Home Theater

Oppo is Dead, Long Live Oppo

Oppo

How’s this for timing? Just days after pimping my Oppo Ultra HD audiophile disc player as the king of the hill in my media room entertainment system, this happens. As of this week, the company has announced that production of its lauded disc players, audio systems, and headphones is winding down.

 

“As announced on April 2nd, 2018, OPPO Digital will gradually stop manufacturing new products,” reads a letter linked on the company’s homepage. “Existing products will continue to be supported, warranties will still be valid, and both in-warranty and out-of-warranty repair services will continue to be available. Firmware will continue to be maintained and updates released from time to time.”

 

To say the least, this is a sad day for videophiles. You could chalk this up to the gradual decline of disc sales, the prominence of streaming, the fact that people who rent their movies almost never rent physical media anymore. And you’d probably be right, to a degree.

 

The one argument I would make to counter that is that there’s still a very healthy market for discs. The massive decline in sales that everyone keeps touting? It was 14% last year. 10% the year before—the first year in which streaming overtook disc sales. That’s hardly doom and gloom.

 

What makes all of this so much worse is that there just isn’t another Oppo out there. Pick your favorite display manufacturer. Or speaker manufacturer. Or receiver manufacturer. If they disappeared tomorrow, you’d still have plenty of high-end alternatives.

 

Oppo, though, so thoroughly defined the high-end disc-player market that any alternatives I can think of off the top of my head were actually Oppo players at the core, perhaps with a different power supply or digital-to-analog converter chip.

 

When the last Oppo is boxed up and shipped to its last customer, what option does the up-and-coming videophile have? Get an Xbox One X, I guess. Or be done with discs once and for all and embrace Kaleidescape’s pixel-perfect digital downloads. The former is great as a disc player and a heck of a media streamer to boot, and the latter is undoubtedly the videophile future.

 

Still, losing Oppo feels like losing a friend. In its 14-year run, I’ve owned at least one player from every generation of the company’s offerings, and the latest are, without question, its greatest. I suppose there’s something to be said for going out on top of your game. There’s also something to be said about the fact that the UDP-205 was probably going to be the last disc player I would ever need anyway—especially given that I’m still using the company’s first-ever Blu-ray player in a spare bedroom, and it still works like the day I pulled it out of the box.

 

Is it silly to mourn the passing of a company? Perhaps. But when that company literally has no peers, what can we do but mourn?

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.

How the XBox Became My Favorite Video Player

Xbox One X

I just finished reading Dennis Burger’s ode to his Roku Ultra, and it inspired me to write one of my own—to my Xbox One X gaming console, which has positioned itself as the preferred video playback device in my everyday home entertainment system.

 

I reviewed the Xbox One X for HomeTheaterReview.com a few months back. As I stressed in that review, I’m not a gamer by any stretch of the imagination, but I have reviewed my fair share of Ultra HD Blu-ray players, as well as many generations of streaming media players from Roku, Apple, Amazon, and Nvidia. My approach to the Xbox review was to answer this question: Does this gaming console succeed as a complete all-in-one media player? Spoiler alert if you haven’t read the review: It does.

 

What’s my proof? Well, four months later, the Xbox One X remains the sole set-top box connected to my living-room TV, while an Apple TV 4K, Roku 4, and Amazon Fire TV sit idle in a box in my office/test studio. Sure, I’ll pull one of those players out when I’m reviewing a TV or projector, along with my Oppo UDP-103 Ultra HD Blu-ray player.

 

But the player I choose to use on an everyday basis is the Xbox. Why? Because it really does give me everything I want in one box, with one common user experience.

 

First of all, the Xbox One X is the only gaming console to sport an Ultra HD Blu-ray player, so I can pop in UHD Blu-ray discs when I want the highest-quality video experience. I use a Polk MagniFi Mini soundbar in this everyday space—but if I had a surround sound/Atmos system here, the Xbox One X could accommodate it, too. I can also pop CDs into the disc drive . . . and only listen to them halfway through.

 

Second, the Microsoft Store includes all the streaming apps my kiddo and I use on a regular basis. That includes Netflix, Prime Video, Sling TV, Vudu, Tablo, PBS Kids, YouTube, and Pandora. Here I will confess that I do miss the convenience of voice search offered by Roku, Amazon, and Apple . . . but apparently not enough to make a switch.

 

As a cord cutter, I no longer have a cable or satellite set-top box. If I did, though, I could pass it through the Xbox’s HDMI input and unite that source into the user experience as well.

