Home Theater

The Cineluxe Guide to Media Rooms: The Basics

The Cineluxe Guide to Media Rooms: The Basics

photo by John Frattasi

It’s easy to think of a media room as a low-performance or “good enough” entertainment space with a cheap TV and a Best Buy soundbar—a sort of glorified version of the old family den or man cave. To put it another way, there’s this pervasive notion that to enjoy movies at home to the fullest, you need to either install a dedicated home theater or you can settle for 

second best.

 

That doesn’t have to be the case, though. As I’ve argued plenty of times in the pages of Cineluxe, you can actually build a high-quality media room space that legitimately qualifies as a home cinema experience. If you have a home office, master bedroom, kids room, or communal living space that you want to upgrade into a fantastic moving-watching space, you can totally do that.

 

 

In our ongoing Cineluxe Basics series, I’ve covered all of the things you need to keep in mind when doing so, but those articles deconstruct the modern media room a piece at a time, i.e., what you should think about when picking a TV and what you need to know about surround sound preamps. They don’t really give you a holistic overview of what a complete media room system looks like. So, if you’re looking to convert your home office or kids’ room into a top-notch movie-watching space for the entire family without ripping out all of the walls and starting from scratch, you may be left wondering how far you need to go.

That’s where this new series comes in. Over the next few posts, I’ll be painting a picture of what a complete media room system looks like in terms of electronics, starting with the simplest of all high-performance luxury media room systems. In other words, a system that will have minimal impact on your décor, but maximal impact on your movie-watching enjoyment. And despite the pithy intro, I think a great TV and a really high-end soundbar is a great basis for such an essential system.

The Cineluxe Guide to Media Rooms: The Basics
WHAT KIND OF TV, EXACTLY?

That depends, really. We at Cineluxe consider home cinema to be a shared experience, so we think any good media room display should be big enough to give at least two people a viewing angle of 40 to 45 degrees. So, if you’ll just be watching your movies with your significant other, and assuming you’ll be sitting no further than six or seven feet from the screen, a 75-inch TV should be sufficient. If you have more viewers on a regular basis or you sit further away, it’s probably better to upgrade to an 85- or even 98-inch class display.

 

Splitting the difference, we think something like Sony’s Z9G Master Series 8K LED TV is a good recommendation. In terms of technology, it’s ahead of the curve. In terms of design, it’s the leader of the pack, and with its built-in Android TV operating 

The Cineluxe Guide to Media Rooms: The Basics

the Kaleidescape Strato S movie player

system, the only source device you’ll really need for a complete luxury entertainment system is a Kaleidescape movie player.

 

Of course, your local integrator may not be a Sony dealer, but if not, chances are good they sell 

LG instead, whose Signature Z9 88-inch OLED is a step up in terms of design and technology, but also a big step up in price.

 

 

IS A SOUNDBAR REALLY ENOUGH?

There’s this pervasive myth that soundbars are nothing more than a compromise for people on a budget looking for a down-and-dirty surround sound solution. And that’s still largely true in the $200-and-below range. But these days, there are any number of truly high-performance soundbars that can deliver shockingly good sound.

 

If you’re simply looking for big, room-filling, impactful Dolby Atmos/DTS:X surround sound without running wires through the walls or around the perimeter of the room, Sennheiser has been turning heads in recent months with its new Ambeo Soundbar, an all-in-one sound solution that delivers 5.1.4-channel audio for $2,499. You might consider adding a subwoofer 

to the mix if you just can’t abide anything less than the deepest, hardest-hitting bass, but it’s not necessary. And if your local integrator doesn’t carry the Ambeo, the Yamaha YSP-5600 and Sony HT-ST5000 soundbars also deliver cinematic sound in a simple package. (Although, to be fair, neither of those is quite as technologically advanced as the Sennheiser.)

 

Luxury speaker manufacturers like James

The Cineluxe Guide to Media Rooms: The Basics

the Leon Speakers Horizon soundbar

Loudspeaker and Leon Speakers also make some truly gorgeous soundbars that, in some cases, can even be custom-made to perfectly match the width of your TV. They may be a little more complicated to set up, since they do require amplification, but if utter aesthetic sophistication is important to you, they’re definitely worth a look.

 

In my next post, I’ll start digging into what a slightly more elaborate—and indeed expandable—media room system looks like. But if you’re just looking for the basics, and if you’re looking to minimize the disruption to your design aesthetic, the Sony Z9G Master Series paired with a Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar and a Kaleidescape movie player, properly installed and calibrated, will give you one heck of a movie-watching experience at home.

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.

Media Rooms Come of Age

Media rooms have a pretty bad reputation. So bad, in fact, that anyone who really cares about quality usually hesitates to go down that path as an alternative to a dedicated home theater. And that hesitation used to be justified because media rooms were inevitably compromised—mainly by small TV screens, unattractive, elaborate speaker systems and their inevitable 

profusion of cables, lousy acoustics, too much ambient light, and primitive room control.

 

But if you haven’t checked out the media-room market in the last five years or so, you might be surprised by how dramatically these systems and spaces have improved, and that it’s now possible to have a media room that can fit in well with the flow of your household with practically no compromises.

 

Note that I said “practically no.” Media rooms can’t yet achieve the level of playback quality a dedicated home theater can, and maybe never will. But for anyone who doesn’t want their primary entertainment space sealed off from the rest of the home, or only wants a modest setup but also wants a better-than-movie theater experience, or just doesn’t have the room for a standalone theater—which is practically everyone living in Manhattan, no matter how well-off—a well-designed and installed media room no longer represents a distant second-best solution.

