Sam Runco of Runco International

Sam Runco is known as both a tinkerer and a talker. A motivational speaker before he became an inventor, Runco relied heavily on both skills when launching the video company that bears his name. His efforts in the 20 years since have paid off, though, in a series of front projectors and rear-projection and flat-panel TVs that have consistently set new standards for high-end home theater.

When did you realize that home theater was going to catch on? For 15 years, the commercial and professional media markets - places like churches and other institutions - were the only ones buying projection TVs. But then the sports bars caught on. In one of them here in Northern California, they ended putting as many as 13 projection TVs in different rooms. And then the satellite-TV industry started. So then these guys in the bars were pulling in games from all over the world. The country went wild with those bigscreen sports bars. But what really made home theater take off was back in the late 1980s when Dolby came out with Pro Logic surround sound. By 1989, there were a couple of companies using Dolby surround sound in their processors, and by 1990, people started putting surround sound with their bigscreen TVs. When those two things got together, all hell broke loose and you could see that this thing had gotten some traction. And it wasn't a year from there that it became clear that it was going all the way.

What usually inspires you to try to improve a TV or front projector? There was a time in the early days when the ideas came solely from me - not because I was such a brilliant guy; it had nothing to do with that. I was just trying to track what it took to make a sale and how I could make multiple sales by doing certain things. A lot of times, I got into trouble because I said I could do things but then the projector wouldn't do them, so I had to devise ways to make the projector operate in the ways I'd promised. Today, the dealers come to us with problems, saying, "If only we could do this, this, and this." And there's enough of that feedback that all we have to do is create what the dealer needs. It doesn't mean you're not thinking and creating, but the dealers are the ones coming up with the needs.

What's your greatest innovation? Without question, it's a product created at Runco in 1991 - the ARC-4 aspect-ratio controller. I didn't patent, trademark, or copyright anything about it - I was too busy trying to build it and sell it. In the U.S., Europe, and other countries, there are different standards for TV, and almost every HDTV uses these four aspect ratios.

Is watching TV and movies with your family an important part of your day-to-day life? It's a big deal. During the week, we probably watch two or three movies, and we watch that many on the weekend, too. You never know how long that's going to last - my kids are 13, 16, and 22. But since we put the CineWide - which is a CinemaScope system - in the family room, it's been a huge part of our lives. The new James Bond movie just came out, and if I'd been able to get it on video-on-demand, we would've watched it last night.