Xbox One X

And then there are the games. Over the years, the kiddo and I have casually enjoyed the simple, family-friendly games that are available through platforms like Fire TV and Apple TV—such as Crossy Road, Pacman 256, and Hill Climb Racing. But now my daughter’s eyes have been opened to a glorious new world filled with Minecraft, Super Lucky’s Tale, Star Wars Battlefront, and Rush: A Disney Pixar Adventure—and I’m afraid there ain’t no going back to Minion Rush.

 

As I said in my original review, if you look at each of the above categories individually—UHD Blu-ray player, streaming media player, or music player—of course you’ll find better performers. Products that deliver a higher level of AV performance or a better user interface. But the Xbox One X does it all quite well, and for me the convenience of being able to jump from a game like Minecraft to a streaming source like Netflix to live TV through Tablo and then to Planet Earth II on UHD Blu-ray—without having to switch inputs or remotes—is just too darn enticing to pass up.

Adrienne Maxwell

Adrienne Maxwell has been writing about the home theater industry for longer
than she’s willing to admit. She is currently the managing editor and video specialist
at HomeTheaterReview.com. Adrienne lives in Colorado, where she spends far too
much time looking at the Rockies and not nearly enough time being in them.

What are the Media Room Essentials?

media rooms

Continuing our conversation about media rooms, I’m going to run with Dennis Burger’s initial premise that, for a room to qualify as a media room, some thought and effort have to go into creating the highest quality AV experience your space and budget will allow. Simply plopping a 55-inch HDTV, cheap soundbar, and set-top box on a TV stand in your family room doesn’t magically transform the space into a media room.

 

I contend that a high-quality media room system does two things: It offers great AV performance and it embraces the advanced technologies of the day. The beauty is, in today’s AV landscape, you don’t necessarily have to spend a fortune to get both of these things.

 

Here’s what I consider to be the core elements of a modern media room system:

 

A Large-Screen UHD Display

Just like in a dedicated home theater, a media room needs a large screen that draws you in and allows you to feel truly immersed in the source content, be it a movie, TV show, or game. The display should be the focus of your eye (at least when the system is turned on), and the room’s seating and layout should reinforce that principle.

 

What constitutes a large screen? It kind of depends on your room and how far the display is from the seating area. I’d say the screen needs to be at least 65 inches in a smaller room and 75 inches or more in a larger room. At these screen sizes, 4K resolution on its own isn’t crucial, but the other aspects of Ultra HD—namely, High Dynamic Range and expanded color—represent the best of what the video world has to offer right now. Once you see high-quality HDR content on a high-performance TV like an OLED, you won’t want to go back to standard dynamic range.

 

A word of warning: This is one area where you may get what you pay for. Lots of budget LED/LCD TVs support HDR but don’t deliver the level of contrast needed to fully exploit it. You really need an OLED or a good LED/LCD TV with a full-array backlight and local dimming technology to make the most of HDR.

 

An Ultra HD Source

You can’t enjoy HDR if your sources don’t support it, and it’s not difficult or even terribly expensive to upgrade to UHD-friendly source devices. Pretty much every new UHD TV is also a smart TV with UHD-capable streaming sources like Netflix, Amazon Video, and Vudu built right in. The newest streaming boxes from Roku, Apple, Amazon, and NVIDIA support HDR and are priced under $200 (some of them are priced way under that).

 

For those who have more to spend, it’s tough to beat the user experience of a Kaleidescape 4K movie server. And the company’s Movie Store offers 4K downloads that match the AV specs for Ultra HD Blu-ray.

 

We’ve also reached the point where every major Blu-ray player manufacturer now offers at least one Ultra HD model (if not more), and entry-level models are priced around $150. Many of these players also support hi-res audio playback via disc, USB, or streaming, so they can serve as a high-performance audio source, too.

 

Gamers can enjoy a complete 4K multimedia experience in one box, thanks to consoles like the Xbox One and Playstation 4 that support 4K/HDR gaming and streaming video. The Xbox One even adds an Ultra HD Blu-ray player.

 

Surround Sound

Just as the big screen will immerse you visually in the source, surround sound is a must for creating that “you are there” experience. If you hate the idea of running wires across the room, there are now plenty of creative ways to incorporate wireless surrounds. A 5.1-channel system is the minimum, but I’ll take it a step further and suggest that your system at least needs to be upgradeable to support 3D formats like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X.

