Following up on the popularity of my “CEDIA Expo 2022 Superlatives” post from last year, I thought I’d share my highlights from this year’s show. Because after, “How are you? How have you been?” the most common question on the CEDIA show floor is, “What are the best things you’ve seen?”
Honestly, since attending my first Expo in 1998 (the New Orleans flood show for all you noobz!), the highlight of the show for me remains reuniting with old friends and colleagues. I can’t tell you how many chance encounters I had in hallways, booths, on the streets, in restaurants, or at event parties, and those just made the show for me.
But you want to read about the show, so here are some of the things, trends, and ideas that stood out the most to me after three days of wandering the CEDIA Expo 2023 show floor.
#ProTip: Getting There — The A Train
The Denver airport is not that close to downtown Denver, so when you arrive in town, the first thing you’ll have to do is actually get into the city. Like many of you, when I stepped off the plane, I ordered up an Uber at a cost of $67. After watching my driver circle and circle, I canceled that ride and went to order another, and the price had jumped to $101! Outrageous. So, I discovered that you can take the Denver RTD train from the airport to downtown for $10.50! (To quote the song, “You must take the A Train…”) Trains come about every 15 minutes, the ride takes about 37 minutes and ends downtown at Union Station, which is a sub-one-mile walk to most downtown hotels. This is a quick, easy, and cheap way to get to/from the show.
Biggest Trend — MoIP/AVoIP
While HDMI distribution used to be handled by complex (and expensive!) matrix systems, this seems to be shifting — quickly — toward using MoIP (Media over IP). One huge benefit is being able to use the exact combination of source and displays you need for the system, as well as being able to add to it if needed, instead of having a baked-in, say, 8×8 scheme. While this used to be reserved for systems like Crestron’s Digital Media, now it is far more prevalent, and most solutions are capable of handling full 4K 18 Gbps 4:4:4 video, including Dolby Vision content. I saw examples of this from AV Pro Edge, Just Add Power, Blustream, Aurora Multimedia, Snap One, Vanco, and Pulse Eight.
Also notable: Netgear demonstrated its new line of M4350 managed switches, which are designed to simplify MoIP system rollouts and configurations.
Just on the Horizon — MicroLED Video Wall
In last year’s post, I called this “Most Up-and-Coming,” and I think it is still there. While more manufacturers are showing video walls, and prices have come down, they are still really expensive. And none of the integrators I spoke with have actually installed one yet, so it still seems like it’s on the cusp of becoming a thing. Even so, these are the future of high-end, premium home cinema displays, and I saw examples from LG, Samsung, Sony, Planar, Digital Projection, Quantum Media Systems, C-SEED, Just Video Walls, Barco, and Stealth Acoustics. However, with retail prices of large direct-view LED screens dropping (the Sony 100-inch is now under $8000!), MicroLED has a way to go until it is a truly viable option.
Best Video — Quantum Media Systems Cinematic XDR3 MicroLED Video Wall
Once again, Quantum Media stole my heart (and eyes!) for the best video at the show. This year’s panel not only looked better via upgrades such as 120 Hz high frame rate, but it was also bigger and significantly cheaper than last year’s! (Note that “significantly cheaper” doesn’t mean “cheap,” as this panel was still pushing half-a-mill.) Quantum Media is now DCI certified for showing first-run films on the “Bel Air Circuit,” and part of the demo included showing some DCI content. From the second the green-band trailer popped on screen, it was clear how vibrant, sharp, and bright the image was. I’d say it looked like a giant, 18-foot-wide OLED, but at up to 1500 nits, it was much brighter and, obviously, way more engaging. And the Kaleidescape cover art screen — something we’re all pretty familiar with at this point — has never looked better, with colors that just leapt off the giant screen.
Quantum Media’s panels have been designed for the high-end residential market from the ground up, and part of its secret sauce is its full calibration services, which include “Pixel Alignment Calibration,” along with full on-site chroma alignment, grayscale and color space calibration for REC709, DCI-P3, and REC2020, and full system optimization of every AV source, ensuring each install has optimal performance. If I could have just one thing from the show…
Best Home Theater Demo — Trinnov Audio Partners
Let me just start by saying, at a total system cost of “over one million dollars,” this demo absolutely should have killed it. And, fortunately for all involved, it did! When you gather the best-of-the-best, you should get something truly great, and this demo included Trinnov Audio, Ascendo Immersive Audio, Barco, Kaleidescape, madVR Labs, Seymour-Screen Excellence, and Officina Acustica. The big news here was the first U.S. demonstration of Trinnov’s new WaveForming technology, which is designed to eliminate the effect of room modes on bass reproduction and completely eliminate standing waves in a room. With a double bass-array that included 24 Ascendo subwoofers capable of playing down to 5 Hz, the bass in this room was not only massive and powerful, it was also tight and delivered a stated ±2 dB variance between the 18 seats! While the bass was a highlight, I was also struck by the detail, immersiveness, and ability to track small objects (like a ticking clock) in the 13.24.6-channel system. WaveForming will be available to all Trinnov Altitude owners as a free software update!
