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Concept Cars, Prima Cinema, Telemedicine, and iPad Man at CES 2013

My Thursday at CES started at the Renaissance hotel and a visit to the THX suite. THX was giving a technology presentation of a DSP enhancement/system correction, called Sontia. The Sontia SPT (Stable Phase Technology) technology definitely added deeper bass extension and more focused vocals, and THX is looking to have the technology implemented in entire systems, such as theater-in-a-box and soundbar solutions to offer enhanced audio quality.

My Thursday at CES started at the Renaissance hotel and a visit to the THX suite. THX was giving a technology presentation of a DSP enhancement/system correction, called Sontia. The Sontia SPT (Stable Phase Technology) technology definitely added deeper bass extension and more focused vocals, and THX is looking to have the technology implemented in entire systems, such as theater-in-a-box and soundbar solutions to offer enhanced audio quality.

We also discussed the new display certification program for 4K panels (the new Sharp Purios is the first TV to receive the 4K Certification, passing 600 tests in 30 categories covering 1,000 data points.) The certification is said to ensure sharp, 2D, 3D and Ultra HD 4K images.

From THX I headed over to Definitive Technology’s off-site suite at the Residence Inn. Definitive showed a couple of new products. First was a still-in-concept sound bar expected to arrive this fall at a sub-$1,500 price point. Soundbars are clearly a growing category, and Definitive wants to add another solution below its terrific Mythos XTR Solo Cinema model. Definitive expects the new model to have the majority of the Solo Cinema’s performance in a different form factor. The other big announcement was the Sound Cylinder, a $199 portable (phone/tablet) speaker that uses Bluetooth to give users a greatly improved sonic experience.

This product had me right from the get-go with packaging that was clearly inspired by a nice bottle of Scotch—say an 18-year Macallan or 21-year Glen Livet. Definitive demonstrated the Cylinder with a night-and-day comparison to the iPad’s internal speaker. Vocal clarity is amazingly improved as was bass performance, not to mention that the Cylinder plays at a significantly louder volume. The industrial design of the Cylinder is also very cool, as a clip holds the iPad in a kung-fu grip so tightly that you can easily use it as a handle to carry the iPad around.

A trek through the North Hall had me stop in my tracks as I saw this:

Look, if you put a Ferrari in your booth, I WILL stop by and take a look. When the PR rep saw me fawning over the car, she knew she had a pretty sure thing with the pitch, so I let her take me around the booth. The company, Logic3, signed a licensing deal with the Prancing Stallion and has developed the Cavallino and Scurderia collections over headphones and docks. Their products do look and feel sweet, as the phones use supple, actual Ferrari leathers and paint colors.

My real reason for visiting the North Hall, however, was to visit the Audi booth and check out the Q7 concept car. If you’ll recall from my Day 1 coverage, they talked about the car at the Bang & Olufsen press event, and I was curious to see what 3D audio with 23 channels all individually amped and controlled by DSP could sound like.

The demo started in 2D, which sounded like a pretty amazing car stereo; very enveloping sound, tight, back-punching bass, and crisp, clean highs from the B&O lens speakers. But when they engaged 3D audio, the pillar-mounted “height channels” raised the audio channel up so it sounded like it was playing across the windshield. The presenter said it was like putting “a roof on the concert hall.” My experience with high-end car audio is really pretty limited, but sonically it sounded like an amazingly focused home audio system with terrific envelopment. 

On my way back to the Central Hall I noticed HealthSpot. Well, that’s not entirely true. Actually I found out that one of my favorite marketing people in all of CE, Lisa Maughn, was working with a new company, and I was interested to see what the new company was all about. Turns out that HealthSpot has a really cool story.

The company’s goal is to expand and offer easy access to health care. The system uses a combination of digital technologies and HD teleconferencing, allowing board certified physicians using integrated medical devices to offer accurate remote diagnostic examinations. By placing HealthSpot facilities in convenient locations, it will provide a tool to get people to “see” their doctor. I went through a typical exam, registering for an appointment. After signing in and selecting your symptoms for a list—for example, fever, ache, vomiting, sore throat—and having your ID checked, you are led into the “exam room” where a certified nurse places a blood-pressure cuff on you and the machine takes a reading. Then a doctor appears on the screen before you and you have a live “face-to-face” discussion of what is wrong. The doctor can then open a variety of doors in the room revealing the appropriate medical device to check your eyes, ears, throat, heart, and lungs, etc. From there he can make a diagnosis and prescribe treatment. My too-much-alcohol, too-little-sleep symptoms elicited a “take two Tylenol” suggestion. It was a very cool experience and with the shortage of medical providers in the country, HealthSpot could be a terrific solution for quick access to non-life-threatening medical conditions.

