How a home theater can be useful working from home

From Zoom meetings to streaming tech events, there are reasons professionals who work remotely might consider repurposing their entertainment space for business.

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Image: iStockphoto/fizkes

People became resourceful during the pandemic and made the most of the space they had during the lockdown. In some cases, home theaters served double duty—not only with projectors mounted to ceilings—but large-screen TVs connected to computers to provide a dual-screen experience for work.

"Nowadays, with TVs being just as good and fantastic quality with 4K and lower prices, it absolutely becomes a part of your entertainment but it can also be part of your education or your engagement, all sorts of things," said Namita Dhallan, chief product officer at video tech provider Brightcove.

It's much easier to connect a computer to a smart TV to be used as a monitor or extend a screen whether on a PC or Mac, Dhallan said.

With many organizations now letting employees work in a hybrid model, Dhallan said people should rethink how they are using home theaters and large TVs beyond watching movies.

SEE: Best devices for business pros who stream video (TechRepublic)

"So many more companies are using video to educate their own employee base on new product launches or new employee engagements and town halls," even to extend Zoom calls for a better experience, she said. "The capability is there and I absolutely think people started doing it because they had to [during the pandemic] and they are not going back" to offices.

Enterprise video grew 22.3% globally from one year ago, according to Brightcove. Use of connected TVs to watch enterprise video increased 28.5%, the company said.

Brightcove has clients host over-the-top streaming events and display a custom app with different channels through which to consume content mimicking a Netflix-like look and feel. The content can be scheduled to run at certain times and a company can decide which employees see what content, Dhallan said.

For example, one client, logistics platform provider FreightWaves, created a virtual cable TV-like event with 85 video presentations, she said. "Using a digital platform with video and watching this on a large screen makes you feel like you're there."

Then there is the appeal of video over a more static medium. Viewers "find a viewable media like video a lot more engaging than let's say, a SharePoint site," Dhallan said. "Now you're using your home theater for business use. I think we'll see more of that ... [OTT] might become the new intranet."

But Ira Weinstein, founder and managing partner at Recon Research, said the concept of using a home theater for business is new to him.

"This may be interesting, but it's the first time anyone's ever said to me 'Can I use toys from my home theater for my home office?'"

Typically, home theaters have plush chairs and carpeting and good acoustics to provide a warm, rich experience while viewing video, he noted. This is not necessarily conducive to work, he said.

The advantage is they tend to have good lighting with room-darkening capabilities so if someone were to use it for work, they could avoid the washed-out look people often have on video calls, Weinstein said.

On the flip side, "you don't have subwoofers in typical office situations or theater chairs or projectors, so [the use case] gets a little thinner," he said. "You could make the case that my projected image would be phenomenal for a larger group experience," but the typical home office doesn't need that, he said.

"Do you really need 65- or 80- or 100-inches of video image to have a meeting from a home office? It might be nice, but it's not the experience you need when you're the only person in the room," Weinstein said. "I like that the technology is there, and in situations where you want a large, more immersive screen, you have the toys. I don't know if there would be day-to-day benefits."

Dan Root, a senior analyst at Wainhouse Research, agreed. The firm does not see home theaters being repurposed for business use; more that home theater companies are creating hybrid devices that can serve both purposes, he said.

"A lot of home theater equipment is made for output," so there is no ability for input to go back into a system for a microphone or picking up anything within the room, Root said.

"You're using it to listen to a soundtrack or watch a movie," he said. "So a lot of the audio systems you see in a home theater—the outputs and inputs are not the same as what you'd see in a business context."

Wainhouse is seeing a shift toward all-in-one systems that have microphones, high-definition cameras and speakers as well as a computer that optimizes the signal and can sit on a desk or be mounted to a wall.

"Those devices are definitely picking up steam but they have a work purpose—they're not a home theater being rebranded into the enterprise," Root said.

How to set up a home theater for work

To repurpose a home theater for business requires a digital signal processor or audio processor, which is a device that takes away noise feedback, he said. That DSP or audio processor would have to be run to an ethernet cable or to a laptop to make an outgoing call.

All-in-one systems have competitive price points and can be used in a home office or home theater, Root said.

"It enables the same interactions you're used to in your office and that allows you to have consistency room to room. That way, you're complementing versus repurposing the home theater and trying to fit a square peg into a round hole," he said.

Root said he would look to repurpose equipment from a home theater into an office rather than vice versa. "I don't think it makes sense to take things from an office and build them into a home theater."

Weinstein agreed that all-in-one video conferencing systems could be used for both purposes. "If I install that in a home theater, you could make the case that I'm turning that into a group video meeting room—with the important caveat that seating might be a little unconventional," he said.

"Collaboration and conferencing are malleable experiences," but Weinstein isn't sure about the use of a home theater for business. "It doesn't mean people shouldn't do it," he said, but added, "My car is great, and I could sleep in it, but I don't think I want to use it as a hotel room."

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