Today's home theaters deliver the multiplex experience

  • Article by: MARILYN KALFUS ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
  • Updated: July 5, 2014 - 2:00 PM

Bigger screens and new technologies bring the multiplex experience to home theaters.

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Karen Freedman of Brentwood reclines in her recently built home theater. The theater includes PRIMA Cinema, which allows home theater owners to watch first-run movies the same weekend they debut at the multiplex. (Ed Crisostomo/Orange County Register/MCT) ORG XMIT: 1149482

When “August: Osage County” came out in December, Karen Freedman didn’t have to fight the holiday crowds to see Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts. Nor did she have to pre-order a DVD and wait.

Freedman watched the movie while settled into one of 16 reclining ultra-suede chairs in her new home theater, with a top-of-the-line projector, a giant screen, gold-plated sconces and neat piles of candy boxes hidden behind a wall panel.

“It adds to the excitement,” she said of being able to play a new film from a premium service that makes it available to home subscribers at the same time it debuts in commercial multiplexes. “We invite friends over for movie nights.”

The Super Bowl and shows like the Academy Awards tend to spur home-theater upgrades; this year, there also was the Winter Olympics. And it helps that the real estate market, along with the demand for pricey new toys, is on the rise again.

“It’s an incredibly cool time to be in the home-theater business,” said Dave Pedigo, a director at the Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association, whose members design and install home theaters that can cost millions. “We made it through the storm, which was the housing market crash.”

Now, he said, “we’re getting to the point of another series of breakthroughs that will make watching a movie in your home unlike anything you’ve ever experienced.”

Here are some of the latest ways that well-heeled film buffs, sports fiends and others are tricking out their home theaters and media rooms.

Imax at home

Mega-movie giant Imax Corp. installed its first signature curved, wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling screen in a home theater in Los Angeles in November.

The cutting-edge system, including 4K ultra-high-definition technology — four times crisper than high-definition, or HD — and laser-aligned surround sound, starts at $2 million.

As in its commercial theaters, The Imax Private Theater uses a high-resolution, dual-projection system to accommodate 3-D. The company says the audio system collects data from individual channels for daily, automatic calibrations.

Imax screens in movie theaters are up to 118 feet wide and 82 feet tall. For its home theaters, a 20-foot-wide screen is required, and the space must be able to accommodate at least two projectors that are 5 feet tall, 2 ½ feet wide and 4 feet deep in a separate area from the screening room, said Rob Lister, chief business development officer for Imax.

Some homeowners may erect a separate building specifically for the home theater, as was the case with the one installed in November. But typically, there’s no space crunch.

“We’re catering to a fairly elite crowd who generally do have enough space within their existing home — or they’re in the process of building a new home,” Lister said.

The company works with architects and interior designers and decorators — and clients have their own demands. Lister said a “culinary aficionado” in Arizona wanted to be able to see his Imax screen while cooking. “We have literally designed a wall that descends into the floor and can be lowered when he’s in his kitchen, so he can look into his theater from across the house,” Lister said.

A major impetus for creating Imax home theaters was the company’s “big deal” screening room in Santa Monica, where director James Cameron and other major moviemakers go to screen their films and make adjustments to remaster them into the Imax format.

“It was really in there we had that creative spark — why can’t we create something like this for somebody’s home?” Lister said.

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