Home Theater

What a Media Room Isn’t

Last week, the Roundtable’s Michael Gaughn hit me with an interesting question: “How do you build a better media room?” I love that question, because it immediately made me ask another: What even is a media room?

 

Dig through the post history here on the Roundtable and you’ll find plenty of thoughts about media rooms vs. home theaters and the relative merits of each. And from that you can start to draw some conclusions. A media room is definitely a multi-purpose media space—a place to watch films and TV, play video games, perhaps listen to music, but also to read, play board games, do yoga, and maybe even eat supper.

 

But none of the above really gets to the heart of what makes a media room different from any number of spaces in which you could do all of those activities and more.

 

So, what is a media room? Perhaps to get to the heart of that question, we need to describe what a media room isn’t—quite like the old joke about a sculptor who explained his artistic process as taking a piece of stone and carving away anything that didn’t look like a horse. To illustrate this subtractive thought process, let’s take a look at my dad’s entertainment system.

 

Pop has a gigantic 4K TV. He has a pricey surround sound receiver connected to a fantastic GoldenEar in-ceiling speaker system. He has a Blu-ray player, an Apple TV, a TiVo, and even a pretty solid one-room remote control solution, complete with voice control.

 

But calling my dad’s system a media room is a bit like calling my refrigerator a Quiche Lorraine just because it’s got eggs, milk, cheese, and turkey bacon in it.

 

Why, though?

media room

Well, for one thing, he also has a gigantic floor-to-ceiling glass wall that looks out over his pond, flooding the space with sunlight during the day and glaring reflections at night. The gigantic 4K TV? It’s tucked in a corner, in such position that you really have to turn your head to watch it from anywhere in the room. Behind it sits his subwoofer—a nice, high-performance option whose potential is held back by its less-than-ideal positioning. But he refuses to have it anywhere else, for purely aesthetic reasons.

 

Give me an afternoon and a modest budget for some motorized draperies and a few soft bits to dull the harsh surfaces of his room, and I could turn it into a media room. Let me pull the TV out of its hiding spot, rearrange the furniture, maybe put in a good in-ceiling subwoofer to alleviate his concerns about looks, and I could turn it into a damned fine media room—one that still allowed him to look out over his pond at the press of a button.

 

The truth is, though, Pop just doesn’t care enough to warrant the effort. AV performance is pretty much at the bottom of his priority list.

 

So, despite owning all the components typically associated with a media room, he most certainly doesn’t have a media room. What he has is a 21st-century den. And he’s perfectly happy with that.

 

Mind you, I realize I haven’t even begun to answer the question originally posed to me. But I’d love for my fellow Roundtable writers—and even our readers—to pick up the ball and run with it from here. What are the essential elements of a media room? What must it do, and what must it not do? Because I think we really need a firmer grasp on the concept before we start waxing on how to improve it. 

—Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including
high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of
Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound
American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

Not My First Media-Room Rodeo, Pt. 2

In my last post, I described a string of failures I became involved in while trying to come up with a collection of media room furniture that incorporated technology into design. Besides the fact that I never give up when I believe in something, what continues to compel me to keep trying to tackle the media room space? Lots of things.

 

The selfish reason: As a designer of custom home theaters, I don’t enjoy as much anymore trying to please one client at a time. Isn’t it better if I can make a living from designing things that can please multiple clients at the same time? I see designing media rooms as akin to directing a movie. You do get paid an initial fee to direct, but the real compensation comes from sharing the financial success of the movie at the box office.

 

The un-selfish reason: Media room design has remained the ultimate challenge for me through the years. Why? Because it’s hard to conquer the challenges of a space you don’t have ultimate control over. In a dedicated room, I can do whatever I, or the client, wants. I don’t have to deal with the inherent handicaps of making the best of existing rooms—walls of windows, more than one door, furniture that has more to do with décor than with watching a movie—not to mention barking dogs, ringing phones, or hyperactive children. I’m a control freak, and a dedicated room is a space where I can be, well . . . in control!

