Six Reasons Why There Has Never Been A Better Time to Love Home Theater

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Six Reasons Why There Has Never Been A Better Time to Love Home Theater


6-reasons-small.jpgDepending on where you get your news, there are lots of pundits who will go on and on about how bad things are these days. On some levels, I understand their downbeat outlook on global issues. However, in the world of consumer electronics, things are sure looking up. The housing market is starting to rebound nationally, with a few areas like California that are red hot. The Dow is currently over 15,000 and new, affordable technologies are coming to market all the time. After a few recent discussions with top specialty AV dealers, installers and reviewers from other top AV publications, I propose to you that perhaps there has never been a better time to be invested in the home theater hobby. Here's my argument.

Additional Resources
• Read more commentary like this in our Feature News Stories section.
• See more industry trade news from HomeTheater Review.com.
• Explore reviews of HDTVs, AV Receivers, and Blu-ray Players.

Today's AV Gear Is Cheap
Roll the tape back to when the real estate market was still healthy, the likes of Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns still walked the Earth (way back to 2008) and a top-level 50-inch HDTV cost you a solid $5,000 - perhaps even a little more if you wanted to go for something sexy like the lauded Pioneer Kuro in its larger sizes. Today, top-level sets are thankfully larger in dimension yet thinner in width. They have more features - way more features. They have more apps. They are easily controlled by your iPhone, iPad or Android device. Oh, and they cost less money. It's just a really good time to buy a TV.

High-performance Internet-direct AV companies have set a new standard for value in the consumer electronics world while offering excellent customer service, trade-up programs and more. The brick-and-mortar stores that are surviving and thriving know who the competition is (Internet-direct, Amazon, catalogs, big box, warehouse), and they are doing what it takes to beat them. Who's winning? Not Charlie Sheen but you, the home theater enthusiast.

Today's AV Gear Is Good ... Really Good
Wanna roll the clock back again to 2008 and talk about HDMI? Me neither, because it just sucked. Handshake issues caused more than one AV installer to hang himself with a noose made of HDMI 1.0 cables designed to go no more than three meters. Higher-end component companies couldn't keep up with the upgrades that the HDMI folks came up with, yet content providers didn't want us, the consumers, to have access to their content without the copy-protected connection. It was a mess, and dealers who put a premium on reliability stayed with component cables as long as they could, no matter what the studios and networks said.

Today HDMI works much better, and the more computer-like products in the market have a longer lifespan, thanks to firmware and hardware updates that allow a $1,000-plus investment to be upgraded over time. Audiophile products are becoming more stable as the firmware and card-based upgrade paths that many companies have adopted make your high-end audio investment last longer.

The performance of today's AV gear is also getting better and better. Room EQ is improving nicely. Power amps are quieter, slimmer, more powerful and cooler-running. Speakers are easier to drive, with more "wife-friendly" footprints. Subwoofers are smaller, easier to set up and easier to tune to your room's needs. Today's DACs can actually make iProducts and computers sound okay when connected to a top AV system, and these DACs cost hundreds of dollars, not tens of thousands. TVs come closer to SMPTE standards with less adjustment, and further calibration can yield some amazing results.

Form Factor Has Changed the Game
Remember big-screen TVs? Of course you do. For two decades, they roamed the planet as the most affordable large-format display devices, but they were big, bulky and killed audio center imaging. Flat HDTVs changed everything, but early sets weren't as slim and sexy as the paper-thin sets that you can buy today.

On the audio side, soundbars have changed the way many people listen to audio. That thin battery of speakers mounted below your HDTV, often paired with a wireless subwoofer that's flexible and easy to set up, has inspired more people to move away from their TV speakers and to instead explore new audio options.

Audiophile components, especially speakers, have better finishes, are made more responsibly and have more slender footprints. Speaker finishes from some enlightened companies can span the rainbow or match even the most exotic woods. In-wall speakers have drastically improved in performance for the first time in a long time, complete with bi-amped connections, room EQ and full-frequency performance. In-walls now mount flush into the wall and can even sit behind the drywall, if you like. Even today's boxes and packaging are nicer than ever before.

Islands in the Stream, That Is What We Are
Anyone who has played with streaming media quickly sees that it's the future of AV media. To be clear, streaming still isn't as good as music from a CD and/or a movie in 1080p from a Blu-ray disc; however, the ability to access vast volumes of content whenever we want is truly tempting. If Apple has taught us anything with the iPod, it's that when given the choice between quality and convenience, people will pick convenience. The trick going forward will be to deliver both a high-quality streaming experience and the amazing access that services like Netflix, CinemaNow, iTunes and so many others offer.

For music, Internet Radio is gaining in popularity as a new-school source for finding new music and/or listening to music via moods vs. albums. Services like Pandora and Spotify offer relational database suggestions based on the music that you like and don't like. I guess Big Brother is listening, and he's trying to find you some kickass new tracks.

Convergence Is Reality, Right Now
A few weeks ago, I got a call from my AV installer, Tim Duffy, from Simply Home Entertainment, and he proclaimed that "Convergence is truly upon us!" I thought perhaps he saw that Microsoft no longer has to go to the Consumer Electronics Show and promote the merger of home theater, audio and PCs or sponsor Bill Gates or Steve Ballmer as the show's keynote speaker. Instead he said, "I just got an email from my Miele clothes dryer telling me that I need to clean the lint trap." We've clearly entered a new world of connectivity that has been predicted, projected and promoted for every bit of a decade. Now it's here and, in many ways, it's a good thing.

Ultra HD Is Around the Corner
Ultra HD offers four times the resolution of 1080p, which is meaningful on large-format projection screens and HDTV sets, but what's really to die for in our Ultra HD future is 10- or 12-bit color. Billions more colors represent a giant leap forward for home video and something to be truly excited about for the future. Should you run out and drop $17,000, $25,000 or even $40,000 for a UHD set? Probably not yet, but keep an eye on it. In two years, we might have a broadcast and/or Blu-ray standard that will bring us much more fantastic video to power our home theater systems.

That being said, today's top 1080p sets are nothing short of amazing (think Vizio's 80-inch M-series or Panasonic's ZT plasmas) and represent the best picture money can buy today. If it makes any difference to you, I am buying both for my new condo while I wait for UHD to settle itself down. By the time I can build a new house, hopefully the UHD format will be truly ready for prime time.

Okay, I am ready for all the forum haters to try to poke holes in my argument, and you are welcome to comment below. Still, I contend that the sky isn't falling. Things are fantastic in the world of consumer electronics. Simply put, you can buy technology that was barely imaginable just a few years ago at prices that appeal to mainstream audiences with the coolest form factors, most awesome user interfaces, greatest retail experiences and improved upgradability. So what gear will you upgrade next (and when)? Comment below.

Additional Resources
• Read more commentary like this in our Feature News Stories section.
• See more industry trade news from HomeTheater Review.com.
• Explore reviews of HDTVs, AV Receivers, and Blu-ray Players.

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