Is the term “home theater” obsolete?

Language changes. It’s just something we have to accept as we get older. When I was a kid, “Google” was a one with 100 zeroes, or a comic book character. “Twitter” was something a bird did. If you said the word “app” at all, you probably meant “appetizer.”

Then again, when we talked about getting great sound, we used words like “hi-fi.” A little later we said “rack system.” We used to talk about 40″ as a “big screen TV.” And, for the last twenty years, we’ve used the term “home theater.” A home theater had great sound, a big screen, and an experience that was at least as good — and as complicated — as a movie theater.

But, when was the last time you heard anyone actually use the term “home theater?” When was the last time someone invited you to their house (or the basement of their parents’ house) to check out their “boss” home theater system?

Times have changed.

It seems like the days of having pride in your audiovisual system are gone forever. Blame millennials if you must, but realistically it’s all about prices dropping. There was a time when you really needed to sacrifice in order to afford the kind of system that would make your friends drool. Today you can go to the local club store, throw a box in the cart and you have a television bigger and better looking than anything you could have gotten in the 90s.

It’s called democratization. Over times, the stuff that used to be confined exclusively to the hoi polloi filters down to the average joe. In the case of expensive TVs, the last economic downturn killed the market for ultra high priced gear. That, combined with the super-low prices found in the club store, took away some of the panache of having a massive TV.

The living room isn’t the only destination.

In 1998, people watched TV in one room. Today you watch on your phone, your tablet, wherever. Video has stopped being a shared experience. When we’re not all looking in the same direction it’s not so important what you’re looking at.

Sound seems to be less important.

Today you can get a Dolby Atmos sound system that will support something like 30 channels of audio. Yet, most of us don’t bother. Why? Because we’re not sharing the experience with others. So, it becomes less important to have a super loud, complex system. It’s more important to have great headphones.

And think about it… remember when good headphones were tiny and cheap? Now, you’ll pay $100 or more for a big set of headphones that block out the world. That’s far more important than a “home theater.”

This was pretty obvious…

…a couple weeks ago when I went to the CEDIA Expo in San Diego. This is the trade association for custom home theater installers. I started going back in 2012. Back then the show was already waning. The economy dealt a hammer blow to custom integrators, and in ’12 we were just coming out of it. Still, there was enough to keep me busy for three days. I blogged about it incessantly. I didn’t even bother giving you a single article about the two hours I spent on the floor this year. Most of the people I saw on the show floor were exhibitors checking out each other’s booths.

So maybe “home theater” isn’t what it used to be…

but don’t let it get you down. Take pride in what you want to take pride in, and if you’re still interested in a big screen in the living room, I’m right there with you.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.