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Home Theater

Keeping Up with Streaming Content Updates

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Netflix subscribers were abuzz last month when it was announced that Disney would be pulling their content off the popular media streaming service. This is part of massive streaming content updates across the entertainment scope at Netflix. While it won’t happen until 2019, plenty of parents voiced their concern on social media, such as the dad who tweeted:

”This is not good for the millions of parents who use Moana, Zootopia or Finding Dory as negotiation tactics with their toddlers.”

Streaming Content UpdatesDisney plans to introduce their own streaming service, subscription cost yet undetermined, which many fear will be the first step of several additional services to add in order to watch a variety of content.

Disney owns ESPN, which will likewise introduce its own streaming service in 2019. Sports Illustrated says that it’s a similar model to that of HBO NOW, which is an online-only subscription that comes with access to all of HBO’s content but is not part of a cable package.

Disney CEO Bob Iger said that he envisions a more customizable user experience where consumers can select specific games, packages and even parts of games they want to purchase.

Both Disney and EPSN services will be similar to what the Netflix or Amazon Prime platforms offer: paying a fee for the specific content offered through those services. Which is very different from how many people still purchase content through cable or satellite providers. Companies are more motivated than ever to keep up with streaming content updates with the extreme movement to cord-cutting for millions of potential viewers.

So does that mean cable and traditional satellite tv providers are dead? Not so fast. Both satellite and cable companies are innovating quickly to keep up with consumer entertainment trends.

DirecTV recently launched DirecTVNow, which Tom’s Guide explains as “DirecTV is a satellite-TV subscription service, while DirecTV Now is an online streaming service that delivers live TV channels.” Both are owned by telecom giant AT&T. Priced much less than traditional packages, DirecTVNow offers a more flexible, portable service that delivers 50+ channels to any connected device.

Streaming Content Updates Smarthome

Meanwhile, Comcast is expected to unveil  XFinity Instant TV later this year, which will be a similar content subscription service available either as an add-on or stand alone.

The home entertainment landscape is changing rapidly. With all the choices available for today’s consumer, it’s more important than ever to partner with an experienced consultant to help you make the best home theatre decisions. Our team at Grand Home Automation can help! Contact us today to start the conversation.

Suspension of Disbelief

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Ever catch something in a movie or video game that makes you go “waaaait a minute…?” Ever find yourself wondering why nobody in her school recognizes Hannah Montana even though she looks exactly like plain old Miley with a wig on? This is called Suspension of Disbelief, coined by Victorian poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner) in the early 19th century. Essentially it happens when (and Coleridge used it namely with mythological creatures and fantasy in his poetry) the creator of a particular work (film, literature, art, etc) asks his audience to believe in some type of fantasy, even though it cannot exist in the realm of the real world. For example, George Lucas prefaces the movie Star Wars with “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” This is a direct request for viewers to remove themselves from reality and enter into a world that is completely un-like the world we live in. With this preface, we know as viewers not to question the reality of what we’re watching, just to go with it and have fun. With the rapid expansion of technology in the film/gaming industry and the ever-growing demand for means of entertainment, this theory holds tight more than ever.

When it comes to your home theater, Suspension of Disbelief can be split into two categories, similar to fiction and non-fiction. The fiction category is how you’d classify all the Hannah Montana and Star Wars stuff, where you’re being asked within the story to leave your comfy chair and enter a world where things are different than the world you live in. The non-fiction category refers to the technical aspect. Have you ever seen an old episode of Dr. Who or StarTrek? You as the viewer are asked to ignore the ridiculous special effects, bad dialogue, silly costumes, and awful audio effects and immerse yourself anyway. The audio and film industries have made unimaginable leaps and bounds in technology since those campy old SciFi flicks, and your home theater experience should be no different. Rapidly improving 3D TV’s, projectors, gaming systems, HD surround sound, and HDMI specifications are all but eliminating this kind of Suspension of Disbelief, allowing you to jump head-first into your favorite movie or video game, without having to “ignore” the technical stuff. And it’s only getting more realistic. Your 3D TV will put you right in the middle of fantastic places. Your HD surround sound will make your experience more intense. Your internet-ready projector puts millions of streaming movies, TV shows, and video games instantly at your fingertips. And you can have this all in the comfort of your own home. Now that really is movie magic.

