Home Theater

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.

A Guide to Luxury Amps & Preamps

A Guide to Luxury Amps & Preamps
What is a Luxury Entertainment System?

As promised in our last Cineluxe Basics post, which covered the things you should consider when picking source components for your luxury home-entertainment system, this time we’ll be turning our attention to one of the most important—but also one of the most overlooked—components required to make such systems work. It’s such an esoteric piece of gear that you may not fully understand what it does.

 

But hopefully by the end of this discussion you’ll not only have a lot more respect for the lowly preamplifier; you’ll also be better able to make a more informed decision about which one is right for your system.

 

Everyone understands that source components like disc players, satellite boxes, movie servers, and video streamers deliver the movies and TV shows you watch on a regular basis, either from a silver platter, the airwaves, or a hard drive somewhere.

It’s positively axiomatic that your TV or projector is responsible for delivering those images to your eyes, and your speakers transmit sound through the air to your ears.

 

The preamp, though? It’s the box that sits in the middle, functioning as a sort of air-traffic control for your entertainment system. It sends the video from your sources to your display. It decodes the digital audio stream from your source components and sends it to your amps and speakers in analog form.

 

And you may be thinking to yourself, “That sounds an awful lot like an AV receiver!” It’s true. Preamp/amplifiers serve the same function in a luxury home-entertainment system as do AV receivers. It’s simply that a receiver combines all of the preamplification and amplification in one box, whereas going the preamp/amplifier route gives you a lot more flexibility in terms of perfectly matching your amplification needs to your speakers and your room.

 

As a result, it’s not inaccurate to say that a preamp/amp combo will generally give you better performance than a receiver, especially in a larger room. A more accurate explanation would also be a much more complicated one, but if you’re itching for a geeky discussion about the topic, I wrote one a few years back for Home Theater Review.

 

At any rate, these days all of the above is only part of the equation when it comes to selecting the right preamp. Another important function that has arisen in the past few years is digital room correction. Broadly speaking, “digital room correction” is a catch-all term that covers a number of different technologies, but all of them ostensibly serve the same purpose: To use a combination of equalization and other filtering to reverse the deleterious acoustic effects your room itself has on the sound leaving your speakers.

 

These effects come in two forms: Those caused by the shape of your room and those caused by the surfaces in your room. The former affects the clarity and evenness of bass in the room, as the low-frequency sounds coming from

your subwoofers and other speakers bounce off the walls and ceilings and either cancel each other out or reinforce one another.

 

Bass frequencies below 250 Hz or so (the highest note you can play on a double bass) have a really long wavelength, between five and 60 feet, so it takes a really big, flat surface to reflect them. So, it doesn’t really matter if your room is decorated with wood paneling or acoustic fabric; your subwoofer is going to sound overwhelming in one part of the room and wimpy in another. All good room-correction systems will listen to a microphone placed in and around the seats in

your entertainment space and tweak the sounds coming from your subs and speakers so the bass has impact and authority without sounding boomy or sloppy.

 

A great example of a room-correction system that positively excels in this respect is Anthem Room Correction, which you’ll find, appropriately enough, on preamps made by Anthem, like the AVM 60 (shown at the top of the page). If you have a dedicated home cinema space with acoustically treated walls, Anthem Room Correction is likely all you need to whip your bass into shape and make your subwoofers sounds like a million bucks.

If, on the other hand, you have a multi-use home-entertainment space in a living room or family room, your installer may recommend a more sophisticated—and indeed more expensive—preamplifier with a more advanced room-correction solution. That’s because it takes a lot more processing power and a lot more calculations to digitally correct problems that arise from hard or uneven surfaces in the room—like mirrors, windows, cabinets, hardwood floors, etc.—or even standard decorations like vases, coffee tables, or even columns along the wall. Since these surfaces are smaller than, say, the entire back wall of your room, they affect smaller wavelengths of sound—hence, higher frequencies.

 

You can attempt to correct for such problems with almost any room-correction system, but the cheaper ones—like you’ll find on most mass-market AV receivers—don’t do a very good job of it, leaving you with a sound system that’s lifeless, dull, and uninspiring.

