Tech

Basic Choices: Projector or TV? Pt. 1

Should You Get a Projector or TV? Pt. 1

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

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

 

Pros

 

No Limit on Screen Size

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

 

Less Expensive to Have Bigger Screens

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

Supports Multiple Aspect Ratios

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

 

Optimal Speaker Placement

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

 

Can Disappear When Not in Use

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

 

Still Supports 3D

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

 

Offers Many Screen Material Options

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

Should You Get a Projector or TV? Pt. 1

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

Cons

 

Needs a Dark Room

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

 

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

 

HDR and Brightness Inferior to TVs

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

 

Lack of 8K Support

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

 

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

John Sciacca

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

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Luxury TVs Come on Strong at CES

Luxury TVs Come on Strong at CES

Samsung’s 75-inch Micro LED TV

In a time when you can get a free 50-inch 4K TV as an incentive to buy a smartphone (see below), it’s pretty obvious that larger-screen flat-panel televisions are no longer considered luxury goods. They’re a commodity, spit out en masse in specific shapes, colors, and sizes. And while you still have to pay more to get better performance, you don’t have to pay that much 

more to enjoy a pretty darn good-looking picture. Companies like Vizio and TCL have seen to that.

 

This presents a challenge for specialty dealers trying to design higher-end luxury AV systems with larger screens, especially now that many of those systems are moving out of dedicated theater spaces where front projection is the display method of choice. How do you incorporate these huge, often generic-looking boxes into a high-end media room in a truly elegant way?

Luxury TVs Come on Strong at CES

In the world of luxury home entertainment, design matters just as much as picture quality. (I know videophiles may bristle at that statement.) Thankfully, as evidenced by the recent CES trade show, TV manufacturers like LG and Samsung haven’t forgotten this segment of the market. Both companies showed off some truly drool-worthy TVs that push the design envelope.

 

For the past few years, LG’s OLED TV lineup has been a great case study in how to sell to the high-end market, and this year’s line is no different. Purely from a performance perspective, the new C9, E9, and W9 series should all be pretty much the same (i.e., awesome).What you get as you move up the price chain are design enhancements.

 

The entry-level C9 has a pretty straightforward look, the step-up E9 has a nicer picture-on-glass aesthetic, and the W9’s “wallpaper” design puts all the electronics in a separate box to give you that gloriously thin, sexy form that OLED promises. This year, LG upped the ante even further by adding a flagship Z9 that increases both the resolution (to 8K) and the maximum screen size (to 88 inches, a first for OLED) to appeal to customers who want a larger, more immersive screen.

Luxury TVs Come on Strong at CES

But the design that really had everyone talking was LG’s new rollable OLED TV (shown above). The screen hides inside a stylish metal cabinet until you’re ready to watch it, at which point it gracefully rolls up into place. We’ve been teased by the promise of rollable OLED for a while, but this is a real-world product that will ship this year, albeit only in a 65-inch screen size.

 

Samsung’s “The Frame” and Serif TVs, which cater specifically to the more design-conscious shopper, have been around for a while. But this year the company is putting its flagship QLED performance into them, which means you’ll get the best of both worlds: Performance and design. The Frame, in particular, is a cool, well-executed concept.

 

One of the most promising and potentially game-changing TV technologies is Samsung’s Micro LED, which can combine the thin form and gorgeous black levels of OLED with the high brightness levels of LED/LCD. But perhaps the most enticing feature for the 

luxury market is that the tech is both modular and scalable. At this year’s show, Samsung displayed a 219-inch Micro LED display dubbed “The Wall,” but also a more real-world 75-inch model. (Getting the Micro LED modules down to smaller sizes is the current challenge.) You’re also not locked to a 16:9 aspect ratio—you can configure the display

however you want, à la a video wall. Check out this video from the show (above).

 

So, can a TV still be a luxury item? Heck yeah it can. I, for one, am really excited to see these new designs come to life in real-world settings.

—Adrienne Maxwell

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

So You Think Your Room’s Bad, Pt. 6

Six installments in, we’ve arrived at the end of our tale about turning a trade show booth into a reference-quality home cinema space. But we’re not here to pat ourselves on the back. Yes, the demo room ultimately drew scores of visitors, and praise from the people who experienced it.