I took a stroll through Central Hall to cover the video giants that I had missed earlier, namely Samsung, Panasonic, and Sharp. After visiting all three booths, I have to say that I tend to agree with my colleague, Dennis Burger, and his assessment that the modern state of video looks so good that it’s really difficult to get too overly excited about OLED.

The Panasonic ZT and Samsung 800 series plasma TVs appear to have finally shed the shadow of the 9G Pioneer Elite as “sure, you’re good, but you’ll never beat the best that was ever made!” Both sets exhibited black detail that is nothing short of amazing, with bright, vivid colors that produce an image that is stunning. I also got to spend some close-up time with the ICC Purios Sharp TV and it looked absolutely amazing. Playing 1080p content upconverted to 4K, the images where very detailed and razor sharp, with incredibly depth and focus.

One interesting item of note I found in the Samsung booth was this display:

The subhead of “Samsung and Netflix Partnered to Showcase Early Results of Their Work on 4K Video” certainly points to some incredible possibilities and a reason to re-up your Netflix streaming subscription. There was no firm information or details given on the technology, how it was being done, if it was streaming or coming from a local drive or when or if it might see light of day, but it is…interesting. Honestly, I didn’t think that Netflix was able to even pull off 1080p convincingly, so a 4K stream from them seems mind-boggling to me.

On my way over to the Las Vegas Hotel, I spotted this guy:

I mean, I thought I loved my iPad, but clearly I’ve been doing it wrong. I can only wonder how The Jobs would feel about such a thing. Probably happy that the guy bought so many Apple products…

At the LVH I had a meeting with Prima Cinema, a company that is brining first-run Hollywood films directly into private home theaters. Movies are automatically downloaded onto a secure server in the home, and then unlocked with a biometric fingerprint swipe from authorized owners at the cost of $500 a pop for a single viewing in a 24-hour period.

I loved the Prima GUI, which cycles through movie posters and a high-res back drop. Owners can also view all of the “now-coming” trailers for no cost. We watched the first five minutes of Les Miserables, and the picture quality was excellent. The Prima execs say that their system uses 10-bit, 4:2:2 video which has 50-percent more data and 25-percent more color than what is found on a Blu-ray disc. Titles are shown in 1080p/24.00 and have uncompressed PCM or Dolby TrueHD audio with 3D support.

Everything about the system felt totally rock-solid and well made, including the back panel which is a beautiful purple anodized aluminum. Also impressive is the redundancy of every output on the server: power, LAN, and HDMI. Prima is officially launching in Q2, but has 10 content providers already fully on-board including Universal, Focus Features, Lionscape, and Magnolia. I had a really great meeting with the execs and am hopeful that I’ll be able to bring a system in for review.

I swung by the DarbeeVision booth, anxious to see if the company had any new products coming following my review of the DVP5000. (Review to appear in Residential Systems February 2013 issue.) The big news is that Darbee signed an agreement to be included in the upcoming Lumagen processors. This will be a huge value-add to Lumagen owners, as they will get the advantage of Darbee’s “visual presence” along with Lumagen’s well-known scaling and processing.

My final stop of the day was at the Etymotic booth. I have a pair of the company’s headphones and since a large portion of the show is about headphones, I thought I’d see what a company that had been-there, done-that had to say. Turns out the thing that really caught my eye wasn’t for me, but for my daughter.

The Ety-Kids line of phones is designed to promote safe-listening. As a parent of a 6 year-old, I can tell you that kids are always trying to turn up the iPod/Pad when they are listening to music of watching a movie. I’m constantly checking the volume to make sure she isn’t damaging her ears. The Ety-Kids phones are designed to provide a child with real noise isolation along with a volume-limited design that will not exceed safe levels. Plus, since the phones are blocking out outside noise, the kids will feel like the content is playing louder “and will hear every detail and won’t complain that the volume is too low.” This is a great thing for parents everywhere, and is recommended for kids aged four and up. At the show, Etymotic is debuting the phones in blue and pink colors.

With that, CES is three days down, one to go…

John Sciacca is principal of Custom Theater and Audio in Myrtle Beach, SC.