luxury home entertainment Tag

2019: The Year in Luxury Home Entertainment

2019: The Year in Luxury Home Entertainment

It might not have felt like it, but home entertainment changed in a big way in 2019. And, as Dennis Burger points out in “Beyond Discs & Cinemas,” that monumental shift wasn’t due to any technological breakthroughs or new formats, standards, or must-have devices. The arrival of 8K, which would have represented a major seachange in an earlier era, caused barely a ripple.

 

What happened instead was that the stars aligned—in other words, a variety of existing technologies reached just the right point of maturity to radically change how we experience entertainment. Downloading and streaming, until now maligned as the feeble stepchildren of the moviewatching experience, emerged decisively and undeniably as the future of movies.

 

Check out John Higgins’ post for a recap of this pivotal year in the streaming world. The focus here is more on what it took to achieve a state-of-the-art viewing experience at home in 2019, and how expanding beyond AV has allowed luxury integrators to become far more responsive to how people actually live.

 

Home Theater or Media Room?

Just as downloading and streaming are no longer dismissed out of hand, the once lowly media room has recently made great strides toward respectability—due in part to forces that have little to do with the technology that serves up the entertainment 

experience. And while many had declared the dedicated home theater room dead—or at least in rapid decline—there are signs of a legitimate resurgence.

 

It might seem counter-intuitive to say that both home theaters and media rooms are on the rise. And supporters within each camp will tell you their favored approach is way in the lead. But, in the luxury market at least, it seems to be a dead heat.

 

One big sign of change is that media rooms are becoming commonly referred to as multi-use spaces. “Media room” was a godawful moniker; “multi-use space” really isn’t an improvement, except that it emphasizes the room’s versatility instead of suggesting that it’s a slave to “media” (whatever that means). 

 

Multi-use spaces are nothing new. People have been setting up entertainment systems in rec rooms, dens, family rooms, bedrooms, and elsewhere since the advent of the Victrola. The arrival of TV didn’t do much to change that—and, to be honest, neither did the arrival of home theater.

 

It took the emergence of non-AV domestic automation like sophisticated and responsive lighting and shade control to make multi-use spaces a viable alternative. And 2019 was the year automated lights and shades became pervasive and flexible enough to help turn non-dedicated spaces into legitimate viewing (and listening) environments.

 

To give the AV world its due, the arrival of more designer-friendly acoustical treatments and, especially, the emergence of ultra-customizable, professionally-deployed digital room correction also had a lot to do with putting high-performance multi-use rooms on the map. So did super-sized flat-panel TVs, which can provide a brighter (and some would say better) image than a traditional front-projection setup.

 

But let’s step back a second. While multi-use spaces might be on the verge of offering the performance of a dedicated home theater, do you really want to be blasting out the Endgame finale at reference volume in the middle of your home at 1 in the morning? And do you really want various family members wandering through the room while you’re absorbed in an episode of The Crown?

 

For as good as multi-use spaces have become, they still can’t provide the uninterrupted focus on the viewing experience that a home theater can. And, even though they’re on the cusp, it’s still going to be a few more years before a multi-use room can compete performance-wise with the best dedicated theaters.

 

Ironically, we can thank the tremendous improvements in streamed audio and video for the home theater’s rebirth. People who know little or nothing of LaserDiscs or DVDs are beginning to realize that downloads and streams are rivaling or surpassing what they can experience at even the best movie theaters, and they want rooms that can take full advantage of what internet delivery has to offer.

 

Also, no matter how cleverly a multi-use space is designed, it still clearly signals that it serves more than one master. To have the ultimate entertainment experience, and to create a space that strikingly and unambiguously expresses the value of that experience, you have to have a dedicated room.

 

The Art Wall Revolution

I don’t expect many—or any—of you to buy into what I’m about to say, but please suspend your disbelief for a moment and allow that video art walls (a description as ungainly as “media rooms” or “multi-use spaces”) will eventually have a bigger impact on luxury home entertainment than multi-use spaces and home theaters combined.

 

Here’s why. Architects and interior designers have traditionally held their noses throughout the process of designing, building, and installing entertainment rooms—and for good reason. As much as AV companies might like to think their products are designer-friendly, the truth is that almost everything they put out has all the visual appeal of a WalMart boombox.

 

And creating entertainment rooms means having to deal with tech—a lot of it. AV enthusiasts would have you believe that gear has gotten more user-friendly—it hasn’t. It’s just found new and more intricate ways to be cumbersome and unpleasant. And interior designers have a longstanding, and not unearned, reputation for being technophobes.

 

Also, every home theater or multi-use space is essentially a unique machine. The greater the demands made on it, the more complicated that machine 

becomes. And unless you’re working with an integrator who’s something of a mechanical genius, you’re likely in for a decent amount of trial and error before your room is finally up on its feet.

 

Lastly, it’s hard to put a unique visual stamp on a home theater and especially on a multi-use space. Feeding generic content into your home in mostly generic ways tends to drain any meaningful personal touch from the environment—one reason why entertainment rooms tend to fall into disuse over time.

Video walls, on the other hand, are an opportunity to showcase unique, curated works of art via installations that can be seamlessly integrated into the decor (and structure) of a home. Interior designers love that idea; so do architects. And homeowners will too once they realize they can use these stunning installations to display something other than the usual mind-numbing mass entertainment.

