Lifestyle

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.

The Trials & Tribulations of Amazon Streaming

The Trials & Tribulations of Amazon Streaming

Sitting back and relaxing with a favorite movie or TV series is a luxury we can all appreciate. High-end picture and sound are the ideal, but getting to the opening credits can be an experience in and of itself. If we own the content, popping in a Blu-ray is a painless endeavor. Doing the same with a streaming service should be just as painless. That’s not always true, however.

 

When the Amazon series Homecoming was released, my wife and I sat down, turned on our home theater, and opened up the Amazon Prime Video app on the TV to start watching. Since the show was new, and Amazon was promoting it heavily, it was right at the top of the menu. No searching necessary. It was a pretty straightforward experience—at least for a few minutes. I knew from advertisements that Homecoming was offered in 4K, but what we were watching was most definitely

1080p. I found that, unlike Netflix, which automatically shows the best level of content available that your home setup can handle, with Amazon you need to actively search out the UHD version.

 

You’d think it would be as easy as typing in “Homecoming UHD 4K” or something similar. You’d be wrong. That search term, in fact, comes up with no hits. Zero. A show produced by the service itself, heavily marketed with billboards (around the Los Angeles area at least), its stars 

The Trials & Tribulations of Amazon Streaming

frequenting late-night talk shows, nominated for multiple awards—and the app search engine is unaware a 4K version exists. In order to find it, I had to scroll down their category listings until I found “Original Series in 4K Ultra HD.” I would have expected that option to be at or near the top, instead of a few scrolls below the fold.

 

I encountered similar problems when I searched for past seasons of The Expanse, a fantastic adaptation of the book series that Amazon recently picked up from SyFy to produce a fourth season. Even worse than my Homecoming experience, there was no way to find the 4K version through the TV app. (I checked the apps that are integrated on my Samsung QLED, a Vizio P-Series, and my Xbox One X.) The workaround (suggested by Dennis Burger) was to find the 4K-version listing on my computer browser, add it to my Watchlist, and then go back to the TV to select it from the Watchlist. Far less than an ideal situation.

 

So, what’s the solution? I’d say burn it down and start from scratch, using Netflix as an example. But considering the vast amount of work necessary for something like that to happen, it isn’t remotely feasible. This past summer, Amazon did announce an update is in the works, but it sounds like it will be limited to the mobile-app search function and won’t be a part of the TV app. Until then, the only option seems to be to grin and bear it. Or just open up Netflix instead.

John Higgins

John Higgins lives a life surrounded by audio. When he’s not writing for Cineluxe, IGN,
or 
Wirecutter, he’s a professional musician and sound editor for TV/film. During his down
time, he’s watching Star Wars or learning from his toddler son, Neil.

Luxury Isn’t About Price–It’s About Pride

I’ve written professionally about the consumer electronics industry since I was 20 years old, which in a few short years means I will have been lovingly doing this shit for half my life. When I first started out, I will admit I was all about the gear. I loved it. I wrote my ass off in hopes of impressing my editors enough to trust me with the truly blue chip products in the future—products such as loudspeakers from Wilson Audio, or electronics from Mark Levinson, and perhaps a projector from Barco. I rose through the ranks of this business, and before I knew it I was the managing editor of (arguably) the largest consumer electronics publication in the world. And I loved it . . .

 

Until I didn’t.

 

My falling out of love with the consumer electronics industry and all things specialty audio/video coincided with my departure from my other profession of nearly as long, advertising. It was 2008, everyone was in the throes of the housing crisis, and I’ll be the first to admit I was hit very, very hard. I lived in Southern California, and I saw my property value plummet and the neighborhood I had purchased a home in not two years prior become littered with foreclosure and auction signs. To say that my priorities shifted would be a massive understatement, for I (let alone anyone else) had little use for the bells and whistles of specialty AV that once warmed my heart.

Luxury Isn't About Price--It's About Pride

photo by Jens Kreuter

I downsized in an attempt to stay afloat, a tactic that worked for me, though it did cost me one very nice, very trick, custom whole-home audio/video installation. From its ashes arose a new type of setup, one that was neither trick, nor custom, but that consisted of a handful of 55-inch flat screens and an equal number of soundbars. Until recently, this barebones-type setup is what I called my reference, and to be honest I was never embarrassed by it, because it just worked. Sure I had seen and heard better in my travels, but I didn’t miss “better,” for I had grown accustomed to the simplicity of this new “world.”

