Published On: March 3, 2014

Eight Reasons Why Home Theater Isn't Dead (and Won't Die Any Time Soon)

Published On: March 3, 2014
Last Updated on: October 31, 2020
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Eight Reasons Why Home Theater Isn't Dead (and Won't Die Any Time Soon)

I don't think I was the only person who was shocked to see Source Interlink close Home Theater Magazine in 2013 . Source merged the publications Home Theater Magazine and Sound + Vision, much the way foodie print zines Gourmet...

Eight Reasons Why Home Theater Isn't Dead (and Won't Die Any Time Soon)

By Author: Jerry Del Colliano

skeletontheaterunsharpFINAL.jpgI don't think I was the only person who was shocked to see Source Interlink close Home Theater Magazine in 2013 . Source merged the publications Home Theater Magazine and Sound + Vision, much the way foodie print zines Gourmet and Bon Appetit merged years ago. A publication with a direct name match like "Home Theater" and with a trademark for the publishing sector (one that we have rights to use, by the way) is seemingly of great value. The powers that be at Source Interlink chose to focus their attention on Sound + Vision Magazine and its website, instead of keeping HomeTheater.com. When I asked my friends who work for the publication what the reasoning was behind that decision, they said that the name "Sound + Vision" allowed them to have a wider appeal. I completely get it, but it still begs the question: is the concept of home theater simply dead?

There is no question that the world of smartphones, headphones, tech gadgets, and other AV goodies are booming and far more mainstream than dedicated home theater products. Nearly everyone has a smartphone these days, even in developing countries and emerging markets, so nearly everyone has the need for a nifty set of good-sounding headphones. On the other side, since the Great Recession of 2008, the key components of a home theater system have gone from luxury goods (think $5,000 flat HDTVs) to white goods that are sold in Costco, Walmart, and Target next to the industrial-sized box of Cheerios or the 48-pack of Charmin. But does that mean that home theater is dead or dying? I don't think so, and here are eight reasons why.

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1. Television programming is the best it has ever been.
Television programming - be it network, cable, or even Internet shows like Netflix's House of Cards - are hitting a creative high the way popular music did in the late 1960s and early 1970s. There are more reasons to watch (or binge-watch) today's shows than ever and, while excellent TV translates well to an iPad or a tablet, the often big-budget TV shows translate even better to a 7.1 surround sound system and a professionally-calibrated 65-inch-plus HDTV hanging on your wall.

2. The good gear keeps getting cheaper and cheaper.
The delta between very good AV components and the very best AV components in terms of performance has been getting smaller and smaller - more so over the past five years than ever before. Look at what a $3,500 video projector can do for you vs. a $10,000 projector from 2007, offering superior performance in virtually every way. Speakers are getting more efficient, smaller, and easier to drive. Receivers are now WiFi hubs, streaming devices, and more. Smart remote controls that actually work well are priced under $300 and can be programmed by you. Meaningful lighting control can be a Saturday project for a handy AV enthusiast packing a Home Depot gift card for a few hundred bucks. Home theater isn't dead - it just got a lot cheaper. Is the top stuff better? Sure it is, but as always, you're paying for the nth degree of performance, and that delta is still pretty significant when compared with today's lower-priced products that are increasingly fantastic.

3. Media sources are abundant and no longer locked to a disc.
ID-100181254.jpgMost AV enthusiasts have at one point or another ripped their music to a hard drive. Some of us have done it a number of times with varied results. These days, it's easy get your music and movies onto a raided NAS drive for under $200 that can serve as your media hub and run on every system and device in your house. This isn't AV magic or a trick for rich guys - this is reality for the mainstream.

Beyond ripping your own discs, streaming/download services from Netflix, Apple, Amazon, Hulu and others give you access to a ton of content, often right through an application on your new HDTV. You don't need to own the disc anymore, as nearly every back-catalog movie is available on demand. Some of today's network and cable apps allow you access to shows right after they air as part of your subscription, thus there's no waiting to watch content on your schedule and on the display of your choice.

