Balanced Home Theater (Beginner Topic)

Discussion in 'Beginners, General Questions' started by David Gibbons, Nov 3, 2003.

  1. David Gibbons

    David Gibbons Auditioning

    Feb 24, 2002
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    Hello All,

    I read the recent interesting HT definition thread, and offer the following for beginners to consider - I didn't see some of these points made in the beginners FAQ..


    Balanced Home Theater

    Some years ago, Godfrey Reggio made an unusual film called Koyaanisqatsi (sometimes subtitled Life Out of Balance) Some have said it questioned the decisions and choices which have lead to our modern way of life.

    Leaving aside both questioning our modern existence and our decisions to build a home theater to begin with (questioning that last is the job of our friends or significant others!), one should be aware of the necessity of balance in a well-arranged home theater.

    In other essays I will discuss some of these factors in more detail, but I would like to ask you to step back and take an overall view of what a (home) theater is.

    Traditionally, the theater was the place you visited to be taken away from reality. An illusion of a different reality is created by a combination of storytelling, cinematography, acting, sound recording, projection, sound reproduction, and isolation from the real world.

    People are awfully willing to accept illusion, and will put up with a lot of distractions in order to slip away to a better time, or a better place. Still, the more seamless the illusion, the easier it is to forget yourself and your problems, and to become fully involved in the story being shown on the screen.

    For those of us building home theaters, the challenge is to achieve the best picture, sound reproduction, and isolation from the real-world that we can afford. In a home setting, the challenge can be particularly tough, as most of us do not have the luxury to dedicate a room to the sole purpose of creating a home theater.

    Still, let's list some of the theater factors that need to be attended to in order to make for a really good time at the movies.

    You should not be able to hear or sense the outside world, even during quiet parts of a movie.
    You should not be able to see the outside world, or even much of the theater interior or the other members of the audience. This focuses your attention upon the screen. Happily, it is also easier to create a high-quality image on a screen when the screen is in a dark place.
    *Good Picture
    You should not, at the very least, be distracted by flaws in the pictures being presented. The picture should be noise-free, detailed, properly colored, and with a broad and even range of shades between black and white. Motion on the screen should be smooth, and causes no visible picture defects while it is happening.
    *Big View
    You should find the picture big enough that it is easy to "fall into." This is not so much a measure of how big the screen is, but the relationship of the size of the screen and your viewing distance. You can quickly understand your preferences in this matter by noting how close to the screen you like to sit at a real movie theater. Today's high picture quality make it possible to get closer to smaller screens and still get that "big view."
    *Acoustically Well-Behaved
    You should be able to enjoy all of the sound, with the room not degrading the sound with excessive echoes, resonances, dead spots, or other acoustic problems.
    *Good Sound
    You should be able to hear all of the sound frequencies that the film presents, without noticeable alteration. Dialogue should be distinct and understandable. The level of the sound should be high enough to produce excitement, but not so high as to be overwhelming.
    *Good Stereo Or Surround Effects
    You should hear the sound coming from where the person who created the film soundtrack wants you to hear it coming from. That might be in front of you, to your side, or even behind you.
    you should find it easy to watch what you watch in the way you want to watch it. (The projectionist's job should be easy, even for those who did not build the theater!)
    You should be able to enjoy comfortable seating, fresh air, and floors free of thick layers of sticky dried soda.

    Each of these factors must be kept in balance in order to create a successful home theater, particularly with the limited budgets of most of us enjoy. Having a really good picture does not make up for terrible sound. Better to spend your money to have a pretty good picture with pretty good sound, as it is more likely that the audience will be able to enjoy the film with the picture and sound quality matching. The same is true of any of the factors that I mentioned above. They all work together to create the theatrical experience.

    Take a look your own home theater if you already have one. Ask the people who use your theater about which of the elements above need work the most. You may find that some simple improvements (a set of drapes, or a inexpensive universal remote, perhaps) can yield a great improvement in the overall experience of watching a movie in your own theater.

    Learn the basics of each of the elements that are not already common sense for you. This will help you to avoid overspending on any one part of your theater, so you don't end up shortchanging another equally important part.

    For a reality check on all this, go to a real movie theater or three. See how the movie theater folks address each of the points above, where they fail, and how you might do better on the budget you have to play with at home.

    A final note: fancy home theater magazines often show sumptuous photo spreads of elegant rooms featuring expensive furniture, works of art, and no visible sources of sound! Unfortunately, affordable typical speakers need to be out in the open to work well. Once the movie is started, and the room is dark, the expensive furniture, works of art, and speakers will not be visible anyway. (Sometimes it seems as though these fancy spreads are just a play by the interior decorating industry to get in on the action.) Please don't confuse interior decorating with home theater.

    Good luck!

    David Gibbons
    Home Theater Tune-Up
  2. ChrisWiggles

    ChrisWiggles Producer

    Aug 19, 2002
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    I agree with the performance-first attitude.

    I also think that Koyaanisqatsi is one amazing film...although I don't quite see the connection to the HT part of your post. [​IMG]
  3. Thomas Willard

    Thomas Willard Stunt Coordinator

    Sep 15, 2003
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    Interesting thoughts about the definition of home theater with some excellent points made. Take away the word home and you have "theater". Due to the miracle of modern electronics we can create an environment that allows us to be enveloped as never before into the experience the author/director/playwright, etc. is trying to show us.

    But that was true with the stage going back to vaudeville, the Globe, the Passion Plays, Greek Theater, etc. But no matter what the medium, the success of taking us to that other place and other time lies in the skill of the author, director/playwright, etc. No amount of ambience, surround sound and High Definition can compensate for crappy content.
  4. David Gibbons

    David Gibbons Auditioning

    Feb 24, 2002
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    Thanks Thomas and Chris for your comments on the essay - Chris, the mention of Koyyanisqatsi is there to bring up the idea of balance in a hopefully comical way - I am glad the rest of the essay worked for you. Thomas, you know, the difference with home theater is that if we throw things at the screen, WE have to clean it up! I have a paper bag full of rectangular pieces of soft pink foam I hand out for people to pitch at the screen when we are showing something awful - it prevents harm to the screen and other audience members when responding appropriately to poor content.


    David Gibbons

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