media rooms Tag

Video Options

The Cineluxe Guide to Media Rooms: Video Options
The Cineluxe Guide to Media Rooms

photo by John Frattasi

Our ongoing series on media rooms has, to this point, focused primarily on audio solutions, and with good reason. When constructing a stereo, surround sound, or Atmos audio system for your entertainment space, you’ve got a wealth of options, from soundbars to in-room speakers and discreet architectural speakers, on to completely (or almost completely) invisible speaker systems.

 

When it comes to video displays, though, the choice seems a little simpler: You either get a big TV or you get a projector, right? Actually, no, it’s not that simple. Once you move beyond media-room setups for smaller spaces like bedrooms or home

offices, where a TV is really the only way to go, you’ll want to weigh the pros and cons of a TV versus a projector. You might even find that the solution is to have both—as it is for our own John Sciacca.

 

That may spark a few questions for the uninitiated—namely “Why?” and “How?”

 

To get to the why, we need to back up to something I said in the first post in this series: We here at Cineluxe consider home cinema to be a shared experience. So, while a 75- or 85- inch TV may be more than sufficient to give two or three people sitting on a couch a panoramic viewing experience if the screen is a mere six or seven feet away, your room may be far too large for that sort of setup. If you’re 10, 12, 15 feet away from your screen, no reasonably-priced TV is going to give you and your family enough screen real estate to create a truly immersive viewing experience. A projector and screen, on the other hand, can. Quite easily.

 

So, why not just go with projection and forget the TV? To answer that, we need to remember that media rooms are also called multi-use spaces. The same room where you gather the whole family together to watch The Last Jedi may also be the room where you watch Last Week Tonight on Sunday evenings. And far be it from me to besmirch John Oliver’s looks, but do you really need to see his face at IMAX proportions? Because we’re talking about a media room and not a dedicated home theater, it should be able 

to accommodate casual watching but be able to transition to a more focused and immersive experience for more serious viewing. And depending on the size of your room, a single display may not give you that kind of flexibility.

 

Having a dual-screen setup means you can match the display to the needs of the moment. But how does it work, exactly? It usually involves a retractable screen that slides down from a hidden compartment housed in the ceiling (or in the floorspace above a room in a multi-story dwelling). Stewart Filmscreen’s Cascade is a great example, although other screen manufacturers offer their own variations on the theme: Evanesce from Elite and the gorgeous Zero-G from Screen Innovations (shown below), just to name two.

The Cineluxe Guide to Media Rooms: Video Options

Mind you, going this route does complicate things a bit, at least in terms of using your system, so you’ll definitely want to add a good control and automation system to your media room budget. This will allow you to drop the projection screen down in front of your TV for movie night at the press of a button (or the uttering of a simple voice command), and still access your source devices with a single remote.

 

And it probably goes without saying that if you’re going through all this trouble to ensure the most spectacular video presentation, you probably don’t want to rely on a soundbar for your audio experience. Instead, you’ll want to spec in all of the speakers and processing necessary for true 5.1 to 9.2.6-channel surround sound, depending on your appetite for aural immersion.

 

So, putting it all together, what would a complete dual-screen media room system look like? Combine a 124-inch SI Zero-G drop-down screen with an 85-inch Sony Z9G Master Series 8K LED TV, and add to that the sound system and sources detailed in our previous post: An Anthem AVM 60 or Lyngdorf MP-50 surround sound processor, driving three GoldenEar Technology Invisa Signature Point Source in-wall speakers, two or four GoldenEar Invisa MPX MultiPolar in-walls, four Stealth Acoustics SLR8G invisible speakers, and two Stealth Acoustics B30G invisible subwoofers. Throw in a Kaleidescape Strato Movie Player and Roku Ultra streaming media player, and you’ve got the makings of an incredible home cinema system that practically disappears when not in use. If you want to take that ethos to the extreme, you could even add a TV lift and projector lift from Future Automation to keep your gear completely hidden when not in use.

 

Tie it all together with a professionally installed home control and automation system like Crestron, Control4, or Savant, and you’ll have the power to transform your unassuming living room into your own private cineplex at the touch of a button.

 

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.

Invisible Sound Solutions

Media Rooms: Invisible Sound Solutions
The Cineluxe Guide to Media Rooms

In the previous post in this series, I walked you through some of the ways in which a soundbar can—contrary to conventional wisdom—serve as the foundation of an expandable media-room audio solution with plenty of room to grow. And that’s great if you’re not entirely committed to the idea of filling your room with speakers, or if you want to start small while leaving open the door for more sophisticated solutions.

But what if you’ve already decided to install a high-performance entertainment system and you’re unconvinced a soundbar could deliver the kind of big, impactful, expansive soundstage you’re looking for?

