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Workaholics Discovering All the Comforts of Home Theater

April 26, 2001|LEE CONDON | leecondon@aol.com

As a design engineer for Broadcom in Irvine, Maneesh Goyal spends most of his time at work. With the commute from his Hermosa Beach condominium, most nights he doesn't get home until 10 p.m.

With little free time on his hands, Goyal rarely gets out to see the latest movies. Driving to a movie theater and coping with parking and other hassles are the last things he wants to do in his free time.

So he decided to build a home theater in his living room.

"I wanted to be able to sit on my own comfortable couch as opposed to going out," Goyal said. "I don't go to the theater anymore."

Home audio/video specialists say workaholics like Goyal are driving a boom in the home theater market. Recent advances in video and audio technology have made it possible for them to re-create the theater experience in their homes.

New video projectors and speakers that operate with digital technology have come on the market at cheaper prices. For example, a digital light projector costs about $10,000, compared with the $50,000 cathode ray tube projectors found in older media rooms and typically only in very expensive homes.

At such stores as Circuit City, there are now home theater sections where salespeople help customers design a whole system for their homes. Typically built around large-screen televisions, the systems go for $3,000 to $5,000, including stereo, DVD and VCR equipment.

Goyal spent about $30,000 on his system, which was created by Ambrosia Audio & Video in Bel Air. The home theater trend has transformed the business model for Ambrosia, which has clients who spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on media rooms.

"Until three years ago, half of our business was two-channel stereos. Today, 90% of our business is home theaters with distributed audio and video," said David S. Weinhart, owner of Ambrosia. "I can give you better sound in your home than what you get in a movie theater."

Despite not having much space to work with, Goyal has done his best to duplicate the movie theater experience in his living room. Though many people would settle for a 55-inch large-screen television, Goyal wanted something bigger. He bought a 110-inch custom-built screen from Torrance-based Stewart Film Screen, which makes screens for multiplexes across the nation. Unwilling to have a large screen dominate his living room, he had Stewart and a contractor build an elaborate James Bond-type contraption. The screen is hidden in a 2-foot-high compartment built along an exterior wall in his living room. With a push of a button on his remote control, the massive screen rises, covering one wall of his living room.

"My first concern is I wanted it to look good. This is my only common space. I didn't want the TV ending up taking a lot of room," Goyal said. "If I'm not watching TV I can just make it disappear."

He also purchased a digital light projector, which hangs from the ceiling at the back of his living room. The projector is about one-fifth the size--and the price--of the cathode ray tube projectors that were once the home theater projectors of choice. Weinhart said the CRT delivers a slightly better picture than the digital projector. But most customers will go for the digital light projector because of the price break and compactness.

New technology and the demand for home theater products are bringing prices down, Weinhart said. He showed off a pair of speakers with five-way digital sound. The $45,000 price tag might seem high, but a few years ago, Weinhart said, speakers of the same quality would have cost $200,000.

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Lee Condon is a freelance writer.

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