Lifestyle

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.

What Is a Media Room?

I read with interest Dennis Burger’s recent post “What a Media Room Isn’t,” in which he tries to define what a media room is by giving an example of a room that definitely isn’t one, even though on the surface it checks all the right boxes. Dennis’s suggestion is that, for a room to earn the moniker “media room,” its owner must have paid at least some thought and attention to the quality of the AV experience.

 

I don’t disagree with that premise. After all, if someone actually describes a space in their home as a media room—as opposed to a den, family room, or even man cave—it suggests an emphasis on the actual media, not just on the experience that the room provides. It’s safe to assume that person has put some effort into crafting a higher-quality AV experience.

 

Yet, as the premise continues to swirl around in my brain, so many questions pop up. How many people do you know who would actually use the phrase “media room” to describe their room? I don’t know anybody—yet I do know people who value AV quality and are proud of the systems they’ve built in their dens, family rooms, etc. Is it possible to create a media room without even knowing it? Is “media room” really just a descriptor our industry has created to try and adjust to a changing landscape?

media room

Another question: How do we quantify “the quality of the AV experience”? Who decides if the quality is good enough to earn the media room designation? Does the TV have to be a certain size? A certain resolution? If you haven’t upgraded to an HDR-capable 4K TV and Ultra HD Blu-ray player to get the best possible video performance, are you really serious enough about picture quality to have a media room?

 

What about audio? Does the room have to have surround sound, or is a 2.1-channel soundbar acceptable? As the editor of HomeTheaterReview.com, I know firsthand that many theaterphiles still flat-out dismiss soundbars as a worthy category in the HT market. But the truth is, good soundbars do exist. What if the owner of said room put a lot of research into choosing that soundbar to get the best audio experience within his or her limited budget?

 

These days, big-screen TVs (even 4K models), Blu-ray players, streaming media players, and soundbars have become such commodities that you could accidentally assemble a pretty darn good AV system. I think this democratization of AV gear is the reason why it has become so hard to neatly categorize things. We throw around categories like home theater, media room, whole-house AV, and home entertainment without being certain where one ends and another begins. Is this a good or bad sign for our industry? That, my friends, is the million-dollar question.

    —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.

What a Media Room Isn’t

Last week, the Roundtable’s Michael Gaughn hit me with an interesting question: “How do you build a better media room?” I love that question, because it immediately made me ask another: What even is a media room?

 

Dig through the post history here on the Roundtable and you’ll find plenty of thoughts about media rooms vs. home theaters and the relative merits of each. And from that you can start to draw some conclusions. A media room is definitely a multi-purpose media space—a place to watch films and TV, play video games, perhaps listen to music, but also to read, play board games, do yoga, and maybe even eat supper.

 

But none of the above really gets to the heart of what makes a media room different from any number of spaces in which you could do all of those activities and more.

 

So, what is a media room? Perhaps to get to the heart of that question, we need to describe what a media room isn’t—quite like the old joke about a sculptor who explained his artistic process as taking a piece of stone and carving away anything that didn’t look like a horse. To illustrate this subtractive thought process, let’s take a look at my dad’s entertainment system.

 

Pop has a gigantic 4K TV. He has a pricey surround sound receiver connected to a fantastic GoldenEar in-ceiling speaker system. He has a Blu-ray player, an Apple TV, a TiVo, and even a pretty solid one-room remote control solution, complete with voice control.

 

But calling my dad’s system a media room is a bit like calling my refrigerator a Quiche Lorraine just because it’s got eggs, milk, cheese, and turkey bacon in it.

 

Why, though?

media room

Well, for one thing, he also has a gigantic floor-to-ceiling glass wall that looks out over his pond, flooding the space with sunlight during the day and glaring reflections at night. The gigantic 4K TV? It’s tucked in a corner, in such position that you really have to turn your head to watch it from anywhere in the room. Behind it sits his subwoofer—a nice, high-performance option whose potential is held back by its less-than-ideal positioning. But he refuses to have it anywhere else, for purely aesthetic reasons.

 

Give me an afternoon and a modest budget for some motorized draperies and a few soft bits to dull the harsh surfaces of his room, and I could turn it into a media room. Let me pull the TV out of its hiding spot, rearrange the furniture, maybe put in a good in-ceiling subwoofer to alleviate his concerns about looks, and I could turn it into a damned fine media room—one that still allowed him to look out over his pond at the press of a button.

 

The truth is, though, Pop just doesn’t care enough to warrant the effort. AV performance is pretty much at the bottom of his priority list.