 

In that case, it’s probably best to start from scratch with a carefully selected speaker system that more closely approximates what you’d experience at your local multiplex. That means having dedicated left-, right-, and center-channel speakers (for onscreen sound effects and dialogue) at the front of the room near your display, at least two or as many as four surround-channel speakers (to deliver offscreen sound effects around and behind you) and two, four, or six speakers overhead to deliver the height-channel sound effects of today’s Dolby Atmos and DTS:X immersive sound formats.

 

Mind you, that’s a lot of speakers—anywhere between five and 13, even before you add a subwoofer or two to the mix. And I think we can safely assume you don’t really want to see that many speakers. But you don’t have to. In our last post, on expandable soundbar solutions, I put together a hypothetical system using Leon’s Vault in-wall speakers and Axis ceiling speakers to complement the company’s Horizon soundbar. Take out the soundbar and replace it with three Vault speakers at the front of the room, and you have a complete (and almost completely invisible) component surround-sound speaker system that can compete with the best of them.

Of course, there are any number of companies out there offering similar solutions. Another favorite around these parts is GoldenEar Technology. You could combine three of their Invisa Signature Point Source in-walls across the front with two or 

four Invisa MPX MultiPolar in-walls and two to six Invisa 650 ceiling speakers for a system that rivals GoldenEar’s own massive floorstanding towers. And best of all, all of these in-wall and ceiling speakers feature paintable grilles than can be color-matched to the surfaces of your room.

 

Granted, even with perfect paint-matching, ceiling speakers do still draw some attention to themselves. If that’s a concern, you might instead opt for completely invisible speakers for your overhead-effects channels. Companies like Nakymatone and Stealth Acoustics now make speakers that install flush with your drywall that can be plastered or mudded (or in some cases even wallpapered) over. In other words, they don’t just install in your wall or ceiling; they literally become a seamless part of those surfaces.

Stealth Acoustics even makes subwoofers with the same form factor. Or you might opt for subs that install in the ceiling and port out into small circular openings indistinguishable from can lights, like Gray Sound’s S80 and Sonance’s BPS6. Or, your integrator may prefer to install more traditional subwoofers in the floor and deliver their sound into the room by way of openings that look like your traditional HVAC vents.

 

CREATING AN INVISIBLE SYSTEM

So, putting it all together from previous posts, what would a complete “invisible”  home cinema system for an entertainment room or media room look like? You’ll need your display, of course: Something like an 85- or 98-inch Sony Z9G Master Series 8K LED TV. You’ll also need a surround sound preamp like Anthem’s AVM 60 or Lyngdorf’s MP-50. And you’ll need a source or two—our favorites being the Kaleidescape Strato movie player and the Roku Ultra streaming media player—along with a good control system.

 

Add to that three GoldenEar Technology Invisa Signature Point Source in-walls around your display, two or four GoldenEar Invisa MPX MultiPolar in-walls, four Stealth Acoustics SLR8G invisible speakers, and two Stealth Acoustics B30G invisible subwoofers, and you’ll have a home cinema system that not only sounds amazing, but also has zero impact on your interior design.

 

In the next entry in this series, I’ll dig into similarly invisible (or nearly so) ways of upgrading your picture in a correspondingly cinematic fashion.

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.

Acoustic Designer Steve Haas on Media Rooms

Cineluxe Showcase: A Tribeca Trendsetter

photo by John Frattasi

Steve Haas is the person you call when want to make sure your home theater will sound better than any movie theater. His extensive body of work for various commercial venues and high-end private viewing and listening spaces has established him as one of the world’s leading acoustical engineers. And his collaborations with legendary designer Theo Kalomirakis have made him synonymous with the highest-quality dedicated home theaters.

 

But media rooms (also known as entertainment rooms, multi-use spaces, or communal spaces) are increasingly becoming the movie-watching venue of choice in the luxury market—even though they’re in many ways the antithesis of what you would want for a reference-quality home theater. They tend to be part of an open floorplan, need to serve other forms of entertainment beyond movies, are frequently flooded with ambient light, and feature serious acoustical challenges like hardwood floors, huge plate-glass windows, and large stone and concrete surfaces.

 

None of that changes the fact that the high-end market really likes these kinds of rooms. Fortunately, things like larger, brighter video displays, innovative projection-screen materials, digital room correction, and way more sophisticated lighting and shading control are helping to tame what would have until just a few years ago been impossible spaces for watching movies at any real level of quality.

 

But advanced tech can’t do everything it takes to make a room exceptional, or even acceptable. Which is why we wanted to talk to Haas about what he does to bring these often resistant spaces into line.

—Michael Gaughn

Media rooms can vary dramatically but clients are looking for great performance regardless or they wouldn’t be engaging you. How do you typically handle something like that?

One of the first steps we always employ is understanding from the homeowners how they and, if applicable, their family use their homes—or how they intend to use it, if it’s a new home. Will they all gather in the media room at the same time to watch a movie? In that case, it’s more about dealing with the quality and not so much worrying about whether the sound spreads to the kids’ bedrooms.

