Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Which Screen?

The key to creating a great home theater, is realizing that there is no cookie-cutter model of excellence.  Your home theater should be designed to reflect your individual tastes and preferences. Not all home theaters are built for the same purpose--some are meant for families, some are meant for parties, some are meant for romantic evenings, and some are designed to combine these purposes. However, you will need to know just what you will be using your home theater for, when it comes to choosing the audiovisual equipment you install. In this article, 4seating will look at what is required when choosing the right screen size for your home theater--and as you will see, the task is not as simple as it may first appear.



The first thing to know for the novice, is that there are several screen size choices available.  The aspect ratio, which is essentially the ratio of the height to the width, will determine what kind of picture you see on the screen.  One of the most common aspect ratios is 16:9, also referred to as the sum of that division, 1.78.  Most flat-screen HDTV's are in 1.78.  Another of the most common aspect ratios is 2.4, which is used for projector screens.  It's wider than a 1.78 and fits the aspect ratio that many current movies are shot and projected in.  A third aspect ratio, just slightly wider than 1.78, is 1.85, which many other movies are shot in. 

The problem?  There is no one-size-fits-all screen, that will completely eliminate the dreaded 'black bars' appearing when you watch certain programs or films.  A 1.78 might be perfect for watching television broadcasts or certain kinds of films, but if you put in the DVD of a film shot in 2.4, you will see black bars appear on the top and bottom of the screen.  Similarly, other films and television shows shot in 1.78 or 1.85 ratios will have black bars appear on the sides of a 2.4 ratio screen. Therefore, you must choose carefully, depending on the types of programming you think will dominate the screen time in your theater.



2.4 ratio screens offer a wide, dramatic panorama that is popular with those looking to most authentically replicate the movie theater experience.  Since many current films are now shot in 2.4, this cinematic choice would make the most sense for those not planning on watching a lot of 1.78 ratio TV content.  However, the size of 2.4 screen you choose may be limited by the size of your home theater; a smaller theater will not accommodate a large screen (and the same can be said for 1.78 or 1.85 ratios).  Which leads us to the next consideration: once you have chosen a preferred aspect ratio, what will be the size of the actual screen, and how far should it sit from your seats?



The distance you sit from your screen should take into account the aspect ratio; generally speaking, 1.78 screens require a few feet further distance, as their height is more of a strain on the eyes. Beyond that, you will want to think about just how far you usually like to sit in a commercial movie theater--do you prefer to sit in the front, middle, or back?  It might actually be a good idea to gauge the ratio of your preferred seating relative to the size of the theater, and translate that to the size of your home theater.  Always keep the screen at eye level, as keeping it higher than that will result in neck and eye strain.  In this sense, the placement of your theater seats will be just as important as the placement of your screen.  

When you've done the calculations, actually sit in your seats to make sure you have the right distance, and then adjust accordingly if needed.  Finally, be sure to take into account room for outside speakers and theater curtains to flank your screen, if you plan on having them.  

Stay tuned for Part 2 in our series, which will go over choosing the right audio equipment setup for your theater.

At 4seating.com, we have the largest selection of in-stock and ready-to-ship home theater seating and home theater furniture available! We offer theater seating and design solutions for both the casual and professional home theater enthusiast.  We also have a complete line of custom home theater decor available.  



Monday, October 13, 2014

Our Halloween Horror Countdown, Part 2

In our last article, we looked at some of the greatest horror films ever made, counting down the second half (#s 6-12) of our top dozen.  In this entry, we will look at the films which made our final top six. In choosing, the staff looked at factors such as success, influence, importance, rankings on similar lists, and most importantly, sheer fright factor.  See if you agree with our picks--and if not, speak up and tell us what we should have picked!



6. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, 1968.  The first zombie flick to make a significant impact set the template for every one to follow, from the eerie look of the undead to the classic scenario of a group of misfits trapped in a house while the creatures fight to get in.  What makes the film so effective is its neo-realist tone: shot in gritty black and white with raw, impassioned performances, it feels like a home movie of the event...and there are very few of the usual theatrical cues to remind one that this is fiction.  Nearly a half-century later, the film feels like the beginning of modern horror, and can still craft a great sense of terrifying suspense.  



5. INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, 1955.  There's not a single scene of blood, guts, gruesome-looking monsters, or any of the usual horror staples here.  The 'monsters' here look exactly like the residents of any 1950s California town, and yet Invasion Of The Body Snatchers managed to tap into our very deepest, darkest paranoia, during a time when the McCarthy era was ramping up that paranoia on a national scale.  Many critics have seen the film as a veiled political commentary on McCarthyist conformity, but this is first and foremost a sci-fi chiller of the highest order.  By the close of the film, as two residents flee for their lives in the hills while fighting to ward off the sleep that they know will kill them, the sense of panicked, wild-eyed horror is as palpable as any ever evoked in cinema.  The 1978 remake of the film, starring Leonard Nimoy, gets props for being nearly as good.  This film was so important, in fact, that it also made our earlier list of the greatest science fiction films of all time.  



