Adrienne Maxwell Tag

Luxury Can Be Invisible

Luxury Can Be Invisible

For many people, luxury and beauty are inseparable. Whether we’re talking about an Aston Martin sports car, a TAG Heuer watch, or even a Sub-Zero refrigerator, part of what makes it a luxury item is the beautiful design. It’s something people like to look at and show off.

 

In the world of high-end home cinema, luxury can certainly be beautiful. You may choose to assemble a system that gorgeously melds form and function—maybe a set of Focal or Sonus Faber speakers, a rack full of McIntosh’s cool retro-

looking electronics, and ornate lighting fixtures and shades that demand to be seen.

 

For some people, though, the ultimate luxury is a home media system that’s completely invisible and doesn’t detract from the home’s decor. A system that guests would never know existed—until the press of a button brings it to life to deliver a high-performance experience. If that sounds appealing, the good news is that today’s custom market offers plenty of ways to achieve invisible luxury.

 

Of course, audio is the easiest to hide. Gear racks can be tucked away in closets, wires can be run through walls, and there’s an endless array of in-wall and in-ceiling speakers from which to choose. The quality of in-wall speakers has improved greatly over the past 10 years; they’re no longer relegated to providing background music. Speakers from companies like Triad, Wisdom Audio, and Pro Audio

Luxury Can Be Invisible

Sonance’s Invisible Series in-wall speakers (also shown in the illustration at the top of the page)

Technology really can deliver audio- or theaterphile performance from within the walls.

 

And hey, if the average in-wall speaker is still too visible for your tastes, consider a truly invisible model, where you can’t even see a bezel or speaker grille. This is a growing category and now includes offerings from the likes of Sonance, Monitor Audio, Stealth Acoustics, and Nakymatone.

 

“Invisible” video products require a bit more creativity—or at least a bit more expense during the installation process. If you’re going the front-projection route, it’s common to install a projector in an automated cabinet that can lower from the ceiling,

and motorized drop-down screens are readily available.

 

If you’re thinking you can’t use front projection outside of a dedicated theater room, think again. These days, you can find projector/screen combos that work very well in a brighter room, and screen manufacturers like Screen Innovations even have creative drop-down screen solutions that hide in your window frame.

 

Where you really have to get creative is if you want a TV instead of a projector. Sure, smaller TVs can be hidden in cabinets, even automated ones where the TV rises up from within the cabinet itself. But it’s a lot more difficult to hide a 65- or 75-inch (or bigger!) screen. You may have to settle for a creative disguise, and technological advancements are helping this along. Back at CES, LG showed off a rollable 65-inch OLED TV that disappears down into a modern-looking cabinet. It’s supposed to come out this year, and we’ll see if LG offers announces larger screen sizes down the road.

 

MicroLED, which consists of smaller individual panels that can be combined in all shapes and sizes to form a TV, is also promising. It’s not invisible per se, but there are ways to creatively blend the panels into your wall design and perhaps use them as artwork when they aren’t functioning together as a TV.

 

In the meantime, another way to disguise your TV is to go with something like Samsung’s The Frame, which looks more like an art frame than a TV and displays art of your choosing when it’s in standby mode. Lots of TVs can show 

art as a screen saver, but The Frame does it more thoughtfully, keeping the power use low while automatically adjusting the screen’s appearance to suit your room’s lighting conditions.

 

The final piece of the puzzle is the home automation system that makes the invisible visible, transforming your everyday living space into your luxury home theater. Some dimmable lights. Blackout window shades (which, by the way, don’t have to be black—they can be quite lovely). And a controller to handle it all. A stack of remotes is hardly invisible, but all the major home-automation companies, from Control4 to Crestron to Savant, can put advanced control into an iPad or tablet that looks like every other tablet lying around your house right now. You can also integrate that control into subtle but stylish (and fully customizable) on-wall keypads. To your visitors, it’s just another switch on your wall, scarcely worth noticing.

 

As Lisa Montgomery said in her recent piece “Techorating—It’s a Thing,” the best way to achieve the perfect blend of technology and design is to get your interior designer and home technology team working together, on the same page, from the start. Creating a completely invisible home media system may take a bit more planning, a bit more expense, and a bit more patience, but the result will be a luxury that’s well worth the wait.

