home theater Tag

Tube-Based Home Theater–Why Not?

Tube-Based Home Theater--Why Not?

the Zen Ultra 5.1-channel preamplifier

Many audiophiles love tube gear. So why do we almost never see or hear about tube-based home theater systems? If tubes sound so luxuriously great, why aren’t they more common in home entertainment installations?

 

Multichannel-friendly tube products do exist. Decware makes a multichannel tube preamp— the Zen Ultra, a $2,995 six-channel unit that accommodates up to four program sources. Butler Audio offers its five-channel TDB 5150 tube power amplifier ($2,995) and three-channel TDB 3150 (price currently unavailable). For a program source, there are the

Tube-Based Home Theater--Why Not?

ModWright Instruments modifications of the Oppo BDP-105 (shown at left), BDP-105D, and UDP-205 Blu-ray players ($2,495 for the base modification only; user must supply player). Note that the players themselves are discontinued—you’ll have to search to find one.

Not exactly a big list.

 

In fact, I couldn’t find any other tube Blu-ray players or multichannel preamps other than out-of-production ModWright mods of other models—the Fosgate Audionics FAP V1 preamp/processor and the Conrad-Johnson MET-1 multichannel preamp. (If

readers know of any other products, please let me know.) There are also Samsung components that have tubes in their amplifiers, but they’re home-theater-in-a-box systems, not luxury AV products.

 

On the other hand, there is a plethora of tube amplifiers (in addition to the Butler Audio models) that could be used in a home theater system. In a 5.1 system, for example, 

Tube-Based Home Theater--Why Not?

the tubes in Samsung’s HT-H7750 home-theater-in-a-box system

you could employ stereo amps for the main and the surround channels and a mono or bridged stereo amp for the center channel. Or use five separate mono amps. (This is assuming a powered subwoofer in the system; a passive subwoofer would require another amp to drive it.)

 

So—other than tube amplifiers, there’s an obvious lack of tube home theater components.

 

Also, to use a multichannel tube preamp, you’d want to pair it with a source component with discrete (separate) multichannel audio outputs. You guessed it—there aren’t many around. Other than the ModWright/BDP-105, BDP-105D, and UDP-205 (and other models they’ve offered over the years), there are only a few other (solid-state) Blu-ray players with such outputs, 

like the highly regarded Ultra HD Panasonic DP-UB9000 or the Denon Professional DN-500BD MK II, recommended by Decware head honcho Steve Deckert. (You could use an HDMI-to-multichannel analog converter box with a Blu-ray player or other A/V source without multichannel analog outputs, but such a kludge would almost certainly degrade the sound.)

 

What about those tube amps? There are plenty available. But you’d have to use amps that are powerful enough for home theater, which limits the range of choices. Just picture a phalanx of big, hot, heavy, energy-sucking amps in your home-entertainment room—maybe not something that

would fit into your living environment. And as I mentioned in an earlier post, tube components do require some attention and maintenance.

 

But the main reason tube-based home theater systems are rare is that there’s almost no demand for them. As Stereophile’s Kal Rubinson noted, “There are too few people to make tube home theater components a viable market for manufacturers. Even 10 years ago, when we were in what we might call a ‘golden age’ of home theater popularity, it was hard to find such components or customers who wanted them.”

 

Based on my experience over decades of going to countless audio shows, dealers, and homes, I agree. And there are those who would say, “Why bother? Tubes don’t sound any better than solid-state.”

 

That said, having a tube home theater system is more than just some outrageous idea dreamed up by the editor and myself.

 

While not wanting to reveal sales figures, Decware told me the company sells several of its six-channel tube preamps each year. And between 2010 and 2019, ModWright has sold an average of 100 tube Blu-ray players each year (in addition to

other tube and hybrid components). That’s hundreds of listeners—maybe not McDonald’s numbers, but proof that there are enthusiasts out there who prize tube home theater sound. (How many home theater systems have tube amps? As of now, I don’t have an estimate, if one is even available.)

 

Also, although they’re not multichannel, there are countless stereo tube CD players, DACs (digital-to-analog 

converters), and even phono stages that could be incorporated into home entertainment systems, the $2,999 PrimaLuna Prologue Classic CD player (shown above) being just one example.