 

3D audio adds a height element to complete the soundstage, and you can get Atmos and DTS:X decoding in 7.2-channel receivers costing as little as $400. A 7.2-channel receiver only gives you two height channels, but it’s better than nothing. There’s no shortage of in-ceiling speakers at all price points that can serve as the height channels. But if your room can’t support overhead speakers, check out all the Atmos modules designed to sit atop your existing speakers and bounce sound off the ceiling. This path provides an easy and inexpensive way to upgrade your system as your budget allows.

 

A Unified Control Experience

Nobody wants to look at a pile of remotes on the coffee table, let alone have to use them all in order to launch media playback. A universal remote control is essential. Logitech’s Harmony brand still reigns supreme in the world of third-party universal remotes, and TV manufacturers like LG and Samsung have really upped their game in the control department, making it easer to control multiple sources with the TV remote and adding support for Alexa and Google Home voice control.

 

The wide range of smart lighting systems and window treatments makes it easier and cheaper than ever to add automation elements to your media system without having to invest in a full-fledged control system—although there’s no denying the appeal of a well-executed Control4 or Crestron setup, should you choose to go that route.

 

There you have it: My list of must-have components in a media room. Do you agree or disagree?

Adrienne Maxwell

Adrienne Maxwell has been writing about the home theater industry for longer
than she’s willing to admit. She is currently the managing editor and video specialist
at HomeTheaterReview.com. Adrienne lives in Colorado, where she spends far too
much time looking at the Rockies and not nearly enough time being in them.

Theo’s Corner: If We Build It, They Will Come

In a typical home theater—at least the way most people understand the term—a TV is surrounded by speakers placed in strategic locations around it. In such a setup, people usually don’t care all that much how the speaker boxes look or how thin the bezel of the TV is—they care about the performance.

 

High-end home theaters—especially those in dedicated rooms—are a different animal. Performance and design play—or should play—an equally important role. Of course, the balance isn’t always even. Depending on the person, sometimes design is the primary concern and sometimes it’s the performance.

 

The irony is that it’s not too hard to have your cake and eat it too. It just requires a tighter collaboration between a designer and an AV integrator. But the mutual distrust between the two trades has resulted in an unfortunate erosion of the popularity of dedicated home theaters. This isn’t just a loss for the trades but also for people who may never know what they miss when they watch TV in the family room instead of—when they have money and the space to get the best—inside a dedicated space.

 

My friend Vin Bruno of AllTecPro told me a couple of years ago something that still rings true: It’s a matter of education—people must witness firsthand what a true home theater is. Once they sit on a reclining seat with their peripheral vision occupied by the images on the large screen and their ears surrounded by good sound, they will know right away how exciting the experience can be. To borrow the line from Field of Dreams and apply it to what all of us home theater professionals do: “If we build it, they will come.”

 

While George Walter, the president of Rayva, and his team of technical advisors—Steve Haas, John Bishop, Joel Silver, and Peter Aylet—work on technical performance standards and specifications for Rayva theaters, I’ve been focusing on curating designs from sculptors, painters, photographers, and mixed-media artists from around the world for the next generation of Rayva design themes. The experience has been richly rewarding. The perspectives on the world and art of the talented artists I’m working with has expanded my understanding of art. It has also brought a breath of fresh air to home theater design, which, for the most part, is still dominated by the repetition of design clichés.

While we are working to finalize at least six new designs for Rayva, I would like to share with you two design themes by Marina Vernicos, based on her award-winning photographs. Marina introduces us to her exciting world of marine life and leisurely summer activities around drone-photographed swimming pools. You can “smell” vacation in these images, and you can relax by just looking at them. Marina’s photos become the bridge between the concerns of life outside the theater and the excitement that is about to spill out of the screen once the lights go down.

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.

The Story of Kaleidescape’s Movie Store

Kaleidescape Movie Store

I was so pleased with John Sciacca’s article on the Kaleidescape Movie Store that I thought I would tell a story . . .

 

For as long as Kaleidescape has existed, we have endeavored to present the finest cinematic experience in the comfort of your home.

 

For nearly a decade, we have offered metadata to precisely position the screen masking based on the measured aspect ratio of the movie, and the ability to play the movie with other user preferences such as Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD soundtracks, language preferences, subtitles on playback, etc., so that everything is automated. This can be done on a per-player basis, of course, so each room can be tailored to meet the needs of that audience. It is like having an automated projectionist at home.

