What if you could roll over in bed and hit one button to close the shades and play your favorite movie on what was a plain wall moments before? With new technologies and decreasing costs, such home entertainment options are becoming a reality for more people.

Automation, invisibility and online connections are all trends in home electronics. Home theaters are being installed in more rooms for more purposes, including playing games with friends across the country online or downloading music to play throughout the house via iPod. But while entertainment systems become more interconnected and popular throughout the house, their operation and display is only becoming simpler.
 
Larger Pictures, Hidden Designs

Whether it’s for a favorite sitcom, music video, or video game, viewers want television screens that are large but don’t intrudeinto their living space.

“We live in a flat panel television world and everyone wants the biggest, flattest screen they can find,” says Josh Lisman, president of Entertainment Solutions, which has locations in Rookwood and Crestview Hills.

Rick Bell, owner and sales manager of Aesthetic Home Audio Solutions Ltd. in Liberty Township, said longer-lasting LCD television screens are becoming even more popular than plasma screens, but the trend is still toward flat. Video projectors, which only require thin screens, are also becoming popular.

“In the 80s it was like, let me show off my big amplifier,” says Bell. “On 90 percent of the jobs we do (now), the only thing you see is the speakers and the television.”

“Nobody wants to really see the gear anymore,” Lisman says. Instead, equipment is disguised; a screen can become a simple frame on the wall or be hidden by a drop-down piece of art or a mirror.

Screens and speakers can even become invisible with products such as Stealth Acoustics, high quality speakers that are inserted into drywall and painted over, or projectors that only require special light-absorbing paint on the wall to display a quality picture.

Such invisibility requires extra work and isn’t for everyone, Bell says, but can be worth it if you have the budget.
 
Home Theaters

As the price of some electronic technology comes down, home theaters are becoming an increasingly popular entertainment option. With screens sometimes large enough to project life-sized images, recliners for seating, and advanced surround systems, some home theaters can even rival traditional cinemas.

However, home theaters aren’t just for basements; Lisman has installed them in bathrooms, kitchens, bedrooms, and screened-in porches. Outdoor theaters are more popular in warmer climates, but they aren’t unheard of here. “A lot of the stuff (equipment) … is already weatherproof,” Lisman says. “We’re just using it for different applications than the manufacturers originally thought of.”

Lisman is even planning one home theater for a pool that includes transducers in the water that will create waves to correspond with movie sound effects. Such a project requires a homeowner who is passionate about entertaining and who wants to have something no one else has, Lisman says.

Bell said another trend in home theaters is setting the theater off in a separate room instead of incorporating it into a living area. This trend, already popular on the west coast, allows homeowners to design and theme such rooms so walking into them gives the impression of walking into a real theater.
 
Connecting to iPods, Computers

Just as movie-watching is no longer just for the basement or living room, people are enjoying music through interconnected audio systems in every room and outside it as well.

The iPod has revolutionized the way people think of music and play it in their homes. As Lisman says, “It’s all about the iPod,” and increasingly more people want to integrate them into their home theaters or throughout their houses.

While families can enjoy the same playlist, they can also each incorporate their own iPods into a home audio system. “(You) can connect up to six different iPods in different parts of the house,” Bell says.

However, more use of Internet services that allow monthly subscribers to access millions of songs and those services, which eliminate the need for CDs or iPods, are also becoming more popular, Bell says. Today’s gaming consoles also come with online capabilities, and players can download games for a monthly fee.

Online connections to home theaters or televisions are becoming a must for those who want to watch Internet videos and play online games on a bigger screen. Home theater owners can even hook up their laptop to the large screen and work on it that way.

“Tying your system into the Internet is a very rewarding experience,” Lisman says. “With the advent of … Windows Vista, they’ve really geared the PC to be a home entertainment system.”
 
At the Touch of a Button

Forget the days of changing the input and settings on your DVD player and TV and adjusting the volume and lights before you settle in to watch a movie. Today’s automated remotes can be programmed to take care of all those factors with one button. Owners can program buttons for “Watch a movie” or “watch television,” eliminating the need for multiple remotes and settings changes. Newer automated remotes even have touch screens for more customization, better visibility and ease of use.

Bell says many people assume such remotes will be complicated and difficult to use, but even a novice can use one easily once it is programmed.

The programming usually requires an expert, which can cost anywhere from $200 to $10,000 depending on the complexity of the equipment being installed, Lisman says.

Lou Hamilton, owner of Audible Elegance stores in Montgomery and Florence, says buyers should consider factors such as the cost and ease of operation and maintenance of equipment before rushing out to buy new technology.

“You can have systems that do amazing stuff but cost $1,000 to program a single piece,” Hamilton says. “To the average person, chucking out $1,000 to change a remote because you changed your DVD player is not really palatable.”

Lisman says quality of equipment and ease of use is paramount. “If you spent 10 grand and can’t get it to turn on, it doesn’t matter how much you spent,” he notes.