Home Theater: What Is It Now, Anyway?
By David Bott, 10/02/12
Okay, I need to ask something here. It is something that has been bugging me for some time now. The question is, what is currently considered to be a “home theater"?
What I mean is, “home theater” use to be just that: a personal theater in someone’s home. But lately, it seems that people are using the term “home theater” to talk about anything to do with audio and video in their home. I have even heard people say, “I now have a home theater!” because they had hooked up something that did 5.1 for the first time. Now don’t get me wrong: it is great that people are doing this. For as you may know, I am all for the home theater experience and love to see it spread. But where do we draw the line on how to use the term? I personally feel that you really can't draw a line,as the term is just too loosely used at this point.
Today you can buy something in stores called a “home-theater-in-a-box.” More or less, this is a complete package which includes a single unit that acts as a DVD or Blu-ray Player, 5.1 decoder, and AMP, and it comes with a 5.1 speaker package for Left, Right, Center, Left Rear, Right Rear and Sub. I have seen these units for as little as $149 in stores such as Wal-Mart, Sears, and Sam’s Club. What happens is, someone buys a unit like this and poof, they now think they can say that they have a “home theater.” This is great, as the people who buy these packages are just starting their systems, and I hope it does not stop there for them. But it just makes people like myself cringe, as the term “home theater” simply does not mean the same thing as it did in the past, back when it meant, quite literally, a theater in your home. What I mean by that is, if you have a true home theater setup, it will actually make people remark upon entering, “Wow…you have a theater!” be it done with a video display or film projector. (Yes, I know a few people who have actually installed 35MM theaters.) I personally have a dedicated theater in our home. Now, I know that this is above the norm for most, and that it puts me in the minority. But when someone comes over and sees the room, I have actually heard some say, ”Now THIS is a home theater.” Note the added word of “this.” As in, different then what you usually hear or see when the term is used. This is what has made me think about the use of the term.
So you may be asking, “David, what’s your thought about what we may do about it? Where can we draw the line as to how the term 'home theater' should be used?” Well, as I had mentioned before, I feel like use of the term in general can't be stopped at this time -- this is the way it is now being marketed and thus widely used. But what we can maybe do is change one word to help offset the difference for actual “home theaters.” I propose using the term “home cinema” instead of the now general term of “home theater” when talking about such systems that are well above normal.
Again, I feel I must say (because my wife reminds me that I should), that I am not trying to come off as pompous or exclusive. I am just saying that the term is not the same as it used to be with all the new “in a box” items that are out there. You see, it does not mean that you need to spend $50,000 or more to have a “home cinema.” But you have to admit that there is a difference between buying a $149 “theater in box” and actually picking out components for a system.
I am all for home theater in any way, shape, or form. Maybe I am 100% wrong with my thoughts on this matter, and it is actually not an issue at all. Maybe it's just me thinking that what I own is more than a theater in a box (it really is). But when someone tells me they just bought a $149 “theater-in-a-box” and a 40" flat panel at a warehouse store and call it a home theater, I can't help but think that it is clearly not the same as my custom-built theater. That is all I am saying.
So let the term run as it is and bring more people into the wonderful world of home theater. But there is a difference -- right? Sure there is. “Home theater” is what we have all come to love. However the term “home cinema” seems more like what a lot of us strive for when we work on our systems, or decide to dedicate an entire room to this passion.