Top trends and takeaways from San Diego, part 2.

Following up on part 1 of my CEDIA show report (which you can read here) where I talked about 4K Projection, the arrival of 8K resolution, how Atmos audio is ubiquitous, the continuing trend outdoor living system, and the state of the show itself, here are five more things about this year’s show that stood out to me.

6. The Demos
Prior to every CEDIA I try and predict what will be the most used demo content at the show and who will really step it up to have the best demos. Because, when you think about it, who is harder to impress than a jaded group of industry veterans who have seen and heard it all?! As a manufacturer looking to impress a group of your customers, potential customers, and industry peers, you’ve got to bring your A-game for sure!

And the award for most-used demo content goes to…Ready Player One.

And the award for most-used demo content goes to…Ready Player One.

As far as content goes, the hands-down winner at this year’s show was the first race scene from Ready Player One, which I saw demonstrated at least five times. (Also, this was my pre-show pick as a top demo track, so points for me!) This scene looks and sounds fantastic, with some tremendous low end as well as significant use of all surround and height speakers. The second most played clip was the song “Never Enough” from The Greatest Showman, which demonstrates a speaker’s dynamics and ability to accurately render vocals. Other demos mined older material, including Tron Legacy, Apollo 13, The Legend of Tarzan, and Unbroken. (Take a look at this blog I wrote on “How to create a great demo.”

My top three demos of the show go to JBL Synthesis, Wisdom Audio, and Steinway Lyngdorf. The JBL demo was absolutely fantastic, demonstrating the best of what home cinema can truly be, and once again getting into this demo was one of the most sought-after tickets at the show. (Special thanks to JBL’s PR point person, Philip Weiss, for helping me to secure a seat!) This year’s system utilized a 15.4.10-channel array with nearly 40,000 watts of power that delivered an incredibly cohesive soundfield and tight, chest-crushing bass. JBL showed four demo clips; one of which included the epic lobby fight scene from The Matrix where you could track every bit of gunfire and spent shell casing. Steinway demonstrated how its system could effortlessly reproduce concert-like volume levels with no distortion, and I measured SPLs in excess of 103 dB at 25 feet from the main channels!

JBL Synthesis

JBL Synthesis

Another theme of many demos at CEDIA was the source device: a Kaleidescape Strato. As the only device capable of delivering full-quality 4K HDR material with lossless Dolby Atmos and DTS:X audio — while being able to easily create, cue, and recall any scene from any movie — the Strato played a central role in many manufacturer demo systems at CEDIA.

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7. The Little Things
Since CEDIA is all about the integration market, sometimes it is the small item you stumble across in a booth that really stands out. You know, that little problem-solver that you didn’t even know existed until you ran across it in a booth and had that lightbulb moment of exactly how this would help going forward and why didn’t anyone think of it sooner?! The show floor was full of these items, and I ran across a few that I will definitely be keeping in mind for future projects.

Four things stood out to me while touring the massive Legrand booth (encompassing Sanus, Middle Atlantic, Nuvo, Luxul, On-Q, QMotion, and Vantage). The first was the new Sanus Outlet Shelf, which is a stupid-simple electrical outlet cover with a shelf designed to hold something (exactly) like a Sonos Play:1 speaker. For under $20 and about 2 minutes of time, you can wall mount a Play:1 directly above an outlet, perfect for places such as kitchens where counter space is precious, or for rear surround speakers. Also perfect for Sonos dealers, Sanus showed a new mount for the Sonos Beam that easily attaches to an existing TV wall mount and offers 12-inches of height adjustment. At $59.95, this costs exactly the same as the actual Beam mount! In the Middle Atlantic section, the expanded DC Power Distribution line shows just how fanatical MA is about terrific looking racks, giving integrators the perfect solution to eliminating all those pesky wall-wart power supply regardless of the voltage. And a new C3 Series AV credenza can wall mount below a TV with just a 10-inch deep profile, letting you tuck in some gear below a flat panel without ruining a room’s look.

Sanus Outlet Shelf

Sanus Outlet Shelf

When you think “simple problem solvers,” Meridian Audio probably isn’t the first company that comes to mind. However, with the recent launch of its 200-series, the company has been producing products that work with a wider array of systems, or, as the Meridian spokesperson joked with me, “For people that made seriously bad life choices like not buying Meridian loudspeakers.” The company’s forthcoming 210 Streamer is going to make it a simple process to add Bluetooth, Spotify Connect, and Apple Airplay to Meridian systems with a simple SpeakerLink connection, letting Meridian owners enjoy streaming in the finest quality digital. The 210 can also serve as a Roon endpoint and supports MQA decoding. For non-Meridian owners, the 210 will offer a digital output featuring Meridian’s terrific apodising filters.

