Home Theater

Even Streaming is Better than Most Movie Theaters

We’ve been talking a lot here lately about how a home entertainment system—built with the right components, carefully installed, and properly calibrated—can now deliver an experience that surpasses that of most commercial movie theaters. There’s this persistent and niggling perception in the home theater enthusiast community, though, that achieving such a seemingly lofty goal means that you must eschew streaming formats like Netflix, Amazon Instant, and Vudu altogether.

Simply put, this is silly.

 

And mind you, I’m not saying that such streaming formats are perfect. Consider the fact that your typical 4K movie, which is only compressed down to roughly 250 megabits per second at your local cineplex, is squeezed into a 15- or 20-megabit-per-second pipe for Vudu streaming. It’s pretty obvious that something is lost along the information superhighway. (A UHD Blu-ray release or Kaleidescape download, by the way, runs at more along the lines of 60 to 100 mbps).

I’m merely arguing that when viewed in the right environment, on the right system, the quality of the experience you can get via streaming can far exceed the quality of most movie theaters.

 

How is that possible given the above admission about compression? It all boils down to the way our eyes prioritize certain elements of an image over others. In short, the most important aspects of an image, at least to our eyes and our brains, are black level and dynamic range. The closer the darkest parts of an image are to true black, and the more steps there are between the darkest and lightest areas of an image (to a point), the more pop and impact an image has.

Streaming Better Than Movie Theaters

Need an example? Here’s a screen grab from the 2017 Pixar film Coco. The top image is a direct screen grab in all its high-contrast glory, with inky blacks and sparkling highlights. And this doesn’t even capture the high dynamic range you’d get from the Vudu stream of the film, with its enhanced sparkle and superior shadow detail.

 

The bottom image? I simply tweaked the contrast to make the blacks a little less black and the whites a little less white, in line with the limited brightness and dynamic range capabilities of most commercial cinema projectors and screens.

 

And you may be thinking to yourself, “What about the vibrancy of the colors? The glow of those magically lit leaves? The pop of Miguel’s jacket? Surely you toned down the colors of the bottom image a bit, too!”  Nope.

The perceived loss of saturation in the bottom image is simply a byproduct of tweaking the relationship between black and white, to illustrate the differences between a good home display and Screen 3 at Jim Bob’s Continental Cinema 16 down the street. That’s literally the only thing I manipulated here.

 

Actually, I lied. The top image was also subjected to roughly four times as much lossy compression as the bottom before I combined them and compressed them again.

And hey, maybe you don’t like the DayGlo color palette of Coco as it was originally intended to be seen. That’s valid. But what’s true of this example is true for any other film. Even via a streaming source like Vudu or Netflix at home, you’re getting an image that’s more vibrant, with truer-to-life contrasts and oodles more brightness. And at the end of the day, that’s far more important to our visual cortices.

 

And that’s not even taking into account the films these days that were color graded and mastered with the superior brightness and dynamic range of home displays in mind, with no thought given to the compromised theatrical experience. I’ve never seen a theatrical presentation that came close to capturing the contrast, shadow detail, and highlights of Netflix’ The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, just to name one example.

 

Maybe if more commercials theaters converted to Dolby Cinema, with its vivid laser projection and higher dynamic range, this argument would carry less weight. But of the 250 Dolby Cinema theaters in the US of A, the closest one to me is a two-and-a-half-hour drive away. So, for me, the very best commercial cinema experience is defined by the

limitations of IMAX Digital. And if you bother to venture out to your local cineplex with any frequency, the same is likely true for you, as well.

 

In his most recent post, our own John Sciacca made the point that Kaleidescape is the only sure-fire way of ensuring that you enjoy the absolute best picture and sound that you can at home, short of buying UHD Blu-ray discs. That’s absolutely true. No arguments from me on that point. If nothing less than audiovisual perfection will suffice, streaming hasn’t reached that level
. . . yet.

 

But if we’re simply talking about enjoying a better experience than you’re likely to get at your average local megaplex? I would argue that streaming, in the era of 4K and HDR, and when viewed on a properly installed and calibrated home display, has already crossed that Rubicon.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

How to Have Movie Theater-Quality Content at Home

Movie Theater-Quality Content at Home

While streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime are terrific content sources boasting some great original programming, and include a smorgasbord of virtually unlimited on-demand programming, they’re not a complete media solution for a luxury home theater. And while the picture and sound quality is often “good enough,” when the goal is to exceed the commercial cinema experience at home, you need to look elsewhere for high-resolution content.

 

For a better-than-movie-theater experience at home, no source component or streaming service can touch the Kaleidescape Strato movie player. Here are several reasons why a Strato in your system gives you the convenience of Internet delivery along with the best possible quality, performance, and experience. 

