Lifestyle

Why Movie Theaters Still Matter

Why Movie Theaters Still Matter

I couldn’t help but chuckle when I read Dennis Burger’s piece in which he laid out 10 reasons why home theaters are better than movie theaters because I recently had a movie-going experience that reinforced pretty much all of his arguments. Technically, it was three movie-going experiences all united under one common theme: A child’s love of How to Train Your Dragon.

 

You see, my 10-year-old daughter is completely obsessed with dragons, and that obsession was born the day she watched How to Train Your Dragon for the first time—in our home theater, mind you. For over two years, she has absorbed every detail of this universe—the two films, the comic books, and the DreamWorks Dragons TV series—the same way I absorbed all things Star Wars as a kid.

 

So, as you can imagine, the theatrical release of How to Train Your Dragon 3: The Hidden World back in February was a monumental life event that evolved into our own movie-going trilogy. The epic journey began with a Fandango Early Access showing three weeks before the film’s official release date. Only one theater within 30 miles of my home was hosting a 

screening, and I was lucky to acquire four seats together before it sold out. Then we had to make the 30-minute drive to see the movie in an older but at least renovated theater. No Dolby Vision or Atmos, but, hey, the seating had been upgraded, so it wasn’t too bad. You could tell, though, that the AV system had seen a lot of use.

 

The sequel came on opening night at our local theater. (Yes, we still had to go on opening night. After all, the child had waited a quarter of her life for this moment to arrive.) Did I mention that we only have one movie theater in our town of roughly 100,000 people? It was built just a few years ago (yet, still no Dolby Vision or Atmos), and it’s a very pleasant place to see a movie. The AV equipment is still in good shape, they keep the volume within reasonable limits, the 

seating is well spaced so that it’s pretty much impossible for someone to block your view, and the big leather recliners are very comfortable. It’s reserved seating, too—and since it’s the only theater in town, you’d better reserve those seats well in advance if you want get anything decent on opening night. Luckily I did, so all was well.

 

For the final installment of the trilogy, my daughter wanted to see the movie one more time—in 3D. Only one theater in our local movie house was showing the 3D version, and for some inexplicable reason they decided to show the PG13-rated Alita in that theater all day long and the PG-rated dragon movie once a day, only on certain days, at 9:00 p.m. Now, I told the child that was too late for a 10-year-old to go see a movie, but really it’s too late for a 10-year-old’s parent to stay awake through a movie.

 

Instead, we drove 45 minutes to the next closest 3D showing, in a much older theater: A small screen, the classically awful flip-down seats, and a projector that was so dim that roughly 50 percent of the details in dark scenes were completely lost behind the 3D glasses. It you haven’t seen the standard version of The Hidden World, it’s really quite gorgeous, with rich color and exceptional detail (I can’t wait to see it in UHD!), so much of which gets lost in the 3D version if the projector is not up to par.

 

And there you have it. Three different theaters. Three different levels of quality. Lots of pre-planning and scheduling. Lots of driving. Lots of illegal smuggling of reasonably priced snack items . . . 

 

Oh, and one very happy child. Put the snark aside for a minute, and you’re left with a 10-year-old who loved every . . . single
. . . minute. She loved the surprise of the Early Access screening, of getting to see the film before all her friends. She loved

Why Movie Theaters Still Matter

the commemorative Toothless drinking cup and the Toothless-shaped popcorn holder that will remain a cherished possession for years to come. She loved opening night just as much, sharing in the laughter and tears a second time with a packed house. And she thought the 3D was “super cool.” Our epic How to Train Your Dragon journey is an experience that will stay with her for the rest of her life, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

 

As we adults wax philosophical about the technological superiority of luxury home cinema and all of its conveniences, let’s not forget the joy and wonder that a child gets from 

going to the movies. The joy and wonder that we got from going to the movies. Some of my strongest childhood memories are built around the movie theater. I dare say it doesn’t matter where you’re from, how wealthy you are, or how big and amazing your home media system is, your kid is always going to think it’s cooler to go out to the movies.

 

Don’t get me wrong—I still agree with everything Dennis said. I know that 85 to 90 percent of the movies I watch will be at home, and I absolutely want to watch them through a great AV system, on my terms. But for those “event” movies—like the upcoming Avengers: Endgame, which has me almost as giddy as my daughter was over The Hidden World—I want to go out to the movie theater. I want to share in an experience, just like I do at a great concert. I want it to feel like an event.

