The world of home automation and custom installation of home theaters saw over a generation of nearly unbridled growth from the late 1970s through the housing boom of the mid-2000's. Technologies like VHS (having beaten Sony's Betamax) and Dolby Pro Logic brought the concept of home theater to mainstream consumers by the mid-1980's. CRT projectors and curved screens might seem a little silly today but with your C-band satellite and a front folding projection TV - you were pretty damn high tech around 1984. Add in some surround sound and the days of quadraphonic seemed eons ago.
Other technologies followed that drove the home theater market. The Compact Disc was a radical change for the audio market but the DVD was likely one of the biggest changes. With over 90 percent household penetration for DVD - consumers were able to get video quality that made the almighty VHS tape look silly and it came packed with audio that included 5.1 (sometimes 7.1) channels of discreet surround sound from DTS and Dolby Digital. These were huge improvements over even the short-lived Laserdisc format.
Satellite TV from the likes of DirecTV and Dish Network helped bring even more consumers into the market as now a fan of the Yankees could watch all of the home games while living in Los Angeles. NFL or fantasy fans could enjoy all of the games being broadcast on any given Sunday not just the ones that the local network affiliate had on the air. It was a major game changer. TiVo and DVRs added to the fun as people learned that they could make their viewing experience their own including skipping commercials. Recording shows on a VHS deck required a degree in astrophysics compared to programming a TiVo. Women especially loved TiVo as they could master the technology as well as make television more meaningful for them thus bringing them into the theater more.
The biggest factor that lit the home theater market on fire was the introduction of the flat HDTV. Plasmas and later LED/LCD HDTVs with their inch think (often even thinner today) brought a form factor and a "must have" coolness to the television that a big screen TV simply didn't have. By the mid-2000's - gone was the monster big screen with a VCR and DVD player parked on the top. In was a flat $10,000 50-inch HDTV hanging on the wall. Even before all of the content on TV was in High Definition - people were more than happy to stretch out the 4:3 content to fit their killer new HDTVs. Powered with booming real estate prices of the time paired with easy access to home equity loans - even at five figure prices flat HDTVs sold like hot cakes. Today, companies like Vizio brought big HDTVs to the masses via distribution channels like Costco, Wal-Mart and Target. Even lower middle class Americans can afford a 50 to 60 inch HDTV that comes packed with all of the latest goodies. Despite the price, the form factor of the flat HDTV was one of, if not the most, important factors in the rise in home theater.
Home theater took its first hit in the era after 2008 as the housing market collapsed. Having a "wired home" didn't mean that your McMansion was worth any more than the guy next door who just went into foreclosure. Per square foot price and recent comps had more to do with a home's value than if it had a screening room or big home theater. Products like Apple's iPad, streaming movies on today's Blu-ray players, HDTVs and gaming consoles also brought more content to mobile and low-cost devices. Home theater was less of a luxury goods product today than ever before.
Future technologies are pending for consumers including OLED (organic LED) HDTV, 4K video and streaming HD content offer ways to bring more users back to the high end home theater market but always its going to be a cat and mouse game. Consumers demand more WOW for their tech dollar and with computers and home theaters officially married - there are lots of possibilities.