[Class Assembling]
Welcome to Filmmaker IQ.com, I’m John Hess
and today we’ll look at the history of home
theaters – bringing movies from cineplex into
the living room.
In our world of Vimeo, YouTube, Netflix and
Hulu – virtually anything you want to see
is just a click away. Never before has so
much content been available to so many with
such ease. So as we begin our journey, winding
back the clock to the beginning of the previous
century, we have to imagine a different time
and a different relationship to media.
Movies began in the Nickelodeon – a term that
mashed up the word nickel and odeon – a Greek
word for a theater for musical performances.
For just five cents, audiences could be entertained
with a variety of short films and live acts.
Nickelodeons were a major part of the American
culture – with an estimated 8,000 Nickelodeons
in the US by 1908 and 26 million regular attendees by 1910.
But as quickly as Nickelodeons exploded on
the American conscious – they quickly went
away. As a network of film distribution came
into place theaters found that Audiences tended
to favor the feature length film and you didn’t
need the live vaudeville acts. Of course,
the longer films were more expensive to make.
Prices for admission necessarily skyrocketed
– doubling to 10 cents but now you were seeing
feature films with a couple of shorts made
with great skill and craft in a much more
elegant setting – the mindset of the time
demonstrated by this ad from 1915 from a small
unknown upstart – Paramount Pictures. Here,
casting off the old dingy Nickelodeon of the
past for the new Paramount Pictures Movie Palace.
So for a generation or two, movies were something
you got out of the house and went to. Only
the rich collectors had home movie projectors
and private collections of films were mostly
scraps, interesting bits from films here and
there to show off to their friends at dinner parties.
Even the filmmakers themselves saw little
value in their films once the screenings were
done. Part of the problem was the inherit
danger of storing old film. Nitrate film was
used at that time, which was extremely flammable
– it would even burn underwater. And as the
stuff decayed, it turned into essentially
gunpowder leading to some famous unfortunate
accidents such as the fire in 1937 at 20th
Century-Fox Studios which wiped out all their
pre-1935 film stock. The fact was studios
just needed the storage space for new films
more than they needed the archvies so they
just destroyed old films. An estimated 90%
of all silent films ever made are considered
lost and gone forever.
Even though Television had been invented and
regular public broadcasts started by the BBC
as early as 1929, the Great Depression and
World War II prevented TV from becoming an
everyday household appliance until the late
1940s. But Television became a great mass
produced product as the economy turned from
Guns to Butter in the post war years. And
the American Public served as a great consumer
base the Baby boom shifted populations away
from the cities and into surburbia. TV was
an easy and free delivery tool of entertainment
straight into the home.
Movie theater attendance plummeted dropping
50% from 1946 to 1955.. At first the movie
studios tried to get in on the TV action but
the FCC was hesitant to hand broadcasting
licenses to movie companies that had just
lost a Supreme Court anti-trust lawsuit in
1948 over their anti-competition practices
in dealing with theaters. Instead, it was
the radio broadcasters, CBS, NBC, ABC, who
got in on the Television game.
So immediately Hollywood saw TV as head on
competition and they responded by entrenching
themselves and refusing to sell rights for
movies for broadcast and forbidding their
stars to appear on the new electronic medium.
The numbers were grim, tickets sales were
down, productions slowed to a crawl and the
studios levied heavy layoffs. At the close
of the 40s, it looked like Hollywood was about
to implode with TV laying down the final straw.
But out of challenge comes innovation. To
compete with Television, the clever filmmakers
changed tack and focused on what they could
do better – spectacle. Widescreen aspect ratios,
first popularized by Cinerama in 1952 and
Cinemascope in 1953, Stereo and multichannel
sound, Larger screens going from 30 foot to