 

Better, more sophisticated room-correction solutions, though, can go a long way toward erasing the harsh audible effects of such surfaces from the sound that reaches your ears, without making it sound like you’ve thrown a blanket over your head. Examples of such systems include RoomPerfect, which you can find on Lyngdorf’s MP-50 and MP-60 preamplifiers, as 

well as Trinnov’s Speaker/Room Optimizer, found on the company’s Altitude line of preamps. Your installer may also recommend preamps that rely on Dirac Live room correction, an excellent mid-priced solution.

 

As for amplifiers? Your best bet here is simply to listen to the advice of your installer. You will, of course, need one channel of amplification for every speaker in your system (except perhaps for the subwoofers, which often contain their own amplification),

so if you’re installing a 7.2.6-channel system (that’s seven ear-level speakers, two subwoofers, and six overhead speakers), you’ll need at least 13 channels of amplification. That may come in the form of two seven-channel amps, seven stereo amps, or even 13 standalone “monoblock” amplifiers, with each configuration having its own relative pluses and minuses. But again, chances are good your installer is intimately familiar with the speakers going into your system, and knows what amplification will work best.

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.

A Guide to Luxury Source Components

A Guide to Luxury Source Components
What is a Luxury Entertainment System?

Continuing our series on the basic building blocks of a luxury entertainment system, it’s time for us to discuss some of the less sexy decisions you need to make. That’s right, we’ve come to the electronics, and we’ll be breaking this broad category into two separate posts to make it a little easier to digest.

 

First up, we’ll be tackling source components, with sound processing and amplification covered in a future update. If you’re not familiar with the term “source components,” it basically covers all of the little black (or sometimes white) boxes you plug

into your home entertainment system to provide audio and video entertainment. Your satellite receiver is a source component. Your disc player is, too, if you’re still clinging to those things (which you may well be if you live in a remote area with unreliable network access or already have a gigantic collection of silver platters).

 

But if you’re building a modern luxury home-entertainment system in a reasonably well-connected locale, chances are good neither of those old standbys will find its way into your system. One source you’ll definitely want to add, though, is a good media streamer. And this is true even if you’ve decided on a TV that has smart streaming apps built in, because dedicated streamers do make a difference when it comes to video quality.

 

If you already have a preferred media-streaming platform of choice, you can, of course, opt for that one. Just know that not all of the various options are interchangeable, so it’s a good idea to decide which streaming apps you use the most and get the media streamer that best supports them. Want to watch Netflix with Dolby Atmos sound? Apple TV can do it; Chromecast can’t. Do you already have a pretty significant library of films in the Vudu app? Roku and Apple TV have an app for that; Amazon Fire TV doesn’t. Looking forward to the new Disney+ streaming service? You’ll be able to watch it via any dedicated media streamer or gaming console—except for Amazon Fire TV.

 

Of course, there are any number of reasons why you don’t want to rely on a media streamer as your sole source of video content. For one thing, only a handful of streaming 

apps out there at the moment—Netflix, Vudu, and Amazon, just to name a few of the few—deliver truly fantastic audio and video quality. Far too many streaming providers, though, are still stuck in 2016 when it comes to their delivery methods and their quality. And then, of course, there’s the fact that even a rock-solid and reliable internet 

connection can be counted on to occasionally drop out at the least convenient time.

 

That’s why you’ll also want to have a reference-quality video server in your system. Something like the Kaleidescape movie player (shown at the top of the page) will not only give you a truly reference-quality viewing and listening experience, since its collection of downloadable films and TV shows is much less compressed than what you’ll get from streaming (and sometimes

even less compressed than what you’ll get from discs); your collection is also there for the viewing anytime you want, since your internet connection is only used for the initial download. In other words, your entertainment is stored locally, on rock-solid, monitored hardware.

 

The other big benefit of the Kaleidescape ecosystem is its elegant user interface. And if you think that’s not a big deal, try something for me: Fire up Netflix or Vudu or Amazon or any of the otherwise great streaming services, and try to find something worth watching. It can be a bit frustrating, can’t it? Kaleidescape not only offers curated collections that help you hone your purchasing decisions, but it also offers a couple different ways to navigate the content you already own. If you know, for example, that you want to watch Apocalypse Now: Final Cut, you can simply peruse your library in alphabetical order, and there it is, right near the top.

