John Sciacca Tag

Cold Pursuit

Cold Pursuit

If the plot of Liam Neeson’s latest action/revenge thriller Cold Pursuit seems a bit too much like déjà vu, don’t be alarmed—you aren’t losing your mind. This is a remake of the 2014 Norwegian film Kraftidioten, which was renamed In Order of Disappearance for its release here in the States.

 

I say this because my wife and I spent most of the movie with back-and-forth, “We’ve totally seen this right?”

 

“I mean, it feels like we’ve seen this already. Are you sure we didn’t see this?”

 

“Oh, yeah. I totally remember that part. We’ve definitely seen this.”

 

But, of course, we hadn’t seen this yet. We were just remembering Disappearance, which we’d rented from Netflix years back. That film starred Stellan Skarsgard in the lead role of Nils Dickman, replaced here by Neeson and renamed Nels Coxman—see, totally different.

 

Neeson, of course, is a man known for having a particular set of skills and a guy you definitely don’t want to piss off . .  especially when it comes to his family. But those skills in this case include being awarded Citizen of the Year for being the primary snowplow driver for the Colorado resort town of Kehoe, where he’s responsible for keeping the main route in and out of town cleared and passable.

 

(You might also recall this film from the uproar over some of Neeson’s racist comments during the promotional tour.)

 

I have nothing against remakes, especially when they offer some new, different, or updated take on something. The Magnificent Seven, both the 1960 original—which was a “remake” of Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai—and the 2016 Antoine Fuqua version, which featured a ton of modern star power, is one example. The Clooney-Pitt redo of the 1960 Rat Pack vehicle Ocean’s 11 is another. These films both brought a different vision to the source material, especially considering that 40-plus years had passed.

 

But sometimes remakes can just seem gratuitous and solely for the sake of grabbing more money, and that’s how Cold Pursuit feels. Perhaps even more surprising is that the same director, Hans Petter Moland, made this version barely three years after the original. It’s clear Moland had nothing new to say, just a different set of actors to work with. While this isn’t a (near) shot-for-shot remake à la Gus Van Sant’s 1998 Psycho dud, it lands awfully close to the original.

 

Now, that’s not to say that Pursuit is a bad film, or that it isn’t fun to watch, especially if you’re going into it fresh. The movie has plenty of action, and a dark comedy streak à la Fargo that will delight many and helps ease some of the more violent scenes. Neeson handles his role of Coxman convincingly—a father who can’t believe his son died of a heroin overdose and then accidentally discovers he was actually killed by a drug cartel. Coxman works (i.e., “beats and kills”) his way up from the bottom of the drug gang, seeking revenge until he ultimately reaches the man at the top.

 

The story has some nice twists, a decent amount of action, and a clear plot that is easy to follow. Sure, we have no idea where Coxman acquired his fighting skills, but, heck, it’s Liam Neeson doing what he seems to do best, and multiple similar roles have conditioned us over the years to just go along for the ride. (Also, unrelated, but a nice bit of trivia, Pursuit features

stars that bookend the current Star Wars franchise: Neeson from Episode I: The Phantom Menace and Laura Dern from Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, playing his wife.)

 

Filmed in ARRIRAW at 3.4K and taken from a 4K Digital Intermediate, I expected Pursuit to have a ton of detail and a razor-sharp image. And, well, I was a bit surprised to find it really didn’t. Images are clear and totally free of any noise, but they rarely revealed those ultra-sharp micro details the finest transfers do. There’s almost a softness to some of the long shots and background images, which looked more like a 2K upsample. Closeups don’t disappoint, showing a lot of detail and texture in fabrics and the weathering of Neeson’s face.

 

What does work especially well here is the HDR, as much of this film takes place in bright, snowy outdoor scenes. These pop off the screen, and a well-calibrated TV will reveal lots of detail in the snowbanks and mountains. There are also numerous nighttime or dark indoor scenes with deep, clean blacks, and pops of bright lights and color.

 

Don’t expect an over-the-top, reference Dolby Atmos soundtrack, as the height speakers are used pretty sparingly. But, there is some full, deep bass, particularly 

Cold Pursuit

in the opening, and the outdoor scenes feature some nice ambience to expand the atmosphere of your listening room, as well as some good directionality in the gun battles. Dialogue is also clear and intelligible.

 

If you’re going in fresh, there’s no question Cold Pursuit is the better-looking, better-sounding, higher-budget version of the two. But Disappearance was better received by critics, garnering 86% at Rotten Tomatoes versus Pursuit’s 69%. At only $19.99 in 4K HDR from the Kaleidescape store, it certainly qualifies as a candidate for a fun night at the movies. Or you can download Disappearance as well for only $13.99 and then compare them for yourself.

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 We Don’t Deserve Day & Date

Why We Don't Deserve Day & Date

John Sciacca has been on a tear as of late with respect to breaking down the nitty-gritty behind day & date film releases. For those of you who don’t know what day & date is, in a nutshell it refers to the ability to watch the premiere of a film in your home the same day it hits theaters. Simple. Now, John tackles the subject from a rather logical place—price. Only he makes the mistake of asking enthusiasts–you know, people like you and me–what we’re willing to pay for it. An overwhelming majority who took John’s survey replied that they would be willing to pay between $25 and $49 for the privilege of enjoying a day & date release in their home. Fifty-five percent of those surveyed said this.

 

Fifty-five percent of enthusiasts are bald-faced liars. Allow me to explain.

 

At $25 to $50 a pop, enthusiasts are basically saying that they want to enjoy premium content in their home for less than what it costs to travel to a specialty location in order to have a premium experience. (Throw out the argument that every theater experience is premium.) The fact that enthusiasts are willing to pay less for more is, well, not shocking at all! Had there been 

an option to pay under $25, that would have won. Because enthusiasts want to have their cake and eat it too, as well as be allowed to walk out with the silverware, dishes and linens, if they feel like it.

 

Asking an enthusiast of anything what they think something is worth, and you’ll get a rather lopsided answer–one that clearly favors the enthusiast and to hell with everything and everyone else. This is why day & date continues to stumble, despite its eventual eventuality. Studios are willing to provide day & date to the one percent, but what industry the world over doesn’t bend over for the one percent?

 

Truth is, enthusiasts don’t deserve day & date. Sorry. They’ll get it, and sadly they will still find a way to bitch about it too. The current state of content delivery is better than it has ever been, with more choice and quality at our fingertips than ever before. Entertainment is instant . . .  and cheap! But say “streaming” to an enthusiast, and brace yourself. Say “UHD Blu-ray and physical media are dead” to an enthusiast, and watch as their head explodes. Say “Netflix is raising its prices $2 a month,” and watch them rage.

