John Sciacca Tag

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.

What Makes a Projection Screen Luxury?

What Makes a Projection Screen Luxury?

The natural followup to my post “What Makes a Video Display Luxury?” is to talk about projection screens. There is a reason why projection systems—whether front or rear—are often referred to as “two-piece,” because the projector and screen play near equal roles in delivering the best image quality possible.

 

Fact is, no matter how fantastic your projector is, the image you‘re watching is reflected off of a screen, and an inferior one will rob a projector of its maximum performance potential by actually introducing artifacts or color shifts to the image or by just not delivering all the detail and resolution the projector is capable of.

For some assistance with this, I reached out to Robert Keeler, Vice President of Sales at Stewart Filmscreen. Stewart has been building high-performance screens for the luxury commercial, professional, and home cinema markets for the past 71 years, and is widely regarded as a leader in the premium screen category.

 

BETTER BUILD QUALITY

Like any premium product, a luxury screen will exhibit better build quality. This means frame corners that meet perfectly and screen material that’s tensioned to remain perfectly flat. A fixed screen (as opposed to a motorized model that rolls up and down) will have a velvet-like coating around the frame to absorb stray light and enhance contrast, and motorized models use quieter motors. And, since the screen is  the most visible part of most theater systems, it’s important to have one that looks good whether the lights are on or off. 

 

While not part of build quality per se, luxury screen systems also offer more ways to interface with advanced control systems, say either via contact closures, relays,

infra-red, RS-232, or IP. This ensures that the screen can accept the correct cues from, say, a Kaleidescape system when you’re switching between movies that have different aspect ratios. 

 

MASKING SYSTEM

Speaking of aspect ratios, the best luxury projection screens incorporate masking, which is black material that closes off, or “masks,” the unused screen area so just the projected image is visible. This eliminates any distracting white space around the image.

 

According to Robert Keeler, “The majority of [TV and projection] screens sold are 1.78 to 1, 16 by 9 aspect ratio, so we are used to seeing black bars either on the top and bottom or the sides of the image depending on the content aspect ratio. As good as projectors are getting, they are still widely based on a 16 by 9 chipset, so content with any aspect ratio other than 16 by 9 will have visible black bars showing.”

 

With front projectors, these black bars aren’t truly black because the projector is emitting some stray light. This ends up lowering the contrast ratio of the image. So having masking to cover these unused parts of the image visibly improves the picture quality.

 

But, aspect ratios can be tricky, since filmmakers choose different ratios based on the look they’re hoping to achieve. (See the diagram below.) For example, older films like The Maltese Falcon or Casablanca are 1.33:1, many documentaries like Free Solo are 1.78:1, some directors prefer using 1.85:1 such as Spielberg for Saving Private Ryan, E.T., and Jurassic Park, and you have “widescreen” films like Lawrence of Arabia at 2.2:1, Star Wars at 2.35:1, Bohemian Rhapsody at 2.4:1, and Ben Hur at 2.76:1.

What Makes a Projection Screen Luxury?

The ultimate solution is a system that can adjust all four sides of the screen image, like Stewart Filmscreen’s Director’s Choice, which uses a 4-way masking system.“This is the epitome of Hollywood,” Keeler says, “with the ability to frame the content so the black bars are invisible and only the content is being shown, whatever the aspect ratio.”

 

SCREEN MATERIAL

Choosing the correct screen material is about more than just its color. Screens use something called gain, which can increase or decrease the amount of light coming off the screen, but can also limit the viewing angle. Also, screens with high amounts of gain can introduce artifacts known as “hotspotting,” where images are brighter in the middle of the screen than at the sides, and “color shifting,” where colors can look different depending on where the viewer is seated. Discussing your media room needs based on its size, seating layout, and lighting conditions with a qualified installer will allow them to guide you in selecting the correct screen material for your installation.

 

“With more than 25 material choices, Stewart Filmscreen can offer end users the right material for the task at hand, rear projection and front projection alike,” Keeler said. “While some may choose not to go with the ultimate cinematic experience, they can at least purchase the very same screen material used by Hollywood directors, post-production departments, colorists, studios, etc.”

