Back to the Movies, Back to LA

On a recent visit back to Los Angeles I took in the 2016 Newport, California hi-fi-show, more properly known as T.H.E. (The Home Entertainment) Show Newport (though it’s now actually held in Irvine). You can read my observations on the show, along with those from other Stereophile contributors (I write occasional reports and reviews for Stereophile, though Sound & Vision is my main beat) at Like virtually all such events (of which there are several in the U.S. each year under various management), this was a show for two-channel audiophiles. Count me among them, but no more so than for multichannel music, movies, video, and home theater.

The only show in the U.S. that features video as it relates to home theater is September’s CEDIA Expo, which will be held in September in Dallas again this year. But CEDIA is trade only and not open to the public. Is there a market for even a modest consumer home theater show once a year? I would think so, though to thrive it might have to include home automation and other electronic gadgets. And hotel rooms, such as those used for the audio shows, aren’t always the best venues for home theater, which requires somewhat larger (and therefore more expensive) spaces.

After the Newport show I spent a few extra days in LA to catch up with friends and industry acquaintances. The latter included Joe Kane of Joe Kane Productions (discussed in my last blog) and Kevin Voecks, Acoustic Technologies Manager for the Harman Luxury Audio Group. The latter includes Lexicon, JBL, JBL Synthesis, and Revel. His home theater is actually an AV testing lab, and he’s currently studying setups for object-based immersive audio such as Dolby Atmos and Auro.

The system in his room was far more elaborate than all but a few home theater obsessives, with deep pockets, might contemplate—9.4.12. In addition to the three front channels and four surrounds (side and back), there were 12 height channels and four subwoofers using Sound Field Management (SFM). Most of the speakers, apart from the subwoofers, were Revel Performa3s. The subs were 18-inch, Revel Ultima Rhythm2s. The main channels were not Ultimas simply because the Performa3s were available in the needed quantities.

Five of the height channels used surface-mount speakers. These included a Center Height. The latter is normally used for Auro, but Kevin was also using it with other formats to pull the perceived center image height to the middle of the screen. The latter worked much better than I expected, as long as you remain seated (changes in listening height would introduce comb filtering between the lower center speaker and the upper center). While the best solution for precise center imaging would be a center speaker behind an acoustically transparent screen, such a screen raises other issues for both audio and video (Kevin’s screen is not acoustically transparent). The preamp-processor was a JBL Synthesis SDP-75 used with several equalizers. The amplification was a combination of Mark Levinson and JBL Synthesis products, apart from the self-powered subs.

Most high-end processors can’t accommodate the number of speaker channels used here, nor do discrete Atmos/Auro/DTS:X sources offer this many. In Kevin’s system, channels beyond those in the source were synthesized by the processor. The result was as big and immersive as you might expect, particularly on Dolby Atmos material.

As I’ve noted before, I no longer live in an area swarming with exceptional movie houses, so I also took the opportunity while in town to see three films in different theaters. Actually, it turned out to be 2.25 films.

The Burbank 16 AMC multiplex has both an IMAX theater and a Dolby Cinema auditorium. The IMAX house, at 400 seats, isn’t large by classic IMAX standards but is significantly larger than our 318-seat IMAX here in Florida. The Burbank Dolby Cinema auditorium is about the same size as the Burbank IMAX, with a roughly 60-foot (wide) screen.

Regular readers will be familiar with Dolby Cinema, but in brief it includes both Dolby Atmos audio and enhanced picture quality, along with amenities such as reclining seats. By using laser projection, a Dolby Cinema house provides a brighter picture, 4K resolution, and deeper blacks. In short, it offers significantly higher dynamic range than ordinary movie theaters, though not as much as HDR flat screen sets offer at home with a UHD/HDR source. No projector can, as yet, go as bright as even most non-HDR, flat screen sets.

The Burbank IMAX theater was playing Alice: Through the Looking Glass in 3D. It was bright enough (certainly brighter than my local IMAX 3D presentations), but just a little “off” in resolution. Not enough so to pronounce it blurred or out-of-focus, but enough to trigger memories of how crisp an image I can get at home on a 65-inch, flat screen set. Perhaps the two projectors needed for 3D were just a hair askew from perfect registration. Or perhaps the original photography (or the 3D conversion) wasn’t spot on.

A sharpness comparison of a 60-foot screen to a 65-inch set is a bit unfair, but it is possible to produce an impressively crisp picture on a big screen. One of the other films I saw was X-Men: Apocalypse. For this I went to the theater that for years was my favorite—the Village in Westwood (now the Regency Village). The 2D presentation there was excellent on a similarly-sized (or perhaps even larger) screen to those in Burbank. It was beautifully detailed. As far as sound goes, while I liked the Village best, in all three theaters I made good use of the earplugs I had brought with me.

Oh yes, that 0.25 film. One movie problem with visiting LA, as opposed to living there, is that you’re usually limited to whatever is showing during your visit. If my trip had been two weeks later I could have seen Finding Dory at the Dolby Cinema theater in Burbank. What was playing when I was in town? Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows. Of course I was forced to at least check it out so you don’t have to. True to a Dolby Cinema presentation, the blacks were deep and rich and the 2D picture rewardingly bright. But the overall picture quality in the movie was inferior to what I saw from the trailers in the same showing.

As for the movie, the turtles should have stayed in the shadows. Maybe it got better further on, but I wouldn’t know. I left after 30 minutes.

David Vaughn's picture
Awesome read as always Tom. Glad you had a great trip back home.
shareITPC's picture

Good job. It looks amazing
vidmate pc

Grigory30's picture

I really hope that you enjoying your trip to there :D
and hopefully someday I can go to Vegas too and visiting all the places you mention in that article :p
Thanks for sharing it for all of us here :D
Grigory -