 

That means I want the movie theaters to get their act together and catch up to where we are now in home cinema so that we movie lovers can enjoy the best of both worlds. I want more theater chains to adapt to this new movie-watching landscape and figure out creative ways to work with companies like Netflix and Amazon instead of against them. I want theaters to survive so that my grandkids will also get to experience the joy and wonder of going to the movies. I can’t wait to see what story captures their heart and imagination.

—Adrienne Maxwell

Adrienne Maxwell has been writing about the home theater industry for longer than she’s
willing to admit. She is currently the 
AV editor at Wirecutter (but her opinions here do not
represent those of Wirecutter or its parent company, The New York Times). Adrienne lives in
Colorado, where she spends far too much time looking at the Rockies and not nearly enough
time being in them.

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.

Why HTA is the Real Deal

Why HTA is the Real Deal

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Why the HTA is the Real Deal

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

John Sciacca

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

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

High-End TVs Get Design Friendly–Finally

High-End TVs Get Design Friendly--Finally

LG’s OLED88Z9PUA 88-inch 8K TV

If you’re looking to create a multi-use luxury entertainment space in your home, chances are you’re eyeing a direct-view TV over a projection system. That’s not a given, mind you, since there are still any number of reasons to go with a projector. But these days, TVs are where it’s at, especially in terms of picture quality and value.

Still, you’re right to worry about packing a big monolithic black box in the front of your room, or hanging it on the wall of your immaculately decorated entertainment space. The good news is, TV manufacturers are finally starting to devote as much attention to interior design as they are to industrial design, at least at the higher end of the market. In fact, that’s one of the things that truly differentiates luxury TVs from more budget-oriented models these days.

 

In her latest piece, Adrienne Maxwell does a great job of breaking down the current state of the TV market from a performance perspective. But as she hints toward the end, performance isn’t everything. I recently replaced my old TV—a 65-inch flagship UHD model from one of the top manufacturers—with a mid-priced 75-inch model with Dolby Vision capabilities. (The old one only supported HDR10 high dynamic range.) The 75-incher retails for less than half the price the 65-incher did just three years ago, yet it positively blows its pricier forebear out of the water in terms of contrast, color reproduction, screen uniformity, and practically every other picture consideration that matters.

Turn off the screen and turn on the lights, though, and I start to miss my old TV a little. This new overachiever, for all its performance advantages, just kinda sits there. It’s a big, blah rectangle with four spindly feet protruding from the corners that do nothing to conceal the cables connected to the back of the set.

 

Compare that with the new and upcoming slate of flagship offerings from a number of manufacturers, and you can start to see where the high end is really differentiating itself. With little room left to grow in the picture department, today’s upscale-TV makers are decking out their offerings with all sorts of niceties meant to turn TVs from a design vice into a design virtue.

(sorry about the music)

Here are just some of the ways manufacturers are exploring the new frontiers of TV design:

 

Reframing the TV as Art
Samsung’s “The Frame” solves the problem of TV wall clutter by transforming itself into a legitimate piece of artwork when you turn it off. LG does something similar with its Gallery Mode, which uses your TV to display scenic vistas from around the world, updated for every season of the year, when it’s not in use.

Reshaping the TV Itself
Whether you’re looking for something like LG’s rollable OLED TV introduced at CES, or something more radical like the Micro LED displays that are being teased for future public consumption, odds are good that tomorrow’s luxury TV won’t even look like your typical notion of a TV at all. The rollable model literally shrinks into its combination pedestal/built-in sound system like an upside-down window shade. And Micro LED displays consist of Lego-like modular building blocks that let you build a vibrant screen to fit any space, irrespective of traditional notions about display size classes.

High-End TVs Get Design Friendly--Finally

Rethinking the Pedestal
Instead of the awkward stand you’re used to seeing, display designers are exploring new and varied ways of making sure your TV stands up straight. Take a look at Sony’s A9F Master Series OLED (shown above), for example, which sets itself apart with an innovative origami-style kickstand that makes the display positively captivating to look at from the back and sides. LG’s OLED88Z9PUA (say that three times fast) also takes a new approach to the tired old TV stand by affixing the massive display to the top of a simple, elegant open shelf that sits on the floor instead of on a credenza.

