John Sciacca Tag

John Sciacca’s Wishlist for 2018

2018 Wishlist
Better Voice Integration

Voice controlwhether Siri, Alexa, or “Hey, Google”seems to be everywhere. And without question, people want to use it more and more for controlling devices in their home. But the reality is, it just isn’t quite there yet. Often in my home, the command, “Alexa, turn on family room lights” will be met with a spinning blue circle and silence, or a reply of, “I’m sorrythe device family room lights isn’t responding,” or “OK,” but nothing happens. When it works, it’s great, but when it doesn’t, it’s maddeningly frustrating.

 

Also, we’re still basically limited to asking for one thing at a time. For example, unless I want to create a specific lighting scene in my Control4 programming, having Alexa turn on lighting in four rooms takes four separate requests. It would be great if we could get to more natural speech like, “Alexa, turn on lights in the kitchen, family and dining room, and start my dinner playlist in the dining room at 25% volume.”

 

UHD Disc Rental

Once you’ve seen the glory that is a full 4K HDR movie with an immersive audio soundtrack, it’s hard to go back to slumming it with just Blu-ray quality. But there aren’t many movies I love enough to shell out $29 or more to own. However, I would be willing to pay Netflix or Redbox a premium upcharge to rent a UHD movie, watch it in the best quality, and then give it back. I already pay Netflix an extra $5 a month to upgrade to Blu-ray viewing, and I’d happily chip in an extra finsky for the privilege of renting UHD discs. There’s a new service called Rent 4K that looks intriguing and might just fight the bill . . .

2018 Wishlist
Solo Movie

While I was on line for The Last Jedi, a theater employee came out and hung a new Coming Soon poster that simply said, “SOLO, A Star Wars Story. May 25.” I was really hoping we’d get a trailer for this movie before Jedi, but no dice. I’m hoping Disney can keep the Star Wars good times rolling, and that the Ron Howard-directed Solo can launch a terrific new story franchise from the galaxy far, far away.

2018 Wishlist
Cheaper 4K Laser

The best way to experience 4K HDR movies on a big screen is via a projector using a laser light source. A laser has inherent advantages over a traditional bulb-powered projector, namely a wider color gamut able to reach farther towards the edges of the Rec.2020 triangle, far longer lifespan, no warm-up and cool-down time, less loss of light over its lifespan, and the ability to completely turn off for truly infinite black levels.

 

But laser comes with a fairly steep price. Previous models from Sony and JVC cost $50,000 and $35,000 respectively. Sony unveiled its VPL-VW885ES at this past CEDIA, and it looked stunning, with vibrant colors and inky blacks at a closer-to-real-world price of $25,000. I’d love to see one of these bad boys available for less than $10,000. I think that would be a huge shot in the arm for front projection . . . and the new projector for my own media room!

 

Not Getting Sick After CES

Nearly every year, I come home from CES and promptly get sick. The level of sickness varies, but inevitably it’s 3 to 4 days of miserable, post-show recovery. Coming home flu-free from Vegas is high-up on my personal wishlist for starting the new year!

—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.

John Sciacca’s Best of ’17

Best of 2017--Strato Movie Player

Best Trend: 4K HDR/Immersive Audio Content

4K Ultra HD content really took off in 2017. Ultra HD TVs have reached mass-market pricing, and we even have an incredibly affordable true 4K projector from Sony. Plus, the content side has finally caught up—I’m guessing we’ve now crested the 300-disc mark, and there are more than 220 titles available for download at the Kaleidescape store. The benefits of 4K HDR go far beyond the extra pixels, with a wider color gamut that produces over a billion colors, 10-bit video that eliminates banding and delivers an incredibly clean, pristine image, and high dynamic range producing brilliant whites and clean, deep blacks. Further, most of these titles also include next-generation immersive audio in the form of Dolby Atmos or DTS:X, giving you an experience at home that can rival or exceed that of any commercial cinema. As someone who loves movies but finds it difficult to make it to the theater (thanks to a 20-month-old daughter), being able to enjoy them in fantastic quality on my home system is a real “Best of”!

