THERE'S NO GOING BACK
All the people interviewed for this article defined home theater to include audio, video, and wiring the whole house for a variety of entertainment purposes. So, it seems, home theater is bigger than movies and video equipment. And no one I spoke with had any regrets.
I LOVE THE NEON!
Theresa Maestas integrated her home theater into her whole house, from the beginning. How did it start?
"I was building this house. I wanted a TV for the basement¼ A TV and a bike for working out."
"At night, I started thinking about what else to put in there.'
She and her designer had been considering neon, in the bedroom, but that didn't work. The designer suggested using the neon in the basement.
"I kept asking my sonó'What should I do? What should I do?' He suggested doing something like American Graffitiósomething about the 50s."
(SHOW PHOTO #1 WITH CAPTION: "American Graffiti neon sets the style for Maestas's home theater.")
"So the room is evocative of the 50sóthe white couch," Maestas said, "the pictures, the posters of Marilyn Monroe and James Dean¼ That was the first step. The posters. "
"'What else?' I asked my son again."
"He said 'What about a pool table?'
"Then¼ I need a jukebox. And we found one¼ It works. You can use quarters or I can push a button¼ The records on it are the 50sólike Elvis."
"Then I thought, I need a bar. But, I don't drink¼ so I can't have a bar. Then it came to meóa soda fountain."
Her son then said she needed a big screen TV. "I was going to have a little TV and a bike."
Maestas then got an estimate for her new room, with all the home theater equipment. "Wow! So many choices¼ It took me days to decideóit was a lot of money¼ I didn't leave anything behind. And now there's no going back."
(PHOTO # 2 WITH CAPTION: "Maestas's home theater room with pool table, dance floor, and workout area."
Maestas's system has a 50-52" TV downstairs, two more TVs upstairs, two VCRs, a CD player, a double tape deck, a laser disc player, and all the other components. There are ten speakers in the basement room alone. This system, installed, cost approximately $21,000.
Are you glad you did this?
She grinned and nodded. "Oh, yes¼ They've been so sweet¼ helping me learn how to operate this system¼ I never owned a VCR before."
What do you like most?
"It's such a fantasy. Let me see¼ My workout. I don't have to go to the health spa. I use workout tapes.... I love the laser disc playeróthe movies. I love the VCR in my bedroom. I love to watch TV. I love this [the big screen TV in the basement]."
(PHOTO # 3 WITH CAPTION: "Theresa Maestas working out in her home theater.")
Do you use this room?
"YES. Every day¼ More than I thought I would¼ I use it a lot¼ Not just entertaining¼ I love the neon. It inspires me¼ Motivates me¼ I love to dance¼ Did you see the dance floor? I put on a CD and dance."
IT'S GOT TO BE INCONSPICUOUS
óRon and Becky Francis
"It started when my old system started going on the fritz," said Ron Francis. "And it happened in phases." So, he went looking for a sound system. He shopped around. Had a demonstration.
"My house, which I designed, has small rooms, not great rooms. It's hard to put a big screen in a cozy room and have it be hidden¼ and I hate the electronics sticking out in the room," Ron said. "They wanted a big screen, but the room is 14x16', so a 32" set is fine¼ The sound effects are great¼ I didn't want to see these big black speakers¼ You're right¼ this is usually what women say... I don't want to see the cords. I want them inconspicuous."
(PHOTO #4 WITH CAPTION: "Speakers obvious in roomówhat Francis does not want.")
The sound itself, audio, was important, and Francis would not compromise sound quality. "The stereo is wired everywhere but the kids' rooms. From the central control cabinet, the system goes into five rooms, plus the outside patio." At this stage, only the audio system goes outside and into all the other rooms. They can control volume in various sections of the house and can switch them off completely if desired.
(PHOTO #5 WITH CAPTION: "Becky Francis on patio with remote that can control the audio. Note the sub-woofer installed in the wall.")
They have five VCRs, a mixer, all new speakers, a new TV, Surround sound, and speakers on the patio. They didn't get a laser disc playeróthey just put cable in a year ago.