HIGH-QUALITY SELECTION

Many people associate streaming services like Netflix with having instant access to everything their heart desires, but the reality is far different. In fact, Netflix currently offers only seven titles for streaming from the AFI’s Top 100 Movies list.

 

The Kaleidescape Movie Store is the only online purveyor of Hollywood titles in the highest quality, with hundreds of titles in full 4K HDR with lossless Dolby Atmos or DTS:X audio soundtracks. Along with films from every major studio, it has relationships with more than 20 smaller, “boutique” studios. Customers also enjoy new releases sooner—often weeks before the movie is available on disc or for streaming. And many titles still in theaters can be “pre-ordered” to be automatically download once they’re released.

 

 

 

CONTENT ALWAYS AVAILABLE

Streaming services regularly lose content due to changing licensing agreements, so just because something is here today doesn’t mean it will be here tomorrow. Consider Walt Disney Studios’ announcement that it plans to remove all its movies from Netflix in favor of its upcoming Disney+ service. Also, streaming relies completely on a fast, constant Internet connection. If you’ve ever had to stop a movie in the middle because of some Internet, network, or “app-crash” issue, you know how frustrating it can be.

 

With a Kaleidescape system, users have instant access to all of their favorite content. A film downloaded to a Strato never disappears, never buffers, and always plays in the highest audio and video quality possible. Enjoying content on a Kaleidescape never depends on your Internet speed or connection.

 

 

PICTURE & SOUND QUALITY

Kaleidescape’s content looks and sounds better than streamed content because its downloads feature far more data—more than 100 Mbps compared to approximately 20 Mbps for streamers—and far less compression. This means there are no motion artifacts or banding, blacks are clean and noise-free, and colors are delivered in full 10-bit, BT.2020 colorspace glory (provided you’re watching a UHD/HDR-quality download).

 

Considering that most digital commercial cinema projectors only have 2K (2048 x 1080) resolution, they aren’t capable of the detail, contrast, or HDR quality of a high-end 4K 

home system. Kaleidescape’s 4K HDR titles paired with a quality video display can easily best the movie theater experience.

 

Many Kaleidescape titles also include reference-quality lossless Dolby Atmos and DTS:X soundtracks, which are far superior to the lossy Dolby Digital+ streams employed by streaming services. This allows its systems to deliver soundtracks that can compete with the finest commercial cinemas, and that surpass most commercial theaters, whose audio systems often haven’t seen a refresh in years. (Check out “Online Movies Audio Face-off” Part 1 and Part 2 for a direct comparison of streaming audio to Kaleidescape downloads.)

 

 

EASY TO BUILD A LIBRARY

Instead of being limited to the movies screening at your local theater, or roaming through the often old and outdated films available for streaming, Kaleidescape’s Movie Store offers a simple, intuitive way to access over 10,000 titles of content. With Strato’s onscreen store, users can add titles from the comfort of their favorite chair, or, by using a phone app, from anywhere in the world. With an ultra-fast, Gigabit-speed Internet connection, a new 4K HDR movie can be downloaded in as few as 15 minutes, meaning you could choose a movie before dinner and enjoy it during dessert!

Movie Theater-Quality Content at Home

CRAFT YOUR ENTERTAINMENT EXPERIENCE

Unlike streaming services, which are generally delivered via apps embedded in other devices like a Blu-ray player or Smart TV, Kaleidescape movies are served up from an enterprise-grade system purpose-built to play movies in the best possible quality. Kaleidescape includes a best-in-class 4k60 user interface for browsing and sorting movie collections of any size, and integrates with numerous third-party control systems.

 

Movies from the Kaleidescape Store feature metadata supplied by Kaleidescape’s Movie Guide team. Beyond basic information like synopsis, running time, rating, director, and actors, many titles have iconic scenes or songs bookmarked for easy access.

Pairing Kaleidescape with an advanced control system can be like having your own projectionist. The download can provide information to trigger lighting scenes, adjust shading or curtains, open or close screen masking based on aspect ratio, or numerous other automation commands based on things like starting or ending a movie.

 

Like a movie mixologist, Kaleidescape lets you create a demo “script” of favorite scenes, trailers, cover art, or songs to handcraft a warmup to your movie night. Get the crowd laughing with some choice comedy scenes or hype-up an action blockbuster with some of your favorite chases and explosions.

 

 

ADVANCED PARENTAL CONTROLS

A lot of streaming content isn’t suitable for viewers of all ages. Or, there might be something OK for a 13-year-old but out of the question for a three-year-old. Or, what’s to keep kids from buying a ticket to see one movie and then sneaking in to see another you wouldn’t approve of . . ?

