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Reinvigorating High-End Rooms with 4K, 3D Audio, and First-Run Content - ResidentialSystems.com

Reinvigorating High-End Rooms with 4K, 3D Audio, and First-Run Content

Folks around CEDIA EXPO have been talking about the end of dedicated home theaters.
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Anthony Grimani (agrimani@pmiltd.com) is president of Performance Media Industries, with offices in Novato and San Anselmo, CA. Folks around CEDIA EXPO have been talking about the end of dedicated home theaters. “No one wants one anymore,” they say. “People watch everything on mobile devices,” others agree. While I’ll agree that there’s a softening of the market for low-ball projects with TVs, tinny in-ceiling speakers, and middling receivers, there’s never been a better time for reference-quality, high-end cinema in the home. That’s where the clients are, and that’s where you need to take your business.

A Time to be Excited, a Time to be Nervous

There is some new stuff coming down the pike that should make you excited and nervous all at once. The latest technology gives you the ability to blow your clients’ minds like never before: giant pictures with quality and clarity so high you want to hug the screen; immersive sound so detailed and enveloping that it will thrill and embrace you; content that has previously been available only at the local multiplex on opening weekend.

Properly implementing a home cinema is more daunting than ever. Greater care must be taken due to the added complexities. Rules don’t go out the window just because there are more speakers and bigger screens. Nowhere was this more evident than the demos at CEDIA. Many of them were a hot mess; weird speakers squirting sound everywhere, flatscreen TVs instead of projection, and poor tuning. Sound was raining down from above with the annoying consistency of Chinese water torture, while yawning chasms existed between the front and side speakers.

Excuse Me While I Kiss This Screen

The latest 4K video technology finally allows us to create true 50-degreewide pictures with absolutely no loss of picture quality. But it’s not just a pixel thing; the 4K standard incorporates the latest compression technology, such as HEVC/H.265. There are more pixels than 2K, and they’re higher-quality pixels than Blu-ray. The resulting picture is magical, and yet it may be wise to wait before buying. The most advanced 4K technology, including Blu-ray 4K, requires hardware running HDMI 2.0 with HDCP 2.2 content protection. There’s a lot of misinformation about what is compatible and what isn’t.

Immersive Audio Reign O’er Me

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The latest 4K video technology finally allows integrators to create true 50-degree-wide pictures with absolutely no loss of picture quality. Pictured here is Digital Projection’s Jeff Schneider showing his company’s laser 4K video projector to AVI Consulting’s Dan Whitfield (middle) and Oakville Sight and Sound’s Galen Sheehan at CEDIA EXPO. Dolby Atmos and Auro 3D are on everyone’s radar now. My column last month was about speaker selection and placement, and nothing I experienced at CEDIA changes those recommendations. Remember that the companies promoting these formats are geniuses at coding and transmitting audio, but room design and setup aren’t necessarily their forte. Dolby is promoting speakers that bounce sound off the ceiling, leading some to conclude that this is the extent of Atmos. But Atmos is really about sound coming from above you, beside you, behind you– anywhere the director will let the sound mixer put it. They have a canopy of speakers and object audio effects that can come from any speaker or group of speakers they choose. You can’t recreate that with extra woofers firing up. It takes real speakers in the walls and ceiling where they belong.

I’m also concerned that people are obsessing over where to put surround and ceiling speakers–especially when it comes to Atmos vs. Auro 3D. These speakers aren’t essential to storytelling. They won’t make or break the experience. Get the front speakers absolutely perfect first! Then add speakers at the “wide” locations, so as to handle transitions off the screen. Finally, put a few speakers along the walls and down the ceiling. Regardless of which format wins, it’s going to be OK.

With that many more speakers, the connection errors will start to proliferate. We do need to adopt a standard labeling convention for products and wiring to get all these channels hooked up to the right speakers. In addition to L, C, R, Sl (Side left), Sr (Side right), Bl (Back left), and Br (Back right), I’m proposing Wl (Wide left), Wr (Wide right), Hl (Height left) and Hr (Height right). Add numbers for more than one pair of side, height, or back speakers (e.g. Hl2 – Height left 2), going from front to back. I invite discussion on the topic.

Movies on the First Run

Perhaps the most groundbreaking advancement is the potential for cinema-quality, first-run content delivered to the home day and date with the theatrical release. Prima Cinema already offers first-run movies at a quality that is higher than Blu-ray. Quantum Media Systems is proposing a model whereby the actual DCI content that is delivered to cinemas would be available to select high-end clients. We’re talking about 4K resolution at up to 60 frames, 12-bit color, and JPEG2000 compression at 500 Mbps.

Chase Walton contributed to this column.

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