 

About six months ago, I was in the market for a display as my last remaining HD display was a bit long in the tooth and I wanted to use my new-ish UltraHD living room display as its replacement. This meant needing to shop for a new TV. Initially, I thought I’d just go on Amazon and order up another 65-inch something or other that cost roughly a thousand dollars and wait for my Prime shipping to bring it to me in 48 hours or less. But then I thought, what if instead of doing what I always did, or had been doing for the past few years, I was a little more selective? Choosing to buy based on quality and perhaps longevity (if there is such a thing in technology) rather than purely on budget—what doors or options would that open for me?

 

It would be the quintessential question that would reunite me with the hobby I had left, and set me on a new path of discovery. A path that wasn’t about quantity—be it number of channels or features—but rather quality, for I knew if I was going to spend money, I only wanted to do it once if I could help it.

 

We’ve been brainwashed into thinking that because technology changes so rapidly, we must change in kind, when that’s not really realistic, nor even the truth. True, new products come out each and every year, or sometimes more frequently. Yet if you really stop and compare them, there is often little, if anything, that separates the old from the new. Conversely, buying solely on price doesn’t always go hand-in-hand with quality, or longevity. Which brings us to luxury goods.

 

To me, luxury isn’t about price, though the two often are interchangeable. Luxury is more about the ownership experience, for long after you’ve swiped your credit card, or emptied a portion of your bank account, you have to live with your buying decision. Some of the most financially painful things I’ve ever purchased, I still have to this day, no doubt due to their superior craftsmanship and usage of materials that, while expensive, have stood the test of time. And that fills me with a kind of pride. It doesn’t make me better, but it does feel good, and that’s worth something.

 

If there’s one thing I think Millennials get right, it’s that they seem to value an experience over superficial goods. They’d rather have one truly great, timeless experience than several mediocre ones. Maybe this has to do with their fiscal outlook, or perhaps it’s their form of silent rebellion—who knows. But I do think that as things progress, we’re going to begin to place higher and higher levels of importance upon getting more from less.

 

This is what I believe, and this is what I wish to explore as a writer and regular contributor to this publication going forward. So, stay tuned, I guess . . .

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.

Small Room–Big Sound

Generally, when you think of a media room or home theater, it conjures up images of a fairly large space. Lots of seating, huge screen, drapes, columns, etc. And I would say most of the media/theater rooms I have worked in over the years are in the 18 x 25-foot ballpark, usually with 10-foot ceilings. Sometimes the areas are much bigger.

 

But do you need a large room to enjoy a luxury experience?

 

A few months ago, I reviewed a dARTS (Digital Audio Reference Theater System) audio system. Generally, I review gear in my living room, which is a fairly large space that opens up to both a kitchen and a nook area. With the room’s layout, I sit about 13 feet from my front channels and screen, and about 15 feet from my side surround and rear surround speakers.

Small Room--Big Sound

dARTS 535 Series digital surround theater system

But, due to the style and design of the system I was reviewing, installing it in my living room wasn’t practical. Instead, I installed the 5.2.2-channel speakers in a new bedroom we had built onto our home a couple of years ago. The room measures roughly 13 x 15 feet and has 9-foot ceilings—in other words, a bedroom size you would find in just about any home.

 

When I first started listening to the system, I was amazed at how much more detailed things sounded. Not that dialogue was suddenly clearer or that music notes were sharper, but how I was just constantly more aware of and noticing those distinct little sounds and Foley effects that are often buried in the background of a movie’s soundtrack. Small creaks and subtle ambient cues like leaves rustling, footsteps walking around in the distance, rain pattering outside. Watching It on this system—a movie with an absolutely fantastic and immersive Dolby Atmos mix—was absolutely terrifying, especially the scenes within the sewer and in the house on Neibolt Street.