 

In fact, there are some who feel you don’t even need multichannel to enjoy spacious home theater sound. A well-set-up 2-channel or 2.1-channel system (two speakers and a subwoofer) can offer a compelling listening experience, maybe even fooling listeners into thinking they’re hearing surround sound. And there’s a wide variety of tube stereo components out there with which to create such a system.

 

Certainly, most people are going to go with a standard home-entertainment installation. Yet if you want to experience some sonic tube flavor in your system, it might be an uncommon option—but it’s a viable one.

Frank Doris

Frank Doris is the chief cook & bottle washer for Frank Doris/Public Relations and works with a
number of audio & music industry clients. He’s a professional guitarist and a vinyl enthusiast with
multiple turntables and thousands of records.

Cineluxe Talks To Paradise Theater’s Sam Cavitt

A sampling of Sam Cavitt’s theaters, showing the wide variety of his work

Lisa Montgomery recently talked to Paradise Theater‘s Sam Cavitt about his advocacy for no-compromise high-performance home theaters in an age of “good enough” entertainment spaces. As you can read in Sam’s “A Great Home Theater is Like Fine Wine,” he feels that the move toward non-dedicated spaces is keeping people from appreciating the extraordinary playback quality contemporary gear can achieve. Sam further develops that theme in his conversation with Lisa, while also discussing the true definition of “luxury.”

—Ed.

How has the perception of home theater changed over the years?

Today, when I tell someone my company designs home theaters, it’s likely they think I’m talking about as little as a single soundbar-style speaker and a big-screen TV in the family room. Home theater has become such a generic term and the products so seriously commoditized that it’s lost much of its significance. People no longer look at home theater as what it can be—what it can bring to their lives—but instead focus on how conveniently and affordably it can be added to a home. Building a special space for the enjoyment of movie viewing is often deemed to be unnecessary.

 

It sounds like home theater has become a more mainstream amenity instead of a luxury item. Is this a bad thing?

If you mean the difference between a commodity and luxury item, the answer is yes. Today the word “luxury” is misinterpreted. The true definition of luxury is something that is so clearly superior to alternatives due to quality of materials,

Sam Cavitt Interview

Sam Cavitt

workmanship, and design that it is inherently of a greater value; whereas a commodity is something that is only differentiated by low price.  Which would you prefer?

 

While mass-market home theaters may have exposed more people to the concept of home theater, it devalues the art, craftsmanship, and difference inherent in a genuine, state-of-the-art private cinema that’s been designed expressly for movie viewing. The general public isn’t being shown the differences between the experiences you get from a home theater “kit” versus the bespoke private cinemas we provide.

 

I notice that you’ve been referring to home theaters as private home cinemas. Is this intentional?

Yes. The level of engineering and design that goes into the theaters we create for our clientele is so many levels above and the results so substantially different from what you can get from “off the shelf” alternatives that we must be differentiated from what is commonly called home theater. The elements of a theater we think are vitally important simply can’t be achieved through easy-does-it 

types of approaches. We want to set ourselves apart as “cinema sommeliers,” an organization that helps our clientele understand and appreciate the differences we offer. One way to do this is to stop referring to our completed projects as home theaters and instead refer to them as “private cinemas.”

 

As a cinema sommelier, what level of service can clients expect to receive?

Like a wine sommelier imparts their knowledge to help each client select the perfect wine pairing, as cinema sommeliers, we help our clients understand the value of improved sound quality, video quality, acoustics, and aesthetics of a space, the differences between a great private cinema and an out-of-the-box home theater. We can identify the specific elements—from a room’s geometry and sonic signature to the expectations of those who will be enjoying it—to enable us to transform the space into something that’s truly amazing.

 

In our industry, most home theater specialists fail to identify and promote the value of what they do for their clientele. We feel home theaters have become a pleasure unexploited. I’ve made it my personal mission to spread the word to the public that it’s possible to have something great, that it is worthy of their consideration to acquire a private cinema that will enhance their enjoyment and that they can share with those they love—similar to what people now do with fine art, personal wine cellars, gourmet kitchens, and so on.

 

How does Paradise Theater handle the actual design and installation of the elements that make up a private home cinema?