 

Kaleidescape systems offer robust parental controls with password protection for content of all ratings. Allow your older kids and guests access to PG-13 films while restricting your youngsters to G-rated titles. Of course, you can “re-rate” films as you see fit, perhaps removing a potentially frightening PG-rated title like Jaws while enabling access to PG-13 titles you consider OK, like Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Kaleidescape’s unique Kid’s Remote also offers children the ability to access and enjoy their own parental-curated movie collections without any chance of browsing into something they shouldn’t see. 

 

No one online service can address every entertainment need, but by having both a Kaleidescape and streaming service, you’re free to enjoy your favorite movies, TV shows, and concert collections in pristine, highest-quality audio and video on demand, while still being able to binge movies and series via streaming, all without ever having to leave the comfort of your own home!

John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Home Theaters are Better Than Movie Theaters

Home Theaters are Better than Movie Theaters

Photo by JESHOOTS.com from Pexels

As John Sciacca points out in his recent article, “Are Home Theaters Making Movie Theaters Better?” home entertainment spent more than half a century playing a catchup game with commercial cinemas, at least in terms of technological innovation and quality of presentation. But Wabbit Season has now pretty much undeniably become Duck Season, and home entertainment reigns supreme. Yes, commercial cinemas are making some interesting technological innovations, as John points out. But most of these are limited to a handful of theaters in major metropolitan areas.

 

For most people, a well-built, well-calibrated, well-programmed home cinema system (be it in a dedicated screening room or multi-use home entertainment space), has the potential to vastly outshine the movie-watching experience at the average local cineplex. And while much of this has to do with incredible advancements in the quality of consumer electronics in the

past few years, that’s not the whole story. There’s also a story to be told here about comfort, convenience, and customization.

 

In short, here are 10 reasons why home theaters are now better than movies theaters.

 

 

1) BETTER PICTURE

These days, even a mid-level Ultra HD (or “4K”) display, when properly calibrated and positioned, can give 

you a better and more immersive image than you’re likely to find in your local movie theater. Sure, your neighborhood megaplex has bigger screens working to its advantage, but depending on how far away you sit, a 75- to 120-inch screen at home can fill up just as much of your field of view. And displays this large are pretty close to becoming the norm for better home entertainment spaces. What’s more, you’d have to look pretty far and wide to find a movie theater screen that delivers anything close to the black levels and high dynamic range delivered by a good modern home display.

 

 

2) BETTER SOUND

At least in theory. While commercial cinemas still have the advantage in terms of channel count, let’s face it—you really don’t need 128 speakers in your living room to deliver an audio experience that’s every bit as engrossing as that of a movie theater. What’s more, theater sound has to be balanced for potentially hundreds of viewers. At home, you can tune the sound for the handful of seats that matter most. And today’s advanced room correction systems can make even a somewhat compromised space sound positively cinematic.

 

 

3) BETTER QUALITY CONTROL

Have you ever been to a commercial cinema and complained about an image that was too dim or stretched, or a screen that was soda-stained, or speakers that were blown, only to be greeted with that deer-in-headlights look? The fact is that most movie theater managers don’t care about (or even understand) quality of presentation. At home, you can either

address problems when they arise or, at worst, call your local integrator for assistance.

 

 

4) THE AV EXPERIENCE CAN BE
TWEAKED TO YOUR TASTE

Whether you like your movie sound to be played at reference listening levels, or just a bit louder or quieter than industry standards would dictate, chances are slim that you’ll ever be happy with where the volume knob is set at your local movie theater. At home, you can adjust the loudness to your liking, and even tweak it based on your mood.

 

 

5) THE “WOW” FACTOR CAN BE EVEN BETTER

Back in the day, there was an undeniable theatrical element involved in going to the movies. And yes, most of that boiled down to that highly anticipated moment when the curtains opened or widened to accommodate a Cinemascope film, but still. They used to call it “going to see a show” for a reason. The movie itself was simply the centerpiece of a larger event.

 

These days? Not so much. But home theaters can make movie-watching special in a way that commercial cinemas have long since abandoned. If you have a home automation system, you can dim the lights and draw the shades and maybe even cause the screen to drop down from the ceiling at the press of a button. If you have a Kaleidescape movie server system, these automated events can even be tied to the opening and closing credits of the movie itself—or even intermission. And you can program an entire evening’s worth of entertainment—trailers, cartoons, movies, and more—that can be launched with a single click. Simply put, movie night at home can be special in a way that bopping down to the local movie theater long ago ceased to be.