Your Home Theater is a Big Win for the Super Bowl

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You may have heard that this year’s Super Bowl broke the record for the most-watched television program of any kind in the history of TV– with an average viewing audience of 106.5 million.

Bearing that in mind, why would anyone want to cram into a bar that’s as busy as a mall on Christmas Eve? If you have the right equipment at home, you won’t have to fight to get into an overcrowded venue, and you’re probably going to get a better view than the friend (of a friend, of a friend) who actually had Super Bowl tickets (and a box of tissue for the nosebleeds). If you want the finest viewing experience, leave it to three-time Super Bowl Champion, Jerry Rice, to give you some inspiration in getting the most out of your home theater setup.

Playing for the San Francisco 49ers for fifteen seasons and being regarded as one of the best players in NFL history doesn’t exactly lend itself to inconspicuous public outings with his family, and being a man devoted to his family (and, of course, a huge sports junky), Rice included a 750 sq. ft. theater in his own home to beat the crowds. The theater boasts several impressive components, including four Crown Audio amplifiers, rated at 30 amps each, which power 40+ Tannoy speakers and Electro-Voice subwoofers, to produce a 10,000 watt sound system. To put this into perspective, the Rices’ theater has better sound than an IMAX. And when he’s not participating in the pre-game coin toss, Rice can catch the big game projected onto his 123-inch Stewart screen, seated comfortably on any of the 16 graded CineLounger seats.

If Jerry Rice’s theater sounds appealing to you, and you have the modest $200,000 – $500,000 budget to use for your own home theater, you can have your version in your very own home. However, if that sounds a tad out of your price range, don’t worry; there are a few tips that will give you a quality experience, and may leave you with a little more money for the chips and dip. For instance, if you haven’t upgraded yet, and you’re looking for a great video experience, you’re going to need the crystal clarity of an HDTV with HD service. There is much debate between LCD and plasma, but for the fast-paced action of the big game, the smoothness of a plasma display is yet unsurpassed in providing a front row seat to the Super Bowl. You’ll also want to pick up a surround sound system to impart the energy of the stadium right into your home theater. A unit around 1000 watts will do the job nicely.

Just remember, though, that if you have a screen bigger than 55-inches, and you’re blasting the action through a Dolby 7.1 audio system — don’t charge for the brews, or you may receive a visit from your local law enforcement, courtesy of the NFL.

HDTV in 3D

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TMA! (too many acronyms)
Yes, it appears that 3D is making another swing at the hearts of the viewing audience. Does having 3D in the home mean we’ll have to sit in the living room wearing those silly cardboard glasses? Well, yes, and no. Glasses are required so that each eye only sees the image its supposed to see, but technology has advanced quit a bit from the color filter days. Today, the glasses either use polarized filters, or electronic liquid crystal shutters. The polarized filters are really only for a commercial theater where two projectors will be pointed at the screen. In the home, the electronic type will be used primarily, meaning your glasses will need batteries. The shutters open and close alternately for each eye, at up to sixty times per second.

To get 3D images to our home theaters requires that the entire delivery chain be adapted for the technology. First, the movies must be filmed in 3D. Of course computer animated movies don’t really require cameras, so they can handle that. But for real-life 3D, essentially two cameras must be used to record simultaneously, placed about the same distance apart as our own human eyes. It makes sense then, that the information from those cameras would be doubled, which necessitates a higher bandwidth cable and connector format. They are already putting that in place with the HDMI 1.4 standard. BluRay discs can handle the extra information, but new players with the new format output will be manufactured. Now we we have to get this uber-dense signal to our TV; we’ll likely need a new HDMI cable for that. Speaking of the TV, it will need to have the upgraded input, along with the ability to show twice as many image frames per second; 120(Hz) in fact, so start making plans for an upgrade.

