What Is Killing Home Theater?
Inflammatory titles are nothing but clickbait, we know that. Unfortunately, we aren’t just writing this article for likes. We are being very serious here. Something is killing home theater. In fact, it seems to be a lot of somethings.
We know that there will always be enthusiasts. Just like there are still people out there (rightly or wrongly) that say that the only car you should drive is a manual. Try to find a manual car. They exist, but they are in short supply and they generally don’t have all the bells and whistles of cars with automatic transmissions. Are manual cars dead? Not entirely. But they are being killed by people generally not wanting them. Why don’t they want them? They are more difficult to drive than an automatic. If you want all the convenience and technological features you have to buy an automatic. Heck, most models don’t even have a manual option!
The same seems to be happening to home theaters and home theater equipment. Let’s discuss some of the culprits.
The main problem with home theater has always been one of difficulty. Manufacturers have spent years and (likely) millions of dollars trying to make their systems easier. Not just easier to set up, but easier to set up wrongly and still have them sound okay. Automatic room correction and setup programs walk you through how to set up your system, where to put the microphone, how to adjust your subwoofer’s volume correctly, and even how to take the measurements.
People still find it too difficult.
That difficulty has always been a barrier to entry for most people. The inability of the manufacturers to simplify home theater has created a disconnect between what people want (a theater-like experience at home) and what they get (frustrated with a system that seems too complex).
Nothing will kill a person’s interest in a hobby faster than lying to them. Not everyone wants a home theater at first. Many times, all they want is dialogue they can understand. They’ve bought the big TV and they love the picture. But they can’t understand the words. So they do five seconds of research and discover that all they need is some speakers or a soundbar and their problems will be solved.
That’s very often not the case.
They buy the product, they set it up (with more difficulty than they expected), and it simply doesn’t work. That’s because they were sold a bill of goods that was a lie. The speakers in their TV did, in fact, suck. But the dialogue intelligibility problem wasn’t because of the bad speakers, it was because of where they are sitting.
Here they are, with hundreds of dollars out of pocket, a speaker system that is louder, and they still have to watch TV with the subtitles on. They’ve been burned by the industry and they won’t forget it.
Compounded by Lies and Lack of Coordination
The thing that really puts the nail in the coffin for many people in regard to home theater is HDMI CEC. The problem is, and always has been, that manufacturers don’t want to coordinate with each other. They want people to buy their products and not give anyone any reason to buy a competitor’s. HDMI has set out specific features for HDMI CEC (Consumer Electronics Control) but no hard and fast rules on how manufacturers implement them.
If you follow the CEC link, you’ll see that HDMI CEC has a ton of different names. On top of that, manufacturers are not required to implement any or all of those features. Plus, they don’t need to cross-test to make sure that it works as advertised.
But, let’s back up. What is HDMI CEC? In short, if HDMI CEC works as the HDMI group advertises, it means that you should be able to grab any remote and control your entire system. Unfortunately, all you have to do is search for “HDMI problem” and nearly every answer will entail turning off CEC. It rarely works as promised, often doesn’t do what it is supposed to, and many times stops working for no real reason. The HDMI Group isn’t lying, per se, about what HDMI can do. But when it really doesn’t do all the things they promise, it feels an awful lot like a lie.
Let’s not pretend that this is a recent phenomenon. Manufacturers would rather lose their business than help another. Look at all the format wars we’ve had in the past. VHS vs Betamax, Blu-ray vs HD-DVD, 8-tracks vs cassettes…the list goes on. Manufacturers seem to be incapable of working with each other, even if it means they ultimately fail.
When You Can’t Do the Small Things Right…
Home theater isn’t dead. It might never truly die. But people have been waiting for a long time for an easy-to-set-up and works-out-of-the-box system. They’ve been promised easy control via HDMI CEC. They’ve been told that any number of solutions will fix their dialogue problems. And you expect them to drop a couple of grand (or more) on a full system?
If manufacturers continue to refuse to work together to create systems (like HDMI CEC) that actually work (unlike HDMI CEC), then it is only a matter of time before home theater equipment will join the manual transmission.