Best of 2017--SEAL Team

Best New TV Show: SEAL Team

My cousin Chris was a “Teams guy,” having served with SEAL Team VII for several years. I’ve always been impressed and fascinated with his stories from abroad (one of which inspired this feature story for Sound & Vision that is one of my favorites I’ve written), and I definitely enjoy TV shows and films that cover the SEALs. (The best film—by which I mean the one that gets it the most right—is Lone Survivor. Highly recommended, and with a dynamic DTS:X soundtrack on the 4K disc!) Usually, I’m pulled out of the story by inaccuracies, poor weapons handling, bad dialogue, or whatever, but CBS’s new drama SEAL Team gets so many things right that it’s easy to overlook the stuff they get wrong. There’s also enough “storyline” in between the action that it’s engaged my wife as well. Definitely worth a viewing if you’re looking for a new show!

Best of 2017--SVS SB16-Ultra Subwoofer

Best Addition to My Home System: SVS SB16-ULTRA Subwoofer

I regularly make changes, additions, and improvements to my personal home theater system. This year, I added a second subwoofer in the form of the new SVS SB16-Ultra. This is a 16-inch, 5,000-watt bass monster. My system now delivers bass that is seismic, with impact and pressure waves you literally feel hammering you in the chest. At times, it almost feels like the couch is moving, and the bass is far more dynamic even at lower volumes. For the money ($2,000 list), I’m not sure there’s a better, more theatrical sub you can add to your system.

Best of 2017--The Last Jedi

Best Personal Experience: Star Wars Episode VIII

As I write this, it has been about two hours since I dropped my best friend Dan off at the airport to return home. I’ve known Dan for about 35 years now, and he is far more family than friend. Since the theatrical re-release of the original Star Wars trilogy back in 1997, I have seen every Star Wars film with him on opening day. I flew out to California to see Episodes I, II, and III with him, and he has flown back to Myrtle Beach to see The Force Awakens and (just this past Thursday) The Last Jedi with me. Beyond the quality of the films—and Jedi was really enjoyable, though not quite as good as TFA, in our opinion—the company, camaraderie, and conversations pre and post movie are every bit as important as the movie itself. Also, this is the first Star Wars film my oldest daughter, Lauryn, has been able to join us for on opening day. To be able to see and share this premiere with an old friend and my daughter was a wonderful, truly “Best of” experience!

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. 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.

Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman

There’s no question that DC has had serious issues competing in the superhero film genre against Disney-owned Marvel. While Marvel scores hit after hit with every attempt—Iron Man, Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor, Deadpool—DC films have struggled with both critics and fans, flopping across the board, with none of its recent offerings (following the glorious Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy) scoring “fresh” on the Rotten Tomatoes meter.

 

DC looked to 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice as a way of kickstarting a new franchise of hero films, introducing the characters that would make up the recent Justice League film. But while B v S was generally panned, we can thank it for at least one thing: it gave us Wonder Woman.

 

I’ll be honest, while I grew up reading DC comics, and was especially a fan of the Justice League series, my knowledge of Wonder Woman was pretty much limited to occasionally watching the Linda Carter TV series. I knew she was an Amazonian that wore bullet-blocking bracelets, had a magic truth-telling lasso, and used an invisible jet (not featured in the film, btw), but that’s basically it.

 

Thus, I went into Wonder Woman with fairly modest expectations. And boy, were they blown away!

 

Beyond being a good superhero movie, WW is just a good movie, period. First, the casting is terrific throughout, with every role handled perfectly. This, of course, starts at the top with Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman/Diana Prince. Gadot is not only very easy on the eyes, but her background serving in the Israeli army gave her a leg up in handling the fight scenes with incredible believability.

 

Beyond that, she nails the wide-eyed, girl-exploring-a-new-world innocence required to portray her character venturing for the first time beyond the Amazon island of Themyscira. In fact, Gadot is so perfect as Wonder Woman it’s impossible to imagine anyone else tackling the role. (She is also one of the best parts of Justice League, proving her character is more than a one-hit wonder!) Further, the chemistry between Gadot and Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor is believable and far deeper than pretty-girl-swept-off-her-feet-by-handsome-stranger.