—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.

How to Sell Specialty AV to Women

How to Sell Specialty AV to Women

In an era where it’s so easy to buy (and return) Internet-direct AV gear and smart-home products, specialty AV retailers and custom installers face the daunting challenge of figuring out how to get potential shoppers into their stores. It’s the same challenge that pretty much every brick-and-mortar store faces these days, but high-end AV retailers must deal with a second hurdle: When your industry still caters primarily to men, how do you avoid alienating the other half of the buying public?

 

I don’t speak for all women. I only speak for myself when I say that a trip to the specialty AV store sounds as appealing as a trip to the car dealership. In both cases, I’m going in with low expectations. I expect to be ignored or talked down to, to have all sorts of stereotypical assumptions thrown my way, and to be constantly pushing back against the upsell. If I can research and buy similar goods on the Internet and avoid that treatment, I’m going to do so.

 

We all know that sales is an art—the art of truly seeing the person right in front of you and figuring out how to sell specifically to them. Every sale is different because every person is different, so it’s hard to make generalizations on how to sell to anyone. But here are a few big-picture suggestions for AV/custom retailers to keep in mind when interacting with female shoppers—really, all shoppers.

 

Check Your Bias

I was originally going to title this section “Don’t make assumptions,” but the reality is that salespeople have to make assumptions. It’s just part of the job. The question is, are you making assumptions that immediately dismiss or diminish the person who just walked through the door? 

 

I’ve worked in the AV industry as a writer and gear reviewer for about 20 years, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve been dismissed or diminished at trade shows, industry events, and specialty shops by pitch people who assume I don’t know tech. If I’m standing next to a man while getting a pitch on a new piece of AV gear, the chances are still quite high that a male pitch person will not make eye contact with me at all. He assumes I don’t know or care about the technology and won’t understand what he’s talking about. If he does look at me, it’s always when we get to subject of design—the nice finish, 

If a man and woman come into your store together, don’t assume he’s the gearhead and she’s the reluctant tagalong

the color options, the pretty buttons. You know, the kind of stuff a woman would care about. If I’m the only person getting the pitch, he usually tends to dumb things down to an offensively basic level.

 

Even if all your past experience tells you women don’t care as much about the gear, it’s important to check that bias before interacting with any new customer. If a man and woman come into your store together, don’t assume he’s the gearhead and she’s the reluctant tagalong who’s just there to make sure he doesn’t go crazy or pick out ugly stuff. Treat them as equal partners, enthusiasts, and decision makers, at least until their own words and actions demonstrate otherwise.

And if a woman walks into your store by herself, she’s there for a reason. Maybe it’s not to buy a $5,000 tube amp or a $20,000 pair of electrostats (or maybe it is!). The melding of AV, smart home, and advanced control technologies has created an incredibly interesting and diverse portfolio of luxury home products that can appeal to anyone, so you should want and expect to see more women checking out your showroom.

 

The fastest way to kill that potential sale is to talk down to someone. And the reverse assumption is also dangerous: If you assume a man has a high level of tech knowledge and bombard him with overly complex specs and industry jargon, that can be just as off-putting. I personally would have nothing but respect for a salesperson who asks me what level of technical knowledge I have before showing me a piece of gear. Do I want high-level tech talk, do I want to keep it basic, or do I want something in between? It shows me that this salesperson is actively trying to avoid assumptions and wants to know more about me.

 

Another way specialty retailers can avoid bias is by hiring a more diverse staff—and not just in the accounting or purchasing departments. You need females on the show floor and out in the field. Every year, I attend the CEDIA trade show, which is where custom installers see and receive training on the latest AV and home-automation wares, and the vast majority of them are male. The luxury AV market lags far behind other consumer electronics categories like computers and gaming when it comes to gender diversity (or diversity in general, to be frank).

 

Show, Don’t Tell

No matter how tech-savvy a person is, they probably didn’t come into your store to see a box sitting idle on a display shelf and get a rundown of the specs. They can get that on the Internet. They came to experience something, and if you give them a good experience, you’re more likely to earn that sale.

 

I’ve read a lot of press releases over the years, and I can confidently state that reading about a cool, new feature is never as effective as seeing that feature in action. You read it on paper and think, “Oh, that sounds interesting.” But then you see a demo in action, and you’re like, “Okay, that’s awesome. I want that.”

