“Price is no object!”
Those are beautiful, if infrequent, words to come from a client’s mouth, but, when they do, it creates a different kind of pressure. Without financial constraints, what will you do to build a unique, ultra-high-end home theater?
Two companies recently entered the industry with services designed to give those clients with extremely deep pockets a home theater experience like no other. Both Cortex VIP Cinemas and Red Carpet Home Cinema provide different, but complementary, services that can bring unique sound and content to the upper echelon of your client list.
Cortex VIP Cinemas
Imagine always being able to sit in the sweet spot of your favorite theater — or even the sound studio the mix was created in! That is the promise of Cortex VIP Cinemas, which has a unique relationship with Dolby that allows them to work with integrators to bring the truest representation of Dolby Atmos into clients’ homes.
While Atmos files are not exclusive, according to John Russell, co-founder of Cortex VIP Cinemas, “the one place where that content is able to be decoded in the way that it was originally intended to be heard is in a commercial movie theater. There are more tracks available; there are more objects available. It is the full implementation of everything Atmos can do. Everything on the consumer side is, to one degree or another, a scaled back version of that.”
Until now. Cortex is a worldwide distributor of the Dolby CP850-C, which is a version of the commercial CP850 processor that Dolby has created for the luxury home market. Cortex pairs the processor with electronics that maximize the impact that true Dolby Atmos can provide in the home.
“The way we explain it,” says Russell, “is we sell the engine to a sports car, we’re not building the entire car. Dealers still need to put tires on it, or, in this case, a room around it. Since we have the ability to decode content unlike any consumer products, we want to maximize that ability. To do that we need the other equipment in our system like the power and HDMI components.”
The Cortex engine optimizes the audio performance by using the content’s metadata, which includes the specifications for the mixing stage it was created on; the Cortex system decodes that information and renders that same studio mix in the home environment. “You’re actually hearing your room sound like the room that the product was created in,” adds Russell.
The Cortex system uses a maximum of 64 channels, creating up to 128 objects in the room based on where the speakers are located and where in that three dimensional space the viewer needs to be seated. “We do not think of rooms as 7.1 or 7.1.4,” says Russell. “That’s not how you think about a room on the commercial cinema side. On the commercial side, we look at three basic things: Where are the people in the room? What is the size of the image? And what is the total amount of volume of the room that we need to fill up? We have a program that tells us where every speaker should go in order to get that full result.
“Sometimes there are 35 speakers, sometimes there are 24 speakers, and sometimes there are 52 speakers. It really depends on the room, and it also depends on the performance of the speakers. Some speakers have different dispersion traits, and so we need more of them to fill the space up. That’s not a function of a good or a bad speaker, it’s just that the physical characteristics of what it can do.”
The Cortex system includes the Dolby processor, Dolby amplification, and a custom-made HDMI matrix that’s made by Zigen. “There’re some cool features that the Dolby amplifiers provide,” says Russell, “one of which is, if you blow a tweeter or you blow an amp channel or something is not working, the processor and the amplifier talk to each other, recognize that there is a problem, and then re-render the room without the failed channel.” The system will also send an email alert to Cortex and the dealer that there is a problem.
Other features include its own unique surge protection, which includes a lightning detector that detects strikes within 10 miles of the system. If it hits within three miles, it shuts off the power grid and goes to the system’s included UPS, which has an isolation transformer.
The company helps with the layout of the room and the location of the speakers, leaving the interior and the acoustical treatments to the integrator. Cortex can recommend speakers, but they are flexible based on which brands the dealer prefers. At the end of installation, they come out and calibrate the system, then, afterwards, provide remote monitoring to make sure it continues to meet the company’s specifications.
When it comes to working with dealers, Cortex is looking to partner with those who are established with high-end clientele and that are very proficient at what they do. “We bring value to them by giving them access to products that they normally can’t get,” says Russell. “Plus we take a lot of the workload off of them, and they understand the quality of what we do is on par with what they do.”
