Friday, March 28, 2008

Have Video Will Travel

Audiophiles are forever resentful when state-of –the-art video technology become their despotic overlords. Have we seen this coming?

By: Vanessa Uy

Ever since George Lucas tackled the problem of insufficient sound quality that exists in an overwhelming majority of commercial movie theaters not doing justice of the "soundtrack" i.e. the musical score and sound effects of his masterpiece “Star Wars” back in the late 1970’s. By establishing his THX program and together with Dolby, finally made a new dimension available to the moviegoers – namely good quality sound. I do admit that most horror movie’s “scariness factor” can be dramatically increased when the desolate sonic ambiance of a quiet cemetery or a haunted house can be faithfully recreated inside a movie theater. Thus the excellent results of George Lucas’ THX program was hijacked by the consumer electronics industry to sell their “Home Theater” concept. Maybe “Home Theater” is much easier to sell because the consumer electronics industry can’t figure out how to include pimps, hookers, and cocaine peddling drug dealers when they tried to sell us “Home Disco” back in the late 1970’s.

Despite concerns over high electricity consumption and the ensuing enlargement of my personal “carbon footprint”, my personal disdain – make that cynicism – over the “Home Theater / Surround Sound” industry is largely to my very personal tastes and aesthetics. Most of the “multimedia stuff” I watch domestically are what a majority of people would consider “old”. To be watching a DVD of that old Frank Sinatra version of The Manchurian Candidate or an episode of Coronation Street just four feet in front of a 3,000 dollar 150 inch plasma screen with a THX certified surround sound system is a tad too overkill for me.

The audiophile community has since harbored resentment, not only because the home theater industry made their hobby more expensive than it actually is. But also by actively – I mean actively - perpetuating the fallacy that a good audio system must / should have a large video monitor that costs similar to a budget Japanese car and is surround-sound capable with speakers littered all around the listening room. Now, the pimps, hookers, dealers, and junkies (even Osama Bin Laden?) can now come to your home via the state-of-the-art video monitor. Ok, I’ll admit that it’s a technological “Stepping Stone” to Star Trek: The Next Generation’s “Holodeck” technology. But should we the consumer foot the bill for these companies R&D development? We’re not walking banks you know.

In my opinion, the consumer electronics industry has been exploiting the “video bandwagon” for one thing only – it sells. So if your selling a bona fide “Luxury Item” that most people can really do without, you should exploit the sense that they use most even if not conscientiously – their vision. Video monitors sell so easily because overwhelmingly most people use their sense of sight more than they use their sense of hearing. The “latest technology” catchphrase being used as a unique selling point describing the improved quality of the video monitors that these companies are selling are easily manifest by sight alone. The old adage of “to see is to believe” really applies when it comes to touting the improved quality of the latest models of video monitors that they are trying to sell.

The only thing that bothers me though is the way today’s consumer electronics “marketing men” use the old adage of “to see is to believe” in perpetuating the myth that sound quality is unimportant. They rely on oscilloscopes and PC compatible audio analyzers to show – or make visually manifest - how excellent their latest audio amplifiers perform. They do this even though a tube-based amplifier using technology form an era when Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower was still the president of the United States is more beautiful and real sounding than their latest model. Home Theater as a concept is really great, but it can’t quite compete yet with this thing we call “real life”.