Home Theater

My Love/Hate Relationship with Dolby Atmos

My Love/Hate Relationship with Dolby Atmos

I have a friend who turns his nose up at surround sound. Press him on the matter and he’ll demur and hedge his argument, but it’s pretty clear he thinks stereo is where it’s at for movies and music alike.

 

And I think he’s absolutely bonkers.

 

I mention that not to pick on my friend but rather to empathize, because I imagine the face I make at him is the same face our own John Sciacca makes at me when I admit that I just don’t like Dolby Atmos—at least not for movies.

That may seem strange given that I’m on record as lauding the format—with its overhead speakers and innovative use of audio objects instead of channels—when applied to video games. You haven’t really played Overwatch until you’ve heard Pharah scream, “Justice rains from above!” from above your actual head.

The weird thing is, I love Atmos with gaming and generally hate it with movies for pretty much exactly the same reasons. And to understand why, you’re going to have to do a little homework.

 

Take a lawn chair out onto your front yard and sit in it with your back to the street. Your neighbors may give you strange looks, but this is for science. Just run with it.

 

Now pull out a book and start to read. At some point, a car might drive by behind you. If the book is decent enough, chances are you won’t even notice, unless you live on a street so remote that passing traffic is an oddity.

 

Keep on reading until a plane or helicopter passes overhead. Your concentration immediately broke, didn’t it? OK, maybe not if you live near an airport or airbase, and planes flying overhead are a regular occurrence. But for most of you, I’m sure, if something flies over your head, you’re gonna drop your book and look upward.

For me, Atmos is a lot like that. It triggers something in my primate brain. A fight-or-flight mechanism, if you will. I’m reminded of vervet monkeys, who have different words in their rather complex vocabulary for “python” and “eagle.” If a monkey shouts “python,” nearby members of its tribe scan their surroundings. If the cry is “eagle,” on the other hand, the other monkeys drop what they’re doing and run for the nearest hidey hole.

And Atmos generally does that to me. There’s just no denying that sound coming from overhead is hardwired into our brains as something we must focus on. And in a video game, that can be critically important. These virtual worlds often contain threats coming from every direction. Hearing that a baddy is attacking you from overhead can be the difference between virtual life and death.

 

But unlike video games, movies aren’t sandboxes. Our focus is on a rectangle of space right in front of us. Someone else gets to decide where our eyes turn. It’s an inherently horizontal experience. Surround sound coming from the sides and behind doesn’t violate that experience. Sounds coming from overhead do. As with our daily lives, anything that happens outside of that horizontal plane is somehow distinct, different, disconnected.

 

And that can actually be kinda cool with movies like Ready Player One or others that live or die purely on audiovisual spectacle. Heck, it’s even great with movies like The Last Jedi, where the overhead sound effects generally work to add ambiance and a sense of space, not vertical sensationalism.

 

But such mixes are few and far between. For the most part, Atmos serves only to distract from the narrative experience for me. And just to be clear, I’m not saying John or anyone else is wrong for liking that effect. I’m merely rebelling here against the increasingly pervasive notion that if you don’t have an Atmos-capable sound system by now, you’re somehow doing home cinema wrong. Try to seek out an Atmos demo before you decide if this “immersive” audio technology is right for you. And if it’s not—if tried-and-true surround sound does the trick—don’t feel like you’re selling your movie-watching experience short. I mean, as long as you’re not just watching movies in stereo . . .

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.

Why You Have to Have Dolby Atmos

Imagine watching a movie where sound travels around the room with pinpoint accuracy, helping you follow a character as they move around or enhancing the sensation of bullets whizzing past your head, planes streaking through the room, or helicopters hovering directly over your head! That is the promise of Dolby Atmos, which delivers the most realistic and immersive surround sound experience ever.

 

In my opinion, Dolby Atmos is the most exciting development to hit the home market in years and has an even greater impact on the movie/TV-watching experience than 4K HDR video. In fact, when forced to choose between watching a movie in 4K HDR without Atmos or 1080p Blu-ray with Atmos, I go the Atmos route every time. I’ve given dozens of demonstrations both in my showroom and in my home, and after experiencing a properly set up and configured Atmos system, no one has preferred the older, 5.1-channel sound. Atmos is a must have for a luxury installation.

