Home Theater

Why I Love My Media Room

media room ideas

photos by Jim Raycroft

I had one main criterion while shopping for my home: It had to have a space for a theater room. This was in the early 2000’s. I was installing a lot of dedicated rooms for clients at my custom-install job, and I really wanted a dedicated movie-watching room for myself. I had plans for sound treatments, and ideal room ratios, and solid-core doors with sound-isolating thresholds, and more.


But as we started looking at homes, we couldn’t find one that had space for a dedicated room that fit other needsnamely budget and location. The most common “dedicated space” option was a room up over the garage, and we couldn’t find a home we liked.


So I changed my thinking a bit.


Barring a dedicated space, the potential home definitely had to allow for retrofitting wiring throughout so I could add my own gear as needed. The home we finally settled on had a very open floorplan with a central great room that opens to the kitchen, breakfast nook, and dining room, with a massive attic that would make it easy for me to run wire throughout the house.


The first thing I did was set up a surround system. I pulled wiring through the attic to side and rear surround speaker locations and wall-mounted my speakers. An old cabinet held my gear with ample room on top to hold a 61-inch Samsung DLP TV. This setup worked fine and was certainly adequate in every way for media needs, but it wasn’t really
. . . special.


I wanted the big-screen experiencesomething beyond what the big DLP TV could provide. But I had to do it without totally compromising the look and functionality of our living room. Getting the room dark enough for “day viewing” a projector would mean heavy shading on lots of windows, something that would make the house so dark no one else would be able to do anything.


At that time, flat-panel TVs were starting to offer terrific performance at realistic pricing. (A fortune by today’s standards, but $6,000 for a 60-inch Pioneer Elite was an affordable videophile option!) Also, receivers were starting to include dual video outputs that could either carry a separate, Zone 2 feed or mirror the same feed. That gave me the opportunity to have my cake and eat it too.

media room ideas

What I decided on was a large flat-panel TV mounted tightly to the wall to provide the perfect, ultra-bright image for day viewing, with a motorized projection screen that rolled down in front of the TV when we wanted to watch a movie or a big event like the Super Bowl. When not in use, the screen is concealed behind a valance, out of sight. And if we want to watch the screen before the sun goes down, motorized Lutron shades tied into our automation system can darken the room.


Since both displays are driven by the same stack of electronics, I only had to buy one system. That freed up my budget to purchase higher-performing gear than if I was trying to outfit two rooms. That meant better speakers, a better processor, and better amplifiers, so now we enjoy the best sound regardless of what we’re doinglistening to music, watching TV, playing a video game, or enjoying a movie.


Because we only use the projector for movies or special events, it remains a special thing, letting us go from the 65-inch 16 x 9 aspect-ratio TV to the 115-inch 2.35:1 screen at the touch of a button. That makes movies far more cinematic and engaging.


The other thing I’ve come to appreciate is that because the media room is located in our comfortable, centrally located great room, we use it all the time. With the push of a button on my Control4 remoteor a voice command to Alexa saying, “Start Movie Time”the TV turns off and the screen drops down, the projector turns on, and our room is transformed into a theater. Since nobody has to get up and move to another room, we find ourselves using the system a lot more often. 


I’ve made several upgrades since the original install to keep the system on the cutting edge of performance. I replaced the Pioneer Elite with a new Sony 4K TV, the processor has been updated a couple of times to take advantage of HDMI 2.0a and Dolby Atmos, I added four in-ceiling speakers for Atmos, added a second sub, upgraded the anamorphic lens on the projector, and added the Kaleidescape Strato 4K player. The next upgrade will likely be moving to a 4K projector.


In my next post, I’ll discuss some other technology advances that make the media room an even more viable concept and worthy of your consideration!

—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.

My Video Game Sound Beats Your Movie Sound

video game sound

Most of my video gaming friends have media-room entertainment systems (many of them cobbled together from hand-me-down gear they’ve mooched off me over the years). But, as I alluded to in my previous post, most of them view gaming and home theater as two distinctly different forms of entertainment. In fact, more often than not their gaming consoles (if they have them) are relegated to some out-of-the-way room in the house, far from the big TVs and surround sound speaker systems. And most of them experience their gaming audio by way of truly awful-sounding stereo headsets.