So if enthusiasts can’t be happy with what we have currently, what makes us think they will be happy with day & date? It likely will never be cheap enough. And if it is, it won’t be 4K enough, or possess the billion point two billion channels no one has but demands, and so on and so forth. If day & date is to be a reality, it’s coming via streaming, and if you have an issue with streaming, DRM, or what have you now, hang on to your hat ‘cause ain’t no way Disney is letting you watch Endgame without some hefty assurances.

 

Day & date is coming like a freight train in the night. There is no stopping it. The proof isn’t in the starting of all these cottage businesses pushing expensive players to the one percent; the proof is in the diluting of the time window between theatrical and home video release. In the old days (circa early 2000s and before), the minimum window was 120 to 160 days. That’s four to six months from the last date of theatrical release to when a film was allowed to be put on sale for home viewing. Now, that agreed-upon window is 30 to 45 days. It will be down to 7 to 10 days inside of two years. And at that point, you’ll have day & date.

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.

How Much Would You Pay for Day & Date? Pt. 2

In Part 1 of this post, I referenced comments from users of the Kaleidescape Owners Forum who answered my question, “How much would you be willing to pay for Day and Date?” I expected these luxury system owners to have no problem with paying a substantial amount for the ability to see a movie at home the day it opens in theaters. But even among this group, not a single person was willing to pay even the minimum amount—$500—Prima Cinema charged and Red Carpet Home Cinema expects to charge for day & date viewing.

 

Casting the net to a wider audience, I ran a poll on the Sound & Vision website, which caters to enthusiasts of all income levels, where I again asked what they would be willing to pay for day & date. After nearly 350 responses, it’s clear that the

How Much Would You Pay for Day & Date, Pt. 2

Table 1

How Much Would You Pay for Day & Date?, Pt. 2

Table 2

How Much Would You Pay for Day &was Date, Pt. 2

Table 3

How Much Would You Pay for Day & Date?, Pt. 2

Table 4

click on the tables to enlarge them

vast majority of people aren’t willing to pay a very high premium at all.

 

In fact, the enthusiast responses from Sound & Vision far more support the likely pricing for movies available at home a week or two after they premiere in theaters than the $500 low end of the current day & date pricing schemes (see Table 1).

 

As you can see, out of 348 answers, only 43 people (roughly 12.6%) were willing to pay $100 or more. But when you go down to the $50 to $99 range, the group jumps to over 32%. This is a pretty large crowd, and a price that might be realistic three to four weeks after a movie hits the cinema. When you get to $25 to $49, more than half the responders would bite.

 

Is this an unrealistic price? Perhaps. But consider this: The current state of the art for home video viewing is 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray discs, most of which sell for around $20 to $35. Since this is what you now pay to own a movie and watch it as many times as you’d like, would it be so unreasonable that the movie studios would let you watch it once for $49 at some point later in the movie’s theatrical window? Maybe not . . .

 

A common theme among the Kaleidescape owners was that they want this premium rental to also come with the right to own/download the movie when it goes into mass release on home video. When asked if they’d be willing to pay more for this right, the responders were almost split in thirds (see Table 2).

 

Almost 39% said they would actually pay more. So, maybe at $125 to $150, you would get to watch the movie once while it’s still in the theater and would then be able to download it as soon as it’s in wide release. That seems like a pretty palatable choice that also wouldn’t erode the studios’ profits from traditional home releases.

 

Finally, I asked how often they would actually rent a movie if it were priced at just $50 (see Table 3). I was surprised to find that most enthusiast owners wouldn’t do it very often.

 

Slightly more than 5% would do it once a week, with about half saying they would rent a $50 movie once or more per month. Shockingly, more than 45% said they’d only do it a few times per year. And remember, these are audio/video enthusiasts responding to a hypothetical day & date price of just $50.

 

As for the necessary hardware, with Prima at $35,000, Red Carpet at $15,00, and Kaleidescape starting at $4,500, the systems required to play these movies aren’t cheap, which was another huge barrier for entry for many.

 

When asked how much they would pay for the hardware needed for day & date playback (see Table 4), more than 50% said they would only pay less than $500. Again, that seems highly unrealistic, especially when you consider the security measures that need to be employed, but it does bode well for Xcinex, which says its Venue will come to market for less than $30.

Also, these prices address the per-viewing model, which means it’s the same cost whether there are 1 or 50 people watching. The other option is the same per-viewer or per-ticket model theaters use, which is how Xcinex plans to operate. Other than the potential issues and privacy concerns with a sensor monitoring and counting viewers, it again seems difficult to believe Xcinex could come to market and offer day & date viewing at literally fractions of what the other companies are charging. But the company says it’s firmly committed to launching by the end of this year, and that it will have content and deals in place, so time will tell.

 

What impact will day & date have on your movie watching habits? And how much would you be willing to pay for the privilege?

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.

How Much Would You Pay for Day & Date? Pt. 1

How Much Would You Pay for Day & Date?, Pt. 1

Wrapping up my recent series of posts on day & date, I thought I’d cut right to the heart of it: How much is day & date worth? In other words, how much would you pay for the privilege of watching a first-run film in the comfort of your own home, either on opening night or some short time later?

 

As I wrote in “Why Kaleidescape Could Own Day & Date, Pt. 2,” at the moment it appears Red Carpet Home Cinema has set the benchmark for what it will cost, at somewhere between $500 and $3,000. This is up from Prima Cinema’s $500 for each 

viewing. It could be that the Prima folks were better negotiators than Red Carpet, or that Hollywood has decided day & date is worth more now that it was a few years ago. We won’t know for sure until we see if Prima is able to return to operation.

 

But the simple truth is that, as much as we might want to be able to watch movies at home instead of going to the theater, most of us can’t afford these prices.

 

This is where I see a sliding scale coming into play. If you want to watch the movie on opening night, you’re gonna have to pay the ultra-premium price Red Carpet is demanding. But, if you’re willing to wait a week . . . or two
. . . or four, as theater audiences have slacked off to nearly nothing, the studios might allow for more affordable pricing.

 

This is why some kind of premium window for early theatrical release might be a more realistic hope for luxury home viewing than actual day & date. At least at first.

 

That conclusion was echoed by several commenters on the Kaleidescape Owners Forum when I posed the question:

 

“How much would you be willing to pay for Day and Date?” Here were some of the responses:

 

• I would like to see a sliding scale based on timing:

Week 1: $300

Week 2 to 4: $150

Week 5 to 8: $75

• I for one would also be willing to pay a premium for the privilege of watching movies at home
while they’re still out in the theater. That would be an awesome feature if it could be incorporated
into existing hardware.

 

• As for how much, it would depend upon the movie. [Star Wars]—maybe $300, other blockbusters,
maybe $150, comedies and “chick flicks” $75-100.

 

• I would pay maximum $75-$100 to watch with just my wife or kids, and maybe $200 once or twice
a year and invite friends over.

