Home Theater

Creating Rayva: Paul Stary, Pt. 2

Creating Rayva: Paul Stary, Pt. 2
Theo's Corner

In Part 2 of Michael Gaughn’s interview with me and Paul Stary, who engineered the Rayva theater designs, we talk about our efforts to ready the designs for manufacturing and distribution.

T.K.

 

Michael Gaughn  Have you hit any major hurdles in your collaboration? Has there been anything where you’ve said, “It looks good right now but as this plays out and has to be reproduced it’s just not going to fly.

 

Theo Kalomirakis  Every step of the way we had a challenge. We had challenges before we started dealing with them. For example, just stretching the fabric with staples around the frame looked good, and the end result was good, but it wasn’t practical for shipping the product in small boxes instead of having it crated. So that challenge led us to a solution.

 

Without challenges you get stuck in the initial concept and then you wait until the concept is applied in the real world and then it flies or it dies. Challenges during the course of engineering are a godsend. You come to see them as obstacles that need to be overcome in pursuit of a final, perfect product.

MG  It seems like there are two levels to this process, one level being the wall panels, which are a common element to every theater. But then there is the unique application of design elements on top of the panels. It seems like that second level has to be more flexible because you’re incorporating a lot of different elements.

 

TK  That’s correct. The panels provide the backdrop for the theater and conceal the engineering, the speakers, and the acoustical treatments. But the creative part is what goes in front of the panels. And that brings a unique set of challenges because those elements change based on the artist.

It’s like a gallery where you hang paintings on fixed walls, but one month the painter is Basquiat, the next month is Andy Warhol, the third month is Picasso. So you have very severely controlled backdrops, which Paul engineers, that artists can use as a depository of their ideas. They give us ideas and then we turn these ideas into something that can be built predictably and repeatedly.

 

MG  Are you at the point now where you feel like you can build this model out, where you can just keep scaling it up as you get more orders? Or is that a whole other phase of development?

 

TK  We have a perfect foundation for building up orders at any number or quantity we want. Paul has said it’s like building a skyscraper. If you don’t have a good foundation—and we didn’t have a good foundation at the beginning—you’re going to build the first floor and the second floor, and then the third floor will collapse because its weight can’t be supported by the foundation.

 

So we’ve created a foundation that ensures repeatability and dependability no matter what the order or the scale of sales are. This is the brilliance of engineering properly. We create a repeatable result.

Each of the wall panels in Marina Vernicos’ theater design “Pools” contains scores of parts engineered
to ensure the panels can be easily shipped and assembled. Each panel is designed to be able to support
decorative elements and lighting fixtures and to conceal speakers, acoustic treatments, and wiring.

Paul Stary  Yes, like most products at the beginning, it’s not going to start out at the highest quantities; it will be a building process. So the elements of various designs and components are easily scalable by either increasing the volume with any one vendor or adding more vendors. Because everything is so well documented, we can draw on resources from around the world. We can scale it up pretty easily by just adding the resources necessary at the time to allow the building process to occur. So I think we’ve got a pretty good handle on being able to respond to the growth.

 

MG  Where are both of you in the process now? Do you feel like you have the Rayva model completely engineered?

 

TK  Yes, the engineering is nearing completion and then pricing will come next. I would say we’re about 70% done because we’ve built the foundation and are now adding the details to the foundation.

 

PS  Yes, all of the foundation has been laid, which means we’ve defined all the parts, determined how they interrelate, and what is required for manufacturing.

 

TK  We also had the luck of working with people who bought into the concept. One of which is our friend Savvas Stamatopolous from Greece, who is working with Paul on the next phase of the product development—how you implement the product. That means creating software that allows the product to be ordered, inventoried, and sold. So he had a very key role in creating a database of parts that is organized, codified, and priced so that at the click of a button we can get prices for every theater configuration based on the components that are used.

 

We have a team that worked in conjunction with Paul and me to create the parts we needed in order to develop the product. And that includes creating 144 templates with every possible important room configuration. Dimitris Theodorou, working under our project architect Eric Chuderewicz, created these endless templates that in turn allowed us to count how many parts per theater are in each room size and each design. It was a very complex process that took a few months, but we did it.

 

So this isn’t just developing the product, it’s developing a product based on a whole scheme of things where there is the inaugural vision and then you drill down to the details. Just like Paul described [in Part 1], at the beginning you see this from a 30-mile view and then as you go down you start tightening the loose ends and create the kind of product we believe will change the way people think about home entertainment.

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.

Creating Rayva: Paul Stary, Pt .1

Creating Rayva: Paul Stary

An admittedly fuzzy picture of me with some of the key contributors to Rayva (from left): Tim Sinnaeve (Barco),
me, Rayva CEO Vin Bruno, Anthony Grimani (PMI), Paul Stary, and Rayva president George Walter

Theo's Corner

I recently asked Cineluxe editor-in-chief Michael Gaughn to interview me and my key collaborators at Rayva about our efforts to create turnkey home theater solutions that can be efficiently manufactured and easily installed. The first interview was with engineer Paul Stary, who took my initial concepts for the Rayva theaters and came up with brilliantly practical ways to manufacture the designs without any compromises in quality.

T.K.

 

Michael Gaughn  Theo, what was the initial issue that led to you needing to engage an engineer in this? Was there a problem with a specific installation or whatever?