 

So, despite owning all the components typically associated with a media room, he most certainly doesn’t have a media room. What he has is a 21st-century den. And he’s perfectly happy with that.

 

Mind you, I realize I haven’t even begun to answer the question originally posed to me. But I’d love for my fellow Roundtable writers—and even our readers—to pick up the ball and run with it from here. What are the essential elements of a media room? What must it do, and what must it not do? Because I think we really need a firmer grasp on the concept before we start waxing on how to improve 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.

My New Tech Resolution

There are two people in my life whose book recommendations I never ignore. The first is my daughter, with whom I share a brain. The second is my friend and mentor Brent Butterworth, who is, without question, the smartest human I know. So when he casually dropped a reference to Robert Lustig’s The Hacking of the American Mind: The Science Behind the Corporate Takeover of Our Bodies and Brains in a conversation last week, I immediately rushed out and bought it. What followed was two days of outright fascination, a bit of righteous anger, and a ton of self-reflection.

tech gadgets--Hacking of the American Mind

I mention this merely because that book was weighing heavily on my mind when I read Adrienne Maxwell’s missive about all the technology that enters our lives during the Holidays, and the stress some of it brings with it.

 

What could those two things possibly have to do with one another? Well, perhaps it’s worth explaining what the book is actually about, because its title is a little vague. In its 352 pages, Lustig digs deep into three of the primary limbic pathways in our brains and bodies: cortisol (stress), dopamine (pleasure), and serotonin (contentment). I won’t spoil the meat of the book, since it deserves to be read with a fresh mind, but one of the key takeaways is that we as a society have, through no fault of our own, been conditioned to conflate pleasure with happiness. And that conflation is, very literally, killing us.

tech gadgets--Roku Ultra

Adrienne’s post also hit home with me because I had my own experience with tech-related elation and stress this Christmas. One of my favorite gifts this year was a Roku Ultra, a desperately needed upgrade over my tired and overheating Roku Stick, which served me well for five years but has recently become more a source of frustration than streaming bliss.

 

Here’s where the problem begins, though: The Roku Ultra supports the latest in Ultra HD and high-dynamic-range video, but to unlock all of that video goodness it also requires the very latest in digital copy protection, which my TV supports but my surround sound processor lacks. And the Roku Ultra doesn’t have dual HDMI outputs as my Ultra HD Blu-ray player does, so there’s no workaround!

 

As soon as I unboxed it, I felt my cortisol-fueled dopamine pathway begin to kick into overdrive. I need to replace my surround sound processor, too, if I want to get the most out of this little black box!

 

In the end, of course, that’s ridiculous. I’ll eventually replace my surround processor when the time comes. For now, I’m perfectly content with the faster operation, fewer lockups, and more reliable streaming provided by the new Roku. As I should be. I wasn’t unhappy with my old Roku because it lacked the latest in video format support—I was unhappy with it because I needed to reboot it every day. The new box solved that problem. So why did I immediately find myself wanting more?

 

I don’t want to give the impression I’m anti-technology here. Someone whose home has its own operating system has no place going on any sort of anti-tech rant. My point in all this is that, going forward, I’m going to focus more on tech upgrades that alleviate frustrations from my life rather than give me a quick dose of dopamine and long-term stress.

tech gadgets--Ecobee thermostat

My Ecobee thermostat, for example? It gives me all sorts of fascinating readouts and data to peruse. It feeds my dopamine pathways by rewarding me for making slight tweaks to my programming, informed by the charts and graphs it generates each month. In the end, though, all of that fuss saves me mere pennies. My time and energy are better spent letting it do its own thing. In other words, as with most of the technology in my life, I’m happier when it disappears—when it doesn’t call for my constant attention.

 

I’m generally not one for New Year’s resolutions, but I’m making one this year: Any new tech I add to my home (and believe me, there’ll be plenty) must meet that criterion. It must remove stress from my life, not add to it. So, instead of that shiny new iPhone X I’ve been drooling over and absolutely don’t need? I think I’ll add a motion sensor to my shower instead, to automatically turn on the bathroom vent fan when I bathe, which I always forget to do on my own (much to the displeasure of the missus). Instead of upgrading my Control4 remote in the bedroom to the latest model? I think I’ll add a second remote to the media room, so my wife and I stop bickering over the one in there now.

 

In other words, all new tech purchases this year will be made with an eye toward happiness, not pleasure. Because I never realized before just how much those two emotions conflict with one another.