 

This isn’t the place to provide more than just a glimpse of this emerging phenomenon, but it’s worth keeping an eye on—partly because, unlike entertainment-based tech, it’s a harmonious and complementary instead of disruptive and somewhat arbitrary experience. And no matter how they evolve, art walls will always remain a luxury affair.

 

Today & Tomorrow

With 4K HDR content and displays arriving solidly in the middle market, 2019 was also the year reference-quality playback made its way to the masses. Ironically, it was also the year luxury integration decisively separated itself from the world of trunk slammers, geek squads, and other purveyors of “good enough.”

 

Expect 2020 to be the year when professional-grade digital cinema systems, offering picture and sound exceeding the world’s best movie theaters, make serious inroads in luxury entertainment spaces. Expect to see 8K used not so much to create higher-resolution content as to significantly improve the quality of existing content. And expect to see interior design finally welcomed into entertainment spaces—and designers finally willing to accept the invitation.

—Michael Gaughn

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

CINELUXE TRENDSETTERS

the most influential people in luxury
home entertainment on 
the trends
that defined 2019

Sam Cavitt, Paradise Theater
on how home theaters are better than movie theaters
and the importance of 
dedicated theater rooms

Ed Gilmore, Gilmore’s Sound Advice
on tunable lighting
, voice control, apps vs. control
systems, 8K, and art walls

Al Patel & Cortney Combs, Enhanced Home
on 
media rooms, outdoor entertainment systems,
designer-friendly tech, 8K, and art walls

Cory Reistad, SAV Digital Environments
on 
media rooms, bulletproof installation, downloading
vs. streaming, and automated lighting

Tim Sinnaeve, Barco Residential
on the emergence of video art walls, and their influence on
artists, integrators, architects, and interior designers

Katherine Spiller, Steinway Lyngdorf
on 
designer-friendly tech, luxury audio systems, room correction, digital cinema, and no-compromise media rooms

Eric Thies, DSI Luxury Technology
on 
the return of home theaters, 8K, art walls, and the
sad lack of integration standards

ALSO ON CINELUXE

How to Listen: Just a Little Lovin'
The Mandalorian: More Than Just Star Wars
Every Room Deserves Great Acoustics

Cineluxe Trendsetters: Eric Thies

This is the first in our series of interviews with people who aren’t just part of but who define and drive luxury home entertainment. Each offers their unique, candid insider’s perspective on both current trends and the likely future.

 

Eric Thies is the owner of Los Angeles-based DSI Luxury Technology, one of the most successful integration firms in the country. He’s also a driving force behind both The Guild, an alliance of elite integrators, and the Home Technology Association, which helps guide people to the most qualified companies to address their entertainment and smart-tech needs.

 

A passionate advocate for holding home entertainment to the highest possible standards, Eric has never been shy about expressing his opinions, and in this interview he offers his straightforward take on topics like 8K, home theaters vs. media rooms, art walls, and the deplorable lack of standards in the integration industry.

RELATED POSTS

What is a Luxury Entertainment System?

What is a Luxury Entertainment System?
What is a Luxury Entertainment System?

What goes into crafting a luxury home entertainment system—a room for watching movies and TV, and maybe even playing video games, with performance that rivals the best commercial cinemas but with an aesthetic that’s all your own? That last part, of course, is totally up to you and your interior designer. But if you’re looking for some help understanding what’s involved in creating a luxury system before you meet with an integrator to help you pull it all together, you’ve come to the right place.

 

The aim here is to give you just enough information to convey the basic requirements for an uncompromising home entertainment system with exceptional fit & finish and unparalleled ease of use, while also giving you a baseline to judge one product against another. We’ll also highlight recent advancements in home entertainment, in case you haven’t

looked into any of this in a while.

 

In future posts, we’ll dig deeper into the specifics of each component for those of you who want to know more, but for now we’re keeping the discussion deliberately high-level, so you won’t feel weighed down by too much information.

 

With that said, let’s start digging into the elements of a luxury home entertainment system and some of the basic decisions involved in buying one.

 

 

TV or Projector?

One of the most important decisions is whether to go with a TV or a projection system. It might be hard to believe, because many people—including a lot of dealers—think a projector and screen represent the ultimate viewing experience, but today’s TVs almost always deliver better image quality. They’re consistently brighter than projection systems, with better contrast and clarity.

 

Mind you, that doesn’t mean you should rule out a

projection system, especially if you want a screen larger than 85 inches or so. In that case, you’ll probably want to go with a projector, even if your entertainment space isn’t a pitch-black man cave. Today’s ambient-light-rejection screens and brighter projectors mean you can enjoy a reasonably vibrant image in nearly any room.

 

Seriously, though, if what you really want is a world-class TV instead of a projector and screen, don’t let anyone talk you out of it.

What is a Luxury Entertainment System?

Samsung’s JU7100F Series 7 85-inch 4K UHD TV 

Speakers

Chances are you’re looking for the level of deeper immersion only Dolby Atmos and DTS:X surround sound can provide. If so, you need to decide how many speakers you want in your room. The good news is, you can pack a lot more into a space than you might think because architectural speakers—that is to say in-wall and in-ceiling offerings that are practically invisible—have come a long way in terms of performance. A decade ago, most architectural models were glorified elevator speakers, perfectly fine for background music but not home cinema. The best ones today can deliver a listening experience on par with the best in-room offerings.

