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6/13/2004

Sky High brings Hollywood to the living room

By Pam Mellskog
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — Scott Radewan could carry a Coke and popcorn to work. He watches movies on the clock, after all.

But kicking back to test video and audio aspects of the home theaters and multi-purpose media rooms he installs is an end-stage perk.

The rest is less about big ears or sharp eyes and more about pulling wires and arranging components to produce a symphony of sound and a rainbow of living color.

After years of doing as much for area big-box stores, Radewan launched Sky High Home Entertainment in Longmont this February.

The business handles from-scratch projects in new houses with home theater spaces dedicated in the blueprints. Other jobs take place in older homes where residents want to enhance what they’ve got.

In the latter situation, Radewan said, adding speakers, a surround sound receiver, a wide-screen television and a subwoofer can bring Hollywood home like never before.

“Just adding a subwoofer can give them that ‘Boom!,’ that feeling of a T-Rex walking across the living room,” he said.

Since the 1980s, when home movie viewing caught on, the industry has burgeoned with installation projects ranging from $500 to $250,000, according to the Indianapolis-based Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association, established in 1989.

The healthy growth, according to CEDIA board President Ray Lepper, comes from the dovetailing of dropping technology prices and a growing appreciation for higher-quality experiences away from the public silver screen.

“It’s one of those things that affects your senses. It has lots of subtleties. It’s like taking a test drive or tasting wine,” said Lepper, also president of Home Media in Richmond, Va.

“High-definition TV blows people away when they see a picture on their TV that looks like what they see looking out the window,” he continued. “And the sound difference is the difference between this and a transistor radiator. You can tap your feet and snap your fingers to a transistor radio. But this is like going to the concert or having Disney World in your house.”

Others in the industry speculate the growth spurt after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks only catalyzed the inevitable need American families have for more convenient quality time and downtime.

“It’s a protective little cocoon that you can melt away in,” said Jon Lambrecht, 52, owner of Chrysalis Entertainment Systems in Louisville.

Today, 34 percent of builders offer home-theater wiring packages as standard or optional amenities, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

Approximately one in five American homes has a dedicated or enhanced home-entertainment setup, CEDIA reported. And those households now typically include married couples between ages 35 and 44 with teenage children, not just the well-to-do, as in the industry’s dawn.

The trick for those in the business is keeping complicated systems simple, Lambrecht said.

“Anyone can go to a big-box store and buy the six, seven, eight to 10 components. But now, what do you do with them?” he asked. “It’s the remote control and the interface control that need to be programmed. Physically, the hardest part is wiring the house.”

Success comes when multiple hookups and fine-tuned calibration boils down to one button on a remote control, he added.

Lepper would agree. “It costs money to make it simple,” he said.

Ultimately, the tinkering should push the technology installed to look and sound as good as possible at home as in the cinema. And that, Lambrecht said, takes both expertise and passion.

“Most of us are frustrated musicians who really couldn’t make it in the music world,” he said of the passion part.

When Plan A fails to work out, he continued, this is the next-best thing.

That was precisely the case for Radewan, a 1994 graduate of Full Sail Center for the Recording Arts, a media college in Orlando, Fla.

When the performance track turned into a dead end, he got on the other side of the business — making the sights and sounds of stardom as life-like as possible in the home environment.

Turns out getting smiles from customers instead of fans, according to Radewan, is just as rewarding a way to earn a living.

“I do all this stuff for fun, too,” he said.

Pam Mellskog can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 224, or by e-mail at pmellskog@times-call.com.