On the high end, look at what Kaleidescape is doing with its download store. For the retail price of a Blu-ray, you can buy first-run or recent movies like Gravity for $24.95, download them to your $3,995 K-scape Cinema One server (down from about ten times that price a few years ago), and watch them at Blu-ray quality. Need extra space? Just delete it and re-download it when you want. With a fast Internet connection, it takes a good three to five hours to download a movie with uncompressed 7.1 audio and 1080p video, but then again, how long does it take to drive to Best Buy to buy a Blu-ray disc, provided they have what you want in stock?

Click on over to Page 2 for numbers 4,5,6,7 and 8 . . .

worldofso22ucopy.jpg4. Soundbars only sound so good.
Take it from me, as I have one of the top soundbars money can buy in my current theater: soundbars can't compete with today's best small speakers. Buy a couple pairs of small speakers from Paradigm, Aperion, Orb Audio, EMP Tek, or a similar company, mate them with a small sub, and you can rock the world. The experience that you get from in-HDTV speakers is pathetic. Soundbars are better but still lacking. The 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound you can get with a nicely placed and calibrated set of speakers - even at under $1,000 for 5.1 - is still the standard. Long live home theater.

5. The Internet gives more buying power to the consumer.
Brick-and-mortar stores are still my preferred method of purchase for AV gear, but there are so many top-level AV companies selling Internet-direct that consumers have dozens of options of where to buy their gear. And, thanks to sites like eBay.com, Craigslist.com, and Audiogon.com, enthusiasts are able to sell legacy components for a good price while upgrading to state-of-the-art products. People working their way up the specialty AV food chain are able to buy used AV products at fair prices, thanks to the Internet.

6. High-resolution audio is a reality right now.
Unlike the debacle of SACD and DVD-Audio, music in high resolution is a reality today. While the likes of Apple are ignoring music in anything other than one-quarter the resolution of a 33-year-old compact disc, players like Acoustic Sounds, HDTracks.com, AIX Records, 2L, and others are selling meaningful music from platinum-selling artists in 24-bit/192-kHz resolution. This music is exponentially better-sounding than a 1440 CD ripped in AIFF, so there is more reason today than ever to invest in high-performance AV electronics.

7. OLED and Ultra HD are coming to an HDTV near you.
OLED is here today at a 1080p resolution and will soon arrive in Ultra HD. Without question, OLED is pricey right now, and it's a technology that needs a year or two of development to be ready for the mainstream but, with brighter-than-LCD light output, better-than-plasma blacks, uber-thin form factors (including curved, in case you care), and modest power consumption, OLED is a promising technology for 2015 and beyond. People who bought a high-performance HDTV seven or eight years ago will have a reason to buy another one soon with a massive performance increase.

Ultra HD is also a future technology, but with four times the resolution of 1080p and the potential for billions more colors and better motion resolution, Ultra HD is also a total game-changer. Mainstream consumers are going to want new HDTVs that are Ultra HD en masse once content can flow freely via cable, satellite, and/or Blu-ray.

8. Day-and-date movie releases are not as crazy as they used to seem.
Day-and-date movie releases aren't just for the 400 Hollywood moguls with D-Cinema Bel Air Circuit screening rooms and access to studio accommodation programs, although it's still pretty much a rich guy's game. A $35,000 Prima Cinema component will bring you $500-per-movie first-run films from a few studios, but certainly not all. Day-and-date movies aren't for mainstream consumers, but they also aren't total vaporware either. Give it three to five years, and you might just see ways to get HD movies into your home theater at the same time that they are playing at the cineplex.

Clearly, the concept of home theater isn't dead. It has taken its fair share of lumps as part of a real-estate-based economic correction, but there are technologies out today and ones coming in the months/years ahead that will inspire enthusiasts and mainstream consumers alike to invest in their current home theater or a completely new system.

What do you think? Is traditional home theater dead or dying, or undergoing healthy transformation? What reasons would you give? Your comments are welcomed below.

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