 

But this series of posts was meant to be inspirational, not self-congratulatory. Our aim was to encourage you to not give up on “problem” spaces until you’ve exhausted all the possibilities. The technology and expertise definitely now exist to turn rooms that would have once been dismissed as impossible into killer luxury home entertainment spaces.

 

Here are the key takeaways:

 

Even rooms with weird dimensions can make for a great home theater

If we had focused all of our design efforts exclusively on performance, there’s no way we would have chosen an overgrown bay window as the geometrical inspiration for our room. The hacked-off corners inside the room were driven by the various needs of the outside of the booth. But with the right choice of gear and some optimization with the speaker placement, we made this kooky space sound great.

For more on how to make non-symmetrical rooms work 

to your advantage, see Part 1 and Part 2

 

Choose your speakers carefully—not all luxury speaker systems are made the same

This doesn’t mean that one speaker is necessarily the best answer for all applications. Speaker systems come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and configurations. Some are designed like audio spotlights. Some deliver a wider swath of sound. Some subwoofers are designed for in-ceiling placement. Of course, if you don’t have attic space to work with, you might opt for in-wall subs, or even discreet in-room subs (like we did). The point is, you shouldn’t just assume that a speaker is a speaker. Find the right solution for your unique room.

For more on choosing the right speakers, see Part 3

 

Room correction can eliminate a lot of a “bad” room’s worst flaws

It wasn’t that long ago that the room-correction software solutions built into most surround sound systems created more problems than they solved, but in recent years they’ve made monumental improvements. These days, a good room correction system can practically eliminate the need for big bass traps and other gargantuan physical acoustical treatments. And the best of these solutions can even correct for sub-optimal speaker placement.

For more about room correction, see Part 4

 

Acoustic treatments can help solve the problems room correction can’t fix

Since room correction still struggles with some acoustical problems, don’t turn your nose up at physical acoustical treatments. You may find that you can even work these treatments into your interior design.

For more about acoustic treatments, see Part 5

 

And maybe most important of all:

 

Creating a premium entertainment space is a team effort, so pick your players wisely

If, for whatever reason, subtle acoustical treatments are an absolute no-no in your luxury entertainment space, encourage your integrator and designer to work together on alternative solutions. A carefully placed bookshelf or even draperies positioned in the right place can work wonders for the sound of your room. But this requires that all of the

Jack Shafton, Golden Ear VP of Marketing & Sales
GoldenEar’s Jack Shafton on the Finished Booth

 

GoldenEar VP of Marketing & Sales Jack Shafton co-authored the 3rd installment of this series with Dennis Burger. Here’s his reaction to experiencing the completed booth at the CEDIA convention in San Diego this past September:

 

“Upon seeing the finished product when the show opened, I was impressed with how the booth turned out (it looked great and highly functional), and also alarmed by the openness of the demo space. There was already a big crowd milling about the booth (kudos to Kaleidescape) and the theater demo was standing room only. The space was basically open to the show floor, just behind a draped entryway. I waited for the next showing and grabbed a seat before the room filled. I should have known, but the demo of Baby Driver caught me by surprise—this system, in this terrible room, just rocked! And other than the small subs, the sound system was basically invisible. It presented a seamless bubble of sound around and above with pinpoint imaging, and the the subs made the air move with a thunder. Of course I kept thinking ‘louder, make it louder’ because it was fun—although they had chosen a good compromise on volume level. I got the impression after the demo that the other people in the room would have liked to kick back and watch the whole movie!”

players respect one another and their specific design expertise. There will always be some give-and-take. All parties will have to compromise at some point. But if you can find collaborators who know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em, your luxury entertainment space will be all the better for it.

 

If you’re ready to tame a problem space but aren’t sure where to look for help, the Home Technology Association (HTA) can be a great resource. And, by continuing to showcase unusual but successful home entertainment rooms, we at Cineluxe will do whatever we can to lend a hand.