 

DIFFERENT SCREENS FOR DIFFERENT CONDITIONS

Say you have a room you use for a variety of activities. Maybe for a lot of gaming or TV watching during the day, but mostly for movie watching at night. Or maybe sometimes you like to watch with the lights up, and other times you want it pitch black. A screen that works best for one of these situations might not be right for the other. One incredibly innovative solution for this is Stewart’s Gemini.

What Makes a Projection Screen Luxury?

“Gemini [shown above] is a unique product that addresses a varied usage model,” Keeler explains. “While masking screens exist to accommodate a variety of aspect ratios, Gemini addresses the variety of usage model. Watching movies [usually] suggests a completely light controlled environment and the content is often in Cinemascope, 2:35 to 2:4. Whereas watching TV suggests the lights are on and the content is 1.78, 16 by 9. The screen material choice for one activity is likely the wrong choice for the other activity. With that in mind, Gemini is a dual-roller motorized screen that deploys a reference-grade material for movies, and an ambient-light-rejecting material when watching TV, giving viewers the best performance whatever the situation.”

 

ACOUSTICALLY TRANSPARENT

Another potential benefit of a luxury screen is using a material that’s acoustically transparent. Initially acoustically transparent screens used lots of tiny perforations to allow sound to pass through, but all of these holes allowed the projector’s light to pass through as well, resulting in a loss of brightness. Also, the holes would actually interact with the pixel structure of the projector and introduce a video artifact known as moiré.

 

While perforation technology has advanced to address these issues, another option pioneered by screen manufacturer Screen Research is to use woven material that allows sound to pass through without being degraded by the screen. Kind of like a special-purpose speaker grille cloth, these screens let you position your main three front speaker channels directly behind the screen just like at a movie theater. The benefits of this are twofold. First, you don’t have to worry about the speaker’s look or style impacting the overall look of the room, which can allow the installer to use a larger/better speaker that otherwise wouldn’t fit with the room’s décor. Second, with the speakers located behind the screen, the audio cues precisely track the onscreen action, perfectly marrying the picture and sound.

 

 

To wrap up, Keeler commented, “There is some science behind integrating the projector and the screen along with the room and viewing habits, and a luxury brand should be able to not only help with selecting appropriate screen size and material choices, but be well versed in other aspects of the project such as audio and video, and the rest of the package and maintain relationships with all sorts of ancillary brands to support the Big Screen Experience.”

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.

Aquaman

Aquaman

I grew up a fan of DC Comics—which is the other universe outside of Marvel—that includes the Justice League comprised of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, and Aquaman. And while I’m assuming Aquaman was given his fair share of ink over the years, I can’t really remember anything about his backstory, or him doing anything stand-out. Thus, his storyline never really resonated with me, and I remember him as just being kind of an “extra” figure who only really came into the action when things moved to the water.

 

Starting with 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, DC looked to “Marvel-ize” its extended universe of heroes by introducing other characters. In that film, Wonder Woman was introduced and given a fairly significant role, but we were also given glimpses of other heroes, namely The Flash, Cyborg, and Aquaman. Those heroes would ultimately be brought together to make up the recent Justice League film. While B v S was generally panned, we can thank it for at least one thing: It gave us Wonder Woman, a fantastic film that showed our favorite Amazon warrior princess’ origin story perfectly portrayed by Gal Gadot.

 

Looking to capitalize on Wonder Woman’s momentum, DC delivers the second spinoff of its Extended Universe with Aquaman. As is the recent trend, Aquaman was available for digital download in 4K HDR with a Dolby Atmos soundtrack as of March 5, a full three weeks before it is released on physical media.

 

Aquaman was one of those films on my “definitely want to see” radar, but not high enough that I wanted to go through the hassle of seeing it in a movie theater. I thought Jason Mamoa’s portrayal of Atlantis’ rightful heir-to-the-throne, Arthur Curry, in Justice League, was pretty great. He was about as reluctant a hero as possible, wanting nothing to do with the limelight, and spending his days saving wayward fishermen and drinking at the local pub.

