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Back to the Future
Detroit Free Press, .
by Paula Hendricks

Years ago we went to furniture stores and bought our television sets. Then came the era of hi-tech, components, and electronic superstores ˇ and furniture stores stopped selling TVs and other electronic equipment. The idea of marrying the electronics and the furniture was lost.

Today, with the advent of Home Theater, we are moving back toward integration of fine furniture and state of the art electronics. Home Theater is the new buzz word in both furniture and electronics. It raises the stakes in home entertainment ˇ by offering big picture, big sound (surround sound actually), and often designed to blend or match the decor of the home. To make a sweeping generalization, it re-marries the male and female aspects of home entertainment.

Market researchers believe that as the "Baby Boomer" generation ages, they are staying home more, and will spend significant monies on home entertainment. That, they are returning to lifestyles centered more on home, family, and friends. Home Theater is a natural outgrowth of this phenomenon.

What is Home Theater anyway?

Okay, so, what is Home Theater anyway? And why should I care? Home Theater is the translation, into the home, of theater quality sound and picture. The technology has been modified to provide the kind of surround sound experienced in a movie theater and to essentially upgrade the old TV set into a higher quality system. These products deliver better, bigger pictures and sound than has been available before in standardized, mass market products. VCRs are better, remotes are becoming simpler to use (and many use on-screen graphics), movies are available on laser discs. And, the hardware can also run VHS tapes of movies you've recorded yourself.

One of the technological keys to making this a mass idea is Dolby Pro Logic. Dolby Pro Logic is a signal translator and a sound system whereby sound is more precisely aligned for enhanced effect. The older surround systems alone had sound coming from four speakers, but the dialogue could come from the left corner front speaker and wasn't aligned with the visual ˇ the face on the screen. It wasn't very "real." These new systems have sound that seems to travel around the room and differentiates between dialogue and ambient effects. This means that as you watch a picture of Indiana Jones being dragged under a truck and he whispers to us while being strafed by airplanes, the airplane noises move from front to back (along with the picture), while Jones' voice stays centered near the TV itself. This usually requires a system of at least five speakers ˇ a center one for dialogue, two front (left and right), and two rear surround speakers. Often there is a sub-woofer included to enhance the bass, which are often critical for great sound effects like gunfire, explosions, and music.

In most homes, the Home Theater will be in the Living Room, often the nicest furnished room in the house. Many women do not like, or allow, all the mismatched electronic components and all the unsightly attached wires and cables to be in this environment. So the big news these days is the return of electronics integrated into fine furniture.

Major Alliances

Several major furniture companies and leading consumer electronics manufacturers have developed alliances, or marketing relationships, that allow a customer to buy a whole Home Theater system (electronics and furniture) in furniture outlets, in one easy purchase. They have various packages available, and often provide everything from shipping and billing, to installation, extended warranties, and financing. You just make one stop.

Four major alliances are: Thomson Consumer Electronics and Ladd Furniture; Mitsubishi Electronics America and Pennsylvania House (also a Ladd Co.); Philips Consumer Electronics and Thomasville Furniture; and Zenith and Bassett Furniture Industries.

Thomson Consumer Electronics, makers of RCA brand products, formed an alliance this year with Ladd Furniture Company. They offer a variety of simple to buy, simple to install, simple to use products. They have integrated, innovative graphics and easy one-touch remotes. American Drew offers walls systems, armoires, and corner cabinets in four styles from contemporary to 18th Century Cherry. And Fournier Furniture tackles the simpler units for smaller TVs and less expensive cabinetry.

Mitsubishi teamed up with Pennsylvania House two and a half years ago to display and sell a variety of Home Theater packagesˇfrom complete setups which would include big screen TVs, Hi-fi VCRs, Laser disc players, AV Receivers with Dolby Pro Logic, and the speakers. But, they are flexible, you can also just buy what you needˇif you already have a TV, you can just buy the rest. Pennsylvania House makes wall systems, free standing cabinets, in styles ranging from American Cherry to Pacific Homestead, which uses oak.

Philips Consumer Electronics and Thomasville Furniture have a two year old relationship and now have the largest selection of Home Theater systems available. Phillips provides three basic packages, from just the big screen TV, to a complete setup including the TV, all the video components and an audio cassette deck, too. These packages include installation. Thomasville makes traditional and contemporary wall units and cabinets in cherry, oak, and washed finishes. This year they have expanded their options to include packages for consumers who do not want or cannot afford top of the line choices.

Like the other alliances, Zenith and Basset are integrating systems in traditional furniture offerings as well.

Currently, there are no marketing relationships in existence for Sony, Pioneer, or Hitachi. But, this market is changing so fast, there could be at any time.

If you like to make individual choices about receivers and speakers, and TV sets, then the large, all-in-one packages may not work for you. However, many of these offerings are more flexible than they were even a year ago, which means, if you want particular speakers, you might very well be able to mix and match.

The options for Home Theater systems are wide-ranging and changing all the time. Home entertainment has just taken a giant step forward.

Who is Doing What with Whom?

  • RCA and Ladd Furniture (American Drew)
  • Zenith and Bassett Furniture
  • Mitsubishi and Pennsylvania House Furniture
  • Phillips and Thomasville Furniture

Detroit area Outlets - to See and/ or Purchase

  • Thomasville: McLaughlin's, Southgate MI
  • Bloomfield Hills Furniture, Bloomfield Hills MI
  • Bassett: Art Van Furniture
  • Charles Furniture
  • Candlelight II
  • American Drew: Art Van Furniture
  • Pennsylvania House: Independent Pennsylvania House Dealers and Galleries

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©1998 paula hendricks. All rights reserved.