Why Don't They Love Us?
Regular readers of Home Theater have heard me espouse, maybe once or twice too often, my belief in a broad definition of what makes a home theater. At the risk of repeating myself, perhaps verbatim, it’s not about how many speakers you have, how expensive your electronics are, how big your screen is, or whether you own a front-projection system. Got a soundbar with a 40-inch LCD? That’s a home theater. If you’re listening to high-performance headphones while watching a movie or TV drama streamed to your computer monitor (and a lot of college students do just that), in my book that’s a home theater. If you’re paying even minimal attention to the sound in an attempt to have a more engaging experience; if whatever gear you’re using enables you to get more fully lost in the viewing experience than if you just plopped down in front of the TV, you’ve got a home theater.
There’s been a lot of talk lately in the consumer electronics industry about home theater becoming passé. One manufacturer told me recently that the mainstream media isn’t interested in reporting on our industry’s core products anymore, even those that are designed to appeal to a mass-market audience (such as soundbars). These days, if it’s not a gadget that fits in your pocket, an app you can run on your phone to stream something, or a pair of earphones with a celebrity tie-in, it’s just not news and not worth making noise about.
Why is that? Again, I’m repeating myself here, but I’ve never met a single person whose face didn’t light up when he or she sat in front of a big screen TV or projector and really heard a movie for the first time outside of a commercial cinema. HDTVs keep getting bigger and cheaper, while the speakers in them grow less adequate to convey what’s really in a movie or prime-time soundtrack. There has never been a greater need to spread the good gospel of home theater to our friends, family, and the general public, and there have never been more box systems, soundbars, powered speakers and other inexpensive solutions to fill the home theater needs of the non-enthusiast.
As a veteran CE journalist, I think the enthusiast trade press takes some blame here, along with everyone else responsible for promoting the concept of home theater: manufacturers, retailers, and our industry trade groups. There’s been little in the way of successful effort to discuss and demonstrate lower-end solutions that speak to the mass consumer, defined as inexpensive, easy to install, and simple to operate. Here at Home Theater, we give plenty of ink to high-performance gear but have tended to shy away from using our experienced eyes and ears to explore where the value lies among the cheap stuff.
If you’re a steady reader of our magazine or visitor to our Website, you may recognize some small signs of this changing. We’ve started out by adding a smattering of reviews of lower-end audio gear and TVs at HomeTheater.com, but in upcoming issues of our magazine we will also reintroduce soundbars after a hiatus, and we’ll be covering more inexpensive audio receivers as well. Our newest issue (September 2012), just hitting newsstands, features the first review of an all-in-one home-theater-in-a-box system we’ve run in quite a while.
Is this a sign that we’re going bottom-fishing and abandoning our enthusiast roots, or are done exploring the edges of high-end performance and that middle ground where most of our wallets live? Absolutely not. But if our philosophy is to be inclusive, to spread the gift of home theater far and wide, then I do believe we can and should be all things to all people on matters pertaining to home theater, as our name seems to suggest. We will continue to do the Ferraris while we nod to the Corollas, just like the car magazines and Websites do. And for every shopper who picks us up at the newsstand or visits our Website and ends up with a better sound system or a bigger TV they might not have purchased otherwise, I’m convinced a little bell will ring up in home theater heaven.