The other dealer case that Russell finds works for Cortex are dealers that have excellent selling abilities at the ultra-premium level, but not as accomplished in ultra-high-level installation. “They understand what we give them,” he says. “The hands-on approach that we have with the dealers is a huge safety net. We’ve done this before even if they have not.”
If a dealer needs help with the full home theater system, Cortex has a partnership with Rayva where Cortex will provide a pre-packaged system for use with Pro Audio Technology speakers and a Rayva interior. From that starting point, the theater can then be further customized for the space.
For demonstration purposes, Cortex has access to Dolby screening rooms in Burbank, San Francisco, New York, and London to show dealers and clientele what they can do in the home.
With each project being custom, pricing can vary greatly from install to install. “I can tell you that our electronics are usually sold depending on the size of the system — between $150,000 and $250,000. And our total rooms are typically between $500,000 and $1 million. That’s for theaters, but we can also do media rooms and outdoor environments — even systems on yachts and planes. We concentrate on the theater side of things, because that’s the best representation of what we can do.”
Related: Creating Sonic Connoisseurs
Red Carpet Home Cinema
After you build an amazing ultra-high-end home theater, you need extraordinary content to show how special it is. Red Carpet Home Cinema has a straightforward solution for that — first-run films that your clients can watch in their homes as soon as the movies hit the multiplexes.
Not that you need to have a high-end home theater to watch the movies, according to Red Carpet co-founder Fred Rosen. “We’re agnostic as to the equipment you have as long as you have an HDMI connection,” he says. “So our server can work in a big screening room; it can work in a family room; it can work in your bedroom. But, when you build a big screening room or home theater, the most important thing is getting the most utilization out of it, and that comes down to sports and movies.”
To gain access to these first-run films, dealers must first install a $15,000 server in the client’s home. From there, they will be able to rent movies for prices ranging from $1500 to $3000 for two showings in a 36-hour period. If the client wants to view the films in different rooms, additional servers will need to be added for each space.
Day-and-date film rentals have been tried before and failed, usually due to film studios being reluctant to risk the wrath of the major theater chains, but Rosen, who joined Ticketmaster in 1982 and made it what it is today, isn’t concerned. With his deep industry relationships, he has already secured content from Warner Bros.; Paramount; Fox; Lionsgate; MGM; Annapurna; and STX.
“The studios know that we’re very sensitive to protecting them and being very careful,” he says. “This is about ancillary revenue, this is not about disrupting anything. This is for a limited audience of a certain demographic.”
Rosen’s belief in strong relationships goes beyond the Red Carpet/film studios connection. “Everything in life is relationships,” he continues. “If integrators know they can pick up the phone and call us if there’s an issue — that there’s someone behind the phone and it’s a real company — then they will be willing to put us in their client’s homes. If you build relationships with the integrators, they realize that, not only are you supportive of your product, but you’re also respectful and supportive of them.”
The Red Carpet system is only available through dealers, but potential clients will have to go through the company’s screening process before the system can be installed. “They have to fill out an application and sign it because you’re putting $100 million movie in someone’s home on the day it comes out,” says Rosen. “So you want to know a little bit about who these people are, and they have to acknowledge that they’re going to be respectful of the movies and that it’s not going to wind up on YouTube.” In addition to the form, participants will also need to leave a credit card with a limit of at least $50,000 on file with Red Carpet.
Red Carpet Home Cinema is just now rolling out, and is in about 50 homes in the United States. And although the service is simply stated, the company is ready to help dealers make the sale, as well as the technical support once the transaction has been completed.
“This service is for you if you love movies and you’re in a certain demographic,” concludes Rosen. “If you don’t love movies, there’s no conversation, and if it’s something that’s out of your price range, that’s fine — go to the movies. What we do is, if you’re showing Ford v Ferrari or Midway or Bombshell, you can share it with your family or a few friends, and no one will be distracted. That’s the power of all that.”