Lifestyle

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 System Basics: Another View

As you’ve probably guessed by now, we’re trying something new here at Cineluxe. We’re trying to find the boundaries of a relatively new phenomenon—one that combines the best elements of the old home theater and media room concepts, while rejecting their downsides. Out with the man cave. Out with isolated spaces in the home that merely ape commercial cinemas. (Because, seriously, mimicking that outdated and dying concept makes about as much sense as having a phone booth in the hallway. No offense to you Doctor Who fans in the audience.)

 

What we’re chasing after here is living spaces where all of a room’s purposes are served by its design on co-equal footing. In his latest piece, John Sciacca gives you a pretty good idea of what sort of electronics and effort it takes to appoint one of these spaces. It’s a good place to start if you’re wondering what the heck we’re all about here. But given that we’re a diverse bunch of folks with a diversity of thoughts on the matter, it’s no real surprise that my own opinion on what it takes to deliver a better-than-movie-theater experience at home is a little different from John’s.

 

His approach is an attempt at objectivity. Mine is a little more subjective. So, when John says that the minimum screen size should be around 75″, I get what he’s going for. But it gives me pause.

And it gives me pause because of my friend Sara Beth, with whom I’ve been to the movies once or twice when that was still a thing I did. SB refuses to see a movie in IMAX. And when we went to the movie theater together, she always wanted to sit in the back row. That struck me as odd, until I learned that she’s a hyper-focused person who can’t really concentrate on a movie unless she can take it in all at once. Any on-screen action that takes place outside of her paracentral vision is overwhelming to the point of distraction. If she had a 75″ TV, she would need to sit in her neighbor’s kitchen to watch it.

 

Does that mean she couldn’t benefit from a better, more immersive, more luxurious home cinema system? Of course not. It just means that her idea of “immersive” and mine are radically different.

 

So, when you see one of us throw out minimum standards like “75″ screen or larger,” keep in mind that what we’re trying to convey is that a Cineluxe environment should be one in which the screen commands your attention and removes distraction. So, too, should the sound system. Control and operation should be seamless and intuitive. When you dim the lights and press Play, the world should disappear. But just as importantly, when you press Stop and raise the lights, your room shouldn’t look like a Black Friday sale at Best Buy.

 

Do I absolutely agree that there are some minimum standards for achieving this? Of course I do. And I completely agree that a ratty old 720p TV with a soundbar plopped in front of it won’t do the trick. But I think those standards are different from person to person—because what matters is the experience. And that’s unique to you, your family, and those with whom you choose to share it.

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.

Who We Are

Editorial: Who We Are

If some of this site seems familiar, that’s because Cineluxe began life as the Rayva Roundtable. After a seven-month hiatus, we’re back, having retained the most relevant of the Roundtable’s content.

 

So, why Cineluxe? Because we are all poised on the cusp of vast and tremendous changes in how we experience not just movies but pretty much every form of entertainment, and there isn’t any other website devoted to documenting, describing, analyzing, and debating all of that.

 

Most of the change is happening in the middle to the high end of the market. And the biggest changes—which will influence the rest of the market soon enough—are happening in the luxury segment. So that’s why we’re focusing on what we call luxury home entertainment—a not entirely accurate, or graceful, phrase, but it will do for now.

 

Any resemblance this tsunami bears to the man cave days will be mainly superficial. Because maybe the biggest irony of this new wave is that it’s not tech leading the way this time but lifestyle, with the tech scrambling to find ways to serve the needs of an affluent demographic that wants instant, effortless access to all the best entertainment, in every form, reproduced in the best possible quality, and seamlessly integrated into their everyday lives.

 

Another irony is that a large swath of the population can now have a reference-quality movie-watching experience at home. Movie theaters used to represent the standard, but not anymore. And filmmakers are beginning to realize that the experience that’s truest to their intentions is increasingly happening in homes, not at the local theater.

 

But those two things are just the beginning of the very long list of radical innovations that are already taking home entertainment someplace completely new. Cineluxe exists to help you make sense of it all—in a straightforward, jargon-free way, driven not by tech but interest and enthusiasm—so you can find the best way to have the ultimate entertainment experience at home.

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–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.