 

It could even be argued that some of the recent media-room collaborations between architects, designers, and integrators (such as the one shown at the top of the page) represent the real cutting edge of current home entertainment.

 

So what’s changed that media rooms are now poised to finally shed their stigma?

 

♦  Reference-quality playback has become standard-issue in TVs, in smaller speaker setups, and with the movies and series you can readily access via download or streaming.

 

♦  TV screens have gotten a lot better, a lot bigger, a lot lighter, and a lot more stylish.

 

♦  Control systems are now much more sophisticated, flexible, and comprehensive.

 

♦  Lighting and shade control, in particular, have become more common and far more versatile.

 

♦  The best digital room-correction systems can now tame and optimize acoustically compromised spaces.

 

♦  Improvements in downloading and streaming, and in the picture and sound quality of TV series and video games, have created a demand for spaces that maximize the experience of all forms of entertainment and are responsive to the entertainment needs of all members of the household.

 

♦  Some interior designers have stopped holding their noses and decided to devote some of their considerable talent to making these rooms functional, attractive, and seamlessly integrated into the rest of the home.

 

♦  Some high-end integrators have moved beyond the general disdain for media rooms and now see them as the challenge and opportunity they are.

 

The Cineluxe Guide to Media Rooms: The Basics” is the first in a series of articles that will provide you with all the information you need to decide if you want a media room and how to make it best suit your needs. We’ll walk you through a variety of possibilities—from simple, no-compromise setups for a smallish secondary room to far more elaborate reference-quality systems for large, open-plan communal spaces. And we’ll do it without going deep into the tech. The goal is to provide you with enough of the essential concepts, facts, and context so you can convey to your integrator et al. exactly what you want to achieve and get a good sense of whether they’re up to the job.

 

But maybe the most important piece of advice we can pass along doesn’t have anything to do with gear, or content, or lights or shades, or any of that. While it’s good to have the strong core knowledge we’ll be providing, your biggest priority should be finding an integrator who “gets it.” For any candidates you’re considering, study their website thoroughly—especially their portfolio; if possible, visit one or more of the media rooms they’ve created. And listen to them carefully to be sure they’re not taking on the assignment grudgingly but are willing to embrace the challenge and create an exceptional multi-use entertainment space for you and your family.

 

So, should you still opt for a dedicated home theater if you have the room and aren’t willing to settle for anything less than the best? Absolutely. Should you be for one second embarrassed or ashamed if you decide to go with a media room instead? Absolutely not.

Michael Gaughn

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

AN INNOVATIVE MEDIA ROOM SPACE

The New York City apartment shown at left converts into a DCI-compliant theater at the press of a button; and yet there is no evidence of the system when it’s not in use. Almost every inch of wall space is either a reference-quality speaker or an acoustic treatment, all of it covered in custom-made acoustically transparent fabric.

 

Photos courtesy of Steinway Lyngdorf

REVIEWS

Casino Royale (2006)
A Life of Speed: The Juan Manuel Fangio Story
Bloodshot
Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey
Altered Carbon (Season 2)
Onward

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2019: The Year in Luxury Home Entertainment

2019: The Year in Luxury Home Entertainment

It might not have felt like it, but home entertainment changed in a big way in 2019. And, as Dennis Burger points out in “Beyond Discs & Cinemas,” that monumental shift wasn’t due to any technological breakthroughs or new formats, standards, or must-have devices. The arrival of 8K, which would have represented a major seachange in an earlier era, caused barely a ripple.

 

What happened instead was that the stars aligned—in other words, a variety of existing technologies reached just the right point of maturity to radically change how we experience entertainment. Downloading and streaming, until now maligned as the feeble stepchildren of the moviewatching experience, emerged decisively and undeniably as the future of movies.

 

Check out John Higgins’ post for a recap of this pivotal year in the streaming world. The focus here is more on what it took to achieve a state-of-the-art viewing experience at home in 2019, and how expanding beyond AV has allowed luxury integrators to become far more responsive to how people actually live.

 

Home Theater or Media Room?

Just as downloading and streaming are no longer dismissed out of hand, the once lowly media room has recently made great strides toward respectability—due in part to forces that have little to do with the technology that serves up the entertainment 

experience. And while many had declared the dedicated home theater room dead—or at least in rapid decline—there are signs of a legitimate resurgence.

 

It might seem counter-intuitive to say that both home theaters and media rooms are on the rise. And supporters within each camp will tell you their favored approach is way in the lead. But, in the luxury market at least, it seems to be a dead heat.

 

One big sign of change is that media rooms are becoming commonly referred to as multi-use spaces. “Media room” was a godawful moniker; “multi-use space” really isn’t an improvement, except that it emphasizes the room’s versatility instead of suggesting that it’s a slave to “media” (whatever that means). 

 

Multi-use spaces are nothing new. People have been setting up entertainment systems in rec rooms, dens, family rooms, bedrooms, and elsewhere since the advent of the Victrola. The arrival of TV didn’t do much to change that—and, to be honest, neither did the arrival of home theater.

 

It took the emergence of non-AV domestic automation like sophisticated and responsive lighting and shade control to make multi-use spaces a viable alternative. And 2019 was the year automated lights and shades became pervasive and flexible enough to help turn non-dedicated spaces into legitimate viewing (and listening) environments.