 

Whatever form your next display takes, I honestly believe we’re approaching a time in which near-perfect performance is just taken for granted at any price. And when we get there, manufacturers won’t be able to use geeky specifications like nits and dynamic range and awful “smart TV” interfaces to sell displays anymore. What will define the luxury TV of the future is how it fits into your lifestyle, even when—or especially when—it’s turned off.

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.

UHD TVs Hit New Heights in 2019

Vizio P Series Quantum LED UHD TV

Vizio’s P-Series Quantum LED UHD TVs

We’ve been talking a lot about video displays lately. I described a few luxury TV designs shown at the recent Consumer Electronics Show, and John Sciacca discussed the choice of front projection versus direct-view, highlighting the pros and cons of each.

 

If you’ve settled on a direct-view TV as your display method of choice for an upcoming home theater or media room, you’re now faced with the daunting task of choosing which one to buy. With prices that run the gamut from dirt cheap to “You want me to spend how much?!”, you might be asking yourself, is it worth it to pay more? What actually distinguishes a high-performance TV these days?

 

The truth is, even a budget LED/LCD TV can look really good for everyday TV watching and streaming. You can get great detail, solid image brightness, and relatively accurate color. Most budget TVs now have a 4K resolution and even claim to support High Dynamic Range—but there’s the rub. Budget TVs seldom have a high enough contrast ratio to really do HDR justice, and many of them can’t deliver the expanded color gamut that’s available in Ultra HD content. So when we’re talking about building a high-performance media system that brings out the best in your UHD source content—be it movies, games, or streaming—there’s a clear advantage in moving up the price chain.

UHD TVs Hit New Heights in 2019

LG’s Signature W8 “wallpaper” OLED UHD TV

Top-shelf TVs like Samsung’s QLED lineup, Sony’s Master Series of OLED and LED/LCD TVs, Vizio’s PQ Series, and LG’s OLED TVs don’t just support the input of an HDR signal. They actually have the contrast ratio to deliver a fantastic HDR viewing experience, and that begins with the ability to produce a deep black level.

 

OLED technology is the current standard when it comes to producing truly deep, dark blacks, but LED-based displays that use full-array backlighting with good local dimming can give OLED a run for its money. Most budget LED/LCD TVs don’t use local dimming at all, or the local dimming consists of so few dimmable zones that it’s ineffective.

 

High-performance TVs are also capable of much higher peak brightness, which is essential for reproducing bright highlights in HDR content. When we say an HDR TV can crank out 1,500 to 2,000 nits, we don’t mean that it’s doing so constantly with

every type of content—that would be painful to watch. But the beauty of HDR content is that the highlights in a scene—like the sun, the moon, or the burst of fire in an explosion—can be very bright, more akin to what our eyes can see in the real world. LED/LCD TVs still trump OLED in their brightness capabilities, but with OLED, the black level is so dark that the perceived brightness of HDR highlights is still fantastic. Budget TVs (and, frankly, front projectors) just don’t have the brightness capabilities to bring out the best in HDR.

 

One performance element that often gets overlooked is the quality of the TV screen’s anti-reflective filter. Especially in today’s multi-purpose media rooms, people don’t always watch movies in the dark, and a good anti-reflective filter is essential for rejecting the ambient light coming from lamps and windows to cut down on screen glare and preserve image contrast. High-performance models are usually better in this respect, too.

 

The final piece of the high-performance puzzle is the ability to produce the expanded color gamut in UHD content. A wide color gamut can be achieved in various ways. Quantum dot technology is used in many top-shelf LCD displays (it’s the Q in Samsung’s QLED and Vizio’s PQ) because of its ability to accurately and efficiently deliver the wide color gamut at the very bright levels required in HDR content.

 

Of course, performance isn’t the only thing people look for when designing a nice media room. Top-shelf TVs also tend to have nicer aesthetics, so you don’t mind looking at them 

when the screen is off. They may be thinner and lighter, with more interesting bezel and stand designs. They may house the electronics/input panel in a separate box that’s more easily hidden away in a cabinet. They may integrate more easily with advanced wholehouse control systems. And they may have intelligent voice control and other user-friendly features built in.

 

Hey, a flagship TV is certainly not right for everyone. Most home entertainment enthusiasts will probably settle on something in between the low and high ends, and that’s OK. But for anyone looking to create the ultimate cinematic experience at home, there are plenty of reference-quality TV options to choose from this year.

