Theater Xtreme Mixes JVC, Marantz & Klipsch For A “Grand” Experience
This is the final installment of a six part series featuring Theater Xtreme’s Unique “Room-in-a-box” approach to custom home theater. To review earlier installments click below:
The Palace – Part 5
The Majestic- Part 4
The Stadium – Part 3
The Residence – Part 2
Introduction to Theater Xtreme and The Vignette
by Richard Ravarino
The custom home theater market is typically the consumer electronics equivalent of a trip to a Ferrari, or a Rolls Royce dealership. Snob appeal? Absolutely. Credit check? Not necessary. . . But please show us your American Express Black Card or Chase Sapphire at the door!
You don’t typically walk into one of these places, concerned about the price of their products. You walk in knowing what you are after and in the end, you are more concerned with a seemingly effortless customer experience – finalizing things with a flawless, smooth, professional (and personal) transaction. You don’t walk in looking to “work a deal” in one of these places. The price is simply the price.
But what if you could “work that deal”? What if the sky was the limit, but “reason” was still in play?
You might end up with a system, like Theater Xtreme’s “Grand” Theater.
With today’s advanced technology the “sky” is now within your grasp, starting at $20,000.00. An unheard of price for a flagship theater and with many “custom” competitors, this isn’t even a starting point – try $30-40k! Theater Xtreme not only promises that they can deliver their flagship system to your house for this price, but that includes full service installation, set-up and calibration. Theater Xtreme owner Marshall McKinnon says, “We would rather work the volume of 50-100 average price deals, than lay claim to the bragging rights on a handful of ‘super’ deals”.
This attitude towards volume and price-point conscious systems, has McKinnon’s customers attention. Many of whom live in Draper, and the nearby affluent communities of Sandy, Highland and Alpine, Utah – Exclusive areas where the gloves could easily come off and the gauntlet could be throne down – “But to what end?” asks McKinnon.
“Put another way”, McKinnon continues, “We would rather have a few hundred customers at the end of the year that are raving fans, that will tell their neighbors about their experience with Theater Xtreme, than a handful of “exclusive” customers that tend to keep to themselves.”
But that isn’t to say Theater Xtreme isn’t interested in the “super” deal, its just that deal is not the focus of their business. They will happily sell you their entry-level system (at only $8,000.00), if it fits your needs and for many it will.
“The Grand” is definitely in a different league and the $20,000.00, if this falls in your budget, is very justified. It is defined by its brilliant video projector, the audio system and its ease of control and throughout this article, we will examine each aspect, as its promised at sticker price, but also other options – if we allow ourselves to dream. . .
Miserly Movie Magnificence
Starting with the JVC DLA-X30, the centerpiece of “The Grand’s” video system. The JVC “X30” is one of the top-rated projectors on the market, at a relatively inexpensive $3,500.00. This projector displays a picture so natural, that you’d think you were watching a film at a movie house. There is nothing that screams “TV” about it – Even when watching TV.
JVC has made a name for itself due its legendary contrast ratio, but it may be surprising to hear that those amazing black levels and 1,000 shades of gray that this projector displays so remarkably, are rated at only one quarter of the level of the Epson 6010 that we discussed in the last installment of this series.
Yes, the JVC’s contrast ratio is only 50,000:1; while the Epson brags a contrast ratio of 200,000:1. What gives! Right? That was my question as well. First things, first.he: There are no smoke and mirrors being used here. The Epson IS a fantastic projector. The 200,000:1 contrast ratio is completely legit. It’s just not the same. . . It’s like comparing an apples to oranges, as opposed to another apple.
While Epson (along with Sony, Panasonic, Sharp and others) use what is known in the industry as dynamic contrast ratio to express their numbers, which crosses the entire bandwidth (from blackest black, to lightest white). Meanwhile, JVC uses what they call negative contrast ratio, which simply measures black level. Because of this the typical contrast ratios on projectors with a negative contrast ratio will range between one fifth and one tenth of numbers reflected by companies that use the dynamic contrast ratio numbers.
So what does this mean to me?!?
Well according to Chip Ormond with JVC America, he states, “It means the greatest possible contrast between light and dark. As an example, take a scene from a movie where a group of people are gathered around a campfire, behind them is a range of mountains lying in shadow and above that a beautiful star-lit sky.”
Ormond continues, “Well on our projectors, not only will you see the brightness of the fire, the folds of the people’s clothing gathered around the flames (and the detail of that clothing where it lies in shadow), but you will see the brilliance of all those stars in the sky, as well. On many a projector that uses a dynamic contrast ratio, you will catch the brilliance of that fire and maybe a few of those shadows, but that starry night will be washed out in the black of the sky except for the brightest stars, if the stars aren’t missing entirely.”
It’s a subtlety that sets the JVC projectors in a class by themselves and one that may not be fully appreciated, without this long-winded dissertation. And while we are on the subject of comparisons to the Epson 6010, let’s talk lumens. At least in this department, there is a national standard and there is what everyone else uses. JVC gets this one right.