 

But what if you actually like the look of speakers and want to make them part of your décor? There’s good news in this department, too. At the luxury level, many manufacturers offer freestanding models that are stunning statements in design, with a wide range of finishes and even in some cases the option to specify your own finish.

What is a Luxury Entertainment System?

Wisdom Audio’s P38i in-wall speaker

some of the finishes available for
Focal’s Kanta speakers

Electronics

There’s a good chance you’ve given up on discs entirely and now consume most of your video entertainment via streaming. If that’s the case, you definitely want to add a good media streamer to your system, since the apps built into smart TVs often leave something to be desired. The Roku Ultra, by contrast, can deliver an AV experience so comparable to UHD Blu-ray discs that you might not be able to tell the difference.

 

But even the best 4K streaming can’t provide the ultimate viewing experience. For that, you need something like a Kaleidescape movie player, which can deliver better picture and sound than UHD Blu-ray—but that’s actually not the most compelling thing about it. Its strongest asset is its super-intuitive user interface, which lets you easily find and download what you want to watch. And since films are stored locally, your collection will be available to watch even when your ‘net connection gets glitchy. It’s also a fully monitored, bulletproof piece of hardware that delivers a level of dependability that something like Apple TV just can’t match.

What is a Luxury Entertainment System?

Kaleidescape’s Strato S movie player

What about the most boring part of any home entertainment system, though? Yup, you’re going to need a surround sound preamp—the anonymous black box that basically acts as the air traffic controller for your media room or home theater, routing audio and video signals where they need to go and also giving you volume control and so forth.

 

That’s not all preamps do, though. The biggest differentiator between them is their room correction software, which, just a few years ago, tended to do more harm than good. But the latest correction systems—when set up by someone who understands room acoustics—mean you don’t need to have a perfectly symmetrical space filled with acoustical treatments to get reference-quality audio. Done right, correction can compensate for problems with room acoustics and make what once would have been considered just a passable space sound exceptional.

Steinway Lyngdorf’s RoomPerfect room correction system

Control

Of course, no one wants to have a coffee tableful of remote controls. But if you’re tempted to get a simple universal remote for a system this sophisticated, think again. Even the best of these struggle to elegantly operate a robust entertainment system, much less the other essential components of a good media room, like lights and shades and comfort control.

 

You’re going to want a custom-programmed control and automation system. Granted, you might recoil from that suggestion if you went down that path 10 or so years ago and paid a king’s ransom for a cluttered and confusing system no one in the house could operate. Today’s custom systems are much more flexible and intuitive, better designed, more reliable, and considerably less expensive. And they can transform virtually any space from “comfy family room” to “movie-watching paradise” at the touch of a button.

What is a Luxury Entertainment System?

the Control4 system interface

Mind you, simply buying and installing all of the above won’t necessarily result in a luxury home entertainment space. A lot of the magic comes from how it’s all configured, designed, programmed, and integrated into your lifestyle. And that comes from entering into a creative collaboration with your designer and your installer. But the above should give you a solid idea of the sorts of components you’ll need. And in future posts, we’ll dig a little deeper into standout examples from each category and what makes each of them luxury.

Dennis Burger

RELATED POSTS

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.

The Lower Cost of Luxury

The Lower Cost of Luxury

Ed Gilmore in front of the Planar video wall in his midtown Manhattan showroom

Of all the radical changes happening in home entertainment, maybe nothing is having a bigger impact
than the unprecedented drop in the cost of reference-quality gear. We’ve already established on Cineluxe
that the once unassailable gold standard of the movie theater no longer pertains. The best possible
entertainment experiences are now happening at home. And not only has the quality of gear improved by
leaps, the cost of entry for a complete luxury system has tumbled just as dramatically.

 

But it’s not clear if most people understand how much has changed, and how fast. Today bears little
resemblance to five years ago, and the next three to five years are poised to bring vast changes in home
entertainment that will make today’s innovations seem hopelessly quaint.

 

Wanting to get a perspective on all this from somebody who spends every working day on the luxury
frontlines, I recently sat down with Ed Gilmore, founder and owner of Gilmore’s Sound Advice in midtown
Manhattan. Ed’s high-end clientele is, knowingly or not, at the very epicenter of the entertainment
revolution, and his vast experience in the installation world gives him unique insight into the changing
cost of luxury.

—Michael Gaughn

 

 

Michael Gaughn  What would a typical luxury system have come in at five years ago, and why?

 

Ed Gilmore  Five years ago, we were putting in Runco projectors that were in the vicinity of $40,000, and as much as $100,000. Even today, you’d pay close to $50,000 for a three-chip 1080p projector with a decent anamorphic lens. But you can get a great 4K laser projector for about $30,000, which is definitely a big drop.

 

For people who want to put together a home theater for, say, $30,000 all in, they have a wide variety of choices from projection companies. And they’re not horrible projectors by any stretch of the imagination. SonyEpson, and Wolf Cinema

have laser projectors that are less than $10,000. You can even get a decent projector for $7,000. That’s a huge change.

 

MG  How big will you go with a flat-screen TV?