 

 

To ensure the acoustical quality of a media room, I would think it would be crucial for you to be brought in early in the planning for a new home or a renovation. Otherwise, you could be dealing with a badly compromised space. Are you usually advising from the beginning or do you find yourself having to make do?

That’s a great question because it really is all over the map. More often than not, the architectural design and interior design are already well underway or nearly completed; or worse, it could be that the construction has already started. And as 

Acoustic Designer Steve Haas on Media Rooms

This multi-use media room in Connecticut contains a home theater . . .

sheetrock starts going in, the homeowner gets a sense of just how much this house is going to sound really “bouncy”— reflective and reverberant—and maybe they should get somebody to deal with these spaces.

 

That happened to us with a project in Westchester County recently. It was a gut renovation well underway; and that’s when the homeowner just realized, “Wow, we really need somebody.” We had to come in and do a lot of massaging to the interior design and the architectural design to 

Acoustic Designer Steve Haas on Media Rooms

. . . billiards lounge . . .

get what we wanted.

 

That project had two different rooms—a two-channel listening room and a media room that were both very open to the surrounding spaces, pretty much flanking the kitchen and breakfast-nook area. The entire right wall of the two-channel room was stone, surrounding a fireplace—which, of course, there’s nothing we can do about that—and the media room itself had a lot of glass, very much glass. So we’re always dealing with compromises in situations like that.

Acoustic Designer Steve Haas on Media Rooms

. . . and recording studio. Unique acoustic treatments and acoustically transparent finishes—including metal mesh, micro-perforated clear shades, and both exposed and concealed wood diffusion panels—were employed to achieve the desired aesthetic and acoustic performance. (photos courtesy of Audio Command Systems)

A lot of luxury homes, especially out west, favor very open floorplans and almost exclusively hard surfaces like wood floors, stone walls and fireplaces, and floor-to-ceiling plate-glass windows. And often the client wants their great room to double as a media room, which is usually the least conducive space in the home. That has to be a worst-case scenario for you.

We’ve certainly worked on rustic media rooms in Colorado, Utah—all that part of the country. And there are solutions, like monolithic plasters and 

micro-perforated woods, that can be used in an open-plan home to at least tame the sound, to help ensure it’s not just one echo chamber, one reverberant nightmare bleeding into the rest of the home. Also, trying to achieve as much tonal balance in the way the architectural materials are absorbing sound between low, medium, and high frequencies is essential. You have a fair chance of at least being able to enjoy a controlled room, even if it’s not dialed in with the level of finesse we would have in a dedicated room in a different type of architecture. It’s really important to understand that not every architectural style is going to lend itself to a fabric-wrapped room.

 

 

Home theaters are designed to be isolated, but in an open floorplan, the great room is often the physical center of the home. I would imagine you have to worry as much about the sound bleeding into the rest of the house as you do about the quality of sound in the room itself.

Because media rooms are outside that dedicated area, we often design them as part of the whole-house acoustic design. So we’re looking at various spaces throughout the home, not just for a high level of performance, but basically for general acoustic privacy.

 

If somebody wants to play a movie loud or have other types of entertainment, such as watching TV or playing video games, there’s really no way to stop that sound from completely taking over a good portion of an open-plan home. And that’s where we really have to think about the compromises. We have to think about it very holistically in terms of the

usage of the home.

 

Are we able to implement engineered absorptive/diffusive treatments, like we would in a dedicated room? Sometimes, but often not. Your left wall relative to the screen might be completely treatable because it’s just going to be bare sheetrock, but then the right wall is that huge stone fireplace we talked about.

 

 

Is it more important to get sonic symmetry—which is usually one of the key criteria when designing a 

Acoustic Designer Steve Haas on Media Rooms

Steve Haas with the Father of Home Theater (and
Cineluxe contributor), Theo Kalomirakis

listening room, media room, or home theater—or do you just place treatments where you can and not worry about the symmetry?

I would argue that symmetry is extremely important because even if the sound is compromised, you don’t want it to change drastically when you go from left to right across the room. As long as we can treat other surfaces (ceilings especially) and achieve overall control, this approach can get decent results.

 

 

A lot of these homes have large, open stairwells that feed directly into the great room area. That has to be a particularly big challenge.

That’s always a very important issue to raise, and there are a lot of times where the designers will say, “You know what? Yeah, we have to close off the stairwell. Otherwise, they will hear everything everywhere in the home.” And you can do that when you’re in early enough in the design process. There are creative ways to design contained stairwells that provide that type of sound control.

Acoustic Designer Steve Haas on Media Rooms

Steve calibrating a 38-channel audio system in a large event space for a private residence in Sydney, Australia

Some people would say that digital room correction—not the kind found in mass-market receivers but the higher-end implementations—can compensate for a lot of the problems you’ve been describing with media rooms.