The bedroom has a whole separate system. They can use all the system components at the same time, and they all work independently. The cost for the whole thing, done in phases, was about $30,000. Now, their plans for expanding their system include the garage, the barn, a guest house, and eventually a theater room.
"It did get out of hand [expense]," said Ron. "But, I'm real happy with it¼ It's been two years¼ I like to brag about my system¼ our neighbor now has one¼ One of the best things abut it is the quality of the sound. We don't see the repairs. It's inconspicuous!"
Ron admitted he hadn't really believed it could all be hidden.
(PHOTO #6 WITH CAPTION: "Francis's audio components hidden in custom cabinet in hallway near wet bar.")
He would do two things differently nowóhe would have done it all at once and he would have made a bigger room.
"I would have designed the house to accommodate a big screen TVómake this room bigger¼ If I'd realized how much I'd like it."
"The biggest surprise is the quality of the sound." When the system is put on "normal TV," Ron thinks the equipment has failed. "I notice immediately. There are no sound effects¼ I can't go back."
AUDIOPHILES TAKE ADVANTAGE OF NEW TECHNOLOGIES
óMaureen and Steve Baca
Maureen grew up in a house of audiophiles, and always had a great stereo system. She teases that Steve married her for her stereo equipment.
When they decided to build their own home, they wanted good sound. They say their home is an extension of themselves and their decisions were not based on resale value, but what they wanted. It's their house, and they don't ever want to move.
Steve is an electrical engineer, and he laid the initial wiring in 1978 when they built their home. All of this was completely re-done in 1992-93 when they installed their home theater system. He said they wanted three things:
1. Make sure we took advantage of the technology of building speakers into the wallsóto recover space.
2. Improve control of the systemómake it more integrated. So we can turn things off and on in other rooms.
3. Do something with videoówe have a little TV in our bedroom and another on the kitchen island. We wanted to take advantage of surround sound and watch movies¼ A leap for us.
The Bacas wanted to move their speakers into the walls. They had moderate to large speakers that often used up floor space. "We had magna-plane speakers, maybe four feet tall, flat, but, in our bedroom¼ We wanted something not quite so obvious," Maureen said. "It's great not having speakers on the floor."
Steve added, "It's one less thing to dust."
They converted the "dog room" into their home theater. When they built their house, they had been into showing poodles in a serious way. They went through several design phases before deciding on exactly what they wanted.
(PHOTO #7 WITH CAPTION: "Steve and Maureen Baca and one of their poodles in their home theater, converted from a "dog room.")
Did they get exactly what they wanted?
"Exactly," Steve said.
Maureen said, "I would do nothing different."
"Not under the constraints of current technology," added Steve. "We really like the speakers everywhere. It's saved enormous space."
Their system is a simple oneówith control units in three other rooms, and volume controls in four rooms plus the greenhouse (all for the audio portion of the system.) They do have a second TV and VCR in their bedroom that is both hooked up to the main center and is independent. They can listen to only one piece of music at a time in all the rooms. But, as Maureen said, "It's only the two of us, and we do things together."
They didn't get a large screen TV (a flat screen), nor a laser disc player. They are waiting for the technology to improve.
The estimated cost of this system, if all their equipment had been bought new, was $15,000.
"The sound is much much better¼ It's designed and balanced for this space," said Maureen. "It's hard to tell where the sound is coming from."
And now the furniture ties it all togetheróstorage, components, TV, and displays their pot collection as well.
(PHOTO #8 WITH CAPTION: "Custom cabinetry ties the Bacas home theater together aesthetically.")
WE LIVE IN THIS ROOM
óPeggie Findlay and Steven Bush
Peggie Findlay and Steven Bush bought land and helped design their house, which was finished in 1992. Their home theater was planned from the beginning.
All they had at this time, was what they called their "college" equipment. But, this was their dream house, and they made no compromises. As Peggie said, "I'll be taken out of here feet first."
Their first priority was music. "We listen to music," said Peggie. "Classical music¼ And we play¼ Our kids play." They wanted to have access to music wherever they were in their home.
Steve added, "We do like the movies¼ We saw it as opportunityófor our kids, our friendsóto have movies and some TV, too."
