Media rooms and home theaters
As 2011 drew to a close, film executives picked up their copies of The Hollywood Reporter to learn that just 1.28 billion people went to the movies that year. The number—down 4.4 percent from the previous year—was the lowest since 1995.
Americans are embracing the home theater and entertainment boom. Why hire a babysitter, drive across town, pay rising ticket costs, sit through countless ads and previews and put up with in-movie cell phone use when a family can easily replicate, customize and even improve upon the movie-theater experience without ever leaving home?
The Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association (CEDIA), www.cedia.org, has an international network of experts who specialize in planning and installing electronic systems for the home. According to the association’s website, most home theater enthusiasts desire a “gigantic screen, incredible sound and absorption into the movie’s universe.” Recreating these crucial elements is easier and more affordable than ever before.
The basics: screen, sound and seating
CEDIA suggests starting with a big-screen TV. Plasma screens, LCDs, LEDs and projectors are all viable options. Once the screen decision is made, owners must upgrade the speakers for a full immersion experience—few, if any, consumer televisions come with speakers powerful enough to meet the demands of a true home theater system. A properly calibrated surround-sound system will enable dialogue, explosions and sound effects to “pop,” giving you the full theater-quality sound experience. Blu-ray disc players also are great additions because besides playing high-definition DVDs, many Blu-ray disc players also have a streaming feature, so users can access such services as Netflix and Hulu Plus, says Jay Ferebee, systems designer for Acoustic Innovations, www.acousticinnovations.biz, in Alpharetta.
Jamie Briesemeister, system sales and design consultant for St. Louis-based CEDIA member Integration Controls, has worked on systems ranging from $5,000 to $1 million in costs. He says comfortable seating and a dark, quiet room help home theaters match true theater ambience. Best of all, these rooms let families watch content on their own terms. “The user has the power to pause for intermission, adjust the volume and choose the movie,” Briesemeister says.
Lighting has become another must-have for home theaters. “Lighting control has definitely become our most popular add-on,” says Seth Herold, president of CEDIA member Home TheaterWorks, www.htwatlanta.com, in Alpharetta. “With lighting scenes customized for a homeowner’s viewing preferences and video display, you can have a true theater experience. With the touch of a single button, the movie starts and the lights are dimmed.”
Something fun Ferebee is seeing is fiber optic lighting placed throughout the ceiling so it looks like twinkling stars in a night sky. Another option has been using glow-in-the-dark paint in combination with a black light to provide a similar aesthetic.
Given all the wiring that comes with a home theater system and its various extra components, it’s essential that you plan ahead to accommodate all the wiring as well as plan for future upgrades. “You can never have too many wires in the walls,” Herold says. “We use multiple runs of Cat6 wire to all video displays so that we can use them to deliver video in the future with the use of baluns (or adapters) to convert the wire to whatever kind of cable we need. Also, when building a new room, it is recommended that you install a conduit (or electrical piping system) from the equipment location to the video display so that additional wires may be run in the future, long after the room has been finished.”
A properly designed home theater can actually outperform commercial theaters, says Craig Abplanalp, vice president of sales at CEDIA member Definitive Audio, www.definitive.com, in Seattle. To achieve this, homeowners should interview several A/V companies and select a professional who is experienced in custom projects. “Remember to ensure that the company has strong relationships with key vendors and a commitment to provide you the best in service for future upgrades or maintenance needs,” Abplanalp advises. A good design and engineering team will collaborate with other experts like architects, electricians and interior designers.
Advanced options: the Internet, integration and automation
Although many trends are emerging in the home entertainment space, wireless applications and multipurpose rooms are among the most popular. Owners must plan ahead for rapidly changing technology and install infrastructure powerful enough to handle wireless and other needs.
Briesemeister’s company is seeing an uptick in requests for web browsing in the theater or the primary TV-viewing space of the home. “Families are gathering to watch YouTube videos or research a vacation destination together, not just watch a blockbuster hit,” he explains. Strict theaters might employ soundproofing, blackout shades, dimmers and motorized screens while flexible spaces can account for multiple formats and users. In the “play area” of CEDIA’s Future Technology Pavilion at its 2012 exposition, CEDIA partners recently built an immersive video room that can identify the occupant, his/her likes and dislikes and display the appropriate content for that user.
Abplanalp’s company has found that the best types of products in a multifunctioning home entertainment space are those that fit aesthetically but retain “the performance and flexibility to integrate in a wide range of architecture and design styles.” Furniture, lighting and equipment can all morph as the room’s purpose shifts. Concealed speakers (in walls or ceilings) and hidden screens (that raise with motors or lie behind art) are all good options. Ferebee says he recommends drapes to cover screens because they have a really nice feel to them, plus they can be automated to open when a movie starts.