Well, it can fix a lot, certainly—or I shouldn’t say “fix,” because it’s a matter of just taking what is already there and reducing what the physical space has done to compromise it. If you know your speakers are behaving fine out of the box, then you have to understand what makes them not perform optimally at those particular seats. And that has a lot to do with their interaction with elements of the room that aren’t perfectly controlled because of the compromises we’ve been talking about.

 

With today’s processors, whether it’s mid-level or certainly the higher-end processors, there are a lot of tools in place to do this. But it cannot be done fully in an automated fashion even with the best processors. They just don’t work well without somebody with trained ears and skills looking at their results and saying, “OK, that got me a fair distance forward. Now here’s what we need to do to tweak it. Here’s how to optimize it with a manual calibration to get that last 10 to 20%.”

 

It’s easy to understand why the processors some manufacturers claim are perfect and get perfect results really don’t. There are things acoustically that can be overcome with electronics and there are things that just cannot. If you have a room that is

all hard and reflective surfaces, whether it’s glass, sheet-rock, stone, you name it, there’s just nothing a processor can do to overcome the excessive reflections and reverberations.

 

Yet there are those who will claim they can. The end users and AV integrators really need to understand that you can bend the laws of physics, but you can’t break them. If you have speaker interactions with nearby hard surfaces that cause what’s called “comb filtering”—short delayed reflections that combine with the direct sound to cancel a series of frequencies—no  processor eliminate that. That is absolutely a physical correction that needs to be made to the interaction of the speakers with the surrounding room and the surfaces close to the speakers.

 

 

So, when you talk to a client, what do you tell them is the best you can achieve with a media room, compared to a dedicated home theater?

We can say that on a scale of 1 to 10, that it’s not going to be a 10. No media room I’ve ever worked on is a 10—essentially flawless acoustically. Now, do we have solid 9’s? Absolutely, because we’ve worked hard with the entire design team to make intelligent compromises that achieve a well-balanced experience that thrills the end user.

 

If something is going to be well below an 8 or 9, then the client needs to understand that. They need to get to the point where they say, “I’m OK with a 6 or 7 because I’m gaining all these other functions. I have these beautiful vistas of the mountains out this glass window. The stone fireplace is just over the top. Wonderful. All these things.” We have to always remember it’s not just about what we do and what we bring to the table. It’s the overall experience. And people sometimes are OK with balanced compromises.

 

 

Since you often find yourself being brought into a project later than you would prefer, what needs to happen to change that?

First of all, it’s educating homeowners and architects on what happens when you ignore the need for proper acoustics. And fortunately there are a lot of case studies, a lot of horror stories, we can share that say, “OK, here’s what happens when you ignore acoustics in any regard.” Either the quality in some cases or the privacy, the isolation of just general noise, allowing exterior noise or mechanical equipment noise to infiltrate the rest of your house.

 

I really do think the answer lies with the architects and designers because they have to be on board with saying, “You know what, we don’t want our houses just to look good or feel good. We want them to sound good as well.” And that is a stretch for a lot of visual designers. That’s no secret because it’s just not something they’re used to. And they also have a lot of preconceived notions about what it means to implement acoustics.

 

What we’re trying to do is basically quell those misconceptions to say, “There is a way to do this without turning your beautiful house into a science project or burlap panel or whatever.” The biggest challenge and biggest effort one can make is to let the designers understand that we can give homeowners a much better sensory experience and also add to the wellness factor of their home from multiple senses and not compromise in any appreciable way.

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.

Expandable Media Room Systems

Expandable Media Room Systems
The Cineluxe Guide to Media Rooms

When making a choice between a multi-use media room system and a dedicated home theater, it’s important to remember that each approach has its own upsides and downsides. With a dedicated home theater, every element of the room—from décor to seating to lighting and of course the AV gear itself—is selected, engineered, and installed with one goal in mind: An

optimized moving-watching experience.

 

With media rooms, that isn’t the case, of course. Movie night is just one among innumerable activities you’ll likely use the room for. So dialing in that Nth degree of performance isn’t always as predictable a process.

 

On the other hand, media rooms have one big benefit most dedicated home theaters lack: Easy expandability and upgradability. And that’s what we’re focusing on in this second installment of our ongoing series on complete media-room solutions.

 

Last time around, we started with the most basic media room system imaginable: A great TV, a high-performance soundbar, and a single source component. This time, the focus is on similar systems that leave you a little more room to grow.

 

Two Types of Expandability

What does that mean, though, “room to grow”? It’s an acknowledgment of the fact that many luxury soundbar solutions are designed as the starting point of a larger entertainment system.

 

But that manifests itself in two different ways. In some cases, the soundbar you install beneath your TV can be augmented with additional speakers to form a room-filling surround sound home cinema speaker system. In others, 

the soundbar functions as the main speaker in a larger multiroom distributed music system. Which approach is right for you is a discussion you and your integrator should have, but we’ll be digging into both.

