After 2 action-packed days at CEDIA, our feet are tired, our heads pounding, but it’s all good. Here’s the basics and things of note.
The big deal at this CEDIA was 4K. Sony had the biggest display of 4K product, and though it’s expensive now, it’s available. My impression of their 4K display: simply impressive. I was not expecting to be impressed, for a lot of reasons, mostly that at normal viewing distances 2K should in theory be good enough. But if you creep just a bit closer to the screen you can easily start to see pixels in most 2K displays, and it was quite a treat to move close and away from the 4K image and not see pixels, but see a silky smooth image, crystal clear, sharp and noise-free. Content is the issue of course, there’s no native 4K available to mere mortals, unless you buy your own RED camera, but scaled 2K is darn nice. No more detail, but no visible pixels either. Turns out it’s not a big deal to scale 2K up to 4K, not as hard as SD video to 1080p.
My pick, though, for practical HD displays was the Pioneer/Sharp Elite LCD line, actually introduced last year, and shown this year in 60″ and 70″ class. Call me slow, but I watched the display for several minutes before realizing I was watching an LED/LCD unit and NOT an plasma! Off axis viewing is amazing, contrast shocking with blacks so deep you’ll feel you’re looking straight into an abyss, and spot-on color, pretty much that way out of the box, but capable of being calibrated too. It’s 1080p, not 4K, but since few will be able to afford 4K for a few years yet, this would be the pick this year for the most amazing practical TV.
In audio, there were a lot of wireless solutions. Wire less speakers, subwoofers, amplifiers, and all-in-one speaker/amps. Sonos didn’t have much new, but it was good to see the entire line, though impossible to hear above the din of their own other demos. But they were far from the only game in Indy. There are lots of custom install solutions, including an impressive line of wireless audio amps from Knoll Electronics. Contact us for more info.
GoldenEar Technologies showed Sandy Gross’s latest brainstorm, his version of the soundbar speaker called the SuperCinema 3D Array. But as you might expect, it’s got Sandy’s touch, including passive crosstalk cancellation, and it does create a believable LCR soundstage. It’s simply the best soundbar I’ve ever heard, though that statement in itself does the product a dis-service. Soundbars are notably the worst category of speakers in today’s market. That makes the Golden Ear soundbar all the more impressive, as it actually sounds quite good, and even on music. A soundbar I could live with? Even I have a hard time believing it!
In a category I normally wouldn’t bother talking about, it’s funny there should be more than one soundbar innovation at CEDIA worth talking about, but there is. The second was the Definitive Technology Solo Cinema XTR, designed to aim squarely at the overly simplistic (and frankly a bit shameful) HTIB market, and shoot holes in it. You know the type: they got to Big Box, say “I want a surround system!”, walk out with a dinky set of speakers, and under-powered DVD/AVR combo, and a subwoofer that barely qualifies. Enter the DT XTR. The new product not only is a fine sounding soundbar speaker system, but it takes care of the entire 5 channels with a believable virtual surround system. While not has high impact or dimensional as having real surround speakers, if you don’t have the room, this is the solution, and does provides a believable surround sound field. But then they throw in the wireless subwoofer that really has some sonic heft, and a little remote. And as if that weren’t enough, the thing will take a digital output from your TV with all that 5.1 material on it, handle decoding, processing and volume control. So with the bar and sub, and your TV, you’re done. The DT SoloCinema XTR soundbar and sub combo sell for $2000, and when you consider the simplicity and performance of this system that runs without the help (or need) of an AVR, you’ve got yourself a bargain. Call us to get yours on order.
Being the creators of our own control system built with iRule, you can bet we’d be interested in the competition in that area. There were more iPad apps than ever, and everybody has their own idea of how a control app should look and operate. Crestron was doing their own iPad app that works with their systems, but they weren’t particularly interested in discussing the exact cost of even the most basic system. It seems you’d be into them for well over $3500 (plus programming time!), but that’s a guess. (Sorry, Crestron, I’m not linking to you!) Key Digital showed their Compass Control system, which would be fairly economical until you needed to control any device that isn’t up to IP based commands (like your TV, projector, older AVR, AppleTV…need I go on?), at which point you need their $2500 master control unit. So you could throw $2800 their way but you wouldn’t have anything that actually controlled something until it was programmed. Universal Remote showed their usual line-up of candy-bar remotes with pseudo touch screens and the usual tiny buttons with 3 point gray type legends. We were impressed by the fact that touching a function button on their flagship touch screen system brought up the Windows CE logo for 10 seconds before it responded.