We provide comprehensive private cinema design and engineering, including design of what we call the chassis or how a room is built, acoustical engineering, system specification, interior design services, and full documentation to support the build-out of the space as well as quality control and performance verification throughout the construction process. What we

don’t do is sell equipment. We leave that to the many well-qualified integration companies we partner with on projects. This allows us to focus on our core competency—ensuring that each phase of the project is completed to perfection. We are like an architect who leads the construction of a home, but providing complete quality assurance for private home theaters. From the first glimmer of an idea to the final experience, we handle the entire process from A to Z.

 

Your projects represent the upper echelon of home theater design. What can potential customers expect from Paradise Theater that they can’t get elsewhere?
Every theater we create is bespoke—there are no

cookie-cutter theaters. Each one is purposely designed to the specific objectives and desires of the client. The reason Paradise Theater exists is its commitment to excellence. Other firms might talk about “how” they do theaters and “what” they do to create theaters, but we focus on the “why.” Why do we create home theaters? Because creating something excellent is the basis of everything we do. It’s in our DNA—our raison d’être.

 

Given the high-end nature of your theaters, your target customers are those with the disposable incomes to afford them. What is it that inspires this group of consumers to invest in a private cinema designed by Paradise Theater?

The love of finer things. Paradise Theater clients are the same people who buy fine art and luxury automobiles. They are investing in things they love. We position a home theater the same way as any other luxury item—people should have one because they love movies, but even more so for the love of having an environment that lets them connect with friends and family and create unforgettable moments. We want our theaters to bring people together, share special experiences, and connect.

 

Have any of your clients found that your theaters have, in fact, enhanced their lives in some significant way?

Two top executives who were previous clients had such busy lives that they told us that they had never watched a movie together. After we created a private home cinema for them, movie night became a regular part of their personal and social lives—it was game-changing for them.

With more than 20 years under her belt covering all things electronic for the home, Lisa
Montgomery 
has developed a knack for knowing what types of products and systems
make sense for homeowners looking to update their abodes. When she’s not exploring
innovative ways to introduce technology into homes, Lisa breaks away from the electronics
world on a bike, kayak, or a towel on the beach.

A Great Home Theater is Like Fine Wine

A Great Home Theater is Like Fine Wine

The integrator (Station Earth), interior designer (Red Theory), and theater designer (Paradise Theater)
teamed up to deliver the best of all worlds with this unique private cinema

Years ago, when the term “home theater” originated, it was used to describe something exciting and new. For the first time, the window to the world of fantasy, formerly only available through the venerable “silver screen,” became available in the home. Larger-than-life images, the first immersive audio, and the rooms themselves—from Art Deco to classic to modern, reminiscent of famous theater palaces—started appearing in the homes of those who had the passion and the means to pursue the emerging amenity. A new community emerged, and for the first time we became home theater enthusiasts.

 

In the beginning, those who took up the challenge to bring this experience into the home were inspired by the challenge and the opportunity. The objective of the film producer, to achieve the willing suspense of disbelief, became the challenge for home theater designers. This suspension of disbelief is what great films produce, enabling the viewer to become fully

A Great Home Theater is Like Fine Wine

There are no limits to style when aesthetics are artfully integrated with engineering

engaged in the cinematic experience. To quote Roger Ebert: “Movies are the most powerful empathy machine in all the arts. When I go to a great movie I can live somebody else’s life for a while. I can walk in somebody else’s shoes.“ It takes a great theater environment to realize this experience.

 

On one hand, this earlier era might be considered the “heyday” of home theater, when owning one was considered a worthy

aspiration, and the professionals who designed them were part of an elite group committed to delivering spaces that included emerging technology, aesthetic elements, and performance. Home theater was emerging as a considerable pursuit with a growing community of enthusiasts and professionals. 

 

Ironically, this heyday, while enjoying the enthusiasm of a new idea, fell far short of today’s capacity to deliver excellence. In fact, we were learning, and made many mistakes along the way. However, those who have stayed the course now have the ability to deliver cinematic experiences in the home far superior to any past home theaters—and, in fact, far superior to all but a very few elite commercial or professional screening rooms. The images, the sound, the acoustics, and the knowledge enable us to deliver a level of quality we could only dream of in the past. Unfortunately, along the way home theater has taken on so many forms that those who might have an interest in the experience face a confusing set of options.