 

An Upgrade to Real Surround Sound

In our first post, we mentioned luxury manufacturers like James Loudspeakers and Leon Speakers, whose soundbars require external amplification and sound processing. This may seem like an unnecessary hassle, since most soundbars come 

packing their own amps and decoding and such. But one big upside of the “passive” soundbar approach (so-called because speakers with built-in amps are referred to as “active”) is that you can grow the system exactly as you would any other speaker system.

 

Say you start with a Leon Horizon speaker custom-made to fit the exact dimensions and aesthetic of your TV. Since you’ll already be using a surround sound processor (like Anthem’s AVM 60 or Lyngdorf’s MP-50) and matching amps to power the soundbar, it’s not that difficult at all to add additional speakers now or down the road. You might want to add a couple of Leon’s Vault in-wall speakers near the back of the room for an elegant (and practically invisible) surround sound solution. You could also go one step further 

and add two or four of the company’s Axis in-ceiling speakers for a complete Dolby Atmos speaker system, all without replacing the soundbar under your TV.

 

Granted, your system will start to get a little complicated to operate at this point, so you’ll likely want to add an advanced control system from one of the Big Three automation manufacturers—Control4, Savant, or Crestron—along with an accompanying remote control.

 

The Foundation of a Whole Home’s Worth of Music

If, on the other hand, you read all of the above and thought, “Nah, I’m shopping for soundbars because I want simplicity,” that doesn’t mean you’re totally cut off from future upgrades or expansions. With many luxury manufacturers—Bowers & Wilkins and Bang & Olufsen, just to name two—the soundbar actually becomes the centerpiece of a wireless multiroom music-distribution system (think Sonos, just a lot fancier).

 

Andrew Robinson has already written extensively about his experience with B&W’s Formation Duo wireless speakers. The Formation Bar is part of that same line, which means you can not only link them together and share music in every room of the house at the touch of a button, but you can also mix and match components in the line. The same subwoofer Andrew used to augment his stereo speakers—dubbed the Formation Bass—can be paired with the Formation Bar to add a little extra kick to the bottom end.

What’s more, the Formation Flex—the smallest speaker in the Formation lineup—can be mated with the Formation Bar to create a complete surround sound setup without the need for any additional wires. Granted, it’s not as expandable as the surround sound configurations listed above, in that you can’t do Atmos or expand past 5.1 channels at all. But given the multiroom capabilities of the system, that may be a tradeoff worth you’re willing to make.

 

Putting It All Together

As you can see from all of the above, things start to get a little more complicated at this level, but not too much. So if you’re looking for a simple soundbar media room setup that’s a little more flexible and expandable than the system covered in our first post, you first need to decide whether you want to expand within the room you’re in or outward into the rest of the home.

 

If it’s the former, a top-tier OLED or LED TV plus a James Loudspeaker or Leon Speakers soundbar, paired with a good surround sound processor and amp, gives you plenty of room to add additional speakers as you see fit. Add an advanced control from the likes of Control4, Savant, or Crestron, and your movie nights will be better than ever.

 

If, on the other hand, multiroom music is more your speed, a good TV plus a Bowers & Wilkins Formation Bar and Formation Bass subwoofer (plus a couple of Formation Flex speakers, if you want surround sound) will not only elevate your movie-watching experience, but will also let you tap into one of the most sophisticated, stylish, and high-performance distributed-music systems on the market today.

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.

The Cineluxe Guide to Media Rooms: The Basics

The Cineluxe Guide to Media Rooms: The Basics

photo by John Frattasi

It’s easy to think of a media room as a low-performance or “good enough” entertainment space with a cheap TV and a Best Buy soundbar—a sort of glorified version of the old family den or man cave. To put it another way, there’s this pervasive notion that to enjoy movies at home to the fullest, you need to either install a dedicated home theater or you can settle for 

second best.

 

That doesn’t have to be the case, though. As I’ve argued plenty of times in the pages of Cineluxe, you can actually build a high-quality media room space that legitimately qualifies as a home cinema experience. If you have a home office, master bedroom, kids room, or communal living space that you want to upgrade into a fantastic moving-watching space, you can totally do that.

 

 

In our ongoing Cineluxe Basics series, I’ve covered all of the things you need to keep in mind when doing so, but those articles deconstruct the modern media room a piece at a time, i.e., what you should think about when picking a TV and what you need to know about surround sound preamps. They don’t really give you a holistic overview of what a complete media room system looks like. So, if you’re looking to convert your home office or kids’ room into a top-notch movie-watching space for the entire family without ripping out all of the walls and starting from scratch, you may be left wondering how far you need to go.