 

If, on the other hand, you know you’re in the mood for something a little more classic, but you’re not quite sure what, you might prefer to browse your library by cover art instead. Taking this route is almost like scanning your shelves for a disc, assuming you could find a magical shelf that would rearrange your disc collection every time your eyes rested on one particular title for more than a few seconds. Gravitate to Lawrence of Arabia, for example, and your library will rearrange to surround it with titles like The Bridge on the River Kwai.

 

For movies and TV shows, that’s really all you need: A good media streamer for day-to-day viewing and a Kaleidescape for those treasured favorites that you return to time and 

again, and for anything you want to view in the best quality possible. If you’re a gamer, you’ll probably want to add a PlayStation 4 Pro, an Xbox One, or a Nintendo Switch—or perhaps all three. And if you’re an old-school audiophile or new-school analog audio enthusiast, you might also add a good turntable to this mix. If, on the other hand, you’re more of a hi-res digital hi-fi aficionado, you might want a Roon server.

 

But those are personal choices, of course. If we’re just talking the basics, two good sources are all you really need.

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.

Tube-Based Home Theater–Why Not?

Tube-Based Home Theater--Why Not?

the Zen Ultra 5.1-channel preamplifier

Many audiophiles love tube gear. So why do we almost never see or hear about tube-based home theater systems? If tubes sound so luxuriously great, why aren’t they more common in home entertainment installations?

 

Multichannel-friendly tube products do exist. Decware makes a multichannel tube preamp— the Zen Ultra, a $2,995 six-channel unit that accommodates up to four program sources. Butler Audio offers its five-channel TDB 5150 tube power amplifier ($2,995) and three-channel TDB 3150 (price currently unavailable). For a program source, there are the

Tube-Based Home Theater--Why Not?

ModWright Instruments modifications of the Oppo BDP-105 (shown at left), BDP-105D, and UDP-205 Blu-ray players ($2,495 for the base modification only; user must supply player). Note that the players themselves are discontinued—you’ll have to search to find one.

Not exactly a big list.

 

In fact, I couldn’t find any other tube Blu-ray players or multichannel preamps other than out-of-production ModWright mods of other models—the Fosgate Audionics FAP V1 preamp/processor and the Conrad-Johnson MET-1 multichannel preamp. (If

readers know of any other products, please let me know.) There are also Samsung components that have tubes in their amplifiers, but they’re home-theater-in-a-box systems, not luxury AV products.

 

On the other hand, there is a plethora of tube amplifiers (in addition to the Butler Audio models) that could be used in a home theater system. In a 5.1 system, for example, 

Tube-Based Home Theater--Why Not?

the tubes in Samsung’s HT-H7750 home-theater-in-a-box system

you could employ stereo amps for the main and the surround channels and a mono or bridged stereo amp for the center channel. Or use five separate mono amps. (This is assuming a powered subwoofer in the system; a passive subwoofer would require another amp to drive it.)

 

So—other than tube amplifiers, there’s an obvious lack of tube home theater components.

 

Also, to use a multichannel tube preamp, you’d want to pair it with a source component with discrete (separate) multichannel audio outputs. You guessed it—there aren’t many around. Other than the ModWright/BDP-105, BDP-105D, and UDP-205 (and other models they’ve offered over the years), there are only a few other (solid-state) Blu-ray players with such outputs, 

like the highly regarded Ultra HD Panasonic DP-UB9000 or the Denon Professional DN-500BD MK II, recommended by Decware head honcho Steve Deckert. (You could use an HDMI-to-multichannel analog converter box with a Blu-ray player or other A/V source without multichannel analog outputs, but such a kludge would almost certainly degrade the sound.)

 

What about those tube amps? There are plenty available. But you’d have to use amps that are powerful enough for home theater, which limits the range of choices. Just picture a phalanx of big, hot, heavy, energy-sucking amps in your home-entertainment room—maybe not something that

would fit into your living environment. And as I mentioned in an earlier post, tube components do require some attention and maintenance.

 

But the main reason tube-based home theater systems are rare is that there’s almost no demand for them. As Stereophile’s Kal Rubinson noted, “There are too few people to make tube home theater components a viable market for manufacturers. Even 10 years ago, when we were in what we might call a ‘golden age’ of home theater popularity, it was hard to find such components or customers who wanted them.”