 

• With 4-8 $25 seats and a $100 fee for download etc then $200-300 on day one, week one is a
good no loss to the studio price point.

 

• I’ve said it before, I will say it again–I would pay $500 to watch any theatrical movie in my home
on opening day, even without the ability to stop/pause/rewind or be given a digital copy. Watching
Star Wars opening night on my couch is cooler than a sports car IMO.

 

• $500 for one viewing at midnight the release date. Watching [Star Wars] in my living room would
be incredible.

 

Remember, these answers all came from people who already own luxury entertainment systems, and have shown their willingness to invest in premium-price hardware like a Kaleidescape. (An entry-level Strato system—the unit most likely to support day & date—currently costs $4,500.) And none of them said they’d be willing to pay more than $500. That is why

I wonder if Red Carpet’s exorbitant pricing will be able to find traction even among the ultra-wealthy.

 

I first started thinking about what I’d be willing to pay for this experience six years ago, when I had the chance to live with the Prima Cinema system.

 

When I see a movie, it’s almost always with my wife and frequently with my 12-year-old as well. So, figure we’re in for around $30 in movie tickets. (I realize this is at the low end of the market, with many parts of the country paying upwards of twice that.) Then factor in popcorn, drinks, and snacks for another $20 to $30. Since we have a 3-year-old, figure another $20 to $30 for a babysitter. I don’t have to deal with parking (or hiring a car service), but for many this is another cost of movie-going. So, for me, a $100 movie purchase is something I would consider for many films.

 

And after my recent lackluster experience seeing Avengers: Endgame at my local cinema—where I didn’t eat or drink anything for 8 hours prior to showtime to ensure I could make it through without a bathroom break—with all of

the popcorn rustling, drink slurping, side conversations, an infant watching YouTube videos on an iPad (not kidding), and a very noticeably blown subwoofer that totally took me out of every bass-heavy moment, being able to watch at my own home almost sounds worth any price.

 

In Pt. 2, I’ll give you the surprising results of an extensive survey I conducted to find out how much home theater enthusiasts would be willing to pay for day & date.

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 Karate Kid

The Karate Kid

This must be the anniversary 4K HDR re-release film season, since, after doing recent reviews of the 30-year-anniversary release of Field of Dreams, followed by the 40-year-anniversary release of Alien, this review finds us right in the middle with a 35-year-anniversary release of The Karate Kid. While a classic film, one has to wonder if KK benefitted from the recent Cobra Kai series on You Tube Red, introducing a whole new generation to Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio), Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), and the “Strike first, strike hard, no mercy” Cobra Kai dojo?

 

Either way, we benefit from The Karate Kid looking its best in a 4K HDR release from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, which has a proven track record of doing some terrific restorations and re-releases (The Fifth Element, Leon: The Professional, Bram Stoker’s Dracula). The film has been fully restored from the original 35mm camera negative. As is common on many recent re-issues, KK also includes a newly mixed Dolby Atmos audio track.

 

I was 14 when KK was released, and can remember seeing it in the theater. Being close to Daniel’s age (well, at least thinking I was close in age; Ralph Macchio was actually an incredibly baby-faced 23 at the time of playing the high-school senior), it was easy to identify with and root for this underdog who discovers an unlikely mentor in building handyman, Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita), who slyly teaches Daniel karate in order to confront the gang of Cobra Kai bullies led by Johnny and evil Sensei Kreese (Martin Kove). 

 

I didn’t realize until writing this review that KK’s director, John Avildsen, also directed another famous underdog-battles-the-odds movie, Rocky, but there are actually many similarities between the stories and styles. Also, the fighters were all trained by Pat. E Johnson, a 9th-degree black belt, who also choreographed the fight scenes, and whose actual knowledge and love of karate and tournament fighting definitely added some legitimacy and authenticity to the fighting styles and techniques.

 

Where karate films prior to KK mostly focused on fighting, and featured accomplished real-life fighters like Chuck Norris or Bruce Lee taking on hordes of attackers with nothing but fists and feet flying, KK was different in that it positioned karate as a tool to avoid fighting, and examined the spiritual aspect. This was possible only because of Norita’s fantastic portrayal of Miyagi, in a role that earned him a well-deserved Best Supporting Actor nomination. (He lost to Haing S. Ngor in The Killing Fields.) His performance—and timeless wisdom—definitely hold up, and the relationship between Miyagi and Daniel is the heart and soul of this film. And watching Miyagi, you believe that you could learn to defend yourself by a little waxing, sanding, and painting.

 

Of course, the reality is likely far different, as lampooned in a recent Modern Family episode.

 

“This Daniel dude is about to get his ass kicked. He’s had no real training. You gotta do push-ups, cardio . . . Waxing a car? That’s how we haze the probies at the firehouse. The old dude has no idea what he’s talking about.”

 

“Yeah, why is the kid still listening to that crazy old man? It seems like he’s just using him to do chores.”

 

Time has not been as kind to Macchio’s Daniel, who often comes across as whiny—a bit like how we choose to forget how Luke acted with Uncle Owen on the moisture farm in Star Wars . . . Also, it’s tough to imagine a seasoned karate champion like Cobra Kai Sensei Kreese openly threatening to attack a young boy and old man, but this film uses no grey strokes when painting its villains.

The Karate Kid

Visually, The Karate Kid is a bit of a mixed bag. Many scenes look terrific, but other scenes exhibit a fairly significant amount of grain and noise. As the movie opens with Daniel and his mom driving from New Jersey to California, there is so much grain in the daytime sky scenes, I stopped the film and checked to ensure I was actually watching the 4K version. The grain was also noticeable in other outdoor day scenes, such as when Miyagi is practicing the Crane technique at the ocean.

The Karate Kid

The night scenes generally looked far less noisy, exhibiting clean, dark blacks. The scene with Daniel and Ali (Elizabeth Shue) at the mini-golf course looked especially good, with the HDR highlights used to good effect. HDR is also used effectively in the scene where Daniel is practicing balance on a boat on the water, with the bright

sunlight highlights contrasting nicely with the black shadows. The tournament fight scenes also benefit here, along with colors that are rich and vibrant, especially the canary yellow Chevy convertible that Miyagi gives Daniel.

 

Fine detail is revealed in closeups. There were a few scenes of Ali’s sweaters where you could see individual threads; same with Miyagi’s bonsai trees, where single needles are visible. This level of detail reveals just a bit too much during the scene where Miyagi and Daniel try to catch a fly with chopsticks, and the wire used to move the fly is clearly visible.

