Movie Buffs Take Entertainment Home

You'll never again have to wait in line as a pimply teenager rips your ticket to Freddy Got Fingered. There's a new cinema in town.

Or, rather, in your living room.

"People are bringing the theater right into their own home," said Alan Hutchinson, president of, which specializes in home theater accessories. "Some have back-lit marquees, some have popcorn machines, some people decorate their basements or living rooms like theaters."

It's a trend that has some Americans glued to their seats. You don't need to be a media mogul or jet-setting millionaire to enjoy a little bit of Hollywood in your own home. With the cost of DVDs plummeting, a day at the movies might soon just mean going downstairs.

"The cost of the equipment is so reasonable, plus the economy was good the last few years, that people are running around more and they like to come home and have the convenience of having movies in their own house," Brian Schmidt, of Advanced Installation in Howell, N.J., said. "But it's even better than the movies, because it's in your own house."

Schmidt has been specializing in home theaters for the last six years, fixing up as many as 80 homes with personalized cinemas every year.

And if there's one cardinal rule to home theaters, it's this: "There's no such thing as overboard," he said.

One client is shelling out $100,000 to outfit his 27-room home with theaters that will center around three 106-inch, drop-down screens.

But your average family doesn't need to go all out to have a satisfying home-theater experience, Hutchinson said.

"It's hard to watch Titanic on a 27-inch TV," he said. "But with surround-sound speakers, people can now reproduce movie quality in their living room or basement. Just put up some movie posters, maybe a 36-inch TV or more, maybe a popcorn machine. One of the biggest sellers I have [costs] as low as $360.

"For $2,000, $3,000, you can go as far and wide as you want."

Beside the movie posters and popcorn route, Hutchinson's clients have added such theatrical details as leather recliners with cupholders, elevated theater-type row seating and even velour ropes and red velvet curtains.

"One- or two-income families are saying, 'Hey, this is kind of a fun idea for the basement,'" he said. "It's a media room or bonus room where we can hang out at night and bring the family together."

The only losers, he said, may be pinball fanatics in the family.

"I think it's a decision of whether you want a game room or a home theater," he said. "And home theaters are winning out over Ping-Pong tables or pinball machines where you play it a couple times and never use that stuff again. With home theaters, you can use that a couple nights a week."

For Robert Sussman, a Manalapan, N.J., sock wholesaler, the movie room was a way to make use of a neglected living room. Now the 13-by-22-foot space is decked out with a 50-inch Hitachi TV, screening-room-style leather recliner seats, the kind of dimmable wall sconces you might see in the high-end theaters of yesteryear, Dolby Digital sound, and soundproof walls.

"There are nine speakers in the room," Sussman boasted. "It's quite the sound. And football season hasn't even started yet!"

As a lifelong movie buff, Hutchinson sees his relatively modest home theater in Chicago as a ticket to the classics he never got to see on the silver screen.

"I just (saw) Lawrence of Arabia," he said. "You can't see it in a movie theater it just can't be done. But if you have it on DVD, you can watch it in widescreen just as David Lean intended."

Respond to the Writer