 

This movie begins by introducing us to Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), queen of Atlantis who is rescued by a lighthouse keeper. They fall in love, and young Arthur is born. However, Atlanna is forced to return to Atlantis, and she entrusts Arthur’s training to her advisor, Vulko (Willem Defoe). When Arthur learns his mother was executed for having a half-breed son with a human, he swears off Atlantis, and returns to his unassuming life of protecting sailors. Arthur is ultimately drawn into a battle between his half-brother, Orm (Patrick Wilson), who wants the sea kingdoms to unite and declare war on the surface world. To claim his rightful place on Atlantis’ throne and prevent this all-out war, Arthur begins a quest to find the Trident of Atlan. He is aided along the way by Mera (Amber Heard), who ultimately becomes his queen.

 

At 2 hours 23 minutes, Aquaman is not a short film, but there’s no shortage of action and beautiful onscreen visuals and sonic mayhem to keep you engaged along the way. In fact, it almost feels like James Wan’s (Furious 7, Saw) directorial direction was, “That looks great, but is there any way we could work a fight scene or some other bit of action in here?” The result for me was a movie that was entertaining to watch, but a tad short on substance, so that I’m not left remembering a lot of specifics or story in between all the mayhem and destruction.

 

You’ve got to hand it to Mamoa in that the dude sure looks like he can fight. The fight scenes with him really look like he is utterly smashing people with crushing blows, and when he picks up some massive object (say, a Russian nuclear submarine), you have the impression that he could actually do it. Also, who knew Aquaman was bulletproof? Mamoa does a good job injecting some sarcastic humor into the role, and, like Gadot as Wonder Woman, it is difficult to imagine another actor that could have pulled off Aquaman.

 

While taken from a 2K Digital Intermediate, I never felt the image lacked detail. In fact, far from it. Water is one of those things that can really benefit from HDR’s wider color gamut, and the underwater scenes all look gorgeous, with lots of bright and delineated blues and greens. There is a lot of phosphorescence in the undersea kingdoms, with colors that pop off the screen. You also get excellent shadow detail and no banding issues. The various characters’ hair all flows and gently waves around their heads while they are underwater, further adding to the illusion. Closeups have a ton of detail, like the detailing in the characters’ costumes or individual water droplets. There is nary a bit of grain, and black levels are deep and solid. One of the many fight scenes takes place outside in Sicily, and has several long shots where the camera pulls back to see the housetops. It looks fantastic—edge detail is sharp and the HDR highlights really come through.

 

Sonically, the Dolby Atmos soundtrack is quite aggressive and plays wonderfully in a luxury home theater. There is a lot of deep, seismic bass info to keep your subs happy, and the surround channels are used frequently and effectively to put you in the action. The sound design team also uses the height speakers to frequent and good effect, placing appropriate sounds above you like rain and footsteps. Also, I’ve noticed many recent films are over-mixing action into the center channel, which can make dialogue difficult to understand, but I (happily) didn’t have any issues with dialogue intelligibility here.

 

While some of the talk about sea kingdoms and rulers reminded me of the Senate redistricting mess of Star Wars: Episode I, and some of the underwater alien battle scenes were reminiscent of Starship Troopers, and visually I was often reminded of Pandora from Avatar, overall Aquaman makes for a fun night in the home theater. And after raking in over $1.14 billion at the box office, a sequel is already in the works.

John Sciacca

Aquaman

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.

Ep. 5: How to Find the Perfect Integrator

The Cineluxe Hour logo

Episode 5 opens with hosts Michael Gaughn and Dennis Burger setting the stage for a discussion of technology integrators—what used to be called “custom installers”—the people you hire to install TVs, speakers, projectors, and security and lighting systems.