 

Sonically, the new Dolby Atmos soundtrack is used sparingly but effectively. Many scenes, such as at the school, tournament, and arcade, benefit from increased spaciousness and ambience. There are some effective hard-pans, such as when we first enter the Cobra Kai dojo and hear Sensei barking orders well off to the side, or when they’re harassing Daniel on motorbikes. Bill Conti’s score is also mixed wide and high, letting the music stand out nicely in key scenes. Don’t expect a lot of low bass here, but dialogue is clear and intelligible throughout.

 

The Karate Kid is one of those films you can revisit and share with new viewers. I watched it with my 12-year-old, and am pleased to say she enjoyed it as much as I did. And the scene where all of Miyagi’s training finally clicks with Daniel is still as great and powerful today as it was 35 years ago. At just $17.99 from the Kaleidescape Movie Store, this is an easy recommendation for any collection.

John Sciacca

The Karate Kid

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 Avengers & Avengers: Age of Ultron

Avengers & Age of Ultron

Like millions of others around the world, my family and I went to see Avengers: Endgame last week when it was released. Rest assured, this will not reveal anything about that film, short of it further cementing my feelings that I would way rather watch movies in the comfort and seclusion of my own home, and that I’m an alpha candidate for day-and-date viewing. (Someone actually brought a toddler, who sat and watched an iPad during the entire movie! Fortunately, the Pad was out of my eyeline or I think I would have flipped out!)

 

After watching Endgame, we decided we should really go back and watch some of the other 21 films that had led us to this, many of which we haven’t seen in years. Since my 12-year-old had never seen The Avengers or the followup, Avengers: Age of Ultron, those seemed like two good choices to start our re-watch journey.

 

Fortuitously, both of these films have been recently re-released with new 4K HDR transfers with Dolby Atmos soundtracks, so that made another terrific reason to revisit. After downloading from the Kaleidescape store, we watched The Avengers on Monday and Ultron on Tuesday.

 

The Avengers is part of Phase One of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), which includes the six films released between 2008 and 2012, and comes after each of the principal characters—Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Loki, and Captain America—have been introduced in their own films. (Clint Barton/Hawkeye [Jeremy Renner] had been introduced via a small cameo in Thor, and Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow [Scarlett Johansson] was introduced in Iron Man 2.)

 

After teasing us with the Tesseract in a post-credits scene in Thor, and then making it a major part of Cap’s focus in Captain America: The First Avenger, the Tesseract (which holds the Space Infinity Stone) has a starring role here in The Avengers. While the previous films had been hinting and playing at cross-pollinating the MCU’s heroes, here they bring all the heroes together, which makes for a far more entertaining experience. I was impressed with how Joss Whedon—who both wrote and directed—was able to build a story by slowly and organically bringing all the characters together, and then giving them near-equal screen time, which allowed them to interact with each other, and play to their strengths and personalities.

 

Avengers definitely lays the groundwork for the various relationships between the characters that continues to play out over the next films. We see the ties between Hawkeye and Black Widow, the roots of animosity between Tony Stark (Robert 

Avengers & Age of Ultron

Downey, Jr.) and Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), which culminates in Captain America: Civil War (which should really have been titled Avengers 3), and the developing frenemy-ship between Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), which plays out in Thor: Ragnarok. Also, the mid-credits scene reveals ultimate baddy, Thanos,though his skin here looks far more purple than blue.

 

The 4K HDR image looks fantastic, with tons of detail and HDR used effectively throughout, bringing

added pop and detail to images. The terrific detail in the costume design is revealed, letting you see the weave in Cap’s suit, and all the scrapes and damage to Iron Man. During one scene between Romanoff and Barton, you see the wear and pores in Barton’s face starkly contrasted with the smooth foundation makeup that makes Romanoff’s skin glow. The added resolution really does a wonderful job revealing those micro-details and texture throughout.

 

HDR is apparent from the outset, illuminating the Tesseract in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s secure fortress as well as the multiple explosions. Tony Stark’s Arc Reactor, boot jets, and energy blasts also benefit nicely from the brightness boost, as does Loki’s glowing scepter and Thor’s lightning blasts. Color throughout is rich and vivid, and wonderfully saturated. Visually, the film looks fantastic, and you’d be hard pressed to tell it is seven years old.

Sonically, The Avengers follows in Disney’s frustrating habit of recording at significantly lower levels and being inconsistent with the depth and impact of bass performance. Fortunately, the first issue is solved by just playing the film back at a higher level than you’d normally use. In my case, we went about 6 dB louder on my Marantz preamp than normal movie-watching levels. With this adjustment, Avengers delivers a pretty engaging Dolby 

Avengers & Age of Ultron

Atmos mix, with a lot of surround and height channel information, specifically in the opening sequence with Loki stealing the Tesseract, the big battle scene aboard the flying aircraft carrier, and the final battle scene in New York.

 

Other scenes benefit from added sonic spaciousness that really opens up both the scenes and your listening room. Bass performance is fairly uneven, providing nice thuds and low-end during some scenes, but is missing or non-existent in others. Overall, though, the Atmos mix here does a good job of immersing you in the swirl of action happening on screen, and dialogue is well recorded and easily understandable throughout.

 

Released in 2015, Avengers: Age of Ultron has Whedon reprising his role as writer and director, and is part of Phase Two of the MCU, which includes six films released between 2013 and 2015. Taking place approximately three years after the events of Avengers, Ultron sees our heroes called on once again to band together to retrieve Loki’s staff, stolen by Hydra. The staff is then used to create Ultron (voiced by James Spader), which was intended to be a Stark global defense program to protect the earth from further alien attack, but which becomes a sentient being intent on wiping out humanity to save the earth. Ultron brings in James Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle) to the action, and also introduces us to twins Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), as well as Jarvis-brought-to-life, Vision (Paul Bettany), making for a fuller character ensemble than the first film.

 

Something about James Spader voicing Ultron just takes me out of this movie. Maybe it’s his smug attitude, or maybe it’s from watching him as Robert California on the The Office or as Raymond Reddington on Blacklist. But for whatever reason, this voice casting didn’t work for me, and kept Ultron from being as intimidating as he could.

 

While some of Ultron feels a bit like “let’s build another Death Star” in that you have our band of heroes battling a huge horde of enemies—the Chitauri in Avengers, Ultron’s robot army here—relentlessly attacking a city—New York in Avengers, Sokovia here—Ultron still offers a lot to enjoy. The developing comradery and interactions between our heroes offers some funny moments (the group trying to pick up Thor’s hammer for one) and continues the MCU storyline that eventually brings us to Endgame. The biggest contribution to the story is that the gem inside of Loki’s scepter is actually the Mind Stone, which ends up being implanted in Vision, and revealing just how powerful Scarlet Witch is. The mid-credits scene also shows us Thanos with the Infinity Gauntlet saying, “Fine, I’ll do it myself.” (Cue ominous music . . .)

