While a percentage of the country’s more affluent homeowners prefer to simultaneously stay at home while going to the movies in a purpose-built space, not everyone wants, or can afford, to construct dedicated home theaters. As technology costs decrease and America’s “cocooning” trend continues, however, an increasing number of home theaters are being built into spaces not originally designed for the application. In many houses, living rooms, family rooms, great rooms and/or dens second as home theaters when a movie is in play.
“A lot of this has to do with the technology that the industry is offering-the proliferation of flat-screen televisions and plasmas,” said Buzz Delano, director of sales at audio manufacturer, Sonance (www.sonance.com). “It takes a lot less space, so now having a television is more appealing. Projectors are more compact and more easily hidden, and screens can be retracted. That is the reason we have developed a lot of the in-ceiling speakers in our line, because they are designed for theaters, and they are conducive to living rooms with high ceilings. The technology in the industry is making it more accessible to have it in a living-room setting.”
The concept of the home theater has evolved over time as technology has changed, noted Jim Davis, senior director of the Home Entertainment Group of projector manufacturer, InFocus (www.infocus.com). “At first what drove it was the surround sound speaker craze,” he said. “People started to buy surround sound, and all of a sudden they had a theater, so they started buying bigger screens to go with the speakers. It’s continuing because HDTV is starting to kick in, and people are starting to get more and more comfortable watching DVDs at home.”
Because living areas are not specifically designed for home theater applications, custom installers are faced with the challenge of configuring these spaces to achieve the best performance possible. “When we started, we had two speakers and one listener. Now we are setting up space for multiple listening positions,” said Norm Steinke, national sales manager at audio manufacturer, Meridian America Inc. (www.meridian-audio.com).
“Acoustics is a challenge and so is the placement of speakers,” agreed Jay Montgomery, founder and president of Light, Sight & Sound Inc. (www.lightsightandsound.com), a custom installation firm in Baltimore, Maryland. “Retrofitting is a challenge as far as getting the wiring into existing walls.”
Lighting, too, presents its own set of issues. “Ambient light is probably the biggest factor, because a lot of rooms have large windows, and you have to be cognizant of that,” said InFocus’ Davis.
Luckily , technological progress is already solving this problem. “The new DLP projection technology has allowed installers much more flexibility when dealing with light issues,” noted Chuck Turigliatto, vice president of sales and marketing at Runco. “They are much brighter than CRT displays and offer a better picture in rooms with excessive ambient light.”
As consumers grow more comfortable with the use of sophisticated technology, home theaters will increase in popularity. Steinke believes that this new comfort level will result in more customization within the home theater space.
“In the past, we went through a bit of a battle, because consumers saw things with menus and computers as complicated and difficult to operate,” Steinke said. “In recent days, because of the whole digital era, you would be hard-pressed to find an answering machine with a roll of tape in it. If you use a cell phone, you learn how to navigate a menu, and as consumers become more comfortable with navigating menus, software engineers can give consumers more options to tailor the systems to their specific needs, rather than being stuck with a button that has one function.”
These extended capabilities enable homeowners to use their home theaters for a number of different applications, including gaming, Montgomery noted.”We are seeing that much more frequently,” he said.
Davis noted that decreasing costs give homeowners more choices. “Projectors are a lot less expensive than they used to be; they are not rich man’s toys,” he said. “It has gotten to the point where you can see, on the horizon, projectors that are less than $2,500. Then it comes down to a purchase decision that has to be made between a rear-projection TV or a back projector, or a large-screen TV, in general. This is a legitimate choice that consumers would not have been able to make a couple of years ago.”
While living rooms, family rooms and dens may serve as home theaters for many families, a number of these households may eventually install dedicated theater spaces. “They will grow in the living room, and then grow out further to another space,” predicted Marty Zanfino, director of product development at Mitsubishi Digital Electronics America Inc. (www.mitsubishi-tv.com). “There are empty nesters who move to a different size and layout of home. They don’t need four or five bedrooms anymore, but maybe their home has an appropriate space for a home theater. Home theaters will also continue to grow as buyers become younger and younger. This evolution is certainly going to bring more people into the category. It hasn’t slowed down in any way; it’s a very competitive business.”
Carolyn Heinze ([email protected]) works from her office in Vancouver, Canada.