Where’s the home cinema market heading?

A key meeting point between the consumer and pro world, the home cinema sector has arguably never been more exciting. Charlotte Ashley explores what to look forward to in 2019 and beyond.

Whether a soundbar or intricately integrated installed set-up, the majority of conversations on what clients and consumers want for their dedicated home cinema space will inevitably end up mentioning the word ‘convenience’, ‘ease of use’ or another relevant synonym. In the age of ‘app for everything’ where an iPad will often be grabbed over going to the TV room and the convenience of streaming services like Netflix or Amazon Prime are slashing the market share of satellite TV services, it’s never been more relevant to just make things simple (and look good).

“Nowadays customers want the convenience of services of Netflix, Apple’s movie store, Youtube movies etc. at their fingertips, as well as that personal and unique experience. It’s essential to provide all these services and a very large collection of movies and TV shows in a very user friendly way,” says Joel Reis, founder and CEO of Life Emotions. Trends like this, naturally are having an impact on the pro world – look no further than Kaleidescape’s recent app launch for proof. “These streaming services have to be available in the home cinema or else their home cinema won’t actually be the hub for watching content and they’ll end up spending their time in another room in the house.”

Of course content from such providers is of a lower quality (although bandwidth is growing) when compared to Kaleidescape and watching 4K HDR with rich audio codecs, and Reis affirms says it’s important to show the difference to avoid the client asking “why I should have a state of the art cinema if the contents are medium quality?” “It’s important that the customers understand what they are missing when don’t see a movie as the director intended,” he states.

view from steps in CEDIA Award-winning Best Home Cinema installed by Clever AssociationImage: Clever Association

But, to backtrack a little, getting to the point where you are having the right kind of conversations of what a home cinema should be is part of the struggle at a time when people have no qualms about choosing convenience and quantity over quality. “There’s too many people that don’t know the difference between a CEDIA member-installed home cinema and set of speakers + TV bought from a retail store on Black Friday.” The blurred boundaries – see the number of manufacturers getting on the soundbar bandwagon (although some claim some high-level specs) – regarding what a pro home cinema consists of, naturally affects if a client who can spend tens of thousands on a kitchen or car, will consider spending a fraction of that on a bespoke-designed cinema room. Even seats, are becoming less of must-have for some as the lines between the home cinema room and a standard living room increasingly overlap.

“The big issue here is awareness as not enough people have experienced a custom installed home cinema,” affirms Reis. What can help and see more look beyond the formula of big TV + a 5.1 setup with a loud sub? “More installers investing in their showroom facilities and more demos taking place public places.” He adds: “Looking to the industry as a whole, probably if some form of CEDIA Cinema Room certification existed there would be increased awareness of a certain standard desirable for customers we want to target. Of course, the standard would have to be flexible, but with high technical requirements to accomplish – such as having a groundwork of cinema design + sound system + video system + control system + acoustic measures.” He concludes: “In the current market, it’s imperative to increase the amount of time that the family want to actually be in a cinema.”

So, what is there for prospective customers and installers to look forward to in 2019 when it comes to enjoying and delivering a special movie-watching experience?

1) Developments in IMAX Enhanced

As impressive as the achievement is, not all can afford their own IMAX home cinema, as delivered by Cornflake this year (for £1/€1.1 million) or has a minimum of 480 sq ft to play with, so another development involving the stalwart of the commercial cinema world, is very interesting for the resi world. “IMAX Enhanced is exciting as it aims to set a new benchmark in home cinema performance, from a visual and audio perspective,” says Stuart Tickle, owner and managing director of AWE Europe.

Outside of the special IMAX Enhanced audio tinkering, the “magic” happens before it reaches the consumer in terms of audio and video processing according to Tickle. “It doesn’t require new speaker positioning from the main immersive formats and it will benefit picture on existing TVs and projectors so builds upon the existing technology.”

imax enhanced rocket lift off movie screenshot

Manufacturers including the likes of Arcam, Denon and Marantz are signed up so far, with audio performance on an IMAX Enhanced soundtrack differing in that it has been optimised by IMAX audio engineers in order to reproduce a signature IMAX experience through products from manufacturers involved with the programme.

Sony are a big name involved on the visual side at the moment, and Tickle says IMAX Enhanced can have a big effect on watching HDR content; “One of the issues, especially on a big screen, is that the grain effect is actually overblown and becomes way more visible than the director intended.” He adds: “To overcome this is to build a steady stream of IMAX Enhanced versions of movies and other programming using a proprietary post-production process developed by IMAX.” This system employs a specially developed algorithm designed to produce sharper images (by reducing noise and grain under the filmmaker’s guidance) and a higher brightness 4K HDR display format.

Content may be sparse for now, but coming very shortly – with all selected releases (IMAX cameras or specially formatted for IMAX theatres) benefitting from an expanded aspect ratio for the film’s home release thanks to content being filmed in the IMAX format (1.43:1) and capable of filling more of a consumer-level screen. “The irony here is that when filmed in IMAX ratio by the studio, films are actually being cropped to become 2.35:1!” IMAX Enhanced made its one of its earliest debuts this side of the pond at AWE Europe’s most recent expo event and Tickle says installer feedback on the technology was “superb.”

