Bigger is better, whether applied to the screens at the local cineplex and, of course, the Virginia Theatre, which retains the capability of projecting true widescreen cinema, as well as to your home theater. The bigger the screen you can fit into your room, the more involving and enthralling your video experience.
The concept of “home theater” began in the late 1970s as a nebulous catch-all for combining improved audio and video, often within a dedicated space at home.
At first, only the audio could be upgraded, because the NTSC video system pretty much froze video capabilities.
Even the primitive QS and SQ surround-sound systems kludged from the original Dolby Surround used in movie theaters represented a feeble attempt at emulating the theater at home.
Soon, Dolby standardized home surround with ProLogic, but only the digital technology of the late 1990s delivered true discrete surround. Since then, Dolby and DTS added more and more channels not only to the sides and rear, but even above to recreate a truly immersive experience.
Video for home theater lagged the audio. Until the universal conversion to high-definition television and affordable large-screen flat-panel TVs in the mid-2000s, the picture looked only modestly better than 30 years earlier.
I’ve viewed nearly every screen from a 2-inch Sony Watchman to a 65-inch OLED panel. In 1995, I built a dedicated home theater with a 55-inch rear-screen projection TV with a special screen panel that alone cost $1,000. The best content came from Laserdisc, which still only modestly outshone broadcast TV. That system cost over $4,000 for the TV and another $1,000 for the Laserdisc player. It was impressive, but not captivating.
Since then, a 46-inch Sony LCD, a 55-inch LG OLED and a 65-inch LG OLED have illuminated my home theater. OLED stands for organic light-emitting diode, the current pinnacle of display technology, although Samsung and Sony now have added their own special sauce to OLED with quantum-dot OLED (QD-OLED).
After a lifetime of cathode-ray-tube) TVs (even the projection set relied on them to project the video) and the NTSC television standard, my first Sony HD LCD TV stunned me. Could TV look this good? After all, when I was young, we had a 23-inch black-and-white TV, which was large for its day. Suddenly, I was viewing color TV on a screen double that size. Yet, the 46-inch Sony pleased but failed to seduce. So I moved up to the 55-inch 4K LG OLED. It almost captivated me, but I never lost sight that it was a “TV.”
Last summer, I traded up to the 65-inch 4K LG OLED. Suddenly, I found myself viewing mediocre movies just because they looked stunning on this TV. I’m dubious whether I’ll ever set foot in a commercial theater again.
The 65-inch set broke the indefinable barrier that catapulted it into the category of “immersive” and even “addictive.”
I don’t know if a 12-step program exists for TV viewing, but with these new TVs, it might be desirable.
There remains precious little true 4K content available other than over-priced Blu-ray disks and premium-cost streaming (other than Amazon, which offers some 4K content gratis to Prime members). However, the computer circuitry within these new TV upconverts a good HD 1080p source to near-4K quality. Initially, this digital trickery left something to be desired, but the newest premium TVs get it right. Thus my eyes feasted on PBS’ “All Creatures Great and Small” as well as some of the streaming on Prime and Netflix.
In the days of standard-definition analog TV, simply enlarging the picture made no improvement and caused a headache if you sat too close. That no longer applies with HD and 4K sources on contemporary TVs. Buy as big of a screen as will fit in your room, and then sit back and be beguiled and mesmerized.
Rich Warren, who lives in the Champaign area, is a longtime reviewer of consumer electronics. Email him at [email protected].