A Great Home Theater is Like Fine Wine

A bespoke interior design conceals a state-of-the-art immersive audio system
and theater chassis in this luxury-resort amenity cinema

Manufacturers today offer many alternative solutions that can transform family rooms, dens, even spare bedrooms into what are now called home theaters. It’s not necessarily a bad thing that a larger population of homeowners has an awareness and opportunity to enjoy home theater in some form. The problem is the inference that this defines home theater, that the difference between these solutions and a fully engineered high-performance home theater has become obscured. The rhetoric in some circles is that there is very little difference or that most people can’t tell the difference.

 

But these systems are a far cry from what is readily obtainable today and, most importantly, the purpose of home theater as it originated—a space created to support the artists’ intent, a willing suspension of disbelief; and the potential of the art today—a window to experience a world of art and fantasy like never before. 

It’s like wine. Some people are fine with a mediocre wine, while others have learned to appreciate the qualities of a finer, more expensive wine. People will always find a less expensive and less perfect way to do something, and, until they are shown the difference, will not realize there’s a big difference between the ordinary and the extraordinary. This is especially true when it comes to home theater.

 

Rather than merely focus on the technology behind the movie magic, my company applies a holistic approach, where every aspect of the environment—construction, engineering, aesthetics, and ergonomics—is crafted for the purpose of producing the finest private cinema experience every time. Consider us a bit of a unicorn in the home theater industry by focusing on what we have done and still do best: Designing luxurious, high-caliber, private spaces dedicated to superb movie viewing for our clients around the globe. 

ABOUT
PARADISE THEATER

 

My company, Paradise Theater, which has offices in both Hawaii and California, engineers and designs extraordinary high-performance private cinemas worldwide. Working with integrators, architects and interior designers, Paradise Theater provides the value-added services of optimized room acoustics, private theater performance engineering, design development and integration of theater interiors, and performance verification. The pursuit of excellence in private cinemas is the raison d’être for both me and my company.

—S.C.

Although a lot has changed in the home theater world—the types of technologies available, the variety of professionals who install them, and a looser definition of the term—my team and I have stayed true to the original goals of home theater design by customizing each and every room specifically to provide the best experience possible.

 

We have indeed carved a niche for ourselves in the home theater market by giving consumers a high-end option with high-end results. Yes, technology plays an integral role in the rooms we create, but amazing movie viewing is best achieved when in a space that’s been built, engineered, and designed for that one pastime. Light from windows, noise from a busy street, the hum of a video projector—nothing interferes with the movie-viewing action in an expertly crafted private home cinema.

 

Our mission is to create excellent home cinemas. It’s my passion, and the reason I continue to do what I do.

Sam Cavitt

Sam Cavitt is the founder & president of Paradise Theater in Kihei, HI and Carlsbad,
CA. 
Sam hails from Maui, where he can be found surfing, sailing, drumming, and paddling
when he is not designing.

Ep. 7: Theo on Theaters

The Cineluxe Hour logo

Continuing the discussion from Episode 6 of how home theaters are now definitely better
than movie theaters, Episode 7 opens with hosts Michael Gaughn & Dennis Burger
discussing Dennis’s recent post on how even streaming can be better than a movie theater.

 

At 10:14, Dennis & Michael welcome the father of home theater, Theo Kalomirakis, back to
the podcast to talk about what impact the better-than-movie-theater experience at 
home
has had on both his work and his personal love of movie-watching.

 

At 22:28, the discussion turns to the influence the superior home viewing experience is
having on filmmaking. Theo also provides a brief update on the efforts of his company,
Rayva, to offer simple-to-install luxury home theaters
.

 

Ep. 7 concludes at 32:13 with a survey of what everyone’s watched over the past week,
followed by a guest appearance by Dennis’s son, Bruno.

CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT MORE EPISODES OF THE CINELUXE HOUR

RELATED POSTS

RELATED EPISODES

Ep. 6: Home Theaters are Better Than Movie Theaters

The Cineluxe Hour logo

Hosts Michael Gaughn & Dennis Burger open Episode 6 with a brief discussion of how Dennis’s favorite show, Critical Role, recently made headlines by becoming the most successful video-production Kickstarter campaign ever. Dennis & Mike talk about the impact of alternate forms of production on TV & movies.

