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Now Showing at the Cinerama Home Theater

Bells and whistles for the domestic audience


About the only thing Jon Edwards doesn't do is put people in touch with deceased family members. At his Sunset Studios Multimedia Systems, a high-end, hi-fi, home theater design and installation service (, Edwards is part psychologist, part interior designer, part engineer as he sorts out visual and audio system needs from broadband wiring to component selection to engineering and construction for the client in search of a very special viewing space. The process can last for more than two years, and nothing is impossible: Counterbalanced-weight equipment lift systems, two-way mirrors and camouflage engineering are part of a day's work. It's all very posh and James Bond, though Edwards' clients do cross-index with Circuit City shoppers in this respect: Everybody wants a simple remote.

How did you start building movie theaters in people's houses?

I worked in the early days of computer animation, marketing to film and television. I worked in visual effects for several years and built a screening facility in the '80s that I operated for buyers and sellers of independent films. In the process of that I was invited to install rooms into clients' homes. I've designed facilities for the studios and worked with customers in health care and conference center design, but have always had a love of the home system.

How would you summarize your service?

Sunset Studios specializes in theater systems and whole-house audio and music with a focus on new technology and new media. Fundamental in all of this is the Internet and the availability of information. The new digital television systems have the ability to display websites. We can do structured cabling in the home. Broadband can be shared by any number of computers in a networked environment. You don't have to have separate modems. It's literally a small network in the home.

You're at the rarefied high end of home theater design. What price range are we talking about?

The average turnkey system we get involved in is at about $50,000 on the low end. The high-end theater systems are up to $300,000 or $400,000. There are modular furniture systems today that take into account acoustics as well as aesthetics that are very pricey. Digital projection systems can get very pricey. When you start working with motorized lifts and things, the price goes up. While it's not as custom as it used to be, it still requires integration into the cabinetry or the ceiling structure or whatever to hide the equipment. That's very much a part of what we do. We work closely with the architects and designers.

Give us an example.

One of the most challenging involved a film distributor who wanted a system in a very modern designed space where they didn't want to see the equipment or the speakers. It's all glass all the way around. The plasma screen was built into a cabinet. We built the speaker system into the ceiling so that it's actually laminated into the drywall. We built the subwoofer into the ceiling and the subwoofer port is covered with an HVAC vent so it looks like heating or air conditioning.

What is a typical client after?

Good, better and best.

Can you elaborate on that?

Even when they say there's no budget, there's always a budget. We try to get a sense of where they're coming from psychologically in their quest for movies and music. The components want to be balanced and matched from a performance, capability and price standpoint. You're only as strong as your weakest link. You don't give very expensive amplifiers and then put contractor model speakers at the end. We try to bring a performance and cost ratio that has sense. There's a lot of really expensive gear out there that doesn't warrant the price tag.

What's the Holy Grail for the cutting-edge home theater?

A digital furnace, that's the Holy Grail. Migrating all of your source material onto the hard drive, a systems approach purchased at great expense. Systems offering the library of movies on a hard drive start at about $25,000. On the audio side, you have a component that can store up to 2,000 hours of audio. The one we've been working with is a company called Imerge. It takes your CDs and sets up a library on a hard drive. As you rip those CDs into the hard drive, it goes out to an Internet-based site called CDDB, pulls artwork and album information and puts it into the system. RealPlayer and Windows Media do the same thing, but it's not as easy to use. I've learned the hard way that people prefer ease of use to a little savings.

You keep using terms such as "new media." Are we ready for computer technology with our popcorn?

It's my belief that the future of television is going to migrate to the Internet, and programming that's called up much like a website. You have streaming media available that looks like broadcast quality television, which in the not-so-distant future will be high definition. The home theater is going to become as much a launch pad into news and information as the desktop in the home office.

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