—Adrienne Maxwell

Adrienne Maxwell has been writing about the home theater industry for longer than she’s
willing to admit. She is currently the 
AV editor at Wirecutter (but her opinions here do not
represent those of Wirecutter or its parent company, The New York Times). Adrienne lives in
Colorado, where she spends far too much time looking at the Rockies and not nearly enough
time being in them.

How to Find the Perfect Integrator

How to Find the Perfect Integrator

I have been a technology integrator for more than two decades, and many consider me an industry expert. I have been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Worth, USA Today, and many other publications. My firm has won over a hundred industry awards, and our systems have been featured in world-famous media outlets like E!, HGTV, Fox, NBC, Architectural Digest, and Esquire. Not to boast, but on paper I look pretty impressive. Trust me, I am pretty underwhelming in person, but my team has accomplished a lot of cool stuff over the years.

 

I bring all of this up because I think I’m a pretty obvious choice if you want a top-tier integrator to deck out your new home with the latest and greatest technologies. Maybe I’m not the only choice, but at least a top contender, right?

 

Well, the reality is that most homeowners don’t really factor any of that stuff in when they choose a technology integrator. They tend to make really bad decisions and hire really bad integrators—or worse, they let some other trade like electricians,

How to Find the Perfect Integrator

security guys, or IT guys perform this very specialized work.

 

Why don’t consumers do any due diligence when technology plays such an important role in everyone’s lives?

 

And why hasn’t everyone caught on to the dirty little secret of the custom installation industry? 

 

What is the dirty little secret? 

A private equity firm that wanted to invest in the luxury home automation market recently surveyed homeowner’s who purchased home technology systems. The results were staggering. Over 50% of homeowners with home automation systems were “unsatisfied” with their technology. This is a lower satisfaction rate than cable companies and cellphone companies (historically the lowest industry satisfaction rates). So again, what is the dirty little secret?

 

Most installation firms . . . stink.

 

Why?

 

The AV and automation industry is the wild west. There is no government regulation, incredibly little formalized training, and in many states no licensing whatsoever is required. Anybody can pretty much hang their shingle and claim to be an AV expert regardless of their abilities. Even if there is a contractor’s license requirement, it has more to do with building guidelines than technical expertise in systems deployment. There are probably about 15,000 companies nationwide that call themselves “AV guys” or “integrators.” I would only let about 10% of them into my home. 

Well, most folks can instinctively tell the difference between a great firm and a fly-by-night, right? 

 

Uh . . . NO!

 

Unfortunately, most consumers know little to nothing about technology and have lots of anxiety about hiring a tech firm. Given that, anybody who walks in their door and has more knowledge than them will seem like an expert.

 

The typical decision-making process goes like this: “Who does my neighbor use?” “Who seemed like a nice guy?” 

“Who does my interior designer like?” There is typically no research on the firm, no reference checks, and most importantly no vetting to see if the firm they like has done a project of the scope and scale or has any expertise in the products they want to use. The guy who did a soundbar installation for your brother-in-law may not be the right guy to completely automate your home with Crestron, Savant, or Lutron—or deliver that amazing home theater experience.

 

Most consumers approach this industry thinking that most companies are probably reputable, probably sell the same stuff, and roughly have the same technical knowledge. But the reality—as people in the industry know—is much different.

 

So how does someone hire the right firm? Here are some simple question to ask:

 

Can I speak to three recent clients with similar scope and size projects?

You don’t want to be a guinea pig for this firm. They should have a proven track record of similar projects.

Are you a dealer for all of this stuff we want?

You need to be able to get support on the product in your home. If the integrator can’t get the manufacturer to answer a call, you’re in trouble.

 

What is your service policy and how do I get help after you install this stuff?

Most companies falter after the sale. They have no formal process to handle servicing their clients and typically devote all of their resources and staff to the big projects in process (with the big checks being handed out) and not the $150 service call. Find out how they handle service requests and after-hours problems, and if they have dedicated staff to address service issues.

 

Do you do all this work with in-house staff or do you subcontract any of it out?

Again, back to service. You want the company to be able to service you after the fact without relying on a pile of other subcontractors.

HTA Logo

A terrific resource to help you find a great integrator is the Home Technology Association. This is the first group to realize that 90% of companies in this trade wear clown shoes.