 

At 11:28, Cineluxe contributor Andrew Robinson joins the podcast for the first time, accompanied by fellow contributor John Sciacca. Everybody discusses how a home theater with the right gear, properly installed, can easily top the performance of a typical movie theater. But it turns out the biggest contributor to a better-than-movie-theater experience at home might not be the tech.

 

The show wraps up at 39:14, with a quick survey of what everybody’s watched during the past week, which runs the gamut from They Shall Now Grow Old to Love, Death, and Robots.

CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT MORE EPISODES OF THE CINELUXE HOUR

RELATED POSTS

Home Theaters are Better Than Movie Theaters

Home Theaters are Better than Movie Theaters

Photo by JESHOOTS.com from Pexels

As John Sciacca points out in his recent article, “Are Home Theaters Making Movie Theaters Better?” home entertainment spent more than half a century playing a catchup game with commercial cinemas, at least in terms of technological innovation and quality of presentation. But Wabbit Season has now pretty much undeniably become Duck Season, and home entertainment reigns supreme. Yes, commercial cinemas are making some interesting technological innovations, as John points out. But most of these are limited to a handful of theaters in major metropolitan areas.

 

For most people, a well-built, well-calibrated, well-programmed home cinema system (be it in a dedicated screening room or multi-use home entertainment space), has the potential to vastly outshine the movie-watching experience at the average local cineplex. And while much of this has to do with incredible advancements in the quality of consumer electronics in the

past few years, that’s not the whole story. There’s also a story to be told here about comfort, convenience, and customization.

 

In short, here are 10 reasons why home theaters are now better than movies theaters.

 

 

1) BETTER PICTURE

These days, even a mid-level Ultra HD (or “4K”) display, when properly calibrated and positioned, can give 

you a better and more immersive image than you’re likely to find in your local movie theater. Sure, your neighborhood megaplex has bigger screens working to its advantage, but depending on how far away you sit, a 75- to 120-inch screen at home can fill up just as much of your field of view. And displays this large are pretty close to becoming the norm for better home entertainment spaces. What’s more, you’d have to look pretty far and wide to find a movie theater screen that delivers anything close to the black levels and high dynamic range delivered by a good modern home display.

 

 

2) BETTER SOUND

At least in theory. While commercial cinemas still have the advantage in terms of channel count, let’s face it—you really don’t need 128 speakers in your living room to deliver an audio experience that’s every bit as engrossing as that of a movie theater. What’s more, theater sound has to be balanced for potentially hundreds of viewers. At home, you can tune the sound for the handful of seats that matter most. And today’s advanced room correction systems can make even a somewhat compromised space sound positively cinematic.

 

 

3) BETTER QUALITY CONTROL

Have you ever been to a commercial cinema and complained about an image that was too dim or stretched, or a screen that was soda-stained, or speakers that were blown, only to be greeted with that deer-in-headlights look? The fact is that most movie theater managers don’t care about (or even understand) quality of presentation. At home, you can either

address problems when they arise or, at worst, call your local integrator for assistance.

 

 

4) THE AV EXPERIENCE CAN BE
TWEAKED TO YOUR TASTE

Whether you like your movie sound to be played at reference listening levels, or just a bit louder or quieter than industry standards would dictate, chances are slim that you’ll ever be happy with where the volume knob is set at your local movie theater. At home, you can adjust the loudness to your liking, and even tweak it based on your mood.

 

 

5) THE “WOW” FACTOR CAN BE EVEN BETTER

Back in the day, there was an undeniable theatrical element involved in going to the movies. And yes, most of that boiled down to that highly anticipated moment when the curtains opened or widened to accommodate a Cinemascope film, but still. They used to call it “going to see a show” for a reason. The movie itself was simply the centerpiece of a larger event.

 

These days? Not so much. But home theaters can make movie-watching special in a way that commercial cinemas have long since abandoned. If you have a home automation system, you can dim the lights and draw the shades and maybe even cause the screen to drop down from the ceiling at the press of a button. If you have a Kaleidescape movie server system, these automated events can even be tied to the opening and closing credits of the movie itself—or even intermission. And you can program an entire evening’s worth of entertainment—trailers, cartoons, movies, and more—that can be launched with a single click. Simply put, movie night at home can be special in a way that bopping down to the local movie theater long ago ceased to be.

