Answers, Man!

Despite the best efforts of our crack staff here at Home Theater, there’s a lot of confusion, many misconceptions, and often deep shame out there that puts a barrier between a lot of people and the full enjoyment of their home theater. Sometimes it’s best to take your questions straight to an expert. Or you can ask me. Here, I tackle a number of fascinating questions (submitted via my Twitter account).

Q: Is there any real advantage to sticking with one vendor for all of my equipment? Or is pick-and-choose a better way to go?

A: Hmm, I don’t know if there’s an advantage, but I certainly hope not. My own system is like Frankenstein’s monster, patched together from parts I’ve collected over many years. I’m never quite satisfied and so, to stick with the metaphor, every now and then I like to saw a perfectly serviceable leg off my creation and put a new one in its place. As I survey the vast array of remote controls before me (I had a universal remote control, but then I got bored and sold it), I see seven different brands. Buying all one brand gives you an aesthetic advantage, but if I cared about that, I suppose I could always load my stuff into a cabinet and paint a trompe l’oeil of sleek, expensive gear on the outside of it.

Q: What’s your opinion of tactile transducers, or bass shakers? Are they worth the cash?

A: I’ve never owned one, but I’ve experienced them a number of times and like them. I’d like to try linear actuators, which move your couch, well, linearly on rails. These are said to be more involving and require less power. Plus, if you buy them big enough, you can slide the entire couch right up to the TV if you ever misplace the remote.

Q: What’s the best way to emulate the “I am going to kill all of you loud-mouthed bastards!” experience in my home theater?

A: It’s unlikely that one person would be able to round up the dozens of obnoxious jackasses that are necessary to fully simulate the modern theatergoing experience, but you can certainly get close. If you have one friend with a predilection to push entire fistfuls of golden topping–lubricated popcorn into his maw and masticate it at alarming volumes and at a continuous pace for more than two hours, seat him in a chair just behind your right shoulder. Next, find someone who thinks “theater” means “place one goes to tell one’s friend long, mind- bendingly uninteresting stories about picking up one’s aunt at the airport while also checking one’s iPhone for text messages every 45 seconds,” and seat him directly in front of you. If you happen to be watching an emotionally wrenching R-rated film, invite someone who thinks it’s fine to bring his eight- and ten-year-old kids along, so that half your attention will be focused on an internal debate about whether or not to phone Child Protective Services. Then, simply buy your ticket from a listless punk with grommets in his earlobes the size of mini doughnuts and you should be all set.

Q: Why does my home theater play better movies than my local multiplex, which is more commonly referred to as my away theater?

A: There are two multiplexes in my area. One has a robust and competently implemented sound system and a beautiful screen. The other, and unfortunately, closer one sounds as though a small child ran from speaker to speaker and punctured the cones with a Tinkertoy. (And yes, my choice of toy makes me sound like the cantankerous old guy who waters his lawn with a hose, by hand, while wearing huge white sneakers, black socks, and no shirt. But since that’s what I plan on becoming, I may as well get ahead of it.) During bass-heavy scenes, the subwoofer clatters and scrapes, sounding like a cat trying to escape from a refrigerator box filled with pan lids. The picture quality is far from perfect, and I wonder if perhaps someone tried to clear a piece of detritus off the lens without washing his hands after he just mixed up a meat loaf. This is my away theater in that I stay the hell away from it after having gone there twice. (It was so bad the first time, I thought I must have hallucinated the experience. I hadn’t.)

Q: I have a Pioneer Elite KURO PRO-111FD HDTV, Denon AVR-3808CI A/V receiver, and Aperion Intimus 4T loudspeakers. Little girl trapped in TV. Help?

A: Well, I’ll see what I can do. What I think is that you have very nice equipment, and it turns out that’s not an actual little girl. Your tuner is stuck on the Icelandic kids’ show LazyTown. It’s a bit hallucinatory, but it’s entertaining, so unless you want me to send a guy around, I’d just leave it.

Q: Have you ever had a movie so loud that your wife (or significant other) gave you the look of doom? Which film?

A: This is a very sensitive subject in my home, where there are two distinct and passionate opinions about the optimum volume for films and music. I listen to classical music almost exclusively and feel it’s served best by keeping the volume close to but not quite as loud as you typically hear in a concert hall, i.e., approximately 90 decibels during crescendos. I feel that films are much more involving and immersive when you listen to at a volume loud enough to overwhelm room noise, e.g., the sounds of passing cars, and the weed whacker a few yards away. However, my wife feels that the optimum volume for both music and films is off. Occasionally, when she’s in a feisty mood, she enjoys reading to my music, say, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, at the same volume we get here at my home in San Diego from the actual orchestra as they play live in Chicago. The point is, every film receives the look of doom.