 

At 3:39, Josh Christian of the Home Technology Association, Eric Thies of DSI Luxury Technology in Los Angeles, Ed Gilmore of Gilmore’s Sound Advice in New York, and our our own John Sciacca join Mike & Dennis to discuss Eric’s “How to Find the Perfect Integrator” and John’s “Why HTA Is the Real Deal,” and to talk about how HTA can help somebody locate the right integrator to install their technology.

 

At 42:47, Mike, Dennis, and John talk about some of the movies they’ve seen recently—including The Umbrella Academy, Ralph Wrecks the Internet, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse; Mike talks about Pixar’s decline; and John discusses his fondness for the Mister Rogers documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

PODCAST GUESTS

Josh Christian, director of certification, Home Technology Association

Ed Gilmore, owner & founder, Gilmore’s Sound Advice, New York, NY

John Sciacca, co-owner, Custom Theater & Audio, Murrells Inlet, SC

Eric Thies, principal, DSI Luxury Technology, Los Angeles

CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT MORE EPISODES OF THE CINELUXE HOUR

RELATED POSTS

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

I’ll be honest, I didn’t really have a lot of desire to see Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse when it was in movie theaters. Nothing about the trailer really grabbed me, but when it started getting rave reviews both from critics (97% on Rotten Tomatoes, with comments like “It is a game changer”) and audiences (94% positive), I figured maybe the trailer didn’t resonate with me but that the film would. Then, when it took home the Academy Award this year for Best Animated Feature Film, that clinched it.

 

Fortunately, Kaleidescape owners were able to get the film on February 26, a full three weeks before it’s released on disc on March 19, so I downloaded the film and settled in to enjoy.

 

This is and also totally isn’t the Spider-Man story that you know. It begins with the Peter Parker (voiced by Chris Pine) we’ve always known, and has animated versions of several of the marquee scenes you’ll likely remember from the multiple live-action Spider-Man movies from recent years. But the real star of this movie is teenaged Miles Morales (voiced by Shameik Moore), who was unknowingly bitten by a radioactive spider (don’t you hate when that happens?) and then crosses paths with Parker while he is in the midst of battling some baddies to save Brooklyn (again). During the battle, a particle accelerator opens up portals to alternate universes, bringing five alternate Spider-people into Brooklyn, where they all work together to stop Kingpin from unleashing the accelerator that could destroy not only our world, but the entire universe.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

I loved Spider-Man: Homecoming for a few of reasons. One, it didn’t get bogged down in its own origin story, forcing us to relive —once again—how Spider-Man becomes Spider-Man. At this point we all know the story, and this was a theme that Spider-Verse repeatedly poked fun at. Two, after the recent Toby Maguire and Andrew Garfield outings, Tom Holland’s Spidey just felt fresh and new, more wide-eyed and trying to figure things out. Three, it gave us

 a great sidekick in Ned (Jacob Batalon), who provided a much needed second personality as well as adding enough Tony Stark/Iron Man to keep the film feeling bigger than just “another Spider-Man” movie, while also giving it a place in the much larger Marvel universe.

 

I say all of that because I think those things equally apply to Spider-Verse which feels both the same (but in a good way) and yet totally new and fresh.

 

What really sets Spider-Verse apart is its totally unique visual style. And as much as I loved Ralph Breaks the Internet and The Incredibles 2also nominated in the Best Animated Feature category—after watching Spider-Verse, it’s not a surprise that it took home the Oscar as it has an innovative style and look that is really unlike anything that has come before it. You can tell you’re in for something different right from the opening Columbia title screen.

 

Animation always looks fantastic in 4K HDR and this is no different. The colors are bright and vivid and pushed to the boundaries, with the reds of Spidey’s suit particularly vibrant and heavily saturated. The blacks are also deep, with HDR used throughout to provide extra punch.

The visual look and style of Spider-Verse constantly changes throughout the movie, often during the same scene, and it definitely embraces its comic-book roots, with a style that often feels like comic panels have been brought to life. Images are

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

near photo-realistic, then switch to a cartoon panel-style, then to the Pop Art style of Roy Lichtenstein. The image has an incredible depth of focus that looks truly 3D at times. Frequently, things in the near- or background are heavily blurred to make you focus on specific portions of the frame. The style in some scenes reminded me of the film noir storytelling style of the Max Payne video game from years ago.

