In the design and engineering of a private theater, when is it appropriate to take it “to the Nth degree?” This is the question that was recently posed to us by one of our most valued integrator clients. They were asking us in reaction to resistance being exerted by end users as well as architects, designers, and builders. On the surface, it seems to be a reasonable question. But when considered from a different perspective, it reveals much of what is wrong in our corner of the consumer electronics industry.
Of course, we are all accustomed to the tendency for clients, even in the luxury private theater market, to seek savings. Armed with arbitrary budgets, advice from well-meaning but uninformed advisors, even our wealthiest clientele will frequently put price before performance unless educated on how this can degrade their private theater investment. We have discussed strategies for educating our clients and best practices for establishing workable private theater budgets in previous columns (see Residential Systems June 2014). Certainly this battle of the budget will continue, but we need to realize that the issue goes much deeper than cost alone.
In what other endeavor would mediocrity be considered good enough? Would the film industry thrive on average performances and adequate productions? What type of champions would we be celebrating if our athletes failed to give it their all? Would we feel comfortable flying in an aircraft designed to meet a budget as the primary objective? In the endeavor to deliver excellence, we must define what excellence means and what it requires, rather than concerning ourselves with whether our clients deserve it.
What kinds of essentials are required to deliver excellent private theaters and what type of objections are commonly voiced?
One such essential is a distraction-free environment. In this case, we are referring to a quiet room. The quiet room supports the acoustical dynamic range. If a room is poorly designed so that it cannot preserve a low noise level, a significant part of the audio system is rendered useless. A great audio experience includes detail and nuance that is purposefully included in a production or performance to render the intended emotional effect. Dances with Wolves loses the essence of prairie life without the sounds of the wind in the grass and nocturnal animals during those campfire scenes; a Yo-Yo Ma concert is just another studio session without the reverberant fade of the performance’s last note. The objections include cost, complexity, and need. We will address these in order of importance.
Providing a private theater that is not a quiet room is like installing a projection system outdoors and attempting to view it at high noon. It is a significant wasted investment for a poor return. In fact, the more money spent on audio equipment in such a scenario just exacerbates that poor investment. If you are not going to create a quiet room, don’t invest in high-quality audio equipment.
See above and consider the following. If a room is well engineered and built supportive of a low noise floor, a more conservative investment in equipment will yield greater results. However, the tendency is to invest more because such a room will enable the finest equipment to truly deliver its full potential. This relationship must be revealed to clients for them to make the right decision.
Part of a major remodel, the project team of integrator, theater designer, and interior designer combined bespoke theater engineering with elegance in design to produce this room that performs exquisitely on all levels.
Once the reality of need and the issue of cost are resolved, the subject of complexity can be addressed. A quiet room cannot be produced with a magic paint or sheet of super-vinyl. An engineered design, correctly specified devices, and skilled assembly will be required. There are many resources in our industry capable of providing this caliber of design, equipment, and construction support.
Generally, the issue is that most builders do not have the awareness of these requirements, or worse yet, have been misinformed by “experts” selling panaceas rather than real solutions. We have been successful in helping clients understand that their builder is facing an expanded scope and that the results are worthwhile.
Other essentials include balanced interior acoustical specifications, integration of acoustics with interior design, interior design complementary of high-performance imaging, audio and video systems capable of reference resolution, sound and light levels at all seats, and integrated subsystems and control. Each of these essentials requires sufficient investment and added complexity, but will produce greatly superior results. However, without the awareness that these superior results are worthwhile, the added cost and complexity could become insurmountable objections. Sadly, many only realize the value too late.