Posted June 25, 2013 by John Sciacca in John Sciacca

John Sciacca: The Coming Home Theater Renaissance

A June 28 article in Entertainment Weekly titled Ready for $50 Movie Tickets? caught my eye. I mean, if there’s one thing people complain about going to the movies, it’s definitely how cheap the ticket prices are. This is second only to the incredible value snack-bar pricing. Surprisingly, quality of “synthetic butter-flavored emulsion” is a distant third . . .

 According to the story, “Last week, [Paramount] and Regal Cinemas announced a $50 ‘Mega Ticket for World War Z.’” In addition to early admission to the film—two days prior to its nationwide release—the $50 mega ticket pre-buys you a digital copy of the movie and garners you some 3-D glasses plus a movie poster and a small popcorn. (Small? Seriously? And no drink?! Or Red Vines? Dude . . .)

Dovetailing with this news was a recent University of Southern California panel that discussed the future of Hollywood. The panel was notable because it included a couple of movie moguls you may have heard of by the names of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. (There was no mention as to whether the duo formally apologized for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Let’s just assume that in the interest of humanity and decency, the apology was lengthy and sincere.)

In that discussion, Lucas predicted, “What you’re going to end up with is fewer theaters. Bigger theaters, with a lot of nice things. Going to the movies is going to cost you 50 bucks, maybe 100. Maybe 150.”

Spielberg chimed in, suggesting, “There’s going to be eventually day and date with movies”—when films are available for on-demand viewing at home the same day they hit theaters, similar to what Prima Cinema offers currently—“and eventually there’s going to be a price variance. You’re going to have to pay $25 to see the next Iron Man. And you’re probably only going to have to pay $7 to see Lincoln.”

Spielberg reminisced about the good ole days. “It used to be, when I first started making movies it was really cool, my movies stayed in theaters for one year. If it was a hit, it was a year long. Raiders [of the Lost Ark] was in theaters for a year. E.T. was in a theater for a year and four months. . . . That was an amazing situation, back then.”

Today, movies often have one or two key weekends to hit the theatrical mother lode. After that, their box-office draw dwindles significantly, and they’re quickly relegated to hotel on-demand, cable pay-per-view and eventually disc or streaming release.

Lucas predicted, “I think eventually the Lincolns are going to go away and they’re going to be on television.”

To which Spielberg responded, “And mine almost was! This close. Ask HBO—this close!”

Imagine, a film like Lincoln by one of the greatest filmmakers of our generation, a movie that earned 11 Academy Award nominations—including Best Picture and Best Directing—almost couldn’t earn a theatrical release. Andrew Robinson touched on this far better than I could in his “Living in a Spielberg-less World” post.

The way I read this, we have all of the ingredients necessary for an amazing boon in home theater sales and installations!

Think about it, people already complain about how expensive it is to go to the movies. If we get to a time where major films have ticket pricing that rivals a Broadway show or Red Sox game, lots of people will stop going. They won’t want to stop seeing movies; they’ll just want to stop being gouged for the experience.

Also, as day & date becomes more of a reality, there will be even less incentive to venture out to the local Cineplex. Why go out when you can have a better and cheaper experience at home? In fact, just today, Disney and Sony began testing a new program in South Korea where certain movies will be available for streaming at home using cable, Internet, or satellite TV to rent movies while they’re still at the theater.

I think this will lead to a massive increase in the installation and awareness of “affordable” home theater systems—systems selling in the $5,000 to $10,000 range including installation. In the past, a home theater system was a nice perk, but if movies truly went to $50 or $100 a piece, it wouldn’t take long for a modest theater to become an investment that started paying for itself.

Further, if commercial movie houses become shrines solely to mega-blockbuster films, and non-blockbuster fare like Lincoln, and other smaller, innovative indie titles are relegated straight to the home market, many people will want to enjoy these films in the grandest manner possible.

Technology is also coming to our aid, giving the tools necessary to support this demand. Think about what you can do with a modern $1,500 to $3,000 projector—amazing light output, 1080p resolution, quality video scaling, and terrific contrast. Will it rival a $10,000 JVC or $20,000 Runco? No. But for the masses, these projectors will deliver the best images they have ever experienced. In fact, many inexpensive projectors even support anamorphic projection via zoom-shift-focus lens-memory systems, allowing for the most cinematic experience possible.

referenceseriesLight-rejecting screens such as Screen Innovations’ Black Diamond further open the door to allowing a terrific, theatrical experience in almost any room. No longer does “home theater” have to be synonymous with “windowless, fully light-controlled cave.” With a Black Diamond screen, any room in the home is now a candidate to be the home theater. And couple a Black Diamond screen with a relatively bright projector such as an Epson Home Cinema model—a model that sells for less than $1,000 that video reviewer Geoff Morrison called the brightest projector he’s ever seen—and you will have an incredibly watchable image in all but the most harshly it rooms.

On the audio side, there has never been a greater opportunity to get more bang for your buck. Think about what a sub-$500 Denon, Yamaha, Onkyo, Sony, or Harmon Kardon receiver can do. You get tons of power, HDMI video switching and conversion, built-in room correction processing, network streaming, and more. Couple that with even a modest 5.1 speaker package and you have the makings of a potent setup for a theater-on-a-budget.

If Hollywood wants to raise ticket pricing, I say, “Bring it on!” I’ve been enjoying movies almost exclusively in my home theater for years now, and this move will only drive others to join the home theater revolution!

John Sciacca

JOHN SCIACCA is a full-time custom installer/designer and an a-lot-of-the-time writer whose groundbreaking columns and features for Sound & Vision helped bring awareness of custom installation into the mainstream. Along with his work at Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, SC, John is a regular contributor to Residential Systems and has a popular blog, "John Sciacca Writes . . . ," where he covers everything from high-end electronics to high-end beers, with a lot of random musings in between. He can also be found on Twitter at @SciaccaTweets.