 

To this day, whether you purchase a movie on a disc or from the Kaleidescape Movie Store, we offer event cues to control lightinglights down when the movie begins and lights slowly coming back up when the end-credits rollto reproduce the cinema experience.

 

Our user interface was designed to appeal to different user preferences. It has always been responsive and intuitive to use. Each view has a purpose: If you know something about what you want, use the List View and the sorting feature. If you wish to find movies similar to the one you have chosen, then select the Covers View for suggestions. If you want to create custom categories for films in your library, choose the Collection View. The Collections View also automatically remembers the new film, paused movies, movies with favorite scenes, and titles with the bookmarked Play Song feature for concerts and musicals.

 

Kaleidescape earned its reputation as a system designed for movie lovers who had DVDs and Blu-ray discs, so we didn’t want the ability to buy movies for download from our online store to add clutter to the onscreen display. To purchase movies, the browser-based Movie Store has incredible filters, 80 curated collections, and the ability to browse movies by parental control and different movie formats. We also developed a powerful search function so users can find the content they want easily. Our goal was to deliver the same engaging experience whether someone is browsing through the titles in the Movie Store or in their personal movie library.

Kaleidescape Movie Store

As we rolled out the Strato Movie Player and populated the Movie Store with amazing 4K HDR titles, we realized we could use our creative, patented Covers View to integrate the Store into the onscreen display. It took us a few iterations, but we believe we have come up with something our customers will love.

 

Rather than the arcane “browse and move to the next page repeatedly,” we decided to offer a Pivot function as a powerful filter that can instantly take you to a page full of great movies comparable to the one you selected. Our powerful metadata allows us to present an enormous amount of details about each film so you can change your mind as often as you want as you look for exactly what you would like to purchase.

 

We offer thousands of movies in our store, but our focus is less on the number of titles and more on their quality. Of course, we need a critical mass of titles from the best brands of content providers to have a credible offering, and we do, having licensed titles from the Top 24 of the 25 content providers in the United States. The real difference lies in our quest to help customers find hidden gems when they seek movie entertainment, including those that may not have broad appeal.

 

Our value proposition is: Kaleidescape is the only way to experience an Internet-delivered motion picture in true 4K Ultra HD and lossless surround sound.

 

“The truth is, for me, it’s obvious that 70, 80 percent of a movie is sound.”

Danny Boyle, Director

Steve Jobs, Trance, 127 Hours, Slumdog Millionaire

 

Kaleidescape focuses exclusively on luxury home cinema. We offer the premier online store for purchasing Hollywood movies. It is essential that we present the full motion picturenot throttled video and a stereo soundtrack. To put it differently, Kaleidescape delivers more playback bandwidth for the soundtrack alone than internet streaming services provide for the whole motion picture.

 

The Kaleidescape Movie Store on Strato is an exemplary feature of a brand that strives to be different because there will always be an audience that wants the best product or service within that category.

—Cheena Srinivasan

Cheena Srinivasan is the co-founder and CEO of Kaleidescape.

The Evolution of Front Projection

front projection

In his recent contribution to our ongoing discussion about media rooms, Theo Kalomirakis wrote about the need, as an AV system integrator, to approach the media room concept with an open mind. Whereas he once shunned media rooms as a lesser alternative to a dedicated home theater, he now acknowledges that the demand for more casual home entertainment spaces is growing, and the industry needs to creatively adapt.

 

Perhaps no segment of the home theater market has needed to adapt as much as the front projection category. Nothing screams dedicated home theater like a projector, and getting people to embrace the use of a two-piece video system over a big-screen TV in a den or living room is certainly a challenge. It has forced both projector and screen manufacturers to think outside the light-controlled box known as the theater room.

 

Projectors used to be divided into two main categories: home and business. Now the home market has further splintered into home theater and home entertainment. For a home theater projector, black level is king. You want a projector that can serve up lusciously deep blacks to give the entire image a greater sense of contrast and depth in your fully light-controlled room.

 

But, when people move out of the theater and into a den or media room—where the lights often stay on and daytime TV watching is an expected practice—a projector’s light output becomes a lot more important. These days we see a lot more 2,500- to 3,200-lumen projectors at lower price points. Epson’s premium Pro Cinema line even includes several ultra-bright models in the 4,800- to 6,000-lumen range.