 

EG  I won’t go bigger than 85 inches. I won’t do 100, because the delta becomes just too big.

 

MG  Do you consider that a media room at that size?

 

EG  Yeah. That’s not a home theater. I don’t think anything with a flat screen is a theater, sorry. Some people want to put a 100-inch TV in there. But if I’m going to put an LED or OLED that big in a room, you’re going to spend at least $60,000, so why wouldn’t you do a projection system?

 

Plus, you have a huge piece of glass sitting in your room. And there’s no way to locate the speakers properly behind that. It’s a compromise.

 

Besides, there have been big improvements in projection-screen technology over the past few years. Before, you had 

to be in a man cave—more like a bat cave, actually—but we’re now seeing decent results with ambient-light-rejection screens, decent enough where people can have a projection system in a room with windows, maybe with solar shades on them, maybe with lights dimmed.

 

Screens are less expensive, certainly, and projectors are plummeting in cost. As for receivers—you can buy a pretty darned well-equipped AV receiver for $1,700.

 

MG  Do you spec any disc players at all?

 

EG  Very rarely.

 

MG  That would be pocket change anyway, right?

 

EG  I think the only one out there that we’d consider a premier brand is the Pioneer Elite.

 

MG  But five years ago that would have still been standard equipment.

 

EG  Absolutely. Now you don’t need it. I mean, everybody is streaming one way or another.

The Lower Cost of Luxury

One of the home theater demo rooms at Sound Advice  (photo by Gusto Multimedia)

MG  It’s amazing how quickly discs died.

 

EG  Yeah. Streaming has really brought the whole world of entertainment to people at their fingertips, for better or worse.

 

MG  You’ve even got YouTube offering great-looking 4K—even 8K.

 

EG  Absolutely. We’re just seeing a huge change in terms of that kind of content availability. And it’s gotten cheaper and cheaper as well.

 

MG  So what’s the typical pricing for a luxury system today?

 

EG  A lot of components are no longer necessary, right? So, if you’re talking about a Kaleidescape and Apple TV, some type of a video and audio processing, then amplification and speakers, and of course, whatever choice you’re using for your video display, you can have a system for as little as $30,000, $35,000 now.

 

MG  That’s with control?

 

EG  Control, add another $1,500 to $2,000 max. If you then move up the ladder to say somewhere between $60,000 and $75,000, that’s a quantum leap actually. Then beyond that . . .

 

In our showroom we have Steinway Lyngdorf speakers, a Barco projector, and a Stewart screen with dual masking. So I have a room right now that’s about $175,000 all in, and it’s a phenomenal experience. I don’t think I could have possibly done that

five years ago. Back then, we were talking about a quarter of a million, easy. That’s a substantial drop in price.

 

MG  If somebody comes in and says, “I have Apple TV,” or, “I’ve got Sonos—or I’ve heard about Sonos,” what do you do to get them out of that paradigm where they think that’s somehow the ultimate?

 

EG  If you’re fortunate enough to be able to demonstrate the difference, that’s the easiest way to do it. With 

music streaming, it’s really difficult to get people who have only experienced Sonos off of it. It’s almost kind of its own cult. But if you can play Spotify or Pandora for them and then play Tidal MQA, they clearly hear that difference. And once they hear that, some of them—not all, but some will say—“Oh my God, I had no idea.”

 

And you can play exactly the same clip—whether it’s a concert or a movie—on an Apple TV and a Kaleidescape, and people will not only see the difference, they’ll hear it as well. And the people who are discerning will say, “Absolutely, let’s do this. Let’s do Kaleidescape. I get it.”

 

But in no way, shape, or form do you say it’s Kaleidescape or Apple TV. It’s always going to be, “I’m going to have Apple TV and Kaleidescape.” I use Apple TV when I want to watch something on Amazon Prime or Netflix or YouTube. But when I want to watch a movie, and it’s something I really want to see, I download it and watch it on Kaleidescape. There’s just no other experience.

MG  Is there still the perception that Kaleidescape is only appropriate for the most expensive installations and Apple TV is OK for everything else?

 

EG  Yes, because Kaleidescape used to be so high priced—$30,000-plus.

 

MG  The first unit was $35,000, wasn’t it?

 

EG  $35,000, yeah. That was a big ticket item for people. And it could go up 

Sound Advice’s work for this Central Park apartment features a completely
concealed home theater with a dropdown screen, a projector firing from
a porthole in the wall, 5 invisible speakers, and a subwoofer vented from
a closet 
 (photos by Gusto Multimedia)

from there. But now with the Strato at much lower price points, it’s really not a home theater until you have one. You can put a great projector and great surround sound system in. But if you’re not feeding it the best possible quality content, it’s like having a really wonderful car and giving it the lowest-grade gasoline. If a client’s already invested even $35,000 in a system, what’s another $7,000 for the 12-terabyte Strato S?

 

Let’s face it, five, six years ago we were putting $30,000-plus Kaleidescape systems in. Some systems were coming out to $50,000, $60,000 by the time all the storage was done. Now we can do the same thing for five or seven grand.

 

MG  How big is movie collecting a factor in all of this? Because when you rely on streaming, movies disappear all the time. You really don’t own a collection then.