 

Based on my experience over decades of going to countless audio shows, dealers, and homes, I agree. And there are those who would say, “Why bother? Tubes don’t sound any better than solid-state.”

 

That said, having a tube home theater system is more than just some outrageous idea dreamed up by the editor and myself.

 

While not wanting to reveal sales figures, Decware told me the company sells several of its six-channel tube preamps each year. And between 2010 and 2019, ModWright has sold an average of 100 tube Blu-ray players each year (in addition to

other tube and hybrid components). That’s hundreds of listeners—maybe not McDonald’s numbers, but proof that there are enthusiasts out there who prize tube home theater sound. (How many home theater systems have tube amps? As of now, I don’t have an estimate, if one is even available.)

 

Also, although they’re not multichannel, there are countless stereo tube CD players, DACs (digital-to-analog 

converters), and even phono stages that could be incorporated into home entertainment systems, the $2,999 PrimaLuna Prologue Classic CD player (shown above) being just one example.

 

In fact, there are some who feel you don’t even need multichannel to enjoy spacious home theater sound. A well-set-up 2-channel or 2.1-channel system (two speakers and a subwoofer) can offer a compelling listening experience, maybe even fooling listeners into thinking they’re hearing surround sound. And there’s a wide variety of tube stereo components out there with which to create such a system.

 

Certainly, most people are going to go with a standard home-entertainment installation. Yet if you want to experience some sonic tube flavor in your system, it might be an uncommon option—but it’s a viable one.

Frank Doris

Frank Doris is the chief cook & bottle washer for Frank Doris/Public Relations and works with a
number of audio & music industry clients. He’s a professional guitarist and a vinyl enthusiast with
multiple turntables and thousands of records.

Cineluxe Talks To Paradise Theater’s Sam Cavitt

A sampling of Sam Cavitt’s theaters, showing the wide variety of his work

Lisa Montgomery recently talked to Paradise Theater‘s Sam Cavitt about his advocacy for no-compromise high-performance home theaters in an age of “good enough” entertainment spaces. As you can read in Sam’s “A Great Home Theater is Like Fine Wine,” he feels that the move toward non-dedicated spaces is keeping people from appreciating the extraordinary playback quality contemporary gear can achieve. Sam further develops that theme in his conversation with Lisa, while also discussing the true definition of “luxury.”

—Ed.

How has the perception of home theater changed over the years?

Today, when I tell someone my company designs home theaters, it’s likely they think I’m talking about as little as a single soundbar-style speaker and a big-screen TV in the family room. Home theater has become such a generic term and the products so seriously commoditized that it’s lost much of its significance. People no longer look at home theater as what it can be—what it can bring to their lives—but instead focus on how conveniently and affordably it can be added to a home. Building a special space for the enjoyment of movie viewing is often deemed to be unnecessary.

 

It sounds like home theater has become a more mainstream amenity instead of a luxury item. Is this a bad thing?

If you mean the difference between a commodity and luxury item, the answer is yes. Today the word “luxury” is misinterpreted. The true definition of luxury is something that is so clearly superior to alternatives due to quality of materials,

Sam Cavitt Interview

Sam Cavitt

workmanship, and design that it is inherently of a greater value; whereas a commodity is something that is only differentiated by low price.  Which would you prefer?

 

While mass-market home theaters may have exposed more people to the concept of home theater, it devalues the art, craftsmanship, and difference inherent in a genuine, state-of-the-art private cinema that’s been designed expressly for movie viewing. The general public isn’t being shown the differences between the experiences you get from a home theater “kit” versus the bespoke private cinemas we provide.

 

I notice that you’ve been referring to home theaters as private home cinemas. Is this intentional?

Yes. The level of engineering and design that goes into the theaters we create for our clientele is so many levels above and the results so substantially different from what you can get from “off the shelf” alternatives that we must be differentiated from what is commonly called home theater. The elements of a theater we think are vitally important simply can’t be achieved through easy-does-it 

types of approaches. We want to set ourselves apart as “cinema sommeliers,” an organization that helps our clientele understand and appreciate the differences we offer. One way to do this is to stop referring to our completed projects as home theaters and instead refer to them as “private cinemas.”