 

Dolby Laboratories launched Atmos commercially in 2012 with Pixar’s Brave, and hundreds of films have been mixed with it since then. (Click here for a complete list.) It is now supported by every major movie studio, and the number of movies, concerts, and even video games with Atmos soundtracks is growing all the time. Atmos content is available on Blu-ray and Ultra HD Blu-ray discs, titles

downloaded from the Kaleidescape Movie Store, and from streaming services like Vudu, Netflix, Amazon, and iTunes.

 

How do you get it?

 

Experiencing Dolby Atmos in your entertainment space requires three basic things: An Atmos-compatible media player, an Atmos-compatible receiver or processor, and a speaker system that can handle however many channels you and your integrator decide to go with.

 

Compatible players include any Blu-ray or Ultra Blu-ray player, including Xbox One. Many streaming players support Atmos, including Roku, Amazon’s Fire TV Stick, and the new Apple 4K TV. Receivers and processors are available from companies like Marantz, Yamaha, Anthem, Denon, Sony, Onkyo, Pioneer, and Integra.

 

What kinds of speakers do I need?

 

Dolby Atmos systems can support far more speakers than the 5.1 of Dolby Digital—up to 64 in commercial movie

WHAT MAKES ATMOS DIFFERENT?

 

Atmos is the latest in a long line of Dolby surround technologies dating back to the ‘70s. But, unlike previous versions, which were all channel-based (that is, the specific number of speakers the audio was mixed for in the studio), Atmos uses an entirely new process called “sound objects.”

 

Audio used to be mixed with a fixed number of speakers, up to 7.1 channels (front left, center, and right, surround right, surround back right, surround back left, surround left, plus a .1 channel reserved for low-frequency effects such as explosions). With Atmos, audio designers are no longer limited to a fixed speaker layout but have up to 128 sound objects they can move anywhere around the room, allowing sounds to be more precisely located.

 

These objects also have size and weight. Thus, a massive starship hovering overhead has a different feel—and plays out of more speakers—than, say, a bouncing tennis ball. All 128 of the audio objects from the original theatrical mix are retained and represented in the home release.

 

To precisely locate objects around the room, Atmos installations support far more discreet speaker channels, including multiple height speakers placed above listeners to create sounds that truly come from overhead. In fact, theatrical installations can have up to 64 speakers. Obviously, that is more speakers than home installations can support (Dolby Atmos for home cinema only supports up to 34 speakers), so Atmos uses something called a channel renderer to create a custom mix on the fly to remap audio objects to whichever speaker configuration is being used, meaning that nothing is lost between the theatrical and home audio mix.

theaters. One of the most significant changes with Atmos is the creation of two distinct speaker layers, with a bed of speakers at ear level and a second height layer that places sounds distinctly overhead. (See “What Makes Atmos Different?” above.)

The most common entry point for enjoying Atmos at home is a 5.1.2 speaker configuration. (In plain English, that means there are five speakers at ear or floor level, one subwoofer, and two speakers above ear level, for the height channels.) Most luxury installations use a 7.1.4 configuration (shown below). This provides a very immersive experience, with full 360-degree audio 

Why You Have to Have Dolby Atmos

pans around the listener as well as good hemispherical coverage overhead.

 

For an even more engaging experience, companies like Marantz, Denon, Acurus, Storm Audio, and Datasat have receivers and processors that support more than 7.1.4 channels. And for a truly premium home experience, companies like Trinnov and JBL offer processors that can support the current maximum up to 24.1.10.

(While there are Dolby Atmos soundbars that do a fair job of creating an immersive audio experience, these would never be appropriate in a luxury installation, so I won’t be covering them here.)

 

Do I need speakers in my ceiling?

 

Yes. And no. (But mostly YES!) Having sounds all around the listener, including overhead, is key to creating a realistic, fully immersive sound environment, and locating speakers in the ceiling is the best way to help accomplish this. 

 

Fortunately, nearly any traditional, quality in-ceiling speaker is compatible with Atmos. (Dolby recommends using speakers with a wide dispersion pattern—that is, one that sends out sound more like a shotgun blast than a rifle bullet.) So choosing a model from the same manufacturer as your front speakers typically offers the best sonic match.

But if you can’t place speakers above you—due to a coffered ceiling or an open-beam design or difficulties running wire to the speaker locations—companies like Definitive Technology, Sony, Onkyo, Pioneer, Klipsch, and KEF offer floor-standing Atmos speakers with modules (shown at right) that can create an overhead speaker effect.