What are the Media Room Essentials?

media rooms

Continuing our conversation about media rooms, I’m going to run with Dennis Burger’s initial premise that, for a room to qualify as a media room, some thought and effort have to go into creating the highest quality AV experience your space and budget will allow. Simply plopping a 55-inch HDTV, cheap soundbar, and set-top box on a TV stand in your family room doesn’t magically transform the space into a media room.

 

I contend that a high-quality media room system does two things: It offers great AV performance and it embraces the advanced technologies of the day. The beauty is, in today’s AV landscape, you don’t necessarily have to spend a fortune to get both of these things.

 

Here’s what I consider to be the core elements of a modern media room system:

 

A Large-Screen UHD Display

Just like in a dedicated home theater, a media room needs a large screen that draws you in and allows you to feel truly immersed in the source content, be it a movie, TV show, or game. The display should be the focus of your eye (at least when the system is turned on), and the room’s seating and layout should reinforce that principle.

 

What constitutes a large screen? It kind of depends on your room and how far the display is from the seating area. I’d say the screen needs to be at least 65 inches in a smaller room and 75 inches or more in a larger room. At these screen sizes, 4K resolution on its own isn’t crucial, but the other aspects of Ultra HD—namely, High Dynamic Range and expanded color—represent the best of what the video world has to offer right now. Once you see high-quality HDR content on a high-performance TV like an OLED, you won’t want to go back to standard dynamic range.

 

A word of warning: This is one area where you may get what you pay for. Lots of budget LED/LCD TVs support HDR but don’t deliver the level of contrast needed to fully exploit it. You really need an OLED or a good LED/LCD TV with a full-array backlight and local dimming technology to make the most of HDR.

 

An Ultra HD Source

You can’t enjoy HDR if your sources don’t support it, and it’s not difficult or even terribly expensive to upgrade to UHD-friendly source devices. Pretty much every new UHD TV is also a smart TV with UHD-capable streaming sources like Netflix, Amazon Video, and Vudu built right in. The newest streaming boxes from Roku, Apple, Amazon, and NVIDIA support HDR and are priced under $200 (some of them are priced way under that).

 

For those who have more to spend, it’s tough to beat the user experience of a Kaleidescape 4K movie server. And the company’s Movie Store offers 4K downloads that match the AV specs for Ultra HD Blu-ray.

 

We’ve also reached the point where every major Blu-ray player manufacturer now offers at least one Ultra HD model (if not more), and entry-level models are priced around $150. Many of these players also support hi-res audio playback via disc, USB, or streaming, so they can serve as a high-performance audio source, too.

 

Gamers can enjoy a complete 4K multimedia experience in one box, thanks to consoles like the Xbox One and Playstation 4 that support 4K/HDR gaming and streaming video. The Xbox One even adds an Ultra HD Blu-ray player.

 

Surround Sound

Just as the big screen will immerse you visually in the source, surround sound is a must for creating that “you are there” experience. If you hate the idea of running wires across the room, there are now plenty of creative ways to incorporate wireless surrounds. A 5.1-channel system is the minimum, but I’ll take it a step further and suggest that your system at least needs to be upgradeable to support 3D formats like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X.

 

3D audio adds a height element to complete the soundstage, and you can get Atmos and DTS:X decoding in 7.2-channel receivers costing as little as $400. A 7.2-channel receiver only gives you two height channels, but it’s better than nothing. There’s no shortage of in-ceiling speakers at all price points that can serve as the height channels. But if your room can’t support overhead speakers, check out all the Atmos modules designed to sit atop your existing speakers and bounce sound off the ceiling. This path provides an easy and inexpensive way to upgrade your system as your budget allows.

 

A Unified Control Experience

Nobody wants to look at a pile of remotes on the coffee table, let alone have to use them all in order to launch media playback. A universal remote control is essential. Logitech’s Harmony brand still reigns supreme in the world of third-party universal remotes, and TV manufacturers like LG and Samsung have really upped their game in the control department, making it easer to control multiple sources with the TV remote and adding support for Alexa and Google Home voice control.

 

The wide range of smart lighting systems and window treatments makes it easier and cheaper than ever to add automation elements to your media system without having to invest in a full-fledged control system—although there’s no denying the appeal of a well-executed Control4 or Crestron setup, should you choose to go that route.

 

There you have it: My list of must-have components in a media room. Do you agree or disagree?

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. Adrienne lives in Colorado,
where she spends far too much time looking at the Rockies and not nearly enough time
being in them.