Is it worth it? Well, that’s pretty subjective. There is no denying that 3D is a really cool effect. However, there are many caveats such as how close to the screen you must sit, and how big the screen is, or the effect just doesn’t want to ‘connect’ with your brain. In fact, our brains just aren’t that easily fooled, and it usually takes a focused effort to keep your eyes and brain open to the effect for the whole movie. Many people find this very fatiguing, maybe even painful after awhile. Personally, I think the biggest benefit of 3D video in the home will be for gaming. If I already have to use a funky controller or steering wheel, I’ll gladly wear the glasses to have the full 3D experience while driving my favorite rally car. But I just don’t think the majority of film directors are going to force their audience to wear space cadet glasses and strain to focus for an hour and a half, or two, or three.
______________________
Sean Hotchkiss
shotchkiss@grandhome.com

Out of Control!

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You have it all planned out in your head – Just exactly what kind of theater seats you’re going to have, the color of the carpet and wall-fabrics, how many rows of seats, how big the screen will be, and so on. You can imagine turning it on for the first evening, having the THX ‘whoosh’ or your favorite movie scene ‘shock and awe’ you into quivering A/V delight. But don’t stop there – actually run through what it really takes to make that all happen…

– Set the temperature to the right spot, just cool enough for a lap blanket
– Get all the electronics warmed up
– Turn the lights down low at first, then totally off for the main event
– Find the projector remote
– Turn on the projector
– Set the projector input to ‘HDMI1’ for the BluRay player
– Find the video processor remote
– Set the video processor input to ‘DVD’
– Make sure the video memory is set to ‘Cinema’
– Find the surround processor remote
– Turn on the surround processor
– Set the audio input to ‘DVD1’
– Set the surround mode to ‘Cinema’
– Make sure THX processing is engaged
– Set the volume to reference -10dB
– Turn on all the audio amplifiers
– Find the BluRay remote
– Turn on the BluRay player
– Get the disc playing
– Use the ‘pop-up menu’ to get to right scene for the big show

Much less dreamy, huh?
Can you really remember all of that? Could any member of your family? Guests? Probably not. What about the different settings for different sources like satellite tv or VuDu? This problem of control is what companies like Crestron are perfect for. From a simple handheld automated remote control to a fancy wireless touchpanel, these controllers can turn an evening focused on technology, ‘stuff’, and frustration, into one spent enoying the true art of cinema.

Remember – The image may be pristine, and the audio dynamic and crystal clear, but if you can’t turn it on, it’s all just an expensive living room.
______________________
Sean Hotchkiss
shotchkiss@grandhome.com

Choosing a Home Theater Installer

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Choosing a Home Theater Installer: A Checklist
On any given day, you can find a great component for your home theater. You can upgrade your video, sound or entire system with just one good salesman (or one good deal at the big box). But, to get the most out of your home theater experience, you’ll need to look into a reputable home theater installer.

Why choose a home theater installer? Well, consider a few things – the least of which is that high-quality equipment you just bought. You probably bought that audio or video equipment because it was top-notch, so you could enhance your TV, movie-watching or home stereo experience. Like most things, there’s the right way and then there’s the other way to get these things done. You can be thorough or you can take a few shortcuts. Now, it doesn’t much matter sometimes, when all you want is the screen to light up and sound to come out of the speakers, but if you’ve made an investment in parts, then you should get the service, too.

We’ve sat down and come up with a helpful checklist for choosing a home theater installer. Please, forgive us for being uncompromisingly forthright with our list, we’re experts in home theater installations and we’re here to help.

1. Look for a CEDIA certification. First and foremost, do your research. CEDIA is the industry organization, and the website will help you find the very best in custom electronic residential design and installation … and peace of mind. Locate a CEDIA installer here.

