It's day 60-something of quarantine. You've done every odd job around the house, caught up with everyone you've ever known via Zoom, and maybe even read a book or two. Your gaze inevitably turns back to the black mirror: television. The city's opening back up, yes, but most movie theaters are not on the short list for reopening in Phase One.
Maybe you don't want to go back. With theaters trending toward recreating a comfortable home experience with reclining seating and every imaginable food and drink, why not beat them to the punch by making your own home theater? Here are some tips for taking your home theater to the next level.
First things first: the screen. How you watch something is just as important as what you're watching. Don't even think about streaming on your phone.
Maybe your style is suited to a projector. All price points are to be found, but if you've got the money to spend, the BenQ Full HD Theater Projector is the way to go. Then you can save money by binder-clipping a sheet to hang down from your gutter along the side of your house. The breeze can bring an extra dramatic flair when it shakes your "screen," but we all know that termites are out in full force right now. Living rooms aren't so bad.
If you'd prefer a traditional television set, there are a lot of options on the internet. As far as technology goes, right now, the top of the line in terms of picture quality is UHK 4K Resolution. Here's a list of what Walmart has for under $400. There's a nice 58" one going for $300 right now. Pro tip: They come up with that number by measuring the screen diagonally, as in top left down to bottom right. Bigger is usually better, but consider the wall space that you have available, because that's where this thing's going. Mounting your TV to your wall gives it a sense of intentionality, as if it's a feature in the room. This minor DIY project is an easy way to bump your home theater up a couple notches.
You'll notice that most of these TVs come standard with Roku, but there are ways to beef up your streaming. Apple TV, Google Chromecast, Amazon Firestick—fit your own brand allegiance. The only time you pay for Roku is when you buy the TV. No monthly fees or anything. What you ought to know is that in addition to your favorite paid streaming services, including Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney+, Roku has dozens of on-demand and totally free channels to suit your interests.
For example, Pluto TV scours the internet for licensed, freely available content and aggregates it into categorized subchannels. There's "Binge Watch" for rerun marathons of everything from Dog The Bounty Hunter to Unsolved Mysteries. "Entertainment" is home to MTV's extensive early- to mid-2000s roster: Cribs, Next!, and Made. "Movies" has "Pluto TV 007" for back-to-back Bond films. "News" is exactly what you think, and when you need to get away, head over to "NatureVision TV" under "Explore" for 12 hours of lakeside campfire footage. The catch with Pluto TV is the advertisements, which are limited to the same three or four and, in my anecdotal evidence, seem to pop up more frequently as I change channels.
Another great example of free content is Kanopy, an invaluable source for independent films, criterion classics, short films, and documentaries. New Orleanians needing to stretch their legs around town without leaving home must dive into Kanopy's treasure trove of Louisiana culture documentaries. Les Blank's Acadiana music documentary, J'ai été au bal [I Went to the Dance] is a must-see, as is the rest of his shorts and docs. More than a few award-winning documentaries from the Center for New American Media will provide insight and entertainment that reflect New Orleans, such as Getting Back to Abnormal, Yeah You Rite! - Language in New Orleans, and American Tongues - Linguistic Attitudes in the U.S. Kanopy's drawbacks are the requirements of a library card or university email access and the limit of only 12 "play credits" per month. But there is a large section devoted to "credit-free" content.
Maybe too many options are why you go to the theater in the first place. Let the pros decide: Check out what's playing via the Broad Theater's home-screening series. Every feature the Broad would normally be screening is available to stream right into your cozy new setup. The Broad is selling gift cards for patrons to use as soon as they reopen. Until then, enjoy the privacy of your own home and check out what's coming to Netflix this month.