Keith Yates on the Ultimate Home Theater - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 51 Old 12-17-2013, 04:29 PM - Thread Starter
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What would it take to win a contract to work on a home theater-style screening room for George Lucas? Keith Yates shared the answer over a lunch hosted at Bob and Ron's World Wide Stereo in Ardmore, PA. According to Keith, the key is not the price—there are companies full of people dying to design that screening room for free. A designer must offer something beyond mere competence.

 

What's needed is brilliance and deep knowledge of the science of sight and sound. While Keith is too modest to call himself brilliant, that's the only conclusion I can come to after examining his approach to building home theaters. Obviously, a number of people in the film industry agree—as Keith notes, he sees his clients’ product in the Oscars each year.

 

So, what was Keith—who lives in California—doing in a Philly suburb? He was here because of his partnership with Bob Cole, the store’s owner. World Wide Stereo is not just a high-end audio store; it's a showroom that features a Keith Yates-designed home-theater demo room. It is also one of six pre-certified Imax Personal Home Theater installers in the USA, with an international clientele. A Personal Imax auditorium is one of the most expensive and elite AV products there is, and Keith told me that he has designed and built numerous theaters to similar specifications over the years—since before Imax came up with the idea of selling a branded personal theater, which was eight years ago.

 

It takes a rarified skill set to get this piece of paper.

 

The demo theater at Bob’s is not a private Imax, but it is a special experience. The video was as good as I've come to expect from a top-notch 1080p system, including a 130" Stewart FireHawk CineCurve screen and a SIM2 M.150 LED projector with an autoscope anamorphic-lens kit. But it's the sound quality that was truly exceptional. Make no mistake—achieving rarified levels of sound quality is Keith's obsession. For example, when testing for background noise, he uses a microphone that costs $11,000 to measure it because many of the theaters he designs are already so quiet, and that's the price of a mic sensitive enough to give an accurate reading in those conditions.

 

This screen features acoustically transparent motorized masking.

 

There is science to back up the need for that sort of sensory isolation. In the bluntest terms, you do not want outside sounds to take you out of the movie experience—one overheard toilet flush during a quiet, dramatic scene is enough to ruin the mood. However, achieving a low noise floor is about more than merely preventing distractions—it's about triggering fight-or-flight instincts. Keith has studied psychoacoustics, delving into the elements needed to achieve that loss of self-awareness, which makes immersive movie viewing so exciting. It's about goosebumps. It is about giving the creators of a movie or TV show the best blank canvas to convey their vision to the viewer—with sound, that canvas is silence.

 

Once the viewer is lost in a movie, they experience "suspension of disbelief," which is a psychological state where you lose yourself in the story. Passive observation yields to active physiological reactions, provoking real emotions. This, in turn, provides the viewer with an escape, which is the whole point of entertainment—to escape, to be somewhere else.

 

So, who wants a multi-million-dollar home theater, aside from George Lucas? Movie and music lovers with deep pockets, Hollywood executives, politicians, and heads of industry—you name it. Sometimes, the clients are completely anonymous.

 

It is worth mentioning that the cost of an Imax Private Theater—or any high-end home theater—includes construction of the space, which involves advanced building techniques meant to physically isolate the room. Often, the challenges encountered in building such a room require skills that regular contractors don’t possess—after all, we're talking about home theaters that cost more than most homes do.

 

Tower of McIntosh Power

 

Then there's the matter of the gear itself—in the demo room at World Wide Stereo, that means 1080p Blu-ray video and audio played through over $200,000 worth of equipment. The gear includes a Kaleidescape media-management system with an M500 player as the source, McIntosh amplification and sound processing, B&W speakers, and JL Audio subwoofers. The sound was profound, so I chatted with Keith and store owner Bob Cole about the choice of gear used in the sound system. I've heard a number of elite systems this year, but this one was uniquely great. What was the secret?