 

 

6) YOU’RE ON YOUR OWN TIMETABLE

Speaking of intermission, how many times have you missed a few minutes of a movie due to a necessary potty break? That’s not a problem when you’re watching at home. Perhaps more importantly, unless you’re itching to watch

the latest Marvel movie, which is likely to be playing on half the screens at your local multiplex, you’ll likely find that your choice of viewing times is limited to 4:25 or 9:45. At home, you can start the movie when you want.

 

 

7) THE VARIETY OF ENTERTAINMENT IS SO MUCH BETTER

As I alluded to in that last point, even at a megaplex with 16 screens, half of them are likely to be playing the same movie, which greatly limits your viewing options. These days, the rise of streaming services creating their own award-winning movies means that your options are wide open for home viewing.

Want to check out something like Bird Box or Roma? Outside of a few film festivals and a limited theatrical release aimed only at Oscar contention, the only way you’d ever see these films is at home. You could easily argue that Netflix and Amazon are the most innovative and important film studios in existence today, and their works are only available in the home for most people.

8) TWO WORDS: GOURMET POPCORN

OK, it’s entirely possible that my wife and I are weirdos in this respect, but we’re total popcorn snobs. We have our own oil popper, and when it’s time to sit down for a movie we’re likely to spend five minutes simply deciding what kind of kernels to pop. On the rare occasions when we do go to the cinema, the grease-covered cardboard they sell by the bucket is an unappetizing letdown.

 

And hey, maybe gourmet popcorn isn’t your thing. Substitute your own snack of choice and you get the point. Movie theaters have done a decent job of offering more variety in their snacks in recent years, but let’s be honest here: They’re all kinda gross unless you live in a major metropolis. At home, you can snack better, snack cheaper, and snack healthier to boot.

9) YOU GET TO DEFINE “COMFORT”

My wife recently returned from a road trip, during which she went to the movies with a friend of ours who lives up north. She came home raving about the recliners in the cinema they visited, to which I replied, “Were they as comfortable as your seat on the sofa?” The answer, of course, was a resounding, “no.” Still, it’s humorous to me that the notion of comfortable seating in a movie theater is a novelty in and of itself. What’s more, these seats have to accommodate a broad range of opinions as to what constitutes “comfortable.”


Personally, I like a firm memory foam sofa that conforms to my posterior, but isn’t so cushy that I drift off during our annual 12-hour Lord of the Rings Extended Edition marathon. Maybe your tastes lean even firmer, or maybe you’d prefer to sink into the accoutering equivalent of a marshmallow. Either way, in your home theater or multi-use entertainment space, you get to pick the seats.

 

 

10) YOU GET TO PICK THE AUDIENCE

There may yet come a day when commercial cinemas once again reclaim their technological superiority over home cinema systems en masse, but even if they do, I can’t imagine going back to the movies on the regular. And that mostly boils down to the fact that the moviegoing masses are loud, obnoxious, obtrusive, self-centered jerks. When we went to see Captain Marvel a few weeks back, I nearly sprained my shushing muscles. And outside of chains like Alamo Drafthouse, most cinema operators generally couldn’t care less if kids are swinging from the rafters.


Anyone who comes to my house to watch a movie knows they’re there to watch a movie, not gab for two hours straight or check their phones every ten minutes. And you could argue that my rules for movie-watching at home are a little strict, but you know what? Friends and family who join me on my couch for a show always come to appreciate the specialness of the experience.

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.

Creating Rayva: Savvas Stamatopoulos

Creating Rayva: Savvas Stamatopolous
Theo's Corner

In my previous two posts, Cineluxe editor-in-chief Michael Gaughn talked to engineer Paul Stary
and me about our efforts to re-engineer the early Rayva theater designs in order to turn them into
a product that can be economically manufactured, quickly delivered, and easily installed. In this
installment, Michael talks to Rayva’s operations manager Savvas Stamatopoulos and me about
how Savvas 
cataloged every element of the Rayva designs and created a software system that
allows Rayva to respond instantly to orders placed from anywhere in the world.

—T.K.

 

 

Theo Kalomirakis  Now that the engineering phase is winding down, Paul’s role is diminishing. Everything now moves into the real world, and that’s where Savvas keeps control of the process. He is now preparing us for actual orders whether the order is here, in India, in Angola, or in Russia. As the business grows, Savvas will be the overall coordinator between individual project managers that will have to be hired for other parts of the world.

 

Michael Gaughn  How does Savvas’s work relate to everything we discussed with Paul—about the re-engineering of the wall panels, etc.?

TK  Savvas’s job was to study all the panels needed for a room, and compile an Excel spreadsheet that listed, for example, how many panels were needed for the Illuminations design [shown above] in a small-size room, how many were needed for Illuminations in a large-size room, and so on.

