Now Playing: The Man Who Invented Home Theater Page 4


Think you've got a lot of movies? Think again. As a self-described "fanatical collector of movies," Theo has an 11,000-title collection that puts most of ours to shame. So I was sure he would be a Kaleidescape owner (read our recent review of the KPlayer-6000), but no. "I already had thousands of DVDs when Kaleidescape came out, so it was too late for me to catch up. But it's a fantastic device for those people who have the time to transfer their collection to the system. Kaleidescape is a tool for instant gratification, and I'm sure I'd enjoy having all my movies on a hard drive so I can sample them faster. I'm thinking of using it once they adjust it to accept Blu-ray Discs next year."

Instead, Theo manages his movies the old-fashioned way. "I have a special room that's 13 feet high and has every movie arranged alphabetically. I like the physicality of opening the box and pulling the disc out and seeing the liner notes. I like the ceremony of going into the computer, finding the title, and then going through the shelves and being reminded, 'Oh my God, I had forgotten that I had this movie!' "

You can imagine that Theo is picky about a DVD's quality, especially the video transfer. "I'm more upset when the movie is grainy and fuzzy and has poor color quality than if it doesn't have sound pyrotechnics. Probably the sharpest DVD transfer ever was for Ryan's Daughter, and that is the yardstick against which all movies on DVD can be judged, because it was taken from the original 65mm negative. You look at it and you wonder, 'How can HD look better?' We're in the infancy of Blu-ray Disc, and we're going through the early period where studios don't care about the transfer. They get whatever was transferred in 1080i for DVD and dump it into high-def. It's a little bit sharper, but nothing much. Before long, you're going to start seeing the true potential of HD."

As with many home theater owners, the Hollywood studios are having a hard time convincing Theo to venture out of his sanctum sanctorum and watch films in a movie theater. "We're able to see movies now at home as sharp as they ever were in the theater because transfers are taken from the original material. And you listen to them with sound systems that are far better than that of movie multiplexes, which is thrilling. It's no longer, 'Let's catch up with the theaters.' The quality of the picture at home has left the picture in most movie theaters behind in the dust. I've come to the point where I almost refuse to spoil the first experience of a movie in a commercial theater. I want to wait to see it at home."

Being the Top Gun of custom theater design doesn't come cheap. Those wanting to hire Theo can expect to spend around $400 per square foot, and that doesn't include the gear. (A CEDIA installer typically supplies the equipment at around $100,000.) "For a high-end theater in a home priced around 2 or 3 million dollars, you're talking about $200,000 to $300,000 for the whole thing," says Theo.

But you don't have to be working with a mega-budget - or much of a budget at all - to take advantage of Theo's wisdom about all things home theater. With this issue, Sound & Vision welcomes him as a regular contributor with his own advice column, "Ask Theo." He'll be sharing his years of experience by responding to reader letters about their home theaters. "I'm starting this column with the hope of guiding people who submit pictures and plans, so they can make their projects even better. There are several things about home theater design that I hope to be able to translate through this page, to help people who are doing it for the first time.