Wonder Woman

Instead of trying to cram multiple superheroes into a single film, which weighed down and confused B v S, director Patty Jenkins wisely focused solely on Wonder Woman (with a brief cameo from another hero that ties in perfectly with both B v S and JL), fleshing out her backstory and developing her character as she grows and discovers her powers.

 

Since the transfer was taken from a 2K Digital Intermediate, it doesn’t feature the incredible micro-detail and pristine quality of some modern transfers; nevertheless, Wonder Woman in 4K HDR still looks mostly terrific. The image suffers from occasional noise in some of the night scenes, but it still has plenty to get your 4K TV’s 8 million pixels excited about. You can see the metal texture in Diana’s bracelets and crown, the detail in her armor, and the nicks in her sword.

 

While the color palette is mostly muted throughout in a slightly-faded World War I-era style, early scenes on Themyscira look gorgeous, with the wide color gamut revealing beautiful blue-green waters. Also, as there are a lot of night scenes, the high dynamic range does a great job of keeping shadows black while maintaining the piercing brightness of fires, searchlights, and Diana’s glowing lasso.

 

The Dolby TrueHD Atmos soundtrack will give your speakers a workout as well, with the numerous fight scenes bringing mayhem from every corner of the room as well as overhead. You hear Diana’s lasso whip around the room, vehicles being hurled, and bullets ricocheting and whizzing past. And if your subwoofer(s) are up to the task, Diana clapping her bracelets together produces a sonic concussion that will punch you in the chest!

 

Wonder Woman scored a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes and has a 2 hour 21 minute runtime. It’s rated PG-13 for some violence and innuendo. Download it from the Kaleidescape Store today and enjoy in your theater tonight!

—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.

Can Alexa Cure Technophobia?

Alexa

I’ve had a few friends hop on the Amazon Alexa bandwagon recently, and invariably they all ask me the same sort of questions: “What are all the skills I need to install ASAP? How do I control my TV with this thing? Will she work my receiver? Can I teach her my favorite TV channels? What lights should I buy? Should I replace my thermostat?” In other words, they want Alexa to do everything, and they want her to do it now.

 

They ask me because they know I’m a huge proponent of home automation in general and of voice control specifically. My Control4 system forever changed the way I interact with my entertainment, and Alexa has changed the way I interact with my Control4 system.

 

So perhaps it’s a little surprising when I give all of these Alexa home-control newbies the same advice: Slow down. Take a deep breath. Stick your toe in the water and find what works best for you before you turn every aspect of your home-entertainment control over to this digital voice assistant.

Alexa

And I say that for two reasons. First, there’s a lot that Alexa—and indeed, Google Home and similar digital voice assistants—can do, but that doesn’t mean you need them to do it all. Fill your Alexa app with too many skills, and soon you’ll find yourself tongue-tied trying to remember the words and phrases that control your lights, your TV, your Dish Hopper DVR, etc.

 

Second—and perhaps more importantly—voice control is still in its infancy. Rayva Roundtable compatriot John Sciacca and I are both Control4 programmers, and we often share programming tips and tricks. We’ve had tons of conversations that began, “How could I get Alexa to . . ?” only to end with, “So, yeah, probably not worth the trouble.”

 

We both agree that voice control, amazing as it may be, is pretty limited in many respects. Most things people want to do with voice commands could more easily be done with the press of a button.

 

Where we disagree is that I’m pretty okay with that. In my own home, Alexa has full control of my lights—I can’t remember the last time my wife or I actually touched a dimmer or light switch—and I have a few voice commands set up to fire up my home theater system and tune to a handful of favorite TV channels. Most of those simply serve as a convenience for those times when I’m on the floor, snuggling with our four-legged little boy, and don’t feel like getting up to grab the remote.

 

So how can I justify saying that Alexa has changed the way my wife and I interact with our home if our voice-control commands are as simple as all that? In many ways, I think it’s because Alexa has made my wife more comfortable with technology by giving a personality to these impersonal black boxes.

 

A year ago, she was a veritable technophobe. These days, she’s tinkering with skills integration just out of curiosity—coming up with new ways to manage our grocery list with Alexa, for example. And as a result, she’s thinking more about the ways in which all of our control and entertainment devices connect.

 

She’s asking more questions. She’s using our Control4 system more, and in ways that have nothing to do with Alexa but can be directly traced to the fact that Alexa has made her more comfortable with control and entertainment technology.

 

There’s something to be said for that, I think. Even if voice control isn’t the main course when it comes to home-entertainment control, it’s certainly the spice that makes it more palatable for some people. And for now, that’s enough to really excite me.

—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 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.

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.

Blade Runner: The Final Cut

Kaleidescape Blade Runner

Blade Runner is one of those movies people seem to either love or hate. On the one hand, Ridley Scott created a richly detailed and developed world that feels dark, gritty, real, and fleshed out in nearly every sense. On the other, the movie is a bit slow and plodding, light on action, and weighted down with its own mythology.

 

Beyond incredible set design, what Blade Runner really has going is a terrific performance by Harrison Ford. Remember that BR was released in 1982 at the height of Ford’s stardom, when he was coming off two massive Star Wars films and the first Raiders movie. Here, his portrayal of rogue-replicant hunter Rick Deckard has none of the cocksure swagger or wry humor of Solo or Indy, but rather is a man living a dark, solitary existence, taking no joy in his job, and frequently finding solace in alcohol. He’s a much deeper, darker, more real hero than what is normally portrayed.

 

The film also has one of the most tortured pasts when it comes to versions, with alternate cuts, and approvedand non-approveddirector’s cuts. In fact, there’s a fair bit of debate over which version one should actually watch, or if the full Blade Runner immersion requires viewing all and taking bits and pieces from each. I myself have journeyed with BR for years, having watched the LaserDisc and owned the DVD and Blu-ray. And while you can read about all of the various versions here, I can tell you the definitive one is the new 4K HDR version available for download now at the Kaleidescape store.

 

While only Ridley Scott’s 2007 The Final Cut (or 25th Anniversary Edition) receives the full Ultra HD makeover, the download gives you access to the US Theatrical Cut, International Theatrical Cut, Director’s Cut, and Work Print, along with hours of supplemental material to complete your Blade Runner journey. And let me assure you, no matter how many times you’ve seen the movie, or how you felt about it on prior viewings, this is an entirely new Blade Runner experience. The film looks and sounds better than ever, and it’s especially timely given the recent release of the sequel, Blade Runner 2049.

 

The movie underwent an extensive restoration for the Ultra HD conversion, with much of the original footage scanned at 4K resolution and some of the 65mm effects footage scanned at 8K. There was also a frame-by-frame digital cleanup, the film has been re-color-timed to Scott’s specifications, and the remixed audio received the full Dolby Atmos treatment.

Kaleidescape Blade Runner

The result is a stunningly clean and magnificent-looking movie with virtually no grain or noise, with fine details apparent in nearly every shot. The HDR has been used to great effect, with solid, stable, and noise-free blacks and with neon lights and bright colors popping from the screen.

 

I’d forgotten how much of the movie was really a video torture test, with many scenes shot in darkly lit, often smoky interiors with bright lights piercing in from windows. This would normally reveal tons of banding and other video nasties, or have details totally lost in the dynamic-range contrast crush, but UHD’s higher bit rate keeps everything solid and pristine. Going back and comparing the look of this film to the original DVD version reveals the shocking level of care and restoration that has been taken, with the DVD marred by a sea of noise, grain, and age.

 

The Atmos audio mix is also used to greatly enhance the film, with many environmental sounds and Vangelis’ score mixed to the overhead speakers to great effect. I’d forgotten how it almost constantly rains in Los Angeles in 2019, but this plays right into Atmos’ overhead channel strengths. The bass mix is also quite dynamic, with deep, powerful explosions that will give your subs a workout.

