After, “How are you? How have you been?” the most common question on the CEDIA Expo show floor is, “What’ve been the best things you’ve seen?”
After three full days on the show floor, I thought I’d give a recap of the “best of” things that really stood out the most to me. Now, the floor is a big place, and even though I did my best, I know I didn’t see everything. So, if you think I’m wrong or missed something cool, please let me know!
Best Theme — Reunions
With three years passing since the last “real” Expo, you could tell that people were genuinely happy and excited to be back at the show and thrilled to be rekindling old acquaintances and friendships. Whether it was in aisles, booths, restaurants, or bars, reunions were happening everywhere at this CEDIA, with hugs, handshakes, fist bumps, or just big smiles; friends, colleagues, integrators, manufacturers, reps, and PR were all reconnecting, and it was great to see. People clearly missed these “real” in-person connections, and it felt like CEDIA was back! I had so many chance encounters at the show with friends, and I thank everyone who grabbed me to say hello. While the gear is front and center, it was the reunions that were really the star of the show.
Standout meetup — My chance encounter and selfie with industry legend and icon Sam Runco.
Most Innovative — Hunter Douglas Aura Illuminations
With three years since the last Expo, nearly everything on the floor was new in some manner or had been released without people seeing it. So, there was a ton of gear to see at nearly every booth. But one of the most innovative products I saw was Hunter Douglas’ upcoming Aura Illuminated Shades, which they are calling “daylight on demand.” With LED strip lighting concealed in the headrail, these can create a variety of lighting conditions throughout the day from 2700 to 6500 Kelvin, using the light’s color temperature to match the sunlight or to increase the lighting for more productivity. This was a truly revolutionary development in the shade category and will be an exciting development to follow.
Honorable Mention — Snap One’s Episode Radiance outdoor audio/lighting system that can work over a single two-conductor wire and give integrators a way into the landscape lighting market.
Best Presence — Sound United
It was great to see so many companies on the floor, with large, well-staffed, and equipped booths — such a welcome change from the mediocre presence at this year’s CES. The company that really went above and beyond in my opinion was Sound United. Not only did the company have a large booth displaying all of its product family — Denon, Marantz, Classé, Polk, and Definitive Technology — it also had not one, or two, but six suites in the adjacent Omni. From a nice staging hospitality suite serving drinks and snacks while groups queued up for the demos, to multiple stereo and surround demos of new Bowers & Wilkins 700 Series 3 speakers, to a full-blown 9.4.6 Dolby Atmos immersive surround system, the Sound United team really showed the perfect balance between a floor presence and how to give great demos and manage groups of people.
Honorable Mention — Origin Acoustics for showing up — once again! — on “Press Day” to have an actual event where they announced a bunch of new products, explained their “design-centric technology” and curated partnerships strategy, and their “Evolved” theme for the show.
Best Return — Crestron
This was Crestron’s first return to CEDIA since 2015, and the company had a really well-designed booth that told a story as you worked through it. This is definitely a different Crestron presence on the floor, where in the past it was a booth really lined with products. Here the company repeatedly stressed how easily and quickly systems can be configured and deployed using its Crestron Home platform, how it worked with partner products, and how its drivers and extensions helped to make Home both simple and powerful. I also loved the company’s new SolarSync automation, which places a device outside the home to continuously measure the color temperature of outdoor lighting, and then automatically adjusts tunable lighting inside the home to match, thus replicating natural light throughout.
Best Video — Quantum Media Systems
I think the Quantum Media Systems Cinematic XDR LED video wall was not just the best video image I saw at CEDIA, but the best I have ever seen. This 16-foot-wide screen just looked like a massive, gorgeous OLED with incredible black levels and a rated 1 million to 1 contrast, producing vibrant colors and bright whites up to 1000 nits, and it delivered a truly engaging and cinematic experience that had detail rivaling anything I’ve seen. With no visible seams or dimples, this LED video wall was simply stunning, which Quantum Media attributes to the chroma alignment, grayscale and color space calibration, and full system optimization of every system it deploys. Co-owner Ken Hoffman said if I sold three of these he’d give me one, so I’m actively looking for any takers….
Honorable Mention — Sony’s new QD-OLED displays were also stunning and bright and represent the peak of obtainable video quality.
Best Projector — Christie Eclipse
Christie was slated to demo the Eclipse at last year’s Expo, but that didn’t happen, so this was its first showing. This has been described as the finest home projector ever and the closest you can get to having a Dolby Cinema experience at home, and I have to say it totally lived up to the hype. The Eclipse projects the best images I have ever seen from a projector. Period. Firing onto a 15-foot-wide woven screen, blacks were inky, while it still delivered bright and punchy colors and eye-reactive highlights. There was a terrific clip from Avatar that really showed off the color space and vibrant detail the projector could deliver, but it was the truly deep black levels that were jaw-dropping.
