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Bringing Entertainment Home: The Evolution of Home Theaters

Sometimes, you just have to lay back in the comfortable bliss of your home theater space and feel grateful you’re living in the future. In general, home media hasn’t existed in the way that we enjoy it for very long. In fact, for some of us, our youths were full of drive-in theaters or late-night broadcasts as the only way to enjoy timeless flicks again and again.

From the fuzzy pictures of black-and-white television to our ultra-realistic 8K experiences powered by voice command, home entertainment looks a lot different these days. Let’s step back in time and take a look at how our modern entertainment options came to be.

The black and white TV era

After World War II and the Great Depression, the population in the United States shifted quickly away from urban centers. Before these turbulent times, theatres that previously housed vaudeville or newly constructed cinemas screened movies during the golden age of Hollywood. However, between 1947 and 1953, as people settled into suburban life far away from city downtowns, families started looking to home entertainment over nights out at the movies.

In 1928, black and white television began its broadcast, though it wasn’t truly commercially viable until 1938.

Color television brings movies home

In 1954, color television began broadcasting but it wasn’t accepted as a standard for quite some time. The original national standard, an RCA set with a CBS picture tube, wasn’t compatible with previously existing TVs. This set was costly to purchase and maintain for potential television viewers and since there wasn’t a mass acceptance of color broadcast yet, hardly any shows or programs were created for it.

After RCA created their own color system compatible with existing RCA television sets later in 1954, there was a more cost-effective option for the average household. However, it wasn’t until about 1966 that color TV was truly popularized.

In September 1961, an exciting milestone for home theaters was hit—somewhat recent movies were finally viewable at home thanks to the premiere of NBC Saturday Night at the Movies.  Prior to its release, the only films showed on TV tended to be older and low budget. Even with the popularization of color broadcast, most of the films shown were from the black and white era.

NBC Saturday Night at the Movies was a pioneer with many copycat shows on other networks premiering. These broadcasts proved popular and led to the creation of the “made for TV movie.”

The rise of physical media

Most of us are familiar with VCRs, but how did folks enjoy movies at home before they were invented? Well, for the average person, they simply caught re-runs of old flicks either on TV broadcasts or at their local drive-in.

Some households owned reel-to-reel projectors to run movie films, but these machines were huge and expensive, so you tended to see them more in public settings, schools, or institutions.

Videocassettes truly changed the game for enjoying media at home. Betamax and VHS clashed in the mid-70s in a format war for media dominance. Though Betamax offered higher quality, VHS was more affordable and won out.

Videocassettes allowed people of all income classes to own copies of their favorite movies at home, as well as record television broadcasts directly through their VCR. Some grew their videotape collection to an impressive scale, while others chose to frequent their local video rental store for their movie fix.

Though less prominent, most home cinema aficionados in the 1990s wouldn’t necessarily reach for VHS first. LaserDisc players allowed for crisp, clear video and high-quality audio, though the format wasn’t loved by the general public.

In fact, VHS stayed prominent as the main format for home video until the early 2000s when DVD began to see mass acceptance. While DVDs first hit the market in 1997, it wasn’t until 2008 that these discs had fully replaced video cassette tapes.

Another format war around this time took place between Blu-ray and HD DVD, with Blu-ray coming out on top as the preferred high-definition home video format. It continues to be the choice format for those who prefer to own physical media.

Of course, as we approach today, we’re all pretty keenly aware that some of us still prize our physical media collections. Blu-ray discs, especially those in ultra 4k, are the best on the market for modern televisions. Those who prefer to keep things minimal now get their media online, particularly using streaming services like Netflix and Disney+.

Bigger, lighter, smarter TVs

The 1990s saw huge demand for bigger and better TVs in the living room and home theater setups of everyday folks, though large TVs were certainly around as a luxury item in the 1980s. These CRT TVs were huge and extremely heavy.

Right as we entered the 21st century, however, TVs started to change dramatically. Relatively inexpensive plasma TVs were the first wide-scale flat-screen TVs with sizes up to 50 inches and LCD TVs soon followed maxing out at about 30 inches.

Eventually, the technology around LCD flat screens improved to the point that by 2006, there was little-to-no difference in price. Plasma TVs tried to compete by making screens that were even larger but LCD screens were brighter, more efficient, and thinner.

Today, we’re seeing home video displays that are thinner and some displays are even modular, allowing for a home theater experience that takes up entire walls if you desire. Beautiful displays using MicroLED technology can bring the movie theater home with beautiful picture quality, rich blacks, and high brightness without burn-in.

Also, instead of simple remotes from television past, TVs are incredibly smart now. Depending on the system, your TV can connect to your smart home setup, your cell phone, and access the internet for streaming music and video options.

Bringing cinema scores home

A home theater system isn’t complete without the booming sound experience of the movies. During the 80s and 90s, when the home theater movement truly took root, quality audio equipment was huge and heavy. Components stereo systems combined graced living rooms to give the family control of not only television audio, but also fed speakers sound from all sorts of audio formats: CDs, cassette tapes, 8-tracks, and vinyl records, just to name a few.

As time has moved on, home audio systems have slimmed down, simplified, and gotten as smart as their TV brethren.

The home theater of 2021 is truly a modern marvel. The next time you kick back to relax with your favorite flick before you tell your smart home system to dim the lights, take a moment to appreciate how far we’ve come with home entertainment technology. We’re finally at a point where the home experience can rival the visual marvel and booming audio of the movie theater.

Ready to build a home theater of your own? We can help. The knowledgeable staff at SCS are ready to help every step of the way, from selecting your perfect display to crafting an unforgettable audio setup. Visit our showroom or contact us to get started on your next project!

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