 

While this transfer might not make Blade Runner your favorite film, it will definitely command your attention for its 117-minute run time. Download and enjoy it today!

—John Sciacca

 

Minor spoiler . . .

It has long been a “was he, wasn’t he?” argument regarding Deckard, with even Ridley Scott and Harrison Ford differing on their take. One thing I really noticed in the 4K version of the film was how Deckard’s eyes glowed in a specific scene when talking to Rachelsomething that happens to all replicants in the film and which would seem to clearly indicate Deckard is one. Was this an intentional color change by Scott, or perhaps a subtle detail just brought out by the better transfer?

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.

Movies Not Quite Anywhere

Movies Anywhere

While there are many reasons to debate the merits of physical ownership versus streaming media, I ran across a new one this morning that was so egregious, I needed to share.

 

Last week, a new service sprang into the world called Movies Anywhere, which lets you buy movies and watch them, well, anywhere. Regardless of the format you buy the movie in—whether disc or digital—if the purchase comes with digital rights, the movie will be added to your Movies Anywhere account so you can then view it on a phone, laptop, tablet, or TV. There’s no charge to join, and since I already had a hundred or so movies in my UltraViolet locker thanks to purchases at the Kaleidescape store, I signed up to see how the service worked.

 

Joining is easy, and once you link your other existing accounts like Vudu, Apple iTunes, Disney Movies Anywhere, Google Play, and Amazon Video, your library is imported and ready for viewing. I also installed the Movies Anywhere app on my Sony 4K TV—a process that was incredibly simple and fast using an onscreen 6-digit code that linked my TV to my account.

 

The first issue I noticed was that my new copy of Spider-Man: Homecoming didn’t appear in my library. While it was added to my Vudu account almost instantly and appeared in my Kaleidescape library within about 10 minutes, 24 hours later, it still hasn’t appeared in my Movies Anywhere library. So, for right now, Spidey is Movies Not Quite Anywhere.

 

As far as quality goes, it’s difficult to know exactly what you’re getting with the service. One thing is for sure—it’s not 4K. According to the company’s help page, “Movies Anywhere does not currently support 3D, 4K or HDR formats. However, eligible UHD Digital Copy codes will flow to your connected Digital Retailers, some of which support UHD.”

 

Regarding HD, “Movies Anywhere will automatically display the best video quality based on your device’s capabilities, supported software installed on your device, and your Internet connection speed.” The minimum Internet connection speed is 2.8 Mbps, meaning that there is some massive compression going on here. Movies seem to have Dolby Digital audio, but, again, there aren’t any specs I can find that list which movies carry which soundtracks.

 

But, again, this isn’t a streaming-versus-owning discussion as relates to picture or sound quality.

So this morning, my daughter Lauryn and I decided to watch an old Disney favorite, Wreck-It Ralph. Wanting to take Movies Anywhere for a spin, I pulled it up on my TV and we started watching. About 45 minutes into the movie, Lauryn noticed something. “Hey, that sign is blank. It should have said something.”

 

“Huh?” I said, not really paying attention to what was happening on screen.

 

“Yeah. Rewind it.”

 

So I did, and sure enough, there in the Nesquick Sand, the sign was blank (see above). “Wow, that’s weird,” I said. “I wonder if they lost the rights to show that or something . . ?”

 

A bit later, the same thing happened when Vanellope presented Ralph with a “medal.” The writing on the medal is the entire gag and the emotional payoff, but it’s completely missing from this version.

 

Now that we were aware of it, we noticed multiple instances in the movie where writing was just . . . gone.

 

Is this post-release tinkering à la George Lucas, some nefarious loss of licensing, or just some missing digital element? It doesn’t really matter. Since the digital version will be the one millions of people will live with and watch Anywhere, it becomes the official version that lives onunless you own the physical copy. Then you can view Wreck-It Ralph whenever you want. Unwrecked.

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.