Avengers & Age of Ultron

Visually, Ultron is a treat, with tons of detail in every scene. As with Avengers, HDR is used effectively throughout to enhance bright objects like lightning blasts, explosions, and the glowing blue trim on Black Widow’s suit. Perhaps one of the best examples of how HDR improves the image is when you see the visualization of Jarvis as an orange glowing sphere of light along with Ultron as a blue light sphere inside the Avenger Tower. This scene just glows off the screen in this version, and has far better color depth.

 

Sonically, the levels here are once again low, requiring a liberal adjustment of your normal listening level. Other than that, the audio is really inconsistent and anemic in the low-bass frequencies. For example, the Hulkbuster versus Hulk scene has plenty of moments that should be pounding you in the chest and making your sub flex its muscles, but there is virtually nothing in the low end until the building destruction at the end of the scene.

 

Same with the conclusion. There is some really low-end info when Sokovia is lifting off the ground, but very little in the remainder of the battle. For a big action film, this is definitely disappointing. The rest of the Atmos mix is enjoyable, though I didn’t find it as aggressive as Avengers, and the lack of deep-bass engagement keeps this from being as demo-worthy as it could be.

 

For Marvel fans, these films connect the dots to get us to where Endgame finishes this cycle of the MCU, and now in a 4K HDR presentation, they look as good as you’ve ever seen.

John Sciacca

Avengers & Age of Ultron
Avengers & Age of Ultron
Avengers & Age of Ultron

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 Kaleidescape Could Own Day & Date, Pt. 2

How Kaleidescape Could Own Day & Date, Pt. 2

In Part 1, I gave some of the technical reasons why I think Kaleidescape is better positioned than companies like Prima Cinema and Red Carpet Home Cinema to make day & date—the ability to watch movies at home the day they debut in movie theaters—a success. Here, I’ll focus more on the logistical and strategic reasons for why I think it has the potential to be the most viable day & date provider.

 

6) CONTROLLED ROLLOUT

Sure, there are bigger companies than Kaleidescape out there—like, say, Apple or Vudu—that have a lot of studio agreements in place and are set up to handle secure transactions, but day & date isn’t going to be rolled out wide to a mass-market audience.

 

The movie studios want to release this in a very controlled manner so if there’s a problem, they can shove the genie back into the bottle as easily as possible. That just wouldn’t be possible with a $149 mass-market device like an Apple TV.

 

Even if Kaleidescape made day & date available to every one of its customers worldwide on Day One, we’re still talking thousands of systems, or a very small percentage of the movie-watching population. But day & date will probably begin in the US, which would cut the number down considerably. And, it probably wouldn’t be rolled out as a firmware update for all 

Kaleidescape users, but would likely be offered to a very select beta of 50 to 100 power users, whose systems would be updated with new firmware and then monitored during the beta period.

 

Another possibility would be for Kaleidescape to approach existing Bel Air Circuit members to become system owners (or be loaned beta-enabled systems). What group to better give day & date access to than one that already has it?

 

And, while the company won’t publicly comment on system owners, it’s pretty well known that Kaleidescape systems are already owned by many Hollywood A-listers. This 

would be another avenue for a controlled rollout, targeting a select group of influencers who could experience the system in action and become more comfortable with supporting day & date releases.

 

7) ALREADY OWNED BY MANY CINEPHILES

You know who’s going to be the most interested in buying day & date content for viewing at home at premium pricing? Luxury cinema owners who love movies. And you know what system many luxury cinema owners and movie lovers already own? Yup. Kaleidescape.

Why Kaleidescape Could Own Day & Date, Pt. 2

And for those who currently aren’t system owners but who love the idea of enjoying first-run content at home, the price of entry is far more obtainable with Kaleidescape than with Prima or Red Carpet. For under $4,500, someone could buy a Strato S 4K Ultra HD movie player (shown above) with 6 Terabytes of storage, enough to hold about 90 4K Ultra HD movies. This would be affordable for far more people than the .1% targeted by Prima and Red Carpet, and not an unreasonable amount to spend in a luxury media room costing $25,000 or more.

 

8) INTEGRATION PARTNER CHANNEL

End users aren’t going to be able to just stroll into a Best Buy, pick up a day & date system, take it home, and install and activate it themselves. Something this sophisticated and bulletproof requires professional integration and handholding.

 

While I’ve no doubt Red Carpet will be able to find a dealer base—though Prima might have a harder row to hoe should they return to operation—Kaleidescape already has an established and reputable dealer network.

 

Since its inception, Kaleidescape has worked hand-in-hand with the custom installation channel, having some of the best CEDIA and HTA-certified members in its ranks, ensuring that its hardware is properly installed and configured. Realizing that its systems are only as good and stable as their installation, Kaleidescape only sells through a network of custom installers that can handle complete installation and system integration. This also ensures that the system works with the customer’s control system and is calibrated with their video and audio system, and that the network is configured for a stable experience.

 

9) PROVEN LUXURY TECHNOLOGY

When Kaleidescape hit the market in the early 2000s, the first system sold for more than $30,000, which obviously meant only a small subset of home theater owners could afford it. Almost 20 years later, the luxury market remains Kaleidescape’s core demographic.

Kaleidescape systems also have a phenomenal reputation for bulletproof operation. Every system includes dealer tools like remote system health monitoring and automatic notifications should a system have an issue such as loss of network connectivity, overheating, or hard disc trouble. This allows dealers to address problems proactively before there’s a loss of operation.

 

Unlike other companies, which are outsourcing their hardware or software, Kaleidescape has end-to-end control over every aspect of its system. It runs its own Movie Store and handles all movie encodes (see “How Kaleidescape Makes Movies Look Amazing”), and has 

dedicated engineering and tech support teams. In short, if there’s ever a problem with any aspect of a Kaleidescape system, there’s one clear route to getting it resolved.   

 

10) COULD CO-EXIST WITH OTHER PREMIUM OFFERINGS

In my conversation with Red Carpet’s Fred Rosen, he said they asked the studios, “What will it take to make this happen? You set the price and terms.” So presumably the studios feel day & date content is worth somewhere in the $500 to $3,000 range.

 

Frankly, these prices seem untenable for most Kaleidescape customers, and I question how many among even the ultra-wealthy are willing to buy a movie for viewing at such a massive premium. Or how often they would choose to do so beyond a once- or twice-a-year novelty. (Honestly, for $3,000, you could just call up a theater, buy every seat, and have your own private screening.)

 

But, for the sake of argument, let’s assume Red Carpet—and even Prima, upon return—establishes this as the price for day & date viewing. Kaleidescape could then decide to establish itself as a premium video-on-demand solution for early theatrical release, offering movies just after that first week or two when most films bring in about 90% of their box-office take.

