How to boost your living room setup to take in TIFF at home
Published Friday, September 11, 2020 3:49PM EDT
Like so many activities this year, much of the Toronto International Film Festival is going virtual.
With in-person screenings greatly reduced due to COVID-19, the festival is encouraging people to purchase tickets to digital screenings that can be viewed at home using an app or a streaming device.
Microwave popcorn is cheap and you can always reposition your favourite chair right in front of the flatscreen.
But if you’re a movie-lover looking to get a better film-viewing experience than you normally would in your living room, there are ways to boost your home viewing setup without breaking the bank.
To get some tips on how to do that, CP24.com spoke with tech expert Marc Saltzman.
(Interview has been edited for clarity and length)
CP24: So Marc, if you love movies but can’t to be in an actual theatre this year, what can you do to bring a more theatre-like experience to your living room?
It doesn't hurt that you can now pick up a 65 inch TV for a few hundred dollars like $5-600 for a brand name, no less. If you haven't pulled the trigger yet on a new TV, there are some great deals out there.
If you’ve got a year-old model, it's going to look amazing. Otherwise look for a 4k TV, which is four times the resolution of HD. Look for technologies like HDR or high dynamic range. More advanced versions may be called Dolby Vision or HDR 10.
Let's say you're happy with your TV, but you want to optimize it to get the most out of watching movies at home, a couple things to keep in mind: One is that you might want to calibrate the picture settings for your TV. You can pick up an app, there's one called THX tune-up, that will walk you through calibrating the color, saturation, brightness, contrast, all that kind of stuff. Or if you still have a DVD player or Blu Ray player, a Disney disc or a Pixar disc often has a section called a THX optimizer and it'll actually walk you through with your remote in hand how to get the most out of it.
We all have different ambient lighting around us and (other) stuff. So number one is calibrate your TV. A little trick that not everybody agrees with is to turn down the brightness a bit and turn up the contrast. And you'll find that will give you richer darks, richer blacks that give you more of a 3D-like effect. So that's one tip but definitely grab a disc if you still have them and look for a THX optimizer or download an app to your smartphone or tablet and follow along with the prompts.
CP24: Let’s talk about audio. I just dropped some money on a sound bar. I should have done some googling first because there are those who say that for the price of a $13 adapter, I could have used some old computer speakers…. Who’s right?
There's no right or wrong. But the one truth though is that the thinner these TVs get, the worse the audio gets. So we're talking pancake-shaped speakers. Don't expect deep sound out of that. If you can't afford a full multi-speaker setup, you know 5.1 surround sound or more, a sound bar is a more economical way to go. Or as you said you could also put a $20 dongle in the back of your TV and have it send audio to existing speakers.
A sound bar is not going to break the bank and it will somewhat replicate that surround sound setup. So a sound bar is typically below or above your TV. And some have true surround sound, others simulate surround sound. So like if you see a helicopter in the movie that you're watching, it would sound as if it was coming from the front left and then exiting the scene on the rear right.
I love this quote from George Lucas who once famously said that audio is half of the movie viewing experience. So you take out the audio or if it's crummy audio, it's gonna impact what you see psychologically. But if you have really good audio, it makes the picture look better. So don't underestimate the importance of good audio because it is important. We focus so much on the visuals with a TV. I'm glad you brought up sound, but a sound bar is a great way to go.
CP24: To watch TIFF films, you need an Apple TV or Google Chromecast, or you can even hook up an HDMI wire to your computer. What’s works best?
Especially this year we might not have the disposable income perhaps that we've had in previous years. So the least expensive way to stream content to your TV is to connect a computer through an HDMI cable which you can pick up at your local dollar store and just load the website or the app on your Windows or Mac or Chromebook and just plug it in. So what you have is a cable connected to the TV. It's not the prettiest and you do have to manually go and press play, but there are worse things. So that's the least expensive solution.
The next best thing I would say in terms of affordability is to pick up a streaming stick. So if your TV is older and doesn’t have Smart functions or its Smart functions aren’t so fast, there might be buffering issues. So Chromecast, a Roku stick or any of these things like a Kindle Fire Stick from Amazon, all of those support several apps like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video and Apple TV plus and Disney Plus and Crave in some cases. Apple TV would be the most expensive streaming box (at around $200) but certainly there's a huge value proposition there because it’s well made and works with other Apple devices.
You don't have to break the bank though – (streaming sticks) are as low as $30 or $40. They typically plug into an available HDMI port on the back or side of your TV. And then you can use an app or sometimes you get a remote with it, like you do with Apple TV or some Roku boxes, or just use your voice which is even more convenient.
[NOTE: The TIFF Bell Digital Cinema app for viewing festival films currently works with Chromecast and Apple TV. See Tiff.net for details.]
CP24: And of course, popcorn is cheap.
Yeah, that is true. Cheaper than the movie theaters. Let's face it. Haha.