Annapolis Capital, Fall 2007
With all apologies to baseball, mom and apple pie, there are few things more American that going to the movies. Heading to the movie theater, getting a tub of hot buttered popcorn and a soda and sitting back in a relaxing stadium-style seat in an air-conditioned theater is an enjoyable way to spend two-plus hours. However, with rising ticket prices – not to mention the prices at the concession stand – taking a family of four to the movies can turn out to be quite an expensive evening, not to mention the inevitable arguments over which movie to see. Luckily, there is an alternative: how about capturing that movie theater style viewing right in your own home with your own popcorn? Well, it can happen.
“More and more people are realizing that having a home theater is a reality,” says George Hall, president and co-owner of Questron, Inc., an Elkridge-based business that designs, builds and installs custom home theaters. “Over the past few years, Americans have been cocooning at home more and focusing on ways to improve their homes. While renovating a kitchen is great for resale, it’s a lot more fun to build a home theater,” Hall laughs. He notes that some homeowners come to Questron to simply order the electronic components, while others desire a custom home theater. “Not everyone does a $100,000 home theater either; some are on a smaller scale and are in the $10,000 to $15,000 range.”
No matter what you decide to do – whether you’re simply adding a large-screen TV or having a custom theater designed – there are some important decisions to make.
Where should the home theater go?
Hall says that many homeowners decide to convert a rarely used room into a home theater. “We work with builders and architects to incorporate a home theater into the design of a new home, but a lot of our business is taking an unused space and converting it. “We had one client convert a living room that he never used, while a lot of homeowners use the basement, which is the perfect space since there are usually few windows to interfere with the lighting.” Hall says that a typical basement space of 13 1/2 feet by 20 feet is perfect for a home theater conversion. “In that size, a 106-inch screen works great. Here at our office, we actually have a home theater for clients to check out that is that size room with that size screen and can accommodate seven seats like you find at the movies.”
Hall says that for home theater conversions, he visits onsite to take measurements and discuss with the homeowners what their goals are, how often they plan to use it, how many seats they are looking to incorporate and, of course, the budget. “In a basement, it’s particularly important to determine what section of the basement works best, taking into effect lighting and mechanical considerations. The number of seats and whether they want a raised platform like the movies also play a big role in the design.”
For homeowners looking to convert a room with more windows, like a living room or den, lighting is a factor. “However, we are able to integrate lighting into the remote control, so when you press the ‘Watch a Movie’ button on the remote, artificial lights are dimmed and window treatments close or turn to block out sunlight,” Hall says.
Does size matter?
“The biggest misconception is that the biggest TV or screen is the best. Getting the biggest that you can afford should not be the goal. The size of the TV or screen has to fit in relation to the size of the room and the distance between the screen and the seats,” says David Bereston of The Big Screen Store in Annapolis.
Technology has definitely come a long way since the boxy direct-view (also called tube) TVs that many of us grew up on. Bereston says that for home theaters, there are basically two main types – flat screen TVs and microdisplay projection – and there are different types within each category. Flat screen TVs are either plasma or Liquid Crystal Display (LCD), with plasma being the more popular type due to its excellent picture quality, deeper black levels and more saturated color. If you’re looking to utilize a wall mount and are on a tighter budget, then a flat screen TV is your choice.
However, if you’re looking to go big and spend a few more dollars, a rear-projection microdisplay television might be for you. Microdisplays use a chip illuminated by a lamp, and Bereston of The Big Screen Store says that the most common types are Digital Light Processing (DLP) and LCDs. The lesser-popular LCD-based ones are manufactured by Sony, Hitachi, LG, among others, while the DLP is the most popular microdisplay technology, Bereston says. “DLP was developed by Texas Instruments, which designed a chip that contains 2.4 million mirrors. Each mirror represents a pixel, producing amazing picture quality that truly is revolutionary,” Bereston says. While initially criticized for a “rainbow effect,” where some viewers witnessed brief streaks of color on movie scenes set in a dark or black background, new advancements in DLP technology over the past few years have reduced this rainbow effect. DLPs are sold in brands such as Samsung, Mitsubishi, LG, Panasonic and Toshiba.
“Also, with the advent of HDTV, the picture quality is much better, especially with watching movies at home,” Bereston says. “The TVs we grew up with were square, so when you watched a movie, the left and right sides were cut off; however, now movies are being made to fit wide screen TVs perfectly at home with HDTV.” Hall notes that Blueray movies still outsell the HDTV formatted movies four to one; however, Sony has integrated the high-definition format into its gaming units like PlayStation 3, allowing kids to play games on a huge screen.
As for sound components, Bereston says that one of the most exciting developments is via a new Bose system with an ADAPTiQ audio calibration system. “Basically, once it’s installed, it ‘listens’ to itself and makes adjustments to match the room size and shape, the placement of your speakers, where you are sitting and other room variables, such as whether you have drywall or exposed brick.”
Have a Seat
If you’re going to watch a movie in your new home theater, you gotta have comfortable chairs, right? Theater style seats are more commonly sold than before, allowing you to duplicate that movie theater experience at home. Hall says that the onsite home theater at Questron’s office features many different seating options for customers to try out and take a test drive. “It’s a personal decision based on what feels comfortable to you and what goes well with your home style and décor. There is also a range in price – it’s whether you want a ‘business class’ seat or a ‘first-class’ seat. All of our seats are inclined, not reclined, which makes a big difference. The advantage is that you fit in more seats if they are inclined, and reclined seats pull you backwards, pulling you away from the sound.”
Bereston adds that The Big Screen Store also sells wall units, consoles and media storage units, as well as a wide variety of leather and micro-fiber theater-style seats – some with cupholders – in different styles, including contemporary and a pillow-top line for extra cushion. All of the chairs have a space-saving “Wallaway” reclining feature to accommodate more seating. “Aesthetics is very important to people; they want a big TV, but they don’t want it to overpower the room,” Bereston says.
Expect a Crowd
Personalizing a home theater is easy, too, thanks to the Internet. Old-fashioned style popcorn machines by the manufacturer Nostalgia Electrics can be found online on SkyMall.com, and e-Bay is a great source of old movie posters and lighted poster frames, juts like at the movies.
Just don’t be shocked when all your friends want to come to your house for “movie night” or watch football. “Having a home theater is great for parents because you know where your kids are, as your home will inevitably become the place to be on weekends … for better or for worse,” Hall laughs.