 

As a cinema sommelier, what level of service can clients expect to receive?

Like a wine sommelier imparts their knowledge to help each client select the perfect wine pairing, as cinema sommeliers, we help our clients understand the value of improved sound quality, video quality, acoustics, and aesthetics of a space, the differences between a great private cinema and an out-of-the-box home theater. We can identify the specific elements—from a room’s geometry and sonic signature to the expectations of those who will be enjoying it—to enable us to transform the space into something that’s truly amazing.

 

In our industry, most home theater specialists fail to identify and promote the value of what they do for their clientele. We feel home theaters have become a pleasure unexploited. I’ve made it my personal mission to spread the word to the public that it’s possible to have something great, that it is worthy of their consideration to acquire a private cinema that will enhance their enjoyment and that they can share with those they love—similar to what people now do with fine art, personal wine cellars, gourmet kitchens, and so on.

 

How does Paradise Theater handle the actual design and installation of the elements that make up a private home cinema?

We provide comprehensive private cinema design and engineering, including design of what we call the chassis or how a room is built, acoustical engineering, system specification, interior design services, and full documentation to support the build-out of the space as well as quality control and performance verification throughout the construction process. What we

don’t do is sell equipment. We leave that to the many well-qualified integration companies we partner with on projects. This allows us to focus on our core competency—ensuring that each phase of the project is completed to perfection. We are like an architect who leads the construction of a home, but providing complete quality assurance for private home theaters. From the first glimmer of an idea to the final experience, we handle the entire process from A to Z.

 

Your projects represent the upper echelon of home theater design. What can potential customers expect from Paradise Theater that they can’t get elsewhere?
Every theater we create is bespoke—there are no

cookie-cutter theaters. Each one is purposely designed to the specific objectives and desires of the client. The reason Paradise Theater exists is its commitment to excellence. Other firms might talk about “how” they do theaters and “what” they do to create theaters, but we focus on the “why.” Why do we create home theaters? Because creating something excellent is the basis of everything we do. It’s in our DNA—our raison d’être.

 

Given the high-end nature of your theaters, your target customers are those with the disposable incomes to afford them. What is it that inspires this group of consumers to invest in a private cinema designed by Paradise Theater?

The love of finer things. Paradise Theater clients are the same people who buy fine art and luxury automobiles. They are investing in things they love. We position a home theater the same way as any other luxury item—people should have one because they love movies, but even more so for the love of having an environment that lets them connect with friends and family and create unforgettable moments. We want our theaters to bring people together, share special experiences, and connect.

 

Have any of your clients found that your theaters have, in fact, enhanced their lives in some significant way?

Two top executives who were previous clients had such busy lives that they told us that they had never watched a movie together. After we created a private home cinema for them, movie night became a regular part of their personal and social lives—it was game-changing for them.

With more than 20 years under her belt covering all things electronic for the home, Lisa
Montgomery 
has developed a knack for knowing what types of products and systems
make sense for homeowners looking to update their abodes. When she’s not exploring
innovative ways to introduce technology into homes, Lisa breaks away from the electronics
world on a bike, kayak, or a towel on the beach.

A Great Home Theater is Like Fine Wine

A Great Home Theater is Like Fine Wine

The integrator (Station Earth), interior designer (Red Theory), and theater designer (Paradise Theater)
teamed up to deliver the best of all worlds with this unique private cinema

Years ago, when the term “home theater” originated, it was used to describe something exciting and new. For the first time, the window to the world of fantasy, formerly only available through the venerable “silver screen,” became available in the home. Larger-than-life images, the first immersive audio, and the rooms themselves—from Art Deco to classic to modern, reminiscent of famous theater palaces—started appearing in the homes of those who had the passion and the means to pursue the emerging amenity. A new community emerged, and for the first time we became home theater enthusiasts.

 

In the beginning, those who took up the challenge to bring this experience into the home were inspired by the challenge and the opportunity. The objective of the film producer, to achieve the willing suspense of disbelief, became the challenge for home theater designers. This suspension of disbelief is what great films produce, enabling the viewer to become fully

A Great Home Theater is Like Fine Wine

There are no limits to style when aesthetics are artfully integrated with engineering

engaged in the cinematic experience. To quote Roger Ebert: “Movies are the most powerful empathy machine in all the arts. When I go to a great movie I can live somebody else’s life for a while. I can walk in somebody else’s shoes.“ It takes a great theater environment to realize this experience.

