home theater Tag

Theo’s Corner: How to Keep a Client Happy

keeping clients happy

The other day, a writer from Luxury asked me: “What’s the most challenging thing for you in designing a dedicated theater?” It only took me a second to come up with the answer: “Windows,” I said.

 

I wasn’t joking. Half of the time I spend creating a new design goes toward figuring out what to do with the windows most rooms have. I would rather not cover them with curtains as I did for a client in Beverly hills a few years ago. (See the photo above.) Curtains in front of windows is a design copout. The only curtain in the room should be the one in front of the screen. When I must deal with windows, I usually try to hide them behind some type of treatment, usually operable panels that conceal acoustic treatments. (See the photo below.)

keeping clients happy

With Rayva, things have gotten easier for me. The large acoustic panels in these designs can be placed in front of blacked-out windows without fussy customization. (See below.) The trick is trying to persuade a client to agree to cover their windows permanently.

keeping clients happy

I had such a conversation earlier this week with a Rayva client on the west coast. He would have liked to have kept the windows accessible. But when he realized how cumbersome it would be to make floor-to-ceiling panels operable, he gave me the reason why we should leave the windows concealed. “How many times will I watch a movie,” he said, “while I’m staring out the window?” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

 

Nobody likes to be told they’re stuck with an unsolvable problem. In a situation where a decision needs to be made, all it takes is laying out the options and letting the client decide. A happy client is a client who’s given options. And a good designer is one who makes sure the client is happy.

—Theo Kalomirakis

Theo Kalomirakis is widely considered the father of home theater, with scores of luxury theater
designs to his credit. He is an avid movie fan, with a collection of over 15,ooo discs. Theo is the
Executive Director of Rayva.

Media Rooms: Fad or Future?

media rooms

Look at practically any website that concerns itself with home theater and you’ll likely see example after example of dedicated home theaters. These are often beautiful spaces, luxuriously appointed, with fabric-covered walls, intricate woodwork and moldings, and rows of fabulous seats arrayed in tiers facing a giant screenfrankly, the kinds of things that made Theo Kalomirakis the legend he is and earned him the moniker, “The father of home theater.”

 

And as a custom installer, I can tell you these are almost always wonderful projects to work on. This is generally “our room” to maximize performance for one goal: Creating the ultimate movie-watching experience. Speaker locations are optimized, acoustics can be perfected, sound treatments can isolate external distractions, and lighting can be controlled for an ideal presentation.

 

But, despite all that, dedicated high-end rooms seem to be waning in popularity, giving way to something that could clumsily be called a multi-use space, but which we’ll call a media room.

 

Unlike a dedicated roomwhich is usually a separate, totally closed-off space, typically with a single door and no windowsa media room can be located in virtually any room of the house. In fact, media rooms are often in large communal areas like living rooms or family rooms, which actually gives them two advantages. First, every home can have one. Second, in my experience, media rooms get used far more often than dedicated rooms, which require viewers to actively get up and relocate themselves to a different location.

 

And, unlike dedicated home theaters, media rooms aren’t mainly for watching movies. They can be the best way to watch TV, listen to music, play videogames, view digital images, and stream content in a relaxed and comfortable environment. And couches, love seats, and comfy chairsfurniture already located in the roomall provide perfect seating options for your family or a group of friends.

 

At its most basic, a media room consists of a relatively large-screen TVlet’s say at least 55 inchesalong with some kind of improved audio experience, like a soundbar and subwoofer.

But for the true movie or music loveror anyone who takes their entertainment seriouslythis minimal approach won’t suffice, and their media rooms share many components similar to those found in a dedicated space. These include:

 

a much larger 4K Ultra HD display

 

a minimum of 5.1-channel surround audio system, but more likely with the channel count
expanded to allow for immersive audio formats like Dolby Atmos or DTS:X

 

a device that can stream 4K content from Netflix, Amazon, or Vudu

 

and ideally a Kaleidescape Strato player for viewing the highest-quality UHD HDR movie
downloads.

 

And don’t think that having a media room in the middle of the house has to mean having stacks of gear out in the open, or having to live with monolithic speakers, or even having to have your room dominated by a giant screen on the wall. There are a ton of technology options available that can deliver phenomenal experiences with minimal impact on your décor.

 

How do I know? Because I’ve had my own media room for nearly 10 years, and installed dozens for clients.

