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Home entertainment with everything but the popcorn

Home entertainment with everything but the popcorn

This games room wasn’t commissioned by Lewis Hamilton, but it should have been. The 10 x 10 metre space is not filled with snooker tables or a bowling alley (they’re elsewhere in the mansion) — instead, it’s an immersive, interactive racing room. There are four chairs, each positioned in front of a different wall; each design nods to a different supercar, one inspired by a Ferrari and another by an Aston Martin DB5. In front of each is a steering wheel and pedals on a chassis that can tilt and move in response to whatever happens on the screen it faces.

It’s not linked to a PlayStation 5, though. “This is the next step, a fully 3D, reactive, interactive environment, so we’re in conversations with the teams who build simulators for F1 racing drivers,” says Charlie Caswell, the architect working on the project. “They’re on the fringe of what is game and what is professional.” Anyone not training for Monaco can fire up a version that pits a Ferrari against Mario Kart, he says, noting that the screens are curved to help ensure full immersion, even in a player’s peripheral vision.

As a new generation of digital natives emerges among the world’s wealthiest people, their homes, like their lives, will be shaped by the internet.

High-end properties now need entertainment centres primed for ultra-high-definition content and immersive platforms. See Facebook’s rebrand to Meta, or Disney’s shift towards connecting the virtual and physical, whether through its recently patented augmented reality Virtual World Simulator or theme-park rides and games — helped by the special effects experts of its film and TV production subsidiary Lucasfilm.

At the CES tech trade show this year, the electronics multinational LG launched a media chair that combines a recliner with a 55” curved screen. Golf simulation is such big business that there are immersive home enclosures available, such as those by Carl’s Place.

A golf simulator by Carl’s Place

Design is often bespoke, down to the software. Betty Adamou and her team at Luxury Video Games devise programming to a client’s personal parameters, installed on retro consoles by Polycade.

Nowhere, though, is the change in entertainment more evident than in screening rooms. Ambitious homeowners can replace the old-fashioned set-up of a few comfy armchairs and a projector with a cutting-edge alternative such as a “CIPOD” cinema pod. Richard Gibbs, CIPOD’s managing director, says that the idea for the product was born when he and some colleagues at a small design company were working on one family’s multiple homes across the world, from Lake Como to Montenegro.

He had installed a home cinema in each location, an undertaking that usually involves disparate professionals working together — architects, acoustic consultants, engineers — often problematically. Gibbs recognised the opening for an ultra-high-end, one-stop option, and they established their own company. Prices start at £240,000 but can easily run into seven figures.

LG’s media chair combines a recliner with a 55” curved screen
LG’s media chair combines a recliner with a 55” curved screen

CIPOD’s timber frame pods are custom designed, then pre-constructed in the factory before being shipped for installation on site. The structure sits on springs and doesn’t need to be fixed to walls. “The heaviest piece can be carried by two people and if you’re in a Grade I-listed heritage building you can put it anywhere that has the ceiling height,” says Gibbs. “And all you need is one socket to run the whole pod from.”

Most clients opt for a CIPOD with space for 10 people, or measuring about 7 x 5 metres. Others prefer to customise, such as the client who asked for just two daybeds so he and his partner could watch in private.

For a family in the south of France, Gibbs has developed pit-style seating closer to the screen where children can sit out of sight while their parents relax on armchairs or use the bar at the rear. Another client wanted to make his CIPOD a live-work space, so the layout included a desk where he could take conference calls on the screen, before firing up a movie during downtime (or Picture-in-Picture on more boring Zoom calls, perhaps). The priciest configuration Gibbs has sketched out is a £1.5mn version for an Omani family, which includes a 12-person dining table and a coffee lounge.

A Polycade arcade screen
A Polycade arcade screen

Then again, that family could opt for a concept from Ideaworks. The company specialises in systems that streamline the operation of high-end properties. It’s known for a programme called Mesh, which replaces disparate remote controls with one, easy-to-operate device that can control everything from lighting to streaming services.

It works on both homes and superyachts, says associate director Stewart Keir, with the budgets for the latter usually much higher. “Homes are private sanctuaries, and the entertaining spaces there are where you go to escape the rest of the world. Yachts are all about ‘Look at me,’” he says. A major residential contract typically costs around £1mn, he says, while a yacht installation could be more than seven times that.

The company’s latest concept is an entertainment room inspired by a nightclub it created on one vessel. Every surface will be covered by micro LED panels that can display any content the owner wishes. “You could be sat at a dining table there and have your dinner party in the Colosseum, then at the flick of a switch, change it to the jungle,” he says.

The biggest barrier to bringing it to market isn’t cost or technology, even though it is expensive and time consuming to install: it is the lack of content available. “You have to find a specialist videographer to create it, and of course you can’t go to ancient Rome with a video camera. But the photorealism of the CGI on video content today means you really can’t tell what’s real now or not,” Keir says. “We just need movie houses to be producing content for these immersive environments.” Disney, are you listening?

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