 

Before we wrap this up, we’d like to thank some of the greatest experts in the business—in particular, Jack Shafton at GoldenEar, Jon Herron at Trinnov, and Anthony Grimani at PMI—for making our pitifully small demo room sound way bigger and better than it ever should have. And we’d like to wish all of you luck with turning your own problem rooms into amazing sight and sound experiences.

Dennis Burger & Michael Gaughn

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.

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.

Why You Have to Have Dolby Atmos

Imagine watching a movie where sound travels around the room with pinpoint accuracy, helping you follow a character as they move around or enhancing the sensation of bullets whizzing past your head, planes streaking through the room, or helicopters hovering directly over your head! That is the promise of Dolby Atmos, which delivers the most realistic and immersive surround sound experience ever.

 

In my opinion, Dolby Atmos is the most exciting development to hit the home market in years and has an even greater impact on the movie/TV-watching experience than 4K HDR video. In fact, when forced to choose between watching a movie in 4K HDR without Atmos or 1080p Blu-ray with Atmos, I go the Atmos route every time. I’ve given dozens of demonstrations both in my showroom and in my home, and after experiencing a properly set up and configured Atmos system, no one has preferred the older, 5.1-channel sound. Atmos is a must have for a luxury installation.

 

Dolby Laboratories launched Atmos commercially in 2012 with Pixar’s Brave, and hundreds of films have been mixed with it since then. (Click here for a complete list.) It is now supported by every major movie studio, and the number of movies, concerts, and even video games with Atmos soundtracks is growing all the time. Atmos content is available on Blu-ray and Ultra HD Blu-ray discs, titles

downloaded from the Kaleidescape Movie Store, and from streaming services like Vudu, Netflix, Amazon, and iTunes.

 

How do you get it?

 

Experiencing Dolby Atmos in your entertainment space requires three basic things: An Atmos-compatible media player, an Atmos-compatible receiver or processor, and a speaker system that can handle however many channels you and your integrator decide to go with.

 

Compatible players include any Blu-ray or Ultra Blu-ray player, including Xbox One. Many streaming players support Atmos, including Roku, Amazon’s Fire TV Stick, and the new Apple 4K TV. Receivers and processors are available from companies like Marantz, Yamaha, Anthem, Denon, Sony, Onkyo, Pioneer, and Integra.

 

What kinds of speakers do I need?

 

Dolby Atmos systems can support far more speakers than the 5.1 of Dolby Digital—up to 64 in commercial movie

WHAT MAKES ATMOS DIFFERENT?

 

Atmos is the latest in a long line of Dolby surround technologies dating back to the ‘70s. But, unlike previous versions, which were all channel-based (that is, the specific number of speakers the audio was mixed for in the studio), Atmos uses an entirely new process called “sound objects.”

 

Audio used to be mixed with a fixed number of speakers, up to 7.1 channels (front left, center, and right, surround right, surround back right, surround back left, surround left, plus a .1 channel reserved for low-frequency effects such as explosions). With Atmos, audio designers are no longer limited to a fixed speaker layout but have up to 128 sound objects they can move anywhere around the room, allowing sounds to be more precisely located.

 

These objects also have size and weight. Thus, a massive starship hovering overhead has a different feel—and plays out of more speakers—than, say, a bouncing tennis ball. All 128 of the audio objects from the original theatrical mix are retained and represented in the home release.

 

To precisely locate objects around the room, Atmos installations support far more discreet speaker channels, including multiple height speakers placed above listeners to create sounds that truly come from overhead. In fact, theatrical installations can have up to 64 speakers. Obviously, that is more speakers than home installations can support (Dolby Atmos for home cinema only supports up to 34 speakers), so Atmos uses something called a channel renderer to create a custom mix on the fly to remap audio objects to whichever speaker configuration is being used, meaning that nothing is lost between the theatrical and home audio mix.

theaters. One of the most significant changes with Atmos is the creation of two distinct speaker layers, with a bed of speakers at ear level and a second height layer that places sounds distinctly overhead. (See “What Makes Atmos Different?” above.)

The most common entry point for enjoying Atmos at home is a 5.1.2 speaker configuration. (In plain English, that means there are five speakers at ear or floor level, one subwoofer, and two speakers above ear level, for the height channels.) Most luxury installations use a 7.1.4 configuration (shown below). This provides a very immersive experience, with full 360-degree audio 

Why You Have to Have Dolby Atmos

pans around the listener as well as good hemispherical coverage overhead.