 

It turns out there is no secret—it takes hard work, attention to detail, and for the most rarified systems, lots of money to get the details right. Even the doors to the theater are self-sealing and cost a bundle, and the wall-mounted acoustic treatments are applied randomly—no patterns allowed. Tolerances are tight, and every detail is accounted for. Keith pays particular attention to acoustic reflections from ceilings. He explained that the human ear is not very good at discerning height cues, and he suggested that proper ceiling acoustic treatment is one of the most cost-effective upgrades for a home theater.

 

Keith barely touched his food; all the man does is talk and think about home theaters.

 

When I arrived for the lunch meeting, Keith was busy analyzing the demo room, dialing in some final tweaks to the sound system. Like any other dedicated AV enthusiast, it's hard to get him out of the theater when he’s calibrating. Bob told me that Keith can spend days adjusting the bass—such is the complexity of his measurement and analysis system. When you have a room that meets Keith’s stringent specs for background noise levels and sound absorption, proper calibration is crucial to getting the best results.

 

Keith, doing his thing

 

Of course, the highlight of my visit was the demo. The video presentation looked great, which was to be expected when pairing a $20,000 screen with a $30,000 projector. But it would've required a 4K private Imax screen for the impact of the visuals to match the sound quality I heard. I’m talking about an $80,000, audiophile-quality home-theater sound system in a dedicated room, calibrated for optimum performance. And it blew me away.

 

Of all the home-theater demos I've experienced in 2013, this was the only one in which the sound itself seemed truly holographic and transparent. The reward for all of Keith's effort was bass that had the ability to emulate exactly what was on the screen—a door slam versus an explosion versus the rumble of thunder. These and other sounds all have a different texture that cannot be communicated through the typical one-note booming bass often found in commercial movie theaters. From a horse-race scene in Seabiscuit to the crunching and rumbling sound of Decepticons destroying Chicago, the sounds were tangibly real—suspension of disbelief came naturally, the same way it does when I'm watching a great magic show.

 

Seabiscuit made for a good demo; the sound of hooves pounding the dirt was totally believable.

 

I’ve auditioned a number of rarified home-theater sound systems this past year—the Wisdom Audio demo at CEDIA comes to mind. Nevertheless, the best AV sound I've heard lately (or perhaps ever) was without a doubt what came out of the speakers in the Keith Yates-designed demo room at Bob's World Wide Stereo. It had such an impact on me, I went home and reconsidered every aspect of my own home theater and the balance of sound that I had grown happy with—and accustomed to.

 

I can’t afford what it takes to achieve the kind of sublime transparency I experienced in Bob's demo room, but it was definitely a worthwhile experience—now I know what's possible when carefully calibrated high-end audio gear is mated with a well-designed and constructed home-theater room. When it comes to high-end installations, Keith and Bob make quite a team. 

 

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post #2 of 51 Old 12-17-2013, 06:23 PM
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and this is why the hobby is both rewarding and extremely frustrating... no matter what there's always room for improvements, and somebody else always has a better theatre that you probably can't afford. haha.

DIY can go a long way, but unless the first step involves a ski mask and a bank somewhere, you will have to accept limitations.

then again, it wasn't that long ago that I dreamed of a projector but knew I'd never be able to afford the 6 figures it would cost to get one, and now I'm on my second projector/screen and I haven't even broke 5figures on the pair combined! by the time I can afford something like the system described above though, they'll likely have systems with multiple projectors and screens that wrap around 360* paired with 30 or more speakers, haha
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post #3 of 51 Old 12-17-2013, 06:52 PM
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With all the B&W haters out there it's nice to know George Lucas, Keith Yates and I agree they are the best.
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post #4 of 51 Old 12-17-2013, 06:58 PM
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I heard that Keith was at that store. It is pretty close to where I am. He certainly knows his stuff and if I had the room and the $$$$$ I would certainly seek his help. But, that's not to be. But I am luck enough to have friends who are very knowledgeable and have helped me to get my small room sounding as good as it can.