 

To give the AV world its due, the arrival of more designer-friendly acoustical treatments and, especially, the emergence of ultra-customizable, professionally-deployed digital room correction also had a lot to do with putting high-performance multi-use rooms on the map. So did super-sized flat-panel TVs, which can provide a brighter (and some would say better) image than a traditional front-projection setup.

 

But let’s step back a second. While multi-use spaces might be on the verge of offering the performance of a dedicated home theater, do you really want to be blasting out the Endgame finale at reference volume in the middle of your home at 1 in the morning? And do you really want various family members wandering through the room while you’re absorbed in an episode of The Crown?

 

For as good as multi-use spaces have become, they still can’t provide the uninterrupted focus on the viewing experience that a home theater can. And, even though they’re on the cusp, it’s still going to be a few more years before a multi-use room can compete performance-wise with the best dedicated theaters.

 

Ironically, we can thank the tremendous improvements in streamed audio and video for the home theater’s rebirth. People who know little or nothing of LaserDiscs or DVDs are beginning to realize that downloads and streams are rivaling or surpassing what they can experience at even the best movie theaters, and they want rooms that can take full advantage of what internet delivery has to offer.

 

Also, no matter how cleverly a multi-use space is designed, it still clearly signals that it serves more than one master. To have the ultimate entertainment experience, and to create a space that strikingly and unambiguously expresses the value of that experience, you have to have a dedicated room.

 

The Art Wall Revolution

I don’t expect many—or any—of you to buy into what I’m about to say, but please suspend your disbelief for a moment and allow that video art walls (a description as ungainly as “media rooms” or “multi-use spaces”) will eventually have a bigger impact on luxury home entertainment than multi-use spaces and home theaters combined.

 

Here’s why. Architects and interior designers have traditionally held their noses throughout the process of designing, building, and installing entertainment rooms—and for good reason. As much as AV companies might like to think their products are designer-friendly, the truth is that almost everything they put out has all the visual appeal of a WalMart boombox.

 

And creating entertainment rooms means having to deal with tech—a lot of it. AV enthusiasts would have you believe that gear has gotten more user-friendly—it hasn’t. It’s just found new and more intricate ways to be cumbersome and unpleasant. And interior designers have a longstanding, and not unearned, reputation for being technophobes.

 

Also, every home theater or multi-use space is essentially a unique machine. The greater the demands made on it, the more complicated that machine 

becomes. And unless you’re working with an integrator who’s something of a mechanical genius, you’re likely in for a decent amount of trial and error before your room is finally up on its feet.

 

Lastly, it’s hard to put a unique visual stamp on a home theater and especially on a multi-use space. Feeding generic content into your home in mostly generic ways tends to drain any meaningful personal touch from the environment—one reason why entertainment rooms tend to fall into disuse over time.

Video walls, on the other hand, are an opportunity to showcase unique, curated works of art via installations that can be seamlessly integrated into the decor (and structure) of a home. Interior designers love that idea; so do architects. And homeowners will too once they realize they can use these stunning installations to display something other than the usual mind-numbing mass entertainment.

 

This isn’t the place to provide more than just a glimpse of this emerging phenomenon, but it’s worth keeping an eye on—partly because, unlike entertainment-based tech, it’s a harmonious and complementary instead of disruptive and somewhat arbitrary experience. And no matter how they evolve, art walls will always remain a luxury affair.

 

Today & Tomorrow

With 4K HDR content and displays arriving solidly in the middle market, 2019 was also the year reference-quality playback made its way to the masses. Ironically, it was also the year luxury integration decisively separated itself from the world of trunk slammers, geek squads, and other purveyors of “good enough.”

 

Expect 2020 to be the year when professional-grade digital cinema systems, offering picture and sound exceeding the world’s best movie theaters, make serious inroads in luxury entertainment spaces. Expect to see 8K used not so much to create higher-resolution content as to significantly improve the quality of existing content. And expect to see interior design finally welcomed into entertainment spaces—and designers finally willing to accept the invitation.

—Michael Gaughn

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

CINELUXE TRENDSETTERS

the most influential people in luxury
home entertainment on 
the trends
that defined 2019

Sam Cavitt, Paradise Theater
on how home theaters are better than movie theaters
and the importance of 
dedicated theater rooms

Ed Gilmore, Gilmore’s Sound Advice
on tunable lighting
, voice control, apps vs. control
systems, 8K, and art walls

Al Patel & Cortney Combs, Enhanced Home
on 
media rooms, outdoor entertainment systems,
designer-friendly tech, 8K, and art walls

Cory Reistad, SAV Digital Environments
on 
media rooms, bulletproof installation, downloading
vs. streaming, and automated lighting

Tim Sinnaeve, Barco Residential
on the emergence of video art walls, and their influence on
artists, integrators, architects, and interior designers

Katherine Spiller, Steinway Lyngdorf
on 
designer-friendly tech, luxury audio systems, room correction, digital cinema, and no-compromise media rooms

Eric Thies, DSI Luxury Technology
on 
the return of home theaters, 8K, art walls, and the
sad lack of integration standards

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2019: Beyond Discs & Cinemas

Beyond Discs & Cinemas

2019 was the year in which nothing new happened in the audio/video marketplace, and yet everything changed in the world of home entertainment. We saw no meaningful new AV standards or formats, unless you count the fact that a handful of 8K TVs and projectors hit the market. And we don’t. Not yet. We also saw Dolby expand the capabilities of Atmos in the home, 

upping the number of speakers that could be supported in media rooms or home theater. But that’s more evolution than revolution.

