DVD. HDTV. Distributed music systems. Home theater. All those remote controls. Technology can be toilsome.
But help is on the way for those who count themselves among the technologically challenged.
A burgeoning market in home entertainment equipment is spawning a resurgence of businesses that specialize in custom-designed systems with an emphasis on expertise and customer service.
The advent of the superstore--a la Circuit City and Good Guys--helped push many specialty store owners out of the business, says industry veteran Mark Smith, and with their demise went highly personalized service. Many consumers were left to fend for themselves, staring at a wall full of equipment and being served by an employee with only general knowledge about the technology.
"Recently some of these same companies that were forced out have reopened or new companies have entered the market," said Smith, a system designer and general manager of the Van Nuys-based Audio Den.
What is driving the specialty shop resurgence? The answer is twofold: Affordable "home theater" technology--like the digital video disk and surround-sound-equipped systems--that re-create theater-like aesthetics. And buyers' need for advice, custom design and installation.
"Nowadays, many consumers never set foot in a retail outlet," said Randy Patton, proprietor of Threshold Corp., a Camarillo-based maker of power amplifiers and other home entertainment components.
Instead, Patton said, a growing market of consumers consult with experts who cater to the client's specific needs, such as designing a home theater system that melds aesthetics and acoustics with the client's home.
Enter Chris LaRussa, who started a home-based business in 1995, and last week celebrated the opening of his California Sound & Video shop in Westlake Village.
LaRussa, 27, and partner, Jolie Feeney, 25, do not operate a retail shop. "We don't have a store per se," LaRussa said. "It's a private showroom."
LaRussa's customers want a system without the hassles.
"Most of my clients are not concerned with the product," LaRussa said. "I don't cater to the audiophile. The client entrusts me to put together a quality system that is simple to operate."
In addition to home theater, LaRussa specializes in distributed music systems in which music is pumped to multiple rooms in a house or business. Technology, he said, will carry the industry to other plateaus, fueling its continued growth.
While local home entertainment businesses see a growing trend toward family-oriented consumers staying home to watch movies, industry analyst Debra Smith said she thinks that overall sales are sluggish.
"If you talk about it from an industry point of view, we think the market penetration is low--there's only about a 10% saturation," said Smith, executive director of the Chicago-based Professional Audio-Video Retailers Assn.
"It should be booming; home theater is an awesome experience," she said. "And it's affordable. That's why [home theater technology] has dribbled all the way down to the mass market."