That’s where this new series comes in. Over the next few posts, I’ll be painting a picture of what a complete media room system looks like in terms of electronics, starting with the simplest of all high-performance luxury media room systems. In other words, a system that will have minimal impact on your décor, but maximal impact on your movie-watching enjoyment. And despite the pithy intro, I think a great TV and a really high-end soundbar is a great basis for such an essential system.

The Cineluxe Guide to Media Rooms: The Basics
WHAT KIND OF TV, EXACTLY?

That depends, really. We at Cineluxe consider home cinema to be a shared experience, so we think any good media room display should be big enough to give at least two people a viewing angle of 40 to 45 degrees. So, if you’ll just be watching your movies with your significant other, and assuming you’ll be sitting no further than six or seven feet from the screen, a 75-inch TV should be sufficient. If you have more viewers on a regular basis or you sit further away, it’s probably better to upgrade to an 85- or even 98-inch class display.

 

Splitting the difference, we think something like Sony’s Z9G Master Series 8K LED TV is a good recommendation. In terms of technology, it’s ahead of the curve. In terms of design, it’s the leader of the pack, and with its built-in Android TV operating 

The Cineluxe Guide to Media Rooms: The Basics

the Kaleidescape Strato S movie player

system, the only source device you’ll really need for a complete luxury entertainment system is a Kaleidescape movie player.

 

Of course, your local integrator may not be a Sony dealer, but if not, chances are good they sell 

LG instead, whose Signature Z9 88-inch OLED is a step up in terms of design and technology, but also a big step up in price.

 

 

IS A SOUNDBAR REALLY ENOUGH?

There’s this pervasive myth that soundbars are nothing more than a compromise for people on a budget looking for a down-and-dirty surround sound solution. And that’s still largely true in the $200-and-below range. But these days, there are any number of truly high-performance soundbars that can deliver shockingly good sound.

 

If you’re simply looking for big, room-filling, impactful Dolby Atmos/DTS:X surround sound without running wires through the walls or around the perimeter of the room, Sennheiser has been turning heads in recent months with its new Ambeo Soundbar, an all-in-one sound solution that delivers 5.1.4-channel audio for $2,499. You might consider adding a subwoofer 

to the mix if you just can’t abide anything less than the deepest, hardest-hitting bass, but it’s not necessary. And if your local integrator doesn’t carry the Ambeo, the Yamaha YSP-5600 and Sony HT-ST5000 soundbars also deliver cinematic sound in a simple package. (Although, to be fair, neither of those is quite as technologically advanced as the Sennheiser.)

 

Luxury speaker manufacturers like James

The Cineluxe Guide to Media Rooms: The Basics

the Leon Speakers Horizon soundbar

Loudspeaker and Leon Speakers also make some truly gorgeous soundbars that, in some cases, can even be custom-made to perfectly match the width of your TV. They may be a little more complicated to set up, since they do require amplification, but if utter aesthetic sophistication is important to you, they’re definitely worth a look.

 

In my next post, I’ll start digging into what a slightly more elaborate—and indeed expandable—media room system looks like. But if you’re just looking for the basics, and if you’re looking to minimize the disruption to your design aesthetic, the Sony Z9G Master Series paired with a Sennheiser Ambeo Soundbar and a Kaleidescape movie player, properly installed and calibrated, will give you one heck of a movie-watching experience at home.

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.

Media Rooms Come of Age

Media rooms have a pretty bad reputation. So bad, in fact, that anyone who really cares about quality usually hesitates to go down that path as an alternative to a dedicated home theater. And that hesitation used to be justified because media rooms were inevitably compromised—mainly by small TV screens, unattractive, elaborate speaker systems and their inevitable 

profusion of cables, lousy acoustics, too much ambient light, and primitive room control.

 

But if you haven’t checked out the media-room market in the last five years or so, you might be surprised by how dramatically these systems and spaces have improved, and that it’s now possible to have a media room that can fit in well with the flow of your household with practically no compromises.

 

Note that I said “practically no.” Media rooms can’t yet achieve the level of playback quality a dedicated home theater can, and maybe never will. But for anyone who doesn’t want their primary entertainment space sealed off from the rest of the home, or only wants a modest setup but also wants a better-than-movie theater experience, or just doesn’t have the room for a standalone theater—which is practically everyone living in Manhattan, no matter how well-off—a well-designed and installed media room no longer represents a distant second-best solution.

 

It could even be argued that some of the recent media-room collaborations between architects, designers, and integrators (such as the one shown at the top of the page) represent the real cutting edge of current home entertainment.

 

So what’s changed that media rooms are now poised to finally shed their stigma?

 

♦  Reference-quality playback has become standard-issue in TVs, in smaller speaker setups, and with the movies and series you can readily access via download or streaming.

 

♦  TV screens have gotten a lot better, a lot bigger, a lot lighter, and a lot more stylish.

 

♦  Control systems are now much more sophisticated, flexible, and comprehensive.

 

♦  Lighting and shade control, in particular, have become more common and far more versatile.