 

So, what changed? In a sense, you could say market forces that have been simmering for a while finally boiled over, and we all had to acknowledge that, whether we like it or not, commercial cinemas are no longer the gold standard by which we judge our movie-watching experiences. 

 

Why Go Out to the Movies?

Granted, blockbuster franchise films still dominate the box office, with billion-dollar worldwide hauls almost being taken for granted. The thing is, though, that’s really the only thing drawing us to the local cineplex en masse anymore. Scour the Top 20 list of highest-grossing films for the year, and you’d be hard-pressed to find anything that isn’t a superhero flick, Star Wars film, Disney movie, or sequel/ remake/reboot of some sort.

 

That doesn’t mean these are the only sorts of films we’re watching anymore. Far from it. It’s simply that these big event films are the only ones that really offer anything we can’t experience (arguably better) at home. They’re meant to be seen in crowds. They’re designed to trigger our popcorn-binging reflex. They are, in short, events.

 

With but a handful of exceptions, anything smaller, more meaningful, or contemplative in the world of cinema is far more likely to find its audiences on sofas or home theater recliners. And the underlying reasons for this are numerous (and a long time coming), but I would argue that the reason this trend hit a tipping point in 2019 is that 4K finally became mainstream. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it’s difficult to buy a new TV now at any price point that doesn’t offer a better image than you’ll find at your local cineplex, and that has a lot more to do with HDR than anything else. Granted, the device on which you do your streaming makes a big difference in terms of the quality of presentation, but who could have imagined just four or five years ago that we would soon be able to stream truly reference-quality imagery and sound into our home cinemas by way of a $99 box and a $15-a-month subscription service? 

 

The display is only half the equation, though. All of those people coming home with new UHD/HDR TVs are also discovering that there’s simply a ton of amazing-looking content no more than a click and a stream away. Sure, you could argue that Netflix has become the equivalent of the $5 DVD bin at Walmart, but the service is also the only place you can watch Martin Scorsese’s new film, not to mention David Attenborough’s latest planet-spanning documentary series

 

Ding Dong, The Disc Is Dead

The rise of new streaming services like Disney+ late this year further nail the coffin closed on commercial cinemas as the pinnacle of popular entertainment. But there’s another mainstay of the movie world that is taking an even worse beating as a result of the rise of streaming. This was the first year since 1993 that I didn’t buy a single movie on a disc of any sort. Discs have defined my entertainment experience since I plunked down $250 for thirteen pounds’ worth of LaserDiscs dubbed The Star Wars Trilogy: The Definitive Edition late that year. When I purchased my current home in 1998, one of its most appealing features was a closet off the main den that would perfectly store and conceal my burgeoning DVD collection. 

 

I’ve probably got one final disc purchase left in me—next year’s 27-disc, nine-film Skywalker Saga collection, which also, poetically enough, carries a $250 price tag and will finally bring my physical home video collection full circle, just as I begin to winnow it down. 

 

Make no mistake, though: I’ll continue to buy films for home consumption. They’ll simply be on Vudu and Kaleidescape going forward. I’m not alone in that, either. Disc sales have been on the decline since 2008 and show no sign of rebounding. We’ll almost certainly never have another disc-based home video format after UHD Blu-ray. And indeed, movie studios are already losing interest in that one (as evidenced by the fact that more and more films are receiving 4K home video releases purely in the digital domain, either streamed or downloaded). 

 

This was also the year in which completely non-traditional forms of media hit the mainstream in a big way, which has to be factored into the decline of cinemas and discs alike. A little show called Critical Role, which started a few years ago as a live-streamed home Dungeons & Dragons game, exploded into the public consciousness thanks to the most successful video Kickstarter crowdfunding project of all time  early in 2019. The eight best friends who started the show have also created a full-fledged “television network” around it, distributed mostly through Twitch and YouTube, which features shows ranging from art tutorials to video game live-playthrough/puppet show mashups to a weekly late-night talk show about painting miniature figurines hosted by that kid from Boy Meets World.

 

And I don’t mean to claim here that rolling dice and roleplaying as elves and half-

orcs is the future of home entertainment or anything, but it’s certainly part of it. The success of Critical Role not just as a show but as a network points to a pent-up desire for something different. Something genuine. And given that virtually anyone these 

some content from the Critical Role “network”

days can get their hands on near-commercial-quality video gear and upload their antics to the internet, it stands to reason that the real innovation in terms of what we view on our TVs and projectors will, in the coming years, increasingly come from the occasional lark of this sort.

 

Meanwhile, Netflix, Amazon, Apple, and other tech companies are sinking hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars into creating new films and TV shows that wouldn’t have looked out of place on cinema screens a few years ago, proving that there’s also still plenty of appetite for mid- to big-budget traditional media in all of the usual genres. It’s simply that the way we view that media has forever changed, and when the entertainment history books are written, I think 2019 will be undeniably viewed as the turning point.

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.

Every Room Deserves Great Acoustics

Every Room Deserves Great Acoustics

When most people think about good acoustics, the first area of a home that comes to mind is an entertainment room. The audio in this space should be pristine—from clear, intelligible dialogue to realistic, three-dimensional special effects. You feel as if you’re in the middle of the movie action, and proper acoustical engineering and treatment of the space contribute just as much as the equipment to delivering this experience. If the acoustics of the space are off, the listening experience will suffer.

 

To prevent this from happening, it’s important that a home theater include properly engineered and installed acoustics customized for the unique sonic attributes of the space. The floor, ceiling, walls, furnishings, etc. often require some level of modification to ensure that the movie audio sounds its very best, without reverberation, echo, or disruption from other sources of sound.