 

These angled modules sit atop the front and rear left and right main speakers, firing sound upward, where it’s reflected off the ceiling and bounced back down to listeners. While these can be great problem solvers, the audio effect of these upfiring modules is impacted by room design—ceiling composition, angle, and height, and seating distance—making it harder to predict performance compared to a true overhead speaker installation.

Why You Have to Have Dolby Atmos

Dolby Atmos is a now a proven technology, widely adopted in both movie theaters and at home, and is almost always included as part of a modern luxury installation. If you’ve been looking to elevate your home audio experience to the next level, Dolby Atmos is a terrific place to start!

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 Made Easy, Pt. 2

Some of Rayva’s home theater design themes

In Pt. 1, legendary designer Theo Kalomirakis discussed the signature home theater he created in NY’s Westchester County for his company, Rayva. Here, we talk to Theo about Rayva’s streamlined approach to theater creation and its ambitious plans for the near future.

—Michael Gaughn

 

What are the differences between a Rayva theater and one of your custom designs?

 

That starts with the price. For a custom project, I am the one who will design the theater. Clients can make it very difficult to maintain a custom business because they are justifiably demanding. That means I must spend a lot of time just trying to keep them happy. That was OK for me in the past, but right now what excites me is focusing on Rayva. We can give clients a good-looking theater without the complications of a custom design.

 

The only real difference between Rayva and a custom design is that with custom you can pick and choose whatever you want. You want the Taj Mahal, you can have the Taj Mahal. If you want the Acropolis—God forbid—all you need to do is ask, and you will get the Acropolis. But with Rayva, there is a limited repertory of designs and that’s what you have to choose from.

 

It seems like Rayva is meant to speed up the whole design and installation process.

 

Absolutely. With the Configurator app on our website, a client can select the room size closest to their own room, the chairs that will go in, the electronics package, and the design theme, all in the course of about two minutes.

The main steps of Rayva’s Configurator app

We are in the process of engineering the hell out of our theaters. When the process is over, we will be able to inventory the various components so they can be available as parts. We’re creating a very large database of components that can be shipped by UPS or Federal Express for next-day delivery to the client. I believe that before too 

long, we will be able to have a theater ready to be delivered and installed in a matter of days. The only thing not included in a Rayva theater is the installation. For this, we work with audio/video integrators who not only install the theater but also service it after it is completed.

 

Are there any particular kinds of rooms Rayva is best suited for?

 

Dedicated rooms. If we try to put Rayva in an open media room, it’s not going to work that well. You need at least three walls. It can be a basement, it can be the extra bedroom, it can be the attic.

 

Do you consider Rayva to be a luxury product?

 

It depends on how you define luxury. We have solutions that start at less than $60,000 for a complete theater—design, chairs, electronics, lighting. But, depending on the electronics package and the design, the price can go up quickly. I guess at $60,000 or more we are talking about a luxury product, even though the price is low for a typical soup-to-nuts theater. I do consider a Rayva theater a luxury use of a space. A dedicated room is not something everybody has. But luxury in this case doesn’t indicate necessarily a high price point.

 

The Rayvas theater we talked about earlier [in Part 1] was definitely on the luxury end, because we used the best treatments, the best chairs, the best leather, and a pricey design.

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.

The Rumors of the Death of Home Theater . . .

The Rumors of the Death of Home Theater
Theo's Corner

Above: Theo’s personal home theater, the Roxy 2.0

The other day, while participating in a Cineluxe Hour podcast, I joined my colleagues Michael Gaughn, Dennis Burger, and John Sciacca to exchange—one more time—our thoughts about dedicated home theaters versus media rooms. Dennis seemed to believe that dedicated home theater has become less relevant in the last few years. A friend of his, he said, was selling his house in LA and the buyer wanted to reclaim the dedicated theater space and use it for something else. John chimed it to say that because consumers don’t want to cover over windows to make a room into a theater, dedicated theaters had become less popular than media rooms.

 

I respect both points of view, but I am not ready to accept that we’re witnessing the approaching demise of dedicated home theater. When I sold my past three homes—to people who did not know about me—it helped the sale every single time that there was a home theater in it. The argument that windows can discourage people from turning a room into a dedicated home theater is valid, although what really doesn’t help a dedicated theater is that most homes have no more than three bedrooms and they’re all used for the parents and their kids. Unless there’s a basement in the house, it’s hard to give up living space for a home theater.