 

Theo Kalomirakis  Yes. We created the first two Rayva theaters more or less based on practices I used to use for custom designs, but they were not adequate to provide the kind of product we wanted Rayva to be. But I didn’t know any better and we did it. We met with a variety of challenges in installation, but also in creating predictable parts. Every part, because it wasn’t defined in an engineering fashion in detail, was prone to be misinterpreted by the manufacturer and built differently. This had the potential to create some problems, which we carefully managed.

 

What brought me to Paul, by serendipity, was his son, Steve, of Brilliant AV, who was the first one to install a Rayva theater. He knew what I was trying to accomplish, and he knew what his dad could do. And he said, “Talk to my dad, because it’s

not just that he’s my dad, I know he is a brilliant engineer and he might be able to give you the right engineering perspective.” So he made the introduction, I called Paul, and the rest is history.

 

MG  Paul, had you ever had any interaction with Theo before this?

 

Paul Stary  No, I had not. We’d never talked. Although I knew his reputation and, through my son’s dealings, had learned about the Rayva theater product.

 

It has been an interesting relationship because you can obviously tell that Theo is extremely interested in the unique nature and detail of his product and all the design, and rightfully proud of all that. I just wanted to take what he had done and change what’s behind the curtain in a way that makes it reproducible and better in terms of the form, fit, and function but without changing the appearance of it.

 

If you compare a theater from the first Raya installation to one installed a year from now, you won’t see any difference until you start taking things apart and then you’ll see a radical difference. There’s almost nothing recognizable behind the façade.

 

Another big part of the engineering is creating a group of people that works together with common goals to evolve the product and the process. We’re trying to take something that is more or less an individual idea and turn it into an organization where the organization has the power rather than one particular individual.

 

That’s what has to happen when you take a company that changes from an idea into a product. Theo’s great at setting the culture. He’s also been great at adapting to change, which is something a lot of people in his position are not able to do. I would have probably bailed on this project long ago if he wasn’t like that, or hadn’t been so willing to make the necessary changes.

 

MG  What was the first thing you guys took on when you started the engineering?

 

PS  Well that’s a difficult question because there really isn’t any one thing; you have to look at it as a system. My

Creating Rayva: Paul Stary, Pt. 1

ABOUT PAUL STARY

Paul Stary is the President and CEO of Virual-E Corporation is Costa Mesa, CA. He is the founder, designer, and developer of the company’s signature product the VirtualGT racing simulator, a $20,000-$50.000 machine sold to affluent motorsports enthusiasts and racers, corporations for marketing and promotion, and commercial racing centers.

 

The VirtualGT simulator is based on home theater technology, and is widely considered the most realistic and exciting simulated driving experience available, which can be directly attributed to its custom audio and vibration system. (For more on, see Dennis Burger’s “VirtualGT: The Ultimate Racing Simulator.”)

 

He is also a principal at Audio-Video Engineering in Costa Mesa, which is a consumer electronics consulting, design, and engineering firm that specializes in the developing and manufacturing custom analog and digital electronics, computer control systems, and speaker systems.

 

The company recently completed the design of the TalkStar talkbox, a radical improvement in the performance, quality, and reliability of this obscure musical effect that was popularized on Peter Frampton’s Frampton Comes Alive in the ‘70s.

 

Paul is also the president and founder of AudioMobile, which pioneered many advances in high-end car-audio electronics, speaker systems, and installations techniques during the early days of that industry.

 approach to anything in life has always been to do a non-linear analysis, which means I start circling at 30,000 feet. You can’t see much down at the ground level at that altitude, but you have the big picture, you can kind of get an idea of the terrain, the scope, the whole package. And then you just keep circling, and as you circle you drop. And eventually you get down to Ground Zero where you’re into the minutiae.

 

That approach is useful for a project like this because if you take any one thing out of context and start to focus on it you eventually learn about some other aspect that changes the original premise, so it’s counterproductive. Even though this approach is more time consuming, it saves time in the long run because you have a more effective approach to managing all of the problems together as a unit.

 

So the problems typically are to take all the components and see how they fit together. And even that is difficult because there are multiple levels in terms of the manufacturing process of making it affordable, and maintaining the quality when it’s produced so it has consistent dimensions and finishes, and so forth. And then you might make the system easy to manufacture, but it’s a nightmare to install. So you have to keep all these other disciplines in mind.

Creating Rayva: Paul Stary, Pt. 1

The wall panels for the original Rayva designs had to be shipped pre-assembled
in large crates, and were difficult to install.

Then you have to define all the parts and build them, but you’re not done. You still have to kit them for shipment to the customer. We’re going to outsource that, so we have to find resources who can do that. And then the product has to be easy to ship. Right now, the Rayva theaters are shipped pre-assembled in crates, which makes it extremely inflexible.

 

And then there’s the installation. Even beyond that, there’s the ability to service and support, and to upgrade over time. Our clients are obviously homeowners with some degree of affluence. They often move and in the process may resell the house to someone who may not have the same tastes, so can you make upgrades and alter the designs of the theater after it is installed? Or is it so custom that it’s stuck that one way forever, so you have to rip it out and start over?

 

Those are the kind of things I looked at as we sought to make a Rayva theater a product that can be manufactured at a reasonable cost, then assembled by outsourced resources of various types, then easily shipped and installed so it can be readily upgraded, serviced, repaired, and supported in the field.