 

But why stop at the home theater? The same acoustical principles of a home theater can be applied in bedrooms, home offices, living rooms . . . really any space that suffers from unwanted external noise or acoustical conditions that conflict with the intelligibility of conversations. Just as a noisy heating and cooling unit can distract you from the plot of a movie, it can be a

literal nightmare when you’re trying to get a good night’s sleep.

 

And that’s just brushing the surface of the annoying sounds that can plague a household. Homes of all sizes and designs can be affected by excessive noise, lack of sound privacy, and an abundance of sound propagation.

 

Think about the things you hear at home on a daily basis: A delivery truck backing out of a neighbor’s driveway, the lawn maintenance crew working at the park across the street, barking dogs, the thump of the home gym treadmill at 5 a.m., and the incessant beat of your son’s garage band are just some of the many examples. They all add up to a lot of racket—most of which you’d probably rather not hear or at least muffle a bit. An acoustical engineer can minimize these audible distractions from any area of the house—not just the home theater.

 

Years ago, all of this commotion may have fallen on deaf ears. Most people worked in an office outside of the home, went to the neighborhood cinema to catch a show, and worked out at the gym. Today, though, we are home a lot, 

using it for a myriad of activities besides just eating and sleeping. We work in home offices, exercise in home gyms, entertain in home theaters, dine in gourmet kitchens, and shop online—subject to all of the audible chaos in and around the home. We cringe when the kids arrive home during a conference call, cover our ears during our son’s gaming marathon, and wait until the baby wakes up from a nap to throw in a load of laundry. Noise can disrupt our lives in so many ways. Thankfully, proper acoustical treatments applied by a professional can help.

 

Often, the remedy necessitates a structural modification of the ceiling or walls. Most homes are built in a way that allows sound to easily transfer from one room to another. Sheetrock is attached directly to studs and joists, which allows sound to move from one material to the next, one room to another. Separating these surfaces through the addition of isolation clips and hangers mitigates the sound propagation. It’s an expense, certainly, and more easily implemented during the construction of a home, but there’s no better way to preserve your sleep and sanity.

 

Other, less extreme remedies to tame the propagation of sound throughout a home involve adding aesthetically pleasing sound absorption materials to a room, such as acoustical plaster on the ceiling surface, fabric on the walls, specialty ceiling tiles, and even furnishings. If it’s sound from outside that’s bothering you, thicker, double-pane windows and heavy draperies can help.

 

Sound quality has an impact on more than just our ability to become fully immersed in a movie. It’s part of our everyday life, in good ways and bad ways. We might like how our audio system sounds in our home theater, but we’d rather not hear it in the bedroom upstairs. The same goes for other noises. They’re a part of the house and our lifestyle, but left untreated, they can interfere with work, play, and even our health. A professionally trained and experienced acoustical engineer can make these issues disappear, creating a more peaceful and healthy home environment.

Steve Haas

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

Why Aren’t Enthusiasts Honest (With Themselves)?

I would like to say AV enthusiasts are a weird bunch, but the truth is all enthusiasts of any genre are weird—present company included. One of the things I find most peculiar about enthusiasts of any persuasion is their—ahem, our—incessant need to “lie” to ourselves. What I mean by that is simple: We often lie or convince ourselves that we require, need, or even have

more than we actually do.

 

I have been running a YouTube channel aimed squarely at AV enthusiasts since 2013 (I think), and in all that time one “truth” has remained constant: Everyone claims to need or have more, when in reality they often do with less. For example, if I talk about or review an AV receiver, one of the common responses I get is, “Does it have [insert some insane request here]?” When I inevitably reply, “No”, the response quickly turns to, “Well, I would’ve bought it, but . . .”

 

Yeah, right.

 

What’s more interesting is the amount of data YouTube and other services provide creators like me that show just how not cutting-edge enthusiast are—or at least think they are. More often than not, enthusiasts shop solely on price and not on the features or performance they so dearly covet. Depending on what types of links within my videos they click on, I can quite literally see how they shop for AV gear. And I have to tell you, it’s never how they claim to.

 

More often than not, if enthusiasts choose to click on my

links in order to shop for AV gear, they often start by going to the product I talked about. But from there, they go on an exploration of other equipment that I would classify often as comparable, but which is almost always less expensive.

They only really buy what I’ve reviewed when it truly is their cheapest option—for example, Crown Audio’s XLS DriveCore 2 amplifiers (shown at right). These amplifiers cost a few hundred dollars each, but put out Krell-like power ratings. It doesn’t hurt that the Crown amplifiers also sound good, but you get my point.

 

All of this data flies in the face of enthusiasts’ public statements that products must offer the Earth, moon, and stars

Why Aren't Enthusiasts Honest (With Themselves)?

for them to consider purchasing, and that their purchasing decision is always about performance—absolutely.

 

I just don’t understand why we do this to ourselves. There’s no shame in having a $300 AV receiver if a $300 AV receiver gets the job done. There’s no shame in only having a 50-inch TV. I get the need to want to keep up with the Joneses, but the reality is the Joneses don’t even have what you think they do, for we’re all the Joneses.

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.

Does a Luxury Cinema Really Need a Projector?

Does a Luxury Cinema Need a Projector?

Here’s a pop quiz to start your day with: How big is the TV you see in the image above? If you’re familiar with this specific model (LG’s C9 OLED), the proportions of its pedestal may give you some idea. The rest of you probably think this is an unfair question. You’re trying to look for other clues that could give it away: How tall are those ceilings? How wide is that wall? More importantly, how far away from the screen was the camera when this photo was taken?