 

For an even more engaging experience, companies like Marantz, Denon, Acurus, Storm Audio, and Datasat have receivers and processors that support more than 7.1.4 channels. And for a truly premium home experience, companies like Trinnov and JBL offer processors that can support the current maximum up to 24.1.10.

(While there are Dolby Atmos soundbars that do a fair job of creating an immersive audio experience, these would never be appropriate in a luxury installation, so I won’t be covering them here.)

 

Do I need speakers in my ceiling?

 

Yes. And no. (But mostly YES!) Having sounds all around the listener, including overhead, is key to creating a realistic, fully immersive sound environment, and locating speakers in the ceiling is the best way to help accomplish this. 

 

Fortunately, nearly any traditional, quality in-ceiling speaker is compatible with Atmos. (Dolby recommends using speakers with a wide dispersion pattern—that is, one that sends out sound more like a shotgun blast than a rifle bullet.) So choosing a model from the same manufacturer as your front speakers typically offers the best sonic match.

But if you can’t place speakers above you—due to a coffered ceiling or an open-beam design or difficulties running wire to the speaker locations—companies like Definitive Technology, Sony, Onkyo, Pioneer, Klipsch, and KEF offer floor-standing Atmos speakers with modules (shown at right) that can create an overhead speaker effect.

 

These angled modules sit atop the front and rear left and right main speakers, firing sound upward, where it’s reflected off the ceiling and bounced back down to listeners. While these can be great problem solvers, the audio effect of these upfiring modules is impacted by room design—ceiling composition, angle, and height, and seating distance—making it harder to predict performance compared to a true overhead speaker installation.

Why You Have to Have Dolby Atmos

Dolby Atmos is a now a proven technology, widely adopted in both movie theaters and at home, and is almost always included as part of a modern luxury installation. If you’ve been looking to elevate your home audio experience to the next level, Dolby Atmos is a terrific place to start!

John Sciacca

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

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

The High Cost of High Expectations

The High Cost of High Expectations

photo by Tom Pumford

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

Andrew Robinson

Andrew Robinson is a photographer and videographer by trade, working on commercial
and branding projects all over the US. He has served as a managing editor and
freelance journalist in the AV space for nearly 20 years, writing technical articles,
product reviews, and guest speaking on behalf of several notable brands at functions
around the world.

So You Think Your Room’s Bad, Pt. 4

So You Think Your Room's Bad, Pt. 4

Dennis Burger:

 

In Part 3 of this series, I discussed how we arrived at a speaker system for the Kaleidescape booth by solving the riddle of the back of the room and working forward. I also hinted that Trinnov’s Altitude 16 home theater preamp/optimizer was key to making those speakers sound their best.

 

How did I get from “I need something to power these speakers and process all of the audio” to “Gimme one of the most advanced and luxurious audio/video preamplifiers on the planet,” you ask? It was a bit of a winding road, so let’s start at the beginning of it.

 

When we were first understanding what this room would look like and how we wanted it to sound, someone in our design group (I forget who) asked a simple question: “Can we do this with an AV receiver?”

 

It’s a reasonable question, since we wanted the space to evoke a living room environment, and AV receivers—in which all of the digital signal processing and amplification reside in one box—generally power the sound systems in such rooms. But in this case, my back-of-the-napkin calculations told me we needed 160 watts of clean power for every speaker, which is way more than most receivers can deliver.

 

I also knew we needed really amazing digital room correction to compensate for all of the acoustical shortcomings of this space. (If you’re not familiar with digital room correction and how it works, check out my article “Room Correction Revisited” at Home Theater Review.) The long and short of it is that the room optimization software built into most AV receivers wouldn’t be sophisticated enough.

 

So, given that we needed a separate AV preamp to handle the processing and standalone amplifiers to power the speakers, I started thinking long and hard about what was out there. I wasn’t picking between equipment manufacturers; I was picking between room correction systems—two in particular: Dirac and Trinnov. (Lyngdorf Audio’s RoomPerfect probably would have been a great option, too, but I don’t have hands-on experience with it, and given our time constraints I had to go with what I knew.)