Let Red Carpet and Prima charge $500 to $3,000 for the privilege of being able to see a movie at home on opening day. Kaleidescape could then make it available after the first week for, say, $300, then maybe $200 after the second week, dropping to $100 after the first month. At these tiered prices, Kaleidescape owners could regularly consume premium theatrical content without having a significant impact of the theater owners’ bottom line.

 

Think of this as being akin to air travel. You have the money-no-object group of private jet owners who think nothing of dropping millions on the plane itself and then thousands in operational costs for each flight. That is the Bel Air Circuit crowd. Then you have those who prefer fractional jet ownership via companies like NetJets. While by no means inexpensive, this has far lower buy-in and pay-by-hour operation costs. This would be the Red Carpet and Prima customer. Then there are people who still want a luxury travel experience but don’t care to shell out the ultra-premium costs for private travel, opting to fly First Class instead. This would be the Kaleidescape customer.

 

 

When I asked Kaleidescape about possible day & date plans, the company’s official response was, “We won’t comment on any speculation or rumors.” But it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to connect the dots and realize that the company would be keenly interested in pursuing this potentially game-changing feature. In fact, one need only read the comments CEO Cheena Srinivasan gave in an interview a couple of years ago. When asked about Kaleidescape’s possible involvement with day & date, he said:

 

I believe in the concept of offering new-release movies still playing in the neighborhood theaters to luxury home cinema customers. It will become a reality.

 

According to a recent survey by MGM Resorts, watching movies in a movie theater was cited as the most popular way to be entertained, followed closely by watching movies at home. People who own a luxury home cinema have little need to go to a theater. They would rather wait until the movie is released for home viewing.

 

Since theater owners lose no revenue from people in this category, a premium-priced rental for this audience during the theatrical window won’t cannibalize the exhibitors’ revenues. For the content owners, monetizing content from this audience makes good business sense. We’re well positioned to offer such a service—it is not a technological barrier, as Kaleidescape is already regarded as a respected supplier of both products and content designed with the highest content-protection safeguards available in the market today.

 

Again, all of my comments here are just speculation and conjecture, but movies are being made available at home sooner and sooner after they’re in theaters, and premium day & date services already exist. So the big question isn’t whether day & date is going to happen, but who’s in the best position to offer it securely and reliably over the long run.

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 Kaleidescape Could Own Day & Date, Pt. 1

Why Kaleidescape Could Own Day & Date, Pt. 1

After my last two posts—”Day & Date Finally Get Real, Pt. 1” and “Pt. 2“—where I explored the current and proposed options for viewing movies at home on the day and date they’re released in theaters, I thought I’d offer a bit of speculation on why I think the best approach to this might already exist with Kaleidescape.

 

When you consider the various boxes that need to be checked to make day & date a success—something I’ll do here by comparing Kaleidescape with the existing options—it can be argued that they already have enough of the pieces in place to be the strongest contender.

As a Kaleidescape owner, reviewer, and dealer, I feel I’m in a pretty strong position to make this claim. I’ve been following the company virtually since its inception, with my first review published in Sound & Vision magazine back in 2003. Since that time, I’ve lived with or reviewed virtually every product the company has produced, been involved in beta testing, and currently own a Strato 4K HDR player along with a Premiere system with players in two locations and with two disc storage vaults managing my collection of approximately 500 movies. 

 

So here are ten reasons why I feel Kaleidescape could own the day & date market.

 

1)  STUDIO AGREEMENTS

One of Prima Cinema’s biggest initial drawbacks was the lack of studio agreements—something that could hinder Red Carpet Home Cinema as well. The number of studios on board determines the movies you can watch. In short, no studios, no movies.

 

Prima launched with only three major studios. Red Carpet is coming to market with four majors and one minor, Annapurna Pictures. (The company lists 20th Century Fox as a licensee, but it currently offers no films from them. When I asked CEO Fred Rosen if the recent Disney acquisition of Fox would affect this relationship, he coyly responded, “Only the Shadow knows . . .”) This means there is often a real shortage of content to watch. For example, you won’t be watching the blockbuster Avengers: Endgame in any Prima or Red Carpet cinema.

 

Kaleidescape, on the other hand, has agreements with 38 studios. This includes all of the majors except MGM, as well as a host of minor, independent, and foreign companies. And, yes, it includes Disney and all its properties: Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, and Disney Animation.

 

These existing relationships put Kaleidescape in a strong position to negotiate for day & date terms, and to have an unmatched amount of content on hand for viewing.

2)  ROBUST COPY PROTECTION

Hollywood is (rightfully) very paranoid about protecting its content. I mean, if you invested $100-million-plus in something with a potential $1 billion return, you probably would be too. So any technology that will let you watch this precious content in the privacy of your home is going to require some pretty hefty safeguards to prevent piracy.

 

When it comes to security protocols, I don’t believe any consumer electronics device in history is more locked down than Prima. Since I described those protocols in detail in “Day & Date Finally Gets Real, Pt. 1,” I won’t recount them again here. 

But Prima does do everything imaginable to ensure that no piracy takes place on its watch. 

 

They also require every installed location to have a static IP address that’s registered and white-listed with them. (Red Carpet has the same requirement.) This ensures that the system is only being used at your home. While Kaleidescape doesn’t currently require this level of security, its system doesn’t have any hardware and technology limitations that would prevent it from being implemented if the studios required it.

 

Prima and Red Carpet also employ digital watermarking, which means every presentation is uniquely tagged and can be identified back to a specific viewing session if it’s illegally recorded and released. Kaleidescape is also ready to do this, having signed a deal with Nagra to implement its NexGuard technology, called “the world’s leading forensic watermarking technology.”

 

Of course, 100% piracy prevention is impossible, as shown by the fact that Avengers: Endgame was released to Chinese Torrent sites within hours of the film’s premiere in China. But Kaleidescape has been fanatical about protecting content, securely storing movies on its servers 

for years without a single report of the system being hacked or exploited, so its proprietary hardware and software should pass Hollywood muster.

 

3)  NOT A ONE-TRICK PONY

Perhaps the biggest differentiator between Kaleidescape and systems like Prima and Red Carpet is that the latter exist solely to provide day & date content while, with Kaleidescape, day & date would just be icing on an already fully-featured and delicious cake.

 

When Prima went dark back in 2016, system owners were left with a $35,000 paperweight. Movies stopped downloading, and the system effectively ceased to function. (The company expects to make an announcement in July following a round of funding in June, so hopefully this will bring existing systems back to operational status.) Should Red Carpet fail, or the studios decide to cease support, one would assume that its $15,000 hardware would also become just another expensive conversation piece.

 

But Kaleidescape has nearly 20 years of proven service. Even if studios decided that day & date was a horrible mistake (unlikely), Kaleidescape owners would still have a system that functions 100% the way it does today, and any movies already bought and downloaded would continue to play. And instead of being limited to a single (expensive) viewing of a film or a brief viewing window, Kaleidescape owners can accumulate a library of content they can watch at any time.