 

But times have changed. As entertainment lifestyles have relaxed and the bragging rights of having a dedicated theater have lost most of their early cachet, my real motivation for wanting to deal with media room design is that I have changed. After years of enjoying movies in my theater, I now find that I want to see some movies more casually in my living room or bedroom. I don’t want to be locked in the theater to watch a few episodes of my favorite series. I would rather watch it on the sofa, stopping to check the news on my phone or taking a break to check what there is to munch on in the fridge.

 

That’s what most people do when they don’t have a theater in their home, so how can I use my experience to help elevate their experience? In the collection of media room furniture I’m designing for Rayva, I’m focusing on the two most essential things: the seating area and the area that contains the screen.

 

The seats must be comfortable and have space around them to rest a drink or a plate of snacks. And the screen must be the focal point of the room—just like an object on a stage set that is “hit” by a single beam of light. This can’t be done by just hanging a TV on the wall—it needs to rest on some kind of backdrop that acts like the proscenium in a traditional theater, where it focuses our attention on the performing space.

 

I won’t share visuals of this concept until it’s more fleshed out, but the images below will show you what I’m not going to do:

media rooms designs

            The tiny TV is overwhelmed by the décor around it.                 If you like vegetation so much, go enjoy it in

                                                                                                    the garden.

media room designs

               The TV looks like an incidental accessory instead               Again, what should have been the star of the
                            of the focal point of the bookcase.                         media wall is reduced to being a supporting player.

To be continued . . .

—Theo Kalomirakis

Theo Kalomirakis is widely considered the father of home theater, with scores of luxury theater
designs to his credit. He is an avid movie fan, with a collection of over 15,000 discs. Theo is the
Executive Director of Rayva.

This is Not My First Media-Room Rodeo

I have almost lost count of how many times over the years I’ve tried to break free from designing only full-blown home theaters. The challenge of trying to figure out what to do when there is no extra room in a house for a dedicated theater room has haunted me since the early 1990s. The question has always been the same: How do you hide the technology so it doesn’t distract from the enjoyment of the movie (or concert or sports event)?

 

Since people think of me as the designer of lavish home theaters and a staunch supporter of watching movies in a dedicated room, my name doesn’t immediately bring “media rooms” to mind. Even I forget that.

 

But this morning, I was reminded of how untrue that is as I searched through my computer trying to piece together my various—and mostly failed—attempts to come up with a media room concept that other designers haven’t already tackled successfully. I guess the common theme through all my previous attempts has been my effort to hide the technology. That may not have amounted to much, but it does show how determined I’ve been to come up with a more casual way to enjoy home entertainment when there isn’t the space—or lavish budget—for a theater.

 

Looking through the TK Theaters archives, I was reminded of not one, not two, but at least nine attempts to create a relevant media room design. I’ve arranged those efforts chronologically below. Each entry in this catalog of failures is followed by a brief explanation of why I think the effort didn’t work.

 

1992: Hammacher Schlemmer

The company that specializes in curio items asked me to design an armoire that would fit a huge Sony tube TV. No space was needed to hide speakers because, in those days, the sound came from the TV itself. What killed the idea was that I didn’t know how to produce the piece for less than $5,000 cost when the list price couldn’t be more than $2,500!

 

1995: Henredon

I designed a line of traditional-style media room armoires, meant to include electronics, for this manufacturer of luxury furniture. The collection was never produced because of a change in management and maybe because, as I soon learned, furniture retailers have a natural aversion to anything that incorporates technology.

 

1999: Connoisseur FX

Supported by Owens Corning, and with electronics by JBL, this collection of predesigned home theaters included furniture meant for sports bars. Lots of money, energy, and good ideas were waisted on that enterprise. Besides bad management, September 11th and the blow that tragedy dealt to the economy helped bring Connoisseur FX to an end.

