Dispatches from the Home Theater Cruise
The Home Theater Cruise's high-def debates on the high seas left a good impression on columnist John Caldwell.
cruise ship
Stock photo
June 01, 2007 by John Caldwell

My wife and I recently attended the 6th annual Home Theater Cruise aboard the largest cruise liner in the world, Royal Caribbean’s opulent Freedom of the Seas. Along with approximately 300 home theater enthusiasts, manufacturers, reps, dealers and various luminaries and industry experts we cruised the eastern Caribbean for seven days in search of sun, fun and home theater treasure.

Since its inception in 2002, I’ve been curious as to what goes on at one of these cruises and why anyone would want to spend a fair sum of money on such an event. My preconception was something analogous to a “Star Trek” convention mixed with your wife’s bad high school reunion.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The cruise struck the right balance between fun, timely and useful information, great live demonstrations, illuminating discussions and dialog. Most important, it was relevant. The consumer attendees were genuine people with a sincere interest, and for many, shared a love of all things home theater. What surprised me was that all the consumer attendees had a fairly significant investment in one or two theaters of their own. In one case, one gent had three home theaters. This was a pretty well-healed bunch indeed.

From Runco’s Jim Burns’ opening presentation on picture quality on Monday to Joe Kane’s presentation on Saturday on high-def formats, and most every panel discussion or presentation held in between, there was something in it for the end user and industry type as well. You always run the risk at events that mix consumers and industry types of having the subject matter be too elementary or too far over people’s heads. While at times some of the sessions veered to one side or the other, they were for the most part informative and relevant. Q and A sessions sometimes couldn’t wait until the end of the presentation; a sure sign that the topic was a relevant.

The low point for me was the panel discussion on in-wall speakers as serious home theater components. The panelists seemed to be trying almost too hard to find ways to make the case for the ubiquitous in-wall form factor. I felt that HAA’s Gary Lamay’s initial supposition that in-wall speakers had superior aesthetic appeal over traditional speaker approaches was off base. From my experience, a growing number of end users feel that in-wall speakers have the design appeal of a heating vent or cheese grater. Hadn’t any of these gents worked with a good on-wall speaker design before?

The highlight of the sessions was having five-time Academy Award nominee and American Society of Cinematographers Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Allen Daviau, (“E.T.,” “The Color Purple,” “Avalon,” “Empire of the Sun” and “Bugsy”) discuss his body of work and how it relates to home theater. I could have listened to him all week.

During the cruise, there was a lot of energy put toward three main topics:

  1. Proper color calibration

  2. The angst and the promise of HDMI v1.3

  3. The insufferable high-def format war between HD DVD and Blu-ray

Bottom line is that with the new high-def formats and their wide color space with 1080 display devices, there is more need than ever for standards and proper calibration. The consensus on HDMI is that it’s here to stay; the industry needs to hang in there and be patient. HDMI is coming to the commercial world soon—and all suppliers and integrators will need to stay abreast of the technology.

But the liveliest discussions ensued on the high-def format war. At times it bordered on the type of smack one expects on sports talk radio. I loved it. Neither camp is about to give an inch. The consensus ranged from support both camps, to buy dual format players, to support studios like Warner Bros., who are side-stepping the war by making dual format discs.

All very nice, but none of this address the elephant in the room: the market problem of consumer adoption and the necessary critical mass for lots of content like we have with DVD. My feeling is that the two sides need to knock it off and find a way to cut a deal to work together. Fast. Too many people now have a high-def monitor or projector, but lack an adequate supply of good high-def content. The vast majority will sit the war out and wait to buy. And that’s not a good thing.

The HT Cruise featured several hands-on live demonstration areas. My favorite was the constant height 2.35 Cinewide demo by Runco. It showed conclusively that the future of home theater is decidedly 2.35 in shape. We are now at the stage where we have everything that a commercial theater has in terms of viewing angle, audio and video technology ... sans the sticky floors and bad seats.

So why does anyone, be they end user or home theater professional, attend a Home Theater Cruise? Cruises, and this one was certainly true to form, have always been associated with other hedonistic pursuits. Lots of booze. Lots of food. Lots of great entertainment. Lots of sun and fun exploring foreign ports of call. Mixing this with the hedonistic pursuit of home theater makes perfect sense. You spend the most time studying and learning most about the things you care the most about. Congrats to hosts and organizers, Gary Reber and David Bott.

And did I mention that it was a great excuse for a vacation?

John CaldwellJohn Caldwell is a 28-year grizzled veteran of the A/V business
and co-founder of StJohn Group, Inc.

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John Caldwell - Contributing Writer, St John Group, Inc
Caldwell is a 28-year grizzled veteran of the A/V business and co-founder of St. John Group, Inc.

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