50 foot screens, Full Adoption of color, and
even the first wave of 3D – many of the aspects
of our modern film experience began as a way
to get people away from their homes and into
the theatre.
But Film’s little brother of Television
had grander aspirations and still wanted to
be in the movies. Broadcasters had a lot of
time to fill – why not show an old movie and
sell ad space. And for the newer, leaner Hollywood
which grew out of the devastation of the late
40s, TV wasn’t seen so much as competition
but a new revenue stream, with studios beginning
to sell rights to television as early 1956.
Then On September 23, 1961, NBC premiered
Saturday Night at the Movies – featuring the
1953 film How to Marry a Millionaire starring
Marilyn Monroe, Lauren Bacall, and Betty Grable.
Broadcast in “Living Color” How To Marry
A Millionaire was the second film to be made
in widescreen Cinemascope. Unfortunately for
viewers at the time, the film was severely
panned and scanned – the process of zooming
in and lopping off the sides of the image
in order to fill a 4:3 screen with a portion
of the original 2.35 image – this wrecks havoc
of the original compositions – often losing
actors who are positioned on the edges of
the screen. Regardless, Saturday Night at
the Movies led to countless spinoffs from
all the broadcasters – practically one for
each night of the week.
The studios had found value in their old catalogs
and Television had found relatively cheap
content to fill time. But most importantly,
a major social shift was occurring – the idea
that now you could stay home and catch a movie
– an idea that would cement itself in the
world’s conscious with the introduction
of tape.
The Tape Empire and Digital Successors
Video tape for professional broadcast use
was invented by the Ampex Corporation in 1956
but the machines and tape reels were far too
expensive for personal use. Consumer electronics
would catch up starting in 1970 when Sony
released the U-matic, a system designed for
home use that recorded onto bulky ¾” tapes.
This was followed by the short lived Cartrivision
in 1972. Then came the big two and the famous
format war: In 1975 the Sony BetaMax followed
a year later by JVC’s VHS in 1976.
Now the technological stage was set for watching
movies at home on demand… But studios didn’t
realize the potential market yet…
When tape was originally sold to consumers
– it was as a way for viewers to “time shift”
their favorite TV programs – recording shows
to be watched later – Cartrivision had dabbled
in a rental system with movies on prerecorded
tapes but the company folded soon after their
launch so nothing came of it. There just didn’t
seem to be any thought of actually selling
movies on tape. That changed in 1977 when
Andrew Blay of Magnetic Video convinced a
financially struggling 20th Century Fox to
license 50 of their titles to be released
on prerecorded BetaMax and VHS tapes.
Blay’s company took off and the film video
tape market was born sparking off the video
rental industry. At first, Hollywood assumed
people were only interested in renting films.
But it didn’t take long for studios to realize
there was some serious money to made in stocking
up people’s personal video libraries. Distributors
cut the prices of video tapes from $80 a piece
which were priced to sell to rental houses
down to $19.95 and below and saw huge increases
in sales. In 1980, Walt Disney got into the
business dipping into their catalog of family
films. The venture was so successful 20th
Century Fox turned around and even acquired
Andrew Blay’s company Magnetic Video and
reorganized it into 20th Century Fox video
in 1980 which merged with CBS Video another
giant in 1982 to become CBS Fox Video. The
Video Market was big big business.
Not long after VHS hit the market came the
first commercially successful optical disk
format – the LaserDisc originally marketed
as the MCA DiscoVision in 1978. Still an analog
format but superior in many ways to VHS tape,
LaserDisc was a big hit with cinephiles.
I think you will not be wasting your money to invest $600
in a LaserDisc player because the quality is so much better.
That everytime we mention a cassette on this show or our regular show.
I feel like people are getting cheated in a way because they’re not buying a LaserDisc, they’re not getting the sound…