The Rumors of the Death of Home Theater

There is yet another apparent foe of home theaters. Until recently, the only way to enjoy a movie without distractions was in the comfort of a well-equipped dedicated room. This is still mostly true, but something else is happening that has contributed to dedicated rooms losing some ground. No, our entertainment needs haven’t changed. 

What has changed is that we now have access to unlimited content that we can watch any way we want—on our phones while riding the subway, on a tablet while taking a lunch break, on a monitor while flying on a plane. That has to have trivialized somewhat the experience of watching movies.

 

I’ve noticed what happens to me when I’m on a long flight—all that available content makes me feel like a kid in a candy store. I start watching a movie, and then I drop it to watch another . . . and another . . . and another. The abundance of content has made us increasingly less focused, and I’m guilty of that too. My desire to enjoy a movie on the big screen of my theater is still there. But I also find myself watching Amazon Prime or Netflix on a regular TV, flipping through the content just like I do on a plane.

 

Has this hurt dedicated home theaters? Probably. Watching a movie in a dedicated theater or going to the movies used to be an event. It is less so nowadays. But those fortunate ones who have the space and the extra money for a dedicated theater—and appreciate the difference—aren’t going to settle just for casual viewing. They will want both. My take is that dedicated home theaters will continue to be the only option for those who want the focused experience that no TV, smartphone, tablet, or media room can compete with.

Theo Kalomirakis

Theo Kalomirakis is widely considered the father of home theater, with scores of luxury theater
designs to his credit. He is also an avid movie fan, with a collection of over 15,000 discs. Theo
is the Executive Director of Rayva.

Oppo is Dead, Long Live Oppo

Oppo

How’s this for timing? Just days after pimping my Oppo Ultra HD audiophile disc player as the king of the hill in my media room entertainment system, this happens. As of this week, the company has announced that production of its lauded disc players, audio systems, and headphones is winding down.

 

“As announced on April 2nd, 2018, OPPO Digital will gradually stop manufacturing new products,” reads a letter linked on the company’s homepage. “Existing products will continue to be supported, warranties will still be valid, and both in-warranty and out-of-warranty repair services will continue to be available. Firmware will continue to be maintained and updates released from time to time.”

 

To say the least, this is a sad day for videophiles. You could chalk this up to the gradual decline of disc sales, the prominence of streaming, the fact that people who rent their movies almost never rent physical media anymore. And you’d probably be right, to a degree.

 

The one argument I would make to counter that is that there’s still a very healthy market for discs. The massive decline in sales that everyone keeps touting? It was 14% last year. 10% the year before—the first year in which streaming overtook disc sales. That’s hardly doom and gloom.

 

What makes all of this so much worse is that there just isn’t another Oppo out there. Pick your favorite display manufacturer. Or speaker manufacturer. Or receiver manufacturer. If they disappeared tomorrow, you’d still have plenty of high-end alternatives.

 

Oppo, though, so thoroughly defined the high-end disc-player market that any alternatives I can think of off the top of my head were actually Oppo players at the core, perhaps with a different power supply or digital-to-analog converter chip.

 

When the last Oppo is boxed up and shipped to its last customer, what option does the up-and-coming videophile have? Get an Xbox One X, I guess. Or be done with discs once and for all and embrace Kaleidescape’s pixel-perfect digital downloads. The former is great as a disc player and a heck of a media streamer to boot, and the latter is undoubtedly the videophile future.

 

Still, losing Oppo feels like losing a friend. In its 14-year run, I’ve owned at least one player from every generation of the company’s offerings, and the latest are, without question, its greatest. I suppose there’s something to be said for going out on top of your game. There’s also something to be said about the fact that the UDP-205 was probably going to be the last disc player I would ever need anyway—especially given that I’m still using the company’s first-ever Blu-ray player in a spare bedroom, and it still works like the day I pulled it out of the box.

 

Is it silly to mourn the passing of a company? Perhaps. But when that company literally has no peers, what can we do but mourn?

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.

How the XBox Became My Favorite Video Player

Xbox One X

I just finished reading Dennis Burger’s ode to his Roku Ultra, and it inspired me to write one of my own—to my Xbox One X gaming console, which has positioned itself as the preferred video playback device in my everyday home entertainment system.