A brief video showing the installation of the Rayva wall panels
before they were engineered by Paul Stary.

We’re on that path right now, and understanding the unique nature of the product was extremely important as I circled down to the ground. I’m pretty much at the point where I understand all of the different elements, and it’s a very complex product because there are so many variations. There are angles and finishes and lighting systems, and things like that, that have to be integrated. I think we’ve moved Rayva from a custom theater to a turnkey product that anybody can buy and install.

MG  What impact does the complexity of a Rayva theater have on actually fulfilling an order?

 

PS  If this was a product where you simply took two or three components and put them together as a sub assembly, then put it in a box and shipped it, it wouldn’t be too difficult. But in this case there are hundreds of parts and they have to be assembled in stages and in different places.

 

So we’re putting together a software system to handle the manufacturing at the most sophisticated level where you can bring orders in random, and assemble those orders into production runs where the software manages the procurement, pricing, shipping, and all of the assembly with subcontractors. It automates the difficulty of bringing all these parts in, knowing what you have to order, when you have to order it—even more importantly, knowing what parts you have in stock, the lead times of all the parts you don’t have in stock, and then you can predict the delivery date with reasonable accuracy the moment you accept an order.

 

In Part 2, Paul and I discuss the significant challenges we encountered early on taking the existing Rayva designs and engineering them for production.

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.

The Digital Future of Movie Posters

I recently had the good fortune to review the Meural Canvas for my YouTube channel. The Meural, for the uninitiated, is a large-format (27 inches diagonally) digital picture frame sporting a matte screen making it one of the best digital picture frames—if not the best—on the market today. I reviewed the Meural through the “lens” of a photographer, seeing if it was a viable alternative to printing one’s works. Spoiler alert: With a few minor caveats, I concluded that, for me, it was.

 

Towards the end of that review I began experimenting with other ways with which to enjoy the Meural. When one of my viewers asked how movie posters looked digitally reproduced via the Meural it hit me: Is this a home theater-decor lover’s dream?

 

Having worked as a projectionist for all my teens and into my early twenties, I know all about the art of displaying movie posters. During my tenure as a projectionist, it was my responsibility to change out the posters and marquee every

Thursday evening in preparation for the Friday premieres. While I don’t believe there is any replacement for a true one-sheet—especially vintage ones—displaying movie posters in one’s theater has always been a favorite go-to for enthusiasts. But like real commercial cinemas, it might be time to embrace our digital future.

 

The theaters in my area no longer use print posters, opting instead for digital signage displays. I don’t have an issue with this, though I do miss 

the old-school bulbs surrounding the edge of each poster and seeing the cheap marquee above each saying, “Coming Soon” or “Now Playing.” 

 

That being said, displaying posters via the Meural is a decidedly more upscale affair as the images themselves are matted and framed in your choice of black, white, or wood. But the benefit of displaying posters digitally is that you’re not married to any particular poster for life. This means you could literally show the poster for whatever movie you’re playing at that moment or use it to notify the family of what film or films are on the docket for later. The fact that the Meural uses a matte-finish screen means printed works look as if they were printed on paper versus digitally recreated—at least in ambient lighting conditions. With the lights off the backlighting is a bit strong for my tastes, but not too strong that I think it would compete with the action unfolding on your screen.

 

No, the biggest drawback to the Meural as a poster display device is its size. Twenty seven inches diagonally is not a true one-sheet size, nor is the Meural’s aspect ratio of 16:9. I do wish the Meural was larger, because I believe the point of any digital frame—apart from convenience—is to make a statement, and a larger surface simply does that. All that said, the Meural could represent a very cost-effective way for fans of movie posters and memorabilia to display those types of works in their personal theaters easily and frequently. And since we’re already talking about tech-savvy users, the fact that you might have to hide a simple power cord isn’t as big a deal breaker with the home theater crowd as it might be for the casual art lover wanting to use a Meural in their living or family room. 

 

Regardless, while the folks behind the Meural may see their audience as being fine-art aficionados, I think their future—and the future of digital signage—may just rest in home theater.

Andrew Robinson

Andrew Robinson is a photographer and videographer by trade, working on commercial
and branding projects all over the US. He has served as a managing editor and
freelance journalist in the AV space for nearly 20 years, writing technical articles,
product reviews, and guest speaking on behalf of several notable brands at functions
around the world.

What Makes a Video Display Luxury?

What Makes a Projector Luxury?

Barco’s Loki 4K laser projector

One of the first posts I wrote for CIneluxe was “Luxury Defined,” where I took a stab at defining just what luxury is. To illustrate something luxurious, I could think of no better example than a Rolex timepiece, something nearly any person would consider a luxury purchase. When you look at a Rolex—regardless of the model, price, or number of complications—it is still a pretty “dumb” watch by today’s metrics. It does a decent job of keeping the time, never needs a battery change, and can survive underwater much further than you can, but doesn’t really do anything special when compared to watches that cost considerably less.

 

My second post here, “Luxury Defined—Take 2,” tried to define luxury as it pertains to home entertainment. To quote myself, getting “into the realm of true ‘luxury entertainment,’ we need to push the performance boundaries well beyond just what is necessary and start considering things like room integration and functionality.”

