- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 27, 2002

Rob Lee is surrounded by the sounds of Hollywood in the comfort of his apartment.
Mr. Lee, of Arlington, owns a home theater, which consists of a 51-inch big screen television, a DVD player, five speakers with a subwoofer and a receiver. He started collecting pieces of equipment when he graduated high school. He loves to watch movies such as "Star Wars" on the system. He also uses it to play video games with Microsoft Xbox.
"It's sort of a hobby," the 28-year-old says. "My dad got me into this. He was into it when he was growing up. He tried to imitate what it sounded like when it was recorded. So when you close your eyes, you feel like you are in the room it was created in, as if you are in the ambience of a small concert hall."
About 25 percent of homes in the United States have a home theater system, says Lisa Fasold of the Consumer Electronics Association in Arlington. The number of homes with this technology has grown about 7 percent since January 1999. This includes owning a television with a screen that is 27 inches or larger, with at least four speakers, a surround sound receiver and a video source, such as a high-fi VCR, DVD player, satellite system or high-definition television. Theaters range from the more simple systems that are placed in a family room to the more complex that are given a dedicated room in the house.
"Home theaters are going to a more mainstream audience," Mrs. Fasold says. "My neighbors have one just to play their new 'Snow White' DVD. The field keeps growing. With digital TV, we expect it to keep growing even more."
George Shelton, general manager of the Graffiti Audio-Video in Bethesda, says the TV screen is the cornerstone of a home theater system.
After the visual element is chosen, he says, "home theater in a box" is a simple solution for those customers who are looking for the basic system to upgrade their standard TV speakers. The set-up, which is made by various manufacturers, usually comes with six speakers and a receiver, costing from about $400 to $1,000.
"Each speaker separates sounds, and that makes the movie more enjoyable," Mr. Shelton says. "It doesn't give you more sound, but depth and focus of the movie. The dialogue comes from the center speaker, which draws your attention to the screen. You feel like you're in the scene. When something moves on the screen, the sound will go in the direction of the object."
Mr. Shelton says it is important to match the quality of the television with the quality of the sound system. He says the better the speakers, the better the home theaterexperience.
"It's like a fine instrument," Mr. Shelton says. "If you buy an inexpensive Japanese piano, it won't sound like a Steinway at the Kennedy Center. With good speakers, you can hear the clarity of the voices. You can hear the subtle sounds in the background that you hear in the movie theater."

Mike Lunde, manager of JS Audio in Bethesda, says a quality entertainment system is an important part of living well. Most people with home theaters enjoy watching movies in their own home for reasons of comfort and convenience.
"Sociologists call it 'cocooning,'" Mr. Lunde says. "It gives you access to the original theatrical forms of cultural treasures in the safety and security of your own home."
For those people with a large disposable income, Mr. Lunde says he offers systems that cost about $150,000, which need a laptop computer to install. He says hearing the movie score through such speakers makes an enormous difference in the experience of watching the film. Therefore, most people who would buy a system of this quality install it in a dedicated room in their house.
"When big-name producers want to play a movie back for a test run in a domestic environment, this is the kind of system they use," Mr. Lunde says. "If you've never experienced it, it takes some getting used to."
Alan Gouger, owner of AV Science Inc. in Rochester, N.Y., says those people with top-of-the-line home theaters usually create a dedicated room for the equipment. The room is frequently in a basement, attic or garage and is designed so movies can be watched in the daytime without light coming through windows. Sometimes, people insulate the rooms for sounds.
These systems usually feature a front projector, which shines onto a movie screen, or a rear projector, which is self-contained in a big square box that looks like a television, Mr. Gouger says. He says these theaters are as good as or better than regular movie theaters, especially since the films appear in their proper widescreen format. The frequency response of speakers is usually better at home because smaller rooms are easier to fill with sound than a large movie theater.
"You can either go to the movie theater and have all the kids walking past you and put up with all the distractions, or you can stay at home and have better sound and better picture than in the theater," Mr. Gouger says. "It's easy to get bitten by the bug. If you were to visit a friend who had one of these systems, you'd wish you had a system of your own."

David Bott, 35, of Rochester, N.Y., says he and his wife have been movie enthusiasts for many years. When shopping for a house, they looked through 27 homes before buying one that would be perfect for a home theater. They bought their house and renovated the basement into a theater that uses a front projector and a movie screen. It seats five persons in full leather recliners. Before having a dedicated room, they owned a 53-inch rear projection television.
"It's just pure entertainment and enjoyment for us," Mr. Bott says. "We like to get away from everyday life and emerse ourselves in an alternate reality."
Mr. Bott says they usually use the theater about three times a week, enjoying the more than 300 DVDs they own. They watch all kinds of movies, ranging from action adventure to romantic comedies. When a blockbuster film, such as "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring," hits the local movie theaters, Mr. Bott says he still attends, but most of the time he waits for films to come to DVD.
"Once you start with home theaters, you are never finished," Mr. Bott says. "You get sucked into this giant vacuum of technology. It's ever changing with bigger and better images."
Robert Serio, owner of Perfect Vision and Sound in Avon, Conn., says whatever kind of theater people maintain, they need to make sure it is connected properly. Failing to put it together properly limits its capabilities.
"One man had a system for two years and saw my commercial on TV," Mr. Serio says. "I ended up reconnecting the entire system. When I did that, his wife's mouth fell open because it sounded so good."
Ken Brown, owner of Kenneth Brown Design Group, LLC in Simsbury, Conn., says often clients ask him to help create their home theaters. When doing so, he tries to be sensitive to the lifestyle of the person. He says some people like to hide their theaters, using in-ceiling speakers and retractable projectors or screens.
"It's possible to have projectors drop down out of the ceiling or sit in a custom-built coffee table that would sit between a couple of chairs," Mr. Brown says. "It's always a challenge what to do with the subwoofer. You might hide that behind a wall, or build a piece of furniture around it. You can also mount it below the floor."
Tom Norton, editor of Stereophile Guide to Home Theater in Los Angeles, says although he believes that interest in home theaters will grow, he doubts they will ever become as popular as telephones or televisions.
"It will remain popular because people love movies," Mr. Norton says. "It's the opportunity to watch movies at home in good quality pictures and good quality sound. The sky is pretty much the limit."


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