 

On one hand, this earlier era might be considered the “heyday” of home theater, when owning one was considered a worthy

aspiration, and the professionals who designed them were part of an elite group committed to delivering spaces that included emerging technology, aesthetic elements, and performance. Home theater was emerging as a considerable pursuit with a growing community of enthusiasts and professionals. 

 

Ironically, this heyday, while enjoying the enthusiasm of a new idea, fell far short of today’s capacity to deliver excellence. In fact, we were learning, and made many mistakes along the way. However, those who have stayed the course now have the ability to deliver cinematic experiences in the home far superior to any past home theaters—and, in fact, far superior to all but a very few elite commercial or professional screening rooms. The images, the sound, the acoustics, and the knowledge enable us to deliver a level of quality we could only dream of in the past. Unfortunately, along the way home theater has taken on so many forms that those who might have an interest in the experience face a confusing set of options.

A Great Home Theater is Like Fine Wine

A bespoke interior design conceals a state-of-the-art immersive audio system
and theater chassis in this luxury-resort amenity cinema

Manufacturers today offer many alternative solutions that can transform family rooms, dens, even spare bedrooms into what are now called home theaters. It’s not necessarily a bad thing that a larger population of homeowners has an awareness and opportunity to enjoy home theater in some form. The problem is the inference that this defines home theater, that the difference between these solutions and a fully engineered high-performance home theater has become obscured. The rhetoric in some circles is that there is very little difference or that most people can’t tell the difference.

 

But these systems are a far cry from what is readily obtainable today and, most importantly, the purpose of home theater as it originated—a space created to support the artists’ intent, a willing suspension of disbelief; and the potential of the art today—a window to experience a world of art and fantasy like never before. 

It’s like wine. Some people are fine with a mediocre wine, while others have learned to appreciate the qualities of a finer, more expensive wine. People will always find a less expensive and less perfect way to do something, and, until they are shown the difference, will not realize there’s a big difference between the ordinary and the extraordinary. This is especially true when it comes to home theater.

 

Rather than merely focus on the technology behind the movie magic, my company applies a holistic approach, where every aspect of the environment—construction, engineering, aesthetics, and ergonomics—is crafted for the purpose of producing the finest private cinema experience every time. Consider us a bit of a unicorn in the home theater industry by focusing on what we have done and still do best: Designing luxurious, high-caliber, private spaces dedicated to superb movie viewing for our clients around the globe. 

ABOUT
PARADISE THEATER

 

My company, Paradise Theater, which has offices in both Hawaii and California, engineers and designs extraordinary high-performance private cinemas worldwide. Working with integrators, architects and interior designers, Paradise Theater provides the value-added services of optimized room acoustics, private theater performance engineering, design development and integration of theater interiors, and performance verification. The pursuit of excellence in private cinemas is the raison d’être for both me and my company.

—S.C.

Although a lot has changed in the home theater world—the types of technologies available, the variety of professionals who install them, and a looser definition of the term—my team and I have stayed true to the original goals of home theater design by customizing each and every room specifically to provide the best experience possible.

 

We have indeed carved a niche for ourselves in the home theater market by giving consumers a high-end option with high-end results. Yes, technology plays an integral role in the rooms we create, but amazing movie viewing is best achieved when in a space that’s been built, engineered, and designed for that one pastime. Light from windows, noise from a busy street, the hum of a video projector—nothing interferes with the movie-viewing action in an expertly crafted private home cinema.

 

Our mission is to create excellent home cinemas. It’s my passion, and the reason I continue to do what I do.

Sam Cavitt

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

A Guide to Luxury Speaker Systems

What is a Luxury Entertainment System?

Once you’ve decided what type of luxury home entertainment system best suits your needs and decided whether you want to go with a TV or a projector and screen, you should next think about what kind of speaker system you’d like to have. In Part Three of Cineluxe Basics, we’ll guide you through some of the options, and some of the things you need to think about when picking out your sound system.

