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The Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How of Private Theater

If you can answer these questions for your prospective home theater customers, then they will have the information they need to make the right decision.

This private cinema, equipped with professional and consumer systems from Barco, Dolby Atmos, and JBL Synthesis, supports a busy schedule of theatrical screenings, family movie nights, gaming, home schooling, and more.Truly a no limits design! (Design and Engineering – Paradise Theater; Integration – M2 Multimedia; Theater Construction – Cinergy Construction)

These six questions are often thought of as the “journalistic questions” because any news story should answer them. If that is the case, as those responsible to provide our clientele the straight scoop on private cinema, we in the industry should be able to provide these answers as well. If we provide our clients with this information and make sure they appreciate our insight on the subject, we will go a long way to assure they will make the right choice and engage us to lead them as they embark on their own private theater journey!

Private theaters involve many disciplines. Technology, including audio, video, control, networking, and more; engineering, from acoustical to mechanical, electrical, and structural; design of systems, structure, and aesthetics; construction, including all the trades; coordination and management; and more! One-stop-shop solutions do exist and are satisfactory for some. However, the better approach is to engage a professional who, like a project architect, has the overall objective in sight. They will take responsibility to consider all the essential requirements; advise the client and team on choices and impacts; engineer, design, and document; and manage all parties throughout the process, verifying adherence and results. Resist the temptation to be a jack-of-all-trades, like a utility player trying to do it all and falling short of excellence. Better to be a star in your own area of expertise and join a team of superstars in every discipline. Your client will thank you.

Also by Sam Cavitt: Private Cinema Beauty, More Than Skin Deep

Home theater suffers from an identity crisis. The label “home theater” has come to mean many things, causing confusion and loss of value for the term. The term “motor vehicle” applies to a motor scooter as well as a Bugatti La Voiture Noire, but nobody is confused. The only question is, which one meets our client’s objectives?  A better way to answer “what” is to identify qualitative attributes. One such attribute for private cinema is a distraction-free environment, which is a vital component of a superior theater experience. Another is balanced acoustical performance. Other attributes include properly engineered audio and video systems, ergonomically appropriate seating and traffic plans, aesthetics integrated to complement the performance, and the list goes on. Just as the motor scooter cannot deliver the experience of a luxury motor vehicle like the Bugatti, it will take similarly increased effort to produce desired results in a private cinema. We must dig deeper into what our clients would truly appreciate before we arbitrarily fit them into a theater in a box!

Ironically, it is never too late to do something, but it is never too early to do something much better. Unfortunately, what we see in the industry is the trend to focus on the former and ignore the latter. This is likely a result of a less than holistic perspective. If we are thinking only about when we need to get wire in the walls, the lead time of equipment, our current workload — even the lead time for furnishings and interior packages — we will be missing some very important considerations that will impact the quality of the final result and client experience. This short-sighted perspective is not limited to our industry. We were recently told by a builder that we would be contacted when the time was right. When we asked when that might be, we were told “after the architect and designer knew what the client wants to do in his theater.” Current direction includes a refrigerator in the room, no excavation for seating platforms, and a shared mechanical system. These defects could be easily eliminated with early consultation and planning. They cannot be corrected after the fact. There is no penalty for early consultation, but the cost of missed opportunities and oversights can be irreparable.

Our clients have many options. Big screens and surround systems in family rooms, bedrooms, kitchens, and offices, even outdoors. Some eschew a location entirely and default to personal devices. And then there is the choice that started it all: the private cinema. The choice of where to enjoy our entertainment, be it music, television, games, or movies, can be daunting. What is often ignored is the fact that all choices are not equal. It has become popular to promote alternative solutions over the dedicated private cinema. A private cinema is a singular experience. Properly designed and executed, a private cinema will deliver a movie experience precisely as intended by the producer and director. Noted film directors have publicly stated that the experience provided by such a private cinema is superior to any commercial theater. A telling statement in these changing times!  Maybe the new normal will be staying in instead of going out to the movies and the experience will be superior!

Also by Sam Cavitt: Creating Sonic Connoisseurs

Excellence should be offered in every client’s theater, but we are too frequently directed to compromise on one or more vital attributes because a client does not need or cannot afford them. Often, these subjects have not been adequately explored. In one case a client was said to be satisfied with a seriously underpowered audio system because it was all they had budgeted for. Engineering compared calculated performance with CEA criteria and shared the results with the integrator who in turn discussed it with the clients. They cheerfully upgraded to a system that exceeded the criteria!

We need to remember our clients are making a lot of decisions in the creation of their homes. From appliances, furnishings, and finishes to amenities. Without proper understanding, decisions will be made that will impact their ultimate goal, which is to be happy. We owe it to them and ourselves to deliver the best private cinema possible. After all, what could make a client happier than to own a private cinema so compelling that family and friends are inspired to gather and enjoy time together!

The phrase, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, comes to mind. A private cinema that will deliver on the promise of becoming the de facto movie theater experience will require diligence on the part of the providers. It is vital we resist the trend to favor convenience and compromise over perseverance and performance.  The former is the road to commoditization and the latter is the way of truly admirable products that will maintain their value and demand. Commoditized products become known for compromise and lowered values, causing markets to look elsewhere for value. On the other hand, premium product offerings have a tendency to increase in value and demand as a result of buyer satisfaction. If we, as an industry, want to enjoy a status other than that of a commodity, we must commit to do all that it takes to deliver excellence. That being comprehensive design and engineering based on true process and science rather than convenience; consummate construction, installation, and management to assure perfection; and concierge service and delivery to assure unparalleled client satisfaction.

This column reminds me of the experience I had with a client almost 25 years ago. He could not decide between a media room and a dedicated theater. He chose both. I asked him about that after having visited several times at various times of the day and finding him, always, in the dedicated theater. He told me, “I like the media room all right, my designer made it nice and comfortable. But there is no comparison to the sound and picture in my theater. I never knew it would be that good!”

He made the right choice.

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