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Theaters Battle Comforts of Home

30 Mar, 2008 By: Stephanie Prange

Theater owners' growing commitment to newfangled 3-D and to ever more elaborate (and more expensive) movie theaters is a testament to the popularity of home media.

Just last week a group of investors, led by Australian entertainment conglomerate Village Roadshow, announced plans for an ultra-high-end theater chain, offering plush seating, upscale food and beverages, waiters and special parking privileges for the eye-popping price of an estimated $35 a ticket.

Watch a DVD — or better yet, a Blu-ray Disc — in your home theater, order out from your favorite restaurant, and you can get all that (albeit sans waiters) and perhaps not even have to park the car.

Certainly, a home theater may not completely compare to a movie screen, but it's getting close. That's why theater aficionados are looking to make the movie experience more like home.

Another scheme to increase the ever-dwindling theater audience — one loudly championed by DreamWorks' Jeffrey Katzenberg — is the new 3-D. It's touted as a step above the old headache-inducing, blue-and-red-glasses technology. However, it still requires glasses, which to me is a major drawback, especially for kids' films. I can't get my kids to keep ANY glasses on for more than 10 minutes and, frankly, I'm not much of a fan of glasses either.

I'm reminded of the time I showed John Water's Polyester in “Odorama” in college. It seemed like a neat idea, but the cards were cumbersome and all the different scratch-and-sniff sections ended up smelling the same.

While Katzenberg insists the new 3-D is no gimmick — and indeed it's more sophisticated than mid-century ideas such as Smell-O-Vision and the old 3-D — it just emphasizes the fact that watching a movie in the home is a very satisfying experience.

Despite Katzenberg's comment before the end of the format war that the HD disc was merely a niche business (HM, April 1-7, 2007), he seems determined to trump home media with 3-D.

Packaged home media has suffered attacks from video-on-demand for more than a decade, and still it keeps on drawing consumers. It will likely survive a while longer, no matter what fancy theatrical enhancements materialize.

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