Pretty much every serious equipment manufacturer has a control app now. And this has created the virtual coffee table full of remotes (see my earlier post). It’s exactly the same problem: a remote for each device, each is different, each works and looks differently, and you have to find the right app to accomplish the task at hand. But it’s actually harder to exit one app and bring up another than dropping one stick remote and picking up another. I say: don’t bother. They’re free, and worth every penny you spend. I’m more convince than ever than our Platinum Control System will make your remote control life easy and happy, and won’t break the bank.
We visited our partners at iRule and got our first look at the latest software that includes “drawers”, little slide-out trays on your screen that can hold seldom used functions that slide out of the way when you don’t need them, or help make a more usable screen on a smaller device. Watch for us to integrate those features soon! I’ve said it before, but again, after years of searching for the best solution, I think iRule, in the hands of an expert programmer/integrator, is the ultimate solution, winning in functionality and value simultaneously.
On our way out of the main show floor we stopped at the VRX booth to test drive their latest iMotion simulator designed for driving and flying game play. They showed a triple screen 3D display with full motion in the seat and steering wheel, a package that cost about like a family car, but can caster out of the way in your basement until you’re ready to play against other players world wide in the 3D head-to-head race of your life. Video 1 here, Video 2 here. Watch the Platinum web site for more details soon!
While I’m on 3D for a moment, this one comment: 3D wasn’t absent from CEDIA this year, but was a small fraction of the total display demos, which now focus on high brightness, high resolution, and by the way, we can do 3D if you insist. It’s a refreshing take on what I’ve been saying was just another peak in the on-going 3D wave that started in the 1950s. Every so often 3D makes an appearance, is claimed to be the next big thing, peaks, then fades again for another decade or so. And we’re now riding the wave downward. The benefits of 3D this time around, though, are great bright displays, particularly projectors, at a reasonable cost. Epson showed their latest not-release-yet projector that will be THX and THX 3D certified, lots-o-lumens, and comes with 2 pairs of 3D glasses. We saw the demo, the 3D was as good as any, but the 2D was spectacular, blowing away Sim2’s admittedly better styled Italian-looking units. The Sim2 demo was just another huge but average picture, but with a surprisingly noticeable amount of chromatic aberration in it. Sorry Sim2, they’re beautiful boxes to look at, not so great to watch.
One odd surprise was the Perrot Zik headphones, a full sized over the ear set that is bluetooth wireless, and has active noise canceling. Being a many-decade headphone listener, I’ve been disappointed with nearly every headphone set I’ve demoed in the last few years. I had no expectations from something that looked this slick, had finger-touch volume control, and would also work to make phone calls, but surprise, they really sounded excellent, and the active noise canceling worked scary-well. 400 beans is a lot for a set of cans, but I’m hooked, will probably end up with a pair. The were actually less colored in response than a set of Stax electrostatic phones I recently divested. That’s saying quite a bit.
Lastly, in a rather odd tangential product, I’ve found a solution to one of the more annoying problems of this century: poor cellular coverage in your own home. I suffer from living in a AT&T hole, both at home and at our summer home, and it often renders my iPhone about as useful as a brick. But I’ve got the solution, thanks to zBoost from Wi-EX. Simply, it grabs the tower signal up on your roof where it is, and repeats it down in your home where you live giving you all the bars you want, even in the basement. Yes, I know it’s odd for a home theater guy to handle this product, but when I see a tech solution I can get behind, it’s worth it to me and my clients to make it happen. As usual, call us for details. We’re Wi-EX dealers as of this weekend.
It’s impossible to completely cover a show of this size in two short days, but those are highlights.