Nearly three-quarters of Americans aged 12 and up report that they actively consume movies and television at home, according to research from Nielsen. And while watching lots of television is hardly a new phenomenon — in fact, some would consider it a national pastime — the way we consume media has rapidly evolved over the past decade, as have the environments in which we watch our favorite flicks. Let’s take a closer look at the evolution of the home theater, along with trends we can expect to see moving into 2016.

 

What a Long, Entertaining Trip It’s Been

First there was Betamax, AKA “Beta,” which was handily defeated by VHS back in the late 1970s and early 1980s in the now-legendary “videotape format war.”  But VHS barely had a chance to revel in its victory before it in turn was rendered obsolete by DVD, which was then superseded by Blue-Ray and finally digital. Throw in HDTV, surround sound, 3D display, and streaming over the internet, and who can possibly keep up?

 

The contemporary consumer, that’s who. In fact, changing consumer behaviors are continually driving technology and how it’s put to use in today’s homes.

 

Home Theater, 2.0

If your mental image of a “home theater” involves a dark den or basement with a big single screen, massive audio system and stadium seating, you may be in for a surprise. While that’s one way to go, other trends are also entering the home entertaining sphere, including the following:

 

1. Multiple Screens

Why have one screen when you can have two, three or even more? Whether you’re a sports fan who plans to simultaneously watch all broadcast games or part of a family with different television viewing habits, multi-screen applications offer an exciting alternative to having to choose between one or the other.

 

Today’s consumers also enjoy customization when it comes to incorporating multi-screen walls. Many seek out large centrals screen flanked by smaller ones on one wall, while others utilize one large screen with variable video sources for a tiling effect — some incorporating as many as nine HD programs on one streamlined HD display. Frequent home entertainers, meanwhile, may opt for screens on multiple walls to promote circulation throughout the space while giving people several viewing options.

 

Still others simply rely on their mobile devices to act as second screens. How much so? A whopping 84 percent of smartphone and tablet owners use their devices while watching tv for everything from looking up content-related information to researching products and services.

 

2. Beyond the Home Theater

We recently discussed the Millennial trend toward maximizing space over sprawl. While 80s-era excess may have seen a rise in dedicated home theater rooms designed to replicate the look and feel of a small-scale cinema complete with everything from movie posters to popcorn machines, many contemporary homeowners are choosing to take more of a multi-purpose approach.

 

While a display device and sound system are must-haves in this new hybrid space, the sky’s the limit when it comes to configuring these rooms to deliver the whole theater experience without limiting the space to one exclusive use. This may include using more light colors than dark, mixing in a greater variety of lighting, and swapping out specialty theater seating for more traditional furniture, such as sofas and chaise lounges.

 

Others still are taking home theater in a different direction — outside, to be exact. Weatherproof flat screens, outdoor speakers and projectors offer entertainment-minded homeowners an expanded gathering space for watching a game or movie in an appealingly square footage-friendly way.

 

3. Making it Social

People are using smartphones, tablets and other devices for as second screens, for streaming content, and for controlling televisions and speakers. But that’s just the start of it.

 

Social is now integrated with the home entertainment space, with users wanting to stay connected with friends, family members and fellow viewers while watching though everything from status updates to live tweeting. This trend is big and getting bigger: approximately one million people tweet on tv every single day. (Bad news for water cooler manufacturers; great news for broadcasters, advertisers, and paid tv providers.)

 

In fact, the social television market is predicted to reach $256.44 billion by 2017 — up more than 11 percent from 2012. Looking ahead, stakeholders will continue to leverage social integration into better consumer engagement and ratings through everything from targeted content discovery to interactive social programming applications.

 

With technology in rapid an constant flux, how can homeowners be sure they won’t quickly outgrow these spaces? For starters, by considering logistics: plans for power and lighting should be an early and ample part of the process.

 

And then there’s the design itself. While some homeowners choose DIY methods, others enlist the aid of home cinema specialists to guide them toward either individual components or home-theater-in-a-box (HTIB) systems which will best meet their individual needs and living spaces.

 

The operating word? Individual. The industry is anything but one-size-fits-all. Businesses and brands which commit to knowing their target audience and marketing to their lifestyles are positioned for home box office success.

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