 

Beyond the visuals, a modern animated film often succeeds or fails based on the quality of the story and voice acting. While the theme of a band of strangers coming together to defeat a common enemy is nothing new, Spider-Verse never feels like a retread and manages to work in enough pop culture references to be clever.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

The voicing is great, with Nicholas Cage as the black-and-white Spider-Man Noir, a private eye from 1933 who likes to drink egg creams and fight Nazis. Jake Johnson brings his hilarious Nick Miller New Girl vibe and mannerisms to Peter B. Parker, a Spidey who has gone through a nasty breakup and let himself go. You even get Oscar-winning Best Supporting Actor

Mahersala Ali as Miles’ Uncle Aaron. John Mulaney does a good job with Peter Porker, aka Spider-Ham, though something about his delivery reminded me of Nathan Lane’s Timon from The Lion King. (Also, I couldn’t get “Spider-Pig, Spider-Pig, does whatever a Spider Pig does. . .” out of my head whenever I saw Spider-Ham.)

 

The Dolby Atmos audio mix is very aggressive throughout, with many discrete effects routed to all

channels and lots of height-channel information. There is also some serious low-frequency information that will rattle your windows and slam you in the chest. Dialogue is well recorded and remains easy to understand regardless what world-ending event is happening onscreen.

 

Spider-Verse is a fresh take on the superhero genre, and a visually stunning film that will look fantastic in a home theater, and is sure to entertain family members of all ages.

John Sciacca

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

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.

What Makes a Video Display Luxury?

What Makes a Projector Luxury?

Barco’s Loki 4K laser projector

One of the first posts I wrote for CIneluxe was “Luxury Defined,” where I took a stab at defining just what luxury is. To illustrate something luxurious, I could think of no better example than a Rolex timepiece, something nearly any person would consider a luxury purchase. When you look at a Rolex—regardless of the model, price, or number of complications—it is still a pretty “dumb” watch by today’s metrics. It does a decent job of keeping the time, never needs a battery change, and can survive underwater much further than you can, but doesn’t really do anything special when compared to watches that cost considerably less.

My second post here, “Luxury Defined—Take 2,” tried to define luxury as it pertains to home entertainment. To quote myself, getting “into the realm of true ‘luxury entertainment,’ we need to push the performance boundaries well beyond just what is necessary and start considering things like room integration and functionality.”

 

When it comes to a video display—one of the key components of any entertainment system, luxury or otherwise—what separates a luxury experience from something more typical? In his post, Luxury Isn’t About Price—It’s About Pride,” Andrew Robinson wrote that owning a luxury product like a pair of Wilson Audio speakers or a Mark Levinson amplifier resulted in feeling a pride of ownership. But you’re not likely to develop an emotional attachment to a video display. You could certainly love the picture and the experience, but you likely wouldn’t feel any deep connection to the physical technology itself. You often don’t spend time gazing at a projector, and virtually never touch it, so you don’t develop that prideful connection.

No, with a display, the luxury metric is generally measured in improved performance resulting in superior image quality. Adrienne Maxwell described the luxury direct-view displays featured at CES this past January, so in this post I’m going to focus on the luxury aspects of the front-projection market and five benefits gained from investing in a luxury projection system. (This post focuses on video projectors. But since a high-quality screen is just as important in any luxury entertainment system, I’ll be discussing those in a future post.)

 

Better Light Engine

One of the improvements in a luxury projector over lesser models is a better light engine. This can come in the form of either higher light output (measured in lumens), and/or a better light source, such as a laser instead of a traditional lamp-based design. A projector with higher light output is beneficial both for driving larger screen sizes and for delivering the high-brightness peaks required from HDR (high dynamic range) content. A laser light engine powers on and off far more quickly,

meaning significantly faster power on/off cycles. The laser light output can also be used dynamically to improve contrast ratio, and has a far longer lifespan (typically 20,000 hours) with significantly less dimming over its lifespan compared to a traditional lamp. Also, a better light source contributes to the projector’s ability to produce a wider range of the color spectrum.