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post #5 of 51 Old 12-17-2013, 08:04 PM
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I'd be interested to know what model of B&W speakers as well as subs. I have to admit, looking at that equipment, you could save thousands not going with overpriced Mac gear.
I'd be interested to see how this would stack up vs a Theater with Danley or similar types of HE speakers. Does all this gear need to be bought for the theater? or can you use much better bang for the buck stuff? Not that I've ever do something like this, just curious.
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post #6 of 51 Old 12-17-2013, 08:16 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bullitt5094 View Post

With all the B&W haters out there it's nice to know George Lucas, Keith Yates and I agree they are the best.

The ur-Nautilus has a lot more in common with current Vivid Audio speakers* than with current B&W's. B&W has changed an awful lot (for the worse, IMO) since then.

*Same designer, similar driver sizes and materials, probably similar voicing.

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post #7 of 51 Old 12-17-2013, 08:37 PM
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Originally Posted by fierce_gt View Post

...by the time I can afford something like the system described above though, they'll likely have systems with multiple projectors and screens that wrap around 360* paired with 30 or more speakers, haha

We're already half-way there ;)

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post #8 of 51 Old 12-18-2013, 02:15 AM
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The only time I will ever find my system inadequate is by listening to someone elses. I do enjoy reading about other systems all the same and a mighty impressive system above and interesting to see how the other half lives. I'm sure it is an awesome sounding theatre.

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post #9 of 51 Old 12-18-2013, 02:20 AM
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Great story
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post #10 of 51 Old 12-18-2013, 02:50 AM
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Good article Mark and I would really love to see and hear a setup of this caliber. The only thing I would have a hard time doing is hiding all the equipment wink.gif
Congrats on your new AVS title by the way.
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post #11 of 51 Old 12-18-2013, 04:10 AM
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Great write up Mark!
Quote:
Originally Posted by N8DOGG View Post

I'd be interested to know what model of B&W speakers as well as subs. I have to admit, looking at that equipment, you could save thousands not going with overpriced Mac gear.
I'd be interested to see how this would stack up vs a Theater with Danley or similar types of HE speakers. Does all this gear need to be bought for the theater? or can you use much better bang for the buck stuff? Not that I've ever do something like this, just curious.

While I wasn't there personally and didn't get to hear what Mark experienced, I want to agree with you Nate.

Mark, correct me if I am wrong, but I believe the subs were the F212's, right? Maybe a pair?

My opinion is that this was an extremely well executed space, but there are potentially many many more economical equipment options that could yield the same in room experience.

That said, when dealing with deep pockets, why not go with money no object gear? As a audio shop owner, that would definitely be my preferred target market.

tongue.gif

I guess we will see what kinda magic Keith will work, on a more modest budget, when he finishes Chop's design...
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post #12 of 51 Old 12-18-2013, 05:32 AM
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It really puts things into perspective when one speaker costs about 10 times my whole theater setup.
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post #13 of 51 Old 12-18-2013, 05:55 AM
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There was a boatload of home theater systems and equipment in all price ranges long before THX entered the home theater marketplace. The THX that Lucas created was to regulate commercial cinemas. Calling him the "Godfather of Home Theater" may be a bit of a stretch.

Okay, I'll finish reading now.

EDIT: Okay, done reading. smile.gif

Good article. Interesting read. I like hearing from the guys with unlimited resources and smarts. I really appreciate the little nuggets like "ceiling treatments may be the most cost-effective upgrade for a home theater". That kind of information is so much more valuable to those of us on a budget than, say "the SIM2 M.150 is really the projector you need to have if you want the best picture". Scalable tips are golden in a forum like this.

