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Friday, 25 January, 2002, 08:32 GMT
Turning the living room into a cinema
Children watching television, BBC
The TV set is the focal point of many living rooms
BBC Go Digital's Jon Wurtzel casts a wry eye over developments in the world of technology

Home theatre was one of the big pushes at the Consumer Electronic Show held in Las Vegas earlier this month.

Corporations like Sony and Microsoft are creating a range of products specifically for the home theatre.

This includes huge plasma-screen TVs, video projectors, gaming systems, surround-sound speakers, and integrated home-networking systems that seamlessly combine your entertainment devices and the internet.

Simultaneously, companies like Moxi Media and Tivo are working with satellite and broadband providers to offer all-in-one digital entertainment hubs.

Groovy bachelor pad

In order to sell these products, these companies need to market an image of what their devices can do and the lifestyles this technology will enable.

Click here to tell us whether you would turn your living room into a home theatre

One of the most familiar, if dated, ways of selling the home theatre is through the image of the groovy bachelor pad.

Hugh Hefner and Playboy models, BBC
Hefner: Model for a giant love den
In a giant love den - think Hugh Hefner's Playboy mansion - the stylish swinger can seduce by pressing a remote and have the right music play, movie come on screen, curtains close and fire turn on.

More recently, the loft apartment has figured prominently in electronics industry ad campaigns.

These former industrial spaces provide the domestic template to play and party with vibrant new interactive technologies and entertainment products.

Domestic space

But, this is a complete inversion of the way most of us actually live.

Most American homes, not to mention those throughout the rest of the world, are not architecturally laid out to include home theatres.

Rather, they are domestic spaces where the main socialising and media experiences occur in the appropriately named living room.

Nor is entertainment the be all and end all of our domestic lives.

In trying to convince us to purchase and install home theatres, the technology and consumer electronic industry is attempting to sell more than just their products.

They are trying to get us to change the way we think about and name our living spaces.

HAVE YOUR SAY

Would you give over your private space to this vision of home entertainment? Click here to return

When will the world realise that a TV screen is a one-way communication medium that kills domestic interaction: the root of what forms our social skills. Why would anyone want to trade a vibrant and communicative living space for such an introspective and selfish experience?
Leslie Powell, UK

Bigger flat screen on the wall, like a painting. Interaction with the internet, and using a PC on that screen. That would be fantastic!
Ímer Humbaraci, Germany

Quite frankly, I've got better things to do with my life.
Stuart, UK

Ditch the telly and all that hi-tech stuff. Listen to the radio or read a book instead. You'll learn more, be more relaxed, have more time for your family and get more done around the house. You may even get out more! Now, that is what I call life improving.
C H-L, UK

The home cinema explosion is a great advance. I've had an surround sound system for the past eight years. My wife and I regularly sit down to watch the latest DVD with the same audio and visual quality as being at the cinema, without the distractions and in more comfort
Liam Quinn, UK

I find it incredibly depressing that technophobes insist on believing that bigger and better televisual home entertainment leads to a world of socially inept zombies. Like just about any pleasurable human activity, some will over indulge at the expense of anything or anyone else, but the vast majority will continue to derive beneficial pleasure and education from the nation's number one past time. Surely reading a book on your own is far more unsociable than watching The Blue Planet with your family, or discussing the ludicrous lives of the Eastenders with colleagues.
ChuckleZ, UK

Yes, of course I would want to get the sharpest pictures, crisp sound and all other things so that I can enjoy the benefits of a hi-tech cinema in my own home.
Ashok Solanki, UK

We are hoping to have an extension built this year and one room will be used primarily for home entertainment.
Belinda Sims, England

Definitely yes. Not only for entertainment, but also for learning more about everything.
Jiri Cejka, Czech Republic

Although I just redesigned and changed all rooms in my house, plus the fact that we are watching two to three movies in the video per week, we kept the home theatre setting as discrete as possible with small and discrete speakers. Big TVs and speakers should only be accommodated in a dedicated room and not in the living room. There are better things to do than watching TV or even arrange our way of living around the TV.
Dimitris, Greece

With flat plasma screens and small satellite speaker systems, I don't think it's necessary to turn over your living room to accommodate it. When the price of new technologies drops to a less ridiculous level, we may well see large scale consumer take-up of these products.
Nick Rice, UK

Right now I own a 46" TV. It is connected to my 200W stereo and Playstation. I can tell you, that's the way to relax after a hard work in the office.
Antonio, Spain

TV and home theatre are not the way forward in domestic entertainment. Full-body interactive "leisure suits" are the future. There are few such products currently available, and there is a certain stigma attached to them, but this change as the benefits of such leisure are more broadly recognised and the technology, practicality and hygiene of the suits improves.
Gordon Treasure, UK

With discrete projectors and plasma displays, the fantastic experience of home cinema need not intrude on the domestic living room. In fact the new technologies are such that our living spaces can spend more time as areas of interaction rather than organised around the bulky box that is the cathode ray tube. I'm all for it and as someone who has a set up at home it makes it real fun just to stay in with the family.
JB, UK

