Why We Love Our Home Theaters

Beyond the obvious “cool” factor, why exactly do we own home theaters? Convenience, sure. Your own “theater” ready when you are. But isn’t it really about being able to fall into a movie, become absorbed, taken away for a while, the “suspension of disbelief”? And these days, it’s getting harder and harder to tolerate the experience of a commercial movie theater, largely because so many things can interfere with that “suspension of disbelief”.

Here’s a short list of what commercial theaters do wrong, that home theaters do right:

1. The cost. OK, truth be told, it is actually cheaper to go to the theater than to buy a really high-end home theater. But on a per-event basis, $10 or more for a ticket to a show is pretty high, especially when they expect you to also buy the most expensive food in the world – popcorn! Anyone ever figure out exactly what that big bucket costs? It’s worth about 25 cents, but you paid $6 or more for it. And it’s ever so chewy, slathered with all that imitation butter. What do you get at home? Really fresh popcorn you just microwaved, with real melted butter. No sour after-taste there. Yes, if you divide the cost of your HT system up by each movie you see, it is more costly, but isn’t it worth it?

2. Trailers by choice. Not in the theater, though. You are told the film starts at 8, but really it’s more like 8:15, after you get force-fed the trailers, ads, and two or three warnings to turn off your cell phone, which you do of course, but that idiot behind you is living a highly important life, and needs his left on, ringer and all.

3. Picture quality. Oh, you say, your home theater will never have a screen that size. True, the size is impressive, though if you watch a plasma screen, you may actually see a better contrast ratio, and a brighter picture. But in a theater, equally impressive are the stains on the screen, the drink straw stuffed into one of the screen perforations, and the seam down the middle. You may not be treated to all these visual amenities at every theater, and hopefully not all at the same time, but there’s usually something to distract. Perhaps it’s the exit sign lighting up the screen, or the bad framing. Or focus, though that one’s so basic it should simply NEVER happen, but does. How about the low-rez digital projection of the ads before the show? 1080p it ain’t. Not even 720p. The last one we saw was probably 480p, with some scaling, but mid-theater seats could clearly see every pixel. And it was dim, and washed out. Yes, it was only the pre-show “ads”, but come on, guys. This is a “professional” theater, isn’t it?

4. Sound quality. Yes, again, size matters. But it’s only one part of the story. There’s usually something to annoy everyone; the blown woofers, defective tweeters, fried subwoofers, and out of balance surrounds, or missing channels. Yes, even the all-important center speaker is often damaged. The last show we went to added a sharp snapping click every half second or so, all through the film. Complaining did no good, their alternative was to “bypass the system”, and play the track in mono, with no noise reduction, resulting in lifeless, compressed, non-dynamic sound. State of the art, circa 1940. Thanks, but I’ll just live with the ticks. And we did. Sort of. It took three chats with the manager. Talk about getting pulled out of the film. Not at home, though. Sound will be predictable, consistent, and adjustable by you should you need more or less.

5. Do you dash to make the show on time, or just push “start” when you’re ready? The best theaters around here are at least 15 minutes drive away, then perhaps a wait in line, a wait in the concession line, then you sit through the above mentioned inane trailers, then you watch what you paid to see. At home, you sit down, relax, and start the show at 8:23, or whatever time you are ready for it. Oh, and if the worst happens, and you need to take a break, you can, and never miss a single frame.

Our family paid $30 to see Star Trek at the Yorktown Theaters, Lombard, IL, and put up with bad sound for the entire feature. One of us paid even more per ticket to see the same film at the Navy Pier IMAX theater, replete with a bad subwoofer, and low volume. When we stay home and pop in a disc, none of that happens. We just watch the film undistracted, uninterrupted, and when we want.

Need more reasons to own a Home Theater? Just go out and see a movie, you’ll have your own list in no time.