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Choose Wisely, Obi-Wan

While this may sound a bit altruistic, in the last decade or so I have taken a strong position on the side of consumers. More recently, I suppose, because some manufacturers claims seem to be stretching the truth further, bordering on outright deception. I hate to see people spend hard earned money twice. As one who specifies/builds home theaters for folks, I encounter/inherit bad decisions on a regular basis. Sometimes these can be very costly, so I often muse on how to help clients reduce or eliminate these situations in the first place.

Yoda w earphones
When time to build great home theater, listen closely to expert, then do. Or do not. There is no try.

Truth is, I am often brought into a situation where the damage is already done. All that I can do at that point is to try and salvage the expensive mistakes and replace the affordable stuff. But getting back to the root cause...

Terry’s General Theory of Decision Making

(For home theater design and other lessor matters)

I believe very average people can make very good decisions if given enough facts. Gathering facts can take time, so in order to assure yourself of maximum facts, and therefore the best result, the first step in decision making is to know when the decision has to be made. Then, some weighing of the facts according to credibility of the source is worthwhile. Finally, even though your “due diligence” has led you to a reasoned decision, a “sanity” check is a good idea, if it’s available.

In the case of home theater, or projector/panel selection, there is nothing like experience. Large companies use consultants as a way of short-cutting decisions by leveraging someone else’s substantial research. Same thing applies to efficient home theater design.

In my perfect world, someone contemplating a home theater should call me, or someone like me, first. After a site visit and considerable discussion, the client can make informed decisions. What I think they should have may not be the perfect decision for them, but at least he/she will have been exposed to a reasonable alternative before any checks are written.

The thing that inspired this column was a recent experience I had with a potential client. I was brought in to “help” him design/install his theater. After much discussion, we agreed on most things but disagreed on two or three. For instance, I took a stand against perf screens (another topic for down the line). In the end I convinced him, but he had already ordered it. It was a custom size so the manufacturer could not take it back. Hope someone on eBay needs it. Had we had the discussion first he would have saved several thousand dollars. On another item, when asked how he selected that particular projector, he confessed the recommendation came from a cousin who read an article somewhere where the guy who authored it had called it the best buy under $10,000. No consideration was made as to whether the author knew anything about video or my client’s room, or light output vs. screen size or...much of anything. We got the projector returned after a fight and a 20% restocking charge.

You're likely to live with your good/bad decisions daily, for several years. My closing counsel...

  • Loosely researched decision making is a path to the dark side.
  • Do your homework. Suffer expensive decision errors, you will not.
  • Enjoying the fruits of a well thoughtout system design, you will.

May the force be with you!

Comments (8) Post a Comment
Mike Posted Jul 21, 2020 4:15 AM PST
Interesting article! Some questions for you.

Where does one find a reputable HT consultant? In my area (SE Michigan) most of the HT people are installers who push their products/lines.

What kind of cost should one budget for an allocation?

Thanks, Mike
Nick Dunn Posted Jul 21, 2020 6:18 AM PST
Can you elaborate on your stance against perf screens?
Terry Paullin Posted Jul 22, 2020 7:10 AM PST
Yes, Nick, I can. I knew my "stance" would draw rational, legitimate questions like yours. I thought about dedicating a whole blog to this topic, but the answers are clear and, I think, are easily understandable.

NO perforated screen has ever been specified as a performance enhancement. Rather, the "need" comes from the interior decorator who wants to "hide those ugly speakers" or less likely, from the client who thinks it seems like a good idea at the time. In my book, perf screens have at least three big strikes against them. They all apply, but my #1 is that it forces the unnecessarily poor placement of the L-C-R sound field. If you are doing this for the "masking" reason, all speakers, of course, need to be inside the dimensions of the screen. I like the L-Rs to be as separated as possible for envelopment purposes. Second issue is that if the holes on the screen happen to line up or ALMOST line up with a video trace, it causes an artifact called "morie". You won't like it and a critical eye will constantly be annoyed . My third objection is really two - COST. Besides the obvious, perf. screens cost more than same-size non-perfs, the real expense is that if you use a perf. screen you have to budget for a projector with 15 to 20% m,ore light output than originally planned to replace the light that is lost through the holes. That's REAL money in projectorland.

