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7 Movies and Albums to Showcase Your Entertainment System

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Once you’ve built the perfect home entertainment system, you’ll want to have your friends over to take it for a test drive. Take one of these movies or albums for a spin, and you’ll be able to fully appreciate what you’ve put together. 

1. Lawrence of Arabia

Director David Lean’s 1962 epic is a gigantic movie, and at 227 minutes long you’ll have more than enough time to impress everyone with how spectacular it looks on your TV. While it may be over five decades old, Lawrence has stayed in good shape. The film’s 2012 revamp began in 2009 and came in the form of a meticulous 4k restoration personally overseen by Sony’s executive vice president for asset management and film restoration, Grover Crisp—so you know it’s a big deal. The new version of the film boasts over 8 million pixels to showcase Peter O’Toole’s piercing blue eyes and ghostly white robes in the film’s sweeping desert sequences. More than 320,000 frames were scanned and restored one by one over the course of three years, and it shows. 

2. Inception

While not as classically epic as Lawrence of Arabia, director Christopher Nolan’s 2010 mind-bender Inception is epic nonetheless. For the film’s ridiculously awesome zero-gravity hallway sequences featuring actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, which look gorgeous on Blu-ray, Nolan went analog. Instead of using elaborate computer generated effects, Nolan’s 500-member crew built an entire hotel corridor in a WWI-era plane hangar outside of London. One aspect of the set turned 360 degrees on a gimbal to portray the scene’s disorienting gravity, while another was built vertically in order to drop the actors who wore wired harnesses that were eventually erased in post-production. The single sequence took three full weeks to complete. 

3. Dark Side of the Moon

When you’ve got the visuals down, it’s time to show off your speakers, and what better way to do it than by throwing on Pink Floyd’s moody prog-rock classic Dark Side of the Moon! When listening you may think you’re going a little confused, especially because voices constantly pop in and out throughout each track. Don’t worry. Those voices are actually employees and random people who happened to be at Abbey Road Studios while the band was recording the album. Band members Roger Waters and David Gilmour would stop people and randomly pose questions like “When was the last time you were violent and were you in the right?” to people at the studio and record their responses. In fact, Paul McCartney himself was among the people informally interviewed, but his voice didn’t make it onto the album. 

4. Avatar

Avatar’s groundbreaking special effects look almost too good. Instead of waiting around for technology to catch up with his vision, director James Cameron invented new 3D technology so the effects and the world of his film would look as real as possible. His specially-made stereoscopic cameras are basically two cameras strapped together, but the basic rig is used to shoot 3D images that mimic the way the human eye sees those images, giving it a depth and a reality that was 15 years in the making for Cameron. All that tinkering literally paid off for the filmmaker—Avatar holds the title for the highest grossing movie of all time. 

5. Bohemian Rhapsody

Let’s face it, everybody has tried to sing along to Queen’s indelible 1975 song “Bohemian Rhapsody” at some point in their life and spectacularly failed. It’s a complicated song, and one that will give your speakers the best workout possible. The song was recorded in six separate studios over a four month period in 1975, and the operatic layers of voices needed in the song featured an unheard-of 160 separate analog tracks of vocals dubbed together. You can’t say they didn’t try.

6. Planet Earth

Technically it’s a TV series, but the BBC’s groundbreaking nature documentary Planet Earth is a sight to behold on any TV screen let alone a movie screen. Filmed over a five year period and entirely in high-definition, the filmmakers went to great lengths to bring audiences astounding views of the planet we call home. In fact, one scene alone took a whole year to shoot. Crews took two separate eight-week-long trips to the Indian region of Ladakh in order to get footage of the extremely elusive snow leopard, which yielded only 10 seconds of usable footage of the camera-shy creature. The crew next attempted to capture the leopard on camera in Pakistan but were denied entry because of the ongoing war in the region. They finally received permission to visit nearly a year later and included the unprecedented footage in the final film. 

7. 2001: A Space Odyssey

If you’re all done showing off Earth, then why not show off the stars? Stanley Kubrick’s immensely influential 1968 film excites just as much as it confuses, and a lot of that excitement comes from the gorgeous effects-work of legendary special effects artist Douglas Trumbull, who worked as the effects supervisor on the film. To get all of the special effects shots required by Kubrick—a notoriously strict director—Trumbull’s team used six cameras shooting simultaneously on 24-hour shifts. For the film’s spectacular “Stargate” finale sequence, Trumbull took a large image scanner primarily used in scientific and industrial photography and shot in long exposure to produce seemingly endless images of lights and shapes. The other effects in the sequence were made using small chemical reactions filmed with microphotography.