 

They have developed a certification system that puts integrators through the ringer so consumers can dramatically improve their chances of success. Each HTA Certified company must have a minimum of nine references from industry experts, design/build pros, and manufacturers. They must demonstrate that they have technical proficiency, have a great history of customer service, and have a stellar industry reputation.

 

I have been through the application process, and it is impossible to pass certification unless you are an exceptional company. They also do a terrific job of segregating the installers into three tiers: Estate—if you are a gajillionaire building a giant house; Luxury—if you are just a regular wealthy person; and Foundation—for the guys like me with regular-size homes. The HTA is the easy button for selecting an integrator, and as an integrator, the list of certified companies is really strong. It represents the best of the best.

 

E.T.

These are just a few easy ones to get you towards making a good choice. The bottom line is, don’t hire a technology partner unless you ask the important questions and do some research. Remember, the chances of you having a happy tech experience is less than 50% unless you do a little homework. You don’t have to understand tech in order to pick a great company.

Eric Thies

Eric Thies is the Founder of DSI Luxury Technology in Los Angeles. Eric is a board member
of Azione and an unpaid and overworked volunteer for the Home Technology Association.

Basic Choices: Projector or TV? Pt. 2

Basic Choices: Projector or TV? Pt. 2

In Part One of this post, I detailed the various pros and cons associated with going with a front projector and screen as the video display in your media room/theater. Here, we’ll dissect direct-view TVs to help you determine whether they’re the right technology choice for your room.

 

Pros

 

A Complete Solution
Unlike a projector, which is just a display device requiring amplification, speakers, and sources in order to perform, a direct-view TV can function entirely on its own. It has a built-in ATSC tuner for cable or off-air tuning, Wi-Fi access to the Internet or streaming Ultra HD content like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu, and speakers to deliver audio. (Granted, the

speakers on most TVs are abysmal, and any luxury cinema would include a separate surround audio system.) But, for those wanting the simplest option, a direct-view TV might be the right call.

 

Better Performance at Smaller Screen Sizes
Sometimes bigger isn’t better, and a 65-, 75-, or 85-inch direct-view screen might be the perfect size for your room. While you could get a projection screen that small, the performance tradeoffs of going with a projector versus a direct-view set just wouldn’t make sense. If you’re looking for a screen size under 100 inches, direct-view is probably the right call.

 

Flagship Performance at an Affordable Price
Projectors in the luxury market can easily cost $30,000 to $100,000. But a truly state-of-the-art direct-view LED or OLED set can be had for a fraction of that.

 

Easier to Install
Since the electronics in many entertainment spaces are located right below where the TV will be installed, with power nearby, installation is straightforward. But since projectors are typically ceiling mounted on the other side of the room, they can be far more difficult to get power and wire to in a retrofit situation. Obviously, if you’re building or remodeling a room, this will be less of a factor. 

 

Unaffected by Ambient Light
While even a single lightbulb can wash out a projector’s image, direct-view sets can happily exist in rooms with virtually any amount of light. If it isn’t practical to fully darken your space at all times of day, or you prefer doing your movie/TV watching or gaming with some lights on, direct-view sets will give you a lot more flexibility. Granted, TVs can have issues with reflections, but these are often far easier to address than too much light on a projection screen.

 

Can Accommodate HDR/Dolby Vision
To bear the Ultra HD Alliance’s “Premium” logo, a TV’s HDR (high dynamic range) technology must be able to simultaneously produce both exceedingly deep blacks and bright whites. While many new projectors can display HDR content, they offer only a fraction of the performance that direct-view TVs can achieve. And no current home projector can handle the increasingly popular Dolby Vision HDR standard, which uses metadata to adjust the dynamic range settings of a movie scene by scene. While projectors continue to get better at handling HDR content, they’ll likely always lag behind direct-view sets, which can produce a far brighter and punchier image.

 

Can Produce 32 Million Pixels
As ridiculous as it sounds—especially since many people are just now considering the move to 4K sets—8K was the video talk of the recent CES. Never mind that most broadcast content providers still can’t even deliver 1080p, let alone any quantity of 4K content, and that there’s no solution even in the pipeline to 

actually deliver an 8K image. Put all that aside. 8K is not only coming, it’s here, with Samsung models already available. Now, I’ll be honest—the 85-inch 8K Samsung TV I saw at this past CEDIA was nothing short of flat-out stunning. Whether that was due to the oodles of extra pixels on screen, or the fantastic video processing and 4,000 nits of brightness, I can’t say. But the likely scenario is the next generation of flagship direct-view TVs will be 8K (7680 x 4320), and early indications are they will produce spectacular images from native-4K content.