 

EG  If you’re going to purchase a movie, and it’s going to cost you $28 or $30 to buy it in a 4K HDR format, then you’re making a commitment. It’s not a huge commitment, but you’re making a commitment to something you want to see time and time again. You’re also expecting that you’re going to see it in bit-for-bit resolution. I think that’s a wonderful trade-off. It’s affordable, and anybody who cares enough about that experience will say, “Yeah, this actually has value.”

 

If you look at the Kaleidescape experience from five years ago, we had clients who were buying discs and then ripping them into their system. And then there was that period with Blu-ray where you had to buy the carousel to do it. I think people lost interest in doing that. Plus it kind of defeated the whole purpose of having a server.

 

So, when you could start downloading Blu-ray, there was a little bit of a shift in terms of the value. Then the prices started coming down, and the Movie Store became accessible. I think there’s a lot of excitement about Kaleidescape now.

 

The biggest difference between now and five years ago with me and my clients is that you had to justify making a $30,000 investment. It was easier for people to say, “I’ll just buy a disc. I’ll have a bunch of discs.” Then there was Apple TV. So, “We’ll

rent a movie instead of buying it.” It’s much easier now for them to wrap their heads around the fact that they can start building a collection of their favorite movies, movies they want to see with their family and friends.

 

My clients aren’t necessarily making huge decisions about something that’s four digits anyway. I mean, they’re making $100,000 decisions, or $1 million decisions. They’re not making an under $10,000 decision. That’s just not part of their M.O.

 

MG  Can you think of anything else, when you’re spec’ing stuff in, that still carries a similar stigma?

 

EG  Control systems. There’s nothing inherently wrong with them. There never was. But a lot of people feel badly scarred by their experiences.

 

MG  It all hinged on the competence of whoever was doing the programming, right?

 

EG  Yeah. The client may have not had any real say, in terms of that engineering. Or they might’ve been ignored. Because let’s face it, when you’re creating a program pretty much from scratch, you’re going to put your own things in. You’re going to have it somewhat templated, and it may not jibe with what the client really wanted.

 

On top of that, you have a third-party control system. You’re trying to control components that have zero standardization, and that’s a recipe for frustration. People don’t like being frustrated. So that’s something where we have to push back all the time.

 

MG  What do you tell people is the current state of control, based on whatever their past experience was?

 

EG  Most of these systems are now app-based. So they already have those instruments in their hands. Whether it’s an iPad or an Android device they’re carrying around with them, that’s what they’re typically using to control the system. Remote controls still exist, especially for video

rooms. We think it’s a good idea. And in some cases, touch panels still exist.

 

But even the prices of these things have really plummeted. So you’re not talking about a $60,000 to $80,000 investment for a control system anymore. You’re talking $5,000, $6,000.

 

But even if a control system doesn’t cost a lot of money, the first time something doesn’t work, the client starts to question the wisdom of that investment. So if you’re talking about equipment that’s reliable, there’s this little thing called Kaleidescape that always works. It’s bulletproof.

 

MG  With Apple TV, Roku, or whatever, you don’t have system monitoring going on.

 

EG  Not at all. You’re in the dark with it. But Kaleidescape is really proactive when there’s an issue. They’ll let us know—we’ll know on our extranet, then get email notifications, telling us what condition that equipment is in.

 

Apple TV, you’ll get a client calling saying, “I have a spinning wheel here, and I don’t understand what’s going on.” You know how that usually translates, right? “I get the spinning wheel—I hate the whole system.”

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

Ep. 3: Dolby Atmos–Yay or Nay?

Episode 3 begins with hosts Michael Gaughn & Dennis Burger and Cineluxe contributor John Sciacca talking about CES highlights before launching into a debate on the pros & cons of Dolby Atmos surround sound. At 10:46, legendary writer/editor Brent Butterworth joins the discussion to stake out his own position on Atmos and to describe some favorite demo scenes. At 27:01, Brent talks about his experiences with luxury home entertainment. And at 33:23 the episode ends with a quick round of thoughts on recent movies that might stand the test of time.

The Cineluxe Hour logo

CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT MORE EPISODES OF THE CINELUXE HOUR

Luxury Made Easy, Pt. 1

Cineluxe Showcase
THEATER PHOTOS BY Phillip Ennis

Legendary designer Theo Kalomirakis not only created the whole concept of home theater but has been the standard-bearer for luxury home cinema for his entire career. His two best-selling coffeetable booksPrivate Theaters and Great Escapesare filled with lavish theaters created in every imaginable style.

 

Seeing the interest in dedicated theater rooms decline over the past few years, Theo has helped form Rayva, a company devoted to dramatically simplifying the whole process of designing, engineering, and installing high-end theaters. Rayva recently completed a signature installation in Westchester County, north of New York City, that’s meant to show that the company’s streamlined approach to theater design can yield a luxury result.

 

In Part 1 of our interview, Theo talks about some of the challenges and triumphs of creating this strikingly contemporary space.

—Michael Gaughn

 

Did this begin as a Rayva theater?

 

No. The client saw a custom theater I had designed for a friend of his and said, “Let’s do something like that for my house.” I told him, “We can come up with something based on one of the designs we are developing for Rayva. There is one I think would fit your house very well.”