2. Inventory your audio and video. Take a moment to write down what you’ve got, as far as equipment and components. Consider the age of your electronics, too. It’ll be good to be able to share thoughts with the pros on what you’ve already got and what to consider for the future.

3. Make plans to wire. Even wireless systems require a few wires here and there. Especially if you are building new or just remodeling your home theater room, start with a plan (or at least expectations) for wiring for the future. This will help with further home automation controls down the road.

4. Think about integration. It’s possible to integrate lighting and other home comfort controls at the same time you install your new, modern home theater. So, make a wish list of things you think might be nice to have integrated… you never know how easily that can be done!

5. Ask around. Web searches and links are great, but we also recommend that you ask around for references. Ask your neighbors, or even your local Better Business Bureau. Find a finished project that might be similar to what you’ve got in mind for your home theater. There’s nothing quite like good word of mouth.

Our only other recommendation: Be careful, because your home theater project may turn your home cinema into the new “family room,” so expect a lot of use!

Let us know your thoughts and comments! Do you have someone great to recommend?

The Truth: LED TVs explained.

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If you’ve been watching TV lately, you might have seen some new commercials from manufacturers like Samsung, hyping their new “LED” televisions as a whole new breed that’s “changing how we watch TV.”

Technically, these new “LED” TV’s are just LCD televisions with a display lit by LEDs on the outer edge of the TV, as opposed to being lit from behind. Most LCD TVs use fluorescent backlighting.

So, this LED designation refers to the backlighting system thats employed on the newer LCD TVs, not the chip itself that’s produce the image. You might say that the only true LED TV is the one you see at a stadium or ballpark. The new home models should actually be called LCD / LED TVs.

But, an LED TV can claim:

– Lower power consumption.
– No Mercury.
– Thinner profile (because no flourescent-based backlighting).
– Balanced color saturation.

The good news is that LED backlighting is representing a new advance in technology, giving LCD TVs a performance level similar to plasmas in terms of black levels, while also allowing for even thinner, sleeker LCD TV designs. At Grand Home Automation, we’re all about advancement.

Trust us to keep you posted on new developments and new product offerings when it comes to enhancing the home theater experience.

The Top 5 Technologies That Advanced The Home Theater Experience

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At Grand Home Automation, we love experiences. We also love giving our clients truest cinematic experience right in their own home. It’s amazing how far we’ve come as an industry with new video technologies, developments in acoustic research and home theater planning.

With ordinary home theater systems, like the part-by-part component systems you see advertised at big box retailers, you can lay back and take in a movie experience. But, with a Grand Home theater, the movie experience takes YOU in. We couldn’t make the outstanding home theaters that we’ve planned and installed over the years if it weren’t for some landmark developments in home theater technology.

As we see it, these are our Top 5 advancements in the home theater industry:

1. Dolby Digital. Chances are, you’ve heard – and probably owned – a Dolby technology product, but the  wouldn’t-be-a-movie-without-it surround sound technology now is known as Dolby Digital®. With six channels of full-range sound: front center, front left, front right, rear left, rear right, and the subwoofer for deep bass, Dolby Digital technology makes a richer and more realistic movie sound experience. This technology is so advanced and even so user-friendly, that what you recorded in Dolby Digital can be played back in mono, stereo, Dolby Surround or Pro Logic. (Check out who we like).

2. HD Front Projection Systems. The old CRT projectors were great… and expensive… and heavy… but the digital revolution brought us new video projection technology. With a drop in prices, this means that today’s modern front projectors are becoming more accessible to a wider range of people, particularly to those seeking the finest in home entertainment. Not only does the video projector provide more screen size for the price (a value hard to deny), it’s also as close to a cinema-like experience.

3. LCD Technology. We could go on all day about LCD vs. DLP projector technologies, but for the sake of naming a top technology that advanced the home theater business, we’re going with LCD. LCD (liquid crystal display) has been around, gives a great color saturation and gives a sharp image at any resolution. LCD TVs and projectors are widely available, and even if we continued to argue back and forth about LCD and DLP, the only winner in all this would be you, the home theater owner.

