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The Home Theater
by Dr. Oneida Cramer

Little by little, the home theater is finding a comfortable niche in the home.

By definition, home theater is the electronic processing of the audio signal in conjunction with the video presentation, according to Tom Kessel, co-owner of Hillcrest High Fidelity. But, it is also the total experience?sitting in an easy chair immersed in the vision intended by the director and producer, according to David Rogers, founder and owner of Dallas Sight and Sound.

Home theaters are put in multi-use family rooms and in single use media rooms. In fact, the designated home theater room occupies more than half of new high-end homes built by Sharif & Munir, according to Mikey Munir, A.I.A., and licensed interior designer. Other architects are also being requested to design the home theater room. And if the latest designs are any indication, the configuration of the home theater is changing?making it accessible for art, entertaining, and social gatherings.

Home theater began as a media room?a dual-purpose room that evolved into a single dedicated room for large screened TV and sound system, according to Rogers. It was the same equipment?just a different mindset.

Equipment still enabled the process. Electronic convergence began with the adoption of stereo TV format around 1982-1983, about the same time surround sound came on the market, according to Rogers. THX theaters?a set of standards for sound reproduction in commercial theaters established by George Lucas in the 1970?s?was applied to the home. Lucas decided in 1990 to produce THX standards for home theaters by requiring designer/installers to be THX trained. Coincidentally, the formation of CEDIA, Custom Electronics Design and Installation Association, in 1990, helped to bring the process together, according to Rogers who attended the formation meeting.

?And now CEDIA has become a very large positive force in promoting all sorts of things relating to custom installation promoting the fact that these services exist to the general public, to architects, to interior designers, to builders,? said Rogers. And they provide standards for building rooms with the proper equipment, environment, construction, acoustics, and color.

?Colors in a room can greatly influence the experience,? said Rogers. ?In a designated media room, you want a medium to a dark color. The reason for that is that the light coming off the screen could come up and hit a white wall or ceiling and go back to the screen to wash it out.?

?If the room is poorly designed, it doesn?t matter how much you spend on speakers,? said Kessel. ?It?s just not going to sound right. The standing waves need to be taken care of in a soft room using curtains and carpet. Using acoustical treated walls or padded walls are different things that we do. The shape of the room?you do not want to have parallel surfaces. We also council our clients on the proper lighting control for the room, using sometimes low voltage lighting systems or sometimes the lighting theme.?

?We offer a total package,? said Kessel. It?s the sight, sound, architectural and acoustical design. It?s cabinetry and furniture?for instance, Leather Center, which manufacturers in Carrollton and retails in Dallas as well as nationally, carries a line of chairs, designed specifically for media rooms and sold through custom installation stores like Hillcrest High Fidelity.

Another Dallas based seating concept is CinemaTech Seating owned by Michael Murphy. The store began in 1998 after Carol Wall, who lives in Plano, was looking for home theater seating. Unable to find what she liked, she contacted Wolfgang Sepz in Germany, and together they designed a line of motorized chairs, love seats, and sofas.

Also available is ?Signature Series? developed by Theo Kalamarcus in New York, who provides assemblies to furnish a theater room?all the fabrics, ceiling materials, carpeting, lighting, gilding, and just about everything?ready to be installed by local craftsmen.

?If you?ve got a room within a two-foot tolerance, he can fit the room, according to Munir. ?If you have a custom fit room, he?ll have to do some adaptation. It?s more economical if you?re got a room that fits. It would cost a lot more money to bring in all the trades and do it (the room) from scratch.? Nevertheless, home theaters can be very expensive.

?They?re usually a pretty highly finished out room in almost every style?contemporary, neoclassical, French, whatever the house is,? said Munir who has designed home theaters since 1990. ?We?ve put a $20,000 system in one house: we?ve put $200,000 system in the same size room?talking just about equipment. The room itself is another expense.?

?When you leave the single use room and go into a multi-use room, we have to give up a lot of what we consider the optimum things,? said Kessel. ?I realize that the family room is a family room first; it?s not a media room. Still, the family room is evolving to be more media friendly.? For instance, moving the fireplace to a corner location allows space for the TV in the middle of the wall and surround sound speakers to be at equal distance from conventional-type seating.

?I think a lot of people have this misconception that it (home theater) has to be out in some remote isolated place?totally off the main beaten track, said Scott McCaslin, A.I.A. with McCaslin Cowden Associates. ?It doesn?t have to be. ?

?In the one we?re doing right now, the owner wanted to create a social center so that it feeds into their open family room area,? McCaslin said ?We?ve integrated it into the main family room, a kitchen, and this huge long bar, which is more like a social activity than a drinking bar so that you can sit at the bar and watch the movie.? There?s also a door and a large pass through window with a sliding glass door. The window is large enough for seating, and the homeowners see the room as a place for the men to watch football while the women talk in the family area, where they can still see the game. And because a lot of window light floods the family area and the home theater has light walls, the windowless room is pleasant adding lights during daylight hours.

Design International is working on the home theater of a client in charge of a large chain of theaters, according to Robert Meckfessel, A.I.A., and former president of A.I.A. A state-of-the-art 65? back projection TV sits in the center of a 15? by 3? media wall that has two sections for equipment, according to Cal Young, A.I.A. who is working on the project. With a 12-14 foot ceiling, two walls with elevated clearstory windows and Art Deco shades, French doors to the outside, and white parquet walls, room ambiance is quite bright. And its other features include charcoal wood floors covered with an area rug, two large paintings, a smaller painting, sculpture, and artistic coffee-mocha leather lounge chairs.

?It wasn?t so much for the sound as for the comfort of the room,? said Young. ?He doesn?t want it to feel like the theater.? The room empties on a large corridor with access off the library and living room putting the home theater in close proximity to the social center of the house.

?He?s a real patron/collector of art, buying modern art,? Meckfessel said. ??He appreciates modern architecture. Even within his own personal theater or media room, he had an overriding aesthetic he wanted to bring to it.? In this case, the screen turned on without sound allows people to mill around the moving images, and thus, the TV becomes a part of the party and a part of the entertainment through the modern aesthetics of the media room.

-by Dr. Oneida Cramer
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