happy 

Cineluxe Talks to Kaleidescape's Cheena Srinivasan

about recent reports discussing the shifting of content viewing and streaming services away from portable, mobile devices over to TVs. Kaleidescape has never offered any kind of mobile viewing experience because we don’t deem that to be cinematic. Anything cinematic is deserving of watching with family and friends, and we’re fortunate to be the purveyor of the highest fidelity content for home cinema owners.

 

I think there are going to be some major changes over the next couple of years that will make us look back and say, “You know, I’m glad I was on the side of internet home entertainment because this is a horse that’s destined to win!” Home entertainment has a lot of tailwind and that’s going to help it in the foreseeable future.

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.