The advantages of Dirac are that it’s available in much more affordable equipment, and its filters would have made this particular room sound really good with only a little effort. But I was informed that “really good” wasn’t good enough. We needed the best.

So You Think Your Room's Bad, Pt. 4

So, I turned to Trinnov, whose Altitude 16 (shown above) delivers the most advanced and customizable room correction I know of. What’s more, the Altitude 16 can sonically relocate speakers through some deft processing that I don’t even understand. This was handy because, as I said in the last post, sometimes we had to position speakers in such a way as to accommodate multiple standing-room-only attendees.

 

I reached out to Jon Herron, Trinnov’s International Sales Manager, and asked if I could take him on a 3D tour of my latest revision of the booth design via Google Hangouts. Here’s Jon with his own first impressions of the 3D renderings, along with some thoughts on the specific room correction challenges this demo space posed.

 

 

Jon Herron:

 

So, the challenge was to get sound that is as lifelike as possible in a space that (by itself) would be about as far from lifelike as you can get. The background noise would be high (since it was a trade show). The construction would be temporary and necessarily focused on speed of assembly rather than quality. The shape of the space was also driven to some degree by architectural features not normally found in a home.

 

Imagine trying to get a concert-hall experience in a baseball stadium.

 

Success in any endeavor involves first understanding the nature of the problem. In this case, the problem was largely based on psycho-acoustics—understanding how we humans hear and understand the world around us based on what we hear.

 

A key to understanding how we perceive sound is to understand that we always, without thinking about it, hear three different things:

 

Direct Sound: This is the sound that goes straight from the source (in this case, a speaker) to your ears. Our brains will “hear” this first arrival as the true source and nature of the sound itself.

 

First Reflections: The very next versions of the sound are the first reflections from the surroundings. In a room, these reflections are typically the first bounces from the floor, ceilings, and walls. These tell you quite a bit about the environment you’re in—outdoors (few reflections), or in a larger or smaller room, for example.

 

Subsequent Reverberation: Unless steps are taken to absorb or scatter the sound away from you, sound usually will bounce around for a while. These multiple, later, and smaller versions of the direct sound tell you even more about the environment you’re in. You’d have little or no reverberation outdoors; you’d have quite a lot in a cave; you’d probably hear something in between in your living room or a concert hall.

 

Unfortunately, it’s really easy to mess up what Dennis describes as “room correction” by trying to address all these disparate problems with a single solution. The problems are different; therefore, the best solutions are also different and need to be determined and layered together.

 

If you badly break a leg, you must first realign things, stabilize the leg with a splint, and then put it in a cast for long-term healing. Doing just one of those things, or doing all the things out of order, simply won’t work. It’s the same with using digital signal processing to fix a “broken” acoustical environment.

 

In our diagnosis of how we hear, the second and third items above are “soft” in the high frequencies (imagine turning down the Treble control) for the simple reason that higher frequencies are far easier to absorb or scatter than are lower frequencies. If you don’t make an allowance for the reflected energy sounding different than the direct, you’ll mistakenly ruin the direct sound in a vain effort to fix the environment of the room itself. They are different problems.

 

This, by the way, is why we at Trinnov refer to our system as a Speaker/Room Optimizer. We’re trying to optimize all these different problems with appropriate digital processing solutions, rather than trying to simply “correct” the room with a one-size-fits-all solution.

So You Think Your Room's Bad. Pt. 4

In the trade show demo room, the No. 1 priority was to focus on getting the direct sound as natural as possible. Mitigating first reflections (where we could) was also important, but not if it compromised the direct sound.

 

Similarly, we wanted to provide a more natural reverberant decay (the rate at which sound dies away) that didn’t allow one range of frequencies to stick out like a sore thumb or otherwise call attention to itself. In a good concert hall, when the symphony suddenly stops playing, the entire, rich tapestry of sound should

die away together. If the flute section reverberated after the other sounds had faded, even for a moment, it would sound extremely unnatural, even unpleasant.