 

That’s actually exactly my point. For the record, the image is of a 77-inch display. But if I had told you it was 55, or 65, or even 88 inches, would you have balked? Probably not, because you intuitively understand that a display’s screen size isn’t the beginning and end of the conversation when it comes to how large it actually appears to your eyes. It’s the relationship

between the display size and the distance from seat to screen that determines the degree to which an image fills your field of view.

 

Not to pick on my colleague and friend John Sciacca here, but in his recent piece “Rediscovering My Joy for Home Theater,” he says, “Watching movies on a 115-inch screen is incredibly more involving than a 65-inch one.” What John is leaving unsaid there, though, is, “. . . from the same seating distance.” That last bit, that unspoken relationship between seat and screen, was taken for granted in John’s story, because to him it’s obvious. But that fact often gets tossed out the window completely when the gatekeepers of home cinema attempt to discredit the “lowly” TV as a legitimate screen for a proper home entertainment system.

 

I think this outdated perception of projectors as the only valid screens for home cinema systems is probably rooted in the equally outdated notion that commercial cinemas are the gold standard against which the home movie-watching experience should be judged. As I’ve argued in the past, that ship has sailed. 

These days, with a few rare and special exceptions aside, commercial cinemas are simply a way for most people to check out the latest Avengers or Star Wars flick before someone else ruins the plot for them. Or maybe they just want to view those big event movies with a few more subwoofers than their home AV systems can accommodate. But I guarantee you that almost none of the people who opt to go to their local movie theater to see the latest blockbusters would tell you that the allure of seeing an image bounced off a big sheet of perforated vinyl was what drew them out of the comforts of their own homes.

 

And mind you, I’m not claiming there aren’t plenty of valid reasons to install a projector at home. In his own media room, John sits roughly 12 feet from his screen, by his own estimation. He also has two kids at home, so movie-watching is often a whole-family experience. For his needs and his lifestyle, yeah, a projector is absolutely the right screen.

 

I, on the other hand, only have to worry about my wife and me. The only other permanent resident is Bruno, our 75-pound pit bull, and more often than not he either leaves the room when we watch movies or curls up in my lap and goes to sleep. We also only sit about six and a half feet from the screen in the main media room. The smallest high-performance home cinema projection screen I’m aware of is an 80-incher that would frankly be too much at that seating distance. A 75-inch display is pretty much perfect for this room, as it takes up a healthy 45.5 degrees of our field of view—a little more than

THX’s recommended 36 degrees, but so be it. We’d rather have a bit too much screen than a bit too little. But we don’t want The Last Jedi turning into a tennis match, either.

 

Interestingly enough, John’s 115-inch projection screen, when viewed from 12 feet away, takes up roughly 38.5 degrees of his field of view. In other words, my 75-inch screen looks bigger to me and my wife than his 115-inch projection screen looks to him and his family.

 

Am I bashing John’s choice of screens? Of course not. What works for him works for him, and what works for me

How to Determine Your Viewing Distance

 

If you want figure out your screen size based on viewing distance, or vice versa, but without having to wade through technical specs or do any heavy math, click this link.

works for me. And I’m sure he would agree. Different rooms. Different families. Different viewing habits. Different solutions. Without a doubt, we’re both enjoying a better movie-watching experience than we would at the local cineplex, and his system gives him one big advantage over mine: He gets to watch ultra-widescreen 2.4:1 aspect-ratio films without any letterboxing.

 

In addition to the larger perceptual screen real estate, though, my TV also gives me better black levels, better dynamic range, better peak brightness, and better color uniformity than any two-piece projection system could. And if for whatever reason we ever decided to watch a movie with the lights on, we wouldn’t have to worry about the screen washing out. (Not that we would, mind you. My wife and I prefer to keep any and all distractions to a minimum when watching movies, going so far as to put our mobile phones away or turning them off entirely. I’m just saying that we could leave a light on if we wanted to.)

 

And yet, the naysayers and gatekeepers would have you believe that for whatever reason my viewing experience is subpar. That I would somehow be better served by lacking black levels, middling contrasts, less peak brightness, and worse screen uniformity, simply because that would be a more faithful facsimile of the local cineplex.

 

To which I say this: The New Vision Theatres Chantilly 13 across town isn’t the yardstick by which I judge my movie-watching experience at home anymore. My home cinema system looks better and sounds better, and quite frankly has a better selection of films from which to choose. Granted, if we had a much larger room, or typically invited large groups of friends over to watch movies, a projection screen would likely be a superior alternative to our 75-inch TV on the balance sheet. If we had two or three rows of seating? No question about it—we would need a projector.

 

The beauty of current AV gear, though, is that you don’t have to change your lifestyle or viewing habits to have a better-than-movie-theater experience at home. You can assemble a reference-quality home cinema that conforms to your lifestyle, not the other way around. And if, like me, that means employing a gigantic TV as your screen of choice, you shouldn’t pay much attention to anyone telling you you’re doing it wrong, or that your system doesn’t count as “luxury.” Chances are, they’re trying to sell you something.

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.

Rediscovering My Joy for Home Theater

Rediscovering My Joy for Home Theater

I’d already planned to write a wrap-up post on my journey to get a new projector to update my personal home theater, but Andrew Robinson’s recent “4K is for Fanboys,” makes the timing of this post even more relevant.