Thanks!
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post #14 of 51 Old 12-18-2013, 05:59 AM
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^^^
But at least he set some kind of standard, now if we could only get a standard for music wink.gif
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post #15 of 51 Old 12-18-2013, 06:20 AM
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^^^
But at least he set some kind of standard, now if we could only get a standard for music wink.gif

True, he did set a standard. I'm not saying he hasn't offered us great tools and inspiration, as well as content that makes you want to watch on a big screen with lots of sound. I'm just saying one line in the article may have been a bit of a stretch. The article was worthwhile, informative and interesting. That line was unnecessary and a little bit of a stretch. You don't need to sell a group of home theater enthusiasts on why someone working on George Lucas' private theater is worth reading. I think we all get it. smile.gif

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post #16 of 51 Old 12-18-2013, 06:40 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by popalock View Post

Great write up Mark!
Quote:
Originally Posted by N8DOGG View Post

I'd be interested to know what model of B&W speakers as well as subs. I have to admit, looking at that equipment, you could save thousands not going with overpriced Mac gear.
I'd be interested to see how this would stack up vs a Theater with Danley or similar types of HE speakers. Does all this gear need to be bought for the theater? or can you use much better bang for the buck stuff? Not that I've ever do something like this, just curious.

While I wasn't there personally and didn't get to hear what Mark experienced, I want to agree with you Nate.

Mark, correct me if I am wrong, but I believe the subs were the F212's, right? Maybe a pair?

My opinion is that this was an extremely well executed space, but there are potentially many many more economical equipment options that could yield the same in room experience.

That said, when dealing with deep pockets, why not go with money no object gear? As a audio shop owner, that would definitely be my preferred target market.

tongue.gif

I guess we will see what kinda magic Keith will work, on a more modest budget, when he finishes Chop's design...

Hey Austin,

The main speakers were B&W CI800, the main LCR amps were McIntosh MC 601 units, supplemented by a MC205 5-channel amp, and the subs had their own JL amps. The primary sub was a F212, supplemented by a pair of IWS (in-wall subs), again from JL.

 

Careful setup, room treatment, and calibration trumps all else—the gear itself is the most neutral element in the equation. I agree 100%, more economical subwoofer and amplification options exist that can perform at similar levels—for less money. One of the great things about an AV hobby is the sheer variety of products out there.

 

That said, the combination of high-end gear and high-end calibration was unbeatable.

 

I touched on the issue of ultra-high-end gear for a moment. What Keith and Bob like about McIntosh/B&W is the combination of performance and reliability—Porsche, not Pagani. Plus, the law of diminishing returns is already in full effect at this level—at least when it comes to amplification.


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post #17 of 51 Old 12-18-2013, 07:33 AM
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What source(s) do you play in an Imax branded room? Do they have some service like Prima Cinema?

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post #18 of 51 Old 12-18-2013, 07:45 AM - Thread Starter
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What source(s) do you play in an Imax branded room? Do they have some service like Prima Cinema?

You can plug your own sources into a private Imax theater. You could play PS4 and X-Box One all day long if you chose to. There is no proprietary service per se. Prima Cinema is more about being able to watch a movie on the day it hits theaters, you could have it as part of such a home theater system.


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post #19 of 51 Old 12-18-2013, 09:23 AM
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I'm really curious about this background noise measurement. Once the theater is constructed, what point is there of measuring non-system-introduced background noise? If he can still hear a toilet flushing on the other side of the house, is he going to tear down the room and start over?
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post #20 of 51 Old 12-18-2013, 09:56 AM
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Hmmm...I don't see one piece of THX certified gear in that rack.
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post #21 of 51 Old 12-18-2013, 10:10 AM
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Really great read.

Like many have already said on here, you can completely see how the cost of the equipment is far above what the majority of us can spend and we can spend far less to get 90% of the way there.

However it really puts in perspective how much time one can spend to calibrate your system just right when even an industry expert can spend such an extreme amount of time doing so.

This is slightly off topic but I would be really interested in what many of these experts would say about setting up an optimal multi-purpose room.

I have no interest in having a dedicated theater room because that is just one more room of a house to clean and keep nice....yes I am that lazy.

I want to build a Den/Family Room/Living room or whatever you may want to call it that is as close to perfect as possible. Musell grey walls, drop down projector screen, proper speakers...I would like to have something like some Unity Horns with an 18" woofer as main monitors or something similar...

The some good tapped horns that are built into the room to not be obvious to the eye...

