I’ve been writing about home entertainment technologies from a consumer perspective for 25 years. So yes, I remember whenTVs used cathode ray tubes and 32-inch screens were the last word in home cinema extravagance.
My passion for movies and home entertainment saw me land a job first editing and then writing reviews for the legendary WhatSatellite TV magazine, before moving to What Video magazine and then becoming deputy editor of Home Cinema Choice magazine. The latter of which, I’m happy to say, is actually still going!
I then became a freelance writer around 20 years ago which, as any self-employed person knows, opened the door to me spending far more time testing and writing about home entertainment products than a) I ever would have been able to do in a proper job, and b) could ever be good for my health.
I’ve focused increasingly over the decades on home theatre technology. Particularly television sets and projectors, but also players of shiny discs (and yes, I was around when LaserDisc, DVD and even Video CDs were the new kids on the block), surround sound speaker systems and, in more recent times, soundbars and streaming devices.
I’ve definitely spent more hours sat in front of TV sets than anything else, though.
Going to the cinema has been my number one hobby since my teens, and I still go pretty much weekly now. That love of cinema has made me realise over the years just how important the actual experience of watching a film is. How big the screen is, how pristine the picture looks, and how great the sound mix is can all have a profound effect on how much you enjoy a film.
This has led to an obsession with recreating the cinema experience at home with a big TV and companion surround sound audio system. And once you start down this road, you’re caught in an enthusiast’s spiral of forever trying to make your home cinema experience that bit better while trying not to look too closely at how much money you’re spending.
With all this in mind, being able to spend my life playing with so many of the latest and greatest home entertainment gadgets and getting paid for it never gets old.
At home nothing beats getting in pizza and popcorn on a Friday night and firing up a film on the 90-inch projection screen and Bowers & Wilkins surround sound speaker system I’ve got rigged out in my blacked out (and heavily alarmed!) garage.
I’m definitely not one of those people who has put together a home cinema to save me from having to go out to the cinema, though. Going to see a quality film in a well equipped (ideally Dolby Cinema orIMAX) theatre with a meal out remains pretty much my perfect waste of time.
An enthusiastic nerd. My generally optimistic outlook on home entertainment tech has suffered enough knocks over the years, for sure, to make me wary of marketing hype. But I tend to consider anything that moves the home entertainment dial forward even a little bit as good news. Only treating huge ‘revolutionary leaps’ as worthy of positive comment while snarking about smaller steps seems unhelpful and pointless to me. Progress should always be celebrated.
For me the best home entertainment kit actually makes you forget you’re listening to it or watching it. So with TVs or projectors, you want a picture that’s so clean and natural that you become totally lost in the image, rather than noticing the technology that’s producing it. Similarly with movie soundtracks and music, the best kit typically sounds transparent, reproducing a film soundstage or a stereo mix so cleanly and richly that it all becomes about the music.
Obviously when I’m actually testing a product I do focus on how effectively it achieves its performance transparency. When I’m just listening to music or watching a film for fun, though, so long as my own system is up to scratch I find it easy to just sit back and enjoy it.
For films, nothing beats the experience you can get from 4K Blu-ray. Being able to enjoy 4K Blu-ray’s combination of ultra sharp, extremely 4K pictures with expanded HDR light range and wide colour gamuts with far less compression than you get with the vast majority of other formats (especially streaming) is a joy. Plus 4K Blu-rays and HD Blu-rays are the only places you can find full, uncompressed Dolby Atmos or DTS:X audio mixes.
For music I’m mainly a CD man. I like vinyl too, but the amount of that I buy is limited at the moment by the fact that they don’t make turntables for cars…
On the movie front, staple sources I use because they reveal so much about a TV or projector’s capabilities are the 4K Blu-rays ‘It’ Chapter One (there are some exceptionally dark scenes in this), BladeRunner 2049 for its soundtrack, sharpness and colours, and both Pan and Zach Snyder’s The Justice League for their extremely bright, aggressive use of HDR.
Favourite testing albums include Abbatoir Blues/The Lyre Of Orpheus by Nick Cave, Black Market Music by Placebo, SurferRosa by Pixies, and Homogenic by Bjork.