Getting the Big Picture

In prehistoric times clans gathered around a fire to bond by telling stories and making funny body noises. In the roaring 1920s and through the Second World War it was the crackle of the radio that brought families together every night. In the 1950s it was the cool gray eye of the television that regularly summoned the family unit, TV trays in hand, to the living room to watch Ed Sullivan or “The Wizard of Oz.”

But the miracles of media that once brought people together are now more prone to divide families. With so many ways to sample and play with digital technology, each family member can be in a different room soaking it in — Dad in his den watching a sports game over the Internet, Mom in the living room catching up on her TiVo cue of favorite television programs, the kids in their bedrooms enjoying a DVD or YouTube downloads on the video iPod.

The technology tide may be turning once again for family nights together. In fact, one of the most popular trends in home design is devoting a whole room to the creation of a home cinema where whole families, and even groups of friends and neighbors, can gather to enjoy digital media, movies, games and more, in all its glory. With large flat-screen LCD and plasma televisions, an array of plush comfortable seating and surround sound speakers, these rooms take home entertainment to the next level and are keeping families, once again, close to the hearth.

New Hampshire specialty stores such as Fidelis High-end Audio and Home Theater in Derry, Home Theater and Beyond in Merrimack, Ensemble in Nashua and DC Audio Video in Portsmouth are just a few of those thinking “outside the box.” No longer is the media experience determined by just the power of the components, but it’s a complete environment where controlling variables of light, sound, temperature and seat recline all add up to a media tour de force. But people still want their electronics to be easy to use and understand.

Home Theater and Beyond, owner Mike Bonetti says, “One of the things we strive to do is make it simple and easy for the client and any contractor they are working with.” And with so many components to keep in shape, customer service is essential to maintain the confidence of someone getting ready to make such a big investment of space and cash. Fidelis store manager Bill Henk says, “We make sure you are able to reach somebody on the phone on a daily basis without being sent to an answering machine.” This quality of client relations may be unfamiliar after years of picking the best buys at anonymous big-box electronics stores, but it’s all part of the plan for the home theater designer. Henk explains that they are taking the electronics business to the same level of relationship that a homeowner has with a good builder or remodeler. It’s a partnership based on communication and quality. “You can’t fall down on those or you will have challenge a remaining in business,” he says.

Some clients are looking for the kind of glamour or spectacle that was a part of the movie experience in the great age of theaters. For these homeowners, screens must be hidden behind think velvet curtains that open silently as the music begins. Loud battle scenes should surround the viewer so that they can hear the jet fighters diving in from above to strafe the aisle. And a theater should have creature comforts. A new trend involves incorporating an authentic-looking snack bar, stocked with Raisinettes, Jujubes and, naturally, fresh aromatic popcorn.

What was once the sort of thing you might picture in a Hollywood home can in fact be pretty affordable, particularly if you factor in the cost of movies out and other entertainment expenses which will be saved. And there are some benefits which are hard to price.

“What we find is people having the Saturday movie night, family night with popcorn and pizzas, friends and family coming together,” says Bonetti. He adds that parents “want their kids at home with their friends and to know where they are and be able to create an environment where the kids want to hang out.”

The dream of the big-screen high-definition TV was once thought to belong mostly to men, mostly for sports. At Ensemble in Nashua, owner Jack Mixon notices, “It’s more husbands and wives coming in together, rather than just the husband, like in the old days.”

Nick Mark, owner of DC Audio and Video in Portsmouth, finds nostalgia is a motivator for clients: “They want to go back to the theater when they were a kid, so we recreate the experience for them and bring them back to their childhoods.” The best rooms are the ones that can take people away from their every day life and transport them into a different world, says Mark. “The mood and energy of a well-done room should allow you to relax. We build something nice to take you away from daily life.” It’s not just about the prestige of owning a 115-inch television screen — it’s about bringing people together and letting them escape in their own homes as a family.

And for those who never quite figured out how to program the VCR before it was replaced by the DVD player, fear not. The technology has become easier to use as it has gotten more impressive to watch. After all, says Mixon, “It shouldn’t be intimidating, it should be fun. It’s for the family.” NH

This is a motorized Austrian drape system that opens automatically when the theater is turned on to reveal a 135″ projection screen. This theater was designed to re-create an Art Deco experience with modern, state-of-the-art electronics. Designed by DC Audio/Video.

This dedicated 14-seat theater, designed by DC Audio/Video, sits atop a beautiful home on Lake Winnipesaukee. The theater, designed to be a family retreat for movies, even includes a lobby area, complete with a popcorn machine. The room was acoustically engineered with specialized wall treatments. The 110″-screen drops down along with a blackout shade in front of the large window.

Consider this

Some of the factors that a professional will consider when installing a home theater include:

1. The size of the room
2. Where your audience will sit in relation to the screen
3. Acoustical properties of the room
4. Ambient light issues that may affect the type of video display
system to be used
5. Whether a projection system or large screen television will work best.
6. Whether in-wall or stand-alone speakers would be most effective
7. Where your components will be located
8. Room ventilation for both the viewers and home theater

— Photos by Nicholas A. Mark – DC Audio/Video