At the end of the day, the trade-off between ultimate performance and aesthetic satisfaction is yours to make, even if its just to keep peace in the house. Mommy ain't happy, ain't nobody happy!
Keith Leyendecker Posted Jul 22, 2020 7:12 AM PST
I second Nick's question as I am in West Michigan and would also like someone who knows what they are doing to take a look at my theater room design decisions. I can read sites like this a lot but it is still different than the guy that does it all the time for a living.
Terry Paullin Posted Jul 22, 2020 1:30 PM PST
Keith - I feel your pain. Finding competent help should be easy, but is often not unless you get lucky. Here's the problem. Sklp Best Buy and other big retail stores. They have high turnover and there probably isn't a soul on the floor who has been exposed to any serious audio/video training. There are lots of medium size custom installation shops who can possibly be of decent help. Their problem is "jack of all trades, master of (probably) none" Their banner says "we do whole house audio, intercom systems, vacuum systems, internet services and, oh by the way, home theater too. This is a business model they have to support in order to make payroll. Sometimes you can find a good specialist who can provide sage help. I work for several of these "{houses)" to pick-up the broken glass when they get in trouble. My model is Home Theater only. Someone near you may have such a counterpart. In an upcoming blog I plan to introduce a possible solution to the rampant lack of training problem. Good luck!
Brian Posted Jul 25, 2020 10:46 PM PST
Funny that Terry is so against perforated screens, which are the standard in commercial movie theaters :-). His objections to them do not apply in many contexts. If your screen is as wide as your room, the LCR speakers can still be as wide as possible behind the screen. If you get a good woven acoustically transparent screen, you will not have moire effect. If you already have the brightest projector in your price range, saving even $2K on a screen will not help. Then there are many good reasons for an acoustically transparent screen - it puts the dialog and audio where the action is on the screen and it allows for a larger screen in rooms that are not very wide.
Chris Posted Jul 28, 2020 6:23 AM PST
I just read your three reasons (reply to Nick Dunn) for not getting a perforated screen. I built my HT 16 years ago and went with a perforated screen and couldn't be happier. Luckily your reasons against them align with my reason to get one. 1) Because my screen literally spans the width of my room, I can place the L/C/R speakers wherever I want them. My contractor and I put the screen on a hinge so I can just lift it and get to my equipment without any problem.

This was my #1 issue to get a perforated screen - I wanted a BIG screen. I wanted the people on the screen to be BIGGER than real life. Plus hiding equipment is a HUGE plus, because I want people to walk into a theater, not an equipment room. I understand a designers desire to hide equipment, it took me a while to explain why this room was going to have black ceilings, black walls (mostly), no windows, but she was 100% right when she explained why you should not see the equipment - you don't see it when you go to a real theater, why would you see it in your home.

2) I went with a Screen Research woven screen, so no perforated holes that can line up. 3) Had the money to buy a more powerful projector and its a 100% darkened room.

So I agree with your reasons against a perforated screen, but there are reasons to get one. Plus, I hear the new Stewart screens use a random perforation that eliminates moire.
Terry Paullin Posted Aug 3, 2020 10:11 AM PST
To Chris, Brian and Keith -

First of all, thank you for an "alternative opinion" I'd rather see debate in this space as oppose to silence. I knew from the start my "position" would draw ire from those already invested in perf and woven screens. I can refute most all of your defenses, but there is no point. You believe what you believe and so do I. A smart guy once said "reasonable people can disagree reasonably." I think he was right. Kudos to Chris for the black ceiling, although black is often a hard sell to spouses - dark grey works just as well. The performance "give-up" of the aforementioned screens is usually small, so it's not that big a deal. Still, I won't be spec'ing them in my theaters.

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