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REEL LIFE / FILM & VIDEO FILE : Electronic Gadgets Bring Movie Theater Experience Home : With the proper equipment, consumers can have the feeling of the cinema in their living rooms. But the initial cost can be high.

March 31, 1994|PANCHO DOLL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Consumer electronic pioneers are pushing the envelope of home entertainment with the latest gadget for home theater, letterboxed laser discs and wide-screen TVs.

The combination generates the same oblong dimensions as screens in movie theaters. At a ratio of 16:9, the picture is one-third wider than the 4:3 ratio of TV screens.

A letterboxed video viewed on a regular TV results in black bands along the top and bottom of the screen, but when viewed on a wide screen, it re-creates the movie-going experience without the confiscatory prices of the ticket booth and concession stand.

That's just the tip of the microchip. Home theater accouterments, the digital video signal and surround-sound audio are threatening the movies the way fax machines and E-mail are threatening the U. S. Postal Service.

"Obviously, I don't go to many theaters," said John Seder, a physician at Community Memorial Hospital in Ventura and a home theater owner. "I bought it because I enjoy really good sound and it's better than the sound you get at multiplex theaters."

All the Hyper Bass-Acoustimass-Pro-Logic techno-babble seems like the electronic equivalent of muscle car jargon from hot rod magazines of the '60s and '70s. It's no coincidence then that most of the customers whom salesman Joe Spina serves at Classic Video and Stereo in Newbury Park are men between the ages of 30 and 50.

"Lots of buyers are trying to impress other people. The neighbors have it so they have to have it," Spina said. "With that type of customer, you have to appeal to them that the system you're going to sell them is better than the one the Joneses have."

The problem, Spina said, is that you can only impress your friends once. After that, new owners forget about impressing their friends and start enjoying the system themselves.

"It's a sizable investment," Seder said, "but I don't think it was significant given the entertainment value I get from it."

Besides, Seder adds, it's good for the kids. Seder's daughter, 7, has learned how to play laser discs herself, a skill she uses to watch Disney films.

At a cost roughly equal to a set of braces or a year's tuition at a UC campus, how much benefit can a parent genuinely expect from "Fantasia" with digital Dolby stereo?

That's a personal issue, but if you'd rather have a child with straight teeth or a university degree, try Cliff Roepke's low-cost guerrilla tactic. Roepke, an installer of high-end home theater, offers the suggestion with the caveat that it should only be attempted on a stereo you're not afraid to damage. "Take the wire that goes to one of the speakers and connect the positive wire to the negative terminal. That inverts the phase and produces an effect similar to surround sound," he said.

"Then turn down the lights and scoot real close to the set."

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