What Makes A Projector Luxury?

JVC’s $35,000 DLA-RS4500K D-ILA 4K Projector

Better Lens

One of the factors that most influences image quality in traditional photography—either with a cellphone or traditional camera—is the quality of the lens. A larger lens with more glass elements does a better job of accurately capturing light and images the way we see them. Similarly, the quality of a projector’s primary lens greatly impacts the image up on screen. Consider Sony’s and JVC’s high-end projectors. These both use massive lenses featuring 18 all-glass elements. If bought separately, the lens alone would likely cost upwards of $10,000. The result is tighter focus, superior pixel detail, better corner-to-corner sharpness and color accuracy, less light loss, and tighter color alignment, all of which add up to superior images on screen.

 

Better Video Processing

Movies are typically filmed at 24 frames per second, this can result in having nearly 199 million pixels up on the screen every single second. That requires a lot of processing horsepower to make sure things look their best. This is especially important when watching non-native 4K content, such as traditional broadcast TV, DVD/Blu-ray discs, and much of the content on streaming services like Netflix and Amazon, which the projector’s video processor upscales to its 4K resolution. This is most essential with moving objects, and a good video processor will keep diagonal lines sharp and straight without introducing any “jaggies.” The quality of the processor also determines how well a projector tone-maps HDR images, delivering the widest range of contrast without crushing either blacks or whites.

 

Multiple Aspect Ratio Support

One of the real benefits of a luxury projection system is its ability to handle content filmed in different aspect ratios in the most cinematic manner. With a traditional 16:9 aspect ratio direct-view display, anything not 16:9 (including almost half of 

What Makes a Projector Luxury?

A Panamorph Paladin DCR anamorphic lens
mounted on a Sony VPL-VW885ES projector 

Hollywood movies, and an increasing amount of original content on streaming services like Netflix and Amazon) is shown with black bars at the top and bottom of the image. This makes these movies appear much smaller and less cinematic. By using a projector with either lens memory or a separate anamorphic lens such as a Panamorph Paladin along with a screen that incorporates variable masking à la Stewart Filmscreen’s Director’s Choice, you will always have the largest, most cinematic image on screen regardless of the aspect ratio the filmmakers chose, with no distracting black bars.

Better System Integration

Luxury projector manufacturers understand their products are likely to be part of a larger luxury system, so they are generally designed to better integrate with other components. Whether it is tighter, more reliable integration with a third-party control system like Crestron or Control4, the ability to generate and send notifications to the dealer if there is a problem, or offer advanced adjustment tools for a professional video calibrator, these projectors are meant to play nice with the entire system and ensure they deliver the goods whenever you press “Play”!

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.

Mortal Engines

On paper, Mortal Engines seems like a can’t-miss film. It’s an adaptation of the well-received Young Adult novel of the same name by Philip Reeve, comes from a screenplay by the writing team behind the epic The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogies, including Peter Jackson, and included a trailer with striking visuals. But with mostly weak reviews, scoring a meager 26% on Rotten Tomatoes (audiences were slightly more kind with a 56% rating), and a paltry $16 million box office take in the US and Canada, this Engine was perhaps a little too Mortal.

 

But I’m not one to let a bad review dictate what I’ll watch, and my faith in Peter Jackson was enough to have me eager to give this a view at home. As is often the case recently, ME was released on digital download a full three weeks before the disc version, so I downloaded the film from the Kaleidescape store in 4K HDR.

 

There are, of course, three ways to approach a movie based on a popular book: Read it before, read it after, or don’t read it at all. With The Hunger Games trilogy, I devoured the books prior to watching the movies, and this built a lot of anticipation for the films, which didn’t disappoint, IMO. With Ready Player One, I was inspired to read the book after watching, and felt that while the two works were markedly different in many respects, they both worked for their medium. My wife started reading ME but the story didn’t grab her, so I went into the film knowing very little.