We all know how popular the Amazon Echo Dot is, and the new Vanco International Spot for Dot in-wall amplifier is the perfect solution for, “How can I get better sound out of this in a room?” This all-in-one housing flush mounts a Dot into the wall coupled to an 80-watt amplifier to drive up to four in-room speakers for far better sound with absolutely zero visible wiring. The Spot also has an analog audio input to accept a TV audio signal, making it a simple proposition to integrate TV audio as well!

Vanco International Spot for Dot in-wall amplifier

Vanco International Spot for Dot in-wall amplifier

8. Most Exciting/Vague Announcement: IMAX Enhanced
Usually product or technology announcements are pretty straightforward and don’t leave you guessing as to exactly what is being announced. However, due to the last-minute nature of the launch, really nailing down the specifics of the new IMAX Enhanced was difficult to do. (My Marantz contact told me they were literally loading in new firmware the night before the show in order to be able to process and playback the IMAX Enhanced demo content. In fact, there were only two demo discs in existence at the show, and both required using a specific UHD Blu-ray player to function.)

However, after many questions, here is what I gathered from it: DTS is going into a partnership with IMAX for this new IMAX Enhanced program. In order to enjoy and experience this content, you will need to have both an IMAX Enhanced certified receiver/processor and display. At CEDIA Sony announced that its new displays and projectors would be certified as well as forthcoming AVRs, and Denon and Marantz announced that they have models that will receive certification as well.

IMAX Enhanced program

IMAX Enhanced program

It sounds like IMAX Enhanced will either be an alternate or premium version of a disc or streamed title that will feature the full IMAX video frame as well as a more pristine, cleaned up version of the print, delivering greater contrast and sharper clarity. The audio track will also be the same as that played in IMAX digital cinemas.

There will also be new IMAX modes on these products that will automatically be triggered by “flags” in the HDMI metadata. I can attest that the Marantz AV8805 used in the demo displayed “IMAX: DTS” (or something similar) instead of the usual DTS:X MSTR indication.

Stay tuned, as this could be the next great development in premium immersive audio and 4K video.

Check out all four editions of the Official CEDIA Expo Daily here.

9. A Cable Company that Gets it
If your customers are anything like mine, they hate the local cable company. And I mean, they hate the cable company. And let’s face it, most cable providers are incredibly frustrating to deal with, give you the runaround at every turn — but only after spending forever on hold, and deliver shoddy equipment that ultimately comprises the quality and integrity of our installs.

So imagine my surprise when I had a long chat with Comcast at the show, and not only didn’t walk away wanting to go all murder-suicide on them, but actually wishing they were in my market so I could work with them!

I’m going to give a lot of kudos to Eric Gardner, the integration engineer, special operations tech at Comcast for some of this. First, Eric used to be an installer at my company, Custom Theater and Audio (true story), so I know that Eric understands the challenges of working on this side of the fence, as well as the typical pain points that come with working with the cable company. So Eric and his team have established a dedicated installer support team on the inside to work directly with integrators and our high-profile clientele. Beyond greater knowledge, this team also has access to a ton of different gear — AVRs, matrix distribution, displays, control systems — that can be set up to replicate a problem you’re experiencing in the field and then ultimately determine a solution. Also cool is that the installer can now work directly with the cable company on the client’s behalf, meaning no more calls where you pretend to be the customer so you can get help on the account. (Don’t act like you haven’t done it.)

Comcast is also pushing the technology advancement of its set-top boxes, working quickly to add 4K HDR, Dolby Atmos, and Dolby Vision. Very shortly, Comcast will be rolling out full IP control over its new boxes, including a wide array of automation partner integration.

A cable company you actually like. Who’d have thunk it?

What products captured Residential Systems Best of Show Awards at CEDIA Expo? Find out here.

10. Friends/Colleagues
As with any tradeshow, one of the greatest things is running into friends you only see once a year and catching up with mini-reunions, either on the show floor or in a restaurant or social event after hours. CEDIA is also a great place to meet new, likeminded friends who understand the unique challenges we face, and develop friendships far beyond your own geographic territory. (I’ve met several great people from the U.K. and Canada whose paths I likely never would have crossed if not for the show.)

I’ve always said this was a very incestuous (but, you know, in a good way) industry, where people don’t usually leave, they just move on to a new company or position. Nowhere is that truer lately than in the publishing industry where many of my “writing” friends have suddenly found themselves transitioned out of a job they had held for some time. Fortunately, nearly all of these great writers have found spots at new publications, so we’ll be able to continue enjoying their voices, talents, and friendship for years to come. 

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