 

4) EXISTING INTERFACE FOR SECURE TRANSACTIONS

While Prima’s biometric fingerprint reader for authenticating purchases might seem extreme, it does prevent your 10-year-old from firing up the theater and ordering a bunch of movies at $500 a pop. But it also means nobody else in the family can use 

the system if the enrolled fingerprint member is away.

 

Red Carpet doesn’t need fingerprint authentication for purchases, but does require customers to have a credit card on file with a limit of “at least $50,000.”

 

Kaleidescape’s Movie Store already provides a secure way to handle 

Why Kaleidescape Could Own Day & Date, Pt. 1

transactions. Customers have been buying movies online and downloading them from the Store for years, so a system for shopping, billing, and delivery is already up and running, and works.

 

With its recently introduced iOS app, Kaleidescape customers can make purchases using an iPhone or iPad that can be authenticated by a fingerprint or Face ID. This system is fast, secure, and effective. Buying movies via the onscreen interface requires just a PIN code to complete the transaction.

 

If Hollywood required customers to have a registered fingerprint reader for added security, Kaleidescape could probably easily add this feature. Every Strato player has a currently unused USB connection. With a firmware update and a sub-$100 USB fingerprint scanner, this feature—like whitelisting an IP address—should be something that could be added.

 

5)  SUPPORTS HIGHEST-QUALITY AUDIO & VIDEO

While Prima’s video was considered stellar at the time the system was introduced, delivering better-than-Blu-ray quality 10-bit 4:2:2 images, it was limited to 1080p resolution, which trails behind the premium experience available on today’s 4K Blu-ray discs. The company had plans to release updated hardware (reportedly selling for $50,000, or a $15,000 upgrade to existing owners) that would support 4K HDR video and lossless audio formats like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, but that has yet to come to fruition.

 

Red Carpet will presumably be delivering films in 4K HDR with lossless audio via Vubiquity, a premium content distributor that supports this level of delivery.

 

Meanwhile, the Kaleidescape Movie Store features hundreds of titles in 4K HDR resolution, many with lossless Dolby Atmos soundtracks. And unlike streaming content, which requires heavy compression to get through a narrow network pipe, Kaleidescape’s content is 100% downloaded to a local server, similar to how both Prima and Red Carpet operate. This already exceeds the presentation found in most commercial cinemas, and also exceeds the very best experience offered by 4K Ultra HD Blu-rays—without the storage limitations of a physical disc—and would likely be the quality provided for day & date releases.

 

 

In Part 2, I’ll talk about how, unlike services like Red Carpet and Prima, Kaleidescape already has a significant customer base with both the hardware and the financial means to support day & date in a big way right out of the gate.

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 Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

The Lego Movie 2

It’s been five years since The Lego Movie hit the big screen. That film’s near $500 MM box office take all but guaranteed a sequel, which arrives with a very on-the-nose, Emmet-esque title The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, available on 4K HDR download from Kaleidescape a full three weeks before the disc release.

 

The first film is a popular one in our household, with an incredibly original story that brings together multiple disparate aspects of the Lego universe and features some wonderful cameos and voice acting that make it very rewatchable. I was skeptical a sequel wouldn’t be able recapture the brilliance of the original, but the 2017 spinoff, The Lego Batman Movie, proved the writers could keep it fresh and clever, thus keeping me hopeful.

 

The Lego Movie 2 does what a sequel needs to do, picking up where the story left off and bringing the original gang of beloved characters back and throwing them into new adventures. Returning from the original are the main characters of 

Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt), Wyldstyle/Lucy (Elizabeth Banks), Batman (Will Arnett), Unikitty (Alison Brie), Spaceman Benny (Charlie Day), and MetalBeard (Nick Offerman).

 

The benefit of a sequel is that you can jump right into the story, which The Second Part does. While viewers of the first movie will definitely get more 

of the jokes, watching the original isn’t a prerequisite. (But if you haven’t seen it, you definitely should.) The sequel picks up immediately after the events of the first film, when President Business/Dad (Will Ferrell) decided to open up his basement Lego sanctuary to his son, Finn (Jadon Sand). Of course, now that Finn can play, that means younger daughter, Bianca (Brooklynn Prince), also gets in on the fun as well.

 

The film then jumps five years forward, keeping both real time and movie time in sync. The kids have grown and have radically different playing—errr, building—styles. Bianca’s Duplo characters come in and wreak havoc on Finn’s Bricksburg, destroying everything new he builds. (For the uninformed, Duplo is the Lego product designed for kids under 5, being larger than traditional bricks, making them easier for little hands to handle and less likely to be swallowed. And, yes, I had to look 

that up.)  This causes the characters to live in a new town, Apocalypseburg—a dusty, unfinished, Mad Max-esque world where everyone has to be cynical and tough to live. Except, of course, Emmet, who remains as optimistic and happy as ever.

 

Sweet Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz) soon attacks, capturing our main band of heroes and taking them to the Systar System, where Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi—“Whatever I want to be”—wants to throw a wedding ceremony that will either stop or summon the world-ending event, Armamageddon. 

The Lego Movie 2

Emmet goes off to rescue them, traveling through a portal called The Stairgate to dimensions unknown, where he runs into Rex Dangervest (also voiced by Pratt), a tougher, “Galaxy-defending archaeologist, cowboy, and raptor trainer” who has “chiseled features previously hidden under baby fat!”—a much cooler, braver, alter-ego version of himself.

 

The trick for animated titles is to have jokes, dialogue, and a storyline that plays across a wide range of ages, letting adults and kids enjoy the film equally on separate levels. And The Second Part succeeded here, keeping myself, my 3-year-old, and my 12-year-old engaged throughout. One huge difference between this and the first film is that The Second Part has so many song breaks, it almost plays like a musical. (The ever-aware characters even make jokes about this.) Where the first film had one big song moment, here there are seven. Fortunately, the lyrics are pretty hilarious and the tunes catchy, and as one character advises, “Just listen to the music and let your mind go.” 

 

Sometimes, the film seems to be trying too hard to recapture the formula of the first one. For example, Lego Movie 2 is clearly trying to repeat the earworm success of the first film’s ultra-catchy hit “Everything is Awesome!” This time around the song is literally called “Catchy Song,” with the repeating chorus of, “This song’s gonna get stuck inside your head.” And yes, it does.

 

We also get a ton of call backs, cameos, and pop culture references, one wonderfully played by Bruce Willis.

The Lego Movie 2

The Second Part also has Beck’s “Super Cool”—one of the best end-credits songs ever. Featuring Robyn and The Lonely Island, it has brilliant lyrics like, “It’s the credits, yeah that’s the best part / When the movie ends and the reading starts / You can keep your adventure and all that action / ‘cause the credits of the film are the main attraction.”

