The Mighty Magnetism of the Big Screen

Jon Felts's 92-inch, high-definition, surround-sound TV system is his Super Bowl party's main draw.
Jon Felts's 92-inch, high-definition, surround-sound TV system is his Super Bowl party's main draw. (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 4, 2007

When Jon Felts e-mailed his Super Bowl party invitations, he made sure to highlight his chief selling point: the electronic specs of four high-definition TVs inside his Northern Virginia townhouse.

"THEATER ROOM: 92-inch Projector Screen broadcasting the game in FULL HD with 5.1 surround sound package," he wrote, then ticked off details for the 26-inch LCD in his kitchen, the 42-inch plasma in his bedroom and the 52-inch rear-projection in his living room -- all in high-def, all in surround sound.

"Never miss a minute when grabbing a drink, a smoke or a phone call," Felts, 26, beckoned. "Speakers in garage and driveway."

He expects about 30 people, including guests driving from Richmond and guys who've reserved sofas to sleep on.

For 41 years, men have gathered for the Super Bowl. Rituals evolved alongside them. The six-foot sub. Shots of booze after every score. Wagers of all stripes. Today those lucky enough will direct their worship to a high-def, enormous TV.

Washington Wizards point guard Gilbert Arenas said he invited the whole basketball team to watch the Super Bowl at his Great Falls home because the players wanted to be around his TVs. Arenas owns a 120-inch high-def projection screen, a second 100-plus-inch screen and six more TVs scattered about. All eight will be showing the game.

"His whole house is awesome," fellow guard DeShawn Stevenson said after Friday's practice.

High-definition elevates sports and becomes another excuse to watch them. On close-ups, golf nuts see not only the dimples of a ball, they see the shadows cast by the dimples. Football fans get beads of sweat, straining muscles. And oversize TVs amp it all up: Players slamming into one another across eight horizontal feet of living room. If there's one widely held fear among football purists, it's that the distractions of Super Bowl parties will obscure their view.

Shopping mall magnate Herb Miller owns a slightly smaller main screen than Arenas, 113 inches, but his is flanked by four 32-inchers. The system came about during Miller's renovation of his 28,000-square-foot Georgetown mansion, when he brought in Tim Rooney, an audio adviser to the stars. Inside Miller's library, Rooney's firm installed a 61-inch high-def plasma. With a tap on a touch-screen monitor, the TV sinks into a hidden opening in Miller's cherry bookshelves

Taking a visitor to a lower level, Miller passed a pool table and exercise room before arriving at the main media center. "This is Tim's pièce de résistance," Miller said.

To the left is the 113-incher and its flanking sets. Perfect, Miller said, for monitoring players on fantasy football teams. These five screens also can disappear. To the right, an alcove stores the home automation command center, a bank of black gadgetry roughly 8 feet tall and 8 feet wide, with little lights and a pullout computer keyboard. It looks like it could power a Rolling Stones concert.

All 11 TVs in the home have been video-calibrated. "We bring a guy down from Boston. He's the best," said Rooney, son of former Pennsylvania congressman Fred B. Rooney.

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