Home & Design July 30, 2008
Home Theaters
Bringing the Hollywood Experience Home

Teri Szombathy gets a massage with her movie. And if she wants a glass of wine in the middle, all she has to do is hit the pause button.

Szombathy and her husband Sandor have all the luxuries of a movie theater, plus more, in the theater they’ve built in their East Fork home.

They created the theater in what used to be their master bedroom, replacing the windows with maroon-colored wall panels and installing surround-sound, a 100-inch projector screen and even a small stage on which their daughters can perform karaoke.

One touch of the remote and the cove lights dim, the red velvet curtain opens, the DVD begins playing and they’re transported to a Rolling Stones concert from the comfort of seven Brookstone theater seats with built-in massage.

“I was convinced that it was a frivolous expense, that we could have used the room as a spare bedroom,” says Teri. “But I’m sold on it now. We have a lot of dinner parties and we always end up here. And I’d rather watch movies here than in a commercial theater. It feels like a getaway.”

Home theaters, whether in a designated room like the Szombathys’ or part of a living room that’s been modified to encompass surround-sound and screen, are becoming as commonplace as bathrooms in Sun Valley homes.

“Nearly all the homes we build are pre-wired for home theater,” says Troy Quesnel, president of Lloyd Construction. “And we do a lot of home theater remodels.”

Quantum leaps in technology coupled with significant drops in prices have spurred the revolution in personal movie theaters, particularly among the younger techno-savvy generation, says Luke Macdonald, owner of Soundwave.

Ten years ago, DVD was just coming into play, points out Kevin Carey of Home Media Inc. Then came digital light processing and liquid crystal display, which offered sharper pictures. And now Blu-ray Disc and HD-DVD have emerged to offer high-definition video to go with high-definition TV.

“If you’ve ever seen high definition, you know it’s better than looking out the window, it’s so perfect and clear,” says Carey. “And the new DLP and LCDs are so easy to focus.

“Movies are the literature of our generation, so it’s only natural we would want to enhance our experience,” he adds.

Prices are getting easier to swallow, as well. Sixty-inch plasma TVs that once sold for $20,000 now cost $5,000. DLP projectors that cost $30,000 five years ago now go for $2,000.

Those on a limited budget can get a rear projector and screen at discount stores for a couple grand. They can pick up speakers and a subwoofer for $300.

“You get what you pay for, but you can do it,” says Carey.

The sky’s the limit in terms of the investment movie buffs can put into their home theaters.

Lloyd Construction just worked with world-renowned theater designer Theo Kalomirakis to turn a 25-by-28-foot exercise room into an elliptical-shaped home theater.

The eight-seat theater—the first Kalomirakis has done in Sun Valley and the first egg-shaped design he’s done anywhere—features intricate wood molding.

Perforated fabric covers the speakers so they look like walls, but allows the sound to pass through. And acoustic foam eliminates echoes.

One touch of the control panel allows viewers to scroll through 1,500 movies stored on computer as a curtain parts to reveal a screen that accommodates the widest film format.

Outside is a concession area with a wine bar, movie-style popcorn popper, refrigerator for cold drinks and even a lighted candy display.

The theater is so soundproof that movie watchers can’t hear footsteps in the bedrooms above, nor can those in the bedrooms hear the cannon fire rocking the theater.

“It’s a very intimate room,” says Quesnel. “And it’s the most used room in the house.”

In contrast, Tim and Candy Johnson’s computer-designed theater in their Gimlet home looks like a spacious family room with windows looking out onto pine-covered mountain slopes, a fireplace set amidst bookshelves and a collection of cocktail shakers. >>>



But little things give it away: three rows of chairs with ottomans all facing forward, paneling among the bookshelves, a slice in the ceiling where the 11-foot screen drops, a projector hanging from the ceiling, speakers resembling speakers’ podiums in the front of the room.

Tim inserts one of his 1,300 CDs, pushes a button on the remote and imagines he’s in the recording studio with Celine Dion, her crisp notes emanating within sound-paneled walls that reflect, absorb and disperse the sound to prevent echoes.

It took the technician two days to tune two of the numerous speakers that rock the room with 6,200 watts of power. But, once set, there’s no need to do more tuning.

“It almost feels like I have the best seat in the stadium,” Tim says, settling back on an overstuffed chair as Tina Turner belts “River Deep, Mountain High” at London’s Wembley Stadium.

The Johnsons often entertain in the room, choosing from hundreds of DVDs and tuning into high-definition TV for special events like the Super Bowl.
It’s the sound that pulls viewers into the movie.

“You can have a big, high-definition TV, but if the sound system is small and the room is not isolated, someone clicking their heels across the floor upstairs is going to distract you,” says Carey. “On the other hand, if you take a 13-inch TV and couple it with a good sound system, you can really get into the movie.”

“You can’t fool a person with a picture on TV, but you can fool them with sound,” agrees Chris Christensen, of Soundwave.

“The smaller speakers can reproduce the range of human speech but they cannot reproduce real life,” says Carey. “They can’t reproduce the depth and range of field, allowing you to close your eyes and feel as if you’re sitting right in the middle of a symphony orchestra.”

With home theaters, you are looking for something TV can’t do, says Jess Goitiandia, of Audio Innovations/TJ’s Electronics. Audio/visual receivers, digital decoders and transducers can ramp up the experience.

“You need the proper equipment if you really want to get into the movie. It’s an emotion you’re playing with,” he says.

And, as it is with even the most primitive of systems, the most important component of any home theater is the remote. A good-quality, custom-designed control ties together 300 satellite channels, pay-per-view, XM Radio, VCR, DVD, HVAC, home automation and lighting so everything works together at one touch.

They start at $400 and go up. But you don’t risk the possibility of a guest getting everything out of whack by manually turning on the TV.

And you don’t have to have one remote for the TV, another for the DVD, another for the sound and so on.

“It doesn’t matter how much you spend on your home theater if you can’t operate it easily,” says Goitiandia.

Macdonald agrees: “You can put in the fanciest, most expensive system, but if you can’t control it, it’s junk.”

This article appears in the Spring 2007 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.