 

2007: Prestige

I was asked to design a full-blown media room collection. The furniture was developed in China and included some very innovative accessories that incorporated technology. Prestige made a valiant effort to persuade retailers the time had come for furniture with electronics but it wasn’t able to raise enough money to get the venture off the ground.

media room designs

2010: Disney Signature Collection

Here I was again designing media room furniture that included technology, this time for Disney. Once again, lots of time, effort, money, and marketing support was lavished to produce and introduce the collection to furniture retailers. And, once more, it didn’t work. Thanks to an inexperienced distributor, a still skeptical retail industry, and diminishing support from Disney, the plug was pulled from the collection two years later.

 

2012: TK Living

A group of industry friends and I created a sort-lived company that sold home theater accessories and templates directly to the AV industry. What didn’t work this time? In hindsight, the idea seems half-baked—selling home theater design accessories and leaving out the electronics is a recipe with half the ingredients missing.

 

2013: ESPN

After the cancellation of the Disney Collection, Disney-owned ESPN asked me to work with them to develop a sports-themed collection of media room furniture. The idea excited me, but before I got a chance to design the collection, ESPN had a change in management and terminated the effort.

 

This long trip down memory lane brings me to Rayva. After such a string of misses, what has changed that I again feel compelled to come up with a media room solution that incorporates technology? Besides the fact that I never give up when I believe in something, a lot has changed over the past few years—which I will talk about in my next post.

Theo Kalomirakis

Theo Kalomirakis is widely considered the father of home theater, with scores of luxury theater
designs to his credit. He is an avid movie fan, with a collection of over 15,ooo discs. Theo is the
Executive Director of Rayva.

How to Tame a Media Room Pt. 3

When you lack the space or budget for a dedicated home theater, many turn to a media room as the next best solution. A media room can be the perfect gathering place for the family to enjoy a variety of content, including films, TV, streaming, gaming, and music. But they can have several distracting drawbacks a dedicated room usually doesn’t. In Part One of this series, I tackled the biggest distraction media-room owners face: Light. In Part Two, I wrote about the second biggest distraction: Visible electronics.

 

Here I’m tackling another major design hurdle: The video display.

 

When you’re watching something, you want the screen to be large and in charge, the prominent focus of the experience. But when it’s not in use, most people don’t want a giant screen on the wall dominating the room design. So, how do you hide something that’s supposed to be the main thing people look at? You get creative, that’s how!

 

First up is deciding whether to go with a large flat-panel LED TV or a projector and screen.

media room solutions
Option 1: LED

While concealing a massive LED screen can prove a challenge, it’s possible. And, once again, technological improvements have come to our aid.

 

The first option is to hide the display in plain sight by displaying high-resolution artwork on the screen when it isn’t in use. This is the concept behind the new Samsung Frame (shown above), which even incorporates an art frame around the TV and uses different digital matte colors, layouts, and artwork choices. With a USB drive and some Internet clicking (try this link), you can download hundreds of thousands of free images so you can create your own art display on any TV!

 

Another option is to literally put a piece of artwork in front of the screen that covers it when not in use. When the TV powers on, the art rolls up inside its frame, and voila! Your TV is revealed with zero impact on image quality. VisionArt Galleries and Stealth Acoustics, for instance, offer multiple frame and artwork selections to work with any décor or TV model.

 

Finally, the display can be concealed behind panels in a wall, in the floor, or in the ceiling, dramatically—and damn near magically—revealing when called on. For examples, check out some of the truly custom offerings from Future Automation.

 

Option 2: Projector & Screen

Even though a projection system can have a much larger screen than a TV, these two-piece systems are actually easier to conceal in a room. Every screen manufacturer makes motorized screen models that roll up into a case when not in use. Regardless of screen size, the case can be concealed in a housing that disappears behind crown molding, in a soffit, or stores up in the attic. Some screens can even roll up vertically from the floor, letting you hide the housing behind furniture.

media room solutions

I installed this projector so it’s concealed in a soffit

In the past, placing a projector was an exact science, with the lens needing to be positioned an exact distance from the screen. But today’s modern digital projectors offer so much image adjustment for throw distance and vertical and horizontal lens shift that they provide an incredible amount of flexibility with positioning. In fact, industry icon Sam Runco famously designed a projector for use in his home that could be installed in a back corner of the room!