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10 Tips for Setting Up Your Home Theater
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It doesn't take much effort to turn a typical room into a home theater—just add a television. But considering how many movies and TV shows most of us actually watch at home, why not go the distance and create a domestic space that rivals the movie theater experience? Here are some simple (for the most part) steps for creating a home theater that's worthy of all the time you'll spend in it.

1. Find Your Visual Sweet Spot

Engineers and scientists have toiled long and hard to come up with the optimal viewing distance for watching HDTVs. The math is relatively simple—take the display's diagonal screen size and multiply it by 1.5 to 2.5. That's how far your couch, chairs, or other prime seating choices should be placed relative to the front of the television.

2. For Small Rooms, Try A Soundbar

Most modern HDTVs can pump out decent sound, but nothing delivers that cinematic experience quite like dedicated speakers. For small rooms, consider getting a soundbar, which packs multiple speakers into a single low-profile, horizontal package. Some of the sleeker models can fit right below the screen, while others act as a kind of reinforced base, with the TV sitting directly on top.

3. Clear Space For Wall-Shaking Bass

Another simple audio upgrade comes from a subwoofer, a bass-only class of speaker that's designed to literally vibrate the room. Don't mount these boxy behemoths in a cabinet (where their vibrations will generate more of an unsettling rattle than a satisfying rumble), but on the floor. The key here is to make sure there's enough space right against one of your home theater's walls, and preferably in a corner.

4. Stow Speakers In Bookshelves

One of the hallmarks of next-level home theater audio is separation—setting up speakers so that sound effects, dialogue, and other audio seem to come from different directions, such as left, right and center. Though you could pull this off with a pair of massive floor-standing speakers, the subtler approach (for non-cavernous spaces) is to place smaller speakers on bookshelves, positioned to the left and right of the TV. This stealthier setup also helps to hide obtrusive cables.

5. Mount Up For Surround Sound

The best, but most complex, audio setup is full surround sound, which usually entails six total audio channels, or speakers—one for the center, the right and the left, two for the rear, and one subwoofer. The biggest challenge, however, is generally rear-channel placement. Though you might stumble across the perfect pair of shelves or other furniture to set those speakers on, expect to go the distance and mount the rear channels in the wall (the upper back corners of most rooms work fine).

6. Sit Up Straight For 3D

If you plan on watching a lot of 3D content, get yourself a seat with a stiff back. Why? Because tilting your head to one side or the other can garble the 3D effect—meaning the sort of sprawling position typical to couch-based viewing is no good. So make sure your chair or couch faces forward, in a way that discourages slouching and lounging.

7. Check Your Angles

Some HDTVs can be viewed from relatively extreme angles (to the left, right, or even from above and below), while others require more of a dead-center position. Before you drill any holes or buy any new furniture, stick the TV roughly where it's going to go, turn it on, and make sure none of the room's seating options are getting completely short-changed.

8. Turn Away From Glare

While checking for bad angles, consider how much light is hitting the screen from your windows at various times of the day. The same goes for unnatural light (lamps, track lighting, etc.). Even the brightest image can't compete with intense glare, so try to position the TV in as much round-the-clock shadow as possible.

9. Kill Two Birds With One Curve

Those last two issues—bad angles and screen glare—can be largely dealt with by opting for a curved HDTV. The subtle bend in these displays actually increases the total viewing angle to either side of the TV, while also limiting total glare. Prioritizing this feature can take some of the fuss out of the overall home theater setup.

10. Put on Headphones, And Sit Wherever You Want

Until very recently, headphones and TVs were an awkward fit, requiring that you either sit uncomfortably close to the screen (since most earphone cords aren't more than a few feet long), or figure out where to put the bulky, interference-prone radio-frequency transmitters that work with wireless headphones. But a handful of newer products let you plug standard headphones directly into a remote control, giving you access to perfectly synced, perfectly private audio, from essentially any seat in the room. Only a handful of products currently offer this feature, the most recent of which is the PlayStation 4, which has an audio jack built into the game controller.