 

As I mentioned in “It’s Time to Update My Theater,” technology had passed my previous Marantz projector by, and it had been quite some time since we had used it. Instead, we just watched our 65-inch TV screen full time. (I know, a first-world problem for sure.) Sure, it was still enjoyable, but it actually curtailed the number of movies we watched. When the projector was in action, we would generally watch two to three movies per week, making an evening around dropping the lights and focusing

on the big screen. But with the projector out of action, we went to watching two to three movies per month.

 

After the new projector arrived, I couldn’t wait to see it in action. Instead of waiting until I could get some help to properly install the JVC by retrofitting the new cabling required (sending 4K HDR signals upwards of 50 feet is beyond the limits of my old HDMI cable, and I’ve gone to an HDMI-over-fiber solution from FIBBR) and mounting the JVC, I just set it on its box on top of our kitchen counter, strung the FIBBR cable across the floor, did a quick-and-dirty alignment and focus, and settled in to watch a movie on the big screen.

 

And from the opening scene, I was ecstatic with my new purchase. The blacks were deep and cinematic, colors were bright and punchy, edges were sharp and defined, and, blown up to nearly 10 feet, the projector’s 4K image had incredible resolution and detail. For me, this is what true theater-at-home is all about.

 

Watching movies on a 115-inch screen is incredibly more involving than a 65-inch one. And with the projector, it is an active viewing experience, with the lights down and distractions minimized. In the short time I’ve had the new projector—less than two weeks—we’ve already watched seven films with it, and each time I’m giddy that this is something I’m actually able to enjoy in my own home.

 

Coupled with my 7.2.6-channel audio system, movies look and sound as good as virtually any commercial theater.

I’m not a filmmaker as Andrew is, and I’m not a student of film as site editor Mike Gaughn is. I don’t watch movies to dissect framing, composition, or lighting. And I’m sure there are many subtleties, references, and hat tips in films that I’m completely oblivious to. But, the fact is, most times when I go to watch a movie, it’s to relax and enjoy myself. And I’d imagine that’s what most people are looking to do with their home entertainment systems. I’m not looking for Ready Player One to change my world view, or for Alita: Battle Angel to offer a commentary on anything, or for John Wick to teach me any lessons, well, except for maybe on the benefits of rapid mag changes. 

 

I’m looking to sit back with a martini and be entertained for a couple of hours.

 

At the end of the day, unless you are a filmmaker evaluating your work, or a professional film critic getting paid to review the work of others, all of this “home theater stuff” is really just a hobby designed to be fun and enjoyable. And any technology improvements that can help people to achieve a better experience—be it 4K, HDR, Dolby Atmos, 3D, or other—is an improvement in my book.

 

To my eye, 4K HDR films look better, especially when blown up to large sizes. And, to my ear, Dolby Atmos (or DTS:X) soundtracks are more exciting and involving. And if I’m electing to spend my precious time watching something—be it Survivor on broadcast cable, Jack Ryan streaming on Amazon, the latest Star Wars, Avengers, or Pixar entry, or just some new release from the Kaleidescape Store, then I’d like to do so in the highest quality possible.

 

And if that makes me a 4K Fanboy as Andrew suggests, then sign me right up!

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.

Choosing My New Projector

Choosing My New Projector

Following up on my last post, “It’s Time to Update My Theater,” I’m going to delve into the thought process that caused me to splurge and finally upgrade my projector.

 

As I mentioned, my existing projector was about 11 years old, and, while it still produced watchable pictures from Blu-ray and DVD discs, it wasn’t compatible with many of the new 4K HDR sources in my system, so we had just stopped using it. I was

toying around with ditching both the projector and my current 65-inch Sony flat panel and upgrading to a new 85-inch flat panel.

 

Why 85 inches? Well, that is about the current size limit before you start getting into ridiculously expensive pricing. For under $4,500, you can get a Sony XBR-85X950G flat-panel that has been universally reviewed as a fantastic display. This would provide a large screen image for viewing all the time, not just at night with the lights down. It would also handle HDR signals (and Dolby Vision) far better than a projector at any price could.

 

As this was a significantly cheaper upgrade option, I really considered it, but ultimately decided I would miss the truly large-screen experience of my 115-inch, 2.35 aspect screen.

 

We use the projector almost exclusively for movie watching, and having nearly double the screen real estate makes a massive difference, and is far more engaging than a direct-view set, even one at 85 inches. (Now, had the 98-inch 

Sony Z-series TV been a tenth of its price—selling for $7,000 instead of $70,000—that probably would have been my pick.)

 

So, having made the decision to stick with front projection, I had to settle on a model. I had a few criteria going in that helped narrow the search.

 

First, I wanted it to be true, native 4K resolution on the imager, not using any pixel shifting or “wobulation” to “achieve 4K resolution on screen.” This ruled out many of the DLP models from companies like Epson and Optoma. Nothing against them, I just wanted native 4K.

 

Second, it had to have a throw distance that worked with my current mounting location. Actually, this isn’t much of a concern anymore, and most modern projectors have an incredibly generous adjustment range on their lens.

 

Third, I needed a model that offered lens memory so it would work with my multi-aspect screen (92 inches when masked down to 16:9, and 115 inches when opened to full 2.35:1.) This allows the projector to zoom, shift, and focus for a variety of screen sizes at the push of a single button, and is crucial for multi-aspect viewing.

 

Fourth, it needed to integrate with my Control4 automation system. Sure, I could cobble together a driver, but it would never offer integration as tight as one that was meant to work with that particular model.

 

Finally, it had to fit my $10,000 budget. Unfortunately, this ruled out brands like Barco and DPI. I was super impressed with Barco’s Bragi projector, but, alas, it doesn’t fit in my tax bracket.