 

The room was above the garage, in a new space, and it was ready for the theater. But it was perforated with windows on three sides. So I said, “It’s not good to put a home theater in a room with windows.The light creates a problem, but more importantly, the sound will bounce off the glass of the windows.” He said, “I don’t mind if you cover the windows. It’s the garage. We don’t need to touch them from the outside. You can close them from inside.”

 

That was an interesting challenge. I wanted to cover the windows but I wanted the client to still be able to have access to them. So the windows dictated the design. And because Rayva panels are in increments of four feet, I could place one in front of a window and have it removable if access to the window was needed.

 

I felt very vindicated that this process we have developed allows even difficult rooms to become theaters. Because of the flexibility of our design elements, we can deal with difficult design challenges.

 

What were the client’s expectations for this room?

 

He just wanted to have a great theater. He said, “Cost is not the issue. I would just like to have the best technology, the best design, the best seats.” I shared with him brochures with Cineak seating. He selected one of the best-looking seats, and picked the finest leather. He wanted the softest, more plush leather, which is what he got.

 

And then we selected the carpet. Usually that happens at the end of the design process, and the clients are overwhelmed with all the expenses of equipment and woodwork and everything. So I automatically suggested just a plain grey industrial-quality nylon carpet that in a room like that would cost, at most, five, six thousand dollars. But I also showed him something that was plusher, like wool. He immediately went with the wool. He said, “Listen—I’m not going to use a nylon carpet. I spent so much money on the theater, I want the carpet to match the quality of the rest.”

 

I was trying to protect his budget, but clients who know what they want are different from clients who do things just because they want to save a penny here and a penny there. I respect how the former type of clients focus on the ultimate quality.

 

What was the installation process like for this theater?

 

Rayva doesn’t do the actual installation, so when we started the project, we reached out to Nick Di Clemente, the owner of Elevated Integration. When Nick introduced himself to the client, it turned out the client had additional needs. This was a newly renovated house and he needed whole-house audio. So Nick got the contract for the rest of the house, and he was happy about that.

 

What are some of the highlights of the theater?

 

The client selected our Origami design. The good thing about the triangles of the Origami design is that they allow flexible placement. We were able to use Wisdom Audio speakers—and there were lots of them and they’re big—without any conflicts with the room design.

 

This theater has a very different, outside-the-box design. In home theater, you expect to see columns and panels repeating themselves. You expect moldings that are gilded, and walls panels that are upholstered with brocade fabric. With Rayva, we tried to move away from that aesthetic because we wanted to change the perception of what a home theater looks like.

 

That’s why we bring in artists and architects that are not related to home theater to create the Rayva designs. With our guidance, their visions can be turned it into something that’s functional and can work with a variety of room sizes.

 

Also, this theater used acoustical treatments specified by Steve Haas’s company, SH Acoustics. Steve worked to get the best possible distribution of acoustical treatments within the limitations of the design. When the theater was finished, he spent two days calibrating the Wisdom Audio speakers and made the theater sound unbelievable.

Luxury Made Easy, Pt. 1

What was the client’s reaction to the theater?

 

The client is very happy. He told me that his kids practically live in that space.

 

Was there anything else you wanted to mention about the theater?

 

I want to tell you something. We put pictures of the theater on Houzz, where we can monitor which pictures resonate with end users. We were surprised to find out that we got a lot of likes for the interior of the theater but got more likes for the marquee outside. Go figure. I didn’t take that as an insult but as an indication that clients still relate to having a marquee outside the theater. So we will be creating a marquee as a Rayva product and make it available as an accessory to the theater.

In Part 2, Theo talks about how Rayva is ramping up to offer luxury theaters that can go from ordering
to installation in just a week.

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

Theo Kalomirakis

Theo Kalomirakis is widely considered the father of home theater, with scores of luxury theater designs to his credit. He is also an avid movie fan, with a collection of over 15,000 discs. Theo is the Executive Director of Rayva.

REVIEWS

Taylor Swift Reputation Stadium Tour
Black Mirror: Bandersnatch
Venom
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

ALSO ON CINELUXE

Why You Have to Have Dolby Atmos
Luxury Made Easy, Pt. 2
The Rumors of the Death of Home Theater

CINELUXE SHOWCASE

Cineluxe Showcase: A Tribeca Trendsetter
The Cineluxe Hour

Luxury Isn’t About Price–It’s About Pride

I’ve written professionally about the consumer electronics industry since I was 20 years old, which in a few short years means I will have been lovingly doing this shit for half my life. When I first started out, I will admit I was all about the gear. I loved it. I wrote my ass off in hopes of impressing my editors enough to trust me with the truly blue chip products in the future—products such as loudspeakers from Wilson Audio, or electronics from Mark Levinson, and perhaps a projector from Barco. I rose through the ranks of this business, and before I knew it I was the managing editor of (arguably) the largest consumer electronics publication in the world. And I loved it . . .

 

Until I didn’t.

 

My falling out of love with the consumer electronics industry and all things specialty audio/video coincided with my departure from my other profession of nearly as long, advertising. It was 2008, everyone was in the throes of the housing crisis, and I’ll be the first to admit I was hit very, very hard. I lived in Southern California, and I saw my property value plummet and the neighborhood I had purchased a home in not two years prior become littered with foreclosure and auction signs. To say that my priorities shifted would be a massive understatement, for I (let alone anyone else) had little use for the bells and whistles of specialty AV that once warmed my heart.