2) 8K takes flight

With news of Samsung’s first 8K TVs being released and the first 8K TV channel launching (in Japan) making headlines across the press, it’s important to think about (even if not full buy into) 8K when it comes to client expectations. Firstly, is 8K actually here? “Depending on where you trade, it is here – now,” says Michael Heiss, consultant to the AV industry. “Sharp has been selling their first 8K sets in Asia and Europe, and Samsung has rolled out their first 85-in 8K set in the US and elsewhere. With CES and then ISE just around the corner, you may expect more brands to enter the 8K fray,” he explains – this looks very likely to include an OLED model from LG sometime next year. But naturally, just being here doesn’t mean the content is, and outside of Asia is particularly limited.

Samsung 8K QLED TV on display at stand at IFA 2018 show in Berlin

There will be still be questions, however, so it’s best to have your answer to “should I suggest 8K sets for my clientele? And what will they view when they get them?” prepped. As Heiss explains, currently the appeal is in the processing. “The extremely powerful video processing and upscaling engines in all of 8K sets I’ve seen to date to their job with aplomb. 4K content looks better than you’ve ever seen it, and so does everything else the set is fed,” he explains. 8K projection-wise, the same trend is evident, with recently launched offerings from the likes of JVC powered by impressive upscaling technology. In JVC’s case, projectors incorporate proprietary ‘e-shift’ display technology that works to quadruple the resolution by shifting pixels diagonally 0.5 pixel to achieve an 8K display, and it claims to be the first to do so.
JVC DLA-NX9 8K e-shift projector

Heiss concludes that 8K is a technology currently (though it will likely be a different story by 2020) for the “early, early adopters”; “8K isn’t for everyone yet, but when properly demonstrated it definitely has appeal to a critical “rainmaker” segment of your client and prospect base.”

>>Read his full thoughts here.

3) Virtual design makes life easier

In case you missed it, CEDIA surprised some by making an investment in software earlier this year – but this wasn’t just any old software. The Cinema Designer, now ‘The CEDIA Designer’ had built up quite a reputation among custom installers prior, and now the organisation’s resources and member-friendly pricing (free for basic tier, reduced for those above) looks set to allow its benefits to be enjoyed by many more.

Its creator, Guy Singleton’s background serving home cinema clientele gave him the insight needed to make something that can both impress clients and essentially provide gold dust in freeing up time in an installer’s schedule. “I believe virtual design is becoming an essential piece of an integrator’s toolkit when designing home cinemas these days, as it not only helps them to clinch the deal, but also shows something that’s measurable and enables the client to picture the space,” says Singleton.

“Often when talking to a client about the intended aesthetics of a room and how the technology will look within it, you can say it will look luxurious and explain where the equipment will sit and what technology will be on show, but it’s still open to interpretation. Using a virtual design method is a fantastic way to help the client to visualise their future home cinema or media room space.”

screenshot of The Cinema Designer High Render Channel Count for Immersive Audio Speaker Placement

So, how exactly does it work? “TCD software allows integrators to very quickly spec multiple versions of a home cinema and present different options to a client based on different décor or equipment choices,” Singleton explains. This means installers can easily tier packages presented to client – i.e. ‘bronze,’ ‘silver’ and ‘gold’-level – when doing their first pitch. “The software produces renders of each home cinema design and shows the room exactly as it could look based on the integrator’s choices made in the design stage of the software; the room dimensions in the render will be the client’s room dimensions, and all in-room equipment and aesthetics will be represented in the render.” He adds: “If the client doesn’t like something, this is no longer an inconvenience to the integrator, as they can create a new design in minutes.”

With 20 years’ experience running his own AV integration firm, Imagine This, Singleton says he has no doubts that the software can save “weeks of work” for other installers. “Traditional methods such as Visio, creating CAD drawings, or employing an architect are costly and time consuming alternatives,” he says.

“The ability to create a design that quickly conveys your vision is simple with TCD – not to mention that it deals with the technical parts and the mathematics. The enhanced visual, showing exactly how the room could look, is an incredible sales tool.” The software not only calculates the technical elements of a space and advises on ideal equipment placement, but calculates the room’s RT60 value and essential documentation, but it also recalculates high render channel count speaker placements on the fly based on the user tweaking parts of their design (i.e. seating placement).

Due to growing awareness of The CEDIA Designer, Singleton states that is has seen an “unprecedented number of designs” being created on the cloud-based platform over the last 365 days, particularly in busy UK and India markets, followed by USA, France and Australia. With more manufacturers joining the database and CEDIA’s push of the software, coupled with new features (such as allow integrators to immerse clients in a virtual render of their cinema or media room), TCD looks set to lead the way when it comes to the virtual design of professionally-installed home cinema spaces.

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