—Dennis Burger

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

How to Tame a Media Room Pt. 3

When you lack the space or budget for a dedicated home theater, many turn to a media room as the next best solution. A media room can be the perfect gathering place for the family to enjoy a variety of content, including films, TV, streaming, gaming, and music. But they can have several distracting drawbacks a dedicated room usually doesn’t. In Part One of this series, I tackled the biggest distraction media-room owners face: Light. In Part Two, I wrote about the second biggest distraction: Visible electronics.

 

Here I’m tackling another major design hurdle: The video display.

 

When you’re watching something, you want the screen to be large and in charge, the prominent focus of the experience. But when it’s not in use, most people don’t want a giant screen on the wall dominating the room design. So, how do you hide something that’s supposed to be the main thing people look at? You get creative, that’s how!

 

First up is deciding whether to go with a large flat-panel LED TV or a projector and screen.

media room solutions
Option 1: LED

While concealing a massive LED screen can prove a challenge, it’s possible. And, once again, technological improvements have come to our aid.

 

The first option is to hide the display in plain sight by displaying high-resolution artwork on the screen when it isn’t in use. This is the concept behind the new Samsung Frame (shown above), which even incorporates an art frame around the TV and uses different digital matte colors, layouts, and artwork choices. With a USB drive and some Internet clicking (try this link), you can download hundreds of thousands of free images so you can create your own art display on any TV!

 

Another option is to literally put a piece of artwork in front of the screen that covers it when not in use. When the TV powers on, the art rolls up inside its frame, and voila! Your TV is revealed with zero impact on image quality. VisionArt Galleries and Stealth Acoustics, for instance, offer multiple frame and artwork selections to work with any décor or TV model.

 

Finally, the display can be concealed behind panels in a wall, in the floor, or in the ceiling, dramatically—and damn near magically—revealing when called on. For examples, check out some of the truly custom offerings from Future Automation.

 

Option 2: Projector & Screen

Even though a projection system can have a much larger screen than a TV, these two-piece systems are actually easier to conceal in a room. Every screen manufacturer makes motorized screen models that roll up into a case when not in use. Regardless of screen size, the case can be concealed in a housing that disappears behind crown molding, in a soffit, or stores up in the attic. Some screens can even roll up vertically from the floor, letting you hide the housing behind furniture.

media room solutions

I installed this projector so it’s concealed in a soffit

In the past, placing a projector was an exact science, with the lens needing to be positioned an exact distance from the screen. But today’s modern digital projectors offer so much image adjustment for throw distance and vertical and horizontal lens shift that they provide an incredible amount of flexibility with positioning. In fact, industry icon Sam Runco famously designed a projector for use in his home that could be installed in a back corner of the room!

 

Projectors have also gotten much smaller, making them easier to conceal. They can be hidden in a soffit or sit inside a cabinet at the back of the room with just a hole for the lens to fire through. They can also be installed in the attic, lowered into position from a motorized mount when it’s movie time. There are even mirror systems designed to bounce the image onto a screen, keeping the projector completely out of sight.

One of the latest crazes in the projector market is ultra-short-throw lenses. These projectors can sit on the floor or ceiling just inches away from a wall while still projecting images of 100 inches or more. Many of these designs can be tucked out of sight into furniture. In fact, A/V furniture manufacturer Salamander Designs has even created a special credenza (above) designed to house Sony’s ultra-short-throw 4K laser projector. This simple solution creates an incredibly finished and invisible look in a variety of styles while still delivering a cinematic experience.

 

The great thing about a media room is that everyone can have one. And with a little design creativity, the design distractions can be reduced or eliminated and you’ll have a terrific place for your family to gather!

—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.

How to Tame a Media Room Pt. 2

For those without the space or budget for building a dedicated home theater, a media room can be the best solution. But media rooms typically have several distracting drawbacks that most dedicated rooms don’t. In Part One of this series, I tackled the biggest distraction media-room owners face: Light.

 

Here we’re going to tackle the second biggest distraction: Visible electronics.

 

In a dedicated room, whether the lights are on or off, the room is designed to focus all attention on the screen. Whether through a stage, proscenium, curtain, angled walls, color scheme, or rows of carefully positioned seats, a well-designed dedicated theater blocks out all external distractions. And this definitely includes eliminating stacks of distracting electronics.

 

But it’s different with most media rooms. They not only don’t have the luxury of focusing all attention on the screen, they’re often hampered by having a cabinet filled with electronics sitting below the screen. (I will definitely cop to being guilty of this design issue.) Besides taking away from the look of the room, a rack full of electronics features an array of blinking and twinkling lights that are not only distracting but can rob the image of contrast. But with a little planning, your room doesn’t need to be hindered by having all the gear on display.

media room solutions

Solution 1: Hide the Gear

For the most part, the gear doesn’t care where it lives. Give your electronics a place with nice ventilation and they’re just as happy being in a closet or equipment room on the other side of the house as they are right below the TV. Obviously, wiring costs are more expensive since you’ll need longer cable runs, and some itemssuch as a 4K-capable HDMI-over-Cat6 baluncan be costly. But this is a small, one-time price to pay for an eternity of uncluttered space.