Luxury Isn't About Price--It's About Pride

photo by Jens Kreuter

I downsized in an attempt to stay afloat, a tactic that worked for me, though it did cost me one very nice, very trick, custom whole-home audio/video installation. From its ashes arose a new type of setup, one that was neither trick, nor custom, but that consisted of a handful of 55-inch flat screens and an equal number of soundbars. Until recently, this barebones-type setup is what I called my reference, and to be honest I was never embarrassed by it, because it just worked. Sure I had seen and heard better in my travels, but I didn’t miss “better,” for I had grown accustomed to the simplicity of this new “world.”

 

About six months ago, I was in the market for a display as my last remaining HD display was a bit long in the tooth and I wanted to use my new-ish UltraHD living room display as its replacement. This meant needing to shop for a new TV. Initially, I thought I’d just go on Amazon and order up another 65-inch something or other that cost roughly a thousand dollars and wait for my Prime shipping to bring it to me in 48 hours or less. But then I thought, what if instead of doing what I always did, or had been doing for the past few years, I was a little more selective? Choosing to buy based on quality and perhaps longevity (if there is such a thing in technology) rather than purely on budget—what doors or options would that open for me?

 

It would be the quintessential question that would reunite me with the hobby I had left, and set me on a new path of discovery. A path that wasn’t about quantity—be it number of channels or features—but rather quality, for I knew if I was going to spend money, I only wanted to do it once if I could help it.

 

We’ve been brainwashed into thinking that because technology changes so rapidly, we must change in kind, when that’s not really realistic, nor even the truth. True, new products come out each and every year, or sometimes more frequently. Yet if you really stop and compare them, there is often little, if anything, that separates the old from the new. Conversely, buying solely on price doesn’t always go hand-in-hand with quality, or longevity. Which brings us to luxury goods.

 

To me, luxury isn’t about price, though the two often are interchangeable. Luxury is more about the ownership experience, for long after you’ve swiped your credit card, or emptied a portion of your bank account, you have to live with your buying decision. Some of the most financially painful things I’ve ever purchased, I still have to this day, no doubt due to their superior craftsmanship and usage of materials that, while expensive, have stood the test of time. And that fills me with a kind of pride. It doesn’t make me better, but it does feel good, and that’s worth something.

 

If there’s one thing I think Millennials get right, it’s that they seem to value an experience over superficial goods. They’d rather have one truly great, timeless experience than several mediocre ones. Maybe this has to do with their fiscal outlook, or perhaps it’s their form of silent rebellion—who knows. But I do think that as things progress, we’re going to begin to place higher and higher levels of importance upon getting more from less.

 

This is what I believe, and this is what I wish to explore as a writer and regular contributor to this publication going forward. So, stay tuned, I guess . . .

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.

Who We Are

Editorial: Who We Are

If some of this site seems familiar, that’s because Cineluxe began life as the Rayva Roundtable. After a seven-month hiatus, we’re back, having retained the most relevant of the Roundtable’s content.

 

So, why Cineluxe? Because we are all poised on the cusp of vast and tremendous changes in how we experience not just movies but pretty much every form of entertainment, and there isn’t any other website devoted to documenting, describing, analyzing, and debating all of that.

 

Most of the change is happening in the middle to the high end of the market. And the biggest changes—which will influence the rest of the market soon enough—are happening in the luxury segment. So that’s why we’re focusing on what we call luxury home entertainment—a not entirely accurate, or graceful, phrase, but it will do for now.

 

Any resemblance this tsunami bears to the man cave days will be mainly superficial. Because maybe the biggest irony of this new wave is that it’s not tech leading the way this time but lifestyle, with the tech scrambling to find ways to serve the needs of an affluent demographic that wants instant, effortless access to all the best entertainment, in every form, reproduced in the best possible quality, and seamlessly integrated into their everyday lives.

 

Another irony is that a large swath of the population can now have a reference-quality movie-watching experience at home. Movie theaters used to represent the standard, but not anymore. And filmmakers are beginning to realize that the experience that’s truest to their intentions is increasingly happening in homes, not at the local theater.

 

But those two things are just the beginning of the very long list of radical innovations that are already taking home entertainment someplace completely new. Cineluxe exists to help you make sense of it all—in a straightforward, jargon-free way, driven not by tech but interest and enthusiasm—so you can find the best way to have the ultimate entertainment experience at home.

Michael Gaughn

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

Luxury Defined–Take 2

Luxury Defined--Take 2

Following up on Dennis Burger’s “What is Luxury Home Entertainment?” and my own “Luxury Defined,” I feel that a site calling itself Cineluxe needs to be able to pin down not just what luxury is in general but exactly what it means for a home entertainment space. Does it mean a private IMAX screening room with a 20-foot-wide screen, seating for 30, and a price tag north of $1 million? Definitely. Is it a big-screen TV with a well-designed and integrated surround system that puts you in the middle of your favorite film or concert? Most likely. Is it slapping a soundbar beneath a flat-screen TV and streaming Netflix? Probably not.

