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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.