 

This is arguably a more important decision than what type of video display to go with, if only because you’ll probably be living with your new speaker system for way longer. Unlike TVs, projectors, and indeed even electronics—which often become

outdated after a few years due to the rise of new audio/video standards—a good speaker system can perform at its best for decades to come, with no updates needed.

 

That’s not to say that there have been no recent advancements in speaker technology, though. As mentioned in “What is a Luxury Entertainment System?” perhaps the biggest change is that hidden architectural speakers—those designed to be installed in your walls or ceiling and painted to match the environment—now boast levels of performance that were unheard of just a decade ago.

 

Take GoldenEar Technology’s Invisa Signature Point Source speakers, for example. These discrete in-walls deliver much the same performance as the company’s lauded in-room tower speakers, just without the big, black, monolithic design. GoldenEar also makes some very nice, practically invisible in-ceiling speakers, so you could build a nearly complete Atmos surround sound speaker system without ever seeing a single box in the room with you. Other companies known for producing high-performance architectural speakers include MartinLogan, Origin Acoustics, PSB, RBH, Triad, and Wisdom Audio.

 

I say “nearly complete” because in addition to five or seven ear-level speakers (depending on your preferences and the geometry of your room) and two, four, or six overhead speakers (if you want to do Atmos and DTS:X), you’ll also need a subwoofer or four. And while most of these bass-makers are big, unsightly boxes, you do have some options for hidden subs, as well.

 

James Loudspeaker makes a diverse line of hidden subs that come in all shapes and sizes, from in-wall options designed for installation in a standard stud bay to larger boxed subwoofers that can be mounted in the attic or in a cabinet, then vented out through a grille that looks like a 

traditional HVAC vent. Origin Acoustics also offers subwoofers similar to the latter, but with vents that open up into a port that looks virtually identical to can ceiling lights.

 

Chances are good that you’ll want to go with a hidden subwoofer of this sort even if you opt for in-room speakers. Which, by the way, doesn’t mean you’ve completely given up on your décor. These days, any number of luxury speaker manufacturers 

offer models that look right at home in even the chicest of interiors. Focal’s Kanta line, just to name one example, comes in a wide array of finishes running the gamut from Gauloise Blue to Warm Taupe. Simply put, these gorgeous cabinets are as much of a statement as they are a high-performance sound source.

 

If Italian design is more to your liking, check out Sonus Faber’s Homage Tradition collection, a deliciously retro lineup that borrows much of its handcrafted design from 

A Guide to Luxury Speaker Systems

Bang & Olufsen’s Beolab 18 speakers

the art of violin making. Or the company’s newer Sonetto Collection, which draws heavy inspiration from the shape of the lute for its distinctive styling.

 

Depending on your aesthetic taste, you may also find what you’re looking for in the style-focused designs of luxury manufacturers like Steinway Lyngdorf, Meridian, and Bang & Olufsen.

 

No matter how large the room or beautiful the speakers, though, few people would want to have an Atmos system made up of nothing but massive floorstanding models. One common solution is to have tower speakers flanking your TV or projection screen (sometimes accompanied by a matching, wall-mounted center channel speaker) and then employ high-performance architectural speakers for the surround channels.

 

These recommendations shouldn’t be viewed as the last word, by the way—merely a starting point in your exploration of what’s available at the moment in terms of ultimate-performance speakers that will either accentuate or recede into the background of your carefully crafted décor. The point is, you don’t have to sacrifice on style to put together a home cinema sound system that will positively embarrass your local cineplex. 

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.

A Guide to Luxury Video Displays

What is a Luxury Entertainment System?

In our first Cineluxe Basics post—”What is a Luxury Entertainment System?“—we provided a 30,000-foot overview of the basic components that go into building a modern AV system. The goal there was not to overwhelm you with technical specs or particulars, but rather give you a general understanding of what bits you need when having a luxury system specced and installed for you.

As promised, though, we’ll now start digging into the specifics of each type of gear, for those who want a deeper understanding of the technology and a better sense of what makes a component suitable for a luxury environment and a world-class home entertainment experience.

 

First up: Video displays (aka TVs). As mentioned in the overview, you should first decide what type of screen you want or need for your room. Your main two choices are between a TV or a projection system with separate projector and screen. (But there is a third option emerging, which I’ll touch on in a bit).