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A Brief History of the Walkman
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The journalists had never experienced anything like it, and that wasn’t necessarily a good thing. Packed into buses headed for Yoyogi Park near Sony’s headquarters in Tokyo, Japan, they knew the electronics giant was excited about a product launch set for July 1, 1979. But what had been handed to them after boarding was confusing.

It was a blue-accented device, made mostly of metal and roughly 6 inches long by 3.5 inches wide. Inside was a standard audio cassette. It could be held in one hand, clipped to a belt, or—more awkwardly—hung around the neck. A pair of compact, foam-encased headphones trailed from the unit to the user’s ears, where it emitted a surprisingly rich stereo sound.

But it had no recording feature like Sony’s Pressman, which media members had used for years to document conversations. And the scene at Yoyogi Park was odd: Dozens of Sony staffers were riding tandem bicycles, skateboarding, and swaying while bystanders looked on, baffled. No one was talking; the product announcement was being piped in to reporters via a recording on the device. Sony dubbed it the Walkman, and it insisted it would revolutionize how the world consumed music.

The assembled media members took in the presentation, returned to the bus, and shrugged. Who was going to wear a miniaturized stereo that cost $200 USD?

Enough people, it turns out, for over 400 million Walkmans to be sold in the coming decades; enough for Sony’s profits to grow so substantially that they could afford to buy a movie studio, Columbia Pictures; enough that city officials would declare them a public nuisance that could result in deadly traffic accidents or ear damage.

Sony had anticipated a need and profited handsomely. But while the company became synonymous with the Walkman, there’s a one asterisk to their story—they didn’t actually invent it.

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Portable listening devices were, of course, nothing new. Transistor radios grew popular in the 1950s by shrinking components to allow for a pocket-sized listening experience. The drawback was that the user was limited to picking up broadcast stations and whatever playlist the programming director preferred. They were also tinny, the earbuds laughably weak next to proper stereo systems. Real, lost-in-the-music moments were reserved for bedrooms equipped with record players and floorboards that could stand up to the adolescent hysteria incited by Elvis or the Beatles.

Masaru Ibuka’s teenage years were decades in the rear-view mirror, but he identified with their passion for music. A co-founder of Sony, Ibuka was disappointed he couldn’t bring a cassette player with him on long, transatlantic plane rides. Why, he asked engineers, couldn’t they develop a device that was small enough to carry around while allowing the user to listen to whatever he or she wanted?

Akio Morita, Ibuka’s partner, agreed, and the two set a deadline: They wanted a product ready for the start of summer vacation on July 1, a marketing opportunity for people exercising or relaxing outdoors. Under a time crunch, Kozo Ohsone, Shizuo Takashino and other developers took their Pressman—a bulky recorder meant for a niche market—and removed the recording mechanism, adding a lightweight pair of headphones and a stereo amplifier. (To create something completely from scratch would not only take more time, it would be more risk: A prototype that broke down would not go over well.)

Morita took their modified Pressman home and listened to it. It was exactly what he and Ibuka wanted, with one exception: His wife was annoyed at the isolating nature of the device. Morita didn’t want Sony to market a “rude” product, so he had his team add a second headphone jack and an orange button that allowed two listeners to talk to each other through a microphone.

Sony’s Pressman evolved into the TPS-L2, a cassette player designed to resemble antique Japanese lacquered boxes. “Walkman” was taken from both Pressman and Superman, a character recently re-introduced to the public eye because of the 1978 feature film. “Walkman” also hinted at locomotion, the idea of breaking free from home stereos and going where you pleased.

Morita and Ibuka thought they had a hit, but the press disagreed. The lack of a recording feature confounded them, and their apathy leaked into the market. In July 1979, the first month Walkmans were on sale, only 3000 units were sold. In a controlled panic, Sony’s marketing department decided that the Walkman experience was so singular that they would have to be aggressive. Japanese celebrities were recruited for print ads; Sony employees rode trains and patrolled busy pedestrian-packed districts on weekends, extending headphones so consumers could listen for themselves. No ad or slogan could really describe the unique experience of cutting the cord from elaborate home stereos. The Walkman had to be worn to be appreciated.

Sony’s assertive plan worked. Twenty-seven thousand units were sold in August, which depleted the company of its initial 30,000-unit production run. Tourists returned to France, the UK and the U.S. with the devices, seeding the company’s expansion plans. By early 1980, the Walkman was headed for America.