 

And due to how the overhead speakers were installed (using a portable lighting rig re-purposed as an in-ceiling speaker holder to avoid cutting 10-inch holes in my new ceiling), they were 8 feet off the floor, or about 4 feet above my seated listening height. Compared with the “reference” system in my living room—which has vaulted ceilings spanning up to about 15 feet at the peak, with the four height speakers about 10 feet above my seated position—this produced overhead audio that was far more noticeable and localizable. When something was meant to sound as if it was happening above you, it happened right above you. Being in the center of this 5.2.2 speaker sphere produced incredible audio pans—front to back, side to side, top to bottom, sound just traveled with perfect tracking all around and over me.

 

Because there is less air to “energize” in a small room, you can use smaller speakers and still hit high sound-pressure levels, which helps from both a design and budget standpoint. Instead of one or two massive subwoofers, four small subs will deliver greater and smoother bass throughout. And because you’re physically closer to the speakers, you can generally listen at lower volume levels and still get a reference experience. I wasn’t blasting the system to feel bass impact waves or to be aware of the overhead and surround channels. In fact, I often listened at 10 to 15 dB lower than usual.

 

The smaller space also meant there were far fewer sonic distractions from other parts of the house—you know, the background-of-life sounds that every home has. Those hums, clicks, whirs, and other environmental noises all must be overcome in order to hear the soft sounds within a film or audio recording. Lower the background noise, and the sounds you want to hear are much easier to pick out.

 

In a way, this intimate, small-room experience was like listening to a pair of really nice headphones . . . but better! For one, I could share it with others. Two, headphones can’t deliver the same full-body bass impact of a great subwoofer. And three,

where headphones struggle to produce and place actual surround sound, this system did that in spades.

 

And guess what else? Because I was sitting much closer to my display, the 60-inch screen seemed far more cinematic.

Small Room--Big Sound

To be fair, some credit certainly needs to go to the fantastic sounding dARTS audio system and Marantz AV8802A processor (shown above). This combination would retail for just north of $20,000, and dARTS’ unique implementation of Audyssey room correction is a fair measure of the system performance’s “secret sauce.” Had I just tossed some entry-level gear together, the experience surely wouldn’t have been as impressive. (You can read my review here.)

 

Not only does every home have a small space or two that could be the perfect media room candidate, it might just turn out to deliver the best experience in the house. (For more on making the most out of a small space, read the “So You Think Your Room’s Bad” posts from Mike Gaughn & Dennis Burger.)

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.

Diary of a Cord Cutter

Diary of a Cord Cutter

Humans are creatures of habit. We fall into routine with our diet, job, schedule and, for me, satellite service. I’ve been with DirecTV for well over a decade for no better reason than they had the best deal for my lifestyle at the time that I got fed up with the local cable company (which has since gone out of business). I’ve grown to appreciate the 4K they offer, the multitude of sports packages, and the DVR service. But as more of my friends eschew the traditional cable/satellite model, I yearn to know and understand the life of cord cutting.

 

Not to sound pretentious or elitist (which means I’m about to sound pretentious and elitist) but generally the home theater experience required by my friends doesn’t quite approach my expectations. Theirs involves uncalibrated televisions with the sound coming from the (gasp!) TV’s own speaker. Nothing like the 4K HDR and 5.1 (minimum) surround sound I’ve grown accustomed to. So while they’re happy with some limitations in their streaming services, I still need to fulfill my desire for high-end content.

 

And therein lies the challenge. How can I continue my indulgence of high-quality material and grow my offerings without losing key programming, such as sports and children’s shows. (I have a three-year-old son.) Is there enough Atmos content available to stream or download, or will I only find suitable soundtracks on UHD Blu-rays? Will relying on a collection of different services wreak havoc with my home automation? Over the upcoming entries, I plan to delve into what’s available that meets my needs, and describe how I overcome the hurdles and roadblocks I encounter. I’ll more than likely learn a few things about myself and the limits of my own sanity along the way.

 

But the big question is: Can I both cut the cord and create an even better home-entertainment experience than I have now. We’ll see . . .

 

John Higgins

John Higgins lives a life surrounded by audio. When he’s not writing for Cineluxe, IGN,
or 
Wirecutter, he’s a professional musician and sound editor for TV/film. During his down
time, he’s watching Star Wars or learning from his toddler son, Neil.

