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ELECTRONICS : Spotlight's Shining on Home Theater Designs

August 07, 1993|From Associated Press

If you're sixtysomething, you might remember taking a bag lunch to 5-cent movies on Saturdays. If you're fortysomething, it's the drive-in flicks that come to mind. But memories for the current generation might well be of home theaters.

All you need is a darkened room and basic home entertainment components. If you want to be a showoff, you can re-create the whole Saturday-afternoon-at-the-Bijou experience.

"One of my clients has a marquee, a box office, a snack bar, theater chairs and a 12-foot-wide screen," says Russ Herschelmann, a custom installer in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Theo Kalomirakis, owner of Theatre Design Associates Inc. in New York, markets theater rooms in contemporary, art deco and traditional styles through distributors in 20 cities. The units can be installed in any room that is at least 12 by 14 feet, and are easily dismantled. There are side walls, a stage with motorized curtain, dimmers for the lighting and theater seats on a carpeted, slanted platform. The smallest unit has six seats. Prices range from $17,000 to $60,000, excluding audio and video components.

But Herschelmann says you can get the basics for well under $5,000.

"Many folks already have the heart of the system--a large-screen TV," he says. "They may have a hi-fi VCR, which is necessary to reproduce movie soundtracks."

The other components include a Dolby pro-logic receiver for surround-sound, five identical speakers and a bass speaker. The receiver contains a decoder that reads the signals and amplifiers that send them to each of the speakers.

Although not essential to watch movies at home, a laser disc player is also desirable. It offers CD-quality sound and a better picture than videotape.

How can one make all of these components visually appealing? Custom installers usually rely on custom cabinetry. But the furniture industry, seeing a need, created ready-made pieces to hold--and sometimes hide--the large-screen TV and the rest of the paraphernalia.

A number of furniture makers, such as Ladd, Ethan Allen, Lexington, Pennsylvania House and Thomasville, are marketing pieces to match their best-selling furniture styles. Typically, the cabinets are equipped with electric outlets, air vents and backs that pop out for easier connection and servicing of components. Fabric inserts hide speakers. Price tags range as high as $5,000.

Ladd Furniture and RCA have collaborated on a turnkey system that includes cabinetry, electronics components, installation--and financing. Prices range from about $4,000 to $10,000, says Wayne McNeely, vice president of Ladd. The systems are marketed through more than 400 furniture retailers.

For those of more modest means, assemble-it-yourself cabinets may be the way to go. Those that will hold most of the equipment, if not the super-large rear-projection TVs, are available for about $400. Many have extra storage for videocassettes and discs.

Staging for the Eyes, Ears

If you're setting up a home movie theater, choose a room that can be darkened sufficiently, and make sure it includes sound-absorbent surfaces such as carpeting, curtains and soft upholstery.

Russ Herschelmann, a home theater installer and founding member of the Custom Electronic Design & Installation Assn., offers these other tips:

* Place the television in the middle of a wall, not in a corner. In rising order of cost, TV sets used in home theater include tube TVs measuring from 27 to 40 inches, rear projection models with a screen from 40 to 72 inches and front projection TVs from 60 inches to 12 feet or more.

* Don't convert stereo speakers from your tape deck-CD player to a home theater environment. Better quality sound results with five inexpensive identical speakers: one under or over the TV, one each directly to the left and right and two surround-sound speakers to the side rear of the main seating area. One or two bass speakers can go almost anywhere except under the sofa.

* The best receivers offer equal amplifier power to all of the speakers. Place receivers and other electronic components out of the field of view so their blinking lights don't interfere with your view of the screen.

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