Unfortunately LaserDisc never really did get
a foothold in North America – The extra costs
of the players and the LaserDisc themselves
meant that market penetration never rose above
1% of households despite the perceivable quality
The next breakthrough for home media would
have to wait for computers and compression
to bring digital to video. In 1993, roughly
10 years after the release of the audio CD,
Philips introduced the VCD – using a new digital
compression called MPEG-1 to compress movie
titles to fit onto two discs. VCDs enjoyed
a brief window of success until Hollywood
realized these VCDs were really easy to pirate
– MPEG1 had no copy protection whatsoever.
Luckily in 1995 an alternative came in the DVD
Introduced by Philips, Sony, Toshiba
and Panasonic, The DVD used MPEG2 compression
on an optical disk which was roughly the same
size as the popular audio CD. With MPEG-2
Compression capable of storing video, multiple
audio tracks and extras – the DVD did what
Laserdisc couldn’t and quickly became the
preferred method of distributing movies for
the home. But as our story progresses, the
time scale gets more and more compressed as
DVDs, once king of home entertainment would
bow out to High Definition and digital delivery
in only a decade.
High Definition is the first format to begin
bringing a real cinematic experience into
the home. There were many experiments in HiDefinition
in decades past but it was digital that enabled
the transmission of a higher resolution signal.
HDTV as outlined in ITU-R Recommendation ITU-R
BT.709-2 in 1990 – sported a maximum resolution
of 1920×1080 – a major departure from the
640x480ish standard def resolution. Also new
was the introduction of a new 16×9 aspect
ratio. 16×9 or 1.78 as a decimal was derived
as a geometric mean between old Academy 4×3
(1.33) and the wide Scope aspect ratio of
2.40. This 16×9 aspect ratio was a compromise
– a way in which images pillared box to to
4×3 or letterboxed to 2.40 would both get
the roughly the same number of pixels: 1.5
Megapixels of the 2.1 Megapixels in an HD
With HDTV standards in place, Surround sound,
HD streaming over the internet, and Bluray
discs (released in 2006 and went on to win
a much publicized but relatively short and
uneventful format war with HD-DVD in 2008)
you had the elements necessary to create a
really great Home Theater Experience that
were certainly miles ahead of turn of century
nickelodeons and movie houses..
But for those that want full big screen experience
at home, home digital projector is the way
to go. Unfortunately with the HD 16×9 compromise,
the films that Hollywood created to have the
largest, most immersive feel – those shot
in the scope 2.40 aspect ratio – end up being
the smallest content on a 16:9 screen, framed
by black letterbox bars that are essentially
wasted projection. Fortunately there’s a
optical solution from a company called Panamorph.
Working in the same fashion as a cinemascope
anamorphic lens, Panamorph system uses the
projector’s scaler feature to stretch the
image vertically and eliminate the black letterbox
bars – this utilizes the full power and resolution
of the projector. Then a specially engineered
Panamorph anamorphic lens goes in front of
the projector stretches out the projection
to a 2.40 aspect ratio restoring the correct
screen geometry. This process results in projections
that are 33% wider and 80% larger without
sacrificing picture quality, and a true recreation
of the filmmaker’s intent creating that big
immersive feel right in the home. A clever
use of tried and true technology to solve
new digital challenges.
We’ve taken films out of the cineplex and
brought them into our homes and even our very
own pockets. The media rich culture of today
may not even be recognizable compared with
the early days of home VCRs let alone the
pioneers of filmmaking. The fact is, changes
in technology have inherently changed our
relationship to film. The story of cinema
is a story of and unrelenting change. Even
as we speak, we’re entering another radical
shift with digital distribution – no one really
knows how the cards will fall. It’s going
to be challenging times of course, but with
all great challenges, comes great opportunities.
Now more than ever, is the time to go out
there and make something great. I’m John
Hess and I’ll see you at FilmmakerIQ.com.