 

Modern computer animation nearly always looks fantastic on home video, and the 4K HDR video here just looks stellar. Every closeup reveals remarkable detail from the mini-figs or bricks being played with, showing minute scratches, fingerprints, wear, and pebbly or plastic texture. The lighting is also amazingly well done, revealing subtly different features and details in the bricks and characters as they move and rotate. As a result, nearly every frame is a feast for the eyes. The colors also really pop, especially the deep, vibrant reds, with HDR highlights used throughout.

 

Sonically, the Dolby Atmos soundtrack is not the most aggressive ever, but it does a good job serving the onscreen action and offers a lot of directional audio placing sounds all around the room. The overhead height speakers are called into action in key scenes, further adding to the immersive experience and expanding the sonic space or environment of the scenes. Dialogue also remains clear and intelligible throughout. 

 

The Blu-ray-quality download (included at no charge with the 4K HDR version) includes a variety of extras and features, including some making-of docs, deleted scenes, the short “Emmet’s Holiday Party,” and the full-length “Everything Is Awesome Sing-Along Version” that makes for a fun second (or third) viewing, with a lot of trivia and extras littered throughout.

 

While the jury is out on whether The Lego Movie 2 will have the replay value of the first film, one thing that isn’t in question is how well this movie looks on a quality 4K HDR display. This makes a fantastic option for gathering the family together for a fun movie night.

John Sciacca

The Lego Movie 2

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.

Day & Date Finally Gets Real, Pt. 2

In Part 1, I talked about companies that either currently offer or are about to offer the ability to watch movies at home the day they’re released in theaters. Here, I’m going to look towards “things that are coming,” and discuss a service on the horizon called Xcinex (pronounced See-nex).

 

I’ve already written a couple of posts about this company—you can read Part 1 and Part 2 here—but here’s a quick look at what they’re up to. Xcinex is a Silicon Valley startup that, unlike Red Carpet Home Cinema, is definitely looking to disrupt and change the whole movie delivery model. While Red Carpet requires a hefty $15,000 buy-in, Xcinex wants to sell you its Venue hardware for an almost unbelievable $29.95. (That’s not a typo.) And instead of paying thousands per movie, Xcinex expects its pricing to be similar to what you pay now when you go to a movie theater.

 

It’s been over a year since I wrote my original post on Xcinex, so I reached out to Founder and CEO Cihan Fuat Atkin, to see if they’re still on track for launch. According to Atkin, they expect to begin selling Venue by the end of 2019 at $29.95, and to have content available for purchase at that time.

Day & Date Finally Gets Real, Pt. 2

One of the biggest differences between Xcinex and the other options—short of hardware costing fractions less—is its per-viewer pricing model. For example, while you pay $500 to watch a movie with Prima Cinema whether you’re watching alone or with a houseful of guests, Xcinex will follow the movie theater model of charging per each set of eyeballs. This also enables studios to have a more accurate count of how many people are actually watching a film.

 

How does Xcinex do this? The Venue set-top box has a sensor that monitors the room while a movie is playing to see how many people are watching. It also keeps piracy at bay by looking for any devices that could be recording the film.

 

This obviously raises some privacy concerns, since most people aren’t keen on having a sensor keep tabs on them while they watch movies. Atkin said Xcinex has redesigned its hardware since my last conversation to address this. Venue is now 100%

Bluetooth, which means it no longer has a network connection and can no longer be remotely accessed or send any images. All image analyzation is now done locally, in real time, without being stored or submitted.

 

Xcinex is proposing a 95% revenue payback to studios, which can then distribute a share of the money back to the local theater, cutting them into the sale just as if someone had gone there and bought a ticket. Viewers can select a theater if they’re part of its loyalty program or Xcinex can send the revenue to the nearest cinema. 

 

Atkin said Xcinex is looking to “bring the 1% experience to the masses,” and that his company will be applying for app approval on all major services, including Apple, Roku, and Android; smart TVs; and game consoles like PlayStation and Xbox.

 

While he expects to have content available at launch, Atkin couldn’t name any studios that had signed on to support Xcinex. He did say he fully expects to have a mix of independents, foreign, and live content, and that while day-and-date availability will be up to individual studios, that is his company’s ultimate goal. “We wouldn’t have spent the past five years working on this if we didn’t expect it to be a reality,” Atkin said.

 

Over the past year, Xcinex has been busy streamlining the process for using its product, simplifying operation and the movie selection and purchase process, which will now all be completed via the onscreen app instead of requiring a separate phone or tablet.

 

Atkin did share some information that some might find more than just a bit invasive. Xcinex plans to be able to supply data to content providers on viewer behavior during films. To help studios know how content is performing, the sensor would be able to analyze audiences and share whether viewers laughed, cried, or got up during a scene. And while it wouldn’t be sharing specific information such as “John laughed, at 2 minutes 10 seconds in,” it could share information like “two out of four viewers laughed.” He said this feature won’t be active at launch, and users could opt out of sharing this data when it becomes available.

At its bargain-basement pricing, Xcinex could find itself successful even if it never gets a single studio to sign on for early-release windows. In fact, it might ultimately find more success in selling access to live events like concerts, sports, or plays. Imagine being able to buy a ticket to watch Hamilton or see Taylor Swift when the event is happening hundreds of miles away or sold out? Or being able to view indy or foreign films that don’t get a wide release?

 

Finally, you can’t have an article on day-and-date services without mentioning The Screening Room. This was the brainchild of Sean Parker of Napster and Facebook fame announced back in 2016 that created a wildfire of buzz in the industry for about two months.

 

Parker’s idea was that hardware would cost $150, and viewers would buy films for $50, giving them access to a 48-hour window. Of that $50, an equal share would go to both the studios and the local theater chain, cutting everyone in on the action.

 

Adding to the buzz, the service had vocal support of some pretty big Hollywood influencers like J.J. Abrams, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Peter Jackson, and Ron Howard. But it had an equal if not greater number of people—including Cristopher Nolan, James Cameron, M. Night Shyamalan, and Kevin Tsujihara CEO of Warner Bros.—speaking out against it, not to mention theater chain owners

 

But just like a shooting star that shines bright and burns out quickly, as fast as The Screening Room came to attention, it seems to have completely disappeared into the ether. Since June 2016, there has been almost no news or information on the company. One small update from The Wrap in March 2017 said the company was working on developing new security protocols to address piracy concerns and that The Screening Room planned on attending CinemaCon. There has been nothing about the company since.

 

With companies like Netflix and Amazon pushing release windows and creating Oscar-worthy content directly for streaming, it seems that day-and-date releases are inevitable, and at this point it seems more a question of when and who rather than if.

 

—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.