Basic Choices: Projector or TV? Pt. 2

Direct-view TVs perform much better than front-projection systems in brightly lit rooms

Cons

 

More Expensive for Larger Screens
While an 85-inch screen size is nothing to sneeze at, if you want to go larger than that, it could cost you. A lot. While you can get a 85-inch set for under $5,000 (or snag the 8K Samsung mentioned above for under $15,000), prices go up exponentially above that size. For example, while the flagship Sony 75-inch Z9F set costs around $6,000, the 100-inch Z9D will run you $60,000! LG unveiled the world’s largest OLED TV at 88 inches during this past CES with no price announced yet, but expect it to be . . . high. And if you think Samsung’s 219-inch modular-design The Wall is right for you, plan on spending well over six figures when it actually becomes available for order.

 

Room Dominating
We’re a luxury website, so perhaps the prospect of dropping a ton of cash on a flagship direct-view set isn’t a deal killer. I mean, Ferrari is selling $300,000 488 GTBs faster than it can produce them, so clearly the luxury buyer is alive, well, and spending. But, one thing you’ll have a tough time doing with your massive direct-view set is hiding it or decorating around it.

 

Hinders Speaker Placement
The ideal speaker layout places the front left, center, and right speakers on the same horizontal plane as the center of the screen image, ensuring that sounds perfectly track the on-screen action. With an acoustically transparent projection screen, this isn’t a problem, but with a massive direct-view set, placing the center channel speaker becomes more problematic. Generally, the solution is to install it below the screen, and while this often does an OK job of marrying the dialogue to the screen, results can vary depending on how large your TV is, how low the speaker is installed, and how far the seats are from the screen.

 

Poor Off-angle Viewing
LED TVs can exhibit a real shift in image brightness and picture quality as you move off-center. If your media room is wide, with seats at extreme angles from the screen, those seats may have a compromised experience. Also, glare and reflections can become an issue when sitting well off-center.

 

Since choosing the right display technology is one of the biggest decisions you’ll make when creating a media or theater room, being armed with all the information necessary to choose—along with finding a competent installer—will definitely help your system turn out to be the best it can!

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.

Basic Choices: Projector or TV? Pt. 1

Should You Get a Projector or TV? Pt. 1

When determining the look and design of your new media room or home theater, you’re quickly going to be confronted with a major decision: The size and style of your video display. While the choice ultimately boils down to whether you’ll go with a front projector or a traditional direct-view TV, the number of factors that can go into making that decision can sometimes make it difficult. But you might find it easy to choose if one factor quickly sways your decision, since each technology has definite advantages.

In Part One, I’ll discuss the pros and cons of having a separate projector and screen. In Part Two, I’ll do the same for direct-view TVs.

 

Pros

 

No Limit on Screen Size

While TV screens are measured in inches, projection screens come in feet, and you can get a screen literally as big as your wall can support, meaning you can have a truly cinematic experience in your home. And while people might debate whether they can or can’t see the resolution improvements of 4K on their 65-inch TVs, you’ll be basking in all of the noticeably sharper detail on your 200-inch screen!

 

Less Expensive to Have Bigger Screens

Dollar per inch, it’s tough to beat front projection. Where the price jump from a 75-inch to a 100-inch direct-view set is exponential, it might only be a few hundred dollars more to go from a 110- to a 120-inch screen.

 

Supports Multiple Aspect Ratios

People primarily talk about two different aspect ratios: 16:9 (the rectangular shape of modern HDTVs) and 2.35:1 (the wider shape of many films). But in reality, modern filmmakers often use various aspects to capture a specific look or feel. More and more original content on Netflix and Amazon uses aspect ratios other than 16:9. With a projection screen and a masking system, you can make sure you’re always seeing the image as the director intended, with no distracting black bars.

Optimal Speaker Placement

The ideal speaker layout places the front left, center, and right speakers on the same horizontal plane as the center of the screen, ensuring that the sound exactly tracks the on-screen action. These speakers can be perfectly placed behind an acoustically transparent projection screen, just like in a movie theater.