 

The bigger issue is controlling the gear. Since it will no longer be right in front of you, you obviously won’t be able to just point a remote at the system. Fortunately, this is a simple and easy proposition that doesn’t have to break the bank. And, honestly, if you’re working with a media designer/installer that hasn’t made a universal control system part of your bid, RUN!

 

The least expensive solution is an infrared control system. These are readily available, cost about $250, and work with any brand of remote control.

 

But it’s far more reliable to use a control system that communicates via radio frequency (RF). These systems don’t require pointing at an infrared target and often incorporate advanced features like RS-232 and IP control over electronics, giving two-way feedback such as which source is selected and displaying the current volume level. Also, many RF systems can be integrated into a larger whole-home automation system, letting you also control your lights, HVAC, security, etc. Your installer will likely suggest a model from a company like Control4, Crestron, RTI, Savant, or URC.

 

Solution 2: Ditch Physical Media

With the gear out of sight in another room, no one is going to want to traipse across the house every time they want to put a new movie into the Blu-ray player. And while streaming services like Vudu, Netflix, Amazon, and Apple can provide content in 4K, the highest performance solution is going with a media server like Kaleidescape’s Strato.

 

We’re big fans of the Strato here at Cineluxe because it delivers all the quality of the physical disc with none of the storage and handling requirements, or the limitations of streaming. Movies are downloaded to your local hard drive, giving you instant access to all your content. Perfect!

media room solutions

Solution 3: Hide the Speakers

At a minimum, a surround sound system will feature 5.1 speakers. But the current trend is to use 11.1 (or more!) speakers for a fully immersive Dolby Atmos system. That is a lot of speakers to conceal in a room. Or is it?

 

Every speaker manufacturer you can think of designs a series of in-wall and in-ceiling speakers. These fit inside standard 2×4 wall cavities and mount flush to the wall or ceiling. And a ton of R & D and technology have gone into these designs to ensure that quality isn’t lost over form. Modern speaker grilles also feature bezel-less designs that call little attention to it. These grilles can then be painted to blend into the wall or ceiling color, virtually vanishing. We’ve even done projects where painters painted the grilles to match the room’s wallpaper!

 

Speakers can also be installed into cabinetry, columns, or panels, hidden behind acoustically transparent cloth that lets all their sound pass thru unaffected. Some speaker manufacturers like Monitor Audio even make speakers that resemble framed works of art, covered in a variety of prints and images.

 

In Part 3, I’ll discuss how to overcome the next biggest media-room distractionthe 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.

How to Tame a Media Room Pt. 1

media room solutions

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

In “Making the Best of a Media Room” and “Media Room or Home Theater? It Depends,” I discussed why media rooms can be a good solution for people who don’t have the space or money for a dedicated home theater. With this post, I’m going to begin a new series that talks about some of the latest technology developments designed to address the inherent flaws of having a media room in an open space, and how to overcome the top media-room distractions!

 

I’m going to start with the biggest distractionlight.

 

A typical dedicated theater has four defined walls, one strategically located entry door, and no windowsit’s the perfect light-controlled environment. This is important because it helps to focus attention on the screen and gives the image contrast. Projectors can’t project blackthey instead project nothing. So the base “black level” of your room determines how black an image you’ll get on the screen.

 

Most media rooms, on the other hand, are wide open to other rooms, have no defined space, and usually have multiple windows, all of which let in a lot of light. This not only washes out the image on a projection screen, killing your black level, but can also create glare on a direct-view screen.

 

Solution 1: Two Screens

The solution I opted for in my own media room is to have two screensa direct-view flat-panel LED as the primary set for daytime and TV viewing and a large multi-aspect projection screen that rolls down in front of the TV for nighttime and movie watching. The benefit is that I can use the same speakers and electronics to power both displays, and I don’t have to worry about my daughter racking up lamp hours on my projector when she watches endless Disney Channel reruns.

 

It also makes switching from the 65-inch TV to the 115-inch screen an eventyou know you’re about to have a special experience when the projection screen comes down. Much like the way Theo’s designs often feature a theater curtain that opens at the beginning of a movie, the lowering of the screen creates a bit of drama.

media room solutions

Solution 2: Automated Shading

A huge growing segment of the custom-install market is motorized shades. These can be integrated into a variety of automation systems like Crestron, Control4, RTI, and URC so they automatically raise or lower at certain times of the daysay at sunset for privacyor when a button is pressed, such as “Watch Movie.”