 

The 128-minute movie starts off with just a bit of exposition to explain how mankind arrived at its current state. Some untold number of years ago—enough for people in our time period to be referred to as “the ancients”—a 60-minute war involving a Quantum energy weapon known as MEDUSA effectively destroyed most of the world, bringing humanity to the edge of extinction. Out of the toxic remnants, a new age arose—the age of the great predator cities of the west. Of these cities, one of the largest is London, which roams around the Great Hunting Grounds of continental Europe practicing a philosophy known as “Municipal Darwinism,” where large cities on immense treads hunt down, ingest, and dismantle smaller cities for food, fuel, and any salvaged technology that can be repurposed.

 

Within the first 10 minutes you’re introduced to the main players which include Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar), who is out to avenge her mother’s killer; Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan of recent The Umbrella Academy fame), a historian who gets (literally) kicked off the London and is forced to bond with Hester to survive; and Thaddeus Valentine (Hugo Weaving from The Matrix and the Hobbit and Rings trilogies), London’s power-hungry head science engineer who is searching for old-tech in order to secure a new power source for London’s future and oppose the anti-traction league, a group of static cities that sit protected behind a giant shield wall.

Mortal Engines

The film’s opening scene is action packed, as the enormous London chases, captures, and ingests a smaller city. The film has massive scope, scale, and world building, with convincing CGI that shows how something on the scale of London-on-tracks would function from a technical level, and makes it appear these giant tracked cities are actually driving around. I’m not sure to what extent the sets were of practical design versus created inside a computer with CGI, but the visuals are impressive, presenting these immense mobile locations that drive around carving out huge ruts in the land with their enormous tracks. Some of my favorite parts of the film were just admiring the inner-working and design of London.

 

The film was shot in Redcode RAW at 8K and the home release is taken from a 4K Digital Intermediate and looks terrific.The film is a feast for the eyes, and items have terrific texture and detail. Whether it is the fabric in actors’ clothing, the various states of disrepair on walls and items around the very Steampunk-inspired London, or the multiple bits of machinery, ME offers tons of detail in every frame. There are several closeups where you can see the individual strands of hair on an actor’s head.

 

The film spends almost equal parts in dark and light environments, and HDR is used to good effect throughout to produce images that pop with detail. London at night, various searchlights piercing the darkness, and various lights and gauges inside cockpits all retain deep, rich black with appropriately bright highlights. The fires inside London’s engine room also particularly benefit from the HDR color grading.

 

Sonically, ME is the stuff home theater owners live for. The bass is big and weighty, carrying the proper amount of heft for something the size of London driving around and smashing into things. There are also a lot of textural sounds—engines thrumming, gears turning, cables moving—giving life to scenes. Sound effects have tons of directionality, putting the full soundstage to use to create an immersive experience. Dialogue also remains clear and intelligible throughout, even in the big action pieces, something some recent films have been missing.

 

My only complaint with the audio is that the Kaleidescape digital download didn’t include the Dolby Atmos soundtrack, instead having a 5.1-channel DTS-HD mix. For a movie with such a dynamic and textured soundtrack, I’d love to hear how this sounded in a full Atmos mix. Of course, the blame here lies with NBC Universal, which for some reason refuses to provide Kaleidescape with the immersive audio mix for any of its films in 4K HDR. Here’s hoping that gets resolved at some point in the near future, at which point anyone who has already purchased the film would be able to re-download it with the new audio track at no charge.

 

While not perfect, and a bit light on plot, I found Mortal Engines engaging and entertaining, and it definitely looks and sounds fantastic on a proper system. 

John Sciacca

Mortal Engines

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.

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.

Ralph Breaks the Internet

Ralph Breaks the Internet

Ralph Breaks the Internet, the followup to 2012’s Wreck-It Ralph, is one of those rare sequels that, if not better than the original, stands equal to it. Like many modern Disney (and Pixar) films, even though it’s animated, Breaks’s story and themes are designed to appeal across a wide range of ages, and offers plenty of laughs and emotion for everyone in the family.

