Home Theater Comes Home

At some point, CES ceased having much of anything to do with the home theater experience, and became primarily about TV makers launching the latest, biggest, and thinnest TVs. Oh, and there are also a couple of floors of stratospherically expensive high-end audio gear, and now headphones.

This year, a "Who's Who" of home theater companies - Kaleidescape [who've been fighting a legal battle to keep their service available], Digital Projection Inc. (DPI), Cinema-Tech, Crestron, D-Box, ADA, Stewart Filmscreen, and Totem Acoustic - partnered to deliver the "Unforgettable Home Cinema Experience," resulting in what I considered the best demo at CES.

DPI's Michael Bridwell summed up the reason behind the demo: "There really hasn't been a good immersive theater experience for CES-goers for many years, if ever. The art of the demo has died in terms of video, and we're on a mission this year to revive it."

ADA's Richard Stoerger added, "The reality is that in order for [people] to get passionate about the experience, they must go through the experience."

Being "unforgettable" requires more than just having amazing audio and video. Every aspect of the demo was carefully selected and choreographed: the comfortable CinemaTech leather seating, the introduction and explanation of demo scenes, the playback order (starting in 16x9 aspect ratio and finishing in 2.35:1), the gear and lighting control - all from an iPad using Kaleidescape's new control app. The end product? A reference-quality experience.

One element that contributed to the demo's success was Kaleidescape's movie server, with its new "scenes" feature. By bookmarking key moments from films, the demo could jump almost instantly - even with Blu-ray - to the selected moments. This allowed things to flow very quickly and smoothly without lengthy load times or FBI warnings.

Also impressive was the giant 14-foot-wide Stewart Filmscreen CineCurve screen. With its 4-way masking system, there were never any annoying black bars; images were always correctly sized, appropriately huge, and immersive without being overwhelming.

The demo began with a bit of animation: the opening of Monster House. This showed off the above-shown DPI 3-Chip Titan Reference 3D projector's amazing light output, contrast, and vibrant color palette, and the subtle ambient effects that the audio system was capable of delivering. Also apparent was a slight, gentle movement in the seating as you gently followed the movement of an onscreen leaf - the D-Box seating in action.

Cued up next was Jeff Beck and Joss Stone performing "People Get Ready," from Becko's Performing This Week… Live at Ronnie Scott's Blu-ray. The giant, high-def image and crowd sounds made me feel like I was seated front-and-center watching the show.

Totem Acoustics' Stephen Libin made an interesting observation regarding concerts on Blu-ray: "We feel the industry doesn't promote great concerts on Blu-ray near enough. We feel that concert performances, if well recorded, can bring huge emotion, passion, and pleasure to people. Most people have no idea how much fun concerts can be on a big, beautiful [display], with superb sound taking them into the venue."

That was followed by my favorite part: the Taking Down the AT-AT scene from The Empire Strikes Back. As the scene started, the masking opened up to reveal the full 14-foot-wide screen. The DPI Titan produced a stunningly bright HD image of Hoth, making this Star Wars experience more dramatic than almost any other one I've sat through.

Here the D-Box motion added an extra element to the onscreen action. It didn't put you in a nauseating rollercoaster ride, but moved and swayed subtly with the snow-speeders to make you part of the scene. I'll be honest: I wasn't a fan of D-Box seating prior to this demo. I felt the effect was too exaggerated, like playing your sub at max volume. But with the motion level dialed down, the seating definitely enhanced the experience, and I dare say I may now be a believer.

The sound ratcheted up several notches for the final demo scene, the (totally ridiculous) bridge chase from Fast Five. It was hard to believe the quality of sound being produced in a Vegas meeting room, which is clearly not an acoustically ideal space. ADA's Stoerger explained, "Our TEQ electronic room optimizer featuring Trinnov's technology is something to get excited about. Simply put, it is the most advanced room-correction technology in the world, literally making the room disappear."

I totally agree. I usually look at my watch during demos, but here I was totally in the moment, loving the selections and the experience. I was bummed when the demo ended, and wished for more. That is the point of a great demo, and this was an unforgettable one for sure.