Is Personal Luxury Cinema Really a Thing?

Is Personal Luxury Cinema Really a Thing?

One of the things we’re trying to encourage here at Cineluxe is ongoing dialogue, debate, and discussion. As we’ve stated before, the term “luxury” can be a moving target and mean different things to different people—or to put it more crudely, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

 

Dennis Burger recently wrote a post, “Luxury System Basics: Another View,” in response to my post discussing the minimum electronics required to outfit a system capable of delivering a luxury home experience. Reading Dennis’ post made me think, “Well, would he consider a laptop and headphones a luxury experience?!?”

 

I’ll admit, at first that voice in my head had a pretty sarcastic edge.

 

But then I started thinking on it a little more. I mean, could a laptop and pair of headphones deliver a luxury experience?

 

I think that answer is simultaneously “no” and “yes,” but most likely “a definite qualified maybe . . .”

 

Before I give a more considered response, let me start with a story for a bit of perspective.

 

After I got married, my wife and I moved into an apartment building in Walnut Creek, California. My entertainment system at the time consisted of a 25″ Proton CRT tube, some Boston Acoustics towers and matching center channel, a Yamaha surround receiver, and a Definitive Technology 15″ sub. Our first night in the new apartment, we watched Babe—yes, the talking pig movie—on VHS at a volume level that I would describe as modest at best. The next morning we found a note on our door that said (to the best of my memory), “You don’t live alone in the woods! You need to keep the volume down!”

 

This was crushingly disappointing to me as I knew it meant I’d no longer be able to enjoy movies or music at any kind of volume level until we moved out. And this on the second day of our one-year lease.

 

So, what if you love movies—or music—but live in a similar situation, where you’re unable to have a system due to neighborly issues? Or if you have a space that just can’t accommodate a massive screen? Or you travel a lot and want to have the best possible experience wherever you go? Or if you’re like Dennis’s friend Sara Beth and just find large screens overwhelming?

 

Modern laptops can deliver 4K HDR resolution, which is insane pixel density when compared to screens four or more times larger. They also have ultra-powerful processors, many gigs of RAM, and fantastic video cards for wonderful video scaling.

 

Some laptops even offer an HDMI input, meaning you can connect an external 4K HDR source like a UHD Blu-ray, Apple 4K TV, or Kaleidescape Strato and watch it on the laptop’s screen.

 

By the numbers, a decent-sized laptop screen—say 16″ diagonal—sitting in your lap would achieve both SMPTE and THX recommended viewing angles for an immersive experience. This would actually deliver the same visual experience as sitting 12.5′  from a 100″ screen. (If you’re curious about calculating recommended screen sizes for your seating position, this is a great site.)

 

Regarding screen size, I’d also say that I’d rather watch a great image on a smaller screen than a good one on a large screen. In other words, a 75″ screen doesn’t always trump the experience of viewing on a 55″ or 65″.

On the audio side, headphones can definitely deliver the luxury Schiit. (I’m referring to Schiit Audio, of course.) In fact, in some ways, a good pair of headphones with an outboard DAC and amplifier can get you far closer to the source material than audio systems costing many times the price. If you’ve ever had the opportunity to audition a pair of truly cost-no-object phones like Sennheiser’s Orpheus 2 or HiFiMan’s Shangri-La, then you know how truly jaw-dropping audio can be. Headphones can reveal micro details and subtleties that can be lost when listening on a traditional pair of loudspeakers, with bass response, dynamics, and isolation from outside noise that traditional systems struggle to match.

 

Headphones also aren’t impacted by the room’s acoustics, typically deliver fantastic audio at less-than-reference

Orpheus Comes Alive

Powering on Sennheiser’s $52,000 HE 1 (also known as Orpheus 2) headphones initiates an elegant ballet, the controls slowly extending from their recessed positions on the front of the marble plinth, the eight tubes rising and slowly warming to life, and the storage cover gently rising to reveal the headphones themselves, enclosed in a luxurious storage case. This orchestration is designed to entice and excite as the system slowly comes online, timed so Orpheus is fully ready to entertain upon completion.