I think the need to experience products and systems in action is especially important for women. As I wrote in a story many years ago  for HomeTheaterReview.com, women generally care more about the result than the process. While men may enjoying digging into the nuts and bolts of the particular pieces in an AV or home automation system, a woman is more likely to be swayed by the experiential result of all those pieces working in synergy. Let her experience the luxury of a luxury home cinema system—where the push of a button on a beautifully streamlined touchscreen controller dims lights, lowers 

I think the need to experience products and systems in action
is especially important
for women

shades, and queues up the perfect music or movie. Show her the many ways smart home products and an advanced control system can work together all around the house to make daily tasks easier.

 

To quote myself, “The best salesmen are equally deft at selling the process to the man and the result to the woman.”

 

Ease Up on the Upsell

Trust is the key to building long-term customers, and for me and most women I know, nothing destroys trust faster than the upsell.

 

I go to the same shop every time I need to get my car’s oil changed, because it was the one place that didn’t originally push me to deal with 10 others “problems” with my car when I brought it in. Now, when they say I really need to replace a certain filter, I trust that it’s true. Likewise, I won’t take my puppy to the vet that’s always pushing their own upscale product line of food and supplements. Or the dentist who’s always pushing elective procedures my insurance won’t cover.

 

And I won’t shop at a specialty AV retailer where I feel like they’re always trying to sell me more than I need or want. I know profit margins are lean these days, but if you can resist the urge to upsell now, it could pay dividends from a loyal customer in the long run.

 

Meet Them Where They’re At

Of course, the above suggestions are moot if there are no women to sell to. If you can’t get the female shoppers to come to you, consider taking the experience to them.

 

Specialty retailers will sometimes host listening events, where they invite people in to hear a hot new product. In my experience at these events, the audience is almost entirely male, and the demo usually takes place in a small, dark room in the back of the shop. This might be an effective way to appeal to the audio enthusiast, but you may need to think outside that box in order to get your product offerings in front of more women.

 

Consider partnering with a local gallery to show off both art and tech together. Or do an event at a local home goods store, where you can demo how custom home automation and smart products can improve your kitchen, living room, etc. Even getting a booth at the local street fair or farmer’s market to highlight some of the more basic products in your line can help get your name out there. Sometimes you have to start small. As I mentioned above, it’s all about building trust, and that might have to happen one smart speaker at a time.

—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.

How to Train Your Dragon 3: The Hidden World

How to Train Your Dragon 3

The Hidden World is the third and final film in the How to Train Your Dragon series. It has been five long years since last we saw Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his beloved dragon Toothless on the big screen. If you followed any of the off-screen drama surrounding The Hidden World, you know that the film’s release was pushed back multiple times—partially due to the financial woes and restructuring of DreamWorks, but also due to script concerns. Apparently it took a few passes to nail the landing, but The Hidden World proved worth the wait.

 

The story takes place one year after the events of How to Train Your Dragon 2. Hiccup is the king of Berk, Toothless is the alpha dragon, and together with their merry band of dragon-riding misfits, they are freeing dragons from all sorts of ne’er-do-wells and bringing them home to live safely and peacefully in Berk.

 

Enter Grimmel the Grisly (F. Murray Abraham), the ultimate dragon hunter, singlehandedly responsible for the killing of all the Night Furies. All but one, that is—which is something Grimmel intends to rectify. He threatens to destroy everything that Hiccup loves unless Hiccup turns over Toothless, and with his own set of powerful (and powerfully drugged) dragons, he has the means to do it. Hiccup sets off to find the mythical Hidden World, a place where dragons and dragon-loving humans will be forever protected from evil men.

 

Meanwhile, Toothless has found himself a girlfriend . . .  and it’s adorable.

 

After seeing The Hidden World three times in the theater (you can read about that adventure here), I knew one thing for certain: The Ultra HD version would be a sight to behold. And indeed it is. The film’s animation is simply gorgeous, with

exceptional detail, a rich color palette, and a lot of complex interplay between light and shadow. If you’ve got an HDR-capable display, you should absolutely watch this film through a provider that supports HDR playback. I went with the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray disc, which offers HDR10 video. The scenes in the hidden world are perfect demo material, both for their HDR and their color. But really the entire movie is stunning, and there are also a number of scenes that will challenge your display’s ability to render deep, dark blacks and fine shadow details.