 

When it comes to a video display—one of the key components of any entertainment system, luxury or otherwise—what separates a luxury experience from something more typical? In his post, Luxury Isn’t About Price—It’s About Pride,” Andrew Robinson wrote that owning a luxury product like a pair of Wilson Audio speakers or a Mark Levinson amplifier resulted in feeling a pride of ownership. But you’re not likely to develop an emotional attachment to a video display. You could certainly love the picture and the experience, but you likely wouldn’t feel any deep connection to the physical technology itself. You often don’t spend time gazing at a projector, and virtually never touch it, so you don’t develop that prideful connection.

 

No, with a display, the luxury metric is generally measured in improved performance resulting in superior image quality. Adrienne Maxwell described the luxury direct-view displays featured at CES this past January, so in this post I’m going to focus on the luxury aspects of the front-projection market and five benefits gained from investing in a luxury projection system. (This post focuses on video projectors. But since a high-quality screen is just as important in any luxury entertainment system, I’ll be discussing those in a future post.)

 

Better Light Engine

One of the improvements in a luxury projector over lesser models is a better light engine. This can come in the form of either higher light output (measured in lumens), and/or a better light source, such as a laser instead of a traditional lamp-based design. A projector with higher light output is beneficial both for driving larger screen sizes and for delivering the high-brightness peaks required from HDR (high dynamic range) content. A laser light engine powers on and off far more quickly,

meaning significantly faster power on/off cycles. The laser light output can also be used dynamically to improve contrast ratio, and has a far longer lifespan (typically 20,000 hours) with significantly less dimming over its lifespan compared to a traditional lamp. Also, a better light source contributes to the projector’s ability to produce a wider range of the color spectrum.

What Makes A Projector Luxury?

JVC’s $35,000 DLA-RS4500K D-ILA 4K Projector

Better Lens

One of the factors that most influences image quality in traditional photography—either with a cellphone or traditional camera—is the quality of the lens. A larger lens with more glass elements does a better job of accurately capturing light and images the way we see them. Similarly, the quality of a projector’s primary lens greatly impacts the image up on screen. Consider Sony’s and JVC’s high-end projectors. These both use massive lenses featuring 18 all-glass elements. If bought separately, the lens alone would likely cost upwards of $10,000. The result is tighter focus, superior pixel detail, better corner-to-corner sharpness and color accuracy, less light loss, and tighter color alignment, all of which add up to superior images on screen.

 

Better Video Processing

Movies are typically filmed at 24 frames per second, this can result in having nearly 199 million pixels up on the screen every single second. That requires a lot of processing horsepower to make sure things look their best. This is especially important when watching non-native 4K content, such as traditional broadcast TV, DVD/Blu-ray discs, and much of the content on streaming services like Netflix and Amazon, which the projector’s video processor upscales to its 4K resolution. This is most essential with moving objects, and a good video processor will keep diagonal lines sharp and straight without introducing any “jaggies.” The quality of the processor also determines how well a projector tone-maps HDR images, delivering the widest range of contrast without crushing either blacks or whites.

 

Multiple Aspect Ratio Support

One of the real benefits of a luxury projection system is its ability to handle content filmed in different aspect ratios in the most cinematic manner. With a traditional 16:9 aspect ratio direct-view display, anything not 16:9 (including almost half of 

What Makes a Projector Luxury?

A Panamorph Paladin DCR anamorphic lens
mounted on a Sony VPL-VW885ES projector 

Hollywood movies, and an increasing amount of original content on streaming services like Netflix and Amazon) is shown with black bars at the top and bottom of the image. This makes these movies appear much smaller and less cinematic. By using a projector with either lens memory or a separate anamorphic lens such as a Panamorph Paladin along with a screen that incorporates variable masking à la Stewart Filmscreen’s Director’s Choice, you will always have the largest, most cinematic image on screen regardless of the aspect ratio the filmmakers chose, with no distracting black bars.

Better System Integration

Luxury projector manufacturers understand their products are likely to be part of a larger luxury system, so they are generally designed to better integrate with other components. Whether it is tighter, more reliable integration with a third-party control system like Crestron or Control4, the ability to generate and send notifications to the dealer if there is a problem, or offer advanced adjustment tools for a professional video calibrator, these projectors are meant to play nice with the entire system and ensure they deliver the goods whenever you press “Play”!

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.

Are Home Theaters Making Movie Theaters Better?

Are Home Theaters Pushing Movie Theaters to Improve?

For years, home theater technology has been chasing after the commercial cinema, trying to keep up with this supposed Holy Grail of the cinematic experience. And over the years, every development that has come to the home —large screen, surround sound, 3D, and Dolby Atmos to name a few—began its life in a commercial cinema.

 

But lately the tides seem to be turning. Due to a variety of factors including the drastic improvement of home technologies, systems becoming far more affordable, and the wealth of original content provided by streaming services like Netflix and Amazon, more and more people are opting out of the commercial cinema experience and deciding to stay home.

 

One way in which commercial cinemas are trying to lure people back is through an experience called Premium Large Format (PLF). With massive screens, improved projection systems, and superior audio design, these PLF auditoriums offer a cinematic experience akin to what you could experience should you get an invitation to the screening room at Dolby Laboratories or The Stag at Lucasfilm. In short, the ultimate manner in which to experience a film in the way that matches the artists’ intent.