 

I reviewed the Xbox One X for HomeTheaterReview.com a few months back. As I stressed in that review, I’m not a gamer by any stretch of the imagination, but I have reviewed my fair share of Ultra HD Blu-ray players, as well as many generations of streaming media players from Roku, Apple, Amazon, and Nvidia. My approach to the Xbox review was to answer this question: Does this gaming console succeed as a complete all-in-one media player? Spoiler alert if you haven’t read the review: It does.

 

What’s my proof? Well, four months later, the Xbox One X remains the sole set-top box connected to my living-room TV, while an Apple TV 4K, Roku 4, and Amazon Fire TV sit idle in a box in my office/test studio. Sure, I’ll pull one of those players out when I’m reviewing a TV or projector, along with my Oppo UDP-103 Ultra HD Blu-ray player.

 

But the player I choose to use on an everyday basis is the Xbox. Why? Because it really does give me everything I want in one box, with one common user experience.

 

First of all, the Xbox One X is the only gaming console to sport an Ultra HD Blu-ray player, so I can pop in UHD Blu-ray discs when I want the highest-quality video experience. I use a Polk MagniFi Mini soundbar in this everyday space—but if I had a surround sound/Atmos system here, the Xbox One X could accommodate it, too. I can also pop CDs into the disc drive . . . and only listen to them halfway through.

 

Second, the Microsoft Store includes all the streaming apps my kiddo and I use on a regular basis. That includes Netflix, Prime Video, Sling TV, Vudu, Tablo, PBS Kids, YouTube, and Pandora. Here I will confess that I do miss the convenience of voice search offered by Roku, Amazon, and Apple . . . but apparently not enough to make a switch.

 

As a cord cutter, I no longer have a cable or satellite set-top box. If I did, though, I could pass it through the Xbox’s HDMI input and unite that source into the user experience as well.

Xbox One X

And then there are the games. Over the years, the kiddo and I have casually enjoyed the simple, family-friendly games that are available through platforms like Fire TV and Apple TV—such as Crossy Road, Pacman 256, and Hill Climb Racing. But now my daughter’s eyes have been opened to a glorious new world filled with Minecraft, Super Lucky’s Tale, Star Wars Battlefront, and Rush: A Disney Pixar Adventure—and I’m afraid there ain’t no going back to Minion Rush.

 

As I said in my original review, if you look at each of the above categories individually—UHD Blu-ray player, streaming media player, or music player—of course you’ll find better performers. Products that deliver a higher level of AV performance or a better user interface. But the Xbox One X does it all quite well, and for me the convenience of being able to jump from a game like Minecraft to a streaming source like Netflix to live TV through Tablo and then to Planet Earth II on UHD Blu-ray—without having to switch inputs or remotes—is just too darn enticing to pass up.

Adrienne Maxwell

Adrienne Maxwell has been writing about the home theater industry for longer than she’s
willing to admit. She is currently the AV editor at Wirecutter. Adrienne lives in Colorado,
where she spends far too much time looking at the Rockies and not nearly enough time
being in them.

What are the Media Room Essentials?

media rooms

Continuing our conversation about media rooms, I’m going to run with Dennis Burger’s initial premise that, for a room to qualify as a media room, some thought and effort have to go into creating the highest quality AV experience your space and budget will allow. Simply plopping a 55-inch HDTV, cheap soundbar, and set-top box on a TV stand in your family room doesn’t magically transform the space into a media room.

 

I contend that a high-quality media room system does two things: It offers great AV performance and it embraces the advanced technologies of the day. The beauty is, in today’s AV landscape, you don’t necessarily have to spend a fortune to get both of these things.

 

Here’s what I consider to be the core elements of a modern media room system:

 

A Large-Screen UHD Display

Just like in a dedicated home theater, a media room needs a large screen that draws you in and allows you to feel truly immersed in the source content, be it a movie, TV show, or game. The display should be the focus of your eye (at least when the system is turned on), and the room’s seating and layout should reinforce that principle.

 

What constitutes a large screen? It kind of depends on your room and how far the display is from the seating area. I’d say the screen needs to be at least 65 inches in a smaller room and 75 inches or more in a larger room. At these screen sizes, 4K resolution on its own isn’t crucial, but the other aspects of Ultra HD—namely, High Dynamic Range and expanded color—represent the best of what the video world has to offer right now. Once you see high-quality HDR content on a high-performance TV like an OLED, you won’t want to go back to standard dynamic range.