They watched a home theater demonstration and even though they don't watch much TV, they were impressed. "It was fabulous," said Peggie.
Steve said, "We decide to not spend a lot of time looking for 'almost the best'¼ We really got the best components."
They wanted a house that would meet their needs now and as their kids grow upóa place they want to be and to bring their friends.
"This room is used for other things," Peggie said. "So the equipment had to be hidden¼ We live in here. ... It had to be comfortable, toughónot a room where we would always be saying 'Don't touch', or 'Don't jump on this.' We can be fancy in the other room, with its white couches. In here you can put your feet on anything."
(PHOTO #9 WITH CAPTION: "Peggie Findlay and Steve Bush in their home theater room.")
The room, the center of their home theater system, is largeóit's 20x36'. The size of the room dictated a front projection system. The screen is about 6x8' and people can sit all around the room. There is a clear picture even if sitting off to the side. The front projection system answered another requirement, also. They didn't want a big piece of furniture nor did they want the TV or screen visible when not in use.
Steve said, "We wanted to maintain the view of the tree and the fields through the big window. And still have the system in this room."
"We do these semi-pot-lucks," Steve said. "With friends, with kids. Everyone comes. We watch an opera or a play. They sit everywhere, pull the pillows onto the floor. Food on tables. We sit and watch. The kids are between four and eleven. We watch The Barber of Seville and The Magic Flute."
"The Magic Flute is the Number One hit, said Peggie. "The kids are engaged by it."
Do you think it's in part because of the system?
"Yes," said Peggie. "Part is 'how they see it'ówith family and friends."
"We bring down the screen, put on the sound. It's like being in the theater," Steve added.
The cost of their system, all together, was about $32,000. And it included the satellite system, wiring the whole house, and all new equipmentóa 35" TV, the front projection system, a 10 disc CD player, a VCR, a double tape deck, a turntable, and all the amps, receivers, and tuners. They have only the one TV in the whole house, even though all the bedrooms are wired for TVs and VCRs.
"We're waiting on a laser disc player for a few years," Peggie said. "That technology will be pretty slick. But, we're not interested in spending a lot of money early onóbefore the bugs are worked out."
They have a master remote, from Bang & Olufson, that lights up.
(PHOTO #10 WITH CAPTION: "Remotes for the Findlay/Bush home theateróthe master remote is lighted.")
Steve said, "We changed the whole level of performance of the system¼ By a lot."
There are speakers everywhere. Audio and video sound goes everywhere.
Can they watch TV and listen to music at the same time?
"I think so," Peggie laughed, "I don't know how¼ I haven't been good."
"Yes, it does," Steve confirmed.
The system has zones and sub-zones. Each zone has its own amplifier and each room (sub-zone) has a volume control. For example, the kitchen, the nook, the dining room, and the patio make up one zone, but each room has its own volume control.
(PHOTO #11 WITH CAPTION: "Zone and sub-zone controls in the Findlay/Bush home.")
The amp for the whole zone is controlled by the remote. The volume is controlled by a dimmer-like switch on the wall. In spite of how complicated this sounds, they said the basic systemóplaying music, and watching movies and operasóis relatively simple. Peggie said, "The only drawback to the system¼ is we're very busy people¼ and it's complicatedóIt does a lot of things we haven't used yet."
Steve said, "I've just learned about hooking in the camcorder, so we can make, and edit, our own home movies."
Peggie admitted, "I haven't taken the time to learn ¼ to use all the options."
What would you do differently?
Peggie answered first. "I'm not sure there's much we'd do differently¼ Part of the expense of the system was the satellite¼ and we don't use it much."
"We went from 7 channels we don't watch much to 500 we don't watch much," Steve added.
"It may have been better to have cable." Peggie said. "The satellite is most troublesomeó the dish gets stuck¼ There's real maintenance¼ Also, I might have put speakers out on the front patio."
Do you love it?
An emphatic "Yes" from both of them.
The net impression I get from all these people is that they use their home theaters, all in different ways, but these customers have systems that are tailored to their needs and lifestyles and they couldn't be happier.
(Thanks to Loren Bishop at Sound Ideas for steering me to these home theater customers)