Morita had considered calling it the Soundabout in the States, but “Walkman” was already on the lips of early adopters who had heard of or seen the portable device. Sporting a stylish leather cover, it quickly became an urban accessory must-have. Walkmans in New York became as pervasive as potholes, with users acknowledging one another on the street as though they belonged to the same fraternity.

In their first mention of the Walkman on July 7, 1980, the New York Times declared it a status symbol:

Josh Lansing and the young blonde woman had never even met before, but as they passed each other on Madison Avenue the other afternoon, she waved and smiled and he tipped his headphones in salute ... What the two well-dressed strangers first noticed about each other was that they were both possessors of the newest status symbol around town: the Walkman …”It's just like Mercedes-Benz owners honking when they pass each other on the road,” explained Mr. Lansing, whose cassette hung from his Gucci belt.

Andy Warhol told the Washington Post he preferred the sound of Pavarotti over blaring car horns; beaches that had banned radios took no issue with the solitary nature of portables. The soundtrack of life could not only be changed, but muted.

That latter feature was of concern to Woodbridge, N.J., which passed an ordinance in 1982 that banned the Walkman and its knock-offs from anyone driving or riding a bike on a public street, joining nine other states with similar prohibitions. Wearing headphones for extended periods also concerned audiologists, who feared ear damage from constant musical accompaniment to homework, working out, or isolated jobs like toll collecting or taxi driving. Even repair shops chimed in, saying the parts were too tiny to repair and hanging signs refusing service to the Sony elite.

None of this slowed the Walkman’s momentum. The company shipped over 500,000 units worldwide in 1980 and tripled that in 1981. In 1983, the company introduced the WM-10, which was only a third the size of the original. It featured a “drawer" that retracted when the cassette tray was empty. More importantly, it had earbuds that allowed ambient noise to leak in, easing safety concerns. In 1988 they released the WM-505, the first model with wireless headphones, over 12 years before the first Bluetooth headset.

The Walkman featured prominently in Footloose; Marty McFly used it to terrorize the transistor-era of the 1950s in Back to the Future; “walkmans” became a colloquial term for any portable device in the way Kleenex had become the standard declaration for a tissue.

By the time it entered the Oxford English Dictionary in 1986, Sony had invented, invaded, and conquered an entirely new consumer electronics space.

At least, that's what they had assumed. The same year they made the OED, the company offered a settlement to Andreas Pavel, who for years had taken issue with the “invention” portion of Sony’s story. A devout music lover, he filed a patent in Milan, Italy in 1977 for something he informally referred to as a stereobelt. He tried courting manufacturers, but Philips and Yamaha weren’t interested. Years later, he took note of the Walkman. A case of communal thinking, Pavel was still peeved his discovery had found success without him, though it was for financial rather than personal reasons. "I don't want to be reduced to the label of being the inventor of the Walkman," he told the New York Times

After two decades of off-and-on court fights, he settled with Sony in 2003. A testament to the Walkman's immense success, the company reportedly cut him a check for eight figures.

Sony

By the late 1980s, the Walkman had grown to accommodate CDs (the Discman) and television (the bulky Watchman). In the 1990s, MP3 devices took up much of their development time, but nothing could anticipate—or compete against—the shift caused by Apple’s iPod in the 2000s. By 2010, Sony announced it would be discontinuing the cassette-based Walkman brand in most territories. Just as Sony users had stamped out transistors and boom boxes in the 1980s to become a societal badge of cool, the iPod’s devotees would settle for nothing less than an Apple.

Cool, of course, is relative. 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy resurrected both the device and the concept of a mix tape, with Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill using the TPS-L2 as an emotional lifeline to his childhood on Earth. Previously trading for around $100 among collectors, the model shot up to nearly $1000 after the movie was released; a rare “Guys & Dolls” version, which labeled the headphone jacks by gender, can sell for nearly $3000. Thanks to Pratt, the Walkman had come full circle.

Ibuka, incidentally, never quite got his wish. After his team scrambled to modify a Pressman in time for his next international flight, he settled into his seat and hit play. Nothing happened. In their rush to find some classical music for Ibuka to listen to, the engineers accidentally grabbed a bunch of blank cassettes.

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