By Jerry Del Colliano
With over seven billion people living on Planet Earth, only a few hundred have the privilege to own a Bel Air Circuit home theater. The Bel Air Circuit is a tight-knit group of Hollywood insiders who not only own state-of-the-art D-Cinema screening rooms at home, but also have the studio connections to get movies delivered day-and-date to their homes for their consideration, viewing pleasure or just techno-bliss. The Bel Air Circuit isn't limited to Hollywood, but the vast majority of the people who are part of it live somewhere near Sunset Boulevard, likely behind gates, and can throw one hell of a party around a new movie. If a new James Bond movie comes out on a Friday, Bel Air Circuit members have it at the same 4K resolution (over 400 percent more resolution and billions more colors than measly 1080p HDTVs) in their homes with the ease of a phone call or email to the studio. Wanna catch up on Academy Award-nominated movies "for your consideration"? Hollywood insiders historically can get the movies on DVD even if they aren't out on home video. Now, with a Bel Air Circuit screening room, these insiders get the movie the way the director intended it for their consideration right in your home.
Today, movie studios rake in record amounts of money at the box office, but it's easy to see how having day-and-date movies in your home is the realization of the concept of home theater and a whole new market for Hollywood that is nearly unlimited. I know what you are thinking: what does it take for me to get this level of audio-video cool in my theater or on my 1080p plasma TV? If you are aiming to get a Bel Air Circuit system into your home, you need to start by investing in a professional-grade, D-Cinema theater from an approved dealer like Beverly Hills-based Simply Home Entertainment. Roughly speaking, including a 4K professional projector, a large-format video screen of easily 15 feet or larger, 7.1 speaker system, electronics, booth construction, lighting control, seating, acoustics, video calibration and acoustic tuning, you are looking at somewhere between $400,000 and $500,000 for your theater room. Then you need reach out to the studios to see if they will accommodate you with day-and-date films. If you aren't a director, producer, studio executive or somehow otherwise related to the industry, and/or know enough people who actually have Bel Air Circuit theaters, this isn't likely to be a fruitful endeavor. It's the home theater version of inviting yourself to play at Augusta National for a round of golf. You never really invite yourself; a member asks you. There are only a few AV custom installation firms that specialize in the Bel Air Circuit and most of them know how to tactfully guide you through the politics needed to get this ultimate level of AV cool.
So what do you do if you aren't one of the few hundred people who have the Hollywood pull to get movies in 4K from the studios? You might not be in the Bel Air Circuit club, but you aren't completely out of luck. Products like those from Prima Cinema, a company partially owned by IMAX, offers limited access to day-and-date movies from studios like Paramount and Universal. The movies are offered day-and-date, but at 1080p resolution, which is currently the highest resolution that most mainstream consumers can handle. A consumer version of 4K called UltraHD is coming in 2014, but broadcast and Blu-ray standards have yet to be established, so 1080p is currently the penultimate video standard for consumers, at least for the next year or so. The catch with the Prima product is that its opening price is $35,000 for the component and upwards of $500 per movie downloaded. While that's a lower barrier to entry than a Bel Air Circuit theater, it is one hell of a premium over a $19.95 Blu-ray disc in 1080p, released 90 days later at the same resolution. Streaming options from the likes of Apple's iTunes, Netflix, CinemaNow or others are even less money than Blu-ray, but don't offer even a fraction of the quality of Blu-ray, let alone UltraHD and/or 4K, which is four times more resolute than Blu-ray with billions upon billions more colors.
So what do you do if you don't have the Ari Gold-like connections to get on the Bel Air Circuit and you aren't spending $35,000 on an AV component that also charges you $500 per movie, but you want to experience the holy grail of home theater? You could ask for a studio tour on a trip to Hollywood, as some movie studios have this level of screening rooms for their executives, but it's hard to get access. You could try to get a pass to the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this January, but that's limited to the industry, and much of what is shown there are products that are to be released in the future. One thing you can do is to base a vacation around your penchant for the best in home theater. The Thompson Hotel in Toronto has a killer screening room that's used practically nonstop during the Toronto Film Festival. Would the hotel screen something cool for you and your best buddies? You bet it will, at a price that is far less than building your own screening room.
Right now for most people, the best option is to stay tuned while new video technologies get established. UltraHD needs a broadcast standard for both cable and satellite, as well as a Blu-ray standard. In 2008, the consumer electronics industry didn't exactly put its best foot forward with 3D as a "wow technology" at a time when the real estate market concurrently tanked. UltraHD, while not ready for primetime in terms of content, is here in terms of televisions being sold in stores already. Should you buy one right now? No, not yet, but soon it will be time to get in on the next big advance in TV. Sony sells its UltraHD HDTVs today with a server that can download movies in this amazing format, but don't try to use this under-$1,000 server on a Samsung, Panasonic or LG set, because it only works on a Sony set. Camera-maker Red has a product called a Red-Ray that is basically a server designed to stream 4K content, which comes from people with their cameras, into your UltraHD-based theaters. The Red "store" isn't yet ready to put much content in your hands, but it will be someday soon and at a price that is more in line with the cost of a movie ticket than a Bentley.
Stay tuned, because your next television is going to be drastically better than what you own today.
Jerry Del Colliano is the publisher of HomeTheaterReview.com, HomeTheaterEquipment.com and AudiophileReview.com; he is also the CEO of Luxury Publishing Group Inc. based in West Los Angeles, California. He has been a professional in the specialty consumer electronics business for more than 20 years, both as a publisher and in ultra-high-end system design.