 

Small rooms have three panels on the wall. Medium rooms have four panels. Bigger rooms have five panels. The price of the theater increases based on the number of panels because you have more components. Since we have 12 designs available for 12 room sizes, we had to come up with 144 templates.

 

Savvas Stamatopoulos  You also have to take into consideration the ceiling height and the position of the door, whether it’s on a side wall—

 

TK  It was a very complex process.

 

SS  Ultimately, we ended up with 500-something different room templates.

 

TK  The bottom line is, Savvas needed to figure out what happens in each room based on its size and its design. So he spent a few weeks recording every single item we see in a theater on a spreadsheet—not from the perspective only of a particular design, but from the perspective of all the designs.

 

And that plays out on three levels, the first level being the overall design. The second level is, how many panels are in this design? And with something like illuminations, how many fixtures like light sculptures are involved? The third level is determining how many panels there are. How many wood parts do they contain? How many screws? How many wall brackets?

 

So Savvas created a very comprehensive chart of the parts, which is layered so you can collapse it and see only the overall design, the room. Expand the chart a little, and you see the panels in the room. Expand each panel even more, and you see the wood parts of the panel. Expand it even more, and you see the metal parts.

Creating Rayva: Savvas Stamatopolous

ABOUT SAVVAS STAMATOPOULOS

Savvas was born in Piraeus, Greece in 1977. He studied Shipping and Logistics at the Business College of Athens and at London Guildhall University.

 

He began his professional career in 2000, working for a couple of shipping/forwarding companies in Piraeus. In 2001, he became involved in his first major business project, setting up and managing a 3PL (third-party logistics) company whose main purpose was to provide logistics services for the Greek subsidiary of one of the six oil and gas “supermajors,” a collaboration that lasted until 2011.

 

In 2012, he co-founded a traditional milk and dairy products firm, where he was the executive manager until 2018, when the company merged with a large trading and importing firm of the sector.

 

Savvas joined the Rayva team in the summer of 2018, where he is responsible for creating the software to list and track all of the elements in the company’s theater designs. He also manages project costing and operations.

 

He enjoys playing music, free diving & spearfishing, and spending time with his dogs as a way to balance the stressful everyday life of logistics management.

This was a very comprehensive process of analyzing the product from the point of view of codifying everything so we could create list of parts that can go to a manufacturer. That is what Savvas has been doing before even Paul came onboard.

 

MG  Where are you in the process right now?

SS  At the moment, we’re trying to find the sweet spot between an artistic creation and an industrial product, because these rooms were designed by some very gifted designers and artists here in Greece—in my opinion, they are works of art.

 

You know art, by definition, usually doesn’t take into consideration cost, or the logistics of production, the ease of installation, transportation, storage, and so on. So we need to find ways to facilitate these things, and to turn these designs into an industrial product without making any compromises to the artistic aspect of the theater.

 

This is what we’re doing right now with the help of Paul, who’s an excellent engineer. He is breaking each aspect of the theaters into the smallest possible parts so we can ensure that they’re always the same and easy to to install. And so I can know beforehand what the delivery time will be, how much it will cost, and so on. He is re-engineering every aspect of the theaters, because for an industrial product to be successful you need to be able to produce it for the lowest possible cost. This is our main challenge right now.

 

I am inputting each part into MRP [material requirements planning] software. Each theater consists of many, many parts such as wood frames, metal brackets, magnets, and wiring conduits.

 

When someone says they want to have a certain design for a certain room size, we input it in the system and it shows us exactly what are the materials we need from the last screw to the biggest part, how much it will cost, how long do you need to be ready, and so on.

 

MG  If I’m understanding the process correctly, the wall panels are the one constant in every design.

 

SS  Yes, these panels are the key elements in a Rayva theater. What is different is the fabric that goes over the panel. In some designs, the fabric is printed with a drawings or pictures. And in other designs, there are custom design elements attached to them.

 

TK  Basically, the panels as an item are always the same.

 

SS  The frame is more or less the same.

TK  We have about 12 panel sizes, but it’s the same item, just the size changes. And then it gets a cover. And on top of the cover, we have design elements. These are the three elements: The panel, the fabric that covers them, and the artwork that goes in front of them.

MG  Right. So I’m hoping you can fill me in on some of the steps along the way. For instance, Antonia Papatzanaki’s designs use light sculptures [shown at right] that would be considered works of art.

 

TK  Yes.

Creating Rayva: Savvas Stamatopolous

MG  What impact does that have on the whole engineering and reproduction process because when you’re building something more utilitarian like a car, you’re not dealing with artists and individual sculptures?

