Soundbars bring final ingredient for true home theater: Schley
If you happen to know an audiophile or two in the mid-2000s, you’ve probably spent more minutes than you would have preferred marveling at the acoustical grandeur of your friend’s home theater setup. You know: a speaker that’s hidden in every corner of the living room, including under the couch, near the missing Cheetos bag. Your buddy blew up the Independence Day money scene and eagerly stared at you from across the room in anticipation of your envy.
But: As impressive as these audio miracles were, they were too expensive and too cumbersome for the average consumer. Partly for this reason, the adoption of premium surround sound equipment, which rode the Blu-ray wave in the mid-2000s, stalled, and the popularity of high-end audio-video systems fell “somewhere below those of bedbugs and those of Justin’s ”. Bieber’s mustache, ”said New York Times tech writer Brent Butterworth.
Even as video resolutions and television affordability improved, many television viewers were left with a choice of Hobson: find a capable teen in the neighborhood to set up a surround sound AV system, or settle for the stereo speakers, those of yours. all that remains are dormitory rooms.
Now there is growing interest in the modern child prodigy of the home theater environment: the soundbar. A slim profile, easy installation, and improved audio quality have made soundbars from Sonos, Samsung, Roku, and others the fast-growing favorites of the modern home theater ecosystem.
According to the Consumer Technology Association, soundbars are now present in 36% of US homes, with market penetration increasing 6 points over the past year. With newer iterations supporting the latest immersive surround sound formats, and entries like Roku’s 4K-enabled “Streambar,” being advertised for as little as $ 99, soundbars are now a key piece in the new home theater revolution that began before a Kind of tip seems to be point.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because it is. For decades, film studio theorists and television industry executives have fantasized about a new exhibition environment that would allow consumers to enjoy large-scale theater experiences within their own four walls.
But for just as many years this vision remained a distant phantasm, circled by the reality that the combination of breathtaking images and great sound either cost too much or was too complex to deal with.
It changes. In part driven by the stay-at-home pressures of the health pandemic, we are reaching a point where a significant proportion of American households now have something that is legitimately approaching a true “home theater” environment.
Real home theater
It starts with the screen size of the TV. Today, the average corner-to-corner size of LCD devices used in the United States is 50 inches. That’s double the 2011 average and nearly 2.7 times the 2001 number, according to the Consumer Technology Association. Current trends tell us that the adoption rate for larger sets will only increase. A December 2020 survey by NPD Group found that the average size of a replacement TV in 2020 was 51 inches, compared to the average of 47 inches in 2018. Plus, people are buying new TVs faster. The NPD found that the average age of an LCD TV in the US was 4.9 years at the end of 2020, up from 5.4 years the previous year.
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TV sets are also cheaper. For example, earlier this month we saw a best buy ad for a Samsung 70-inch, 4K-enabled TV priced at $ 699, which is roughly 33 cents per square inch. In 2004, buyers paid about $ 2.15 per square inch for a 25-inch screen, which was the common size at the time.
This growth spurt was accompanied by better image quality. Although high-definition TV had been commercially available since the late 1990s, only about a third of households were HD-capable in 2009. And even as the proportion of US households equipped with HDTV rose steadily, reaching 77% by 2014 (Leichtman Research Group), it became clear that an HD-capable screen alone was not the breakthrough everyone had been waiting for. Instead, it was just part of a broader convergence. The others were affordable high-end sound systems (thanks, sound bars) and bigger screens. All three ingredients are now in place.
Oh, and one more thing. This convergence comes with a shift in the way we even get television. The era of streaming video has given consumers more choice, both in terms of title availability and user control. In return, streaming (especially in the pandemic environment) has led to a greater emphasis on in-house exhibition and away from communal theater experiences.
Almost every week there is a new indication that studios are rethinking the role of cinemas. The most recent example was a report earlier this month that Sony Pictures is considering bypassing theaters for the upcoming premiere of the cartoon “Hotel Transylvania 4” and is negotiating an in-home debut with Amazon instead. That just doesn’t happen, even with streaming, when televisions are still 25-inch tip-to-tip and when you need a consumer electronics pedigree to get decent sound.
The questions are: Who will benefit? And whose business models are under pressure to change as a result? It is logical to think that as more and more people watch on big screens with killer sound, program preferences at home are moving towards visually stunning fare that gets the most out of the modern home theater system. This has a positive impact on Discovery Inc. programmers – expect more impressive views from mansions on HGTV and rainforest expeditions on Discovery Channel – to AMC Networks and the company’s visually rich script series like “The Walking Dead” or BBC America’s atmospheric “DR. Who.”
We also believe that the widening gap between the video glory on the living room TV and the usefulness of the smartphone screen will result in what people watch where with mobile devices, which are more commonly used for news and clips, during prime time In the home, optically captivating food is preferred.
Or who knows? Maybe something else will happen. Perhaps video games on the big screen are consuming all of the TV time. Perhaps the allure of theater-like experiences is sparking a resurgence in the transactional VOD category, which has recently been taking a back seat to all-you-can-watch subscription plans. Nobody really knows yet. The point, however, is that we’ve been hearing about the wonders of the home theater revolution since MTV launched in the summer of 1981 at the latest. Now we’ll see what happens when it’s finally there.
Stewart Schley is senior vice president and lead analyst at One Touch Intelligence, which provides market intelligence and industry analysis services to leading media and telecommunications companies. The One Touch Intelligence STREAMTRAK® series is a free service that provides industry experts with insight and context on developments in the field of digital media.
Industry Voices are opinion columns written by outside contributors – often industry experts or analysts – that FierceVideo employees invite for interviews. They do not represent the opinions of FierceVideo.