Many CEDIA members are optimizing the home theater experience with fully integrated electronics systems that centralize all applications and eliminate the need for several controllers. With these home automation systems, users can now control entire setups with their smartphone, iPad or other tablet devices. “One button should be all [a homeowner] needs to truly enjoy the solution they purchased,” Briesemeister says. An alternative to home automation is using a wireless Internet connection to remotely control a home theater system. By connecting the main control panel to a wireless network, homeowners can access their entire home theater system through an app on an iPad, smartphone or computer, Ferebee says. Many home automation brands like Control4, Crestron and others also have mobile apps available for both iPhone and Android devices wherein you can control all aspects of your home automation system whether you are at home or on the go.
Automation also can help owners manage energy consumption by reading, limiting and adjusting usage. According to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a typical U.S. home has 40 products constantly drawing power. Green power strips are one solution, where the main device in the first outlet stays on while other outlets on the strip disconnect totally when accessories aren’t being used. Watt-readers help educate consumers on the worst offending products (like game consoles and TVs). “We use a combination of power management products that allow for conservation of energy by eliminating ‘vampire power,’ which is the power used by electronics when they are in standby mode,” Herold says. “With products such as BlueBOLT by Panamax, you can take care of surge protection, power conditioning and conservation all in one box.”
What’s next for the home theater market? As always, TV manufacturers are finding ways to increase size and quality while decreasing thickness and price. Soon, entertainment buffs and movie enthusiasts will be clamoring for 4K, a new format with an unprecedented resolution that promises to blow traditional HD out of the water and cement home theaters as the best place for a truly fantastic movie experience. Ferebee says he also is waiting to see how 3-D progresses, given many manufacturers are looking for ways to provide a 3-D viewing experience without having to wear 3-D glasses.
Overall, don’t rush into a home theater install; rather, take the time to research, plan and design your system with your providers. “The most important part of the process is the planning,” Herold says. “Since this is usually a big investment of both money and time, [homeowners] should work with someone with experience who they feel can provide the advice, execution and support of a room they will get a lot of use out of.”
Ferebee agrees, saying that homeowners should be clear about the function of a home theater space. “It’s all about finding out what’s important to [homeowners,]” he says. Do they plan to watch movies? Stream? Want great audio quality? “Design a system from there with the budget in mind,” Ferebee says. “Make sure your needs and wants are being met.”
4 New Home Entertainment Products
Are you installing or upgrading your home theater or media room? These four products are some of the most exciting to hit the market in recent months—check them out!
80 Is the New 70 (and 90 Will Be the New 80)
Sharp has rolled out the LC-80LE632U, an 80-inch behemoth with 1080p resolution. Built-in WiFi provides seamless support for an array of apps including Netflix. The model has been so popular that Sharp has announced the Aquos LC-90LE745U, a 90-inch model billed as “the world’s largest LED TV.” It has built-in WiFi and full HD Active 3-D.
Networked and Well-“Liked”
The Logitech Squeezebox Radio is a network music player that brings Internet radio, Pandora and even Facebook integration into your entertainment room. Download the Logitech software to your computer, sync it with your music library, listen to the music you love on the stereo in any room—and let your friends know about it on Facebook!
An Open-Source TV Game Console
Slated for a spring 2013 release, OUYA is a sleek product designed to revolutionize the gaming world. Funded on Kickstarter, OUYA is a new game console for the TV, powered by Android. The open-source format allows developers to program and release their own games to other players who will also have access to titles from major distributors.
Never Lose Your CDs and DVDs Again
Enjoy your movie and music collections on any TV in the house through The Kaleidescape System, which digitizes, stores, documents and organizes files on hard drives for instant viewing and listening with user-friendly options.
TVs aren’t just for viewing television programs anymore. Now, they stream movies, music and Internet clips straight into your living room or home theater. Play:5 and Play:3 devices are popular parts to the Sonos HiFi wireless audio system that is leading the way for audiophiles, while the Connect turns a home theater into a music-streaming machine controllable by a tablet. The quality of streaming TV continues to rise thanks to the competition between Hulu, Netflix, Vudu, AppleTV, Amazon, Roku and others. NetGear’s new NeoTV ProHD provides online content at 1080p HD. A well-designed WiFi network or a hard-wired broadband connection are suggested. Happy surfing!
Home Entertainment Resources
Atlanta Design & Build
Bertek Home Theaters
5020 Atlanta Road, SE
Smyrna, GA 30080
Classic Blinds and Shutters
793 North Main Street
Alpharetta, GA 30009
1825 Grassland Parkway, Suite A
Alpharetta, GA 30004
Direct Build Home Improvement
Lightning Bug Electric
The Blind Ladies