 

Around six years have passed since the end of the first movie, and life remains mostly unchanged in the arcade for Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), who spend their days playing as characters in their video games, and their nights hanging out together, traveling to different games and throwing back root beer at Tapper’s.

 

When the steering wheel in Vanellope’s racing game, Sugar Rush, breaks, the machine is unplugged, leaving all of the characters “gameless” (i.e., homeless). Ralph and Vanellope turn to the Internet to find the part needed to repair the game, starting our heroes on their quest. But the film is really about friendship enduring as people grow and change. And the insecurity that one person feels when they are totally happy with the status quo and want nothing to change, and the other wonders what more the world has to offer and feels like they need to move on. Ultimately, your friends don’t need to be exactly like you to be your friends, and we need to let the ones we love be free to pursue their dreams, even if that means potentially losing them. Heady themes for a “kid’s” movie.

 

Ralph checked all the boxes for me; video games, nostalgia, technology, Disney, and Easter eggs aplenty, rivaling Ready Player One for things hidden in the background. (Google the license plate in the shark’s mouth for one great one!)

 

The film does a great job of visualizing how technology works—from the concept of packetizing data and sending it through a router and off to the Internet, how searches, viral videos, and pop-ups work—what causes the Internet to drop, and imagining what the Internet might look like if it were a physical place that data actually visited.

Ralph Breaks the Internet

Without a doubt, the scenes at OhMyDisney.com were my favorite parts of Breaks, and quite possibly some of my favorite scenes from any movie in recent years. This area of the ‘net brings together virtually every Disney property—classic Disney, princesses, Pixar, Star Wars, Marvel, hidden Mickeys —into a lengthy segment featuring some fantastic Easter eggs throughout that had me smiling until my cheeks hurt. Instead of just being a cheap franchise tie-in, this scene brings multiple franchises together in a fantastically organic and entertaining manner. And kudos to Disney for getting all of the original actors back to reprise their voice roles here. Great stuff!

 

Similar to how the first film used different animation styles to differentiate between the worlds of Fix-It Felix (Ralph’s game), Sugar Rush (Vanellope’s game), and Hero’s Duty (Calhoun’s game), Breaks has different visual looks and styles

depending on where we are in Ralph’s world: the arcade, inside different games, the Internet, or the Dark Web.

 

One of the marquee locales is Slaughter Race, a gritty, smoggy, bathed-in eternal dusty-golden-light, crime-ridden world a la Grand Theft Audio. Here we meet ultra-racer/gang leader, Shank (Gal Gadot), who ends 

Ralph Breaks the Internet

up becoming an unlikely mentor and pivotal in Vanellope’s journey as well as contributing to a big-time song-and-dance number that’s an homage to classic Hollywood pieces of old.

 

Animation generally looks fantastic in 4K HDR, and Breaks definitely doesn’t disappoint. Colors are incredibly bright and punchy, almost neon when called for, especially in the Internet. Blacks are also deep, with a lot of detail.

 

Breaks sounds as good as it looks, with an aggressive Dolby Atmos soundtrack that’s used effectively throughout, both to create environment and to add impact to the onscreen action. The overhead, ceiling speakers are smartly used to create a wonderfully immersive experience, such as the echoing, swirling sounds when Ralph and Vanellope travel into the Internet or the multiple announcements that occur throughout. The carjacking scene in Slaughter Race also sounds great, with a lot of dimensionality and solid bass accompanying the crashes.

 

While mostly family friendly, there were a couple of scenes in the film’s final act —notably Ralphzilla and Double-Dan (you’ll know him when you see him) —that were a little too intense and frightening for my almost-3-yo.

 

Definitely continue watching through the end credits for one last great Ralph meme—probably the most perfect end credits scene a movie about breaking the Internet could possibly have.

 

The 4K HDR digital download is available from the Kaleidescape store now, a full two weeks before the physical disc is released, and contains numerous making-of docs, a handful of deleted scenes, and two music videos.

 

John Sciacca

Ralph Breaks the Interner

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.