I can only see technology becoming more integrated into our lives. Already we are seeing digital television, the Internet, DVD and MP3s converging to form 'entertainment hubs'. Soon this will be available throughout your house at an affordable price. www.automatedhome.co.uk is a good starting point for those eager to learn more about these exciting times.
J Hoye, UK

I don't know about the full cinema experience (I couldn't afford the 65 inch screen). But I'd definitely be interested in computerised entertainment system. The ability to automatically record favourite TV programs to hard disk, and also play different electronic media in an all-in-one unit would be a godsend!
David, UK

In my lifetime, the word for the room has changed, from parlour - where one talked - to sitting room - where one sat - to lounge - where one, well, lounged. When I want to watch TV or a film, I want the best experience possible. But when I want to talk with friends, read a book, or play with the children, I want my "family room" to support that. Make the entertainment experience great - but don't make it dominate.
Mark Harrison, UK

Living spaces in the UK are designed with the family in mind. The living room complete with chimney breast and fireplace has been the single most annoying feature in a household. Televisions have always been bulky and intrusive, forcing the owner to push it into the corner. Plasma screens, flat speakers, miniature hi-fi devices do not detract from the way we use our living space, rather, they increase space, functionality and the ability to recreate a room into a more useful space. The fireplace no longer is a problem for those of us with budget in mind. I cannot afford a house without this feature. My dream of a perfect rectangle room is no longer that important. I do not think this vision of the future would ruin anyones living space. The new techno rooms of the future are already available, and they give the owner the most usage out of a small space because of these devices. Imagine your living room without the bulky TV or speakers, without the full size stacked hi-fi, without the computer in the corner. Why would replacing these devices with newer flatter and better quality innovations be considered a "giving up of private space?"
Simon Kelk, England

Do some people think that if the standard of their receiving equipment increases, that the standard of the broadcast content will increase?
Jon, UK

Most definitely not, my lounge is the centre of my house for interaction with each other and to turn it into an entertainment area would make it an unsociable area to be in as your main attention would be on the screen and not on each other
Robert Rennie, England

I already have a 42 inch plasma TV linked to stereo, SVHS recorders, DVD player and digital satellite TV. Don't have surround sound yet too many wires draped around. Awaiting the obvious drop in price of DVD R/W machines. Soon there will be one in every PC. Those old TV's now paradoxically appear to have a tiny screen yet seem to occupy more space than my new Plasma. Odd how perspectives change, it is always very difficult to go back to older outdated equipment.
Philip Keable, England

I'm in the fortunate position of doing most of this already! The hardest trick is to "hide" the technology so the lounge doesn't become a pile of boxes and wires. Thanks to some of the more realistic manufacturers I've managed to hide the bulk of the technology away. Most of the time we use a conventional 16:9 Sony but if we want the full "cinema experience " we have an Infocus video projector. The result is - superb. Particularly for us people in the sticks with a fifty mile round trip to the nearest decent cinema.
Paul C, UK

The entertainment suite is a good idea but I do not thing the regular consumer will want the TV to dominate a room. The cinema experience would be great when watching the TV or movie but space rather than clutter is always best.
Michael Giles, England

I wouldn't give a room over to a home cinema system. At the moment in the living room there is a modest 32" widescreen TV, two DVD players (region one and two), Playstation, digital TV, video. Just because they are there doesn't mean we watch them 24 hours a day, in the same way that having a car doesn't mean I drive everywhere, my family have the luxury of watching a film in comfort, when we want to.
Jon, UK

I love movies. But it is hard work dragging my partner to the cinema as he is not a great one for going out- so the idea of having the cinema at home is a good one for us! So I am now saving up for that 46" plasma screen and associated stuff.
Hilary Morris, Wales

Can I just ask people, when do they watch this stuff? I have no kids and a small house and still have no time to sit down and spend hours watching my non-widescreen, non-digital, barely-stereo 21 inch TV. And when I do have time there's nothing on. So no, I won't be buying one.
DCT

I am an average 30-something married man with two kids and a mortgage. We have a 43" flat screen TV, a DVD player, several very tiny hi-fi speakers. (Cables set in the walls). We have hundreds of DVD's, a Sony Playstation, Sky Digital, hundreds of music CD's, thousands of MP3's, two desktop PC's, one laptop, all networked, three mobile phones, internet connection, a web cam.- we use this as a video phone to speak to family all over the world for free... I really could go on and on. But I think you get the picture.

This little lot must put us in the home entertainment bracket. But guess what? All my family know were the off button is, we know how to take ourselves off to the park with a ball, we know how to pick up a book , We visit people, we have people over, we go the pub. We do plenty of things away from all this "entertainment" So my question is this. Why do people think if you have all this gear you have no life?
Jay Jennings, UK

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See also:

12 Dec 01 | Sci/Tech
Digital power in your hands
01 Oct 01 | dot life
Turning on to interaction
04 Dec 01 | TV and Radio
Designing TV for granny
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