4. High Contrast Screens.
They call it the silver screen, but it’s not entirely silver. A top-notch viewing screen isn’t entirely flat either – it will also have perforations in it, so sound can travel through it. Another little fact: you can futz with the color from your projector, but a high-contrast screen will help make whites really pop and will also help make a truer black. You can learn about projection screens from our partner at www.da-lite.com

5. HDMI. The HDMI interface is the global standard for connecting high-definition Consumer Electronics and even your PC products. It’s the uncompressed, all-digital interface that delivers quality and ease of use. HDMI cables represent a digital alternative to consumer analog standards such as coaxial cable, S-Video,  D-Terminal, and VGA. For your home theater, this new standard allows you to be fully digital, with great ease and with more access to high-definition expandability for the future.

What do you think? What’s made your home theater experience lately?

Highlights from CEDIA Expo 08, Denver Colorado

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Once a year, we integrators gather for professional training and an industry trade show. The acronym CEDIA stands for Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association. I’ve enjoyed attending since 1994, and here are a few highlights from this year’s event that I thought were worth sharing:

Audio

While there were no earth shattering changes in the audio world, everything is improving. Audio processors continue to add features, such as digital room correction that is automated, yet still fine-tunable by pro’s for super-precise adjustment. The Integra separate processor stood out as an astounding bang for the buck unit, laden with features such as balanced outputs, on-board HDMI processing, and pretty much every surround decoding format known to man.

Interestingly, subwoofers are getting much smarter. Triad’s new line of subwoofer amplifiers carry an impressive on-board DSP processor with multiple bands of digital parametric equalization, delay, phase, and adjustable crossover frequency for both the woofer itself, the line outs for satellite speakers, and line outs for custom multi-way sub setups (VERY cool – I’m still geeked about that one).

For loudspeakers, we’re seeing more line-array arrangements from companies like McIntosh and Artison which are very appropriate for rooms with poor acoustics such as tile floors and plaster ceilings. And for those theaters that are extremely large, or even perhaps sporting pavilions, there are companies such as PHC that are producing commercial cinema grade systems that have enough output to power these oversize spaces. Yes, these speakers are quite large.

Video

Who says bigger isn’t better? New video projectors from companies such as Meridian Audio and JVC with resolutions over 4,000 horizontal pixels are absolutely stunning. These higher resolutions will allow us to dramatically increase screen size and still have an image that is watchable in the front row. Interestingly, rear projection is making a comeback in the form of high-end 16:9 and 2.35:1 aspect ratio high performance displays that show a phenomenal image even in extremely high ambient light conditions. While not inexpensive, custom rear projection may be the way to go for those who would otherwise be considering that $100k uber-giant plasma screen.

Remembering that our reference video systems are really just trying to faithfully reproduce the original film as created by the director and cinema photographer, why not just install a film projector? A new company called Wolfe Cinema is doing just that, producing true 35mm film projectors for the residential market at prices that may be less than you would imagine. About the size of your kitchen refrigerator, two are recommended, so each reel can be switched into place without interruption. Apparently, 35mm reels of up to date movies can be rented or even purchased for around $2,000 each.

Where’s my popcorn? When it comes to digital content delivery, there is a company about to begin digital distribution of very high bitrate (45mbps) movies directly from the studios by means a proprietary hard drive shipping system. Some serious encryption is no doubt taking place here to keep the hackers at bay.

Control

Improvements in control systems continue to flow, but you still have to choose between the less expensive systems with limited options and scalability, or go for the fully custom solution that while expensive, is virtually unlimited in accomplishing whatever a creative mind can conjure up.