 

TK  Each artwork is addressed as an individual element that needs to be engineered in a different way than the artist intended. For example, Antonia’s fixture is 50 pounds. It would be difficult to install something that heavy. So, Paul re-engineered it to make it easier to manufacture, easier to mount, and much lighter than it was. Originally, the support for the sculpture had to go through the panel and be attached to the wall because it was so heavy the panel couldn’t support it. But now, that sculpture is so light that it can be mounted on the panel itself without having to create a hole in the panel in order to reach the wall.

 

Every artwork is engineered to maintain its integrity, because we want to make sure that no matter how we re-build it, it looks like what the artist envisioned.

 

MG  Who acts as the intermediary between the artist and Rayva?

 

TK  I receive the artwork from the artists. The artwork then goes to Paul, who re-engineers it. And when it’s finished, I show it to the artist so they sign off. We don’t want the artist involved with the engineering process because we have a very specific way of creating consistency and unanimity in how we engineer things.

 

MG  Does that pose any unique challenges? Especially, considering the diversity of the kind of art you’re incorporating.

 

TK  The only limitation is the imagination of the engineer. We’re not talking about developing a rocket that goes to the moon. It’s not that complex—it’s an artwork. If you have an engineering background, you can look inside the hood—I’m using the same analogy for the artwork that I used for the re-engineering of the wall panels—and you find out what it is.

Creating Rayva: Savvas Stamatopolous

For example, we had a challenge with the Origami design. You’ve seen the fabric that covers the Origami triangles, right?

 

MG  Yes.

 

TK  I didn’t like how the fabric was folded at the edges of the triangle; it wasn’t clean. So Paul said, “Are you opposed to having a paint that looks 

like fabric? That way we don’t have to deal with the wrapping methods for the ends of the fabric.” I said, “No.” So, he found a paint by DuPont that’s sprayed. It’s the color of the fabric, and it has the texture of velvet, of linen.

 

In the process of re-engineering, we’re addressing issues we have with the original artwork from the perspective of, “How do we simplify it? How do we make the process faster? And how do we change the method of fabrication without betraying the concept of the artist?”

 

This is the beautiful thing about having an artist working with an engineer—it’s a collaborative effort. If you work with smart people, let them make creative decisions. What I find exciting and exhilarating about the development process is that I’ve learned to trust people.

 

When I was a custom designer, everything had to come to me to be approved because it was a creative decision, quote unquote. I had to have the last word. I didn’t allow designers to make the big decisions. I made them myself.

 

I didn’t trust people before. But this time I do.

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

Can the Beauty Industry Save Specialty AV?

Can the Beauty Industry Save Specialty AV?

What if I told you the sky wasn’t falling. That AV enthusiasts weren’t dying off in droves due to old age and that young people didn’t only value convenience over quality? What if I told you that? Would you believe me?

 

As a fellow member of the AV press for going on 20 years now (OMG I’m freakin’ old), I have been party to the slow decline of what was once a flourishing hobby. For the past few years, specialty rags and manufacturers alike have been arguing over just what exactly the cause of their demise has been. Was it the housing bubble and subsequent financial crisis? China? Or Amazon that killed specialty AV? While compelling arguments could be made linking all of the above to the current sad state of affairs, I argue another point—that specialty AV continues to die by its own hand.

 

The problem with specialty AV—of which I lump audiophiles and home theater enthusiasts alike into the same overarching category—is that for all its so-called technological advancements, it lacks the imagination to go where its customers are. Ahh, but Andrew, you’re going to say the Internet, and plenty of companies sell their wares on the Internet. To which I say, there is a very big delta between making your products available and “selling” via the Internet. A lot of companies do the former, but outright fail at the latter.

 

Going back to the AV press for a moment, they are or continue to be destined to fail because the entire business model rests upon the same handful of people continuing to support the same handful of topics that are then devoured by the same handful of enthusiasts. Much like a snake eating its own tail, the “meal” can last for quite a while, so long as there are no distractions and the snake is allowed to just keep on eating. The problem is, over time, the snake will tire and either stop 

eating and choke to death, or spit out its own tail and slither on to greener pastures. Both scenarios are occurring, in real time, before our very eyes, as once great bastions of the medium continue to publish on borrowed time. Stereophile and Sound & Vision, I’m talking to you.

 

So where is this greener pasture? Well, it’s on the Internet, but it doesn’t take the form of an online store or the like. It’s in the power of video—more specifically, brand influence and marketing. My fellow writer, Dennis Burger, recently wrote an article entitled, “D&D and the Decline of Traditional Media,” in which he talks about how viewers no longer need to rely on the major networks or studios for their personal entertainment. Beyond entertainment, content creators are 

showing advertisers, manufacturers, and consumers alike just how much power they hold and how much sway over the conversation and our buying decisions they have. In turn, we’ve begun to realize the same. For together with our favorite influencers or personalities we can collectively prop a company up . . . or tear it down.

