Home theaters turn man cave into family cave

  • By Cynthia Billhartz Gregorian The Kansas City Star
  • Tuesday, July 1, 2014 12:51pm
  • Life

Joe “J.C.” Ganote celebrated Father’s Day with his son and grandchildren at his home in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. But if the younger Ganotes hadn’t made the cross-country trip from San Diego, you can bet that grandpa would have logged on to Skype to watch them on the 106-inch screen in his basement.

“We can see them walking around. They ham it up, boy! They know they are on camera,” J.C. Ganote said about the 11-month-old twins, Michela and Caleb.

Across town, Terry Maskil of Shawnee, Kansas, often settles into one of the plush reclining theater chairs next to his sons Adam, 13, and Nicholas, 6, to watch a movie in their basement home theater, which features a 120-inch screen.

These days, home theaters are the family rooms, and money can buy you all the amenities, including surround sound, subwoofers and popcorn makers.

“Everybody isn’t off in their own spot, doing their own thing. We are all together,” says Amy Maskil, Terry’s wife.

Sales of extra-large televisions have multiplied in recent years.

Five times as many 60-inch or larger televisions were sold between January and March than during the same time in 2011, according to the NPD Group, a consumer market research firm. Four years ago, soundbars and streaming boxes were niche devices. Now they make up $1.4 billion in sales, and $2.4 billion if you add in audio streaming.

And while none of this equipment is cheap, neither is going to the movies, which might explain why some families are investing in home theaters.

It would cost the Maskils $30 in tickets for the four of them to go to a Friday or Saturday night movie. Add in a large popcorn, four large soft drinks and a large box of candy, and you’re looking at an additional $35 or more. If they went once a month, they would spend about a $900 a year.

Instead, they spent the past 10 years saving to transform a basement room into a mini-cinema. They carefully studied pictures, then helped build it.

The theater has an Epson overhead projector, seven speakers surrounding the space and two subwoofers to handle the low rumbling sounds that make you feel like you’re in the middle of the action.

The walls are covered in sectioned drapes and have sconces that look like they came from an actual theater. The leather lounge chairs have drink holders, and the second row is built on a platform, stadium-seating style.

“Terry’s dad comes over every Sunday and falls asleep in those while watching the Chiefs game,” Amy Maskil says.

The room outside the theater has a stocked movie candy drawer and a popcorn machine that looks like an old-fashioned cart. The walls are covered with framed movie posters from “Rocky,” “Caddyshack,” “Jaws,” “Lord of the Rings,” “Apollo 13” and “Star Wars.”

It also has another large flat-screen TV, so Terry Maskil can step out while movies are playing to see how the Kansas City Royals are doing.

The price tag for all this? About $30,000, according to the Maskils. But it’s worth it.

“As we get older and the kids are in high school, I want to be the cool house, so they and their friends hang out here and I know where they are,” Amy Maskil says.

Jeff Moore, sales manager at Independence Audio &Video for 35 years, says price ranges for home theaters vary widely.

“We see folks doing things in the $10,000 to $50,000 range, but we have folks who go above and below that, too,” he says. “It’s very family-oriented. They can come together and watch a movie or sporting event, and it does add value to your home.”

Several local businesses that sell home theater systems, such as Homedia Solutions and Elevated Electronics, show pictures on their websites of rooms outfitted like cinemas.

But Chad Kelsey, co-owner of C&R Sight &Sound, says most clients just want a big-screen TV with killer surround sound systems built into the walls.

“It’s very discreet now,” he says. “We can hide the equipment so you operate the remote control through walls. A lot of people have little kids, and they don’t want fingers in the equipment, so we have to give them bells and whistles without you seeing it.”

A secret door in the wall next to Joe Ganote’s screen opens to reveal a small room full of speakers and equipment. An overhead projector hangs over a couch in the middle of the room.

Ganote plans to upgrade soon to a $12,000 projector that works better with ambient light. He is what you might call an audio/video geek.

He and his wife built their home 14 years ago and had the audio/visual installed five years ago when they finished their basement.

In addition to the 106-inch screen, there is a 46-inch flat panel hanging on a wall nearby, a 70-inch Sony TV with its own surround sound system in a nearby room, a 48-inch plasma TV with a Sonos subwoofer and speakers in the living room on the first floor and a 46-inch LED flat screen in a sitting room on the second floor.

“My wife says I went overboard,” he says, smiling sheepishly. “But I knew what I wanted.”

He allowed his sons to stay home from high school the day that Independence Audio “tricked out” his basement. It took three installers with three large vans full of equipment two days to wire the house and set up the screens, projectors, consoles and speakers, he says. The cost: $60,000 for the basement theater. He figures he has another $10,000 invested in wiring and equipment for the rest of the house.

Everything can be controlled remotely by an iPad. And a DVR on every TV can record different shows at the same time then play each of those shows on any screen in the home. The same goes for music.

“I can download any song in the world and play it in any room in the house,” he says. “Or I can have John Mayer playing on the TV up here and a classic rock concert going in the basement.”

Ganote and his sons Jake, 25, and Josh, 23, all play instruments and love music.

He has a lot of fond memories of them all watching concerts and music shows on TV together over the years: Santana, John Mayer, the Country Music Awards.

“We also watch a lot of movies. You can get them now within a couple of months after they’re in theaters,” he says. “It beats going to the movies. We can have our own popcorn and go to the bathroom. The sound of helicopters will come from one speaker and bullets from another. It sounds like they’re flying past your ears. At night when it’s all dark and the TVs are on and it’s rumbling, it’s awesome.”

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