The story below was originally published on Theo’s Roundtable, for which I am contributing writer.

Lately, there has been a lot of chatter here on Theo’s Roundtable about the death of cinema and how home theater has reached a point where it’s begun to overtake commercial cinemas in terms of relevance. I’ve even contributed to such writings, but make no mistake, the concept of a home theater is far from perfect. In truth, it’s just as flawed and in some ways as doomed as the commercial-cinema experience.

Some would argue that the advent of VHS and, later, DVD gave rise to the idea of having a cinema-like space in one’s home. I argue it was the dot-com boom of the late ’90s and the housing boom of the early 2000s that really put the home in home theater. Much like owning a pool or driving a fancy car was en vogue in the ’80s, adding or installing a home theater in one’s home was the “it” indulgence of the past 20 or so years.

I’ll be the first to admit it, too—if you are or were at all a fan of home theater, the past 10 or so years have been pretty exciting. Many in the field probably wish they could go back in time to, say, 2003 and stay there, for being in the home theater business back in ’03 was good—real good. But just like Hollywood’s many booms, the home theater boom didn’t—or better yet—couldn’t last. With the collapse of the housing market and subsequent downturn in the economy, many who believed the ride would last forever soon found themselves on a rollercoaster without a great deal of track.

It’s not as if the notion of owning a home theater died with the economy—it didn’t, for you can’t truly kill an idea or concept. No, what is happening to home theater is that it’s being forced to evolve. For the better part of the last 20 years, home theater has been about the gear, not content.

Consumers were sold almost exclusively on the idea that more was simply more—more screen, more power, more speakers etc. There are still traces of that mentality with us today, though none of it—and I mean this with all sincerity—none of it is aimed at actually providing the viewer—aka the customer—with an equal level of more enjoyment. But then again we’ve always been a culture obsessed with more, even when we don’t have the means to obtain it. We crave more so much that we’re willing to overlook simple facts that otherwise prove that more doesn’t actually equal more.

That is what I mean when I say home theater isn’t perfect. It’s also what I’m talking about when I suggest that home theater may be in as much trouble going forward as commercial cinemas find themselves in today. Know that when I talk like this, given my position within the industry, many in my field tense up. I don’t say these things just to get a rise out of folks, but a certain level of “shaking the tree” is required to break people out of their often archaic ways of thinking.

I’m not suggesting that there isn’t a need for high-priced electronics—hell, I own a $28,000 SIM2 M.150 projector. It’s just for too long the only answer has been…

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  • http://www.facebook.com/JamesMVHolmes Jim Holmes

    First let me state, I always enjoy your articles Andrew, I think you bring a lot to the table and people are free to make their own choices based on the information provided. It is not your responsibility if they make a bad choice based on a review as there are dozens of other reviews to consider, all of which need to be read in order to get the big picture. Therefore, I would not beat yourself up if a reader becomes overwhelmed by their equipment choices. This is not uncommon given the wide variety of options, platforms and personal tastes out there.

    I am a freelance audio engineer who designs and builds speaker systems and other audio infrastructure and I have a very sophisticated home theater/entertainment system that is a large six figure investment. I fancy myself as an expert in all things audio etc but the one thing I have learned of the years is how much I don’t know and I too get overwhelmed by the technology. People come to my house and look at my system and proceed to come up with a multitude of seemingly strange conclusions based on what they see. Men are often wanting to experience the industrial might of it and women are impressed but surprised my wife allows it to exist or even puts up with it…lol. That being said, many people, mostly males, want me to advise them on how to replicate this in their home. Once we start talking budget I am immediately off the hook as for some reason people seem to think there is a big box store solution they can buy with what available credit they have left on their already debt laden credit card.

    I think there is a solution out there to meet everyone’s budgetary requirements and there are plenty of tech savy service providers for hire out there to help with installation and calibration. The real problem is still content and the means to effectively deliver it to your system. Systems can always be upgraded but the content is needed to justify the machines. Solidarity among content developers needs to exist in order to build the better mouse trap. Corporate greed seems to have a choke hold on the entire industry whether it be content or equipment. Even a company like Sony who manufactures and offers both can’t seem to get it together. The needs of the little man must prevail over the needs of the stock holders and then maybe the home theater will regain it’s popularity which will ultimately please the stock holders. This is just business 101 but our world is replete with corporations serving up a daily dose of mediocrity in the hope that we the public will continue to support it. Wasn’t that the GM business model in 2008? Movie houses, that is another topic altogether but it sports a lot of the same issues!

  • http://www.facebook.com/flyingbacon Keith Adams

    Nice article Andrew. I have found over the years that my HT needs, and those of my friends, have shifted dramatically. I chased the “perfect” setup during the early to mid 2000′s and spent a lot of time/resources/money to install something only one person in my house could operate. My needs have evolved into providing a “good” experience that is easy to operate and control. This means I sacrifice some aspects but it also means I spend more time enjoying content instead of worrying about my setup. I agree that the landscape of the home theater is changing. There will always be people chasing the ultimate HT setup but I find more people everyday who have realized the difference between that $500 sound system and the $5000 are negligible to the average consumer.

  • http://twitter.com/ARobinsonOnline Andrew Robinson

    Keith,

    I sincerely appreciate you taking the time to a) read and b) share your personal thoughts and experiences. Believe it or not but a lot of industry people read this blog and it’s comments like yours and others that I hope they pay attention to more, rather than what I write. I thank you for sharing and hope to see you ’round here in the future. Take care.

  • http://twitter.com/ARobinsonOnline Andrew Robinson

    Very nice observations Jim. As always thanks for reading and for weighing in!

  • http://www.facebook.com/mark.shaheen1 Mark Shaheen

    Depending on what someone is willing to invest will often determine what they are willing to learn. As my investment grew, my wonderful dealer has invested a lot of time and effort to educate me. This allowed my budget to grow and my theater to improve immensely. OTOH, I have also taught him a few things on this journey and we both benefit now.
    I would like to thank you Andrew and my Dealer, Steve at Sound Video in Minnesota for making this a fun hobby and very rewarding.

  • http://twitter.com/ARobinsonOnline Andrew Robinson

    Good to hear your experiences at seemingly every level have been positive. Thanks for sharing!