 

 

6) YOU’RE ON YOUR OWN TIMETABLE

Speaking of intermission, how many times have you missed a few minutes of a movie due to a necessary potty break? That’s not a problem when you’re watching at home. Perhaps more importantly, unless you’re itching to watch

the latest Marvel movie, which is likely to be playing on half the screens at your local multiplex, you’ll likely find that your choice of viewing times is limited to 4:25 or 9:45. At home, you can start the movie when you want.

 

 

7) THE VARIETY OF ENTERTAINMENT IS SO MUCH BETTER

As I alluded to in that last point, even at a megaplex with 16 screens, half of them are likely to be playing the same movie, which greatly limits your viewing options. These days, the rise of streaming services creating their own award-winning movies means that your options are wide open for home viewing.

Want to check out something like Bird Box or Roma? Outside of a few film festivals and a limited theatrical release aimed only at Oscar contention, the only way you’d ever see these films is at home. You could easily argue that Netflix and Amazon are the most innovative and important film studios in existence today, and their works are only available in the home for most people.

8) TWO WORDS: GOURMET POPCORN

OK, it’s entirely possible that my wife and I are weirdos in this respect, but we’re total popcorn snobs. We have our own oil popper, and when it’s time to sit down for a movie we’re likely to spend five minutes simply deciding what kind of kernels to pop. On the rare occasions when we do go to the cinema, the grease-covered cardboard they sell by the bucket is an unappetizing letdown.

 

And hey, maybe gourmet popcorn isn’t your thing. Substitute your own snack of choice and you get the point. Movie theaters have done a decent job of offering more variety in their snacks in recent years, but let’s be honest here: They’re all kinda gross unless you live in a major metropolis. At home, you can snack better, snack cheaper, and snack healthier to boot.

9) YOU GET TO DEFINE “COMFORT”

My wife recently returned from a road trip, during which she went to the movies with a friend of ours who lives up north. She came home raving about the recliners in the cinema they visited, to which I replied, “Were they as comfortable as your seat on the sofa?” The answer, of course, was a resounding, “no.” Still, it’s humorous to me that the notion of comfortable seating in a movie theater is a novelty in and of itself. What’s more, these seats have to accommodate a broad range of opinions as to what constitutes “comfortable.”


Personally, I like a firm memory foam sofa that conforms to my posterior, but isn’t so cushy that I drift off during our annual 12-hour Lord of the Rings Extended Edition marathon. Maybe your tastes lean even firmer, or maybe you’d prefer to sink into the accoutering equivalent of a marshmallow. Either way, in your home theater or multi-use entertainment space, you get to pick the seats.

 

 

10) YOU GET TO PICK THE AUDIENCE

There may yet come a day when commercial cinemas once again reclaim their technological superiority over home cinema systems en masse, but even if they do, I can’t imagine going back to the movies on the regular. And that mostly boils down to the fact that the moviegoing masses are loud, obnoxious, obtrusive, self-centered jerks. When we went to see Captain Marvel a few weeks back, I nearly sprained my shushing muscles. And outside of chains like Alamo Drafthouse, most cinema operators generally couldn’t care less if kids are swinging from the rafters.


Anyone who comes to my house to watch a movie knows they’re there to watch a movie, not gab for two hours straight or check their phones every ten minutes. And you could argue that my rules for movie-watching at home are a little strict, but you know what? Friends and family who join me on my couch for a show always come to appreciate the specialness of the experience.

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.

Are Home Theaters Making Movie Theaters Better?

Are Home Theaters Pushing Movie Theaters to Improve?

For years, home theater technology has been chasing after the commercial cinema, trying to keep up with this supposed Holy Grail of the cinematic experience. And over the years, every development that has come to the home —large screen, surround sound, 3D, and Dolby Atmos to name a few—began its life in a commercial cinema.

 

But lately the tides seem to be turning. Due to a variety of factors including the drastic improvement of home technologies, systems becoming far more affordable, and the wealth of original content provided by streaming services like Netflix and Amazon, more and more people are opting out of the commercial cinema experience and deciding to stay home.

 

One way in which commercial cinemas are trying to lure people back is through an experience called Premium Large Format (PLF). With massive screens, improved projection systems, and superior audio design, these PLF auditoriums offer a cinematic experience akin to what you could experience should you get an invitation to the screening room at Dolby Laboratories or The Stag at Lucasfilm. In short, the ultimate manner in which to experience a film in the way that matches the artists’ intent.