 

Projectors have also gotten much smaller, making them easier to conceal. They can be hidden in a soffit or sit inside a cabinet at the back of the room with just a hole for the lens to fire through. They can also be installed in the attic, lowered into position from a motorized mount when it’s movie time. There are even mirror systems designed to bounce the image onto a screen, keeping the projector completely out of sight.

One of the latest crazes in the projector market is ultra-short-throw lenses. These projectors can sit on the floor or ceiling just inches away from a wall while still projecting images of 100 inches or more. Many of these designs can be tucked out of sight into furniture. In fact, A/V furniture manufacturer Salamander Designs has even created a special credenza (above) designed to house Sony’s ultra-short-throw 4K laser projector. This simple solution creates an incredibly finished and invisible look in a variety of styles while still delivering a cinematic experience.

 

The great thing about a media room is that everyone can have one. And with a little design creativity, the design distractions can be reduced or eliminated and you’ll have a terrific place for your family to gather!

—John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

How to Tame a Media Room Pt. 2

For those without the space or budget for building a dedicated home theater, a media room can be the best solution. But media rooms typically have several distracting drawbacks that most dedicated rooms don’t. In Part One of this series, I tackled the biggest distraction media-room owners face: Light.

 

Here we’re going to tackle the second biggest distraction: Visible electronics.

 

In a dedicated room, whether the lights are on or off, the room is designed to focus all attention on the screen. Whether through a stage, proscenium, curtain, angled walls, color scheme, or rows of carefully positioned seats, a well-designed dedicated theater blocks out all external distractions. And this definitely includes eliminating stacks of distracting electronics.

 

But it’s different with most media rooms. They not only don’t have the luxury of focusing all attention on the screen, they’re often hampered by having a cabinet filled with electronics sitting below the screen. (I will definitely cop to being guilty of this design issue.) Besides taking away from the look of the room, a rack full of electronics features an array of blinking and twinkling lights that are not only distracting but can rob the image of contrast. But with a little planning, your room doesn’t need to be hindered by having all the gear on display.

media room solutions

Solution 1: Hide the Gear

For the most part, the gear doesn’t care where it lives. Give your electronics a place with nice ventilation and they’re just as happy being in a closet or equipment room on the other side of the house as they are right below the TV. Obviously, wiring costs are more expensive since you’ll need longer cable runs, and some itemssuch as a 4K-capable HDMI-over-Cat6 baluncan be costly. But this is a small, one-time price to pay for an eternity of uncluttered space.

 

The bigger issue is controlling the gear. Since it will no longer be right in front of you, you obviously won’t be able to just point a remote at the system. Fortunately, this is a simple and easy proposition that doesn’t have to break the bank. And, honestly, if you’re working with a media designer/installer that hasn’t made a universal control system part of your bid, RUN!

 

The least expensive solution is an infrared control system. These are readily available, cost about $250, and work with any brand of remote control.

 

But it’s far more reliable to use a control system that communicates via radio frequency (RF). These systems don’t require pointing at an infrared target and often incorporate advanced features like RS-232 and IP control over electronics, giving two-way feedback such as which source is selected and displaying the current volume level. Also, many RF systems can be integrated into a larger whole-home automation system, letting you also control your lights, HVAC, security, etc. Your installer will likely suggest a model from a company like Control4, Crestron, RTI, Savant, or URC.

 

Solution 2: Ditch Physical Media

With the gear out of sight in another room, no one is going to want to traipse across the house every time they want to put a new movie into the Blu-ray player. And while streaming services like Vudu, Netflix, Amazon, and Apple can provide content in 4K, the highest performance solution is going with a media server like Kaleidescape’s Strato.