The Evolution of Home Theater – Big Tech of the Small Screen
Tagged on:                                         

55 thoughts on “The Evolution of Home Theater – Big Tech of the Small Screen

  • September 23, 2013 at 12:14 am

    I liked before i even watched. 🙂

  • September 23, 2013 at 12:21 am

    Me to

  • September 23, 2013 at 12:34 am

    Awesome videos as always

  • September 23, 2013 at 12:54 am

    Holy shit I learned something today.

    Nickelodeon is a thing /(._.)

  • September 23, 2013 at 12:58 am

    12:58 wut?

  • September 23, 2013 at 1:10 am

    John hess you brilliant annunciator you.

  • September 23, 2013 at 2:23 am

    It's the full technical term for "REC 709" – Engineers and their acronyms… 😛

  • September 23, 2013 at 2:58 am

    With great power comes great responsibility. With great challenges comes great opportunities.

  • September 23, 2013 at 9:03 am

    I was sure you would skip straight from LaserDisc to DVD, I was getting ready to comment "You forgot VCD" But you were way ahead of me 🙂

  • September 23, 2013 at 11:47 am

    I don't really like Netflix and other similar companies. I've seen several people watching movies on their cell phones which is unbearable.

  • September 23, 2013 at 2:44 pm

    Please do a video on the "obsession" of many low-budget filmmakers with making digital video look like film and what are the elements you need to achieve the film look(color grading, lighting, etc). I think this topic would make for a very interesting and technical video like the ones you have on the subject of color. Thanks!

  • September 23, 2013 at 8:36 pm

    This discussion isn't complete to me without talking about big screen TV's. Great episodes, I wish it was longer! 🙂

  • September 24, 2013 at 1:25 am

    I thoroughly enjoyed this episode, and the jaunt back through my youth (I remember thinking laser discs were so cool…. I used to push the lid release pins so I could open the top and look inside. I don't know what I expected to see, but I was kinda disappointed when I figured out it was just a record). Good Job, as usual Mr. Hess.

  • September 24, 2013 at 1:29 am

    Maybe this is a juvenile request; can you make a video about all the work that is involved in producing a you tube filmmaker IQ clip? " This is definitely inspiring to create something great and professional"

  • September 24, 2013 at 2:19 am

    I was in BestBuy the other day and saw a 4K image on a home theater system. It blew my mind.

  • September 24, 2013 at 3:44 am

    I really love these talks. Thanks for posting.

  • September 24, 2013 at 4:34 am

    Fantasic video!!!

  • September 24, 2013 at 5:14 am

    Most of it involves reading lots of articles and books trying to find a good story 🙂

  • September 26, 2013 at 10:52 am

    I just wish I could reach into the video and straitened his glasses

  • October 2, 2013 at 4:32 am

    Love the videos, keep them coming!

  • October 15, 2013 at 8:52 pm

    I know these videos are a lot of work but boy are they beneficial.

  • November 20, 2013 at 2:45 am

    It would nice if DVDs were actually anamorphic. Aspect ratios higher than 1.78:1 are always letterbox'd.

  • January 11, 2014 at 9:19 am

    Loved the way you subtly transitioned into that Panamorph advert at the end. Real smooth. All advertisements should be like that. 

  • January 26, 2014 at 11:31 am

    this is hands down one if the best channels on yt

  • February 12, 2014 at 12:55 pm

    It's interesting that the big movie studios seem to always bet on tech that the consumers don't want, and against the ones that we do.  

    We want audio cassetes, they say that home taping is illegal in will kill the music industry.

    We want MP3 players for our legally obtained content, they want us to pay again to take our music with us.

    We want recordable VHS/Beta, they want them made illegal.

    We want VCDs, they want DVDs because we could write our own VCDs (they naturally delayed DVD ripping and authoring as long as they could, too).

    We want to stay with DVDs so we can pay once and get our money's worth, they want us to pay $600 for a DIVX disk player (which is naturally incompatible with our DVDs) that will invade our privacy (has to be connected to the internet) and make us pay per view (after we pay for the disks, of course).

    We want to be able to share our videos online, and exercise our constitutional right to free speach, they want that made illegal because some people MIGHT abuse it.

    We want efficient file-sharing technologies so we can share our legitimate content with friends and family, they want them made illegal because they could be used to share potentially copyrighted material (unsurprisingly, they ignore all of the potential legitimate uses).

    Now to be fair, the jury is still out on the last two, but I think that all of the others demonstrate that the companies don't care about the consumer, only making a buck.  Ironically, movie companies have actually benefitted from the rise of CDs, DVDs, and online media, as they typically earn MUCH more than the theatrical revenues…  I think that it's also fair to say that none of these will be the death of any industries, like those same companies continue to insist.  

    Don't believe me?  Look up: Home taping is killing music!  And it's illegal.

    (Just FYI, neither part of the above slogan is true.)

  • April 23, 2014 at 7:09 am

    Very nice introduction!

    I wish you had touched on the digital sound of LD and more importantly, the revolutionary invention of the “Special Edition” release with supplementary material.
    This figures to be a major part the survival of home video formats against the video-on-demand.

