When I was a little kid, I told myself, “If I ever have enough money I would like to have two things: fruit trees in my yard so I can pick and eat fresh fruit, and a home movie theatre.”
Since anything green seems to die in my presence – I think I even killed some plastic flowers – I have not put much energy into the fruit trees. I once had a banana plant in east Austin but a freeze got it. My local grocer will have to do. The world has made home theatres much more possible.
Many years ago I got “into” big projectors, which throw a beam of light onto a screen like at a movie theatre. For years I watched VHS movies and regular broadcast TV that way. I also shoot my own video, and have worked in every format: VHS, S-VHS, 8mm, Hi-8, MiniDV, and now High Def. Projectors have kept up with this progression.
At the same time, formats for prerecorded movies and documentaries also moved from VHS to Laserdisc to DVD and now, finally, Blu-Ray High Def. Since the main competitor, HD-DVD, threw in the towel a little over a year ago, high definition lovers don’t have to worry about “which format” to us. The last remaining need is the ability to record and save high definition broadcasts (I guess you can do it with HD DVR’s but you can’t really archive all the shows you would like; there are storage limits that need to go away to make a “collector” like me happy.)
So why I am talking about all this now? Because now, after all these years, I can finally watch movies at home and come amazingly close to a real theatre experience. Of course nothing is the same as seeing a movie on a big screen, but I can really wow folks – and myself – with Blu-ray discs and high def broadcasts shown on my 8’ home screen. There are lots of great projectors out there – I use a Panasonic PT-AE2000U which has been superseded by the 3000. They sell for under $2500. The Panasonic has by far the best picture of any of the several projectors I’ve owned over the years. The colors are stunning, there are no lines or “screen door” or pixel effects, the blacks are black (as opposed to gray), and the whites are white. They say the 3000 is even better. I also hear great things about the JVC projectors, and there are many other good ones out there. Often Optoma offers excellent value. A great source of reviews and information is www.projectorcentral.com.
But what makes my home theatre really “cook” is the great content available. The most stunning images usually come from live sports and other live broadcasts, because they have not been processed or stored and are coming, pretty much, right from the camera to my screen. So you see every drop of sweat, every dimple, every play on the field (or car in the race for us racefans).
Above all else, I love movies. Especially big, colorful, sweeping epics. For the first several months they seemed to keep the Blu-Ray factories busy turning out current movies and recent action flicks, which are okay but they are no Lawrence of Arabia. And many of the movies on Blu-Ray would be just as good on old-fashioned DVD.
But finally some of the all time great films are coming out on Blu-Ray. While “Lawrence” isn’t out yet, the Wizard of Oz, Ghandi, Amadeus, Casablanca, Snow White, and The Last Emperor are now available on Blu-Ray. Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest just came out this week. Goldfinger and Woodstock – classics to someone my age – came out earlier this year. Most of my favorites – including Fantasia and Spirited Away, two of the best-looking animated films of all time – are not out on Blu-Ray yet, but I am sure they will come.
The “fine cinema” producer Criterion Collection is beginning to make their best films available on Blu-Ray, and international and avant-garde producer Kino is starting soon. Planet Earth, PBS, and others are also entering the fray. If you really want to be visually blown away, get the Blu-Ray on the Galapagos! And I love the time lapse movie Chronos. There are also a lot of great and classic music videos coming out on Blu-Ray.
My bottom line is that, for those of you who have been holding back, now is finally the time to get on board. Video and film of all types are pouring out on Blu-Ray.
I don’t think the player you get makes a big difference, but get a nice flat screen TV or projector. And pay attention to your sound system – the most under-estimated part of a good home theatre. A good surround system will make all the difference in the world! (I use mainly Onkyo equipment – you get a lot for your money – and some killer JBL speakers.)
You still need to get out to a theatre once in a while, and smell the popcorn, but you sure can have a wonderful and theatre-like home experience if you put the right system together.