—J.S.

levels, and won’t have your neighbors (or roommates) leaving any snotty notes on your door.

 

With virtualization software and processing like DTS Headphone:X or Dolby Headphone, you can even get a simulated surround experience while wearing a pair of headphones. Is it as immersive as having an actual dedicated 7.1.4 Dolby Atmos speaker array, which can place sounds discretely anywhere in the room including directly over your head and behind you? No, but it can be pretty damn impressive.

 

The place where this kind of experience truly falls short is when it goes beyond an audience of one. Sitting hunched over a laptop screen side-by-side with a group of headphone-wearing friends is certainly no one’s definition of luxury.

 

So, can a laptop and headphones deliver a luxury experience for a solo cinephile? You tell me.

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.

Luxury Defined–Take 2

Luxury Defined--Take 2

Following up on Dennis Burger’s “What is Luxury Home Entertainment?” and my own “Luxury Defined,” I feel that a site calling itself Cineluxe needs to be able to pin down not just what luxury is in general but exactly what it means for a home entertainment space. Does it mean a private IMAX screening room with a 20-foot-wide screen, seating for 30, and a price tag north of $1 million? Definitely. Is it a big-screen TV with a well-designed and integrated surround system that puts you in the middle of your favorite film or concert? Most likely. Is it slapping a soundbar beneath a flat-screen TV and streaming Netflix? Probably not.

 

The dictionary actually lays out a pretty broad definition of luxury: “a condition of abundance or great ease and comfort, or something adding to pleasure or comfort but not absolutely necessary; an indulgence in something that provides pleasure, satisfaction, or ease.”

 

So, when we’re talking about luxury as it pertains to the entertainment space, we need to first clarify what is “absolutely necessary,” and then anything beyond that would be luxurious. Well, potentially.

 

For an entertainment system, there are some barebones components that are “absolutely necessary” in order to have a functioning system: A display, sound system, and source components. In theory, this could all be rolled up into a modern smart TV, which provides the display/picture, the sound (albeit via abysmal internal speakers), and the source via built-in streaming. I dare say, no one would come over for a Netflix-and-chill and consider a solitary flat-panel TV on the wall as “luxury” in any sense.

 

A basic upgrade from the bare minimum would be transitioning to a larger screen, an improved sound system, and higher-quality sources. This could be the typical bedroom 55”-and-up screen with a soundbar and wireless subwoofer, and maybe a Blu-ray player or UltraHD streaming capabilities. A definite step up from the minimum of “absolutely necessary,” but still a real stretch to call it “luxurious,” even if you watch while ensconced in 1,000 thread-count sheets, wearing a cashmere robe, and sipping Cristal from Baccarat flutes.

 

To get 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. While not a hard-and-fast definition, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to say that at a minimum a luxury entertainment system would feature a 75” or larger TV or projection system, a multichannel surround sound speaker system with Dolby Atmos, and 4K HDR sources capable of delivering the best picture and sound quality. Additionally, a luxury experience would feature a well-designed control system to simplify operation, acoustical treatments to improve sound quality, comfortable seating, and lighting/shading control.

 

Luxury tends to have a nebulous definition as it is a bit of a moving target based on one’s finances at a given time in their life. For example, while I was in high school, eating out with friends at a place that required leaving a tip was a luxury. Today, it’s a luxury when my wife and I have a dinner bill that crests $200. My first “luxury” home entertainment purchase was a 15” Definitive Technology subwoofer that cost $700; today my system includes two subwoofers that sell for $2,000 apiece.

 

While you can’t put a dollar amount that defines a luxury experience, it’s safe to say that it does come at a price. Granted, a price that is many thousands less today than it was when I started in this industry 20 years ago.

 

When you have made a commitment to wanting something that is not truly one of life’s necessities—in this case, an entertainment system—luxury means aspiring towards achieving the best experience possible within your means. To paraphrase Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, “I shall not today attempt further to define what is luxury. But you’ll usually know it when you see it.”

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.

Explaining the “Luxe” in “Cineluxe”

Explaining the "Luxe" in "Cineluxe"

I hope this doesn’t sound like too lofty a pronouncement, but the whole landscape of home entertainment is going to change completely over the next two to three years. And most of the ferment feeding that vast wave is currently happening in the high-end part of the market that Cineluxe embraces.