 

The disc includes a Dolby Atmos soundtrack that makes good use of the complete channel palette. It’s a well-

balanced presentation with clear dialogue and a lot of music and ambient sounds in the surround channels. It’s not really an Atmos showpiece, however. The film contains several battle sequences that could make aggressive use of the height channels, and a few such moments will catch your ears, but for the most part it’s a fairly conservative mix.

 

The UHD Blu-ray package also includes the Blu-ray disc and a digital copy, plus bonus features like deleted scenes, an alternate opening, some fun featurettes, and a full-length commentary track by writer/director Dean DuBlois, producer Bradford Lewis, and Head of Character Animation Simon Otto.

 

The Hidden World is a wonderful conclusion to a wonderful trilogy that will delight children and reduce grown men to tears. (No, really—I saw this myself in theaters.) If your family loves How to Train Your Dragon as much as mine does, this installment will be spending a lot of time on your TV screen, so it’s worth it to pay more to get the top-shelf UHD presentation.

 

—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.

Ep. 8: Who Needs 8K?

The Cineluxe Hour logo

Hosts Michael Gaughn & Dennis Burger open Episode 8 with an apology for the long gap between episodes, caused by a technical glitch.

 

At 4:39, Cineluxe contributor Adrienne Maxwell and Wirecutter senior staff writer Chris Heinonen—arguably the two biggest experts on video displays in the industry—join Dennis & Mike to discuss the emergence of and potential for 8K video.

 

At  26:37, Chris and Dennis discuss Chris’s online 4K viewing-distance calculator, and at 30:32, everybody talks about the movies, series, and books they’ve checked out recently.

CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT MORE EPISODES OF THE CINELUXE HOUR

RELATED EPISODE

Dead to Me

Dead to Me

In Netflix’s new original series Dead to Me, nothing is quite as it seems. Even the show itself isn’t exactly what you might glean from a casual viewing of the Netflix teaser. You think it’s going to be a show about a grieving wife who lost her husband in a violent accident and is trying to move forward with the help of a support group—and especially another grieving woman that she meets there.

 

Perhaps you tune in because you love the two female leads, Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini, and you think it’ll be fun to watch a sharp-edged show about two middle-aged woman who suddenly find themselves single and must help each other navigate grief, dating, parenthood, etc.

 

You’ll realize before the end of Episode One that Dead to Me plans to tell a different—and much more interesting—story. And if you’re at all like me, you’ll be instantly hooked and burn through all 10 half-hour(ish) episodes in a weekend.

Dead to Me

One thing that does meet expectations is the performances, as both Applegate and Cardellini are a joy to watch. But the real credit goes to show creator Liz Feldman and the writing team for giving them such great stuff to worth with. This kind of story could easily slip into a stereotype: “One is hard and angry. The other is sweet and quirky. Don’t they make a wacky team?” But both characters are fleshed out with depth and believability. Yes, Applegate’s Jen has a hard time keeping her anger in check, but she’s written as a real woman, with a real vulnerability underneath that helps her remain the sympathetic heroine.

 

Dead to Me is presented in Dolby Vision or HDR10 with a Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack. I streamed it through my Apple TV to an LG OLED TV, and the picture quality was excellent. The show is meant to have a very natural, everyday look, so there’s nothing particularly stylized about the cinematography. But the image is clean, colorful, and razor sharp, and the many Orange County, CA landscapes provide some nice eye candy. It’s beautifully lit, and the HDR just serves to reinforce that, be it through bright patches of sunlight streaming in through windows or the flicker of a firepit’s flames against the dark night sky.

 

Dolby Digital Plus is just fine for this type of dialogue-driven content. Your surround speakers and subwoofer won’t see much action here, although there is some effective LFE use in certain key scenes.

 

I must admit, I’m not sure if Dead to Me has the legs to run many seasons without the story devolving into absurdity. But I thoroughly enjoyed Season One, and I look forward to seeing what surprises Season Two will throw our way.

—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.

What Makes a Good Control System?

What Makes a Good Control System?