 

Case in point, the makeup/beauty community all but lives on YouTube, and as a result influencers on that platform churn out broadcast-quality content regularly, turning teens and young adults into millionaires and celebrities. Any one of these YouTubers can make or break a product in a single video—be it sponsored or not—and if they “make it,” the rewards are otherworldly. We’re talking millions of dollars earned in the span of minutes.

 

Now, you may be thinking audio/video is not makeup, and you’d be right, but in some ways they’re one and the same. Both genres play heavily on our emotions. Both try and sell you a lifestyle. Both can get very expensive indeed. But one is inclusive. The other resists change at every turn. Care to wager which is doing better?

 

This is the difference between making your wares available on the Internet and truly selling, in earnest, on the Internet. So to bring it back to my opening statements, it’s not that the sky is falling, and that specialty AV is dying; it’s just that those in charge have failed to read the tea leaves in time to save themselves. But rest assured, despite the establishment’s best efforts to kill it, specialty AV will live on. And the brands that start aligning themselves with other brands, personalities, and influencers now will be the ones left standing when the dust settles.

Andrew Robinson

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

What Makes a Projection Screen Luxury?

What Makes a Projection Screen Luxury?

The natural followup to my post “What Makes a Video Display Luxury?” is to talk about projection screens. There is a reason why projection systems—whether front or rear—are often referred to as “two-piece,” because the projector and screen play near equal roles in delivering the best image quality possible.

 

Fact is, no matter how fantastic your projector is, the image you‘re watching is reflected off of a screen, and an inferior one will rob a projector of its maximum performance potential by actually introducing artifacts or color shifts to the image or by just not delivering all the detail and resolution the projector is capable of.

For some assistance with this, I reached out to Robert Keeler, Vice President of Sales at Stewart Filmscreen. Stewart has been building high-performance screens for the luxury commercial, professional, and home cinema markets for the past 71 years, and is widely regarded as a leader in the premium screen category.

 

BETTER BUILD QUALITY

Like any premium product, a luxury screen will exhibit better build quality. This means frame corners that meet perfectly and screen material that’s tensioned to remain perfectly flat. A fixed screen (as opposed to a motorized model that rolls up and down) will have a velvet-like coating around the frame to absorb stray light and enhance contrast, and motorized models use quieter motors. And, since the screen is  the most visible part of most theater systems, it’s important to have one that looks good whether the lights are on or off. 

 

While not part of build quality per se, luxury screen systems also offer more ways to interface with advanced control systems, say either via contact closures, relays,

infra-red, RS-232, or IP. This ensures that the screen can accept the correct cues from, say, a Kaleidescape system when you’re switching between movies that have different aspect ratios. 

 

MASKING SYSTEM

Speaking of aspect ratios, the best luxury projection screens incorporate masking, which is black material that closes off, or “masks,” the unused screen area so just the projected image is visible. This eliminates any distracting white space around the image.

 

According to Robert Keeler, “The majority of [TV and projection] screens sold are 1.78 to 1, 16 by 9 aspect ratio, so we are used to seeing black bars either on the top and bottom or the sides of the image depending on the content aspect ratio. As good as projectors are getting, they are still widely based on a 16 by 9 chipset, so content with any aspect ratio other than 16 by 9 will have visible black bars showing.”

 

With front projectors, these black bars aren’t truly black because the projector is emitting some stray light. This ends up lowering the contrast ratio of the image. So having masking to cover these unused parts of the image visibly improves the picture quality.

 

But, aspect ratios can be tricky, since filmmakers choose different ratios based on the look they’re hoping to achieve. (See the diagram below.) For example, older films like The Maltese Falcon or Casablanca are 1.33:1, many documentaries like Free Solo are 1.78:1, some directors prefer using 1.85:1 such as Spielberg for Saving Private Ryan, E.T., and Jurassic Park, and you have “widescreen” films like Lawrence of Arabia at 2.2:1, Star Wars at 2.35:1, Bohemian Rhapsody at 2.4:1, and Ben Hur at 2.76:1.

What Makes a Projection Screen Luxury?

The ultimate solution is a system that can adjust all four sides of the screen image, like Stewart Filmscreen’s Director’s Choice, which uses a 4-way masking system.“This is the epitome of Hollywood,” Keeler says, “with the ability to frame the content so the black bars are invisible and only the content is being shown, whatever the aspect ratio.”