 

In my next post, I’ll tell you about my no-compromise media room, and the installation decisions I made to make the most out of my space and entertainment system.

—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.

4 Great Reasons to Watch Movies at Home

watching movies at home

photos by Jim Raycroft

Typically when you read some post about why watching movies at home in a well-designed theater is better than going to a commercial cinema, it’s filled with arguments about how low commercial theaters have sunk. You’ll read about things like sub-par presentations (projector lamp not bright enough, sound not loud enough, blown speakers, distracting exit signs), other moviegoers (rudely texting, talking on cellphones, or just talking), poor conditions (bad seating, sticky floors), or the cost (either for the film itself or for concessions).

 

I’m not going to rehash any of those here.

 

Because I think there are still times when the commercial cinema is the perfect place to see a movie–mainly some event film like a new Star Wars movie or something else unique like Dunkirk in 65mm. Also, if you’re so inclined, you can often find a “high performance” theater near you where the picture and sound will be top notch, the seats will be luxury, and gourmet food and drink options are often available.

 

Instead, I’m going to tell you four big reasons why as a movie lover and family man in my mid-40s, it’s far more desirable to stay home and watch.

 

1. Convenience

I have a 10 year old and a 16 month old, which makes it a pretty major ordeal for my wife and me to arrange a night out at the movies. We don’t have any family near us, so going out means finding someone to watch the kids for 3 to 4 hours, which is easier said than done with an infant. We tried taking our girls to the opening night of Rogue One hoping the baby would sleep, but she started crying about the same time the title came up on screen, and my wife spent about a third of the movie in the lobby so as not to disturb others.

 

At home, we can enjoy a movie every night if we want to, with no need to find a sitter or worry about bothering anyone if little Audrey gets fussy.

 

2. Schedule

We aren’t very good at planning, and most of our viewing is spontaneous, like, “You know what we haven’t watched in a while? Let’s watch that tonight.” As I mentioned above, this doesn’t work so well logistically with the kids. And if we want to watch something that isn’t fit for 10-year-old Lauryn’s eyes or ears, we’ll often start a movie at 9:30 or 10 pm when she’s asleep.

3. Control

Besides being able to start a movie whenever we want, we can also pause it to go to the bathroom, get a snack, or if one of the girls needs something; rewind it if something was especially awesome or if there was a, “What did he say?” moment; fast forward it if something is offensive; or stop it if we don’t like it or just get too tired.

 

4. Comfort

I’m not talking about the actual comfort level of the seats, but rather just the comfort factor of being at home. We don’t have to get dressed up, drive anywhere, find parking, or do anything more than press “Watch Movie” on our automation system. And since we often start movies so late, we can immediately go to bed right after, or if one of us–cough, my wife, cough–falls asleep during the movie, it’s no big deal. Also, if I want to have that second or third drink, I don’t have to worry about driving somewhere later.

 

For our family, watching at home is often the difference between seeing a movie or not. And having a high-performance theater with terrific picture and sound makes that experience the best it can be!

—John Sciacca

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

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

The Key to Home Theater Sound Quality–Pt. 2

home theater sound quality

In Pt. 1, I talked about how you can’t assume that something on a lossless source like a CD, DVD, Blu-ray Disc, or high-quality download will sound great just because it was recorded, mixed, and mastered by “name professionals.”

 

While I won’t publicly call out any aurally-disappointing disc titles out of respect for my colleagues in the recording industry, I did recently have an opportunity related to a friend who has grown into a world-famous Grammy-winning jazz vocalist but didn’t have a concert video yet. I encouraged him and his manager of the importance of not only having one but making sure the sound quality was top notch. (Of course, I told him I’d promote the heck out of it, if done well, in the world of CEDIA demo material.)

 

They agreed, and his label brought an A-list production team to the table to make the video during one of his concerts in Europe. When the time was right, the artist sent me the final edit of the surround mix to evaluate in some of my favorite local-area private theater rooms.

 

Much to my surprise (or maybe not), the balance between instruments was way off. Even more astounding, the editor had the same mono mix of all voices and instruments playing on the left, center, and right speakers! (Is this a new mode called Tri-ono?) No matter where you sat in the theater, the entire audio program was coming directly from the speaker in front of you, regardless of where the actual visual images of the voice and instruments were coming from!

