A Tinkerer Named Sam Page 2

And yet Runco stresses that he is not—as, he notes, the press has portrayed him—a go-for-broke kind of guy: the player who throws darts in the dark, hoping to hit a winner. He's a businessman, he says, and a cautious one.

"I don't think I play the long shots. I've been incredibly conservative. Sometimes the press writes things about a person. What I've found is that believing that bull stifles creativity. If someone turns you into a godlike figure and you think it's cool, you forget what makes you creative."

To videophiles, the very name of Runco may inspire an idea of a man larger than life, but that's not the man's idea of himself. While admitting that he's "passionately committed to good pictures," Runco says he could drop out of the video game in a minute—and that of all his creations, the one he holds most dear is his family. Sam and Lori live in Foster City, California, just south of San Francisco, with their three children: Sarah, 16; Sam, 10; and Nick, 7. "I have a functional family in a dysfunctional world," he says. "I've been extremely lucky, and I try to keep my life fairly level."

By his own reckoning, Runco's also a different guy from the "hard-headed Italian" who made his way west to preach the gospel according to Carnegie. In fact, he took those lessons to heart and continues a quest for personal clarity—or, to use the popular term, actualization.

"I've worked hard throughout my life to be able to try to see the truth," he says. "I've taken every actualization program out there. I still do a couple every year. It's about openness, honesty—good stuff. It's not that I was a lost soul. I've just always enjoyed doing it. I see things from a broader perspective—not just the basics of selling, but the basics of life.

"It helps to examine why you do things, whether you're really acting from choice or from habit. That's powerful stuff. It's good to be open to things. We all lose sight of truthfulness from time to time. If you're no good to yourself, you can't take care of anyone else."

As the home-theater culture continues its exponential growth, Runco knows he will need all of his intuition to grapple with the next big question facing every manufacturer of television displays and projectors: Whither the cathode-ray tube? Are we about to see the CRT give way to plasma technology or digital light processing?

"I think the CRT has a lot of life left in it," replies Runco, "but I don't really believe we're going to have a choice. CRT is messy. It requires meticulous setup, and then it requires maintenance. That means support staff, which is very expensive. Home theater is growing by hundreds of percent, if not thousands, and there's no way we can keep huge numbers of CRT projectors in the field. Nobody could afford the technical support.

"Plasma and DLP are both viable technologies, and they involve a lot less maintenance than CRT. But I have to keep my mind open to all possibilities. Something might come around tomorrow with a better picture, brightness, black level, better colorimetry. I use the analogy of a turntable. I'm not an audio guy, and I don't mean to parallel the CRT with the turntable. There are some people who have hung on to their turntables, and they may be right. But I don't want to be where they are. I want to hang on to market share."

Whichever way the road bends, Runco says he'll continue the ride, pushing on toward that noble goal of the perfect picture—or, as he puts it, a bit less nobly: "being able to watch a movie and not get mad."

But mainly, he says, he'll stay the course because the pursuit of sublime video is fun. Then again, "Maybe it's just that I don't know anything else. Or maybe it's an addiction. I haven't figured that out yet."