Sure this isnt going to be the perfect theater but it's what will be perfect for me and the lifestyle that I want to live.

So I wonder how Mr. Yates would set that sort of system up....

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post #22 of 51 Old 12-18-2013, 10:36 AM
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I would guess measurements of background noise level are made prior to any room building whatsoever. You will then get a figure of what you have to deal with, if the room I feasible at all or not and what amount of isolation measures you need to consider (for a truly dedicated room) . This isolation part can be extremely costly if you are aiming for max allowable background noise around 15 to 20 dB.

Imagic, you wrote: “He explained that the human ear is not very good at discerning height cues, and he suggested that proper ceiling acoustic treatment is one of the most cost-effective upgrades for a home theater.” The “proper ceiling treatment,” any more info on that? In a control room for audio it is often a thick cloud of insulation at first reflection point , can also be a tapered ceiling opening up backwards with an increasing ceiling height.
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post #23 of 51 Old 12-18-2013, 12:30 PM
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Real great read. Like imagic said the space and design trumps all than the equipment just falls into place after calibration. I love to dream.

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post #24 of 51 Old 12-18-2013, 12:42 PM
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Great article Mark, as usual.
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post #25 of 51 Old 12-18-2013, 01:25 PM
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Great article but that screen looks tiny when compared to the seating and the viewing distance of those seats. Maybe it's the masking system.
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post #26 of 51 Old 12-18-2013, 02:08 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by javanpohl View Post

I'm really curious about this background noise measurement. Once the theater is constructed, what point is there of measuring non-system-introduced background noise? If he can still hear a toilet flushing on the other side of the house, is he going to tear down the room and start over?
Hi Javanpohl,

Measurements of this type serve two purposes.

1. It allows you to measure what you've accomplished with meaningful metrics. This can also be used to learn from and have reference points for future projects.
2. If you don't attain the spec you're supposed to achieve, you can proceed to determine why, and if it's improvable or fixable. There may be a range options in between doing nothing and "tearing down the room and starting over" smile.gif.

In a nutshell, it you are working towards achieving x level of performance, you want to measure the performance at the end and determine if/make sure you've achieved it.
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post #27 of 51 Old 12-18-2013, 02:23 PM
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Then there's the matter of the gear itself—in the demo room at World Wide Stereo, that means 1080p Blu-ray video and audio played through over $200,000 worth of equipment. The gear includes a Kaleidescape media-management system with an M500 player as the source, McIntosh amplification and sound processing, B&W speakers, and JL Audio subwoofers.

Hi Mark,

What equalization equipment was used?

Thanks,

David
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post #28 of 51 Old 12-18-2013, 02:28 PM
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What source(s) do you play in an Imax branded room? Do they have some service like Prima Cinema?
Interestingly, Imax bought a stake in Prima Cinema. Prior to that, they announced they were going to use a customized version of Mozaex's media server.
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post #29 of 51 Old 12-18-2013, 03:12 PM
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Originally Posted by Bullitt5094 View Post

With all the B&W haters out there it's nice to know George Lucas, Keith Yates and I agree they are the best.

one of the few 'elite' speakers I've heard and actually liked. I remember going to a local hifi shop and having a listen to some def tech's(cause they were all the rage in the mag's I used to read) and they put on a demo with some crazy towers that were about 12k and I thought they sounded absolutely awful. the next room over had some 45k b&w's that were amazing. to this day, they are the nicest I've heard(also the most expensive though too). sometimes I like to stick with my ignorance and assume anything over 5k is just a waste, but I can't remove that experience from my memory...

Displays: Samsung PN64F8500/JVC X35
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Sources: HTPC(Mediabrowser), PS3, XBOX360, Wii, Sony DVP-CX995V
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post #30 of 51 Old 12-18-2013, 04:12 PM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by GalvatronType_R View Post

Great article but that screen looks tiny when compared to the seating and the viewing distance of those seats. Maybe it's the masking system.

It's just my wide-angle lens, it tends to emphasize the foreground.


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