Mara Gulens
January 20

When you want to watch the very best

Sarah McLachlan has one. So does Bryan Adams. And so do an increasing number of professionals, corporate honchos, pro athletes and anyone else who
can afford this must-have accessory of 21st century living: the home theatre.

Also known as the media room, it's a little haven in a world craving security, togetherness and augmented entertainment experiences.

Part of the beauty of the home-theatre experience is the moments of absolute silence: when the lights dim, all eyes turn toward the screen and you can hear a kernel of popcorn drop. It's that warm fuzzy feeling when you know you and your kids are safe from the world outside. But headiest is the event itself-the morereal- than-real images, the way the sound reverberates through the seats making you feel as if you're actually part of the onscreen action.

Add luxurious movie-style seats or Roche Bobois couches, a snack bar complete with fridge, popcorn machine and soda fountain, a wet bar, perhaps an adjoining wine cellar, and you have the hottest room in the house.

"It's just like walking into a movie theatre, but better," said Paul Bernard, retail sales and marketing manager at Sound Designs in Toronto's Distillery District.

"It's acoustics, it's aesthetics, it's the video and the audio experience."

And it's also a family moment. "The trend of cocooning is continuing," said James Marshall of retailer Bay Bloor Radio's custom department in Toronto.
"The home theatre is part of that."

A basic home theatre starts at $10,000, but for $50,000 you can buy a very nice system. Go really high-end-with acoustically treated walls, state-of-the-art projectors, Hollywood screens, integrated lighting, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning settings, and security system
control, not to mention power reclining chairs and other amenities-and you're looking at upwards of $200,000.

"Part of the how it reacts to occupants," Marshall said. "You can have relatively unsophisticated systems that are $50,000 that will do lighting control but don't have the ability to dim lights with the same degree of accuracy, to do things quite as smoothly-everything tends to be more abrupt."

In order to really allow you to be involved in the viewing experience, you want to make the viewing and sonic experience as close to what a director originally intended.

"It's astonishing," Marshall said. "[A home theatre] is not only quieter than a movie theatre-the picture is more vivid, the sound is clearer. Everything about it is taken to the nth degree so that the experience truly is second to none."

And many consumers are now building this experience into their new homes.

"The lion's share of our theatre installations involve new home construction; more and more people are incorporating dedicated theatres into their building plans," said Marilyn Sanford, president of Vancouver's La Scala.

"Architects are now including media rooms and home theatres in space considerations as well. Over the past two years we have conducted several Architectural Institute-approved training sessions designed specifically for architects, to help them understand the building envelope and space considerations when planning a dedicated theatre."

Sanford said the new-home segment is one of the industry's fastest growing consumer trends.

Design the experience

It begins with the theatre/media room itself, which, for maximum effect, has to be separated from the rest of the house with acoustic panelling.
"A properly done home theatre emulates what a movie theatre is like," Marshall said.

That means absorptive panels on the side walls and low-velocity/high-volume air-handling systems so you don't hear ducts rustling and the furnace coming on.

"You are completely in a different world," said Tom Koffler, president of Koffler Development Group. Sound Design recently installed a theatre in his
Toronto home.

"You can't hear anything around you, it completely isolates you from the rest of the house."

The experience also relies heavily on the equipment and setup: a top-of-theline projector, a screen that takes up your entire field of vision, speakers that make you part of the audio experience.

"We try to take the cinema experience into the home," said Mark Blackwood, custom sales manager at Sound Plus Custom in Vancouver.

More than flicks

By building a home theatre, "what you're going to have is the ability to have a true multimedia experience. It's not just the movie, it's the high-definition television, it's the video games," Bernard said. "We want to be excited."

And that's probably the biggest change to occur in the business: theatres are moving beyond screening rooms and opening into multi-purpose rooms.

They're not just for movies anymore: customers are surfing the Web, watching high-definition TV shows and playing video games.

"If I have a $65,000 projector it shouldn't just be for movies," Bernard said.

"It's the way of the future," Koffler said. "It's (becoming) a great way to keep the family together."

Central to the media room's success is control. Bernard said a $25,000 system with a $6,000 remote is not out of the question. "You can spend all the money you want on all the other accoutrements to make it happen, but if you're stuck looking at five remotes on the table at the end of the day, you're going to have a lot of people who will never use that system."

"The number one priority is ease of use," Blackwood agreed. An intuitive touch-screen device should be able to control everything from the satellite or digital TV box, to the lights, drapes, projector, screen masking and DVD.

With superb entertainment and an easy-to-use system built in a special room, many families now organize special movie nights, said Blackwood.

"It's just like going to the movies, it's a dedicated act."

"It's a great investment," Koffler said.

"It keeps the kids in the house. It's a great entertainment vehicle."

Koffler's media room has five theatre seats, plus a nine-foot couch at the front "to give it a cozy feeling. It brings a cinema environment right into your house," he said.

But theatres also have growing appeal to people other than homeowners. New high-rises in Vancouver, for example, are being built with 22- to 44-seat designated media rooms, "as a perk for your unit," Blackwood said.

Where the trend used to be towards having a gym in the building, now "the bonus room is the media room."

And there are going to be more media rooms. "It's only going up from here," Blackwood said.

Improved content delivery, including high-definition television and video-ondemand, larger screens at lower prices, and easier installation are contributing to the popularity of media rooms.

"Those kinds of things are just making it more convenient to see what you want when you want to see it," Marshall said.

Web theatre
Bay Bloor Radio
La Scala
Sound Designs
Sound Plus Custom 

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