The result: a warm-toned room with peach-colored walls framed by cherry wood molding. The Berkline Dream Seats are rich burgundy leather, the carpet is wine-hued and patterned, and more wood paneling encases the speakers that surround the projection screen.
The gear includes a 123-inch Stewart Filmscreen screen, a Sony SXRD front projector, a Pioneer receiver, a Panasonic Bluray Disc player, a TiVo HD DVR, and a set of Klipsch speakers. (See "Equipment Breakdown" on the next page for full list.) An entry-level remote control from Universal Remote makes the whole system easy to operate - even by Gary's wife and kids. "They all come down," he says. "My wife has done viewing parties while I'm at work. They watch movies I couldn't stand, like The Secret Life of Bees. Sometimes I'll come home and my kids are down in the home theater."
Gary's biggest problem right now might be deciding when to watch something in the theater as opposed to on the 58-inch Panasonic plasma in the great room upstairs. "If it's appointment TV, we usually end up down here," he says. "I've been watching American Idol up there because it's just okay. But we're a very big Survivor family, so we come down here to watch it together, and it looks so amazing."
Tonight's big clip party will be the pu-pu platter of screening-room content. Or, as Gary announces to the seated crowd (see "The Guest List" for who's who), "I'm going to show some scenes from some movies that I like. I have Blu-ray, TiVo, DirecTV, and Vudu, so we're just going to go through some of the stuff I watch, and it's just for fun. We're going to start with the first ever Blu-ray Disc I watched in here."
"Ooh! Memory Lane!" shouts Vinnie Favale.
"Mammary Lane," Gary snaps back.
That first Blu-ray winds up being Tom Hanks's Cast Away, from which we watch the epic plane-crash scene. While the video quality is good, the audio is outstanding - the room rumbles an 8.0 on the Richter scale.
End scene. Applause.
"Amazing! I've never seen it like that," Vinnie says.
I ask Gary, "Can they hear this upstairs?"
"Yes," moans Gary's 14-year-old son, Jackson. "But it's not as loud as I thought it would be."
The evening continues with more scenes and more comments from the Penis Gallery. Watching a scene from Lost and the opening to Survivor using the TiVo DVR, everyone is stunned by the saturated colors. ("Gary, this is amazing!") Gary next rolls a battle scene from the Flags of Our Fathers Blu-ray Disc to demonstrate complex audio effects. We then do an A/B comparison of an NCAA game on CBS using both the DirecTV and Cablevision/TiVo receivers. "Watch the reflections on the floor," coaches Mettler. And sure enough, as we switch from Cablevision/TiVo to DirecTV . . .
"It's not as vibrant."
"I'm a little disappointed."
"You know, I never A/B'd it before like that," Gary observes.
Next, we watch The Dark Knight both on Vudu's new HDX format and on Blu-ray. Upon playing Vudu:
"So far, I haven't seen anything with true, crisp blacks," says Scott DePace.
"I think the Vudu looks awful," notes Craig. "A regular DVD looks better."
Then, the Blu-ray version:
"This looks much better. You can tell!"
"The metal blades are much shinier."
"This picture is spectacular."
And now, the restaurant-shooting scene from The Godfather:
Vinnie: "Look at the reds in that."
Scott: "Shut up, you don't know what you're talking about."
Vinnie: "F--- you. You direct f---ing radio."
Other highlights: scenes from this year's Grammy Awards (cable/TiVo); the car sing-along scene from Step Brothers (Vudu); a baseball videogame, by way of Jackson's PlayStation 3 (plugged into an HDMI auxiliary jack in the back of the room); an Eagles concert (cable/TiVo); and Fleetwood Mac's Rumours (on DVD-Audio).
The party's over. Gary asks, "So what was the best part?" Comments include, "Music was incredible: the Fleetwood Mac." "The Grammys looked great. Lost looked really good." "There was a noticeable difference between the two Dark Knights."
Scott adds, "My biggest critique of the projection overall is that the blacks are just not dark enough. Now, on a plasma, you get much darker blacks, but then you get all the reflection bullshit to deal with. So this, the largeness, is what does it for you. You sit down and you think you're in a theater. And it is great. I would choose this over any theater I've been to."
As for me, I sat on one of those stools - er, sorry, chairs - through the whole event, and I was perfectly comfortable (especially while grazing). Still, I confess: Had I not decided to be a test monkey, I would have gone for a leather lounger. But definitely keep the stools and counter, Gary. They're much better at snack time than TV trays.
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