When “August: Osage County” came out in movie theaters in December, Karen Freedman didn’t have to fight the holiday crowds to see Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts. Nor did she have to preorder a DVD and wait.
Freedman watched the movie settled into one of 16 reclining, Ultrasuede red chairs in her recently built home theater, with a top-of-the-line projector, a giant screen, gold-plated sconces and neat piles of candy boxes hidden behind a wall panel.
“It adds to the excitement,” she says of being able to play a new film from a premium service that makes it available to home subscribers at the same time it debuts in commercial multiplexes. “We invite friends over for movie nights.”
The Super Bowl and shows such as the Academy Awards tend to spur home-theater upgrades; this year, there was also the Winter Olympics. And it helps that the real-estate market, along with the demand for pricey new toys, is on the rise again.
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“It’s an incredibly cool time to be in the home-theater business,” says Dave Pedigo, a director at the Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association, whose members design and install home theaters. “We made it through the storm, which was the housing-market crash.”
Now, he says, “we’re getting to the point of another series of breakthroughs that will make watching a movie in your home unlike anything you’ve ever experienced.”
Here are some of the latest ways to trick out your home theater or media room.
The Prima Cinema service makes first-run movies available in private homes on opening weekend. Prima’s technology alone costs $35,000 to install. That’s about $5,000 to $10,000 more than the typical cost of an entire home theater.
Prima insists that homeowners have certain accouterments, including a sophisticated projector and at least a 100-inch screen. The movies don’t come cheap; Prima Cinema charges $500 for each viewing, or $600 for a 3-D film.
So far, Prima has lined up Universal and Paramount for distribution of first-run releases, and says it has about half the mainstream content coming out of Hollywood through a variety of smaller studios, with more deals in the works.
Prima CEO Jason Pang likens spending $500 to see a first-run movie at home on opening weekend to taking the family out to a football game or a concert. Or even leaving the kids at home, but paying for a baby-sitter, a restaurant, a good bottle of wine and reserved seats at the multiplex.
By doing all that, he quoted a client as saying, “I’m over 500 bucks for the night.”
Projector technology has made another generational leap, says Jason Voorhees, president of Cantara, a home theater technology-design firm in Costa Mesa, Calif. “We are now seeing relatively affordable projectors in the $6,000 to $9,000 range that are about 30 percent brighter and have better picture quality than ever before.
“The physical size of the units has become smaller as well. This enables larger screen sizes in dedicated theater rooms, and projection in places of the house that were impractical or very expensive in the past, such as the family room.”
The industry also is moving to 4K ultrahigh definition, which delivers 8 million pixels compared with regular HD’s 2 million pixels. Whether you have a panel of glass on the wall or a projector behind your head, 4K delivers even finer detail.
“There’s nothing (currently available) in 4K,” Voorhees says. “But we’re putting these projectors in that will be able to accommodate 4K in the future. We’re engineering it into our systems now.”
Don’t have the bank account for a home theater? Maybe your media room could use an upgrade. While the biggest home theaters use projectors, the devices often are limited to windowless rooms to keep the area dark enough to see details on the screen.
Vizio, a consumer electronics company, says it’s changing that requirement. The company has announced that it’s coming out with an ultra-high-definition, 120-inch LED TV that will raise the bar in visual and audio technology.
TVs in general are getting supersized. “Three or four years ago, a 55-inch TV was considered huge. Today, we consider a 55-inch TV to be medium-sized,” says Matt McRae, Vizio’s chief technology officer. “At some point, a 60- or 70-inch TV is going to be considered that medium size.”
The new Vizio TV will need compatible ultra-high-definition programming, not yet widely available. The company has not set a price.
Pedigo, of the Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association, expects several technologies to revolutionize TV viewing: curved screens; 4K and OLED (organic light-emitting diode, offering razor-sharp colors and jet blacks); and a new standard of surround sound with significantly more speakers.
“It will be good enough that you won’t have to have the gimmicky 3-D glasses,” Pedigo says. “We’re getting to a point where you won’t be able to distinguish whether it’s an image or real life.”