 

The PLF with the greatest name recognition by far is IMAX, which has been around for years and has over 1,300 systems installed around the world. Cinemagoers equate IMAX with a massive screen and impressive 11-channel digital surround system (but there are many online complaints that the brand has been diluted since the introduction of Digital IMAX—often derogatorily called LIE-MAX—in 2008, which uses significantly smaller screens and far lower resolution prints).

Are Home Theaters Making Movie Theaters Better?

Two other names in the PLF space include Dolby Cinema and ScreenX. (Barco had a short-lived venture in this category with its innovative Barco Escape technology, but it was shuttered in February of 2018.)

 

This past week, Sony announced it will be throwing its hat into the PLF space with Sony Digital Cinema, with the first screen set to open in Las Vegas this spring. Like Dolby Cinemas, the Sony Digital Cinemas will feature dual-laser 4K projection systems for an incredibly bright and contrasty image, as well as an immersive audio system, and luxury reclining seats.

 

One unique aspect of the Sony endeavor is that the company controls the cinematic process from end to end, from manufacturing the digital cameras used in filming, through the audio and video post-production at Sony Pictures Studios, to creating the cinematic 4K projectors. (While Sony did have its own version of theatrical surround sound—Sony Dynamic Digital Sound [SDDS]—this has long been discontinued, and the Sony cinemas will reportedly use Dolby Atmos immersive audio.)

 

One area where commercial cinemas have struggled to keep up with the home experience is through delivering high dynamic range (HDR) video. Whereas even relatively inexpensive direct-view 4K displays can produce a pretty dynamic HDR image, most commercial projectors fail to produce the deep blacks and bright whites needed to rival a direct-view home display. Couple that with the fact that many commercial cinemas run their projector lamps until they are on their last hours, making for a far dimmer experience that likely wouldn’t come anywhere near the minimum SMPTE (Society Motion Picture and Television Engineers) standard of 16 foot-lamberts.

Are Home Theaters Making Movie Theaters Better?

By using customized, dual-laser projectors (like those shown at left) à la Dolby Cinema, the Sony Digital Cinema should be able to deliver fantastic image quality on a massive screen, with HDR rivaling virtually any display. The Dolby Cinema system can deliver a staggering 31 foot-lamberts on screenalmost twice the brightness of the SMPTE recommended standard—while producing 500 times the dynamic range of a typical cinema projector,

delivering the deepest black levels of any commercial projector, and producing an unbelievable 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio. All that on a screen 68 feet wide!

 

Possibly of greater interest is the announcement from Bob Raposo, head of Sony’s theater business, that while these cinemas will launch with Sony’s laser projection system, the company has been developing a massive LED screen that could replace projection.

 

“Sony is going to once again revolutionize how people see movies, with our 4K laser projector and with our new technologies led by Crystal LED,” Raposo said. “Our goal is to deliver the ultimate brightness with mind-blowing contrast, allowing movies to be shown the way the movie-maker intended, without compromise and in the highest quality possible. Sony Crystal LED will create that new type of immersive experience for the marketplace, as Sony 4K did in digital cinema’s first phase. This is no doubt the future of cinema and our big opportunity to help exhibitors significantly differentiate themselves from the competition.”

 

Other benefits of these luxury PLF cinemas will include premium food and beverage offerings, stadium seating, and oversized reclining seating that can be reserved ahead of time.

 

The question remains, is it all enough? Will a premium experience be enough to lure you back to the cineplex, or are you content enjoying a luxury experience in the privacy of your own home?

—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.

Why Does the AV Industry Always Ignore the Signs?

Why Does the AV Industry Always Ignore the Signs?

Does the home theater community ignore its greatest—arguably, only—asset . . . its customers? I ask this question because it’s one I don’t think anyone in the AV press, the manufacturers, and even enthusiasts are asking themselves. So allow me to put it more simply: Is this hobby ignoring itself?

 

Here’s why I ask: In numerous surveys conducted by many of the “mainstream AV publications” over the years, it would appear that the results are at odds with what the manufacturers claim people are clamoring for. For example, in a recent survey of dedicated home theater enthusiasts, the number who actually owned a multichannel home theater system (5.1) was less than what you’d expect from a readership “subscribed” to a publication with the words Home and Theater in its title. 