Which makes the complete and utter opposite of sense, especially when you consider that most video games these days boast Hollywood-caliber surround soundtracks that easily keep pace with the best UHD Blu-rays. In fact, although movies still (and probably always will) outpace video games in the realm of visuals, I’d go so far as to say that in terms of the sonic experience, few movies can come close to matching the sheer visceral immersion of modern video game audio landscapes.

After all, movie soundtracks, dynamic as they may be, lock you into a passive listening experience and limit your point of view. They make you a spectator at best. But video game sound mixes follow you around as you explore strange new worlds and live through harrowing new experiences, while still delivering the richness, impact, and artistry of professional Hollywood sound mixes. That waterfall you hear trickling down to the side of your living room wall? Chances are good you can turn and run toward it. The click of a reloading gun behind your head? You can probably dodge it if you’re quick enough. Simply put, video games don’t merely pump the action in the general direction of your ears—they drop you right in the middle of the mix and drag it along with you.


So, if you want to get the most from your sophisticated surround sound system, put down the remote control for the evening and pick up a game controller.  And, hey—if it’s a PS4 controller in your hands, look me up. I go by Waryyhn on the PlayStation Network, and I could seriously use some new racing compadres.

Dennis Burger

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

Media Rooms: Fad or Future?

media rooms

Look at practically any website that concerns itself with home theater and you’ll likely see example after example of dedicated home theaters. These are often beautiful spaces, luxuriously appointed, with fabric-covered walls, intricate woodwork and moldings, and rows of fabulous seats arrayed in tiers facing a giant screenfrankly, the kinds of things that made Theo Kalomirakis the legend he is and earned him the moniker, “The father of home theater.”


And as a custom installer, I can tell you these are almost always wonderful projects to work on. This is generally “our room” to maximize performance for one goal: Creating the ultimate movie-watching experience. Speaker locations are optimized, acoustics can be perfected, sound treatments can isolate external distractions, and lighting can be controlled for an ideal presentation.


But, despite all that, dedicated high-end rooms seem to be waning in popularity, giving way to something that could clumsily be called a multi-use space, but which we’ll call a media room.


Unlike a dedicated roomwhich is usually a separate, totally closed-off space, typically with a single door and no windowsa media room can be located in virtually any room of the house. In fact, media rooms are often in large communal areas like living rooms or family rooms, which actually gives them two advantages. First, every home can have one. Second, in my experience, media rooms get used far more often than dedicated rooms, which require viewers to actively get up and relocate themselves to a different location.


And, unlike dedicated home theaters, media rooms aren’t mainly for watching movies. They can be the best way to watch TV, listen to music, play videogames, view digital images, and stream content in a relaxed and comfortable environment. And couches, love seats, and comfy chairsfurniture already located in the roomall provide perfect seating options for your family or a group of friends.


At its most basic, a media room consists of a relatively large-screen TVlet’s say at least 55 inchesalong with some kind of improved audio experience, like a soundbar and subwoofer.

But for the true movie or music loveror anyone who takes their entertainment seriouslythis minimal approach won’t suffice, and their media rooms share many components similar to those found in a dedicated space. These include:


a much larger 4K Ultra HD display


a minimum of 5.1-channel surround audio system, but more likely with the channel count
expanded to allow for immersive audio formats like Dolby Atmos or DTS:X


a device that can stream 4K content from Netflix, Amazon, or Vudu


and ideally a Kaleidescape Strato player for viewing the highest-quality UHD HDR movie


And don’t think that having a media room in the middle of the house has to mean having stacks of gear out in the open, or having to live with monolithic speakers, or even having to have your room dominated by a giant screen on the wall. There are a ton of technology options available that can deliver phenomenal experiences with minimal impact on your décor.


How do I know? Because I’ve had my own media room for nearly 10 years, and installed dozens for clients.


In my next post, I’ll tell you about my no-compromise media room, and the installation decisions I made to make the most out of my space and entertainment system.

—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.