 

The PLF with the greatest name recognition by far is IMAX, which has been around for years and has over 1,300 systems installed around the world. Cinemagoers equate IMAX with a massive screen and impressive 11-channel digital surround system (but there are many online complaints that the brand has been diluted since the introduction of Digital IMAX—often derogatorily called LIE-MAX—in 2008, which uses significantly smaller screens and far lower resolution prints).

Are Home Theaters Making Movie Theaters Better?

Two other names in the PLF space include Dolby Cinema and ScreenX. (Barco had a short-lived venture in this category with its innovative Barco Escape technology, but it was shuttered in February of 2018.)

 

This past week, Sony announced it will be throwing its hat into the PLF space with Sony Digital Cinema, with the first screen set to open in Las Vegas this spring. Like Dolby Cinemas, the Sony Digital Cinemas will feature dual-laser 4K projection systems for an incredibly bright and contrasty image, as well as an immersive audio system, and luxury reclining seats.

 

One unique aspect of the Sony endeavor is that the company controls the cinematic process from end to end, from manufacturing the digital cameras used in filming, through the audio and video post-production at Sony Pictures Studios, to creating the cinematic 4K projectors. (While Sony did have its own version of theatrical surround sound—Sony Dynamic Digital Sound [SDDS]—this has long been discontinued, and the Sony cinemas will reportedly use Dolby Atmos immersive audio.)

 

One area where commercial cinemas have struggled to keep up with the home experience is through delivering high dynamic range (HDR) video. Whereas even relatively inexpensive direct-view 4K displays can produce a pretty dynamic HDR image, most commercial projectors fail to produce the deep blacks and bright whites needed to rival a direct-view home display. Couple that with the fact that many commercial cinemas run their projector lamps until they are on their last hours, making for a far dimmer experience that likely wouldn’t come anywhere near the minimum SMPTE (Society Motion Picture and Television Engineers) standard of 16 foot-lamberts.

Are Home Theaters Making Movie Theaters Better?

By using customized, dual-laser projectors (like those shown at left) à la Dolby Cinema, the Sony Digital Cinema should be able to deliver fantastic image quality on a massive screen, with HDR rivaling virtually any display. The Dolby Cinema system can deliver a staggering 31 foot-lamberts on screenalmost twice the brightness of the SMPTE recommended standard—while producing 500 times the dynamic range of a typical cinema projector,

delivering the deepest black levels of any commercial projector, and producing an unbelievable 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio. All that on a screen 68 feet wide!

 

Possibly of greater interest is the announcement from Bob Raposo, head of Sony’s theater business, that while these cinemas will launch with Sony’s laser projection system, the company has been developing a massive LED screen that could replace projection.

 

“Sony is going to once again revolutionize how people see movies, with our 4K laser projector and with our new technologies led by Crystal LED,” Raposo said. “Our goal is to deliver the ultimate brightness with mind-blowing contrast, allowing movies to be shown the way the movie-maker intended, without compromise and in the highest quality possible. Sony Crystal LED will create that new type of immersive experience for the marketplace, as Sony 4K did in digital cinema’s first phase. This is no doubt the future of cinema and our big opportunity to help exhibitors significantly differentiate themselves from the competition.”

 

Other benefits of these luxury PLF cinemas will include premium food and beverage offerings, stadium seating, and oversized reclining seating that can be reserved ahead of time.

 

The question remains, is it all enough? Will a premium experience be enough to lure you back to the cineplex, or are you content enjoying a luxury experience in the privacy of your own home?

—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.

Home Theater Reborn, Pt. 4

Home Theater Reborn, Pt. 4
Theo's Corner

I am in the middle of struggling with the final phase of developing the Rayva home theater designs so they can be easily and affordably manufactured, shipped, and assembled. This phase requires a very strict engineering discipline to ensure that all the elements can be consistently reproduced.

 

I originally started designing the Rayva elements mostly in the way I used to do with custom-designed projects. I designed them, based not on a consistent formula, but on what I wanted the theater to look like. That is a legitimate approach when you’re designing one theater at a time because with enough time, money, and effort, it’s possible to design just about any theater. But if you have 20 theaters on order that need to be custom designed, there will always be unexpected bumps that can stall the process, even if you approach it with a rigid discipline.

I’ve been working non-stop for the past six months to break down in parts all the elements that make up the wall panels described in my last column (and shown below). We are now in the process of doing the same thing for our designers’ artwork that goes on the surface of these panels. The whole thing is like a cutaway view of a complex object. When you slice the thing you’re designing in the middle, you can see the various layers that make up what you normally see as a single object.

 

We are making the effort to figure out how to productize all the design elements so we can guarantee that they can be easily and repeatedly manufactured. We are turning what used to be treated as a custom-produced element into something that can be fabricated, inventoried, and then assembled as easily as an Ikea cabinet.  Each theater and each design consists of many parts that come in a box with an instruction diagram that shows how to put it together.

 

The challenge for me is, how do I dig deeper and deeper into the makeup of an object and turn it into something that looks like what I have in mind, while ensuring it can be engineered to be built as a part?

 

This has been a fascinating process. We brought on board Paul Stary, a brilliant engineer, who thinks about design differently than I do. I tend not to see the details; I see the big picture. And sometimes this can be a limitation. The 

bottom line is that I’m a designer, so I’m drawn into the look of a product. An engineer sees behind that look. But an engineer doesn’t always know what a designer has in mind. So the process of working together—an artist and an engineer—has been fascinating as we seek to find solutions that 

simplify what the product is without compromising its aesthetic principle.

