The Coming Boom in Home Theater

I have a theory. Well, it’s not really a theory. It’s more of a hunch. Actually, it’s not even a hunch. Just a tingling. But sometimes my tinglings are surprisingly prescient. Here’s my tingle: Thanks to societal shifts, in the coming years there will be a huge resurgence — a boom — in the popularity of home theater.

A home theater resurgence? Why? I’ll list my reasons. You can tick off the ones you agree with, and the ones you don’t, and see if you reach the same conclusions.

Rich People are Evil
We know this because politicians are telling us so. Rich people should pay their fair share. Their marginal income tax rate should be 70 to 90% and their net worth taxed annually at 3%. Estate taxes should be dramatically higher. In this climate, people with money don’t want to be seen driving Lambos; instead, they are spending their money on less visible things. The exteriors of affluent homes are now being dialed back as owners devote more of their budget to the interior space.

Chinese Food in Little Boxes Tastes Good
If you don’t own a fancy car, why drive around at all? Order in. Have your Kung Pao chicken delivered to you. Going out to a movie can cost $50, and a Broadway show with dinner could easily be $1,000. Cocooning is trending. People are staying inside their nicely appointed homes, dining and being entertained there.

Cars are Stupid
I love cars, but golly, are they expensive. The average cost of a new car is about $34,000. Add in fees, insurance, fuel, repairs, tires, etc. — whew! As we move to electric cars, fuel costs will plummet. And why own a car at all when, for 95 percent of the time, it’s just parked? Autonomous vehicles might convince many people to forego ownership. When you need to go somewhere, message a vehicle to pick you up. As we abandon gasoline-powered cars, and even traditional car ownership, tons of money will be freed up for other purchases.

My Phone is Dead
Phones are a maturing technology. Each next generation is now only marginally better. People are keeping their phones longer, unmotivated or unwilling to upgrade. Increasingly higher costs are a big reason why people are less likely to upgrade. This is especially true when the really desirable phones are $1,000-plus. Also, the days of smartphones as status symbols are over (see Rich People are Evil). The billions formerly spent on phones are increasingly available for other purchases. Plus, as the love affair for phones cools, passion for other tech will heat up.

When smartphones exploded onto the scene, their high-tech abilities (rightly) made traditional audio/video gear seem old-fashioned. But the AV industry has responded by making products smart and connected, shedding their old image by leveraging the internet. Just as cars are adding new tech to stay current, so now are TVs and audio components. Sets with built-in browsers dovetail with consumer desire to cord-cut (yet another source of savings). All of this helps AV gear better fit the lifestyles of today’s consumers.

TO RECAP, people with money don’t want to appear ostentatious. People are increasingly staying in. Scaling back spending on cars and phones frees up more disposable income. The newest AV gear is cool and easy to love.

I think this all points to a renewed interest in home theater. There will always be people (like you and me) with a dedicated room and a stack of electronics, but that is old-timey home theater. The home theater of the future will look quite different. Instead of a dedicated room, there will be big screens and smart audio products distributed throughout the home and networked with its other infrastructure, everything interactive and voice-controlled. And yes, picture and sound quality will be spectacular. Boom!

That’s my tingle and I’m sticking with it.


Ken C. Pohlmann is an electrical engineer specializing in audio topics as a consultant and writer. He is Professor Emeritus at the University of Miami and Sound & Vision’s longest running columnist.

John_Werner's picture

Wirelessly immersed sounds like a potential good rock song or album title. I believe it's kind of like what telecommunications calls "the last mile". It's the game changer if everything that came before is falling into place in synergistic way. No matter what is "on tap" before actual delivery, it's the delivery content and quality that count. I envision this could well revitalize home theater and audio. Of course it will be more Sonos size than Altec A-7. I think there needs to be integration of a 7.1 to 11.1 wireless lossless no-latency self amplified speakers all being fed from one "do it all" box (we used to call this a pre-pro, a A/V receiver, or media server thingee). It will automatically connect to both your home network and the internet. It will use one type of remote that will work on any tablet, phone, or laptop that is also connected. The speakers will be "smarter" as in they listen and EQ themself for the desired response. Come to think of it we've done all this - pretty much. It didn't revive anything that much??? We'll see if 4K helps, but I'm not holding my breath. Just give me a reasonably good image on a 55" screen with some kind of decent sound and I'm happy. This audiophile is tired of the A/V chase and has settled on HD files with 2-channel goodness to which I'm happy as a clam. That said I do hope the young whippersnappers keep a reasonable home audio-video business healthy.