 

The dictionary actually lays out a pretty broad definition of luxury: “a condition of abundance or great ease and comfort, or something adding to pleasure or comfort but not absolutely necessary; an indulgence in something that provides pleasure, satisfaction, or ease.”

 

So, when we’re talking about luxury as it pertains to the entertainment space, we need to first clarify what is “absolutely necessary,” and then anything beyond that would be luxurious. Well, potentially.

 

For an entertainment system, there are some barebones components that are “absolutely necessary” in order to have a functioning system: A display, sound system, and source components. In theory, this could all be rolled up into a modern smart TV, which provides the display/picture, the sound (albeit via abysmal internal speakers), and the source via built-in streaming. I dare say, no one would come over for a Netflix-and-chill and consider a solitary flat-panel TV on the wall as “luxury” in any sense.

 

A basic upgrade from the bare minimum would be transitioning to a larger screen, an improved sound system, and higher-quality sources. This could be the typical bedroom 55”-and-up screen with a soundbar and wireless subwoofer, and maybe a Blu-ray player or UltraHD streaming capabilities. A definite step up from the minimum of “absolutely necessary,” but still a real stretch to call it “luxurious,” even if you watch while ensconced in 1,000 thread-count sheets, wearing a cashmere robe, and sipping Cristal from Baccarat flutes.

 

To get 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. While not a hard-and-fast definition, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to say that at a minimum a luxury entertainment system would feature a 75” or larger TV or projection system, a multichannel surround sound speaker system with Dolby Atmos, and 4K HDR sources capable of delivering the best picture and sound quality. Additionally, a luxury experience would feature a well-designed control system to simplify operation, acoustical treatments to improve sound quality, comfortable seating, and lighting/shading control.

 

Luxury tends to have a nebulous definition as it is a bit of a moving target based on one’s finances at a given time in their life. For example, while I was in high school, eating out with friends at a place that required leaving a tip was a luxury. Today, it’s a luxury when my wife and I have a dinner bill that crests $200. My first “luxury” home entertainment purchase was a 15” Definitive Technology subwoofer that cost $700; today my system includes two subwoofers that sell for $2,000 apiece.

 

While you can’t put a dollar amount that defines a luxury experience, it’s safe to say that it does come at a price. Granted, a price that is many thousands less today than it was when I started in this industry 20 years ago.

 

When you have made a commitment to wanting something that is not truly one of life’s necessities—in this case, an entertainment system—luxury means aspiring towards achieving the best experience possible within your means. To paraphrase Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, “I shall not today attempt further to define what is luxury. But you’ll usually know it when you see it.”

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.

Explaining the “Luxe” in “Cineluxe”

Explaining the "Luxe" in "Cineluxe"

I hope this doesn’t sound like too lofty a pronouncement, but the whole landscape of home entertainment is going to change completely over the next two to three years. And most of the ferment feeding that vast wave is currently happening in the high-end part of the market that Cineluxe embraces.

 

Early on in “What is Luxury Home Entertainment?” Dennis Burger writes: “[Y]ou can now achieve a level of cinematic performance with a few thousand dollars’ worth of gear that would have been unimaginable at any price just a few years ago.”

 

If you had to narrow it to one thing, that’s what this site is all about. To put it another way, a good chunk of the population, for a relatively small investment and with relative ease, can now have an entertainment system that rivals or outperforms what they can experience at their local movie theater. And that changes everything.

 

Given that, how does luxury enter into the equation? Well, if you don’t narrow it down, that’s also what this site is all about.

 

Luxury, more than anything else, is getting things as right as humanly possible. And, while money can be a factor in that, it’s not the most important one. It’s taste.

 

Most things can never qualify as luxurious because nobody ever cared enough to get them right. Almost everything we encounter is in some fundamental way slipshod; and even when people aspire, they usually settle for good enough. Cineluxe is about pushing past all of that to the ultimate.

 

But the tech is only a means to that end—ditto for the space, and whatever is done to that space to make it suitable for enjoying entertainment. Every luxury home entertainment system is a unique creation, and achieving the goal of making both the tech and room disappear so you can become lost in the entertainment takes both a strong human impulse and a discerning eye. And that’s where taste comes into it.

 

Not the integrator’s or the designer’s, but the owner’s—more pertinently, owners’—taste.

 

To have a truly luxurious space—one that not only achieves ultimate performance but deftly addresses the needs of every member of the household—you need the input of everyone who will be using that room. (Which shows how far we’ve come from the days of the man cave.) And some member of the household needs to be responsible for defining the goals and ensuring they’re achieved.

 

And that’s kind of why we’re here—to bring people up to speed on what luxury home entertainment is and give them a way of guiding the process without ever getting mired in the jargon or the tech.

 

Most of the time, almost all the actual work will be done by the designer and integrator, of course. But the homeowner’s vision—which is just another form of taste—has to lead the way. The landscape is strewn with more than enough evidence to prove that money can’t buy taste, so it’s just as important to find the right people to help collaborate on a system as it is to find the right room or gear. We’ll try to help with that too.

 

Crafting an ultimate entertainment space shouldn’t have to be a chore—it should be a creative act, a unique expression of the interests and enthusiasm, and even passions, of everyone in the household. It can be complicated, but it doesn’t have to be—and we’ll do what we can to make the act of creating a system and a space as enjoyable as actually using it.

 

Michael Gaughn

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