 

♦  The best digital room-correction systems can now tame and optimize acoustically compromised spaces.

 

♦  Improvements in downloading and streaming, and in the picture and sound quality of TV series and video games, have created a demand for spaces that maximize the experience of all forms of entertainment and are responsive to the entertainment needs of all members of the household.

 

♦  Some interior designers have stopped holding their noses and decided to devote some of their considerable talent to making these rooms functional, attractive, and seamlessly integrated into the rest of the home.

 

♦  Some high-end integrators have moved beyond the general disdain for media rooms and now see them as the challenge and opportunity they are.

 

The Cineluxe Guide to Media Rooms: The Basics” is the first in a series of articles that will provide you with all the information you need to decide if you want a media room and how to make it best suit your needs. We’ll walk you through a variety of possibilities—from simple, no-compromise setups for a smallish secondary room to far more elaborate reference-quality systems for large, open-plan communal spaces. And we’ll do it without going deep into the tech. The goal is to provide you with enough of the essential concepts, facts, and context so you can convey to your integrator et al. exactly what you want to achieve and get a good sense of whether they’re up to the job.

 

But maybe the most important piece of advice we can pass along doesn’t have anything to do with gear, or content, or lights or shades, or any of that. While it’s good to have the strong core knowledge we’ll be providing, your biggest priority should be finding an integrator who “gets it.” For any candidates you’re considering, study their website thoroughly—especially their portfolio; if possible, visit one or more of the media rooms they’ve created. And listen to them carefully to be sure they’re not taking on the assignment grudgingly but are willing to embrace the challenge and create an exceptional multi-use entertainment space for you and your family.

 

So, should you still opt for a dedicated home theater if you have the room and aren’t willing to settle for anything less than the best? Absolutely. Should you be for one second embarrassed or ashamed if you decide to go with a media room instead? Absolutely not.

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.

AN INNOVATIVE MEDIA ROOM SPACE

The New York City apartment shown at left converts into a DCI-compliant theater at the press of a button; and yet there is no evidence of the system when it’s not in use. Almost every inch of wall space is either a reference-quality speaker or an acoustic treatment, all of it covered in custom-made acoustically transparent fabric.

 

Photos courtesy of Steinway Lyngdorf

REVIEWS

Casino Royale (2006)
A Life of Speed: The Juan Manuel Fangio Story
Bloodshot
Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey
Altered Carbon (Season 2)
Onward

ALSO ON CINELUXE

Acoustic Designer Steve Haas on Media Rooms
Kanopy is a Big Tent for Free Movies
Does Watching Movies Really Matter Right Now?
The Cineluxe Hour

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

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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 Luxury Home Entertainment?

The home theater is dying.

 

That’s not to say that no one will ever again build a secluded, enclosed, darkened space within their home purely for the purpose of watching movies. Of course they will.

 

But these days, beautiful multi-use spaces are where it’s at. Rooms where you feel just as comfortable gathering the family for a game of DropMix or Settlers of Catan as watching a film. Rooms where a stray beam of sunlight isn’t the enemy. Rooms in which the décor says, “Read a book, Facetime with Grandma, host a dinner party,” not just, “Ticket, please.”

 

There are any number of reasons for this trend—from lifestyle changes to the fact that you 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. But we’ll leave those discussions for another day.

 

First, we have to figure out what to call these spaces. Because “media room” just doesn’t cut it. And nothing quite matches the evocative simplicity of “home theater.” (Gah, what a perfect turn of phrase that is.) Until we come up with something better, we at Cineluxe are rallying behind the term “luxury home entertainment.”

Tribeca media room

photo by John Frattasi

What does that mean, though? I think the “home entertainment” part of the equation speaks for itself. But what about the “luxury” part? Unsurprisingly, there’s little agreement around these parts about what that means. For me, it’s probably best summed up by Merriam-Webster’s second stab at defining the term: “something adding to pleasure or comfort but not absolutely necessary.”

 

Let’s face it—none of this is really necessary. Watching movies isn’t necessary. Streaming music and playing video games aren’t essential to life. But any time you seek to elevate the space in which you enjoy these pastimes beyond the barebones minimum, I think you’re engaging in this thing that we’re calling luxury home entertainment. That means selecting gear that delivers an elevated level of performance, sure. But it also means integrating that gear into your room in a way that doesn’t impinge upon its livability, its comfort, its aesthetics.

 

By the same token, it also means designing or decorating a room in such a way that all of its accoutrements disappear when your entertainment system turns on. It means finding that balance without compromising either aspect.

 

This philosophy is probably best summed up by designer Ilse Crawford in the final episode of the amazing documentary series Abstract: The Art of Design. “Luxury is attention,” she says. “It’s care. . . . Caring about the details. Thinking about how people will experience the place.”