 

A word of warning: This is one area where you may get what you pay for. Lots of budget LED/LCD TVs support HDR but don’t deliver the level of contrast needed to fully exploit it. You really need an OLED or a good LED/LCD TV with a full-array backlight and local dimming technology to make the most of HDR.

 

An Ultra HD Source

You can’t enjoy HDR if your sources don’t support it, and it’s not difficult or even terribly expensive to upgrade to UHD-friendly source devices. Pretty much every new UHD TV is also a smart TV with UHD-capable streaming sources like Netflix, Amazon Video, and Vudu built right in. The newest streaming boxes from Roku, Apple, Amazon, and NVIDIA support HDR and are priced under $200 (some of them are priced way under that).

 

For those who have more to spend, it’s tough to beat the user experience of a Kaleidescape 4K movie server. And the company’s Movie Store offers 4K downloads that match the AV specs for Ultra HD Blu-ray.

 

We’ve also reached the point where every major Blu-ray player manufacturer now offers at least one Ultra HD model (if not more), and entry-level models are priced around $150. Many of these players also support hi-res audio playback via disc, USB, or streaming, so they can serve as a high-performance audio source, too.

 

Gamers can enjoy a complete 4K multimedia experience in one box, thanks to consoles like the Xbox One and Playstation 4 that support 4K/HDR gaming and streaming video. The Xbox One even adds an Ultra HD Blu-ray player.

 

Surround Sound

Just as the big screen will immerse you visually in the source, surround sound is a must for creating that “you are there” experience. If you hate the idea of running wires across the room, there are now plenty of creative ways to incorporate wireless surrounds. A 5.1-channel system is the minimum, but I’ll take it a step further and suggest that your system at least needs to be upgradeable to support 3D formats like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X.

 

3D audio adds a height element to complete the soundstage, and you can get Atmos and DTS:X decoding in 7.2-channel receivers costing as little as $400. A 7.2-channel receiver only gives you two height channels, but it’s better than nothing. There’s no shortage of in-ceiling speakers at all price points that can serve as the height channels. But if your room can’t support overhead speakers, check out all the Atmos modules designed to sit atop your existing speakers and bounce sound off the ceiling. This path provides an easy and inexpensive way to upgrade your system as your budget allows.

 

A Unified Control Experience

Nobody wants to look at a pile of remotes on the coffee table, let alone have to use them all in order to launch media playback. A universal remote control is essential. Logitech’s Harmony brand still reigns supreme in the world of third-party universal remotes, and TV manufacturers like LG and Samsung have really upped their game in the control department, making it easer to control multiple sources with the TV remote and adding support for Alexa and Google Home voice control.

 

The wide range of smart lighting systems and window treatments makes it easier and cheaper than ever to add automation elements to your media system without having to invest in a full-fledged control system—although there’s no denying the appeal of a well-executed Control4 or Crestron setup, should you choose to go that route.

 

There you have it: My list of must-have components in a media room. Do you agree or disagree?

Adrienne Maxwell

Adrienne Maxwell has been writing about the home theater industry for longer than she’s
willing to admit. She is currently the AV editor at Wirecutter. Adrienne lives in Colorado,
where she spends far too much time looking at the Rockies and not nearly enough time
being in them.

The Story of Kaleidescape’s Movie Store

Kaleidescape Movie Store

I was so pleased with John Sciacca’s article on the Kaleidescape Movie Store that I thought I would tell a story . . .

 

For as long as Kaleidescape has existed, we have endeavored to present the finest cinematic experience in the comfort of your home.

 

For nearly a decade, we have offered metadata to precisely position the screen masking based on the measured aspect ratio of the movie, and the ability to play the movie with other user preferences such as Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD soundtracks, language preferences, subtitles on playback, etc., so that everything is automated. This can be done on a per-player basis, of course, so each room can be tailored to meet the needs of that audience. It is like having an automated projectionist at home.

 

To this day, whether you purchase a movie on a disc or from the Kaleidescape Movie Store, we offer event cues to control lightinglights down when the movie begins and lights slowly coming back up when the end-credits rollto reproduce the cinema experience.