 

SCREEN MATERIAL

Choosing the correct screen material is about more than just its color. Screens use something called gain, which can increase or decrease the amount of light coming off the screen, but can also limit the viewing angle. Also, screens with high amounts of gain can introduce artifacts known as “hotspotting,” where images are brighter in the middle of the screen than at the sides, and “color shifting,” where colors can look different depending on where the viewer is seated. Discussing your media room needs based on its size, seating layout, and lighting conditions with a qualified installer will allow them to guide you in selecting the correct screen material for your installation.

 

“With more than 25 material choices, Stewart Filmscreen can offer end users the right material for the task at hand, rear projection and front projection alike,” Keeler said. “While some may choose not to go with the ultimate cinematic experience, they can at least purchase the very same screen material used by Hollywood directors, post-production departments, colorists, studios, etc.”

 

DIFFERENT SCREENS FOR DIFFERENT CONDITIONS

Say you have a room you use for a variety of activities. Maybe for a lot of gaming or TV watching during the day, but mostly for movie watching at night. Or maybe sometimes you like to watch with the lights up, and other times you want it pitch black. A screen that works best for one of these situations might not be right for the other. One incredibly innovative solution for this is Stewart’s Gemini.

What Makes a Projection Screen Luxury?

“Gemini [shown above] is a unique product that addresses a varied usage model,” Keeler explains. “While masking screens exist to accommodate a variety of aspect ratios, Gemini addresses the variety of usage model. Watching movies [usually] suggests a completely light controlled environment and the content is often in Cinemascope, 2:35 to 2:4. Whereas watching TV suggests the lights are on and the content is 1.78, 16 by 9. The screen material choice for one activity is likely the wrong choice for the other activity. With that in mind, Gemini is a dual-roller motorized screen that deploys a reference-grade material for movies, and an ambient-light-rejecting material when watching TV, giving viewers the best performance whatever the situation.”

 

ACOUSTICALLY TRANSPARENT

Another potential benefit of a luxury screen is using a material that’s acoustically transparent. Initially acoustically transparent screens used lots of tiny perforations to allow sound to pass through, but all of these holes allowed the projector’s light to pass through as well, resulting in a loss of brightness. Also, the holes would actually interact with the pixel structure of the projector and introduce a video artifact known as moiré.

 

While perforation technology has advanced to address these issues, another option pioneered by screen manufacturer Screen Research is to use woven material that allows sound to pass through without being degraded by the screen. Kind of like a special-purpose speaker grille cloth, these screens let you position your main three front speaker channels directly behind the screen just like at a movie theater. The benefits of this are twofold. First, you don’t have to worry about the speaker’s look or style impacting the overall look of the room, which can allow the installer to use a larger/better speaker that otherwise wouldn’t fit with the room’s décor. Second, with the speakers located behind the screen, the audio cues precisely track the onscreen action, perfectly marrying the picture and sound.

 

 

To wrap up, Keeler commented, “There is some science behind integrating the projector and the screen along with the room and viewing habits, and a luxury brand should be able to not only help with selecting appropriate screen size and material choices, but be well versed in other aspects of the project such as audio and video, and the rest of the package and maintain relationships with all sorts of ancillary brands to support the Big Screen Experience.”

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.

Creating Rayva: Paul Stary, Pt. 2

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

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

T.K.

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

TK  We have a perfect foundation for building up orders at any number or quantity we want. Paul has said it’s like building a skyscraper. If you don’t have a good foundation—and we didn’t have a good foundation at the beginning—

you’re going to build the first floor and the second floor, and then the third floor will collapse because its weight can’t be supported by the foundation.

 

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

Paul Stary  Yes, like most products at the beginning, it’s not going to start out at the highest quantities; it will be a building process. So the elements of various designs and components are easily scalable by either increasing the volume with any one vendor or adding more vendors. Because everything is so well documented, we can draw on resources from around the 

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

world. We can scale it up pretty easily by just adding the resources necessary at the time to allow the building process to occur. So I think we’ve got a pretty good handle on being able to respond to the growth.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

Creating Rayva: Paul Stary, Pt .1

Creating Rayva: Paul Stary

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

Theo's Corner

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

T.K.

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Creating Rayva: Paul Stary, Pt. 1

ABOUT PAUL STARY

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

Creating Rayva: Paul Stary, Pt. 1

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

The Digital Future of Movie Posters

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Andrew Robinson

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

What Makes a Video Display Luxury?

What Makes a Projector Luxury?

Barco’s Loki 4K laser projector

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

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

 

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

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

 

Better Light Engine

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

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

What Makes A Projector Luxury?

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

Better Lens

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

 

Better Video Processing

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

 

Multiple Aspect Ratio Support

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

What Makes a Projector Luxury?

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

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

Better System Integration

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

John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.