Home theater 2.0
New frills promise new thrills
By Dan Daley
THE CONCEPT OF the home theater has
been around for a couple of decades now, ever
since film enthusiast and theater designer
Theo Kalomirakis put one in the basement of
his Brooklyn brownstone back in 1986, an
event that many point to as the opening scene
in the home cinema movement.
It’s a robust category, one that’s evolved
from a relatively small core of affluent aficionados in the early days to a proposition accessible
to millions of homes, thanks to new and ever
more affordable technologies. Let’s look at the
leading edge of today’s everyday home theater.
Blu-ray arrives in the mainstream
Home theater took a big step forward in
2008 when Sony-backed Blu-ray emerged as
the high-definition industry-standard disc
format. Blu-ray can hold as much as 50 GB on
a single double-sided disc, compared to the
8. 5 GB that the most common iteration of
prerecorded DVDs offers. Now, a high-definition 1080p video source is widely available—
and Blu-ray players have dropped below the
magic $200 price threshold.
“Blu-ray has made the transition from the
early-adopter niche to mainstream product,
and that’s a very good thing, because it delivers
the best-quality picture and sound of any high-definition delivery medium,” says Scott
Wilkinson, online editor of Home Theater
magazine. When shopping for a Blu-ray
The Costco Connection
Costco carries HDTVs, Blu-ray Disc players
and home theater audio systems in the
warehouses and online at Costco.com.
player, consider a BD-Live version, which is
Internet-connectable to access the interactive
features that select Blu-ray Disc titles include.
(For more information on Blu-ray at Costco,
see Buying Smart on page 68.)
New screen technologies
With 1080p resolution, the increasingly
affordable flat-panel video displays rival
film for detail and texture, and LCD screens
continue to get bigger as their prices get
lower. Now, two new trends are emerging in
video display technology: the LED (
light-emitting diode) screen and 3-D capability.
If you thought LCD and plasma flat-panel displays were thin, wait until you see
some of the new LED screens. The term is a
bit of a misnomer: The screen is actually a
conventional LCD display but is backlit using
LEDs instead of fluorescent lighting, producing a brighter image with greater contrast
and deeper blacks compared with conventional LCD TVs. This technology can be
used to make thinner displays—as little as
about 1 inch thick.
Several manufacturers, including
Panasonic and Sony, will be shipping their
first 3-D-ready HDTVs in 2010, driven in
part by the nearly 8,000 cinema screens that
can now show 3-D movies. Most sets will
come with either passive (red/blue or red/
cyan) glasses or active-shutter glasses.
Making the leap
The coming year will see more wireless
home theater products in general, and more
Internet-based content making the leap from
your PC to your TV. New systems feature wire-
less speakers—no more wires to string around
the room. Other systems keep the speakers
conventionally wired except for the rear ones,
which generally have the longest wire runs.
In 2010, expect your PC and your TV to
become an item. Media players let you stream
movies from the Internet wirelessly to your
HDTV set. Adjust your expectations, though:
The sound and picture will be only as good as
the source, but films and programs made in
HD will look just fine even without wires.
Other audio advances include so-called
“faux 5. 1” systems that use phase distortion to
create aural illusions of multichannel sound
and have become very sophisticated. Other
systems create a very credible surround sound
experience from within a single console holding a pair of subwoofers and five small full-range speakers placed under the TV set.
A variation on this all-in-one concept is
the sound bar, a thin, single-unit multi-speaker
array. New models come with extras such as a
wireless subwoofer, a built-in Blu-ray/DVD
player, Wi-Fi for streaming Netflix movies or
music from a PC, access to the free Internet
radio service Pandora and an iPod dock.
Connect the bar to your HDTV and you’re
surrounded, virtually, by sound.
Technology is taking the home theater
to a new level of power and versatility. Space
and budget are no longer constraining factors. Just don’t expect the popcorn to go
digital anytime soon. C
DECEMBER 2009 ;e Costco Connection 43
Dan Daley is a journalist and author who
covers technology and business.