 

Our user interface was designed to appeal to different user preferences. It has always been responsive and intuitive to use. Each view has a purpose: If you know something about what you want, use the List View and the sorting feature. If you wish to find movies similar to the one you have chosen, then select the Covers View for suggestions. If you want to create custom categories for films in your library, choose the Collection View. The Collections View also automatically remembers the new film, paused movies, movies with favorite scenes, and titles with the bookmarked Play Song feature for concerts and musicals.

 

Kaleidescape earned its reputation as a system designed for movie lovers who had DVDs and Blu-ray discs, so we didn’t want the ability to buy movies for download from our online store to add clutter to the onscreen display. To purchase movies, the browser-based Movie Store has incredible filters, 80 curated collections, and the ability to browse movies by parental control and different movie formats. We also developed a powerful search function so users can find the content they want easily. Our goal was to deliver the same engaging experience whether someone is browsing through the titles in the Movie Store or in their personal movie library.

Kaleidescape Movie Store

As we rolled out the Strato Movie Player and populated the Movie Store with amazing 4K HDR titles, we realized we could use our creative, patented Covers View to integrate the Store into the onscreen display. It took us a few iterations, but we believe we have come up with something our customers will love.

 

Rather than the arcane “browse and move to the next page repeatedly,” we decided to offer a Pivot function as a powerful filter that can instantly take you to a page full of great movies comparable to the one you selected. Our powerful metadata allows us to present an enormous amount of details about each film so you can change your mind as often as you want as you look for exactly what you would like to purchase.

 

We offer thousands of movies in our store, but our focus is less on the number of titles and more on their quality. Of course, we need a critical mass of titles from the best brands of content providers to have a credible offering, and we do, having licensed titles from the Top 24 of the 25 content providers in the United States. The real difference lies in our quest to help customers find hidden gems when they seek movie entertainment, including those that may not have broad appeal.

 

Our value proposition is: Kaleidescape is the only way to experience an Internet-delivered motion picture in true 4K Ultra HD and lossless surround sound.

 

“The truth is, for me, it’s obvious that 70, 80 percent of a movie is sound.”

Danny Boyle, Director

Steve Jobs, Trance, 127 Hours, Slumdog Millionaire

 

Kaleidescape focuses exclusively on luxury home cinema. We offer the premier online store for purchasing Hollywood movies. It is essential that we present the full motion picturenot throttled video and a stereo soundtrack. To put it differently, Kaleidescape delivers more playback bandwidth for the soundtrack alone than internet streaming services provide for the whole motion picture.

 

The Kaleidescape Movie Store on Strato is an exemplary feature of a brand that strives to be different because there will always be an audience that wants the best product or service within that category.

—Cheena Srinivasan

Cheena Srinivasan is the co-founder and CEO of Kaleidescape.

REVIEWS

Incredibles 2 review
Ant-Man review
Blade Runner: The Final Cut review
Lawrence of Arabia review

ALSO ON CINELUXE

The Evolution of Front Projection

front projection

In his recent contribution to our ongoing discussion about media rooms, Theo Kalomirakis wrote about the need, as an AV system integrator, to approach the media room concept with an open mind. Whereas he once shunned media rooms as a lesser alternative to a dedicated home theater, he now acknowledges that the demand for more casual home entertainment spaces is growing, and the industry needs to creatively adapt.

 

Perhaps no segment of the home theater market has needed to adapt as much as the front projection category. Nothing screams dedicated home theater like a projector, and getting people to embrace the use of a two-piece video system over a big-screen TV in a den or living room is certainly a challenge. It has forced both projector and screen manufacturers to think outside the light-controlled box known as the theater room.

 

Projectors used to be divided into two main categories: home and business. Now the home market has further splintered into home theater and home entertainment. For a home theater projector, black level is king. You want a projector that can serve up lusciously deep blacks to give the entire image a greater sense of contrast and depth in your fully light-controlled room.

 

But, when people move out of the theater and into a den or media room—where the lights often stay on and daytime TV watching is an expected practice—a projector’s light output becomes a lot more important. These days we see a lot more 2,500- to 3,200-lumen projectors at lower price points. Epson’s premium Pro Cinema line even includes several ultra-bright models in the 4,800- to 6,000-lumen range.