 

We’re big fans of the Strato here at the Roundtable because it delivers all the quality of the physical disc with none of the storage and handling requirements, or the limitations of streaming. Movies are downloaded to your local hard drive, giving you instant access to all your content. Perfect!

media room solutions

Solution 3: Hide the Speakers

At a minimum, a surround sound system will feature 5.1 speakers. But the current trend is to use 11.1 (or more!) speakers for a fully immersive Dolby Atmos system. That is a lot of speakers to conceal in a room. Or is it?

 

Every speaker manufacturer you can think of designs a series of in-wall and in-ceiling speakers. These fit inside standard 2×4 wall cavities and mount flush to the wall or ceiling. And a ton of R & D and technology have gone into these designs to ensure that quality isn’t lost over form. Modern speaker grilles also feature bezel-less designs that call little attention to it. These grilles can then be painted to blend into the wall or ceiling color, virtually vanishing. We’ve even done projects where painters painted the grilles to match the room’s wallpaper!

 

Speakers can also be installed into cabinetry, columns, or panels, hidden behind acoustically transparent cloth that lets all their sound pass thru unaffected. Some speaker manufacturers like Monitor Audio even make speakers that resemble framed works of art, covered in a variety of prints and images.

 

In Part 3, I’ll discuss how to overcome the next biggest media-room distractionthe display.

—John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

How to Tame a Media Room Pt. 1

media room solutions

Stewart Filmscreen’s Gemini has separate screens for daytime & nighttime viewing

In “Making the Best of a Media Room” and “Media Room or Home Theater? It Depends,” I discussed why media rooms can be a good solution for people who don’t have the space or money for a dedicated home theater. With this post, I’m going to begin a new series that talks about some of the latest technology developments designed to address the inherent flaws of having a media room in an open space, and how to overcome the top media-room distractions!

 

I’m going to start with the biggest distractionlight.

 

A typical dedicated theater has four defined walls, one strategically located entry door, and no windowsit’s the perfect light-controlled environment. This is important because it helps to focus attention on the screen and gives the image contrast. Projectors can’t project blackthey instead project nothing. So the base “black level” of your room determines how black an image you’ll get on the screen.

 

Most media rooms, on the other hand, are wide open to other rooms, have no defined space, and usually have multiple windows, all of which let in a lot of light. This not only washes out the image on a projection screen, killing your black level, but can also create glare on a direct-view screen.

 

Solution 1: Two Screens

The solution I opted for in my own media room is to have two screensa direct-view flat-panel LED as the primary set for daytime and TV viewing and a large multi-aspect projection screen that rolls down in front of the TV for nighttime and movie watching. The benefit is that I can use the same speakers and electronics to power both displays, and I don’t have to worry about my daughter racking up lamp hours on my projector when she watches endless Disney Channel reruns.

 

It also makes switching from the 65-inch TV to the 115-inch screen an eventyou know you’re about to have a special experience when the projection screen comes down. Much like the way Theo’s designs often feature a theater curtain that opens at the beginning of a movie, the lowering of the screen creates a bit of drama.

media room solutions

Solution 2: Automated Shading

A huge growing segment of the custom-install market is motorized shades. These can be integrated into a variety of automation systems like Crestron, Control4, RTI, and URC so they automatically raise or lower at certain times of the daysay at sunset for privacyor when a button is pressed, such as “Watch Movie.”

 

With shades available in a wide variety of styles, colors, and light transmissivity, it’s easy to go within seconds from enjoying the views and natural light from your windows to having an almost pitch-black space for movie watching. Several companies, such as Lutron and Draper, even make battery-powered shades that greatly simplify installation.

 

Solution 3: Light-Rejecting Screens

For years, projection screens were only available in white. And while a low-gain white screen is often the right choice for a dedicated room, it doesn’t always work so well in a media room. As manufacturers realized they were losing sales because their screens couldn’t handle ambient light, they started working on new materials that work well in rooms that can’t get pitch black.

media room solutions

Today, virtually every screen manufacturer has a screen material designed to produce a terrific image in practically any lighting condition. Two great options are Screen Innovations’ Black Diamond and Stewart Filmscreen’s Phantom HALR. These screens are actually black but provide amazing contrast, and ambient-light rejection up to 90%!

