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Home Elecrtonics: Expanding Horizons

Mike Woods

The home theater has become so ubiquitous that it is difficult for designers to create anything unique. One company, however, is using advanced technology to improve the widescreen viewing experience, while another is expanding the large-screen theater into a multimedia venue.
 
Since the early days of film, moviemakers have enticed audiences with ever-wider panoramic images. While front projection systems can create large-screen images at home, they have difficulty emulating the wide cinema screen shape (called CinemaScope) of films such as Lawrence of Arabia, Titanic, and numerous others. Instead, most TVs shrink the widescreen image into the screen’s available real estate and add unsightly and distracting black bars above and below the picture to fill the remainder of the space. With high-definition television (HDTV) and its inherently wider screen shape compared to that of normal TV, these ultrawide movies fit onto the screen with smaller, but still noticeable, black bars.
 
While nearly all of Runco International’s digital projectors are HDTV compatible, the company’s higher-end models and a new line called Cinewide (ranging in cost from just under $15,000 for an as-yet unnamed 700-series model to $250,000 for the MBX-1) have various lens options that can stretch the image horizontally to allow for images that are even wider than those available on HDTV. Coupled with complementary video processing or motorized lenses, these projectors can create true CinemaScope pictures and yet still produce HDTV and standard TV images in their appropriate shapes and sizes.

Instead of creating wide images from a single projector, Vista Systems’ proprietary Spyder processor can output incoming signals to several projectors so that the images, when configured side by side, blend together to create one superwide, seamless picture. The Spyder processor not only fills the screen with CinemaScope movie images, but also composites as many as 64 different sources and outputs those signals onto the screen simultaneously, in real time, in any number of image windows.
 
This may be the ultimate picture-in-picture function. You can watch a full-size HDTV image in one part of the screen while simultaneously surfing the Internet through your computer in a separate window on the same screen. You can create a third window to channel-surf other HDTV signals, play video games, or view a security camera image of your front door. On a sports-filled Saturday or Sunday afternoon, you can have several images on screen to show every available game simultaneously. The system accepts nearly any type of signal and, depending on the number of inputs and outputs, costs from $25,000 to $50,000 for basic configurations.

Runco International, 800.237.8626, www.runco.com;
Vista Systems, 602.943.5700, www.vistasystems.net

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