A screening room as good as the Arclight?

Home cinemas that outshine the movie houses

Home cinemas have thrown the theatrical experience for a curve.

Curved screens, the kind that haven’t been seen since the days of Cinerama, are the newest innovation in custom-built screening rooms.

Brad Wells, principal of Westwood-based Bradford Wells & Assoc., says he’s already building a curved-screen home cinema for a client and expects it to be completed early next year.

Curved screens fell out of favor in commercial theaters more than four decades ago. While they provided a more “theatrical” feel with the sense that they enveloped the viewer, they were a nightmare for projectionists and, eventually, audiences.

The original Cinerama demanded three projectors, each responsible for a third of the screen. Later, filmmakers shot in a format called Ultra Panavsion 70, but the flat image didn’t always mesh with the screen. Viewers at the back of the theater could best appreciate the effect, while those closer to the front perceived the bottom portion of the film as playing on the carpet.

However, Wells says the advents of digital cinema and new lenses mean his clients can enjoy a curved screen’s depth perception and theatrical “pop” without the drawbacks. “We’ve been talking about doing this for years,” he says.

He estimates that a curved screen adds perhaps 20%-30% to the price of his theater-sized screens, which are at least 15 feet wide and cost $10,000-$20,000.

Curved screens are only the latest improvement to a home cinema experience that now stretches across multiple income levels. Even Costco sells a home theater package that includes a ceiling-mounted HDTV DLP projector and a 7½-foot screen for $3,500.

Interior designer Kerry Joyce expects that the price for spectacular image quality will only go down. “In five years,” he says, “it’ll cost $500.”

As technology becomes more affordable, that only makes room for ever-more luxurious appointments. In some recent home theater designs, Joyce upholstered the walls and seats in mohair, a durable fabric that was used on old movie theater seats, with matching “kidney pillows” to support the lower back.

Other touches include stadium seating, speakers hidden behind fabric paneling, recessed lighting and pinpoint spots to illuminate the remote controls that guide the entire experience, from lighting to sound to the curtains that part to reveal the screen.

However, Wells may be on the cutting edge once more when it comes to what clients will spend. He recently completed a $1 million screening room (no, it’s not in Los Angeles), the biggest private commission he’s ever received.

“They brought in woods from all over the world, there were two or three trips to France for fabrics and for the chairs,” he says. “The craftsmanship was like a yacht, but it was inside a home. And as soon as I got back, I had an email from him thanking me. He said they had no idea they would have ever experienced anything like that.”

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