Theo and Walt: Genius You Can Sit On

When two titans of industry join forces, you expect the results to be something special. In this case, Theo Kalomirakis, Sound & Vision columnist and home theater pioneer, has teamed up with Disney to create a new furniture line with the goal of "surround made simple."

The new line, which will be called the Theo Kalomirakis Home Entertainment Collection for Walt Disney Signature, will feature three different collections, Melody, Toccata, and Symphony. I was fortunate enough to attend the launch event this past weekend (April 26) at High Point Market in North Carolina at the International Home Furnishings Center where I saw the collection and spoke with Theo.

Anyone who has read Theo's column (or my feature available here) knows that Theo is obsessed with the presentation and the experience of watching a film. Theo wanted people to be able to "enjoy the movie without the technology getting in the way" and save them from having "to deal with or see the typical maze of wires."

Theo also wanted a collection that would address another of his major pet peeves: components being out on display. "It was designed so no one has to see the technology," Theo said. "All you see is the movie on the screen. When the lights go down the room has to completely disappear. It's you and the movie on the screen. Walt Disney's films are so compelling because he understood this, and was one of the pioneers in making it happen," said Theo. "Our furniture is completely designed to seamlessly incorporate the technology so that no one has to see it. The only thing you see is the movie on the screen. The guiding light was to hide everything."

Notably, the flat panel TV itself is on display, either sitting atop the furniture or mounted to a wall. I asked Theo is he considered incorporating a lift into the cabinet, so it too would be concealed. He said this idea was ultimately rejected because it would have added too much depth and cost to the furniture and that flat panel displays have become an accepted part of the modern living room, and don't need to be hidden away like the CRT monsters of old.

The new furniture will retail for $2995 and will include a speaker sound bar with built-in digital amplification and surround processing, a subwoofer, and a docking station for iPod/iPhone with both audio and video output. A customer simply adds a TV and Blu-ray/DVD player and connects them with the supplied audio cable and installation is complete. The furniture also features some slick "custom" touches like a built-in infrared repeater so that components can be controlled with the doors closed, a fan for thermal protection and built-in surge protected power strips. All power connections are made inside the furniture, with a single power cord then running to a wall outlet. A simplified, credit card styled remote controls volume and surround effects and toggles between the iPod and TV's audio.

Specifications for the sound bar include a 70-watt digital power amplifier with virtual surround digital processor, two 1-inch dome tweeters, and 4 four-inch long throw woofers. The subwoofer has a 7-inch driver in a bass reflex design powered by a 100-watt amplifier.

Unfortunately, the audio system in the model at the show wasn't a finalized production model, so I'm unable to give a firsthand account of the sound quality of the finished product. I can say that what I heard had a healthy helping of bass with plenty of volume to fill an averaged-sized viewing area and totally blew the doors off the sound of any TV speakers. However, this is not intended to replace or even compete with mid-end, stand-alone surround systems. In fact, the system is 2.1 "virtual surround" and doesn't offer any of the decoding for Dolby or DTS lossless formats. For simplicity sake, the sound bar is designed to take the single analog audio input from the television's audio output, thus the TV performs the audio switching chores. This furniture line was designed to enhance the viewing experience for the typical home movie viewer; the person who is intimidated by stacks of black boxes and wires that traditionally uses the speakers in the TV and wants a stylish upgrade alternative.

This is not the first time Theo has been involved with Disney; he was one of the designers involved with the Ultimate Home Theater Experience exhibit on display at Epcot Center at Disney World in Orlando, Florida. The Walt Disney Signature is Disney's first upscale lifestyle brand and has been at retail for around two-and-a-half years. The collection was inspired by Walt Disney and his innovative, pioneering lifestyle. These pieces are scheduled for September availability at specialty furniture and "better" department stores.

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