Sony & Kaleidescape Push 4K Hard

Sony Kaleidescape partnership

(from L to R) Sony Electronics President & COO Mike Fasulo,
Sony Electronics VP of AV Specialty/Custom
Integration Frank Sterns,
Kaleidescape founder/CEO Cheena Srinivasan

The annual CEDIA (Custom Electronics Design and Installation Association) show was held last week in San Diego. Besides the beautiful, sunny weather and abundance of craft beer, the major players in the A/V industry were on hand demonstrating their latest products. Over the next couple of posts, I’ll share some of the things that caught my eye with the Roundtable reader in mind.


One of the big announcements at the show was the new strategic partnership between Sony and Kaleidescape. Sony has been a leader in 4K, and is one of the few companies with a complete 4K ecosystem capable of delivering a true “lens to screen” experience. As Roundtable readers know, Kaleidescape is focused on delivering the ultimate home theater experience, with a movie-download store offering hundreds of movies in 4K Ultra HD resolution and thousands in full Blu-ray quality.


The two companies realized they could form a symbiotic partnership, with Sony’s 4K projectors delivering a terrific cinematic picture and Kaleidescape Strato players (shown below) feeding those systems with the best theatrical 4K HDR content.

Sony Kaleidescape partnership

The companies are offering a joint promotion where any Strato customer who buys a qualifying Sony 4K HDR projector between now and 3/31/18 can download a movie bundle featuring ten 4K HDR movies from the Kaleidescape store valued up to $350. Conversely, existing Sony 4K HDR projector owners who buy a Strato movie player can get the movie bundle to jumpstart their collections.


Kaleidescape founder and CEO Cheena Srinivasan commented: “We’re pleased to partner on this promotion with Sony, the company that’s synonymous with 4K innovation and shares our vision for delivering the finest picture and sound quality.”


Qualifying projectors include the VPL-VW285ES, VW365ES, VW385ES, VW675ES, VW885ES, VZ1000ES, and VW5000ES (shown above), with models ranging from $5,000 to $50,000. Coupled with a Strato, this means a terrific “starter” 4K HDR theater package can be had for under $10,000. Both companies expect this offer to reach thousands of customers and expand the reach of 4K-projection adoption.


The movie bundle, which includes Spider-man: Homecoming, has been designed to deliver the ultimate 4K HDR experience to home theater enthusiasts and features a mix of classic and new releases from the major studious, including Sony, Universal, 20th Century Fox, and Warner Brothers.

—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.


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


4 Great Reasons to Watch Movies at Home

watching movies at home

photos by Jim Raycroft

Typically when you read some post about why watching movies at home in a well-designed theater is better than going to a commercial cinema, it’s filled with arguments about how low commercial theaters have sunk. You’ll read about things like sub-par presentations (projector lamp not bright enough, sound not loud enough, blown speakers, distracting exit signs), other moviegoers (rudely texting, talking on cellphones, or just talking), poor conditions (bad seating, sticky floors), or the cost (either for the film itself or for concessions).


I’m not going to rehash any of those here.


Because I think there are still times when the commercial cinema is the perfect place to see a movie–mainly some event film like a new Star Wars movie or something else unique like Dunkirk in 65mm. Also, if you’re so inclined, you can often find a “high performance” theater near you where the picture and sound will be top notch, the seats will be luxury, and gourmet food and drink options are often available.


Instead, I’m going to tell you four big reasons why as a movie lover and family man in my mid-40s, it’s far more desirable to stay home and watch.


1. Convenience

I have a 10 year old and a 16 month old, which makes it a pretty major ordeal for my wife and me to arrange a night out at the movies. We don’t have any family near us, so going out means finding someone to watch the kids for 3 to 4 hours, which is easier said than done with an infant. We tried taking our girls to the opening night of Rogue One hoping the baby would sleep, but she started crying about the same time the title came up on screen, and my wife spent about a third of the movie in the lobby so as not to disturb others.


At home, we can enjoy a movie every night if we want to, with no need to find a sitter or worry about bothering anyone if little Audrey gets fussy.


2. Schedule

We aren’t very good at planning, and most of our viewing is spontaneous, like, “You know what we haven’t watched in a while? Let’s watch that tonight.” As I mentioned above, this doesn’t work so well logistically with the kids. And if we want to watch something that isn’t fit for 10-year-old Lauryn’s eyes or ears, we’ll often start a movie at 9:30 or 10 pm when she’s asleep.