Honorable Mentions — Sony’s flagship VPL-GTZ380 and Barco’s Njord were certainly no slouches and would be great foundations for any premium home theater.
Best Demo — “Ultimate CEDIA Demo”
This was a joint effort from Trinnov Audio, Sonus faber, McIntosh, Officina Acustica, madVR, and Kaleidescape, with additional gear provided by Barco and Seymour-Screen Excellence. This demo included an 11.12.6-channel system featuring Sonus faber’s new Arena line of speakers powered by a massive 19-amplifier, 14,000-watt McIntosh system to deliver unlimited dynamics and headroom for an experience that showed what a truly premium home theater experience could be. Video was provided from a 9000-lumen Barco Njord CS laser projector firing onto a 165-inch-wide Seymour-Screen Excellence screen. Due to issues with customs, the entire theater was assembled in less than 20 hours, a testament to the “designed in Italy, built in Dallas” room from Officina Acustica. This booth had a solid line from show open-to-close right up to the show’s conclusion and was the must-see demo.
Honorable Mention — Seymour-Screen Excellence, Ascendo, StormAudio, and RowOne Entertainment. Another partner demo featuring marquee brands, this 9.4.6 system also featured a Barco Njord and madVR Envy processor. It also had the benefit of being calibrated by my friend and HAA co-instructor Adam Pelz, so it sounded terrific with incredibly tactile bass.
Most Prevalent Component — Kaleidescape
If a manufacturer was giving a video demo, then it was almost always using a Kaleidescape Terra server and Strato movie player. I think Kaleidescape had product in nearly 20 booths, and the underlying message was, “No matter what audio or video system you are using, if you want the best experience, you need to begin with the best source component,” and that’s where Kaleidescape fits in. With its customizable scripts that can string demo scenes together for easy playback, it was also the perfect source provider for quick, fast, and repeatable demos.
Most Demo’d Content — Top Gun: Maverick
Prior to Expo, I always try to guess what will be the demo clips used at the show, and Maverick was certainly way up on my list, and that proved to be the de facto clip used. With companies using three different demo scenes from the film, I can’t tell you exactly how many times I saw it, but it was a lot. But you know what? I still love this movie and would happily watch it again! I’ll be your wingman any day, Mav!
Honorable Mention — The Greatest Showman “Never Enough.” Despite what the clip might be called, I have actually had enough. And who would have thought that after three years this would still be one of the most demo’d clips?! I guess at least it’s not “In the Shallows” (which I did see once).
Most Up-and-Coming — Micro LED Video Walls
CEDIA isn’t really a “video” show, but if anyone is going to be selling and installing ultra-high-end Micro LED video walls, it’s going to be the CI channel. While still carrying premium price tags, this technology is starting to be more widely developed, and this year I saw displays from LG, Samsung, Sony, Planar, Digital Projection, Quantum Media Systems, C SEED, and Stealth Acoustics. And as technology continues to develop and advance, we’ll undoubtedly see these displays continue improving in performance while lowering in price.
Honorable Mention — Ultra-short-throw projectors. These were popping up in more and more booths, though I’m still not convinced they are ready for primetime, living room TV replacements, but they offer another flexible install solution for someone interested in a big screen experience.
Newest Thing — PoE++
While I’m familiar with PoE and PoE+, the guys at Lithe Audio introduced me to PoE++, which is able to handle up to 90 watts of power over an Ethernet cable. Lithe can use this to power its 60-watt in-ceiling speakers, but I had literally never heard of PoE++ before. (Apparently, there is also some question over where low-voltage contractors will even be able to pull this wire because it is now considered “high voltage” in some areas.) Either way, put this on your radar because it looks like it will be coming, and you’ll need to plan on the infrastructure to support it.
Honorable Mention — Matter. Another new one to me, Matter is an upcoming smart home connectivity standard that is touted to be supported by all the major providers — Google, Apple, Samsung, and Amazon — which aims to ease connectivity and interpretability across disparate devices and platforms. But will it actually…matter?
Most Disappointing — Covid
Maybe not too surprising, but there were some cases of people coming down with Covid at the show, or testing positive shortly after getting back. While this is probably inevitable for any large gathering for the foreseeable future, it’s still a bummer, but hopefully everyone got home safe and any cases were minor.
(dis)Honorable mention — The “Press Lounge.” In the past, the press had a great private and quiet room that was well-staffed with materials, including computers, printers, coffee, snacks, notepads, and press releases. Oh, and it had internet access. So, you know, we could post our stories. This year, the “Lounge” consisted of a curtained-off area and some high-top tables and chairs. No printers. And, even worse, no internet. After some complaints, Emerald did bring in some coffee, water, and snacks, but by then no one cared.