4. NOSFERATU, 1922.  That's right, we have the ultimate vampire film in this list twice: first, Werner Herzog's masterful 1979 remake in at #11, and now the hallowed original, which actually gains strength from the fact that it is a silent B&W film.  Director F.W. Murnau was a German expressionist filmmaker who was able to utilize light and shade in stunning ways, although it is the severe, haunted look of Murnau's vampire which remains the one undeniably iconic takeaway here. Nosferatu is recognized today as one of the greatest films ever made, but it didn't receive the same reception upon release--Bram Stoker's widow successfully sued for copyright infringement, and all prints of the film were ordered destroyed.  One copy survived, and it is this copy which made the film a cult legend. No history of horror is complete without this look at one of the very first, and greatest, of its kind. 



3. HALLOWEEN, 1978.  the top three films on this list were all strong contenders for the top slot, and we were almost tempted to put this one there.  What better film to watch on Halloween, than the legendary horror film that takes place on the holiday in question?  The film's look at a deranged, knife-wielding killer literally spawned thousands of imitators (as well as a large number of inferior sequels), made Jamie Lee Curtis a star, and made Mike Myers masks (modeled, oddly enough, on Star Trek star William Shatner's face) a trick-or-treat favorite.  Ultimately, however, the film makes this list because it is one of the very few that a majority of audiences find truly scary; the director's mastery of suspense rivaled that of Hitchcock, and when matched to its grisly subject matter, the results were electrifying.  



2. PSYCHO, 1960.  Alfred Hitchock had been a world-renowned director for several decades with a penchant for nail-biting suspense, but nothing prepared audiences for what he unleashed on them with Psycho.  When audiences first sat down, they were disappointed: the first half-hour passed by as a by-numbers story of a girl on the run, and its low-budget, black-and-white TV feel was in direct contrast to the sumptuous globe-trotting extravaganzas of earlier Hitch epics like To Catch A Thief or North By Northwest.  And then...one shower changed cinema history forever.  The film, and that particular scene, has been parodied so many times that most of us today do not realize just how shocking it was for the day: audiences screamed and fainted in their seats, with many running out of the theater.  Very few films have had the startling, visceral impact on audiences as Psycho, although our #1 pick actually had a bigger one...



1. THE EXORCIST, 1973.  Widely regarded by many as the scariest film of all time, The Exorcist--allegedly based on a real-life exorcism--was so powerful that church bishops declared that there was actual evil residing within the reels.  The first time this author saw the film, was when a local TV station was playing it one afternoon--and even in broad daylight, with the sun shining through the curtains and seen on a tiny 12" TV screen, it felt like a shadow of pure black darkness had enveloped the whole room.  Much of the effectiveness of the film was down to its groundbreaking use of makeup and audio effects; the scene where Regan turns her head 360 degrees was so shocking, that certain theaters even provided special "Exoricst barf bags" for sensitive audience members.  Even now, the film manages to frighten new generations, and will likely do so for quite some time.  

At 4seating.com, we have the largest selection of in-stock and ready-to-ship home theater seating and home theater furniture available! We offer theater seating and design solutions for both the casual and professional home theater enthusiast.  We also have a complete line of custom home theater decor available.  




Friday, October 10, 2014

Our Halloween Horror Countdown, Part 1

We all know the tradition: Halloween is the night when you gleefully stock up on lots of teeth-destroying candy, make an extra-huge batch of popcorn, and stick your favorite horror film into the video machine while listening for trick-or-treaters.  In fact, of all of the holidays, Halloween is the closest we come to an official celebration of cinema --and while frequently maligned, there is no more honorable genre to take center stage for that celebration than the horror film.  Horror films are not easy to make--it's actually kinda hard to scare people, and even harder to do it in a way that appeals to movie critics.  Many horror films have succeeded as cult classics over the decades, in spite of being trashed by reviewers when first released.  In preparation for this article, your heroic blogger has decided to re-watch many of the following films, and all of them have held up or even improved over time.  

