To take our connection to the next level--we already live together, after all--I need to learn more about its needs and idiosyncrasies, and perhaps buy it a nice bauble to atone for my flirtation with a young, lithe plasma set at last month's Consumer Electronics Show. Hence my purchase of Home Theater, a magazine that purports to unlock the potential of all such systems.
After perusing it for a solid hour or two, I'm no more knowledgeable about the subject matter than I was before - partially due to the breadth of data I've already mined at http://www.avsforum.com, partially due to the fact that Home Theater lacks any discernible edge. Yes, it conveys oodles of information and yes, its product testers have likely spent more time with subwoofers than with sentient beings. But the publication's slavishly kiss-ass tone starts to irk after only a few pages.
The editor's note comes accompanied with the subhead, "This year's CES was an awe-inspiring look into the future." Those DVDs that sit on the "Critic's Couch" can expect four-star ratings for their troubles. Of the eight products given the in-depth review treatment, only one dips as low as 89 on the 50-100 scoring scale.
Criticism rarely gets more cutting than the suggestion that the Linn Komponent Speaker System "deserves a better remote." If Home Theater wants to go all gentle on us, that's their business--but the reviews should be called "recommendations" so as to eliminate any confusion.
In its presentation, Home Theater opts for homogeneity over innovation. Precisely zero of the product shots in the March issue appear to have been shot exclusively for the mag; all seem to come straight from manufacturers' hyper-lit studios, and thus look as muted and sterile as ads in the Sunday Best Buy circular. The title redeems itself somewhat with a snappy eight-page "Audio Video Interiors" insert, but its jags of color only temporarily ward off the graphic blahs.
Then there's the front-of-book opening salvo, which owes more to press releases and wire stories than to original reporting. The three identically laid out pages of "Coming Attractions" do little more than reproduce euphoric company blurbs, with an occasional edit ("When you place the speaker with the side woofer pointed toward a wall, the result, as the manufacturer claims, is powerful bass that doesn't compromise clear, articulate sound"). If a title like Home Theater doesn't have the time or manpower to vet these boasts themselves, why bother to repeat them?
The "AV Newswire" and listings of March hi-def broadcasts don't detract from the magazine experience, but their meager offerings--some stats from the RIAA, a line about XM Satellite Radio's financial fortunes, a schedule of CBS' hi-def college hoops broadcasts--can be found in other more timely publications (like, say, the daily newspaper). By the time the mag's personality kicks in, courtesy of an iPod autopsy and HD movie production primer by Geoffrey Morrison, the March issue has likely bored away most of its potential readership.
It's not like Home Theater isn't capable of smart, deliberate analysis, as witnessed by a techie take on the possibility of phone companies offering cable TV service. Ultimately, though, I can't imagine home-theater nuts rushing out to their mailboxes to read anything here. The A/V junkies I used to work with (on a consumer-electronics trade pub) weren't appeased by niceties; they wanted the dirt and they demanded keen critical judgment. In offering neither, Home Theater fails aficionado and amateur alike.