 

Of course, I gave critical feedback to the production company, and the response I received from the lead engineer was:

 

My mix is essentially a 3.1 mix with some bled into the center speaker and the documentary
elements entirely in the centre speaker. This was deliberate, as 98% of people listen in their
living room on stereo or not well set up 5.1 systems and they will hear this mix as intended.
Those of us lucky enough to have full blown cinema rooms would possibly be better served
with a traditional 5.1 mix with the vocal in the centre speaker etc. as I would do if this were a
cinema release. The decision as to whether it should be a mix suitable for the majority or a
cinema-style mix I shall pass on to others. Happy to do either but would recommend the former.

 

This was the eureka moment that began to let me see first-hand just how disconnected the world of production can be from consumer audio. (I’m sure my video colleagues have many similar stories about video quality.) And why I always listen to new discs on known systems first, so I never have to wonder about the quality of what I’m evaluating.

 

Maybe it’s time we demand better recording/editing standardsespecially on consumer releases of media contentto ensure we all receive the best quality in our private theaters and listening environments.

—Steve Haas

Steve Haas is the Principal Consultant of SH Acoustics, with offices in the NYC & LA areas.
Steve has been a leading acoustic and audio design & calibration expert for over 25 years in
high-end spaces ranging from home theaters, studios, and live music rooms to major museums
and performance venues.

The Key to Home Theater Sound Quality–Pt. 1

Home Theater Sound Quality

You’re probably all thinking this is going to be another blog post about acoustics, right? Well . . . I guess it could be, but, no, we’ll have to save that for another entry.

 

There’s something beyond the room, the acoustics, the system, and the calibration that most people don’t realize can have a significant effect (positive or negative) on the experience of listening to music or movies in your theater—the quality of the source media itself!

 

While many people realize the compromised quality of compressed audio like MP3, the average consumer just assumes that a lossless source like a CD, DVD, or Blu-ray Disc must have the best tonal and level balances and spatial quality because it was recorded, mixed, and mastered by “name professionals.”

 

Most of the time, that’s true. But there are plenty of occasions where I’ve acquired a stack of new discs to try out on my reference system for my own listening/viewing pleasure and am incredibly surprised that the quality is all over the map. This seems to be especially true with concert videos, where the recordings of even well-known artists have turned out to be very underperforming when it comes to imaging, surround placement, noisiness, dialogue clarity, and other quality factors.

 

I’ve even been in the final stages of calibrating the audio of a theater and the client urges me to try out the concert-“X” Blu-ray that I’ve never listened to before. And after a few minutes of listening, we both sit there and look at each other in disbelief at how mediocre the system sounds. Fortunately, I know to quickly grab my Top 5 sound-quality reference movie and concert discs and play them so we can (hopefully) breathe a sigh of relief that everything is all good with the calibration and our ears!

 

In Pt. 2, I’ll tell the story of a Grammy-winning vocalist I know whose concert video didn’t turn out the way I thought it would.

—Steve Haas

Steve Haas is the Principal Consultant of SH Acoustics, with offices in the NYC & LA areas.
Steve has been a leading acoustic and audio design & calibration expert for over 25 years in
high-end spaces ranging from home theaters, studios, and live music rooms to major museums
and performance venues.

Dunkirk, IMAX & the Power of the Image

Since Christopher Nolan’s new movie Dunkirk is just playing in theaters, it’s going to be a while before it makes it to video. But because the movie puts tremendous emphasis on the proper presentation (which is what Rayva is all about), I thought it would be worth catching on the big screen. I wanted to see for myself what Nolan is talking about in the video clip above.

 

“I wanted to give people a really intense ride,” he says, and he accomplishes it in two waysfirst through superb storytelling, with the viewer placed front-seat center during the tragic evacuation of the Allied Forces from the coast of Dunkirk. Second through shooting the movie in the IMAX format, resulting in breathtaking cinematography.

 

About 70% of Dunkirk was shot in full IMAX while 30% was shot in 70mm, so it gave me an interesting opportunity to compare the two formats. The IMAX aspect ratio is 1.9:1 while 70mm uses the slightly wider 2:1. But the main difference between the two formats is that 70mm has 5 perforations per frame, while IMAX has 15.

 

The difference in picture quality between the formats was very noticeable. The full IMAX image was impeccably smooth and sharp, delivering long shots of stunning clarity. The 70mm was impressive but less overwhelming, with less dynamic range in the dark scenes and with a subtle grain that was completely missing from the IMAX segments of the movie. If you haven’t seen Dunkirk yet, do yourself a favor and see it in IMAX, not just in 70mm. You’ll be glad you did.