  • April 27, 2014 at 8:25 pm

    "headphones" that was the day enjoyed everything in full  Surrasound and still do. Oft forgot how important for Film Buff`s Headphones are!

  • June 12, 2014 at 10:40 pm

    No mention of CED's or Videodiscs? I remember watching those when I was a kid. They were awesome!

  • August 24, 2014 at 5:38 am

    There doesn't seem to be much benefit in using something like that 'Panamorph' anamorphic lens on a home theatre projector. Anamoprhic lenses are useful when recording at 2.40:1, as you can make use of the entire film or sensor. But once it has been distributed on a blu-ray for example, it is stored as a 1920×1080 file with letter boxing (1920×800). There is no gain in resolution by digitally stretching it on a projector and then optically de-stretching it through a lens, you are actually more likely to loose quality depending on the pixel up-scaling method. You might as well just magnify your projector so it fills up a 2.40 screen (if you have one). I have nothing against advertising, but can anyone point on the purpose of this product?

  • February 18, 2015 at 10:36 pm

    11:26… hollywood is so fucking greedy.  You could already pirate videotapes.  The same thing happened when tape cassettes came out, the movie industry threw a fit about people recording music off the radio while ripping off their artists and having no inherent talent of their own.  Dead Kennedy's then released an album in an attack on them, purposefully leaving one side blank on one of their albums, encouraging buyers to record other material to that side of the cassette.  Thank god for the internet… ditch your netflix account folks… there's plenty of websites with free content.  

  • May 19, 2015 at 9:50 pm

    Many projection TV's use a technology last seen on the Moon and the Space Shuttle,  mechanical color TV. A black and white projector with a spinning colored cylinder behind the lens. That's how lunar cameras on Apollo 13 to 17 and early Space Shuttles worked. A B&W camera with a spinning six color disk was turned into color TV when it got to Earth.

  • May 19, 2015 at 10:15 pm

    Digital compression had another unforeseen effect. Analog TV satellites only had a few channels so networks would pay millions of dollars for long term contracts. Compression meant that each channel could now carry five or six networks. Owners either filled them up themselves or leased the extras out. That's why we have so many cable channels today.

  • November 9, 2015 at 4:21 pm

    10:27 That's how I feel when people who still watch DVDs ask me what makes Blu Rays so much better and if they're worth the additional money lol. I always have some comparison pictures ready to show the difference that high def picture makes as well as some sound clips to show the benefits of remastered sound. Now with the rise of 4K it just keeps getting even better :p

  • November 14, 2015 at 9:09 am

    6:19 – "Netflix" and chill is born.

  • December 27, 2015 at 4:26 pm

    Wish you would have touched more on the format wars between Betamax and VHS, and HDDVD and BluRay, and why one was better than the other. Also, the Panamorph plug was confusing.

  • April 5, 2016 at 3:30 am

    VR/AR headsets are the next new display method, although they need to be higher resolution. Since the video can be rendered as a texture in a 3D virtual world you can make the image as big or as small as you want. Image quality is limited by the resolution and FOV of your headset. Current headsets suck in regards to resolution and FOV, but the generation after should hopefully be better.

    The downside is that unlike a TV each person needs their own headset. If headsets become popular then it's not that big of a deal though, like how everybody carries around those hand computers.

  • April 5, 2016 at 8:24 pm

    My RCA CED player is sad you skipped it 🙁

  • October 7, 2016 at 5:14 pm

    I really want to get a 4K Laser Projector someday. But I guess I have to wait until the prices go down.

  • January 28, 2017 at 4:48 pm

    DVDs are great but they they're far too delicate

    I find it ridiculous that they didn't put these disks in a protective casing that goes into the home device like floppy disks

    And I'd like to mention that I would think the military has use for this stuff and it would more than likely be a problem if one of these disks were damaged

    I don't know if I'm the only one who thinks this is a problem I'll shut up

  • February 18, 2017 at 5:51 am

    This is exactly what I wanted to see

  • March 30, 2017 at 1:43 am

    9:57 you should've mentioned CBS Video was workin with MGM prior to '82

  • August 27, 2017 at 3:34 pm

    What about 8mm, super 8, and 16mm? Those brought home ( at least portions of) movies.

