Modern Media

Technology takes theater experiences out of the dark and into our living rooms— and things have never looked better

Think back a few decades. You might have known a guy—and it was almost always a guy—who invested the lion’s share of his disposable income in stereo components. Shiny, black and on display, they were there to elicit envy from other guys like him. Then there was the massive TV. Sure, the screen was big, but the device was nearly as deep as it was wide. The big screen was great during the game or for home screenings of Star Wars, but turned off the set was, well, an eyesore. The partners of these aficionados attempted to decorate around, or in spite of, all the equipment— often with limited success.

Those dark days are over. There’s no need to sequester screens to special rooms and there’s little desire to lock them up in cabinets. Storage is almost moot, as the music we listen to and the video we watch streams from a Wi-Fi network. There are no CDs or DVDs to wrangle, nor multiple pieces of equipment to attach with cables and connections. The screen is part of the style, and the media integrated into the space allows for multiple uses, says Jeff Grundahl, president of JG Development.

In fact, television technology and design has improved to the point that a large screen doesn’t have to overpower a room; no one has to choose between overall aesthetics and optimal viewing. What that means is simple. “People want big TVs,” says Tom Spinoso, divisional manager at American TV. “People want a big, beautiful picture.”

And the possibilities of “big” are ever-increasing. American now has whopping 90-inch models on the floor. “That wasn’t even true a year ago, when most of these TV sizes capped at about 60 inches,” Spinoso says.  

Of course, optimal viewing takes more than just the TV. As viewing habits continue to evolve, more of us are accessing our content via streaming on demand. So, while we do not need discs or players, we do need to get our movies, shows and music from somewhere. 

Wireless technology makes that easy, Grundahl says. “Homeowners can access all their content and control all their media from tablet computers or smart phones. Then there are smart TVs that even integrate Internet access. American TV’s audio/video design consultant Kris Hodgkins says that once you add the TV to your home network, you can update your FaceBook account or Skype with your sister in Dallas from your living room plasma screen, and you can watch, say, Netflix without any other components. It’s essentially taking the app technology that we already run on the smallest screens in our hands and expanding it to the biggest screens in our houses. Better still, Spinoso adds, the technology is nearly standard in any mid-level TV so you don’t have to pay a premium for it.

What many of us forget to consider, though, is sound. “The picture only tells half the story,” Hodgkins says, “and when you sit down and watch Jurassic Park, you want that dinosaur to come right through the living room.”

Televisions always come with speakers, but Hodgkins and Spinoso caution that as screens get thinner, so do the speakers. Hodgkins says that has hampered the standard sound quality on some models. “Additional sound has almost become a requirement,” he says.

One option is a bottom-mounting sound bar with a range of speakers that, Hodgkins says, can replicate the home-theater experience. The next option is a full surround-sound system. 

“Sound wiring is a good thing to have hard-wired,” Grundahl says, which means it’s important to consider sound at the outset of construction or remodeling projects; retrofitting can get a little more labor-intensive than many consumers really anticipate when replacing a TV. However, there are wireless speaker systems that capture much of the benefit of hard-wired systems without the messy installation.

Ultimately this means that the viewing and listening experience is better than ever before. The ice in your drinks can rattle during an on-screen explosion and you can hear the helmets smack during a Packer game. “It’s like being at Lambeau Field,” Spinoso says, “without the long lines for the bathroom.”

-Jennifer Garrett

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