 

It will be interesting to see how the movie translates to video. I know it will be sharp. It will probably set new standards for home theater presentation. But will it have the emotional pull of seeing it on the huge screen of an IMAX theater? Maybe, if your home theater screen is big enough.

 

But the truth is that Dunkirk is so emotionally involving that after a while you’ll probably forget you’re watching a movie on video. That’s the power of great storytelling combined with brilliant technology.

—Theo Kalomirakis

Theo Kalomirakis is widely considered the father of home theater, with scores of luxury theater
designs to his credit. He is an avid movie fan, with a collection of over 15,ooo discs. Theo is the
Executive Director of Rayva.

Lawrence of Arabia

Kaleidescape Lawrence of Arabia

It was 1989. I had just finished building my first theater, the Roxy, and my career as a home theater designer was still in its infancy. The Roxy featured gigantic JBL speakers behind a perforated screen. They were way too big for that small space, but so what—all I cared was that they were the exact same speakers used in my favorite New York theater, the Ziegfeld.  With (more than) a little stretch of the imagination, being at the Roxy felt the same to me as sitting inside the Ziegfeld, getting lost in one of those 70mm spectacles of the ‘60s like My Fair Lady, West Side Story, The Sound of Music, and, yes, Lawrence of Arabia

 

When Lawrence made it to video in HD a few years ago, I felt a circle had been completed. I was finally able to own one of the most spectacular and intelligent epics ever made and see it in a presentation that captured most of the sonic grandeur and the visual splendor of the original. I thought this was it—we finally had a version of the film that was as perfect as we would ever see in a home theater. Boy, was I wrong . . . .

 

Fast forward five years later to the 4K restoration of Lawrence of Arabia. I knew about it, but only recently was I able to experience it with my own eyes. Seeing it at the Barco demo facilities in Lower Manhattan through a Barco Loki projector using a Kaleidescape Strato Movie Player as a source, I was dazzled—and spoiled forever. Maybe I’m wrong, but the picture looked better than what I remember seeing at the Ziegfeld. It felt like watching Lawrence for the first time. Every little detail jumped out of the frame with crispness and clarity, and every color nuance was there to be savored with relish. This version of Lawrence of Arabia, available at the Kaleidescape store, is one for the ages. Home theater doesn’t get better than this.

Theo Kalomirakis

Theo Kalomirakis is widely considered the father of home theater, with scores of luxury theater
designs to his credit. He is an avid movie fan, with a collection of over 15,ooo discs. Theo is the
Executive Director of Rayva.

Movies Are Better At Home . . . No Sh*t

Summer Movies 2017

This Business Insider article about why people don’t want to go out to the movies unintentionally explains that phenomenon in its lede: “There are some big, expensive movies coming out this summer, including another Spider-Man reboot and the latest ‘Transformers.’”

 

So we’re supposed to get excited because the biggest attractions in theaters are a retread and a retread. That’s like McDonald’s and Burger King finding endless ways to spin the Big Mac & Whopper so most Americans don’t catch on that they’re eating the culinary equivalent of dog food. 

 

The BI piece talks about the decline in theater attendance and how people increasingly get their entertainment from streaming services and cable. No need to ponder that one too long either: While it means sifting through a ridiculous amount of crap, you’re more likely to find a gem in the dungheap by going to Netflix, iTunes, Amazon Prime, etc. than you are spending $30 or more to go out to a theater. And more & more people have media systems at home that are at least as good as what’s at the multiplex.

 

—> check out Theo’s picks for the Top 5 streaming services

 

The entertainment in theaters just isn’t that entertaining, and slogging through the summer blockbusters can feel a lot like the Bataan Death March. There’s just more quality to be found—better movies and a better experience—by staying home. People can bemoan the loss of the communal experience, but how much community is there in sitting with a mass of other people to gorge on the movie equivalent of junk food?

 

Showing better movies in theaters would mean having smaller audiences—1968, the year many believe was the most fertile in movie history also had the lowest attendance. But at least we’d find it more fulfilling, instead of forgetting what we just saw the second we left the theater.

Michael Gaughn

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, marketing, product design, a couple TV shows, some commercials, and
now this.

REVIEWS

Wonder Woman review
Blade Runner: The Final Cut review
Lawrence of Arabia review

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