 

Can Disappear When Not in Use

If you want a movie theater but don’t want your room to look like a movie theater, a front-projection system offers several solutions. Even the largest screens can be motorized to roll up and out of sight, and a projector can be concealed as well, with just a glass porthole in a wall or soffit for the lens to fire through.

 

Still Supports 3D

Direct-view display manufacturers have all abandoned support for 3D over the past few years, but nearly all projectors designed for home use still have this capability.

 

Offers Many Screen Material Options

When you buy a direct-view TV, you get what you get, but when you buy a projection screen, you have a myriad of options. Your installer can help you select the right material, color, and gain to make sure you get the most out of your projector, room, and screen size.

Should You Get a Projector or TV? Pt. 1

Stewart Filmscreen’s Gemini has separate screens for daytime & nighttime viewing

Cons

 

Needs a Dark Room

A projector can’t actually reproduce black, so it projects nothing where black should be. That means, to have black up on screen, the room needs to be black—or at least dark. Since projectors rely on dark rooms to produce their best image quality, that might not be your best choice if there’s any amount of light in your space. Sure, ambient-light-rejecting screens like Screen Innovations’ Black Diamond or Stewart Filmscreen’s Phantom HALR do an admirable job of producing viewable images in lit rooms, but they can’t deliver the same picture quality as viewing in a darkened room.

 

Not Always Good for Gaming
Using a projector can be a con, depending on the types of games you like to play. Many projectors have an input delay of up to several seconds, which means there can be a noticeable lag between when you press a button and something happens on the screen. While this isn’t an issue when pausing a movie, it definitely can be when playing a videogame where milliseconds of reaction time can be the difference between onscreen life and death. Also, if you play games that require standing in front of the screen, you might find yourself blocking the projector’s light path and creating life-sized shadow puppets instead.

 

HDR and Brightness Inferior to TVs

HDR (high dynamic range) can deliver both deep, detailed blacks and ultra-bright colors, but projectors can only deliver a fraction of the necessary brightness levels. This makes HDR on a projection system tricky, with manufacturers searching for the best solution to tone map the high-brightness images for their projectors. Also, outside of a custom, dual Christie Dolby Cinema projection setup, you currently won’t find any projector that can support dynamic HDR metadata like DolbyVision. That isn’t to say projectors can’t pull off HDR, and some of the new laser-based models look pretty spectacular. But direct-view sets will likely always be superior in this regard, able to produce images with more punch and contrast.

 

Lack of 8K Support

I hate to even mention this, but 8K is now apparently a thing, so here we are. Yet no projector manufacturers seem to be seriously pursuing 8K resolution. This is especially surprising since if there was any technology that could benefit from 8K, it would be a massive front-projection screen. (But I digress . . .) I’ve only seen one projector that can deliver 8K resolution, and it was nearly the size of a small car, required its own ventilation system, and cost a wallet-blistering $400,000! (JVC will be launching a native 4K projector that uses the company’s eShift pixel-shifting technology to deliver a pseudo-8K image at a far more reasonable sub-$20,000.)

 

In my next post, I’ll break down the pros and cons of going with a traditional, direct-view TV set for your entertainment room’s display.

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 High Cost of High Expectations

The High Cost of High Expectations

photo by Tom Pumford

The other day I had the opportunity to work on a job using a camera system I had only heard stories about—that is to say, I had never personally used it for my paid professional work. Needless to say I was more than a little excited, struggling to contain my inner fanboy, as I began the shoot. After about an hour behind the lens, something became increasingly clear, something I wasn’t expecting . . . I hated the camera. Oh, I loathed it. It threw me for a complete loop, for how could I, after all these years of yearning, not only be disappointed by this machine but actually be upset by it?

 

I’ve seen the same happen to AV enthusiasts time and time again. The reason often has to do with many of our opinions being formed by the opinions of others rather than being based on firsthand knowledge. It took me all of an hour to realize I would never recommend this product to another despite it winning countless Best Of awards and being the IT product to have in a given year. More shocking still was that when I quietly shared my displeasure with a few of my colleagues, they instantly rushed to the defense of . . . the product! As if my personal opinions (that is what we’re talking about here) were invalid, and it was me who had the problem—not the product!

