A good friend of mine who is an admitted audiophile and the former owner of Evett and Shaw loudspeakers from Utah, always talked about how "anti-social" home theater systems were. He noted that you and your wife have two other couples over for dinner and a movie; by the time that you all are in the theater - the lights are basically off, everyone is pointed towards the screen and laser-focused on the screen. You are not really interacting with each other (other than the occasional laugh out loud joke or whiz-bang effect), you are just sharing a dark moment in a room. His argument was that those same people could sit in a living room with a top-level audiophile system and enjoy music, a cocktail or two as well as meaningful, thoughtful conversation. To Craig, this was much more social and much more valuable.
• Find more original content in our Feature News section.
• Read Andrew Robinson's guide to building a room.
• Learn about another new trend in home theater: 2.1 speaker surround sound.
The idea of the dedicated media room or home theater is now a standard part of many very expensive homes. Loaded with design concepts from the old days, dedicated home theaters aren't always tuned in to the ways that people enjoy music, movies, HDTV and other media. For example, years ago when CRT projectors were the only way to get a big image on a screen - you needed a very dark room to make even a reasonable image. Today's new light rejecting screen materials make it such that even with an affordable projector (well below $10,000), you can have beaming video with the lights on at a pretty good clip. I saw a demonstration at this past CEDIA of a DNP Supernova screen that was just fantastic as it made a hell of an image while taking direct light from a sodium light above in the rafters. SI, Stewart Filmscreen and others are also in the light rejecting screen game. Thus today it is possible to watch really fantastic video in a room that isn't pitch black. Is the video better in a fully darkened room? There is no question this is the case, however people aren't always in the mood for the full experience in a dedicated room. They have other things going on but they also want to enjoy their AV systems.
In the audiophile world, many a joke has been made about "listening with your head in a vice," in a room with "speaker cables propped up on saw horses." Amps on the floor, one ideal seating position, equipment everywhere with ugly room treatments make for an experience designed for performance but not for anyone other than the audiophile collector. His time (let's face it: women just don't listen to music like this) is spent alone. As Craig pointed out above - somewhat anti-social. While Dark Side of the Moon might sound better with the lava lamp lit along with a roach in the clip (not that HomeTheaterReview.com condones drug use outside of medical use), it's pretty much of an anti-social experience.
The Media Room of The Future
A few weeks ago at the suggestion of a top loudspeaker manufacturer, I had a meeting with acoustic designer, Anthony Grimani. His home theater acoustical designs can only really be described as over-the-top. He builds custom solutions that can soundproof a room and/or deal with physical anomalies of a media room in ways that look acceptable to real-world (albeit wealthy) clients - but also seriously perform. Over a glass of wine (Peter Michael Belle Cote Chardonnay) and sitting in front of my living room system we discussed how people are allocating the real estate inside of their theaters differently. More and more often clients are dumping the rows of stadium seat theater seating for L-shaped sofas. They are adding game tables and movable seating that can be positioned for bigger screenings. They are using larger screens designed to work in ambient light and beyond. The result is a room that can be used more often than just for the serious, lights-out screening. Consumers are building small kitchens and bars into the rooms and using the rooms more for entertaining than for focused viewing. In a way, Anthony is overcoming Craig's objection from nearly two decades ago, thanks to excellence in design and architecture as well as new technologies available today that simply weren't around years ago.