 

Projector manufacturers have also been forced to make their products a bit more TV-like in their features, adding things like TV tuners, built-in speakers (which, in most cases, sound even worse than the speakers in flat-panel TVs, if you can believe it), instant on/off light sources, and MHL/MiraCast support to stream media content from mobile devices. LG has incorporated its WebOS smart platform into some of its DLP projectors.

front projection

Of course, no matter how bright a projector is, your basic matte white 1.0-gain screen just isn’t going to cut it in a well-lit room where people want to watch NFL football on Sunday afternoon. Screen manufacturers have also had to adapt, which has given rise to the hugely popular ambient-light rejecting (ALR) screen. As the name suggests, screen materials like Screen Innovations’ Black Diamond (shown above) are designed to reject light from nearby windows and lamps to improve image contrast. We’re also seeing a lot of “zero bezel” frames with sleeker designs meant to mimic the look of a flat-panel TV.

 

But there’s still that whole “two-piece system” problem. A TV is a nice, self-contained unit, and that’s what a lot of people want. They don’t want a projector on one side of the room and a screen on the other. Enter the ultra-short-throw projector, which can cast a big image from a small distance.

front projection

One of the more interesting categories to emerge is what I’ll call the all-in-one AV projection system—like Hisense’s new Laser TV system, which combines a 4K-friendly ultra-short-throw projector with a 100-inch screen and a Harman/Kardon sound system. In the same vein, Sony’s upcoming LSPX-A1 (shown at the top of the page) omits the screen but builds the native 4K projector and sound system into an attractive furniture cabinet (shown above) that blends into the room’s aesthetic when it’s not delivering an immersive AV experience. While pricey, these designs represent exactly the kind of creative thinking the AV industry needs as it moves outside the home theater.

—Adrienne Maxwell

Adrienne Maxwell has been writing about the home theater industry for longer
than she’s willing to admit. She is currently the managing editor and video specialist
at HomeTheaterReview.com. Adrienne lives in Colorado, where she spends far too
much time looking at the Rockies and not nearly enough time being in them.

The Media Room Challenge

After reading Adrienne Maxwell’s recent piece “What is a Media Room?” I feel compelled to add my opinion.

 

I used to think that media rooms unacceptably degraded the viewing experience compared to watching something in a home theater. Why? Because seeing a movie or listening to a concertor anything other than the newsrequires you to focus your attention on the presentation. How can you do that when you’re distracted by things like windows, streaming daylight, hyperactive children, unruly guests, or family members who talk on the phone while the movie or whatever is on?

 

For me, a dedicated theater solves most of these problems. I didn’t think a media room didor could.

 

Well, we live in a constantly evolving world where it isn’t always possible, or desirable, to have the ideal solution a dedicated theater represents. During the last few years, the demand for more casual spaces for home entertainment has multiplied. I realize now that unless the challenge of media rooms can be addressed with an open mind, reality will render the emphasis on dedicated home theaters elitist, if not anachronistic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are so many
TVs in this room
that you can’t focus
on the main one.

So, what is a media room?

 

The current definition is left over from the days when people had a special room, other than the living room, for watching a movie or listening to music. I agree with Adrienne that “media room” may be nothing more than an old industry description defining a space that has evolved into something much broader that includes living rooms, family rooms, and dens.

 

So, is there a new word that better describes this evolved and broader concept? Nothing comes to mind and, to be honest, it doesn’t matter. We can call this space whatever we like as long as it includes a big TV (the larger the better, so the experience is immersive) and a quality sound system so music and dialogue can be heard with clarity and precision.

media room solutions

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The TV is an
afterthought in this
otherwise attractive
unit that draws
attention only to
itself.

The designer’s role is to minimize visual distractions in a room (such as too many decorative flourishes and too many objects around the screen fighting for attention) and focus attention on the main viewing area. The AV integrator’s role is to incorporate the audio system and acoustic treatments into the design of the room without the technology being too distracting.

 

As I come up with media room solutions for Rayva, I will continue to hone my definition, and will chronicle the evolution of my ideas as I shift my attention from dedicated rooms to the more flexible spaces that are increasingly in demand. Whatever we call them, these spaces enjoy a new popularity due to the explosion in content and staggering advancements in technology. To meand to again echo Adriennethey represent the continuing democratization of home entertainment.

—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.