 

Early on in “What is Luxury Home Entertainment?” Dennis Burger writes: “[Y]ou can now achieve a level of cinematic performance with a few thousand dollars’ worth of gear that would have been unimaginable at any price just a few years ago.”

 

If you had to narrow it to one thing, that’s what this site is all about. To put it another way, a good chunk of the population, for a relatively small investment and with relative ease, can now have an entertainment system that rivals or outperforms what they can experience at their local movie theater. And that changes everything.

 

Given that, how does luxury enter into the equation? Well, if you don’t narrow it down, that’s also what this site is all about.

 

Luxury, more than anything else, is getting things as right as humanly possible. And, while money can be a factor in that, it’s not the most important one. It’s taste.

 

Most things can never qualify as luxurious because nobody ever cared enough to get them right. Almost everything we encounter is in some fundamental way slipshod; and even when people aspire, they usually settle for good enough. Cineluxe is about pushing past all of that to the ultimate.

 

But the tech is only a means to that end—ditto for the space, and whatever is done to that space to make it suitable for enjoying entertainment. Every luxury home entertainment system is a unique creation, and achieving the goal of making both the tech and room disappear so you can become lost in the entertainment takes both a strong human impulse and a discerning eye. And that’s where taste comes into it.

 

Not the integrator’s or the designer’s, but the owner’s—more pertinently, owners’—taste.

 

To have a truly luxurious space—one that not only achieves ultimate performance but deftly addresses the needs of every member of the household—you need the input of everyone who will be using that room. (Which shows how far we’ve come from the days of the man cave.) And some member of the household needs to be responsible for defining the goals and ensuring they’re achieved.

 

And that’s kind of why we’re here—to bring people up to speed on what luxury home entertainment is and give them a way of guiding the process without ever getting mired in the jargon or the tech.

 

Most of the time, almost all the actual work will be done by the designer and integrator, of course. But the homeowner’s vision—which is just another form of taste—has to lead the way. The landscape is strewn with more than enough evidence to prove that money can’t buy taste, so it’s just as important to find the right people to help collaborate on a system as it is to find the right room or gear. We’ll try to help with that too.

 

Crafting an ultimate entertainment space shouldn’t have to be a chore—it should be a creative act, a unique expression of the interests and enthusiasm, and even passions, of everyone in the household. It can be complicated, but it doesn’t have to be—and we’ll do what we can to make the act of creating a system and a space as enjoyable as actually using it.

 

Michael Gaughn

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

Luxury Defined

If you asked 10 people for their definition of luxury, you’d probably get 10 similar but also wildly varying answers. For some, it might mean a five-star vacation; for others, it might be a chauffeured ride in a Bentley; for others, flying First Class in a plane; while others would describe luxury as popping open a cult Cabernet.

 

But what differentiates something that is luxurious from something that isn’t?

 

Consider a Rolex timepiece.

 

By nearly any metric, a Rolex is a luxury product. But what actually makes it luxury?

 

Is it simply because the least expensive model—the “humble” Oyster Perpetual 34—sells for just north of $5,000? Does the high price define it as a luxury product?

Rolex OP 34 Watch

In part, maybe. By commanding such a price, it means fewer people can own one, thus creating more brand cachet and demand.

 

Does the $5,000 Rolex do more than other watches? Hardly. In fact, the OP 34 has but one function: It tells the time. As those in horology would say, it offers nary a single additional complication. No date, no alarm. It won’t take your pulse. It won’t display text messages. It just displays the time—via old-school analog hands.

 

But surely, as far as timekeeping goes, a $5,000 Rolex is unequaled, offering accuracy rivaled only by laboratory-grade atomic clocks. Umm, again, no. In fact, Rolexes are notoriously inaccurate, frequently running several seconds fast or slow—per day. A $10 quartz watch would trounce any Rolex in timekeeping accuracy. 

 

So, why would anyone possibly choose to spend 100 times more on a Rolex than another watch, making it the Number Four top-selling watch brand in the world?