 

I’m intrigued by this tug of war between engineering and aesthetic because I never had to do it before. In designing a custom theater, my team and I would draw up construction documents, give them to the contractor to build from, and we never had real control of construction methods. It is different when you work closely with an engineer. The collaboration creates the opportunity to constantly review the product from the aesthetic, manufacturing, installation, and functionality perspectives. More importantly, the collaboration creates a “recipe” that can be repeated again and again with a guaranteed result.

 

The whole time I’ve been involved in this process I’ve been asking myself, “Why is this so difficult?” It’s difficult because it requires two disciplines—design and engineering. I envy people who are capable of both. If you look back at what Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci did, they were the prime examples of an engineer 

Home Theater Reborn, Pt. 4

One of our wall panels, shown on its mounting rails
and without its fabric covering.

and an artist together in the same person. That is what makes titans or geniuses like that gamechangers. So I just envy what they do, because I’m not an engineer and I need that support.

 

In my next column, I’ll interview my collaborator Paul Stary about the process of engineering the Rayva rooms.

 

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.

Why HTA is the Real Deal

Why HTA is the Real Deal

During the lengthy period where my career as a custom installer (beginning in March of 1998) and my role as technology editor (starting around 2000) have overlapped, I’ve written numerous posts similar to Eric Thies’ recent, “How to Find the Perfect Integrator.”

 

Sadly, none of them seem to have made much of a difference.

 

I agree with everything Eric said, but principally that most people take almost no time to vet their technology integrator. The bar being so low to becoming an integrator—most states will let you place a magnet on the side of your truck and call yourself Joe’s AV without even requiring a license for low-voltage work—has led to a glut of terrible work, and dissatisfied customers.

 

Over the years, our company, Custom Theater and Audio, has resurrected numerous projects for people who let the most random people into their homes to handle the technology install. Even though they comprehend that it’s too complicated for them to do, for whatever reason they think that virtually anyone else is qualified to handle their technology needs. I’m not even kidding when I say that some people say they hired “some guy” that was walking through the neighborhood putting leaflets on doors, had the flooring guy do it, used the electrician, used someone the electrician knew, etc. The tragedy is that most of these people ended up spending good money to get a system that was never right for their needs, never worked right, and then had to pay us more to come in and fix or replace it.

 

This is exceptionally frustrating and, frankly, bad for the entire industry because all installation companies end up being lumped together in the minds of people who have been burned by a bad installation. And them passing on their bad experience to others tarnishes the good along with the bad.

 

That’s one of the reasons why the Home Technology Association (HTA) mentioned in Eric’s post intrigued me: Could this certification identify the best integration firms and help the cream rise to the top? This would not only help customers looking to hire a good company but (more selfishly) help my company stand out as one of the good guys.

 

HTA’s Director of Certification, Josh Christian, says the goal of certification is to do for the custom installation industry what the Gemological Institute of America (GIA) has done for diamonds, allowing anyone to walk into virtually any reputable jewelry store and know that they’re purchasing a stone that has been independently verified for quality.

 

While HTA doesn’t guarantee that selecting a certified professional will result in terrific performance or outcome, in a sea of uncertainty, it certainly offers a beacon to help guide customers towards making a more informed selection from a pre-qualified group of top candidates.

 

My company recently went through the application process to became HTA Certified, and I can attest that it is a rigorous process, taking me several hours to research and gather all of the required information. Compared to the CEDIA (Custom Electronics Design & Installation Association) application, which has you fill out a single-page form asking only the most basic information (company address, size, gross revenue) and credit card information, and essentially approves any company willing to pay the $500 annual registration, HTA mines far deeper into how a company actually operates.

 

Josh said the application process is so thorough for two reasons. First, it helps HTA identify the best-in-class installation companies and provide a real look into their business operations and the kinds of jobs they do. Second, the sheer length and breadth of it scares away exactly the kinds of companies they want to avoid. (As does the $400 application fee, which has the applying company putting some skin in the game.)

Why the HTA is the Real Deal

Once certified, companies are listed on HTA’s website. (Click here—or on the image above-—to see our company page.) A consumer looking to hire an installation firm can get a pretty good idea if a company is going to be a good fit for their needs.

 

How long have they been in business?
Longevity is generally a good indicator that the company will be around when you need service down the road. Also, “bad” companies usually don’t last. The average HTA certified company has been around for almost 17 years.

 

How many employees do they have?
Larger companies can often handle bigger projects and respond to service issues faster.

 

What areas do they service?
Working with a company that’s near your home often means quicker response times and no trip charges.

 

What kinds of projects do they focus on?
If you’re building a $15 million, 20,000 square-foot home, selecting a company that focuses on $500,000, 3,500 square-foot homes might not be a good fit.

 

What brands are they authorized to sell?
This will give you a look at the quality of gear the company can provide. This can also be important if you’re interested in a specific automation system like Control4, Crestron, or Savant, as dealers often specialize in one, but not all.

 

How many projects have they done over the past 3 years in different price categories?
A good snapshot of how busy the company is, and the focus of their projects.

 

What does a typical dedicated theater and media room install cost?
It’s a good idea to see if your budgets align with the company’s typical installs. HTA’s website also has a 20-question budgeting tool that can be very useful for getting a rough idea of what your project’s budget range should be.