Since the 1990’s when cathode ray tube projectors were still the best around, about half the home theater market talked lumens, but the half that wanted to be taken seriously talked ANSI-lumens (American National Standards Institute). JVC’s X30 comes in at a respectable 1,300 ANSI lumens and yes, by comparison the Epson is still brighter. However, rather than the 2,400 lumens Epson brags, when measured in ANSI-Lumens the 6010 only comes in at 1,600 ANSI-lumens or about 20% brighter.
If you are still asking what this means to you, Theater Xtreme’s McKinnon will ask you, “Are you installing a dedicated theater, or does this room suit more of a multi-purpose?” and that is a great question, because if the room is anything but a dedicated theater, the Epson is probably a better choice. The Epson’s picture holds up much better than does the JVC’s with the lights turned up.
However, if this is a dedicated theater room and you are serious about your movie watching, the JVC stands high above the Epson and there is simply no comparison and if you still have budget available to possibly move beyond “The Grand” as packaged. JVC still has two big brothers to the X30 that provide some interesting features, for a price.
Four Thousand Reasons to Upgrade (er hum, 3,840 reasons)
JVC’s DLA-X70 brings you into the exciting world of 4K, well sort of. . .
“4K” for the uninitiated is like having a 1080p picture – Times FOUR. Literally, it is (1080×1920) x 4 and this is today’s standard in commercial theaters with digital projection. However, on the “homefront”, things are a bit more confusing.
First things first, a disclaimer: Home Theater 4K DOES NOT officially exist. . .YET.
BluRay is still the media home standard of choice and where most consumers would probably not rush out to buy a movie spread across 20 or more BluRay discs, you can see where it might take a while for true 4K to be a home reality. Frankly, even by download, a 4K movie would span multiple terabytes of information. It is just not practical with today’s technology.
That said, if you remember the era of the Faroujda line double (and later quadrupler), that is kind of where 4K is today.
In the case of the JVC X70 and X90, the true pixel count is actually 3,840 x 2,160 (which is really only double 1080p, or 2K as a cinematographer would refer to it). However, if you understand how JVC accomplishes their 4K e-Shift technology, imagine that each pixel you are viewing is actually being split into 2 pieces (and then shifted down), giving you a picture that allows you to literally sit twice as close as you would, than say with the X30 or Epson 6010 and NEVER see a pixel.
Now, in a hyper critical moment, we can pick JVC apart for re-defining 4K, which in the film industry is generally accepted as a format with 5,120 x 2,700 pixels (of which only 4,096 x 2,304 are visible – the rest add to the depth of field) or roughly 9.4 megapixels. But what they have done is to brilliantly take advantage of the above figure of 3,840 and market it as 4K. . . Am I complaining? Absolutely not! But the folks at Wolff and Sony don’t like it one bit.
They offer ultra high-end projectors that truly do offer the “home standard” for 4K at 4,096 x 2,160 and at over three times the price of JVC’s X-70. Obviously, this adds some confusion to marketplace and yes, you probably get what you pay for – but isn’t “confusion” where we started (with the break down of negative contrast ratio vs. dynamic contrast ratio)?
Four Thou$and More Rea$ons. . .
Personally speaking, the JVC DLA-X70 (1200 ANSI-Lumens, 70,000:1 contrast ratio) is probably the best “bang for the buck” projector, delivering 4K in the under $10,000 category (coming in at only $7,995); and for its big brother – the X90 (which weighs in at $11,995) the main difference is a process of hand selection and balance of the X70’s lenses, (the top 10% of optical lenses are withheld from the line, to create this projector) which yields an additional contrast ratio of 50k:1 (for a remarkable 120k:1), but still at only 1,200 ANSI-lumens. This lower light level is by design, it lowers eye fatigue over lengthy viewing sessions and also helps maintain longer bulb life.
Also, with the X90 your warranty is extended to three years and the 3-D emitter is built-in and two pairs of 3-D glasses are included in the box. You can export your users settings to a PC, for safe-keeping and quick re-load after service.
While this may not sound like much of a difference for an extra $4,000 according to JVC’s Ormond, the difference is “stunning”. Keep in mind, even at $11,995, you are still at less than half the money you would spend on the $25,000 Sony model that “you would have a hard time telling them apart”, according to Ormond.
In the world of today’s high-end audio-video receivers, its not an easy task staying on top and for every new feature that is here today, gone tomorrow it’s nice to know that Marantz stays their hand and usually doesn’t add features, just because they can. They stay their hand until the feature is industry accepted before applying it. This methodical approach may seem as no frills as the front of Marantz SR-7007, but what Marantz gives up in flash, they gain in simple elegance with nothing more than a volume knob, a source selection knob and a digital readout window giving you current settings. It’s a sleek design that has come to be expected by Marantz customers, with its brushed aluminum finish in matte black, it seems the perfect audio source accompaniment for this theater room, drawing on its moniker the Marantz is nothing less than “Grand”.
