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My CES… Minus the Hype

What this review provides is not so much what the mass media would cover, but the stuff that most interests professional integrators.

I went into CES this year figuring that show would be a waste of time. Last year represented a huge shift in tone, I felt, from previous years when custom integration-centric brands found their way into the cozy South Hall lower level and the big CE, IT, and auto-media giants stayed out of the way in the Central and North Halls. Last year, I discovered that many of my CEDIA friends were relocating to the Hilton Suites or the high-end audio rooms of the Venetian. Whereas last year came as a shock and a scheduling nightmare, this year I anticipated the layout correctly and actually made CES work for me.

Instead of getting caught up in the hype of media day, I skipped that cattle call altogether (my daughters second birthday was much more important). Instead, I had to read the CNN ticker to learn about Panasonics 150-inch plasma (yes, I saw it and its beautiful), and Im sure there were other vaporware announcements I missed. However, what I was able to accomplish was learning more about products I saw or missed at CEDIA EXPO in Denver (and at EHX in Long Beach). What this review provides, as a result, is not so much what the mass media would cover, but the stuff that most interests professional integrators. It is by no means comprehensive and only represents a fraction of what I saw at the show. For more product coverage, check out the upcoming February issue of Residential Systems.

Next Gen Home Experience. If youve seen one Life-ware home youve seen them all. Not necessarily. The benefit of having toured every demo home Exceptional Innovation has built is that I have been able to dig deeper into the technology a little more each time. At CES, I was less concerned with the theme of the home (scenes from the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s) and more focused on the new products. In fact, because it was my first stop of the entire show, I didnt even have to grind my teeth through Colonial Williamsburg of the Future as I like to call the live-actor shtick featured in every Next-Gen Home (sports mascots, clowns, and historical re-enactors scare the hell out of me).

Three things jumped out at me during this particular walk-through. One is that I never realized EIs Life-point 12.1-inch touch panel features a live outer frame with five points of touch that can be programmed for different functions. The other was a new product from HP, called the MediaSmart Server. (Model EX475). At an MSRP of $749.99, this product is a very low profile and secure storage device that can be used for home network backup or as an access device for a home VPN set up. It features two terabytes of storage total, and I can emphasize enough, how compact and sleek HP has made this product. The third product that caught my eye was HPs 47-inch MediaSmart TV (Model SL4778N, MSRP: $2,399.99). Whats notable about this plasma is that it has a Media Center Extender built inside. The only wires coming into the display were an ethernet cable and a power cord, yet all of the homes media content was easily accessible on the screen via remote control.

Meridians F80 Radio. It made its U.S. debut at the 2007 CEDIA EXPO in September but CES afforded me my first listen to this amazing little design gem from Meridian and Ferrari. yes, that Ferrari. This is not hype: I could not believe the sound I was hearing was coming from a little table-top audio device. It was jaw-dropping.

Even with hints of Art Deco in its pure elliptical outline, the F80 remains distinctly modern, both in its styling and in its engineering. It represents a radical redefinition of the whole concept of a compact, transportable audio and DVD system.

Under the stylish hood, you will find an AM/FM tuner with built-in antenna for local radio reception and dual connections for external antennae to ensure the best reception wherever you are. The F80, which retails for $2,995 and is currently shipping, is also an incredibly capable CD player, with more than a strong hint of Meridians top hi-fi reference products inside. And the product also plays DVD-Video discs, providing complete entertainment from one compact unit.

As you would expect with Ferrari on board, theres a beautiful engine inside — in this case an audio engine comprising three power amps, effortlessly delivering more than 80 watts to the two front speakers and integral rear subwoofer. By comparison, the average transistor radio outputs less than five watts. The loudspeakers themselves are special full-range designs custom-made for this product with powerful neodymium magnets and hi-tech cones fashioned from magnesium and aluminum alloy.

Advanced Digital Signal Processing (DSP) ensures a wonderfully full, rich sound with an impressively wide stereo stage. This DSP technology also allows the user to fine-tune the output of the F80 depending on where it is positioned in the room.

Thiel Audios THIELnet System. The traditional loudspeaker manufacturer out of Lexington, Kentucky, has entered into the multi-zone digital audio distribution category with this new technology.