Best Home Theater Tech Demo — StormAudio ISP Evo
Following on the MoiP trend, the other marquee home theater demo at the show was the StormAudio, Grimani Systems, Seymour-Screen Excellence, and RowOne Seating demo. While this demo looked and sounded great as well, the big story here was that this 11.6.6-channel system was a CEDIA Expo-first for being fully digital; utilizing AES67 Audio over IP for connection between the StormAudio ISP Evo processor and the Grimani Systems amplifiers. A look at the rack revealed that the StormAudio processor required just four cables: Power, Ethernet for network, Ethernet for AES67, and HDMI from the Kaleidescape Strato-C source. Beyond greatly simplifying and decluttering the rack, the all-digital AES67 system will also eliminate common issues like ground-loop hums and allow for CI-desired features such as remote setup, calibration, and monitoring. Also, the entire system was connected with a basic, off-the-shelf network switch costing about $160. Welcome to the future!
Most Seen Everywhere — Kaleidescape
It’s no secret that I’m a major fanboy, owner, and dealer for Kaleidescape, and the company launched a new line of Terra Prime movie servers at the show that can now download a full 4K HDR movie in as little as four minutes using faster processing and Multi-Gig Ethernet. But you definitely didn’t need to swing by the Kaleidescape booth to see the company’s products in action. In fact, with Kaleidescape systems being used in 42 different booths, it was almost harder to find a booth that wasn’t using Kaleidescape for its source content than one that was! As with last year, the underlying message was, “If you want the best experience, you need to begin with the best source component and content,” 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 material for quick, fast, and repeatable demos.
Most Demo’d Content — Tie: ‘John Wick 4’ and ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’
Last year, the clear winner by a mile was Top Gun: Maverick, and this was still being used in quite a few demos. This year, however, while nothing was as prevalent as TGM, the clips I saw most were from John Wick 4 and Bohemian Rhapsody (namely the “We Will Rock You” clip). Also notable was Spider-Man, where I saw clips from Far From Home, No Way Home, and Across the Spider-Verse. I also saw the church scene from Bond’s No Time to Die a couple of times, some clips from Ford v. Ferrari, and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, as well as the old standby, “Never Enough” from The Greatest Showman.
Best Lifestyle Experience — Lutron
Lutron came to CEDIA with a new booth concept this year, and the company really nailed the lifestyle benefits of its human-centric tunable lighting and motorized shading systems, taking you through a wonderful experience of how lighting — both natural and manmade — could transform a room and space for different moods, feelings, and emotions throughout the day. Lutron gave an experience rather than talking about “black boxes” or hardware; you left the demo with a feeling of how this would improve your lifestyle. This is an experience that could be replicated in a showroom, and if it impressed a 20-year-plus journalist, think what it could do for your clients…
Honorable Mentions: Hunter Douglas Aura illuminated “daylight on demand” shades and Josh.ai also put on terrific lifestyle demos.
Most Surprising “I love this!” — Kaadas KA227-V Smart Video Doorbell-Smart Lock
It’s no surprise that you’re going to love something that costs thousands of dollars, but when I saw the sub-$400 Kaadas KA227-V, I was smitten! This thing just checks so many boxes that I think it will make a strong play as a go-to smart video door lock for our channel. While there’s nothing wrong with Ring (except the margins for our channel) or the other smart doorbell solutions, or anything wrong with the plethora of smart door locks, there is the disconnect between doorbell and door lock. With the Kaadas, you get a doorbell that is also a door lock, letting you answer, verify the person via 1080p camera, and open the door in the same app. You can also unlock the door with a fingerprint, PIN code, key, or the Kaadass app. Beyond residential applications, I see this being super-beneficial to the rental market. Very excited to bring this in for a review!