 

True, a room designed as a luxury home entertainment space adds another level of complexity, because the very experience of the room changes from day to day, hour to hour. But as we move toward a time in which interior designers and technology integrators are viewed as collaborators and co-conspirators—not antagonists whose goals conflict—we’ll see these spaces become more and more common. And as they do, perhaps someone will come up with a pithier name for them.

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 are the Media Room Essentials?

media rooms

Continuing our conversation about media rooms, I’m going to run with Dennis Burger’s initial premise that, for a room to qualify as a media room, some thought and effort have to go into creating the highest quality AV experience your space and budget will allow. Simply plopping a 55-inch HDTV, cheap soundbar, and set-top box on a TV stand in your family room doesn’t magically transform the space into a media room.

 

I contend that a high-quality media room system does two things: It offers great AV performance and it embraces the advanced technologies of the day. The beauty is, in today’s AV landscape, you don’t necessarily have to spend a fortune to get both of these things.

 

Here’s what I consider to be the core elements of a modern media room system:

 

A Large-Screen UHD Display

Just like in a dedicated home theater, a media room needs a large screen that draws you in and allows you to feel truly immersed in the source content, be it a movie, TV show, or game. The display should be the focus of your eye (at least when the system is turned on), and the room’s seating and layout should reinforce that principle.

 

What constitutes a large screen? It kind of depends on your room and how far the display is from the seating area. I’d say the screen needs to be at least 65 inches in a smaller room and 75 inches or more in a larger room. At these screen sizes, 4K resolution on its own isn’t crucial, but the other aspects of Ultra HD—namely, High Dynamic Range and expanded color—represent the best of what the video world has to offer right now. Once you see high-quality HDR content on a high-performance TV like an OLED, you won’t want to go back to standard dynamic range.

 

A word of warning: This is one area where you may get what you pay for. Lots of budget LED/LCD TVs support HDR but don’t deliver the level of contrast needed to fully exploit it. You really need an OLED or a good LED/LCD TV with a full-array backlight and local dimming technology to make the most of HDR.

 

An Ultra HD Source

You can’t enjoy HDR if your sources don’t support it, and it’s not difficult or even terribly expensive to upgrade to UHD-friendly source devices. Pretty much every new UHD TV is also a smart TV with UHD-capable streaming sources like Netflix, Amazon Video, and Vudu built right in. The newest streaming boxes from Roku, Apple, Amazon, and NVIDIA support HDR and are priced under $200 (some of them are priced way under that).

 

For those who have more to spend, it’s tough to beat the user experience of a Kaleidescape 4K movie server. And the company’s Movie Store offers 4K downloads that match the AV specs for Ultra HD Blu-ray.

 

We’ve also reached the point where every major Blu-ray player manufacturer now offers at least one Ultra HD model (if not more), and entry-level models are priced around $150. Many of these players also support hi-res audio playback via disc, USB, or streaming, so they can serve as a high-performance audio source, too.

 

Gamers can enjoy a complete 4K multimedia experience in one box, thanks to consoles like the Xbox One and Playstation 4 that support 4K/HDR gaming and streaming video. The Xbox One even adds an Ultra HD Blu-ray player.

 

Surround Sound

Just as the big screen will immerse you visually in the source, surround sound is a must for creating that “you are there” experience. If you hate the idea of running wires across the room, there are now plenty of creative ways to incorporate wireless surrounds. A 5.1-channel system is the minimum, but I’ll take it a step further and suggest that your system at least needs to be upgradeable to support 3D formats like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X.

 

3D audio adds a height element to complete the soundstage, and you can get Atmos and DTS:X decoding in 7.2-channel receivers costing as little as $400. A 7.2-channel receiver only gives you two height channels, but it’s better than nothing. There’s no shortage of in-ceiling speakers at all price points that can serve as the height channels. But if your room can’t support overhead speakers, check out all the Atmos modules designed to sit atop your existing speakers and bounce sound off the ceiling. This path provides an easy and inexpensive way to upgrade your system as your budget allows.

 

A Unified Control Experience

Nobody wants to look at a pile of remotes on the coffee table, let alone have to use them all in order to launch media playback. A universal remote control is essential. Logitech’s Harmony brand still reigns supreme in the world of third-party universal remotes, and TV manufacturers like LG and Samsung have really upped their game in the control department, making it easer to control multiple sources with the TV remote and adding support for Alexa and Google Home voice control.

 

The wide range of smart lighting systems and window treatments makes it easier and cheaper than ever to add automation elements to your media system without having to invest in a full-fledged control system—although there’s no denying the appeal of a well-executed Control4 or Crestron setup, should you choose to go that route.

 

There you have it: My list of must-have components in a media room. Do you agree or disagree?

Adrienne Maxwell

Adrienne Maxwell has been writing about the home theater industry for longer than she’s
willing to admit. She is currently the AV editor at Wirecutter. Adrienne lives in Colorado,
where she spends far too much time looking at the Rockies and not nearly enough time
being in them.