 

Basically, with these criteria, my search was narrowed to two companies: JVC and Sony. And primarily to two projectors: The JVC DLA-NX7 (shown at the top of the page) and the Sony VPL-VW695ES. (Were my budget higher, I would have added the JVC DLA-NX9 to that list, which has the primary advantage of a much higher quality, all-glass lens, but it was more than double the price. And while the less expensive JVC DLA-NX5 also met all my criteria, the step up NX7 offers more bang for just a little more buck.)

 

So, I did what a lot of people do prior to making a big technology purchase: Research. I read a ton of forum posts, read all of the reviews on both models, and watched video comparisons. I also reached out to a couple of professional reviewers and calibrators who had actually had hands-on time with both models.

 

The CEDIA Expo is a place where manufacturers often launch new projectors, so this past month’s show coincided perfectly with my hunt. Since both companies had models that had been launched at CEDIA 2018, I was eager to see what announcements they might have regarding replacements or upgrades. Alas, there were no model changes, which, in a way, can be a good thing, since it means both models are now proven, have had any early bugs worked out with firmware updates, and  are readily available and shipping.

 

I really hoped to check out both projectors at the show, but, unfortunately, no one was exhibiting either. (Apparently, CEDIA is not the place to show your sub-$10,000 models.)

 

Ultimately, two announcements at the show swayed me to pull the trigger on the JVC. First, the product manager I spoke with said the price was going up by $1,000 on October 1, so buying sooner than later would actually save me money. But more importantly, JVC introduced new firmware at CEDIA that would add a Frame Adapt HDR function that will dynamically analyze HDR10 picture levels frame by frame, automatically adjusting the brightness and color to optimize HDR performance for each frame.

 

Projectors historically have a difficult time handling HDR signals, and this firmware is designed to produce the best HDR images from every frame. This used to be achieved by using a high-end outboard video processor such as a Lumagen Radiance Pro, but that would add thousands of dollars to the system. When I saw this new technology demonstrated in JVC’s booth, I was all in.

 

In my next post, I’ll let you know if the purchase was worth it. (Spoiler: It totally was!)

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.

It’s Time to Update My Theater

 Some views of my home theater space, pre upgrades

photos by Jim Raycroft

The first home theater component I ever purchased was a subwoofer back in 1995. It was a big 15-inch black cube Definitive Technology model that I drove into San Francisco to buy after researching everything I could find for weeks in all the enthusiast magazines at the time. From there, I bought a Yamaha digital surround decoder and Dolby Digital RF demodulator

for a laserdisc player, connected it all to some speakers and a 25-inch Proton tube TV, and voila! I had my first home theater system.

 

It didn’t have a lot of style or elegance, and it certainly wasn’t luxury, but I was on the cutting edge of 5.1-channel technology, and it sounded better than anything my friends had.

 

And I was hooked.

 

Over the years, my system has seen a lot of upgrades, most frequently in the preamp/processor section, as I chase the technology dragon of trying to stay current with surround formats, channel counts, and HDMI processing. (For the record, the 13.1-channel Marantz AV8805 is currently serving processing duties in my rack, and doing a very fine job of it, thank you.)

 

Speakers get upgraded the least often, as a good speaker rarely stops sounding good, and, if cared for, rarely breaks. Sources come and go as technology improves. Gone are the VCR, and the LaserDisc and DVD players. Currently in use are a Kaleidescape Strato and M500 player, Samsung UHD Blu-ray, Apple 4KTV, Dish Hopper 3, and Microsoft Xbox One.

 

Lying in the upgrade middle ground is my system display. Long gone is the 25-inch Proton, having been replaced by a 35-inch Mitsubishi, then a 61-inch Samsung DLP, then a 60-inch Pioneer Elite Plasma. Currently, my primary display is a Sony XBR-65X930D, a 65-inch 4K LED. However, it’s a D-

generation, and Sony is now on G models, so it might be due for replacement next year.

 

One device in my system that has never been upgraded is my video projector.

 

I always wanted a truly big-screen, cinematic experience, and this meant a projector and screen. So I purchased the best projector Marantz made (the VP-11S2, shown below) back in 2008, along with a Panamorph anamorphic lens and motorized 

sled system. This setup fires onto a Draper MultiView screen that has masking to show either a 92-inch 16:9 image or a 115-inch 2.35:1 Cinemascope image.

 

The first time we dropped the lights, powered on the projector, and lowered the screen, I was ecstatic. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to have this amazing system in my own home, and we essentially stopped going out to the movies.

 

I continued to feel that way about my projection system for years. It 

It's Time to Update My Theater

provided an amazing, truly cinematic experience that made me happy literally every time we used it. And use it we did, generally watching two to three movies per week on the big screen.

 

But then, technology moved on.

 

Principally, HDMI went from 1.4 to 2.0, resolution went from 1080p to 4K, and video went from SDR to HDR.

 

While the Marantz still worked, it was now by far the weakest link in my theater chain, and it no longer supported any of the sources we wanted to watch. In fact, just watching a Blu-ray on the system via our Kaleidescape meant going into the Kaleidescape’s Web setup utility and telling the system to “dumb itself down” to output HDMI 1.4 signals. A huge hassle.

 

So, a couple of years ago, we basically stopped using the projector at all.

 

But, some things changed in the projector world at the recent CEDIA Expo in Denver that inspired me to finally make the upgrade plunge, and that’s what I’ll dive into in my next post!

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.