 

Another terrific nod towards the multi-purpose room appeared this year with Stewart’s Gemini, which the company describes as being “designed for the home cinema enthusiasts who want the best of both worlds in the viewing experience, day or night.” Gemini’s single housing holds two screensone designed for day viewing and one designed for night viewing. The screens can even have different aspect ratios, such as 16:9 for TV and sports viewing during the day, and 2.35:1 for movie watching at night. This allows the media-room viewer to have the optimum presentation at any time of day.

 

In Part 2 of my series, I’ll discuss how to overcome the next biggest media-room distractionvisible electronics.

—John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

How to Make the Perfect Gaming Room

I’ve written quite a bit lately about the value a high-end home theater system brings to the video gaming experience. One thing I haven’t mentioned, though, is the effect gaming has on such environments. In other words: What makes a high-performance gaming room different from your average TV and movie viewing?

 

In many respects, the answer is a simple “not much.” After all, the surround sound mixes crafted on the fly by most modern video games have fundamentally the same format and layout as movie and TV soundtracks. A 5.1 or 7.1 or even Atmos sound system that sounds great with Baby Driver will rock just as hard with Project CARS 2.

 

But there are some things that set a good gaming room apart. First up: Large projection systems are oftentimes a no-no, if only because a number of video games require you to actually stand up in front of the screen while you’re playing. Unless you’re going for the old MST3K look, there’s not much value in having your silhouette covering the screen as you try to play Rock Band or ARMS. If you want to go truly big with a gaming video display, a 65-inch or larger TV or perhaps one of the new breed of ultra-short-throw projectors is probably your best bet.

 

Oddly enough, seating is another area where a gaming-room system might differ from your average media room. The key here is flexibility. A single comfy couch may be great for the entire family on movie night, but different styles of game work best with different seating positions.

 

When my wife and I are clobbering each other in Mortal Kombat X, we both want the widest view possible, since we’re both probably concentrating on one edge of the screen or the other. In other words, the couch is perfect.

 

But when I’m playing first-person action games by myself, I like to scoot up as close to the screen as possible, since my focus is right in the dead center, and things on the periphery are, well, peripheral. I used to have a small, portable, dedicated gaming chair for exactly such purposes, but space constraints these days mean I more often than not just rely on a big ottoman to move closer to the screen when I want to.

the perfect gaming room

Speaking of space constraints—depending on a gamer’s individual preferences, a number of peripherals will probably come into play, so having ample storage space is crucial to any good gaming room that must also serve double duty as an all-purpose media room and family gathering space. In my case, I have full-sized tubular steel frame with a Sparco racing seat and Logitech G29 racing wheel, gear shift, and pedal set that needs to be tucked away out of sight when not in use. You might also have plastic musical instruments, a big HOTAS flight control system, or any number of other peripherals that need to be secreted away when you’re not actively gaming.

 

And with those peripherals comes the need for charging. One of the best additions I’ve made to my media/gaming-room setup recently is a rack-mounted cooling fan for my AV cabinet that also serves as a four-port USB charger. It not only keeps my gaming controllers and wireless headset powered up and ready to go when I need them; it also keeps them hidden away when I don’t.

 

Of course, every gamer’s needs are different, so there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to building the perfect gaming environment. If you’re a gamer who considers the high-end AV experience as essential to gaming as energy drinks and wrist braces, leave us a comment and let us know what makes your gaming room different from the typical media room or home theater.

—Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including
high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of
Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound
American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

Making the Best of a Media Room

media room upgrades

having a dark area on the front wall helps keep attention focused on the screen

In “Media Room or Home Theater? It Depends,” I talked about how media rooms are a viable alternative for anyone looking for high-quality playback of movies, TV, music, etc. at home. While I acknowledged that a dedicated home theater is still the best way to go if you want the ultimate at-home entertainment experience—especially if you have the space and budget—a media room is within reach of virtually anyone.

 

Keep in mind that my comments here are directed at people who want to create a system that can provide a first-rate entertainment experience but who don’t have a proper space (or bank account) for a dedicated theater room. As the wave of interest in media rooms continues to grow, discussing ways to maximize performance in a multi-use space and the different installation options becomes increasingly important when you’re weighing the options.

 

In his post “Media Room or Home Theater?” Theo talked about the inevitable visual distractions in a media room. Of course, not every designer is as gifted or experienced as Theo is, so there are plenty of home theaters out there with their share of distractionslike over-elaborate gold ceilings and framed artwork that can reflect light from the screen when the lights go down. And twinkling fiber-optic starlight ceilingswhich many customers seem to lovecan rob the image of contrast and definitely pull attention from the screen.

 

Of course, whether it’s a media room or a dedicated theater, the room should be designed “to help keep your attention focused on the screen,” as Theo wrote. That’s where good design comes in, and an area where I think he will ultimately be able to not only place his mark but possibly reinvent the way people think about media rooms.

media room designs

my 115-inch screen and the area around it, before the lights go down

photo by Jim Raycroft

In my room from the principal viewing positions, almost all of my view during movie time is taken up by our 115-inch screen. At the extreme edges of my vision are a door and some art, which I don’t even notice anymore when the lights are out and the movie is on.

 

Finding a way to decorate a media room so the screen wall can be painted a dark color will also help to pull vision toward and focus attention on the screen (and improve perceived contrast to boot!). Perhaps a design that includes a motorized drape or curtain that darkens the front wall and helps the screen to pop would be something Theo could explore . . ?

 

He also bemoaned the all-too-common media-room fallback of placing a credenza beneath the screen to hold the room’s equipment. Fortunately, there are so many ways to conceal and incorporate gear into a modern installation, it’s merely up to the installer and designer to come up with a creative gameplan for the look of the system.

 

Instead of wondering how to make a media room as good as a dedicated theater, maybe another way to look at it is to ask, “How can we embrace new technology innovations to make a media room the very best experience it can be, while maximizing the strengths of a multi-use room?”

 

That is something I’ll explore in my next post! But at the end of the day, even the very best media rooms will always have limitations well-designed home theaters don’t.

—John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Democracy and Home Theater

I remember as a young teenager how thrilling it was to be able to own a piece of a movie I loved. It often was a lobby card I would beg a theater exhibitor to give me after the movie had ended its run. I still have hundreds of those cards that I brought with me from Greece when I moved to the US to study film at NYU. I don’t look at them oftentrying to relive my past as a movie-loving teenager is like gulping down three glasses of wine on an empty stomach. Nostalgia can go straight to my head, so I take it easy!

democracy and home theater

But there was an even stronger connection between me and movies in the late ‘60s and early ‘70sthe music of a film. Owning the soundtrack on vinyl was the next best thing to owning the movie itself. I would put Riz Ortolani’s soundtrack for The Yellow Rolls Royce or Maurice Jarre’s The Collector on my turntable, listen to it, and feel like the movie was mine.

 

I’ve replaced most of my LPs with CDs by now, but I’ve still kept most of those soundtracks. When I dust them off from time to time, there is still a palpable connection with the movies that shaped my early teens.

democracy and home theater

It didn’t occur to me back then that one day, in the not-so-distant future, I would be able to own not only a piece of memorabilia but the actual movie. Until then, we, the simple folk who loved movies, lived off breadcrumbsa poster here, a lobby card there, an original soundtrack. Owning a copy of a movie was strictly the privilege of Hollywood’s power elite.

 

But a seismic change began in the late ‘70s. Starting with Betamax and VHS, and then with LaserDiscs, movies began to appear one after the other on tape or disc. I remember the nearly bankrupt 20th Century Fox coming out with its catalog movies on both tape formats.