 

If you’re building a dedicated home theater, or if for whatever reason you simply want or need a screen larger than 85 inches, a projection system may be your best bet, for all of the reasons John Sciacca details in “Basic Choices: Projector or TV? Pt. 1.” If you’re building a media room or multi-use space, though, don’t let anyone talk you out of a high-performance TV. Today’s best Ultra HD (4K), HDR-capable displays deliver a level of visual excellence that’s hard to match with any level of projector/screen combo. You’ll get deeper and truer blacks, more spectacular highlights, richer and more lifelike color, not to mention that TVs generate much less heat and noise.

 

“What about the sense of scale, though? The wow-factor? That wall-filling spectacle of it all?” I hear you asking. Truth be told, all of that is really determined not purely by screen size but by the relationship between the size of the screen and the distance to your seat. Park yourself six-and-a-half feet away from a 75-inch TV, and you’ll enjoy the same IMAX-like viewing experience as if you sat ten-and-a-half feet from a 120-inch screen. Depending on the size of your room, that may also leave enough space behind you for a more immersive surround sound experience.

 

If you’ve paid any attention to the TV market as of late, you’ve noticed that there are hordes of high-performance, 

75-inch and larger UHD TVs ripe for the picking. But would they all be at home in a luxury entertainment space? I argue not. What sets luxury TVs apart isn’t merely their specifications, but rather their industrial design

 

That’s why I think something like Sony’s XBR-75X950G (shown below) is the starting point for luxury. At $3,300, this TV offers excellent performance, but perhaps more importantly, the X950G sports a simple-yet-stylish design you won’t be

A Guide to Video Displays

embarrassed to hang on your wall or place on the credenza in the living room. It also features niceties more economical TVs lack, like integrated cable management, so you can keep your installation neat and tidy.

 

Step up to something like Sony’s Master Series displays and you do get a bit of a performance boost (including 8K resolution at the very top of the line). But just as importantly, you also get sleeker, more innovative designs, ensuring your TV will look just as good when it’s off as it does when it’s on.

If these models are still a little too “TV-like” for your tastes, LG will soon be introducing a pair of OLED displays that break traditional design molds. The company’s OLED88Z9PUA (shown at the top of the page) eschews the standard pedestal for a built-in open shelf that creates the illusion of the TV floating in mid-air. Its upcoming R9  

OLED, meanwhile, turns the screen itself into a rollable element that retracts into an elegant speaker console when not in use. The screen can also peek out of its hidden home to give you a quick look at the weather, the time, or the particulars of the music you’re currently listening to.

 

Of course, we can’t talk about innovative TVs that break all design molds without mentioning Bang & Olufsen. You may remember B&O from its iconic BeoSound 9000, a radical wall-mounted CD player that practically defined Danish style in the mid 90s, or perhaps you have a B&O sound system in your BMW or Audi. But the company also makes some of the most

gorgeous displays we’ve ever seen. The Beovision Eclipse is a high-performance 4K HDR OLED TV with a built-in 450-watt sound system and an incredibly versatile motorized mounting system. This fall, though, the new 77-inch Beovision Harmony will take things even further with a stunning three-channel speaker system that unfolds from the front of the display like a piece of kinetic origami.

The bottom line is that any display you add to your luxury entertainment environment should enhance, not detract from, the décor. And there are plenty of options that do exactly that. But as mentioned above, there’s another display option that is neither TV nor projector.

A Guide to Luxury Video Displays

Samsung’s MicroLED “The Wall”

Video walls are starting to make their presence known in luxury AV installations in a big (huge!) way. Granted, in the past, such walls were constructed by butting smaller displays up next to each other and splitting an image across them. Today, though, MicroLED technology from companies like Planar (and soon Samsung, LG, and Sony) allows installers to build larger and larger screens out of modular components that can fill a wall from top to bottom with seamless 4K or 8K imagery. No lines. No stripes. Just vibrant imagery with no boundaries.

 

For now, this technology is mostly aimed at commercial applications. But Planar has already had great success in the luxury home market, and as companies like Samsung, Sony, and LG bring their own MicroLED modules to the market, you can expect to see them become more common in the home.

Dennis Burger

RELATED POSTS

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.