What follows is an attempt to list a dozen or so of the most memorable and iconic horror films ever made; this was an arduous task, which involved scouring the many "best of" lists available on the internet, pouring over them and considering each entry in turn.  There are, of course, many films on these lists that we here at 4seating had never seen--we wish we could see them all, but fortunately, there were quite a few we have seen, and had a blast re-watching for this occasion.  It goes without saying that horror is an excellent genre for a prime home theater setup--especially when accessories like tray tables, wine glass caddies, and bass shakers are installed in the seats--so the idea is to sit back, get comfortable, and find the horror pick that is guaranteed to make your Halloween this year a memorable one.  What follows are the first six picks in our reverse countdown, with the final six to follow!



12. THE INVISIBLE MAN, 1933: there's something about the old monster films of the 1930s that contributes to their creepiness; perhaps it's because shadows look more menacing in black-and-white, and in The Invisible Man these shadows are aided by then-groundbreaking special effects that completely wowed theater audiences of the day.  In adapting the HG Wells novel, the filmmakers also wisely focused the plot on its main character's descent from respected scientist to amoral madman, which has an almost Godfather-like aura to it.  There are scenes in this film that are still quite chilling some eighty years later, and that's an impressive feat considering how far theater audiences have evolved.  This is definitely a film you'll want to see with the lights off and the sound on at full blast, so that Claude Rains' iconic maniacal laugh can be heard in its full glory.  



11. NOSFERATU THE VAMPYRE, 1979: Arthouse horror reached its peak with fabled German director Werner Herzog's remake of the 1922 silent film, shot in color with a deliberately slow, methodical pace.  This is a vampire film unlike any other (even its original source), where long, meditative scenes build up an overall aura of dread that slowly envelops the viewer over the course of its length.  The masterful use of silence is abetted by incredibly lush cinematography and amazing performances by Klaus Kinski and Isabelle Adjani in the main roles.  This is not the kind of film you put in if you want a slice-em dice-em horror experience; this is a film whose effect is as hypnotically entrancing as that of the vampire Nosferatu himself. 



10. NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, 1955: This is one of those films that not only appears on lists of greatest horror movies, but the greatest films of all time, for any genre.  It's also probably the greatest horror film you've never seen, as it has remained a hidden cult classic all these years.  David Lynch and the Coen Brothers owe their entire careers to this unsettling, bizarre masterpiece, and Robert Mitchum's performance as your kindly-friendly oh-so-Christian serial killer made the likes of The Silence Of The Lambs possible.  Night Of The Hunter also hails from a time when censors wouldn't allow too much blood or gore on-screen, so all of its thrills and chills come entirely from the mastery of direction and acting on the screen.  More horror films need to be made like this, now.  Scary trivia: the events in this film are based on a true story.  



9. 28 DAYS LATER, 2002: By the new millennium it seemed like everything in horror had already been done, when along came 28 Days Later to re-write the rules yet again.  The direction, with its seizure-inducing style, enhanced what was then a novel idea for your standard zombie film: what if the zombies in question actually moved fast?  When matched with its post-apocalyptic tour of England, the resulting suspense had audiences at the edge of their seat, and paved the way for an avalanche of new zombie films, culminating in the current popularity of The Walking Dead.  The DVD came with three alternate endings, each one very different from the next, so if you're watching at home be sure and check 'em out.  



8. KING KONG, 2005: The 1933 original is a legendary film classic, and Peter Jackson knew his version had to blow minds, or there wouldn't be any point in a remake.  Fresh off of his gargantuan success with the Lord Of The Rings series, he was given an unlimited budget to let his imagination run wild...and what an imagination.  The jungle creatures that infest this particular nightmare were unlike anything previously seen in cinema, and will have you squirming at the edge of your seat.  In addition, an extended voodoo sequence with possessed children haunts one long after the film is over. Of course, King Kong is also much more than a fright-fest, and the relationship between the star ape and his love is handled with unusual grace and sensitivity even in the midst of the terror.  This is one of the best remakes of all-time.  



7. NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, 1984: The character of Freddy Krueger is perhaps the most iconic in horror movie history, one that scared the bejesus out of hundreds of thousands of teenage kids in the 80s.  Let's face it: anyone who saw this film at the time had trouble falling asleep for weeks afterward, and that is surely the mark of highly effective horror.  Shot on a very low budget and taking its cue from real-life "Asian Death Syndrome"--in which refugees from Cambodia suffering from war trauma literally died in their sleep--the film rewrote the rules between fantasy and reality, blurring the two so effectively that the film's premise ended up impressing critics who normally savaged slasher films of this nature.  Elm Street is an obvious must-see, but be forewarned...

Up next: our top six.  Stay tuned!

At 4seating.com, we have the largest selection of in-stock and ready-to-ship home theater seating and home theater furniture available! We offer theater seating and design solutions for both the casual and professional home theater enthusiast.  We also have a complete line of custom home theater decor available.