Surprise Demo — Play-Fi Immersive Home Theater
Late Tuesday evening before the start of the show, I received a LinkedIn message from DTS saying they would be having an off-site demonstration of new Play-Fi technology that would allow for the only whole-home wireless solution capable of supporting up to 12 channels of discrete sound for an immersive wireless Dolby Atmos and DTS:X experience, supporting layouts up to 7.2.4. Using this feature currently requires a DTS Play-Fi-compatible TV (expected to arrive in the coming year), with Play-Fi capable speakers, subwoofers, and surround bars connecting to the same Wi-Fi broadcaster built into the smart TV. The system will retain Play-Fi’s “brand agnostic” approach, letting users mix and match compatible products across brands. With the system allowing you to use independent left/right front speakers along with the TV or soundbar as a center channel, it was able to deliver a nice width across the front soundstage, something typical surround bars struggle with, and the demo showing Netflix’s Formula 1: Drive to Survive produced a nice canopy of height audio.
Best Demo Presenter — Paul Hales of Pro Audio/Theory Audio Design
Having just completed a review of a Theory Audio Design surround system, and getting to speak with company founder Paul Hales quite a bit during that review, I got to know him pretty well, and I found him to be not only knowledgeable, but also incredibly personable. During the company’s demo at CEDIA, he did a wonderful job of taking a room full of listeners through each product in the line-up, playing a combination of “piano and explosions” to show off the dynamics and performance of his system offerings. In a sea of demonstrations, Hales definitely stood out to take the time to highlight his company’s strengths and make the demo not only about his products, but also engaging and fun. I might be a little biased here after my review, but one thing that isn’t subjective is that this was the only demo I attended where people literally applauded at the end. Well played, sir!
Honorable Mention: Alex Capecelatro from Josh.ai also gave a wonderful demo of Josh’s new, lower-priced One controller, as well as lifestyle voice control and JoshGPT AI.
Best Time on the Floor — Saturday
If you don’t have a full week to be at the show, Saturday offers your best chance to get through as many booths as possible without fighting massive crowds. On Thursday and Friday, some demos (Trinnov, StormAudio, Josh.ai, JBL Synthesis) could have pretty massive, Disneyland-like waits. (Just a thought, but there should be a Fast Pass thing for demos…) But on Saturday, you could often get in fairly quickly, giving you less time in line and more time to wander. Also, fewer people means that employees have more time to talk and answer questions, letting you get a deeper look at products that interest you.
Best Story — RowOne Seating’s Todd Girdis for Empowerment Plan
Like many of you, I love CEDIA in Denver. There is something about the vibe, accessibility, air, and general feeling of the city that makes it a great place to hold Expo. But I couldn’t help but notice the massive increase in homelessness since our last visit. While walking to/from events during mornings or evenings, there were times where I was literally stepping around a person sleeping on the street. And the disparity of going to see extravagantly priced “toys” while someone else who literally has everything they own in a bag or shopping cart wasn’t lost on me. Of course, this isn’t a problem unique to Denver, but this thought was literally on my mind when RowOne Seating’s Todd Girdis spoke of his company’s involvement in giving back to the Empowerment Plan (www.empowermentplan.org). Girdis told me RowOne donates $5000 quarterly to fund Empowerment’s food pantry, where previously homeless people are given shelter, education, and employment making EMPWR coats that also transform into sleeping bags that are donated to those in need. Empowerment is helping in 33 countries, including every state in the U.S. According the Empowerment, “Every single person has moved out of the shelter within the first 90 days of working with us,” and the company’s current plant manager was homeless four years ago. Talking to Girdis, it is clear his passion for this is real, and it is great to see a company in our industry doing something so practical to give back.
Still Disappointing — Press Treatment
While this is a gripe that doesn’t affect a lot of people, for those of us who are in the media that cover the show, Emerald continues to act as if we’re unimportant. For those of you that weren’t able to attend the show, the media is your best way of getting accurate information on the event and products that were there. And where there used to be an entire “Press Day” filled with conferences and announcements, for the first time in my memory, there was not a single press event before the show. (To be fair, the lack of any events did give me a chance to go and play pickleball with Residential Tech Today editor Jeremy Glowacki, so thank you for that!) And while there technically was a Press Room this year, it was entirely useless, lacking a printer, any media handouts, and not even having Wi-Fi/network to be able to connect to file a story. Oh, and if you wanted to plug into power, you had to huddle against the wall. The one bright spot of the Press Room was Morgan Lawrence from rAVe, who was given the unenviable task of manning that desolate room, yet somehow managed to keep a smile and be in good spirits the two times I stopped in. Sigh…
Emerald Suggestion: Next year, why don’t you have every exhibitor submit all their announcements, and then combine them all onto a 1-2 TB USB drive that you then give to all registered members of the media at check-in? It would save a ton of waste and ensure that every member of the registered media received every announcement from the show. Sound good?