 

What industry awards and certifications do they have?
Bad companies generally don’t win awards or attain industry certifications.

 

What are their service policies?
No matter how good your system is, at some point it will need to be serviced, and knowing the company’s after-sale policy upfront is a good way to avoid any frustration later on.

 

HTA understands that its certification will only mean something if it actually means something, not only to the industry but to people looking to hire an integration firm. They’re trying to do this by only letting in the best firms, and raising awareness with architects, builders, designers, and consumers that choosing a qualified—ideally certified—integration firm matters.

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.

Home Theater Reborn, Pt. 3

Home Theater Reborn, Pt. 3
Theo's Corner

photo by Adrianna Calvo from Pexels

In my previous column, I described how I discovered that the key to creating home theater designs that can be readily reproduced is to minimize the impact of the actual space—in other words, the room—on the design. This new approach, which is a radical departure from how I create my custom designs, allowed me to devise a system where wall panels wrapped in acoustical fabric and placed front of the room’s actual walls become a backdrop for artwork that hangs on them.

 

Treating the designs as akin to art displayed in a museum allowed me to focus not on how to fit a design into a room but on what the design elements should be, irrespective of any room. This freed me of the limitations of the actual space and allowed

me to focus instead on the thing that has the biggest impact on any room—the design elements. The design impact of a living room, for instance, isn’t primarily determined by the size of the space but by the choices of furniture, carpet, fixtures, and so on, and how they are placed within the room.

 

With this problem solved, I then decided, “I don’t want these designs to represent my aesthetic.” Now that I had devised a different approach to design, what if I invited others to create the actual designs, encouraging them to add new ingredients while staying within the confines of the new approach? By freeing these others of the burden of having to worry about the unique physical constraints of individual spaces, I could recruit collaborators so that home theater design would no longer be the solitary pursuit of just me and my imagination.

 

The decision to free home theaters from the restrictions of the room by devising a backdrop for a variety of designs was the first step. The second step was to devise those backdrops in such a way that they could not only serve as a blank canvas for design ideas but also address the other elements in a home theater that are usually dealt with separately, such as speakers and acoustics.

 

So we engineered the panels in such a way that they could not only incorporate and support various design elements but could also conceal the acoustic treatments and 

the speakers. Once I felt confident our concept for the panels could address all of these practical needs, I then approached various artists to create the room designs.

 

I originally said to myself, “Let me give a designer an empty room, and they can do what they want with it.” But the initial results were not what I expected. Designers are not trained to design with the technology needs in mind, so sometimes their design approach can have an impact on a home theater’s performance. So, by making the wall panels my responsibility, I relieved the designers of having to deal with an element that could limit their creativity. In other words, this approach allowed them to focus on having fun with creating their designs, which made the spaces fun for the clients.

Once I became a more active collaborator in the process, we were able to create some truly original works. We have since commissioned designs by well-known artists, including the sculptor Antonia Papatzanaki, architect Dimitris Theodorou, and photographer Marina Vernicos.

 

Each artist was able to use my backdrop as an opportunity to create artwork that reflects their individual aesthetic sensibilities. Having created the parameters within which someone’s design could be deployed on the wall panels, my primary responsibility was to ensure that the artwork wouldn’t in any way impede the room’s performance.

 

In my next column, I will discuss the extensive and innovative engineering that went into creating the amazingly flexible and adaptable wall panels.

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.

Why Does the AV Industry Always Ignore the Signs?

Why Does the AV Industry Always Ignore the Signs?

Does the home theater community ignore its greatest—arguably, only—asset . . . its customers? I ask this question because it’s one I don’t think anyone in the AV press, the manufacturers, and even enthusiasts are asking themselves. So allow me to put it more simply: Is this hobby ignoring itself?

 

Here’s why I ask: In numerous surveys conducted by many of the “mainstream AV publications” over the years, it would appear that the results are at odds with what the manufacturers claim people are clamoring for. For example, in a recent survey of dedicated home theater enthusiasts, the number who actually owned a multichannel home theater system (5.1) was less than what you’d expect from a readership “subscribed” to a publication with the words Home and Theater in its title. 

 

To test this, I recently did a survey myself, asking more than 1,000 home theater enthusiasts, whom would remain completely anonymous, to tell me what type of home theater setup they had. An overwhelming majority—a near 70%—said their home theater was but a 2.0 or 2.1 setup with respect to the number of speakers, with the display of choice being a single flat-panel TV and no more than two digital sources. The delta between 2.0 home theater and 5.1—which came in second place, by the way—was four to one. Of those who participated, less than four percent had a 7.1 or greater surround sound system. Dolby Atmos, get out of town—no one has Atmos.

 

Now, this may seem like an opportunity for manufacturers and sales people to begin selling more surround sound setups and whatnot, but many of the participants in this survey offered (unsolicited) further comment as to the reasons why they had but a stereo-based home theater. Many had downsized from dedicated rooms and/or “bigger” setups, opting instead for simple, stereo after having fallen down the home theater rabbit hole.

 

Moreover, many of those who felt the need to comment felt they were able to invest more wisely in better components by paring down and thus getting far more for their money than when they tried to make their dollar stretch over a complicated multichannel setup. So if the data shows that fewer and fewer enthusiasts are actually opting for more speakers and more gear, why are we so consumed with trying to sell them more? Why not sell them what they’re asking for? What they need? How can this hobby and thus the industry expect to survive by ignoring the data before it?

