The following article originally appeared in Wide Screen Review (WSR) magazine and is being republished courtesy of the author, Terry Paullin.
...Hmmm ... Issue #150 ... hmmm... should be a retrospective, for sure. Seems like just yesterday that I penned my first column in issue #38, but the truth is that "yesterday" was actually more than ten years ago.
Before we get to the meat, let me first thank this readership for putting up with my rants and occasional insight all this time. It's been a genuine labor of love, I promise you..
Over the years I've offered "TOP TEN reasons to invest in a Home Theatre", "TOP TEN mistakes made by DIY theatre installers", "TOP TEN things that tick me off about this business", "TOP TEN pieces of mis-information likely to be heard from Sparky down at Big Barn A/V" and more recently, "TOP TEN Blu-Ray concert videos". Having completed my 1,000th theatre installation this year, allow me to offer what I think have been the TOP TEN contributions to our collective enjoyment of our various theatre experiences.
As they say on DWTS, "In no particular order ... ... ..."
WIDESCREEN - JUST LIKE THE BIJOU
This one has to be somewhere near the top. In the business, we generally refer to it as "Anamorphic two-three-five", referring to the 2.35:1 aspect ratio that most films (nearly ALL action flicks) are rendered in now-a-days. The innovation that came to us several years ago was a combination of an electronic vertical stretch inside the projector coupled with a moveable secondary lens on the outside. While usually credited for removing those pesky black bars, top and bottom, it accomplished something far better in my opinion, the ability to use ALL the pixels available in the chip to paint the image, increasing "picture" resolution by about 30% on 'scope (cinemascope) transfers. Also known as "constant height" (side masking gets you to 16x9), this can be accomplished on most front projectors for a fraction of the price of the basic unit. Look Ma, no black Bars and Hi-Rez too!
AT LAST, HIGH DEFINITION COMES TO THE MOVIES
Blu-Ray (BD) movies could arguably BE the top of the list. After all, for as much as I tout Concert Videos and Prime Time HD, Movies are the reason we take out second mortgages for the hardware. O.K., I voted for the other guy (HD-DVD) in the race, but once Sony won the war, things got better (and safer) in our living rooms. Now we have "decent" BD players showing up well under $200 and about 10,000 BD titles and counting to choose from. Ain't technology wonderful!
LOSSLESS AUDIO ISN'T JUST FOR LIVE CONCERTS ANYMORE
Lost in the splendor of the video resolution gains BD brings us, is the splendor of uncompressed audio. For me, this is just as great a contribution. Now comes DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD. With BD, the bit buckets got bigger and as a consequence, the audio got more real. Yup, upgrading that 2 yr-old receiver is well worth it. Truly impactful Home Theatre is as much about BIG sound as it is about BIG video. Finally, the former has caught up with the latter. BOO-YA!
A more gradual evolution, but just as significant, is the way the heart of our systems, the A/V receiver has kept up with all the other advances going on around us. The best-of-breed now offer 9-channels (yes, that is a legitimate Dolby codec) at nearly 200w/per, plus several DSP modes, 3 and 4 zone (room) capability, video up-conversion, transcoding (RCA to HDMI) and those that are HDMI 1.4 compliant even pass 3D signals. The very best have multiple memories for storing picture settings by input, and many are ISF certified. Add (semi)automatic room equalization (you have to place a mic and push a button) and you have almost everything imaginable for supreme HT bliss.
GIMME MY OWN ROOM!
Nothing says Home Theatre like a projector/screen combination. Often thought to be the exclusive realm of the Rich and Famous (well, rich at least), the very best viewing was not too long ago reserved for mid 5-figure investments. We've come a long way, Baby! Last month I reviewed a $7,000 front projector in these pages that shamed my $30,000 demo unit from the same manufacture. No more excuses. When the first one leaves the nest, hand the big screen. B-T-W, screens are much better and much cheaper since issue #1 hit the street.
