Who Created The First Home Theater System? Maybe I did!

Posted by Tom Hannaher , Friday, May 27, 2011
I know of at least a dozen people who claim to have "invented" home theater. I am not one of them. But it is arguable that I "created” one of the very first -- maybe THE first -- legitimate home theaters...in 1974.
First, a definition. I will define home theater as the combination of three key elements: 1) a sound system capable of wide-range, loud, three-dimensional sound, 2) a television with a large (40" or more) screen and 3) programming material that combines quality video and high-fidelity multi-channel audio.

By the early 1970s "quadraphonic sound" was a big deal, with many companies offering four-channel receivers that typically used some sort of mechanical time-delay or phase manipulation to create the rear-channel signals. And good full-range loudspeakers were relatively plentiful. So the sound system wasn't a tough thing to build. But big TVs were another story.

Prior to 1972 the biggest TV you were likely to find was 25" -- but then Advent Corporation introduced Henry Kloss' amazing VideoBeam 1000 -- a projection TV with an 84" screen. The VideoBeam 1000 paved the way for big screen television as we know it today. It was plenty big enough for a home theater system.

But where, pray tell, was one to find program material that combined entertaining video and multi-channel audio? Cable TV didn't exist. Stereo VCRs didn't exist. DVD players were about 20 years away. The answer? Simulcast broadcasts -- where a TV station and a local FM stereo radio station joined forces to broadcast a live event. Which is exactly what happened in the summer of 1974, when Orchestra Hall opened in downtown Minneapolis.

Orchestra Hall was a big deal -- a beautiful venue with spectacular, state-of-the-art acoustics. Demand for tickets for opening night far exceeded the seating capacity of the hall. So Margaret Moos, a producer at Minnesota Public Radio, had a brainstorm -- why not set up a mini concert hall with big screen TVs and high quality sound and sell tickets to benefit the radio station? That's when she called me.
At the time I was Director of Marketing at a chain of stereo-video stores called, believe it or not, "Sound of Music."* We were one of the first 12 dealers in the country to sell the Advent VideoBeam TV. Working with Margaret, we set up two systems, each comprising of a 7-foot Advent TV, eight Advent loudspeakers and a Marantz quadraphonic receiver. Picture quality and sound quality were really very good. Hundreds of people paid to watch the show -- most of them wearing tuxedos and evening gowns.

It was a truly wonderful night. Excitement was in the air. Champagne was flowing. Beethoven ruled. And home theater proved to be almost as good as being there.

* Nine years later, "Sound of Music" changed its name to Best Buy. Since then they've become rather more successful than they were in 1974.

My ROKU Traveling Entertainment Machine

Posted by Tom Hannaher , Wednesday, May 18, 2011
My Roku XD|S streaming media player is pretty cool. Simple to use. High quality video. Affordable. And tiny. On a recent trip it took up less room in my suitcase than my tiny camcorder. When I got to the house we were renting, I plugged it into the TV, logged onto the house wifi network, and was watching Netflix streaming movies in less than eight minutes. No fuss. No muss. And no extra weight or clutter in my suitcase. I'm glad I brought it along.
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