 

To test this, I recently did a survey myself, asking more than 1,000 home theater enthusiasts, whom would remain completely anonymous, to tell me what type of home theater setup they had. An overwhelming majority—a near 70%—said their home theater was but a 2.0 or 2.1 setup with respect to the number of speakers, with the display of choice being a single flat-panel TV and no more than two digital sources. The delta between 2.0 home theater and 5.1—which came in second place, by the way—was four to one. Of those who participated, less than four percent had a 7.1 or greater surround sound system. Dolby Atmos, get out of town—no one has Atmos.

 

Now, this may seem like an opportunity for manufacturers and sales people to begin selling more surround sound setups and whatnot, but many of the participants in this survey offered (unsolicited) further comment as to the reasons why they had but a stereo-based home theater. Many had downsized from dedicated rooms and/or “bigger” setups, opting instead for simple, stereo after having fallen down the home theater rabbit hole.

 

Moreover, many of those who felt the need to comment felt they were able to invest more wisely in better components by paring down and thus getting far more for their money than when they tried to make their dollar stretch over a complicated multichannel setup. So if the data shows that fewer and fewer enthusiasts are actually opting for more speakers and more gear, why are we so consumed with trying to sell them more? Why not sell them what they’re asking for? What they need? How can this hobby and thus the industry expect to survive by ignoring the data before it?

 

It can’t.

 

It is my belief that the AV industry has largely operated under the Field of Dreams mentality, whereby if you build it they will come. Only problem is, it would seem that the game ended a long time ago, and only those who didn’t get the memo are still standing around in the cornfields wondering where everyone went.

 

Every January, the AV press collectively writes about how CES isn’t about them anymore, passed over (or perhaps passed-by) for smartphones, smart speakers, and the lot. But therein lies the rub. It’s not that consumers don’t want better sound, bigger pictures, and an overall better experience—they just don’t want it the same old way. So they’ve turned to other means and products to get their “fix.”

Why Does the AV Industry Always Ignore the Signs?

The AV industry as a whole, despite being part of the technology genre, has proven incredibly slow to act, react, and innovate. You’d never know that reading their press releases or attending their press events whereby everything they announce is “game changing!” The truth is, it’s not—not by a long shot. Too often they keep knocking on the door of the same customers saying hey, remember us? Yeah, we remember you—we bought said widget from you last year, and it wasn’t much different from the widget we bought the year before that. Rather than take that feedback and truly innovate, many manufacturers have adopted a new tack: Find a new audience—an older audience—abroad. Worse still are the ones who stay and insist that the only thing people will buy in the US is cheap crap.

 

This really gets under my skin, because it’s not that enthusiasts are cheap; it’s that they’re tired of having to buy the same thing over again. What are consumers supposed to do when asked to buy the same TV, the same disc spinner, the same whatever each and every year? I can tell you what I would do—spend as little as possible.

 

Now, build me something truly forward thinking, a product that either combines previous technologies in a whole new way or introduces new ones that actually work, and then let’s talk. Imagine a display that replaces the need for separate components, powered speakers that connect to the display wirelessly, and a system that configures itself via input from your smartphone, and I bet you’ll be able to charge a little more than what Vizios are commanding at Costco.

 

But what do I know? I’m just one of those unicorns the AV industry is trying to reach so desperately. I’m under 40, educated, with disposable income, and a predisposition towards AV gear. How big is my system? Stereo.

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.

Ep. 1: Is Home Theater Dead?

In the very first episode, podcast hosts Michael Gaughn & Dennis Burger (briefly) introduce themselves & explain what the Cineluxe site & The Cineluxe Hour are all about. At 6:38, Cineluxe contributor John Sciacca joins Dennis & Mike to help define luxury home entertainment & explain how you can have a personal luxury experience watching movies with a laptop & headphones. At 12:34, legendary designer Theo Kalomirakis joins the group to argue that dedicated home theater rooms are still the best way to enjoy movies at home, and to talk about his company, Ravya. And at 21:44, everybody weighs in on the most overrated movie directors ever before saying goodnight.

The Cineluxe Hour logo

CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT MORE EPISODES OF THE CINELUXE HOUR

How to Make the Perfect Gaming Room

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

the perfect gaming room

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

 

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

 

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

—Dennis Burger

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

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