 

I had read that Beta was the superior format so I bet my money on an early Betamax machine. I think I bought my first prerecorded tape from the now defunct chain Video Shack on the corner of Broadway and 49 Street on Times Square. It was George Cukor’s A Star is Born. The movie itself was of course the main attractionand it didn’t even cross my mind that it was cropped. What mattered most was that I could own itin glorious stereophonic sound, no less.

 

It took a couple of years for me to realize the importance of the video revolution. Not only could I have the soundtracks to movies I loved, I could actually have the movies themselves! Suddenly, Ian underprivileged, powerless movie buffowned what the privileged and powerful Hollywood establishment owned, and I felt equal to them. I equated that with real democracymovie wealth that could be shared by all.

 

We don’t often view this important change from that perspective. But as far as I’m concerned, the real story is that the average person who had the space and could afford a home theater could now feel like a Hollywood mogul. The very fact we could experience our own copy of a movie in our own home made us feel more privileged and, yes, equal.

 

My collecting habit has continued unabated over the years. But, for me, the real benefit of yearning to experience a movie in a theater-like environment is that it has led to a career as a home theater designer. Good things can happen when you least plan for them.

—Theo Kalomirakis

Theo Kalomirakis is widely considered the father of home theater, with scores of luxury theater
designs to his credit. He is an avid movie fan, with a collection of over 15,ooo discs. Theo is the
Executive Director of Rayva.

Media Room or Home Theater? It Depends

media room or home theater

In a post last week called “Media Room or Home Theater?” Theo discussed the inherent limitations of a media room/multi-use space versus a home theater/dedicated movie-watching space, and admitted to struggling with the best way to come up with designs for media rooms. Having installed dozens of media-room systems over the yearsand lived with one in my own home for nearly as longI thought I might offer my take on some of Theo’s comments.

 

I totally agree with him when he says, “A media room is fine for watching something casually on TV.” But let’s be honest: Most viewing these daysregardless of where it’s doneis casual. As I’m writing this, I’m in my media room and the TV is on. So are all the lights in the media/family room and the kitchen behind it. I’m typing on my laptop and listening to Tidal on headphones. My 11 year old is splitting time between finishing up a homework assignment and watching the screen. My wife is in and out of the room folding clothes while checking her phone. None of us are actively watching the TV.

 

Theo felt one of the inherent problems with media rooms is “visual distractions,” and said things like windows, doors, and fireplaces can take you out of the movie. But by far the biggest distraction I see has far more to do with the modern, active lifestyle, not any limitations of the room. And if you told people they could only watch TV if they stopped everything else they were doing and committed all their attention to the screen, many would pass. (One of the major reasons why 3D failed, in my opinion.)

 

But when it comes time for active viewingsay, when we want to watch a movieit’s a completely different story. The lights all go off, the small screens go away, and the big screen rolls down. With the lights off and the projector on, all attention is focused on the screen. Doors, windows, and fireplaces all disappear into the periphery. And I can promise your our media room has no shortage when it comes to delivering screams, cheers, frights, or tears.

media room or home theater

If I was ever lucky enough to have Theo design a dedicated home theater room for me,
his famous Paramount Theatre would be a great place to start.

I couldn’t agree more that “there is no substitute for a dedicated home theater.” And if I had the limitless budget of many of Theo’s clients, and a home design that could support it, there is no question I would have a dedicated room as the ultimate sanctuary for indulging in movie watching. I’d have Theo design me the sickest of spaces, worthy of any A-list Hollywood director’s screening room.

 

But honestly, knowing our family’s lifestyle, I’m sure an isolated roomno matter how amazingwould see far less use than our centrally located media/gathering room.

 

In Part 2, I’ll talk about how home theaters and media rooms have some “flaws” in common, and how Theo’s talent could help make media rooms more palatable for discerning movie lovers with active families.

—John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.