 

Because frequently a large part of luxury goes beyond performance and into things more tangential, like pride of ownership. The Rolex owner is proud knowing they own something that was crafted by hand, in limited numbers, with higher-caliber components, and with superior craftsmanship. They feel good about owning it, wearing it, checking the time on it, and showing it off.

 

The superior craftsmanship does offer some actual performance benefits, such as being truly waterproof, with a sapphire crystal that’s virtually impervious to scratches, and a 28,800 beats-per-hour movement that produces a lovely sound and that—if well cared for—will provide decades of service so the watch can be handed down to the next generation. (Also, since 

Meridian DSP80002 Speaker

Rolex’s Oyster Perpetual movement never requires a battery change, the watch will practically pay for itself after like 500 years!)

 

These same analogies can certainly be applied to luxury home-entertainment components.

 

Do the iconic glowing blue lights and dancing VU meters make a McIntosh component perform better? Does a Meridian speaker sound better for its meticulously finished cabinet? Does a movie collection navigated via Kaleidescape’s gorgeous interface look and sound better? Do these products costing hundreds of times more than entry-level models in the same category deliver an experience that is 100 times better?

 

Sadly, no.

 

But these luxury products have a very necessary place in the world of home entertainment.

 

Luxury is often a feeling that comes from purchasing something superior to the norm, when striving to attain an elevated experience. It is part of a commitment to having far more than just a passing interest in your entertainment experience. And in the home entertainment world, luxury components often come with improvements—sometimes incremental, sometimes considerable. But it is often many little things that add up to a better whole.

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.

What is Luxury Home Entertainment?

The home theater is dying.

 

That’s not to say that no one will ever again build a secluded, enclosed, darkened space within their home purely for the purpose of watching movies. Of course they will.

 

But these days, beautiful multi-use spaces are where it’s at. Rooms where you feel just as comfortable gathering the family for a game of DropMix or Settlers of Catan as watching a film. Rooms where a stray beam of sunlight isn’t the enemy. Rooms in which the décor says, “Read a book, Facetime with Grandma, host a dinner party,” not just, “Ticket, please.”

 

There are any number of reasons for this trend—from lifestyle changes to the fact that you can now achieve a level of cinematic performance with a few thousand dollars’ worth of gear that would have been unimaginable at any price just a few years ago. But we’ll leave those discussions for another day.

 

First, we have to figure out what to call these spaces. Because “media room” just doesn’t cut it. And nothing quite matches the evocative simplicity of “home theater.” (Gah, what a perfect turn of phrase that is.) Until we come up with something better, we at Cineluxe are rallying behind the term “luxury home entertainment.”

Tribeca media room

photo by John Frattasi

What does that mean, though? I think the “home entertainment” part of the equation speaks for itself. But what about the “luxury” part? Unsurprisingly, there’s little agreement around these parts about what that means. For me, it’s probably best summed up by Merriam-Webster’s second stab at defining the term: “something adding to pleasure or comfort but not absolutely necessary.”

 

Let’s face it—none of this is really necessary. Watching movies isn’t necessary. Streaming music and playing video games aren’t essential to life. But any time you seek to elevate the space in which you enjoy these pastimes beyond the barebones minimum, I think you’re engaging in this thing that we’re calling luxury home entertainment. That means selecting gear that delivers an elevated level of performance, sure. But it also means integrating that gear into your room in a way that doesn’t impinge upon its livability, its comfort, its aesthetics.

 

By the same token, it also means designing or decorating a room in such a way that all of its accoutrements disappear when your entertainment system turns on. It means finding that balance without compromising either aspect.

 

This philosophy is probably best summed up by designer Ilse Crawford in the final episode of the amazing documentary series Abstract: The Art of Design. “Luxury is attention,” she says. “It’s care. . . . Caring about the details. Thinking about how people will experience the place.”

 

True, a room designed as a luxury home entertainment space adds another level of complexity, because the very experience of the room changes from day to day, hour to hour. But as we move toward a time in which interior designers and technology integrators are viewed as collaborators and co-conspirators—not antagonists whose goals conflict—we’ll see these spaces become more and more common. And as they do, perhaps someone will come up with a pithier name for them.

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.