The THIELnet system is a complete home entertainment solution that includes a digital audio distribution processor, full-range, powered IP-addressable loudspeakers and subwoofer, and powered IP-addressable monoblock amplifier modules to accommodate traditional non-THIELnet loudspeakers. The system will be packaged to create either multi-channel surround or traditional two-channel systems that require only a source component to be fully functional.

Essentially, each THIELnet component is assigned its own IP address by the dB1 distribution processor. The dB1 (which is Dolby Digital compliant) outputs audio signals digitally instead of using standard speaker terminals. The unit has both analog and digital audio inputs, and a network switch output that resides on the users home network. The consumer can plug each of their THIELnet powered speakers and/or dS1 digital speaker modules either directly into the dB1 or anywhere they wish on the home network to set u their audio system. The THIELnet digital speakers and speaker modules are each powered by an audiophile-grade monoblock amplifier to further preserve and simplify connectivity.

Paradigms Anthem Room Correction System (Model ARC-1). Continuing the theme of improving audio efficiency, the effect of this new technology created my favorite audio demo of CES. ARC-1, an add-on to any existing Anthem Statement D1 or D2 processor, compensates for acoustic problem areas in a room by automatically configuring each speakers tonal balance for optimized sound. No exaggeration, this may have been the best multi-channel demo Ive ever heard at a trade show.

ARC-1 is based on equalizer filter requirements created during the Athena Acoustic Research Project performed by Canadas National Research Council (NRC). The goal of this study was to determine the correct in-room target response and then develop a system to adjust each speaker to achieve this in any given listening room. Based on this analysis and research, and with the computing power already in place courtesy of the Statement processors twin-DSP engine design, Paradigm and Anthems design team created the Anthem Room Correction system to identify those characteristics and enable the Statement processor to make the necessary adjustments to achieve the desired in-room acoustic result.

Features of the Anthem Room Correction technology include an intuitive set-up wizard for new users, choice of auto or user mode, an interface that displays measurements for advanced users, Infinite Impulse Response Filters to prevent delay that would affect lip-sync and video game play, and PC backup.

Boston Acoustics Horizon Tabletop Radios. Granted, these products are slated for retail sales more than the custom channel, but finally a product to give Boses glorified clock radio a run for its money. For the ultimate in placement flexibility, the compact Horizon Solo and Horizon Solo XT both feature a rotating control panel that lets users position them either horizontally or vertically. The Horizon Duo Stereo AM/FM Radio is listed for $149.99 (SRP) and the Horizon Duo-I Stereo iPod dock with AM/FM Radio is $199.99 (SRP). Bostons P.O.P. (Personal Options Plan) colors are available for all models. These little guys sounded very rich, considering their size and functionality, and the industrial design was truly innovative.

ADAs New Look. Utilizing half-inch glass as a medium for light and control, Audio Design Associates components have taken on a bold new look. With a simple touch of a button, the user can select from a wide range of colors that light the frame of the glass plate, making the product as beautiful to look at, as it is to listen to.

This new design was shown for the first time at CES on the companys PTM-8150 Multi-Channel Power Amplifier, PF-2502 Two-Channel Ultra-Hi-Current Power Amplifier as well as a completely redesigned Cinema Renaissance Mach III tube-based surround sound controller that has an MSRP of $100,000.

SIM2s HDR Prototype. LCD panel backlit with LED local dimming technology seems to be the next video display trend. The technology is more efficient, creates enhanced contrast, and better brightness. During a special press conference during CES, SIM2, the Italian video display manufacturer, and Dolby revealed their prototype display project incorporating Dolbys high dynamic range (HDR) technologies.

The new prototype display will feature Dolby HDR technologies incorporated into SIM2s unique industrial concept. Dolbys HDR technologies leverage LEDs with local dimming to provide dramatically enhanced contrast combined with crisp brightness to deliver picture quality that virtually matches real-world visual perception of depth, detail, and color.

What I noticed most about the application of this new technology is how much wasted light there is in current LCD displays. This inefficiency is most evident when a scene goes to black. On the current LCD panel, black is actually gray, whereas, the localized LED application actually shuts of the backlight in these spots, creating actual black. The positive effect (technically its negative) that this can have on contrast ratio should be obvious. SIM2 and Dolby are on schedule to unveil their prototype display in Q108.

That’s it for now. Stay tuned for me in the magazine.