Interiors Spring 2012 | Making Room
The Evolution of the Man Cave
The male’s inner sanctum is now the family media room — and girls are allowed.
By Ted McIntyre
Check the “man cave” expression at the door, advises Robert Bragdon. “I understand the terminology, but the reality is that the buying decision is more the female than the male, so we try to refrain from that expression,” says the general manager of East Hamilton Radio, a signature audio/ video retailer in the region since 1931.
“Back in the day, the boys would go into the garage and you had your cave there to watch the game,” Bragdon notes. “But today these are media rooms that are being used to multipurpose — surfing the net, gaming, videos and TV. It’s moving away from where the guy has a place to get away from the family to where the family goes to be together.”
As such, the aesthetics have necessarily evolved as well. “The guy typically likes to dial the movie up a little louder or watch the sporting event with a little more impact,” Bragdon concedes. “But when you look at a room today, all you should see is the picture. The idea with custom design is to eliminate the obtrusiveness of the electronics — the big black boxes on the floor or the wall — without compromising performance.”
Modern home media rooms can actually appear as though they are not even wired for sound, thanks to today’s sophisticated in-ceiling audio systems. “I just did a reno in my home — bedroom suite with in-ceiling speakers and an in-wall subwoofer,” Bragdon relates. “I can rock it if I want, but when you walk in the room, you don’t even see any speakers.”
As with other other high-end electronics retailers, the home theatre segment has accounted for the largest growth in EHR’s business, with a 25-30 percent increase over the past two years. “One of our biggest competitors is the travel industry, not Future Shop and Best Buy,” explains Bragdon of the clientele drawn to these systems. “People now want to be able to stay home and be entertained. Keeping the family together is a priority. The kids today spend a lot of time on the TV — not necessarily watching broadcasts, but gaming and streaming. So instead of having them in their rooms on their laptops, these media rooms can ultimately draw everyone together.”
Ideally, customers will still be in the construction phase when contemplating their desired media room. “Before they start looking at product, we like to get into their home and assess the room, or the house, depending on how elaborate they want the system to be,” says Bragdon. “It allows us to design a system far better and more cost-effectively. At that point you can address the expectations of the customer: Do you want video in every room? The ability to listen to any song, any time, anywhere? Do you want to be able to control it from your phone? All of these questions are preliminary. From there we can start designing a system based upon the budget.”
EHR has outfitted clients with budgets upwards of $100,000, but single-room systems can pack a punch for as little as $5,000 to $10,000, particularly with the price erosion of flat-panel TVs in the past year. Sharp, a leader in the industry, now offers four 80-inch models. “By the end of the year, you’ll probably see them as low as $3,500,” says Bragdon.
Those screens, however, are merely a single element of the trend toward more comprehensive set-ups.
“We’ve got some fairly impressive rooms here in the store that will really wow you, that will run somewhere between $25,000 and $50,000. They’re state-of-the-art from a video standpoint — both the projector and screen, where you’re truly beyond the resolution of your high-definition TV and into theatre.”
If there’s one component of your system that experts caution not to underestimate, though, it’s the sound. “People don’t put enough emphasis on the audio portion of the system,” Bragdon notes. “The wow factor of the big image is what initially captivates people. But in my opinion, 70 to 80 percent of the experience and excitement is the audio. The soundtracks and scores of today’s movies are phenomenal. George Lucas won’t even allow his THX-formatted movies to be distributed in theatres that don’t have the appropriate sound system to convey what he wants his audience to experience.”
The trick, of course, is the ability to control all this technology without requiring a Master’s degree in engineering.
“To be honest, the most exciting part of our industry, to me, is control,” says Bragdon. “And it’s probably the area consumers are least aware of. Everyone has an iPhone — probably an iPad. These devices are now control devices — the lighting, window coverings, heating system, much less the actual electronics. Long gone are the days of the universal remote, which meant you could operate other equipment with one control. An activity-based remote allows you to operate your entire system at the touch of a button. Hit the ‘watch movie’ button and the control device knows the equipment in your system and what you want to do with it, and will send out a series of commands to turn on your system and complete all the necessary functions.
“Another thing that has come down in price that many consumers are not aware of is the radio-frequency remote, which allows you to put your electronics away,” notes Bragdon. “They can be in a utility room in your basement; they can be in a closet; they can be in a cabinet with wooden doors. It can go through walls to control equipment. It gets back to the lifestyle look of it.”