3. Control

Besides being able to start a movie whenever we want, we can also pause it to go to the bathroom, get a snack, or if one of the girls needs something; rewind it if something was especially awesome or if there was a, “What did he say?” moment; fast forward it if something is offensive; or stop it if we don’t like it or just get too tired.


4. Comfort

I’m not talking about the actual comfort level of the seats, but rather just the comfort factor of being at home. We don’t have to get dressed up, drive anywhere, find parking, or do anything more than press “Watch Movie” on our automation system. And since we often start movies so late, we can immediately go to bed right after, or if one of us–cough, my wife, cough–falls asleep during the movie, it’s no big deal. Also, if I want to have that second or third drink, I don’t have to worry about driving somewhere later.


For our family, watching at home is often the difference between seeing a movie or not. And having a high-performance theater with terrific picture and sound makes that experience the best it can be!

—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.

The Key to Home Theater Sound Quality–Pt. 2

home theater sound quality

In Pt. 1, I talked about how you can’t assume that something on a lossless source like a CD, DVD, Blu-ray Disc, or high-quality download will sound great just because it was recorded, mixed, and mastered by “name professionals.”


While I won’t publicly call out any aurally-disappointing disc titles out of respect for my colleagues in the recording industry, I did recently have an opportunity related to a friend who has grown into a world-famous Grammy-winning jazz vocalist but didn’t have a concert video yet. I encouraged him and his manager of the importance of not only having one but making sure the sound quality was top notch. (Of course, I told him I’d promote the heck out of it, if done well, in the world of CEDIA demo material.)


They agreed, and his label brought an A-list production team to the table to make the video during one of his concerts in Europe. When the time was right, the artist sent me the final edit of the surround mix to evaluate in some of my favorite local-area private theater rooms.


Much to my surprise (or maybe not), the balance between instruments was way off. Even more astounding, the editor had the same mono mix of all voices and instruments playing on the left, center, and right speakers! (Is this a new mode called Tri-ono?) No matter where you sat in the theater, the entire audio program was coming directly from the speaker in front of you, regardless of where the actual visual images of the voice and instruments were coming from!


Of course, I gave critical feedback to the production company, and the response I received from the lead engineer was:


My mix is essentially a 3.1 mix with some bled into the center speaker and the documentary
elements entirely in the centre speaker. This was deliberate, as 98% of people listen in their
living room on stereo or not well set up 5.1 systems and they will hear this mix as intended.
Those of us lucky enough to have full blown cinema rooms would possibly be better served
with a traditional 5.1 mix with the vocal in the centre speaker etc. as I would do if this were a
cinema release. The decision as to whether it should be a mix suitable for the majority or a
cinema-style mix I shall pass on to others. Happy to do either but would recommend the former.


This was the eureka moment that began to let me see first-hand just how disconnected the world of production can be from consumer audio. (I’m sure my video colleagues have many similar stories about video quality.) And why I always listen to new discs on known systems first, so I never have to wonder about the quality of what I’m evaluating.


Maybe it’s time we demand better recording/editing standardsespecially on consumer releases of media contentto ensure we all receive the best quality in our private theaters and listening environments.

—Steve Haas

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

The Key to Home Theater Sound Quality–Pt. 1

Home Theater Sound Quality

You’re probably all thinking this is going to be another blog post about acoustics, right? Well . . . I guess it could be, but, no, we’ll have to save that for another entry.


There’s something beyond the room, the acoustics, the system, and the calibration that most people don’t realize can have a significant effect (positive or negative) on the experience of listening to music or movies in your theater—the quality of the source media itself!


While many people realize the compromised quality of compressed audio like MP3, the average consumer just assumes that a lossless source like a CD, DVD, or Blu-ray Disc must have the best tonal and level balances and spatial quality because it was recorded, mixed, and mastered by “name professionals.”


Most of the time, that’s true. But there are plenty of occasions where I’ve acquired a stack of new discs to try out on my reference system for my own listening/viewing pleasure and am incredibly surprised that the quality is all over the map. This seems to be especially true with concert videos, where the recordings of even well-known artists have turned out to be very underperforming when it comes to imaging, surround placement, noisiness, dialogue clarity, and other quality factors.