 

It can’t.

 

It is my belief that the AV industry has largely operated under the Field of Dreams mentality, whereby if you build it they will come. Only problem is, it would seem that the game ended a long time ago, and only those who didn’t get the memo are still standing around in the cornfields wondering where everyone went.

 

Every January, the AV press collectively writes about how CES isn’t about them anymore, passed over (or perhaps passed-by) for smartphones, smart speakers, and the lot. But therein lies the rub. It’s not that consumers don’t want better sound, bigger pictures, and an overall better experience—they just don’t want it the same old way. So they’ve turned to other means and products to get their “fix.”

Why Does the AV Industry Always Ignore the Signs?

The AV industry as a whole, despite being part of the technology genre, has proven incredibly slow to act, react, and innovate. You’d never know that reading their press releases or attending their press events whereby everything they announce is “game changing!” The truth is, it’s not—not by a long shot. Too often they keep knocking on the door of the same customers saying hey, remember us? Yeah, we remember you—we bought said widget from you last year, and it wasn’t much different from the widget we bought the year before that. Rather than take that feedback and truly innovate, many manufacturers have adopted a new tack: Find a new audience—an older audience—abroad. Worse still are the ones who stay and insist that the only thing people will buy in the US is cheap crap.

 

This really gets under my skin, because it’s not that enthusiasts are cheap; it’s that they’re tired of having to buy the same thing over again. What are consumers supposed to do when asked to buy the same TV, the same disc spinner, the same whatever each and every year? I can tell you what I would do—spend as little as possible.

 

Now, build me something truly forward thinking, a product that either combines previous technologies in a whole new way or introduces new ones that actually work, and then let’s talk. Imagine a display that replaces the need for separate components, powered speakers that connect to the display wirelessly, and a system that configures itself via input from your smartphone, and I bet you’ll be able to charge a little more than what Vizios are commanding at Costco.

 

But what do I know? I’m just one of those unicorns the AV industry is trying to reach so desperately. I’m under 40, educated, with disposable income, and a predisposition towards AV gear. How big is my system? Stereo.

Andrew Robinson

Andrew Robinson is a photographer and videographer by trade, working on commercial
and branding projects all over the US. He has served as a managing editor and
freelance journalist in the AV space for nearly 20 years, writing technical articles,
product reviews, and guest speaking on behalf of several notable brands at functions
around the world.

Home Theater Reborn, Pt. 2

Theo's Corner

I have been spending the past two years trying to figure out how we designers can come up with a recipe for creating home theaters that puts us on more solid ground than the ground we are on when a client gives us an empty room and tells us, “Go ahead and design a theater.” The traditional solution has been to ponder the situation, produce some ideas, then implement them in a very custom way. In other words, we always start all over from scratch.

 

When I started developing the concept that would become Rayva, my guiding light was always, “How can I make this design process more predictable? How can I turn what has always been a unique project into a reproducible product?” The goal was to allow some flexibility for the variables that differ from project to project while creating a recipe that offers predictable solutions for 90 percent of what goes into any home theater.

 

Of course, I would love to have the freedom to do what I want with a room. But that freedom can become seriously constrained when you have to spend a lot of your time on a project reinventing things that could otherwise be standardized.

My goal was to create an approach to home theater design that allowed for traditional
elements like furniture, carpeting, and decoration but wasn’t dependent upon room size

So I took the concept of home theater and tried to “explode” it into its constituent parts. Some of those parts are obvious—such as the furniture, the carpeting, and the location of the speakers and the screen. My goal was to take those ingredients and find a way to make their implementation simple and safe, time and again—safer for the client, simpler for the designer—so they would yield more predictable results. But without sacrificing any of the diversity or fun of designing an exceptional home theater.

Part of the trick here was to determine not just the design but the technical choices that could be standardized. Nailing all of that down would create a solid foundation upon which I and others could let our creativity roam free—and in a fraction of the time it takes to create a completely custom design.

 

I began this exercise by contemplating, “At the most basic level. what makes a design custom?” And the answer is that you are always at the mercy of the room, which will always differ from any other room. The width, length, height, placement of door entries, and so on are almost always different. To solve that problem, I essentially had to make the problem part of the solution.

 

The answer, it occurred to me, was to a find a standardized design solution that wasn’t dependent on the room size. This was an important discovery, because not being beholden to the specific dimensions of a room makes it much easier to come up with a design. And it also creates a structure that others can use to create designs of their own.

 

Think of the room’s design as akin to a painting. If you have a painting you want to enjoy, you don’t care about the size of the room it’s going to go into. You find the most appropriate place to put it on the wall, and then the painting becomes the design element that determines the other elements in the room.

It is the same with furniture. A nice piece of furniture can fit into a room that’s 12 by 15 or 18 by 20 or 30 by 40. You just add more furniture—or bigger furniture—to fill the room.

 

This gives you a sense of the design approach I arrived at, where you have standardized elements that, once combined, can yield a result as exciting as if you were to create a custom design—but freed of the tyranny of the room’s size.

 

In my next post, I’ll describe the method I’ve created for having luxury home theaters fit it any rectangular room, beginning at 11.5 by 16 feet, and how that led to my collaboration with a number of brilliant artists and designers.

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.