  • September 15, 2017 at 5:07 pm

    John, do you think the Univisium 2:1 format will ever be adopted?

  • September 23, 2017 at 5:49 pm

    Good video, as ever. Intriguing, though, that in a presentation made in 2013, DVD is written off as having ended around 2006 – and yet it's only now 2017 that DVD has been beaten as the home market leader.

    I certainly would have said in 2013 that DVD was about to fall off the same cliff edge as VHS did in about 2007 – but to this day there's still miles and miles of superstore shelf space stocked full of the shiny discs!

    I actually think that DVD could be here to stay for the foreseeable future as there simply isn't anything replacing it in quite the same way – available in a format that almost everyone can play back and right there on a shelf you idly walk past that makes you stop and think for a second "Yeah, go on then…"

  • October 23, 2017 at 5:03 pm

    Andre Blay, not Andrew Blay, of Magnetic Video.

  • July 26, 2018 at 8:32 pm


  • August 25, 2018 at 3:52 pm

    Is conventional theater being extinct? I still love the Theater.

  • November 6, 2018 at 5:13 pm


  • February 12, 2019 at 7:48 pm

    So much great history, thanks Filmmaker IQ!

  • April 3, 2019 at 7:09 am

    8:00 – Nice photo! Looks just like MY Umatic deck. In fact, it is! I shot that photo on the floor at the company I worked at, at that time, Prime Image in San Jose. I still have that deck in my collection somewhere. Heeheeeheeee!

    I've been in the video trade from the early 1970s. Had every format you mentioned.

     I also still have a few Cartrivision tapes, partial machines and still have one complete unit. Shipped my other Cartrivision VCR one to Indiana only a couple of weeks ago. I own the oldest home recorder possible, the Wesgrove VKR-600. It was a kit sold in 1964. Worked awful!!! If it worked at all. 5 minutes on 2400 feet of quarter inch tape traveling at 120 IPS, ten feet per second! Ah, nostalgia.

    See more old video recorders at www.labguysworld.com and be sure to watch my recent YT videos to be truly amazed at old video tech! In my latest project, I found an Indian Chief hiding inside a magic bottle made by RCA in 1939! I successfully got the poor fellow to see the light of day once again! New video coming tomorrow! I promise, you will love it.

  • April 18, 2019 at 3:45 am

    Sadly, the Panamorph solution is not much more than a marketing gimmick IMO. Yes, the movie uses the whole imaging chip, but it's still an 800-line image digitally stretched (causing degradation) to 1080. Then it goes through cylindrical optics (more degradation) to make it wider. I suspect you'd get a better image just using a slightly shorter conventional projector lens and a 2.4:1 screen.

  • April 19, 2019 at 11:19 pm

    I have a normal 8 projector

  • July 9, 2019 at 5:06 pm

    Interesting Query – I think the first CinemaScope movies like How to Marry a Millionaire were 2:55 not 2.35? KAN UK

  • July 9, 2019 at 5:20 pm

    For years large 16:9 TVs have been promoted as Home Cinema – this is a bit of a con. In the showroom they look stunning with their 16:9 screen totally FULL, and showrooms rarely, if ever, have letter boxed movies showing!
    So, it's only when you get your 'home cinema' home and put on your Star Wars Blu Ray that you realise a 16:9 TV makes cinema scope movies SMALLER than the screen.
    The difference becomes Quite Irritating as your viewing size constantly changes between 16:9 TV programmes and your DVD and Blu Ray movies, the MAJORITY of which are in 2.35 scope.
    There is a solution!
    ALL TVs should be 21:9.
    All formats fill the screen from top to bottom, and 2.35 spectacles like Star Wars etc fill the screen completely!
    Now that is home cinema!
    People MUST keep asking for 21:9 TVs and create a demand. Only then will the makers of all the 16:9 TVs stop and listen and give viewers what they really need – a TV to cope with all formats sensibly.
    KAN 7.19 UK.

  • September 8, 2019 at 5:57 pm

    good. except the typing sounds are driving me nuts. thought you guys at least would have figured it wasn't needed.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *