June 05, 2012
| by Grant Clauser
A real estate columnist writing on Saturday’s Wall Street Journal House Talk section made a profound declaration: media rooms are dead. (Note: here I use media room and home theater interchangeably.)
Well, she didn’t exactly say it in those words, but she did come to that conclusion based on the results of two real estate surveys that found media rooms didn’t rank particularly high on home buyerss wish lists. (About a week earlier we reported on CEA research that found technology—not necessarily home theater—was a contributing driver in new home sales.)
Well, of course they didn’t—that’s because any room can be a media room if you put the right equipment in it. The writer—a real estate writer, not a technology writer—makes the assumption that since people aren’t specifically scouting out homes with what she calls media rooms, then watching movies on a big screen in a basement home theater must be “meh,” in her words. One of her supporting surveys found that only 1% of home buyers believed that a media room was the most important feature of the house—as if that’s an indictment of the home theater market.
Come on, I’m in this industry as a writer, reviewer and home theater nerd, and even I don’t think the media room is the most important room in the house. After all, I’m not the only person who lives here. That doesn’t mean the home theater experience is yesterday’s news.
The author goes on to blame the basement theater as part of the problem—putting a media room in a basement is the interior design equivalent of out-of-sight/out-of-mind. Hardly. For a great example of basement home theaters check out this one, this one or this one. Just because you need to take a couple steps below ground doesn’t diminish the experience. However, she does point out that a finished attic can yield a better return on investment than a finished basement (unfortunately my attic isn’t big enough for my screenzilla). Don’t attics have bats?
She does make a good point that home electronics have gotten thinner and more living room friendly—flat screen TVs, in-wall speakers, soundbars and smaller components make it easier to install and/or hide systems in a more prominent room in the house. Lower prices, particularly among flat panel TVs, means that consumers don’t have to decide which one room will get the big TV—they all can.
So does the fact that three rooms in a house may have big TVs and sound systems mean that the dedicated media room is dead? I don’t believe that. While we do continue to see more hybrid rooms such as living/family rooms that convert to theater spots with drop down screens and automated window covers, we still hear about, and write about, a ton of spectacular home theaters. The trend isn’t that home theaters are going away—it’s that they’re branching out into other parts of the house, such as the living room and the backyard. Want to see some great examples? Then check out our Home of the Year winners here.
Addendum: I’m sorry, but I can’t leave this unsaid—one commenter on the original WSJ article stated that commercial movie attendance is rising because home entertainment quality is going downhill. Huh? I believe the argument is usually the opposite. The commercial theater experience continues to decline, while the home theater experience is getting better, more affordable and easier to achieve.
Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had audio training from Home Acoustics Alliance and Sencore. He's also the author of the book The Trouble with Rivers
. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.