Coming in at 125 watts per channel (.08%THD) you might expect it to be underpowered, or even possibly noisy with a higher than normal THD, but Marantz does not pad its numbers as some do (by limiting frequency range in testing). . . It is what it is, and what it is, is beautiful. The SR7007 features Marantz proprietary HDAM (Hyper Dynamic Amplifier Module) circuits create a stunning image of what is available from today’s power amplifiers. This current feedback technology provides exceptional audio quality that Marantz customers demand – that all customers should demand of a receiver at this price point ($1,899.00).
The Sr-7007’s 125 WPC are as crystal clear as amps I have heard at 200WPC. The vocal delivery across the soundstage, is an auditory pleasure. Not too sharp (except when need be), and even the quietest whisper can still be pronounced, proving the clarity and overall power of these amps.
As far as video processing goes, the Marantz has a total of seven different HDMI sources for input and three HDMI outputs (two of which can be run simultaneously, if you want to centrally locate all components). Beyond mere switching it also is fully capable of 3-D and 4k passthrough, as well as a 4k up-convert capable of 3,860 x 1,920 (the same as JVC’s e-shift 4k). It is also complemented by three component and four composite video sources and an additional four audio inputs (two each optical/coax).
Now a good receiver is nothing without great speakers to showcase them and the audio system in “The Grand” does not disappoint. Contained within her mighty walls are the Klipsch flagship system, the Ultra-II THX.
This 7.2 system hides each of its seven mains in the walls of your theater, while the two subwoofers are the only true presence to the room, each ready to pounce like cornered lions (and with equivalent roar).
While its an old industry adage that THX speakers never sound as good as general stereo speakers, these Klipsch monsters do a nice job – especially for an in-wall.
Considering these speakers narrow 6” cavity, is all they have to produce the sound they do – I would rate these as an exceptional music speaker. Once again, they are built as theater speakers, so with THX’s rigid limitations you aren’t going to get a perfect stereo image, but the sound is dynamic, sweet and clear.
As home theaters go, this system misses nothing! The Ultra II brings a frequency response to the homefront, so dynamic, so phenomenal that once the lights go out you aren’t quite sure you didn’t leave home. Perhaps the best compliment I could give these speakers, is that I usually have a substitution I could recommend, or something at least that would bring something to the table from a different angle – I don’t. This is it! They leave me flabbergasted!
Home theater speakers aren’t supposed to sound this good. The timbre and frequency matching from speaker to speaker is like nothing I have heard before in a home theater – let alone in an in-wall. Not only do they equate the full sound of a commercial theater, they may in fact, eclipse it!
“One Ring To Rule Them All”
When you put together a system this good, you don’t stop short of the goal with a cut rate control system. RTI, URC are among some of the best in the “magic wand” business, but when you come to a theater of this quality you need Control 4. When you start your movie, you don’t just want to start the BluRay player, you want the lights to drop. You want the A/C at a comfortable 72 degrees. You want the doors locked (as you don’t want to be disturbed and don’t want to fret over security). You set the security. You can even monitor your sprinkling system.
If you can imagine it, you can probably control it with Control 4. Plus, you aren’t stuck with the “magic wand”. You have the ability to control your system from your iPad, iPhone, iPod or Android device. Personally, this should not be an after thought if you have reached this budget level. It should be an integral part of how you design your theater and possibly your whole home. Modern control systems like Control 4 offer far more than just volume control or changing the channel. They round out a well designed system with an air of professionalism that you would expect at this budget level. Anything less, would be uncivilized.
Canadian company Palliser has made a name for themselves as a world-class sofa and sectional manufacturer since 1944, but in the mid to late 1990’s, they saw the rise of home theaters and their increasing presence at home shows nationwide and internationally. It was shortly afterwards they started to develop their “theater seating” line-up.
Today Palliser theater seats are the standard in the industry, with over 25 lines of theater seating (with 100+ leathers and 200 fabrics) and matching configurations for each. They custom fill each order to your own specifications. “The Grand” represents two lines of these seats, the Rhumba (on the front row, pictured right) and the Media (back row) with the ability to plug in laptop table attachments and an iPad stand ($49 each, add-on).
Both chairs are appointed in 3,000 grain leather and amply overstuffed, with a wide berth across the seat, at times they can feel more like a King’s throne than a simple theater chair. These seats are as comfortable as any chair I have ever sat in and I could go on raving, but suffice it to say – I am a big guy (around 300lbs.) and a lesser chair will cave under my weight.
Whether, it be a pocket of stuffing that doesn’t want to give, or a rogue spring that doesn’t want to play well with others, my weight will usually bear out the shortcomings of a poorly built chair. In the case of the Palliser line, as a whole, I have no complaints. In the case of the Rhumba, just throw a blanket over me – I’ll happily sleep there! That is the kind of comfort for which I describe. These things are best experienced, not described.
Although the pricing of the chairs is not priced in to the $19,999.00 price tag of “The Grand”, I admonish you not to overlook this add-on expense. At $799.95 each ($99 more with power recline), they are not inexpensive. . . But once you sit in them, you will realize they are not overpriced either.