 

Projector manufacturers have also been forced to make their products a bit more TV-like in their features, adding things like TV tuners, built-in speakers (which, in most cases, sound even worse than the speakers in flat-panel TVs, if you can believe it), instant on/off light sources, and MHL/MiraCast support to stream media content from mobile devices. LG has incorporated its WebOS smart platform into some of its DLP projectors.

front projection

Of course, no matter how bright a projector is, your basic matte white 1.0-gain screen just isn’t going to cut it in a well-lit room where people want to watch NFL football on Sunday afternoon. Screen manufacturers have also had to adapt, which has given rise to the hugely popular ambient-light rejecting (ALR) screen. As the name suggests, screen materials like Screen Innovations’ Black Diamond (shown above) are designed to reject light from nearby windows and lamps to improve image contrast. We’re also seeing a lot of “zero bezel” frames with sleeker designs meant to mimic the look of a flat-panel TV.

 

But there’s still that whole “two-piece system” problem. A TV is a nice, self-contained unit, and that’s what a lot of people want. They don’t want a projector on one side of the room and a screen on the other. Enter the ultra-short-throw projector, which can cast a big image from a small distance.

front projection

One of the more interesting categories to emerge is what I’ll call the all-in-one AV projection system—like Hisense’s new Laser TV system, which combines a 4K-friendly ultra-short-throw projector with a 100-inch screen and a Harman/Kardon sound system. In the same vein, Sony’s upcoming LSPX-A1 (shown at the top of the page) omits the screen but builds the native 4K projector and sound system into an attractive furniture cabinet (shown above) that blends into the room’s aesthetic when it’s not delivering an immersive AV experience. While pricey, these designs represent exactly the kind of creative thinking the AV industry needs as it moves outside the home theater.

—Adrienne Maxwell

Adrienne Maxwell has been writing about the home theater industry for longer than she’s
willing to admit. She is currently the AV editor at Wirecutter. Adrienne lives in Colorado,
where she spends far too much time looking at the Rockies and not nearly enough time
being in them.

REVIEWS

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

ALSO ON CINELUXE

The Media Room Challenge

After reading Adrienne Maxwell’s recent piece “What is a Media Room?” I feel compelled to add my opinion.

 

I used to think that media rooms unacceptably degraded the viewing experience compared to watching something in a home theater. Why? Because seeing a movie or listening to a concertor anything other than the newsrequires you to focus your attention on the presentation. How can you do that when you’re distracted by things like windows, streaming daylight, hyperactive children, unruly guests, or family members who talk on the phone while the movie or whatever is on?

 

For me, a dedicated theater solves most of these problems. I didn’t think a media room didor could.

 

Well, we live in a constantly evolving world where it isn’t always possible, or desirable, to have the ideal solution a dedicated theater represents. During the last few years, the demand for more casual spaces for home entertainment has multiplied. I realize now that unless the challenge of media rooms can be addressed with an open mind, reality will render the emphasis on dedicated home theaters elitist, if not anachronistic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are so many
TVs in this room
that you can’t focus
on the main one.

So, what is a media room?

 

The current definition is left over from the days when people had a special room, other than the living room, for watching a movie or listening to music. I agree with Adrienne that “media room” may be nothing more than an old industry description defining a space that has evolved into something much broader that includes living rooms, family rooms, and dens.

 

So, is there a new word that better describes this evolved and broader concept? Nothing comes to mind and, to be honest, it doesn’t matter. We can call this space whatever we like as long as it includes a big TV (the larger the better, so the experience is immersive) and a quality sound system so music and dialogue can be heard with clarity and precision.

media room solutions

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The TV is an
afterthought in this
otherwise attractive
unit that draws
attention only to
itself.

The designer’s role is to minimize visual distractions in a room (such as too many decorative flourishes and too many objects around the screen fighting for attention) and focus attention on the main viewing area. The AV integrator’s role is to incorporate the audio system and acoustic treatments into the design of the room without the technology being too distracting.

 

As I come up with media room solutions for Rayva, I will continue to hone my definition, and will chronicle the evolution of my ideas as I shift my attention from dedicated rooms to the more flexible spaces that are increasingly in demand. Whatever we call them, these spaces enjoy a new popularity due to the explosion in content and staggering advancements in technology. To meand to again echo Adriennethey represent the continuing democratization of home entertainment.

—Theo Kalomirakis

Theo Kalomirakis is widely considered the father of home theater, with scores of luxury theater
designs to his credit. He is an avid movie fan, with a collection of over 15,000 discs. Theo is the
Executive Director of Rayva.