One Size Fits All . . . Almost

home theater design solutions

Strange as it may sound, the most exciting challenge in theater design isn’t the design of the room per seit’s fitting whatever the design concept is into a particularly hard-to-tame space. Low ceilings can make the theater look oppressively compressed, very narrow spaces can make it look like a New York City railroad flat, and columns in the wrong places can block the view of the screen. Properly addressed, seeming handicaps like these can actually become opportunities to enhance the design.

 

A standardized design, like the ones I’ve created for Rayva, can be as difficult as a custom design to adapt to a difficult room—unless you embrace the challenge. That’s exactly what happened twice this month when I had to customize the design of two theaters to fit them into challenging spaces.

 

Both projects use the “Origami” design theme (shown above) and have Wisdom Audio speaker systems. But each provides a different design challenge: Theater 1 (a project near Phoenix, Arizona) has an unusually high ceiling while Theater 2 (in Westchester County, New York) has windows all around.

 

Since the design templates for these rooms are inherently flexible, I was able to come up with solutions that both respect the existing room conditions and maintain the look and feel of the design. For Theater 1, adding additional Origami “triangles” to the grid of acoustical panels comfortably filled the room’s 12-foot-high walls.

home theater design solutions

The windows in Theater 2 will eventually be covered by blackout shades, but their outlines could be distracting, even when covered. The generous width of the room, though, allowed me to add wall segments that define the seating area while blocking the windows, creating a room-within-a-room effect. (See the artist’s rendering above.) This actually enhanced the design by creating a better sense of three-dimensionality in the theater.

 

I’ve found that being able to rely on a set of standardized, pre-engineered designs that can be customized when needed allows me to be creative in ways I never could when I had to design each new theater from scratch.

—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.

Dolby Cinema–The Ultimate Movie Experience

Dolby Cinema

As home theater enthusiasts, we focus so much of our attention on the home experience that sometimes it’s easy to forget what home theater is really all about: Replicating the commercial cinema experience.

 

Granted, there is much about watching movies at home that can be far superior to jumping in the car and heading down to the local megaplex. The food and drink at home is better (and cheaper), the movie starts/pauses/stops on your schedule, you have total control over who you’re watching with, and the picture and sound quality are of known quality.

 

But, when done right, the commercial cinema experience can be fantastic, and I recently saw a film at a Dolby Cinema theater that reminded me of just how truly great a movie theater can be.

 

After CES ended, I had quite a bit of time to kill between the show ending at 4 pm Friday and my flight departing at 1 am Saturday. And while my usual practice is to while away as many hoursand drinksas possible at the Las Vegas McCarran American Express Centurion Lounge, this year I decided to take a Lyft across town and visit the AMC Theater in Town Square 18.

Dolby Cinema

My sole previous experience with a Dolby Cinema was at the company’s headquarters in downtown San Francisco. That building occupies 68,000 square feet and features mixing rooms for working with both Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision. It also contains a reference-standard lab (aka “theater”) where Dolby technicians can develop next-generation imaging and sound technologies.

 

The stars aligned as I just happened to be out visiting my parents in the Bay Area when Dolby launched the facility with the first screening in the new theater. That experience was so over-the-top impressive that I couldn’t wait to actually experience a Dolby Cinema in the wild.

 

Unfortunately, there aren’t any Dolby Cinema locations near me in South Carolina, making it a tough proposition. (Here’s the full list of locations.) Which is why once I discovered that this AMC cinema was outfitted with a Dolby Cinema screen, I knew it was a destination I had to add to my Vegas agenda.

 

A lot of components go into making the Dolby Cinema experience so impressive, and it starts before you even enter the seating area. This is a concept Dolby calls “inspired design,” which is meant to transport viewers into another space to be fully absorbed in the cinematic experience.

 

An audio/visual pathway with a full-motion HD video wall and immersive sound sets the mood as you walk into the auditorium. Once inside, your first impression is of the massive 68-foot-wide screen. This screen is so large, in fact, that I wasn’t even able to zoom my phone’s camera out enough to capture the whole thing in one frame. Compare that to what would be an insanely large home theater screen at around 14.5-feet wide (200-inch diagonal) and you can appreciate just how impressive this is.

 

The next thing you notice is the blackness. Everything is black. The walls, the ceiling, the area surrounding the screen, the seats, the carpeting. Sure, there are some colored accent lights, but this overwhelming black just sucks up all the light in the room and focuses all attention forward on that massive screen.