A good control system is the backbone of any high-end home entertainment system, whether that system resides in a dedicated home theater space or in a multipurpose media room. No matter how great the picture quality, how immersive the audio, how effective the lighting control, the experience falls apart if the control system falls short. If people don’t enjoy operating the system, they won’t enjoy using the system.

 

But what makes a good control system? I pondered this question recently as I reviewed a pair of universal remote controls sold directly through retail channels. Both remotes shared a common goal: Simplicity. There was simplicity in the design of the remotes themselves. Both had a minimalist layout, stripping out a lot of the buttons found on your typical universal remote to produce a clean, unintimidating look. And there was simplicity in the setup process, making it as easy and clear as possible for the average consumer to program the remote to switch between activities and control a variety of components.

 

Simplicity seems like a good goal, but in the world of system control, it’s definitely possible to make something too simple. While I found both remotes easy to set up and pleasant to use, neither could perform all of the advanced functions or accommodate all the use cases I needed. They were great for controlling my basic living-room system, which consists of a 

TV, streaming media player, gaming console, and soundbar. But when asked to handle my more advanced home theater setup, built around an AV receiver and usually including some lighting control, they were just too simplistic to get the whole job done.

 

The trick in system control is finding the sweet spot between simplicity and functionality. You need a system robust enough to handle anything and everything you might want to do, but also simple enough that anyone and everyone in the house can use it. And that sweet spot is different for each person, which is exactly why universal remotes have an inherent disadvantage compared with control platforms like Control4 or Crestron. A universal remote locks you in to someone else’s idea of what’s

What Makes a Good Control System?

Logitech Harmony Elite universal remote, with hub and app

intuitive, both in the setup process (which has to be simple and scaled down enough that anyone can do it) and in the remote design. Sure, you can reassign buttons here and there, maybe choose some specific functions to show on the small touchscreen at the top of some remotes, but for the most part you have to work within a one-size-fits-all grid.

 

The Harmony remote brand revolutionized the direct-to-consumer universal remote by making it so much easier for the average person to program complex macros and present them as simple activities anyone would understand. But how many times have you programmed a Harmony remote to work exactly the way you want it to, sat back all pleased with yourself, and then watched a family member pick up the remote and stare at it blankly, uncertain what to do next? It has happened to me a lot.

 

And that’s just AV control. If you want to add elements like complex lighting scenes, shade adjustment, and temperature control, a universal remote simply isn’t built to handle that load.

What Makes a Good Control System?

In the world of luxury home cinema, you don’t need universal control. You need personalized control. That’s really what you’re paying for when you choose to step up to Crestron or Savant or Control4. You’re getting a team that’s been trained to perform all that complex, behind-the-scenes programming so you don’t have to, and you’re getting a system that’s flexible enough to accommodate your idea of what’s intuitive.

 

You can get the handheld remote with a preset button layout, but you can also get the touchscreen controller, 

with fully customizable screens in which the page layouts and button names make sense to you. You can add customized in-wall keypads to quick-launch lighting/room scenes right when you walk in the door. It’s all about putting the right control options in the right place for you and your household—and you should absolutely include the whole family in the discussions with your custom installer.

 

Of course, just like in the world of DIY control, an advanced control system is only as good as the people who set it up, so don’t treat this step like an afterthought. Do some research on your local installers and what control systems they’re trained to program. Check references. Ask questions. Be involved. After all, what’s the point in paying more for personalized control if you don’t take the time to truly personalize it?

  —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.

A Star is Born

A Star is Born (2018)

In one sense, the 2018 version of A Star Is Born is nothing new. This is the fourth version of the film, after all—and countless other movies have borrowed heavily from the basic premise: An aging, addiction-stricken star takes a young, talented woman under his wings, falls in love, and watches her star soar while his comes crashing brutally to the ground.

 

Generation Xers like myself probably have a strong tie to the 1976 version starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. It’s one of those “soundtrack to my childhood” kind of movies that I just remember being on my TV all the time. Then there’s the classic 1954 version with Judy Garland and James Mason. The original version dates all the way back to 1937. When I first heard that Bradley Cooper was going to direct and star in a new version, my reaction was, “Eh, just another unnecessary remake.”