I’ve even been in the final stages of calibrating the audio of a theater and the client urges me to try out the concert-“X” Blu-ray that I’ve never listened to before. And after a few minutes of listening, we both sit there and look at each other in disbelief at how mediocre the system sounds. Fortunately, I know to quickly grab my Top 5 sound-quality reference movie and concert discs and play them so we can (hopefully) breathe a sigh of relief that everything is all good with the calibration and our ears!


In Pt. 2, I’ll tell the story of a Grammy-winning vocalist I know whose concert video didn’t turn out the way I thought it would.

—Steve Haas

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

The Biggest Home Theater Audio Mistakes

A good home theater experience starts with clean and intelligible dialogue, and I see lots of mistakes there. Here are the most common:

home theater audio mistakes

1) All the speakers are in the ceiling, pointing down at the floor

Having sound firing down 15 feet in front of you puts you so far off axis from the speakers that the dialogue will sound mumbled, and the sense of surround-sound imaging is pretty much lost. You’d actually be better off with mono sound!


2) A traditional horizontal center speaker laid down on its side

It might look alright, but most of these woofer-tweeter-woofer speakers create holes of sound at the seats to the left and right of the center. That can sound OK if you’re in the middle seat, but dialogue will sound mushy elsewhere. Get a 3-way center speaker instead, or one with a 2-½-way crossover design.


3) A projection system without an acoustically transparent screen

This setup forces you to place the center speaker either below or above the screen—or worse, have speakers both above and below. The dialogue won’t be coming from the picture, and it will sound bad because the speaker will be too close to the floor or ceiling. There are some very good woven screens that won’t affect either the sound or the picture—get one, and put the speaker where it belongs.


4) No equalization

All speakers are affected by the room’s acoustical thumbprint. The dialogue can suffer from excessive bass and there can be missing midrange. You need to equalize out these spectral errors—tune it or lose it! Many auto-EQ schemes do a poor job of correcting these issues, so you might want to go with manual EQ and a decent analyzer (check out roomeqwizard.com) or have a pro do it for you.


And here’s my last piece of advice: Mind the center-speaker dialogue quality before you worry about choosing and placing the other speakers!

Anthony Grimani

A former executive at Dolby and Lucasfilm THX, Anthony Grimani is an expert in home
theater acoustics & design. He developed the Home THX program and invented the
revolutionary Surround EX 6.1-channel audio format. He is co-founder of Grimani
in Novato, CA.

Movies Are Better At Home . . . No Sh*t

Summer Movies 2017

This Business Insider article about why people don’t want to go out to the movies unintentionally explains that phenomenon in its lede: “There are some big, expensive movies coming out this summer, including another Spider-Man reboot and the latest ‘Transformers.’”


So we’re supposed to get excited because the biggest attractions in theaters are a retread and a retread. That’s like McDonald’s and Burger King finding endless ways to spin the Big Mac & Whopper so most Americans don’t catch on that they’re eating the culinary equivalent of dog food. 


The BI piece talks about the decline in theater attendance and how people increasingly get their entertainment from streaming services and cable. No need to ponder that one too long either: While it means sifting through a ridiculous amount of crap, you’re more likely to find a gem in the dungheap by going to Netflix, iTunes, Amazon Prime, etc. than you are spending $30 or more to go out to a theater. And more & more people have media systems at home that are at least as good as what’s at the multiplex.


—> check out Theo’s picks for the Top 5 streaming services


The entertainment in theaters just isn’t that entertaining, and slogging through the summer blockbusters can feel a lot like the Bataan Death March. There’s just more quality to be found—better movies and a better experience—by staying home. People can bemoan the loss of the communal experience, but how much community is there in sitting with a mass of other people to gorge on the movie equivalent of junk food?


Showing better movies in theaters would mean having smaller audiences—1968, the year many believe was the most fertile in movie history also had the lowest attendance. But at least we’d find it more fulfilling, instead of forgetting what we just saw the second we left the theater.

Michael Gaughn

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


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