 

When we self-identify with a hobby, product, or group, we take offense when that something is called out or criticized. For if there is something wrong with our choice in whatever, that must mean there is something wrong with us . . . right? Better to attack what threatens us rather than reason with it, even if this means not being able to reason with our very selves. It is this latter point that I find especially prevalent among AV enthusiasts—especially older diehards (or dare I say, blowhards).

 

I have on numerous occasions been in the presence of individuals who have five- and six-figure AV systems that others heap praise upon for their drool-worthiness, and yet know that these same individuals spend nearly zero time enjoying their setups. I know that if many had to do it all over again, they would likely never have purchased much of the gear they currently own, opting for something less intrusive and cumbersome. They stick with it because of this notion of clout.

 

I’ve watched people listen intently to something they clearly do not like and still buy it anyway because it must be them—the customer—who is missing something. That with time they will see the light so to speak. Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we feel we are incapable of trusting our own judgement when it comes to AV equipment? Is the draw of an award, or the seemingly endless string of others who “believe,” that strong of a pull that we’re willing to lie to ourselves? Or is it because we build up so many products into “legend” that the mere idea they may be “mortal” is too much for us to take?

 

I don’t pretend to know the exact answers.Suffice to say that the phenomenon is very real and only growing stronger, as more and more people in this world are choosing to live vicariously through the actions and ideas of others. Don’t believe me? I recently produced a video entitled “Vinyl Sucks” for YouTube, and within three days it garnered over 100,000 views and over 

1,500 negative comments—mostly directed at me on a personal level for my opinion. The funny thing about this being, I don’t think vinyl sucks, and in the video I say as much. I even explain that despite its shortcomings, it has great value to me and others. But I opened with a critical—albeit humorous—jab, and as a result I was roasted for it.

Why is there a right way and a wrong way to enjoy your favorite music and movies? If there is, who decides? Have you lied to yourself about equipment you’ve purchased in the past, or maybe even currently own?

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.

Specs vs. User Experience

Specs vs. User Experience

Earlier today, I had a sponsored post from Samsung pop up on my Instagram feed. It was for an 80-some-inch 8K QLED display that could be mine for the paltry sum of $15,000.

 

On one hand, $15,000 could be seen as somewhat of a revelation, for it wasn’t too long ago that TVs of this ilk commanded price tags double that of what Samsung is asking. On the other, 4K is in its infancy, and here we are now having to debate over the need—dare I say relevance—of 8K. And yet, despite all my years in this business, the notion that an 80-inch 8K display exists does little to rev my proverbial engine. Samsung’s 8K display does little but make me spec drunk.

 

Many products over the years have made me spec drunk. That is to say, they’ve been beyond impressive on paper. Upon closer inspection or following first-hand experience, they proved no different than much that came before them. Specifications only tell half of a product’s story, and it’s the half that makes for a juicy Internet post, not so much what it’s actually like to live with and use said product.

 

For example, I am a photographer by day, and in that community the camera of the moment belongs to Sony and their A Series of mirrorless cameras. On paper (and on vlogs), the A Series cameras are without equal, and yet I don’t think you could give me one—again.

Yes, I once spent thousands of my own dollars chasing specs and joining the rest of the photographic world in switching from DSLR to mirrorless. I spent almost two years trying to convince myself of Sony’s superiority. I was desperate to fall in love with my camera’s specs and to see that love somehow manifest itself in the work I was creating.

 

Only I didn’t, and it didn’t. I became so frustrated with the user experience that I began to dread picking up the camera. Eventually I sold all my Sony gear and went back to the camera system that had served me well since Day One.

 

Specialty AV is no different, and the constant “noise”

Specs vs. User Experience

that specifications generate can be daunting, if not overwhelming. Moreover, specs are designed to create a sense of FOMO in consumers, for who wouldn’t want eight times more of something? Eight times more TV than the TV you’re likely watching, which was sold to you as being four times the TV of your last TV—and so it goes.

 

And yet, when pressed, my friends in and around this business rarely, if ever, speak fondly of the latest equipment adorning their racks or walls, but rather of equipment of systems past. Is this due to nostalgia? Is it because products of yesteryear were simpler, more straightforward? I don’t pretend to know. What I do know is that the user experience tells a lot more of a product’s story, and it’s the part of the story that resonates long after the newness of a billion more this and a trillion more that wears off.

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.