PANELS FOR THE FINANCIALLY CHALLENGED
It's been nothing short of amazing to see the "sweet spot", defined as most square inches of display per dollar, go through 37", 40", 42", 50" to the most currently popular 58" PDP. 63" and 65" best buys are just around the corner, and I currently have two orders for the gorgeous 85" Panasonic (look for a review next month). If you just can't find the real estate for that dedicated Theatre Room, but still demand the Big Screen experience, it's now available without having to hit the Lotto.
"...UHH, WE DON'T WATCH MUCH TV"
Nonsense. I know better! And well you should. Prime time has never been better. In the last couple of seasons, cinematographers have refined the use of the HD medium. I think it began with CSI: Miami. Every time they come out of commercial break we are treated to breathtaking panoramas of blue sky, sand, water and cityscapes for about 5 seconds and then back to the story. Many Primes have cloned the strategy and it serves as a constant reminder of the way the ATSC has improved our (viewing) lives by making the most out of the higher resolution palette. Happily, the writing and acting seem to have ratcheted up a notch to keep pace with the visuals. I can't wait for "Hawaii 5-O" this fall! God bless HDTV
CUT THE CLUTTER
From the first day it was introduced and then again from the first day it actually worked, a couple years later, DIYers and custom installers have lauded the arrival of the HDMI cable. Often replacing as many as five other cables they have reduced behind-the-rack chaos considerably. In addition to consolidation, the HDMI "discipline" has also enabled various box-to-box digital "handshakes" that make life in the rack easier and more foolproof. The most recent iteration, HDMI 1.4 brings us 3D, return audio, Ethernet and capability for the-next-new-thing, 2k by 4k resolution. Our last remaining gripe was removed with the advent of a locking connector.
WHEN ABSOLUTE PERFECTION IS REQUIRED
Regular readers know from the topic that I am about to plug (again) the merit of outboard video processing. Recent technological advances have increased the size of the color triangle (gamut) from which we can mix primary and secondary colors. Surprise, surprise, some manufacturers abuse the privilege, causing those responsible for bringing display devices into spec (calibrators) to need new and better tools. Enter the outboard video processor with its ability to more easily manage Gamma, Gamut and Gray Scale. Receivers have come a long way, but without these "CMS" tamers, no display device will be as good as it can be.
CALIBRATION AS A DISCIPLINE
Joel Silver and Joe Kane started it (commercially), Joel has made it an institution, Best Buy and THX have jumped on the band wagon, legitimizing it for all, and now SpectraCal has made it much more manageable (see last month's column). The finishing touch for those who want to see "The Director's Art" as best it can be rendered in the home, display calibration deserves a place as one of the best things to ever happen to your Home Theatre.
Imagine what will come our way by WSR Issue #200 !!!
Posted by Terry Paullin, April 19, 2011 7:23 AM
About Terry PaullinAfter 25+ years as a Silicon Valley Executive, most recently as President and C.O.O. of Crosscheck, Mr. Paullin decided to follow his passion to the emerging Home Theatre industry. In 1994 he formed Front Row Cinema to design, build and calibrate Home Theaters for private residences. Nearly 600 theaters later, he remains engaged in the Industry in the following ways.
Builds dedicated (single purpose) Home Theaters and "Theatre Environments" (rooms used for other purposes as well).
Teaches Imaging Science and other courses for the Imaging Science Foundation. Mr. Paullin has taught CEDIA accredited classes to the installation community at both AVAD and ADI.
Consults to Industry on the topic of Imaging Science (Pioneer, Optima, In-Focus and several others under non-disclosure). Mr. Paullin has served on the Board of two companies and the Advisory committee of two others.
Has written articles/product reviews for major industry publications, including Widescreen Review, The Perfect Vision, The Ultimate Guide to A/V, WIRED magazine and CEPro and has maintained a monthly column (One Installer's Opinion) in Widescreen Review for the past eight years.
Mr. Paullin has a B.S.E.E. degree from Long Beach State University and performs ISF monitor calibrations for private individuals.
Mr. Paullin also maintains 3 theaters in his home for testing, comparison, performance verification, and reference viewing.