 

With shades available in a wide variety of styles, colors, and light transmissivity, it’s easy to go within seconds from enjoying the views and natural light from your windows to having an almost pitch-black space for movie watching. Several companies, such as Lutron and Draper, even make battery-powered shades that greatly simplify installation.

 

Solution 3: Light-Rejecting Screens

For years, projection screens were only available in white. And while a low-gain white screen is often the right choice for a dedicated room, it doesn’t always work so well in a media room. As manufacturers realized they were losing sales because their screens couldn’t handle ambient light, they started working on new materials that work well in rooms that can’t get pitch black.

media room solutions

Today, virtually every screen manufacturer has a screen material designed to produce a terrific image in practically any lighting condition. Two great options are Screen Innovations’ Black Diamond and Stewart Filmscreen’s Phantom HALR. These screens are actually black but provide amazing contrast, and ambient-light rejection up to 90%!

 

Another terrific nod towards the multi-purpose room appeared this year with Stewart’s Gemini, which the company describes as being “designed for the home cinema enthusiasts who want the best of both worlds in the viewing experience, day or night.” Gemini’s single housing holds two screensone designed for day viewing and one designed for night viewing. The screens can even have different aspect ratios, such as 16:9 for TV and sports viewing during the day, and 2.35:1 for movie watching at night. This allows the media-room viewer to have the optimum presentation at any time of day.

 

In Part 2 of my series, I’ll discuss how to overcome the next biggest media-room distractionvisible electronics.

—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.

How to Make the Perfect Gaming Room

I’ve written quite a bit lately about the value a high-end home theater system brings to the video gaming experience. One thing I haven’t mentioned, though, is the effect gaming has on such environments. In other words: What makes a high-performance gaming room different from your average TV and movie viewing?

 

In many respects, the answer is a simple “not much.” After all, the surround sound mixes crafted on the fly by most modern video games have fundamentally the same format and layout as movie and TV soundtracks. A 5.1 or 7.1 or even Atmos sound system that sounds great with Baby Driver will rock just as hard with Project CARS 2.

 

But there are some things that set a good gaming room apart. First up: Large projection systems are oftentimes a no-no, if only because a number of video games require you to actually stand up in front of the screen while you’re playing. Unless you’re going for the old MST3K look, there’s not much value in having your silhouette covering the screen as you try to play Rock Band or ARMS. If you want to go truly big with a gaming video display, a 65-inch or larger TV or perhaps one of the new breed of ultra-short-throw projectors is probably your best bet.

 

Oddly enough, seating is another area where a gaming-room system might differ from your average media room. The key here is flexibility. A single comfy couch may be great for the entire family on movie night, but different styles of game work best with different seating positions.

 

When my wife and I are clobbering each other in Mortal Kombat X, we both want the widest view possible, since we’re both probably concentrating on one edge of the screen or the other. In other words, the couch is perfect.

 

But when I’m playing first-person action games by myself, I like to scoot up as close to the screen as possible, since my focus is right in the dead center, and things on the periphery are, well, peripheral. I used to have a small, portable, dedicated gaming chair for exactly such purposes, but space constraints these days mean I more often than not just rely on a big ottoman to move closer to the screen when I want to.

the perfect gaming room

Speaking of space constraints—depending on a gamer’s individual preferences, a number of peripherals will probably come into play, so having ample storage space is crucial to any good gaming room that must also serve double duty as an all-purpose media room and family gathering space. In my case, I have full-sized tubular steel frame with a Sparco racing seat and Logitech G29 racing wheel, gear shift, and pedal set that needs to be tucked away out of sight when not in use. You might also have plastic musical instruments, a big HOTAS flight control system, or any number of other peripherals that need to be secreted away when you’re not actively gaming.

 

And with those peripherals comes the need for charging. One of the best additions I’ve made to my media/gaming-room setup recently is a rack-mounted cooling fan for my AV cabinet that also serves as a four-port USB charger. It not only keeps my gaming controllers and wireless headset powered up and ready to go when I need them; it also keeps them hidden away when I don’t.

 

Of course, every gamer’s needs are different, so there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to building the perfect gaming environment. If you’re a gamer who considers the high-end AV experience as essential to gaming as energy drinks and wrist braces, leave us a comment and let us know what makes your gaming room different from the typical media room or home theater.

—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.

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