Are the Days of the “Bat Cave” Home Theater Over?

It has long been considered the ultimate goal for this crazy hobby of ours to create a so-called “bat cave” home theater. No, that doesn’t necessarily mean a TV room designed to look like Batman’s hideout, though that would be pretty darn cool. Rather, it’s a dedicated viewing space with an HD projector, plush theater chairs, and dark walls and furniture that will reject ambient light. There should be no windows in this room. Or, at the very least, you should be able to completely block those windows out when watching movies. Typically, finished basements are best suited for this application. To get the highest video quality and the most theatrical-style experience at home, you need to eliminate any potential light reflections and other distractions. However, a recent article from CEPro suggests that professional home theater installers have been seeing a trend away from dedicated theater rooms, in favor of multi-purpose “great rooms.”

According to the article, “It’s more difficult to sell dedicated theater rooms these days. Fewer homeowners are willing to give up the square footage for a room that might not be used frequently.”

Is this merely a function of the country’s economic woes? Doubtful. The kind of people who’d hire a home theater installer are probably not overly affected by or concerned about money issues. A spokesman from installer Definitive Audio says, “In our experience, the dedicated theaters are still being done, but at a much slower rate…We are seeing a transition toward the multipurpose room that has one or two screens – a large flat panel that is used for normal daytime viewing and a larger movie screen that may drop in front of it for a theatrical type experience for watching movies.”

In other words, people are still spending the money on elaborate constructions projects, just not exclusively for movie-watching.

If I had to guess, I’d say this is more a factor of our culture’s declining attention spans. Between TV, the internet, video games, texting, Facebook, Twitter, and everything else going on in modern life, do people still want to sit in a darkened room and do nothing but watch a movie for a couple hours? Moreover, do they want to have rooms in their houses just for that purpose?

One of the troubling side effects of this trend (as far as the consumer electronics industry is concerned) is that these multi-purpose rooms are not always suitable for 3-D, which requires high light output from the display and a minimum of ambient reflections. The move away from dedicated home theater spaces is only going to make 3-D an even harder sell for many consumers.

4 comments

  1. JoeRo

    “If I had to guess, I’d say this is more a factor of our culture’s declining attention spans.”

    No offense Josh, but I’ve got to call bullshit on hat. I’ve been hearing this defense/excuse for decades to explain everything to increases in divorce rates and murder rates, to the continuing death of public broadcasting. I don’t think attention spans are shorter, I think it’s more a case of people being encouraged to multitask. Everyone does it every day, I’m doing this right now from work (shh don’t tell the boss), and it’s that more than anything that affects dedicated devices/rooms. Why have a room that only does one thing? Sure it does it really well, but in a grand room you can have gaming, movies, music, host parties … really the sky is the limit. People just don’t care for monotaskers these days. Diversity always wins.

    • Zaserov

      On multitasking, both for rooms and people: it’s been shown that it means doing several things poorly. First Google result covers this fairly well:
      http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=112334449
      An interesting tidbit, always comes to mind when people talk about multitasking.

      That said, I think you guys are making the same point, just from a half-full/half-empty way of looking at it.

      Also, it seems likely that the recession could be a cause for this; even though, as Josh said, the same people could probably still just open the checkbook and have whatever they wanted in that room, a dedicated theater room is an almost ostentatious display of wealth*, and there’s been an undercurrent of class warfare the last couple of years. Or at least there has been on the internet. Smarter rich people aren’t going to be showing it off their cash at the moment. A living room, though; everyone has one of those. Put in a window and maybe a table, and the theater is hidden.

      *By this I mean the type you have a contractor for, not the DIY type with a pull down screen and a couple of la-z-boys.

  2. Had I the money to get a house with a large enough spare room and all the components required, I’d be right on top of this?

    Josh, we gotta talk to someone about gettin’ a raise! An extra $50k a year or so should cover it 😀

  3. EM

    My “home theater” is just my multipurpose living room and is a modest one at that. While I may make improvements from time to time, I will probably never have a dedicated home theater, as my budget will likely never accommodate my perfectionist wish—basically, something that strongly resembles the bridge of the “Constitution”-class starship “Enterprise”. (Obviously, I would have to be able to dim the multihued lighting…)

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