Dolby Cinema

There are 214 seats (plus seven ADA spots) in the Town Square’s Dolby Cinema, and you reserve your seat when buying your ticket. All the seats are oversized faux-leather powered recliners positioned in pairs where you can raise the middle arm rest to create a loveseat for couples. Even more amazing, the seats are positioned so you can’t see anyone behind or below you, making you feel like you’re in for a truly personal presentation.

 

But the really big deal, of course, is the theater’s picture and sound presentation, which is absolutely top notch and exceeds any movie-watching experience I’ve hadand that includes viewing movies at the Stag Theatre at Skywalker Ranch. (To be fair, it’s been several years since I’ve seen a film at the Stag, and it was actually still using film at the time, which is at a real disadvantage to a modern digital projector.)

 

The power behind the Dolby Cinema image quality is two Dolby co-designed and custom-built Christie Laser projectors, which Dolby describes as “quantifiably higher performance than any other technology out there.” These projectors deliver a staggering 31 foot-lamberts on screentwice the brightness of the SMPTE recommended standardproducing a picture that is more like watching a giant flat panel than a projector.

 

The Christies also have 500 times the dynamic range of a typical cinema projector, delivering the lowest black levels of any commercial projector, and producing an unbelievable 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio. They can also reproduce true HDR images that have been graded in Dolby Vision specifically for these projectors. To drive the point home, a small clip runs prior to the movie that shows what you thought was blackkind of a deep greybefore showing what Dolby Cinema black is all about. It’s a new level of black, like watching an OLED next to an old DLP.

The second aspect that makes the presentation so spectacular is a full array of Dolby Atmos speakers, which completely immerses you in the audio presentation. (I reached out to Dolby for specifications on the Town Square theater as regard speaker numbers and wattage. They didn’t have specifics on that installation but said that, “The number of speakers varies from [theater] to [theater], based on the room size . . . [but] enough speakers [are installed] to ensure a smooth pan through of audio around the room.”) The sound is clear and detailed, with objects that swirl all around and overhead, and with bass that is massive, deep, and incredibly tight. Transducers in the seats also physically convey the impact as well.

 

The movie I saw was the latest Liam Neeson thriller, The Commuter, which was basically Taken-on-a-train, but offered some big explosions and action scenes that looked and sounded terrific.

 

If I had one minor quibble over the experience, it was that the movie started practically an hour after the scheduled showtime due to a string of now-coming trailers that seemed to never end. Honestly, I enjoy trailers, and the picture and sound were so good I didn’t have a big problem with it, but if I were on a time crunch, it would be nice to know when the actual showtime was compared to when the trailers begin.

 

Without question, Dolby Cinema is the best movie experience most of us will ever have. And if you’ve been turned off on going out to the movies, you owe it to yourself to visit one. If I lived near a Dolby Cinema, I would never see a movie anywhere else.

—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.

My Trip to Greece, Pt. 2: Antonis Kastrinakis

Nikos Vernicos is one of my favorite clients. He and I go back many years. In 1996, Nikos saw an article about me in Architectural Digest and invited me to design a home theater for his house in Athens. I accepted gladly, and we became friends. That theater—the Sifnos—was the first of many projects I did in Greece. In 1997, it won CEDIA’s Best Home Theater award.

Antonis Kastrinakis

theater photos by Phillip Ennis

Nikos is an avid collector of modern art. A year ago, I visited him at his house in the suburb of Glyfada to see if anything in his collection could be adapted for Rayva. There were many exceptional art pieces everywhere the house. But what drew my attention was a piece of sculpture by Antonis Kastrinakis. It was a stylized boat—a simple cutout in primary colors that I saw right away as something that could be developed into a design for a Rayva theater.

Antonis Kastrinakis

A few words about the artist: Antonis was born in Athens in 1958. In 1976, he started participating in painting workshops and in 1978 he entered the Vakalo School of the Arts, from which he graduated in 1981. Since 1988, he has had sixteen solo exhibitions and has participated in many group shows in Greece and abroad.

 

I finally met Antonis during my recent trip to Greece. His studio is in the Keramikos neighborhood of Athens, and his work fills to the brim the entire space. I felt like a kid in a candy store. I had a hard time figuring out what to choose and what to leave out.

Antonis Kastrinakis

I now need to select one or more of Antonis’ pieces and develop 3D renderings of a theater featuring the artwork. The renderings will help me adjust their scale to the size of a typical Rayva interior.

 

Following this introduction, I will describe the process of developing specific Rayva design themes featuring the work of this exciting artist.

—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.