The following article originally appeared in Wide Screen Review (WSR) magazine in August, 2012 and is being republished courtesy of the author, Terry Paullin.
Some time ago, maybe three or four years back, I penned the first of the above titled reviews - something about "digital is in/analog is out", I think. To no one's surprise, things continue to change in our amusing little A/V world and in my opinion (see Column Title) at an ever increasing rate. Here's an update, as I see it.
BIGGEST CHANGE THAT'S UPON US
That would be the way we get our information.
Used to be if we were interested in a Home Theatre system, or even a component thereof, we might go down to Ben's Big Box Barn and let Sparky show us his latest and greatest. We knew Sparky was probably full of it, but we had few alternatives. If we were lucky, a product review might find its way to the kitchen table to provide the final guidance before we reached for the checkbook.
Now we have a data explosion courtesy of this new fangled thing called the "Internet". If we're interested in an eleventeen channel sound bar to upgrade the audio from our newly purchased $3,000 flat panel with 50 cent speakers for the bedroom, a two-word Google search would spit out more data than we could possible read in a fortnight (for those not familiar with "fortnight", it's the approximate time between Lindsay Lohan's court appearances). While massive data might seem to be an advantage, a secondary, potentially worse problem may make some wish we were back in the "Town Crier" era of communication. That problem, simply stated, is too many sources, not enough credibility. Everyone with a keyboard is now a blogger, and every blogger attempts to speak with the authority of a real, seasoned and informed journalist. It's a 10x amplification of the "forum" problem I have often written about. There is some good, objective data out there if you can ferret out a credible, respected source. Lotsa chaff. Elusive wheat.
BIGGEST CHANGE WHOSE IMPACT IS YET TO BE FELT
It's, uh, the thing known in alliterative circles as the "resolution revolution". Seems like just as the discussion about "True 1080p" and all the things that can thwart it has been wrung out, now comes the 4K, ... er, I mean 8K imperative. Pixel counts now rival contrast ratio specs in terms of acceleration to the North. The soon-to-be-discovered problem is this race to giga-pixels will probably feel like one step forward, two steps back to early adopters. ALL displays have only ONE native resolution, so those wanting to be the first kid on the block or just trying to stay ahead of the "display curve" will be looking at significantly re-mapped images and new, first gen compression algorithms for, oh, a fortnight of fortnights (see previous definition). Remember, the best processing is NO processing. The visual result will probably be softer images with previously unseen artifacts vs. the 2K panel it replaced. Sadly, we tend to punish our pioneers in this business.
POTENTIALLY EVEN BIGGER CHANGES THAT ARE YET TO BE FELT
Already covered in WSR (my column last month and Michael Farino's excellent article on this topic, also last month) is the introduction of MDA - Multi-Dimensional Audio. Creative thinking and deft s/w programming have come together to create a set of surround sound authoring tools and a new, revolutionary distribution scheme that represents the largest, true step-function advance in audio since Thomas Edison trumped the Tin Can and String system. Only just now available to audition in select, high-end commercial theatres, the experience is guaranteed to amaze. In last month's column I expressed some skepticism as to its (MDA) ability to eventually map to the living room. Since then, more research and discussion with Industry "experts" has caused me to reverse that position. I am now convinced that a useful version WILL be in our Home Theatres in the future - when and in what form, TBD.
HONORABLE MENTION CATEGORY
How we acquire "boxes" has also undergone significant change.
A couple years ago I had a client who, citing warranty implications and long-term support as reasons, confessed that he felt more comfortable buying from a brick and mortar store than from me. Since then, Tweeter, Good Guys and Circuit City have all bit the dust ... (and Best Buy is teetering). Close as I can tell, I'm still in business, building theatres, providing warranty support and post-installation upgrade counsel years after the sale. Hope he kept my number!
Maybe it's the economy, maybe it's a trend in mis-management or just maybe it's a natural evolution to the way it should be, but the smart money today seems to be well advised to get some help with the new complexities and purchase through specialized, low(er) overhead, custom installation shops. They are not only more knowledgeable, but are more likely to be around when you actually NEED that 8K upgrade. Further, those who insist on "self-education" and therefore are only in search of rock bottom on-line prices, have begun to learn their lesson the hard way. When margins are razor thin, there is NO allocation for support. (see past rants in this space on 'The high Cost of Saving Money').
Change is inevitable ... and it seems to be coming faster than Usain Bolt's 100 meter records. (Sorry, London still on the brain). Like it or not, if you are a Home Theatre enthusiast and want the experience to be the best it can be (but don't want to jump prematurely), you need to stay abreast, investigate and embrace the stuff that sticks. Stay tuned to WSR and the wide array of "expert" articles it provides to put "change" in its proper perspective.
I'm already thinking about "Changes, part Trois"
Posted by Terry Paullin, February 5, 2013 7:20 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.