The up and coming major application for home automation technology is energy management. Combine thorough energy monitoring with custom integration control, and some serious savings can be realized. While this level of ‘green’ won’t be widely available in homes for a few years, the top automations firms (yours truly) are doing it on projects right now. Call today, operators standing by…

Gaming

One of the training sessions I attended focused on video gaming, which turned out to be an eye-opener for me. I’m not a big gamer myself, though I do enjoy GT3 racing on an ancient Sony PS2 in my home theater once or twice a year (lame, I know). But it really got me to thinking about those families who may actually do a decent amount of gaming.

There are two primary forms of gaming: immersive, and social. The immersive style would be something like the racing I just mentioned or perhaps one of those first-person action games where you can play for hours and almost loose contact with your physical body. These immersive games require isolation, and a home theater may be just the spot.

Social gaming is a completely different beast. When you’re playing Guitar Hero, where do you stand? Are you blocking the projector from hitting the video screen? Do you have your back to your audience while looking at the big screen? And when playing Wii bowling, you need a lot of room, probably right where the sweet spot theater chairs are. If you plan on having your home theater pull double duty for video gaming these are just some of the important things to consider.

Come to think of it, maybe you should make an appointment to talk with your local CEDIA certified home theater design specialist / propeller-headed A/V geek. I wonder who?…
______________________
Sean Hotchkiss
shotchkiss@grandhome.com

HELP! – I Need Treatment…

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Say – what is all this ‘cue-sticks’ stuff, anyways? Well, acoustic treatments help control the sound in the room. You might visualize sound from a loudspeaker or subwoofer kind-of like dropping a quarter into a bathtub full of water. It drops in, making waves on the surface that move outward and then bounce of the sides of the tub, reflecting around for quite awhile. If the waves were sound, that first wave from the quarter directly hitting your ear will make a nice, clear, intelligible sound.

The problem comes in when the rest of the waves bouncing around continue to strike your ear, from multiple directions, delayed by varying amounts of time. Although our brain is astoundingly good at figuring out which signal arrived first and understanding the basic content of the sound, it gets a little confused about which direction it came from, and the true tonal quality and subtleties.

The fact is, the vast majority of what we consider to be audio fidelity is completely morphed and man-handled by the air between you and the speaker, along with all the reflections that merrily bounce off the walls, floor,  and ceiling. When you think about it, it’s amazing we can understand anything at all. To figure it out, humans use a three-piece pattern recognition system consisting of the left ear, right ear, and a grey ball of mush called our ‘brain’. Try this sometime in a noisy, crowded, indoor space: tightly close off one of your ears with a finger. All of a sudden, the environment sounds much more random, and the brain has a hard time distinguishing sounds and figuring out where they came from. T

here are two primary ways of controlling all this chaos in a theater room. The first method has to do with controlling the dispersion of the speaker itself. If you don’t want reflections from the ceiling, then don’t send sound in that direction in the first place, silly. This might be accomplished with types of horns, baffles, or tall and skinny line array speakers. The second method handles the sound where it strikes the wall or boundary.

Absorption is one method of dealing with the waves as they approach theater room surfaces. Most absorption materials, such as fiberglass or cotton panels, are porous to a varying degree so that sound pressure waves must push their way through, bounce off the wall, and then push their way back out. All this resistance knocks the energy out of the wave, maybe even stopping it. Imagine riding a bicycle down a sidewalk near the beach. You can move along quite easily unless you veer off into the sand, where you slow down quite quickly or even stop due to the friction of pushing through the softer material.

Diffusion is another method of keeping sinister reflections from gittin’ ya. But I’ll defer the de-confusing diffusion discussion until another not-too-distant discourse.
______________________
Sean Hotchkiss
shotchkiss@grandhome.com

GHA’s Bill Langejans Interviewed by Detriot’s WWJ News Radio

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Bill Langejans, one of our Grand Home Automation client consultants, was recently interviewed by WWJ 950 News Radio in Detroit. Check out the article on their website for some great tips on home theater setup, as well as some tips on what not to do (hint: avoid putting that expensive flat screen TV over your fireplace!)