When Bryan Bantry built a theater two decades ago at Goose Creek, his compound in Wainscott, his was one of the few on the South Fork at the time. He thinks he remembers that Ronald Perelman, Barry Sonnenfeld, and Ronald Lauder each had one, with Mr. Lauder’s being in a barn. In that pre-digital age, he had to source his equipment from Germany and prints had to be delivered. Times have certainly changed.
“Now in your high-end market [a home theater] is almost a given,” said Gene Stilwell, managing director of Town and Country Real Estate. “Buyers now expect it’s part of the package.” He describes the high-end at $5 million and above. “It’s a selling point in the high-end rental too,” said Nanette Hansen of Sotheby’s. “People want to have a movie night and have their friends over.”
“They’re over the top as far as what they’re doing,” said Mr. Stilwell, mentioning one where a night sky appears on the ceiling replete with assorted twinkling heavenly bodies. “You can even adjust how many shooting stars.” He was referring to the fiber-optic ceiling tiles that can be installed by the several home theater companies doing a thriving business on the South Fork.
When it comes to tricking out these babies “the sky’s the limit,” said Zac Allentuck, proprietor of Hamptons Technology Group, an East Hampton company that has installed “basic to elaborate” media rooms.
Indeed, Crescendo Designs in Southampton, which employs an in-house team of 24, has installed home theaters in these parts at far above $1 million. “I don’t believe we’ve hit the $2 million mark yet,” said Michael Brody, who co-founded the company with his brother, Chris Brody, but they’ve gotten close to it. Spending that kind of moolah is “really for the ultimate enthusiast” — not necessarily a media maven, but rather “someone who cares about the experience overall,” he said.
The ultimate Hamptons home theater owner desires the most luxurious reclining seats, swathed in supple leather, and sporting heated cup holders, pilasters to emulate the architectural details of a traditional cinema, velvet-covered acoustic panels (for enhancing sound), motorized curtains, sophisticated lighting, and, of course, the best audio and video equipment money can buy, not to mention a service that provides access to films before they’re released to the general public. Popcorn machine optional.
Home theaters combine the latest in electronics and interior design. While some installers, such as Crescendo, do both, others specialize. Both Hamptons Technology Group and Home Technology Experts, a Southampton company, focus on audiovisuals. And both report that $600,000 is about what it has cost their most-demanding Hamptons customers for all the bells and whistles. As an example, one of Hampton Technology Group’s clients has a theater with a 135-inch projection screen, 12-foot ceilings, and 7.1 surround sound, meaning seven speakers and one subwoofer placed front, sides, and back.
As technology progresses and TVs become bigger, projection screens are losing some ground to TVs. Everyone is buzzing about the latest TV technology, 4K or Ultra HD. “The resolution is so high that when you look up close you don’t actually see pixels,” according to Robert Gulli, the lead technician at Hamptons Technology Group. “You can’t decipher [the image] from reality.” The technology has advanced to make the dots smaller and to blend them together so that “there’s no space between them” and you lose that “mesh effect,” he said. “Everybody wants the latest and greatest.”
In January LG debuted a 105-inch curved HD TV using 4K technology. At a comparable size to a typical home theater projection screen, what makes it revolutionary is that it does not require a dark room, unlike projection screens whose images are destroyed by ambient light. It also imparts a Cinemascope experience. The price tag for it is $70,000. While the cost is obviously high, there is a strong demand for it, according to Mr. Allentuck. “We live in a great market. Our business has been relatively unaffected by the ups and downs of the economy.”
It’s not as if Hamptonites aren’t already used to paying that kind of price. “There are digital projectors that cost $175,000,” said Alex Karoussos, owner of Home Technology Experts. “A pair of fully digitally designed Meridian front speakers can cost $125,000,” and are so powerful “you can almost feel the sound and emotion.”
Some pretty nifty accessories have also found their way into South Fork home theaters, according to Mr. Karoussos. Kaleidescape, which starts at $3,500, is a server that digitally stores and organizes all your movies. “It also bypasses credits and immediately starts the movie,” he said. He has also installed PRIMA Cinema Players, which, at $35,000, allow users to be the first on their block to view first-run movies. There’s an additional $500 rental fee if the film is still being shown in theaters.
The evolution of home theaters continues apace. It was the advent of flat screen TVs that spurred the transition to home theaters in the Hamptons circa 2002, according to Michael Brody. The thinking was: “If I have a large TV on the wall, now I want surround sound, then I want a larger experience for projectors.”
It seems that home theaters as we know them may have hit their peak. These days “they are getting away from the movie theater look and getting moved out of basements,” according to Ms. Hansen. “There’s a push to having them in a very high-end family room rather than a cavernous hole.” These new theaters look more like “a cocktail lounge in Tribeca,” she said. She has observed new home theaters decked out with “tasteful sofas and Berber carpets.”
These hybrid multipurpose rooms have been on the upswing since 2011, according to Michael Brody. Sandy Gallin, a former producer whose Further Lane, East Hampton, property is on the market, has such a room. His theater boasts rows of sofas and ottomans, as opposed to seats, and a large antique cabinet lined with glass jars filled with candy and nuts, according to Linda Haugevik, his listing agent.
What’s next? According to Chris Brody: your own private outdoor theater. A new TV on the market called C Seed unfolds from underground and raises about 15 feet to transform into a screen that is bigger than an S.U.V. “It’s like having a drive-in in your backyard.”