 

Addressing all these varying challenges in a way that truly lets you enjoy the music or movie you choose without the heavy-handed overlay of the sound of the room you’re in requires (ideally) a combination of passive acoustics and what we at Trinnov have come to call “digital acoustics.”

 

 

DB again:

 

And that’s the perfect segue into the next post in this series. I knew that physical acoustical treatments, working in conjunction with Trinnov’s digital acoustics, would make this demo room sound its best. But I also didn’t want to make the room look like a recording studio. We’ll dig more deeply into those concerns in Pt. 5.

Jon Herron has been in the audio & video business since he was a teenager. The
combination of music and technology was simply too seductive for him to do anything
else—that and the fact that no one would likely hire him to do anything else. He has
worked in both large and small retail organizations, as a manufacturers’ representative,
and (mostly) for a series of audio manufacturers, including Snell Acoustics, Madrigal
Audio Laboratories, Wisdom Audio, and Trinnov Audio. He lives in Connecticut with his
wife and two terribly spoiled cats.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Creating a Luxury Entertainment System: The Basics

Now that we’ve roughly established what a luxury experience is, it’s time to start talking about the minimum components required to create an entertainment system. In my experience working with thousands of clients over a 20-year career as a custom installer, I’ve found that the vast majority of people starting out don’t really have an idea what is required to create a surround system.

 

And whether you’re spending $5,000, $50,000, or $500,000, there are some essential components that are needed to create a luxury entertainment experience in your home—namely, a display, speakers, an audio processor and amplification, source components, a control system, and installation. Highly recommended would also be some comfortable seating, lighting control, and room treatments to tame the audio “beasties” that live in all but the most bespoke entertainment spaces. Here are brief descriptions of each essential ingredient—future posts will dive into greater detail.

 

Display

Frequently the most visible portion of an entertainment system, the display—whether a flat-panel TV or a projection screen—needs to be big enough to provide a cinematic viewing experience while not being so big that it overwhelms the room or 

makes viewers sitting close feel like they’re watching a tennis match. While not set in stone, for the purposes of Cineluxe, the minimum screen size should be around 75”.

 

Speakers

With few and rare exceptions, the speakers built into modern TVs are garbage and should never be considered adequate for providing decent sound, let alone a luxury experience. At a minimum, a surround system requires a 5.1-channel speaker configuration. This includes three front speakers near the display—left, center, right; two surround speakers often at the side of or behind the listening position; and a subwoofer (the .1), which handles the LFE (Low Frequency Effects) channel (that is, bass information like explosions and dinosaur foot stomps). As you get into larger rooms—and more advanced systems—the speaker count can go far above 5.1 to well over 30, with multiple subwoofers.

Audio Processor & Amplification

Surround sound audio is typically delivered in a digital format called a bitstream, which is made up of the 0s and 1s necessary to deliver an immersive audio experience. But you need a component that can decode all of this information and route it to the correct speaker. The most common surround formats are from Dolby and DTS, and they come in multiple formats such as Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Atmos, DTS-HD, and DTS:X. Once the signal has been decoded, it needs to be amplified before being sent to the speakers. Many systems combine these functions into one device called an AVR, or audio/video receiver. But many luxury systems use separate, specialized components for these tasks, to improve performance.

Trinnov Altitude 32 audio processor

Source Components

These provide the content you’re watching and/or listening to. Typical source components include a cable or satellite set-top box, a Blu-ray Disc player, a video game console, and a network streamer. To be considered luxury, a system needs to contain at least one 4K HDR-capable component, such as an UltraHD Blu-ray player, Kaleidescape Strato, Xbox One X, or AppleTV 4K.

 

Control System

By the time you combine all of the components required to create an entertainment system, you’ll have amassed a pile of remote controls. No system—but least of all one striving for luxury performance—should require multiple remotes to operate, so a single control system should be employed that can operate the majority of tasks with one, simple button press . . . or even a voice command.

 

Installation

In the hands of an untrained cook, even the most fantastic ingredients can result in an unappetizing or substandard dish. Similarly, no matter how great each of the individual pieces are, the entire entertainment system needs to be installed, integrated, and configured correctly to deliver its maximum performance. For most people, this requires hiring a professional installer whose job it is to tie everything together correctly.

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.