For the true movie experience it was off to a local movie theater or drive-in. Even there we were not necessarily viewing a pristine, properly projected image and the sound was a huge variable as well. So-called "road shows" would come along for special films that were exhibited in an already dwindling number of cinema showcases. "Fantasia," "The Sound of Music," "The Robe." Intermissions, reserved seats, 4-channel sound. These were a hint of what was to come and what was technically possible given enough budget.
Short History of Home Media Distribution Formats (viewing experience dependent on quality of source materials, restoration, mastering and various other factors)
- 16 mm film (rich peeps, Hollywood types; adult film buffs)
- 8 mm film (film aficionados; cheapo adult film buffs)
- B&W TV
- Color TV
- VHS tape/beta (widescreen prints occasionally available; Dolby sound introduced)
- LaserDisc (again aficionados; limited Original Aspect Ration aka OAR; Dolby and Dolby Surround sound)
- DVD (mix of OAR, pan-and-scan; audio varied)
- Online streaming begins (dependent on broadband internet availability; frequent tampering with aspect ratio to zoom in or otherwise fill the screen)
- Blu-ray (mostly OAR, best sound to date based on distributor standards)
- 4K UHD (best visual and sound experience to date, several theater quality sound standards)
I skipped 8 mm video as it wasn't taken seriously in the U.S. market as a distribution medium. RCA did have a disc-based system (CED) but it disappeared more quickly than Circuit City DIVX. Everything #5 and later were opportunities for people to purchase their favorite movies over and over in hopes of reaching some nirvana of viewing pleasure. 3-D in several formats crept in and seems to be creeping out again as TV manufacturers like Samsung discontinue it in recent models. Never felt a real affinity for 3-D in the home but some people like it (looking at YOU James Cameron!).
Wrapping this up for now, but one comment on the latest sound innovation(s) for film in the home -- Dolby ATMOS and DTS:X. Depending on how they are used by filmmakers and associated sound designers, these up the game dramatically in your listening space. Dogs will think there really are aliens crawling around outside the house. Get someone to help you hang the height speakers and you are good to go.