At one time, a home theater was just as much a sign of luxury as a Rolls-Royce. In the old days, they called them projection rooms, and movie stars and industrial magnates were just as likely to have a personal projectionist, as well as a chauffeur, on salary.
But thanks to advances in audio and visual technology, home movie rooms are becoming mainstream. Today, more than 20 percent of all American households have some sort of home theater setup, according to the Arlington, Virginia-based Consumer Electronics Manufacturers Association. And as equipment costs continue to drop, even those with limited budgets can create viewing rooms to rival the local cineplex.
At home, the popcorn's better - and cheaper - the floors aren't sticky, and with the right system, you can feel the laser beams whizzing over your head while you're sitting on the couch. "It's cocooning," says Randy Wilson, owner of Wilson Home Theater Systems in Woodland Hills, California. "It's bringing people back into the home."
Indeed, business has never been better for the people who sell and install home theaters. Many professionals are even working with building developers to pre-wire homes for home theaters and, reports Wilson, $75,000 home theaters are becoming more common.
These are also good times for the do-it-yourselfer with a more limited budget. Picture quality and sound technology continue to improve as equipment prices drop. DVDs, satellite TV, and Philips' TiVo system, which records on a computer hard drive and allows you to pause live programming, will soon replace the outmoded analog VCR tapes that have been the weakest link in the quest for a theater-quality experience at home.