 

But I have to give credit where credit is due. There’s an in-the-moment newness to Cooper’s version, due in large part to a script and a director that seem like they left a lot of room for improvisation. Everything about the film—from its pacing to its performances to its cinematography—makes you feel like you’ve been dropped in the middle of these people’s lives, right now. And that’s not always a comfortable place to be. In a film era defined by witty repartee and slick editing, you might find yourself growing frustrated as you watch people sometimes struggle to find or at least speak the right words. It’s awkward, but it works.

A Star is Born (2018)

The chemistry between Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga is undeniable, and the decision to cast a musician and not an actress in the role of Ally just reinforces that sense of authenticity.

 

All that being said, the glue that really holds this film together is the music. Everything else takes a backseat to the fantastic musical performances, which means there’s some great demo material available in the Dolby Atmos soundtrack to show off your surround sound system. The concert sequences are mixed to sound like you’re listening to a concert, with lots of space and ambience in the surrounds.

A Star is Born (2018)

The 4K HDR image in the iTunes version I watched (it’s available in Dolby Vision if your system supports the format) looked excellent, with rich color and a high level of detail. This isn’t a super-stylistic movie, so the HDR is employed subtly to just flesh out that you-are-there sense of contrast. I didn’t see a lot of noise or compression artifacts in the iTunes version.

 

If you’ve decided that you don’t need to see A Star Is Born because you’ve already seen it, trust me, you haven’t. You haven’t heard it like this, and you haven’t felt it like this. You may know where the story ends up, but this is definitely one of those movies that’s more about the journey than the destination.

—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.

Why Movie Theaters Still Matter

Why Movie Theaters Still Matter

I couldn’t help but chuckle when I read Dennis Burger’s piece in which he laid out 10 reasons why home theaters are better than movie theaters because I recently had a movie-going experience that reinforced pretty much all of his arguments. Technically, it was three movie-going experiences all united under one common theme: A child’s love of How to Train Your Dragon.

 

You see, my 10-year-old daughter is completely obsessed with dragons, and that obsession was born the day she watched How to Train Your Dragon for the first time—in our home theater, mind you. For over two years, she has absorbed every detail of this universe—the two films, the comic books, and the DreamWorks Dragons TV series—the same way I absorbed all things Star Wars as a kid.

 

So, as you can imagine, the theatrical release of How to Train Your Dragon 3: The Hidden World back in February was a monumental life event that evolved into our own movie-going trilogy. The epic journey began with a Fandango Early Access showing three weeks before the film’s official release date. Only one theater within 30 miles of my home was hosting a 

screening, and I was lucky to acquire four seats together before it sold out. Then we had to make the 30-minute drive to see the movie in an older but at least renovated theater. No Dolby Vision or Atmos, but, hey, the seating had been upgraded, so it wasn’t too bad. You could tell, though, that the AV system had seen a lot of use.

 

The sequel came on opening night at our local theater. (Yes, we still had to go on opening night. After all, the child had waited a quarter of her life for this moment to arrive.) Did I mention that we only have one movie theater in our town of roughly 100,000 people? It was built just a few years ago (yet, still no Dolby Vision or Atmos), and it’s a very pleasant place to see a movie. The AV equipment is still in good shape, they keep the volume within reasonable limits, the 

seating is well spaced so that it’s pretty much impossible for someone to block your view, and the big leather recliners are very comfortable. It’s reserved seating, too—and since it’s the only theater in town, you’d better reserve those seats well in advance if you want get anything decent on opening night. Luckily I did, so all was well.

 

For the final installment of the trilogy, my daughter wanted to see the movie one more time—in 3D. Only one theater in our local movie house was showing the 3D version, and for some inexplicable reason they decided to show the PG13-rated Alita in that theater all day long and the PG-rated dragon movie once a day, only on certain days, at 9:00 p.m. Now, I told the child that was too late for a 10-year-old to go see a movie, but really it’s too late for a 10-year-old’s parent to stay awake through a movie.

 

Instead, we drove 45 minutes to the next closest 3D showing, in a much older theater: A small screen, the classically awful flip-down seats, and a projector that was so dim that roughly 50 percent of the details in dark scenes were completely lost behind the 3D glasses. It you haven’t seen the standard version of The Hidden World, it’s really quite gorgeous, with rich color and exceptional detail (I can’t wait to see it in UHD!), so much of which gets lost in the 3D version if the projector is not up to par.

 

And there you have it. Three different theaters. Three different levels of quality. Lots of pre-planning and scheduling. Lots of driving. Lots of illegal smuggling of reasonably priced snack items . . . 

 

Oh, and one very happy child. Put the snark aside for a minute, and you’re left with a 10-year-old who loved every . . . single
. . . minute. She loved the surprise of the Early Access screening, of getting to see the film before all her friends. She loved

Why Movie Theaters Still Matter

the commemorative Toothless drinking cup and the Toothless-shaped popcorn holder that will remain a cherished possession for years to come. She loved opening night just as much, sharing in the laughter and tears a second time with a packed house. And she thought the 3D was “super cool.” Our epic How to Train Your Dragon journey is an experience that will stay with her for the rest of her life, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

 

As we adults wax philosophical about the technological superiority of luxury home cinema and all of its conveniences, let’s not forget the joy and wonder that a child gets from 

going to the movies. The joy and wonder that we got from going to the movies. Some of my strongest childhood memories are built around the movie theater. I dare say it doesn’t matter where you’re from, how wealthy you are, or how big and amazing your home media system is, your kid is always going to think it’s cooler to go out to the movies.

 

Don’t get me wrong—I still agree with everything Dennis said. I know that 85 to 90 percent of the movies I watch will be at home, and I absolutely want to watch them through a great AV system, on my terms. But for those “event” movies—like the upcoming Avengers: Endgame, which has me almost as giddy as my daughter was over The Hidden World—I want to go out to the movie theater. I want to share in an experience, just like I do at a great concert. I want it to feel like an event.

 

That means I want the movie theaters to get their act together and catch up to where we are now in home cinema so that we movie lovers can enjoy the best of both worlds. I want more theater chains to adapt to this new movie-watching landscape and figure out creative ways to work with companies like Netflix and Amazon instead of against them. I want theaters to survive so that my grandkids will also get to experience the joy and wonder of going to the movies. I can’t wait to see what story captures their heart and imagination.

—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.

How Do I Define a Luxury TV?

How Do I Define a Luxury TV?

I’m thinking about upgrading my living-room TV, a five-year-old UHD TV that doesn’t support HDR. The process of choosing a new TV has me thinking seriously about a question that several Cineluxe writers have already attempted to answer: How do I define the term “luxury”?

 

For me, luxury simply means going beyond what you deem necessary in a given purchase. Whether it’s cars or watches or speakers, we all have a standard in our minds of what the base model is, the thing that will get the job done in the manner we want it done. And then there’s the thing that goes beyond, the thing that delivers a higher-quality experience that may not be necessary but is oh so delightful.

The standard is different for each person, which means the luxury is different for each person. I’m generally a frugal (okay, cheap) person. When I shop, I tend to start at a base model and actually talk myself down to something less. The plus side of that approach is that the luxury bar isn’t set terribly high. Sometimes just buying a brand name feels like an indulgence.

 

But that mentality goes right out the window when we’re talking about TVs. I’ve been a video reviewer for over 10 years, so I’ve had the good fortune to spend time with the creme of the crop in the TV category. I’ve had a taste of the best, and it has definitely raised the baseline standard of what I demand from a TV.

 

I won’t buy a new TV that can’t deliver a true HDR experience—by that, I mean it must have a great black level, above-average peak brightness, and support for both HDR10 and Dolby Vision. And since manufacturer review samples tend to be 65-inchers, I’ve grown accustomed to that screen size—anything smaller just won’t cut it.

 

Those requirements already set a baseline that’s higher than what the average person deems necessary in a TV, which is causing quite the internal battle between my inner cheapskate and my inner videophile over what’s essential in this purchase.

 

The (ahem) frugal side of me is leaning toward a midrange 65-inch LED/LCD TV—something with a local-dimming full-array LED panel and a respectable amount of peak brightness. As we discussed in a recent podcast, the performance of these midrange TVs has gotten so good 

that the vast majority of people will be truly blown away by the picture quality. My mind knows that these are very good performers that have the features I demand. They check all the right boxes. It’s a no-brainer.

 

But my heart has something else to say on the subject. It longs for the luxury of the far pricier OLED TV. I know rationally that, from a features standpoint, an OLED TV doesn’t really bring anything more to the table than those midrange LCDs. And while its performance is certainly better, it’s not two or three times better, which is how much more you’ll pay for a similar screen size—and that’s if you go with the “budget” OLED option. The true luxury purchase would be a flagship model like LG’s Signature W8, whose picture quality is essentially identical to lower-priced models in LG’s line. You’re paying for the sex appeal.

 

Ultimately, luxury lives on a sliding scale that’s determined entirely by our personal experience. Once you’ve experienced the Nth degree of performance and design—be it in a TV, a speaker, a control platform, or even a lighting system—your baseline is bound to shift.  You may know you don’t really need it, but it’s hard not to want it.

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.

Can a Short-Throw Projector Replace a Big-Screen TV?

Can a Short-Throw Projector Replace a Big-Screen TV?

We’ve been talking a lot lately about front projectors versus direct-view TVs in the luxury home market—about the pros and cons of each. In general, the same truths apply now that applied five to 10 years ago: Front projectors are best suited for dark rooms and deliver the best value in screen sizes over 100 inches, but TVs are still the best choice for bright, multi-purpose rooms where you want a clean, all-in-one video solution.

 

One topic we haven’t discussed is how the ultra-short-throw projector fits into the equation. This is a product category that projector manufacturers are positioning to compete directly with big-screen TVs. UST projectors allow you to produce a very large image from a very short distance, oftentimes casting a 100-inch or larger image from less than a foot away. They’re usually designed to sit on a low stand and project the image upward against the wall. So, even though we’re still talking about

sorry (again) about the music

a two-piece solution that requires a projection screen, at least both pieces can be grouped together in one part of the room, more like a big-screen TV.

 

UST projectors are generally brighter than dedicated home theater projectors (ranging from 2,500 to 4,000 lumens), they usually rely on an LED or laser light source to provide a longer life span and instant on/off capability, and they often contain built-in speakers. A growing number even

include Web apps and/or TV tuners to more closely replicate the TV experience. A few examples of UST projectors include Epson’s LS100, LG’s HF85LA, Sony’s VPL-VZ1000ES, and Optoma’s upcoming P1.

Perhaps the most notable UST offering for this discussion is the $6,200 Hisense Laser TV, a complete AV system that includes a 4K DLP projector with a built-in TV tuner and Web apps, a Harman/Kardon sound system with a wireless subwoofer, and a 100-inch ambient-light-rejecting screen. It took a long time for Hisense to actually bring this system to market, but it’s finally available, and the company announced a larger, brighter, HDR-capable version at CES 2019.

 

Clearly Hisense is going right at the big-screen TV market, going so far as to put the word “TV” in the product name (since it includes a tuner, it is technically a TV). And while $6,200 isn’t cheap, it’s far cheaper than any 100-inch TV you’re going to find.

 

But is the Laser TV or any UST projection system really a better option than a large-screen TV? Based on what I’ve seen performance-wise from a couple of these projectors, I’m going to say no. The inherent problem with projectors is that they present an either/or performance proposition: Either you get a great black level to produce the best image contrast in a dedicated theater room, or you get a lot of light output that works in a brighter, multi-use space—but the minute the sun goes down or the lights go out, the contrast plummets. Even the brightest of these projectors can’t compete with an LCD TV, so they can’t do justice to new HDR source content the way even a mid-priced TV from the likes of Vizio or Samsung can.

 

At this moment, you can get a new 2019 82-inch Samsung QLED 4K TV for $4,500. For less than $2,000 you could assemble a good sound system to go with it and enjoy a true multi-purpose AV setup. Admittedly, 82 inches isn’t 100 inches or 120 inches, and prices in the TV market go up exponentially once you hit the 85-inch screen size.

 

So, if you’re thinking about assembling a media room in a multi-purpose space, you need to ask yourself a question: What do I value more, performance or screen size? If you want good performance that remains consistent regardless of room lighting, a big-screen TV is still your best bet. But if your heart is set on a 100-inch or larger screen, then an ultra-short-throw projection system may be the solution to deliver an immersive big-screen experience in a more room-friendly form.

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.