The economy was the big theme of the 2010 CEDIA show. The dealers and members who showed up were a concentrated bunch of the best of the best. When the housing market was booming, every alarm or car stereo guy quickly became a custom installer. In 2010 the people at the show were more serious and most likely the survivors from the fall out. Value was discussed in every booth that we visited. iPads replaced big touch pannels in many locations as Apple is becoming more and more accepted by the custom installation market in ways Microsoft never was - no matter how much money they spent to get into the space.
As expected 3D was on display everywhere but there wasn't much excitement for the concept. The amount of demo material is shamefully low. Technologically, 3D at CEDIA was about the same that you can see at a Best Buy including the need for clunky, powered glasses to make content sort of pop off of the screen. While 3D is getting less expensive - 4K is far more immersive and engaging to my eyes. I can't wait until 4K video is more attainable. That's likely a long way off as is autostereoscopic (no glasses) 3D.
Sony is pushing 3D about as hard as any video company out there in the market today and at CEDIA they introduced a $10,000 3D "Pearl" projector in their ES line. The VPL-VW90ES is positioned at the top of their consumer level projectors and presents an active 3D picture (thus it needs powered glasses). The ES badge brings a longer warranty and different levels of dealer support for setup, repairs and so on.
Sony also was showing some new receivers in the ES line including the flagship STR-DA5600 ES. This bad ass comes with a 3/1 ethernet switcher so that you can have more flexibility switching and connecting hardwired Internet based AV components. Its got a bank of HDMI 1.4a inputs as well as a multi-zone iPod control.
DP is one of the more serious players in the high-end home theater market. They've taken over where Runco left off with the biggest video displays at the show. Their TITAN projector is a major player in the cost-no-object 3D space and people lined up to don the glasses and get the demo. While the TITAN has the most WOW factor the small form factor Digital Projection Invision 20 1080p projector at $10,000 caught my eye most. This projector is tiny physically but rocks 1600 lumens light output, which could light up a screen even with house lights on. One last issue with Digital Projections (and Runco too for that mater), which is worthy of comment; they both skip the bullshit measurement numbers like 5,000,000:1 contrast. The numbers that other companies promote can be insulting to those who know the real deal. Digital Projection doesn't try to pull the wool over anyone's eyes as they have the real numbers to impress.
Golden Ear Technologies
Sandy Gross, the co-founder of Polk and Defintivie Technologies, is back with a new loudspeaker line that opens with a kick ass $2,500 pair of speakers. The new floorstanding towers are thin with a tapered top. Unlike past designs at Defintitve Technologies, these new towers aren't bipolar but they do rock the bass. The most notable element of the speakers is its high velocity folded tweeter that delivers that Magnepan-like top end that you simply don't hear with mass-market speakers. Dollar for dollar Golden Ear was making the best sound at CEDIA.
JVC was showing their 4K projector in the hotel beside the convention center in their large meeting room. Let me say this now and be very clear - the picture they were making is the best thing I have seen to date. Native 4K photos showed depth of field and detail that makes 1080p respectfully look like crap. You could see the detail in moss through a door and down the road on one of the images. Yes, I know stills look better than moving pictures but you couldn't help but to be riveted to the screen. Without question the best image I saw at the show was the JVC 4K projector, which prices out at a whopping $170,000.
I wasn't expecting to see our friends from Aperion at the show but they are heavily involved with the wireless speaker movement and had both a static and active display. Their new Zona wireless speakers are priced at $499 and while you need a small power chord - they can be connected to a source (like your computer or AV receiver) wirelessly through a small box. As mini monitors or surround speakers, it's easy to find a place for the Aperion Zona speakers in a system somewhere around your house. As always, Aperion offers a direct sales model, which includes free shipping.
While the trend is to make the form factor of your HDTV paper thin - Panasonic was rocking some of the best flat HDTV images you could see at the show with their plasmas. I drooled over their 65 inch set, wondering how make it fit into my living room system without sticking out too much. However, the show stopper at CEDIA was a 152 inch $500,000 plasma that does 3D, 2K and 4K resolutions. Unlike past showings of their 103-inch plasma - this 152 looked notably better especially out on the edges of the screen. People were taking photos with the set only to be dwarfed by its massive size. Don't ask me why you'd drop $500,000 on a plasma when you can buy a projector because if you have to ask that question - you aren't the right customer for this giant. A 152-inch television makes a statement no matter how you look at it.
Wisdom Audio is one of our favorite speaker companies as they are bringing high end sound to the modern home in ways that are relevant to the installation market but also true to its audiophile roots. Beyond their gorgeous electronics, in-wall speakers that can actually image through a perforated screen and top of the line room correction - Wisdom Audio now offers a massive, dual 15-inch driver, $10,000 subwoofer. Unlike most audiophile subwoofers - there is no fancy finish on this 101 dB efficient bass blaster. It can be powered with nearly no power but when juiced this woofer hits it out the park like Barry Bonds. I know more and more top stores that are dropping top of the line, traditional audiophile speaker brands for Wisdom Audio. It's the most relevant way to get true audiophile sound into a media room without having the bulk of big speakers on the floor.
dnp is the only video oriented company at the show that actually likes the big lights in the rafters as their "optical" screen rejects light in ways that no traditional vinyl screen can. Literally, you can see dark blacks in bright ambient light when using a dnp screen. Their manufacturing process is amazing especially the way they magnetically seam larger screens together. The benefits of this process were on display on a massively curved screen at the Digital Projection booth.
Lexicon made an eight channel amp for $1,000 based around a break through amplifier design that was used in the Lexus LFA super car. This lightweight, cool running amp has a multitude of uses thanks to a 120-Watt amp chip that is literally the size of a dime.
Sharp is pushing their Quatron technology which uses a four color process (they add in yellow) versus a red, green, blue method used by pretty much everyone else. Their 60-inch $5,400 top of the line 3D set also neatly offers total control over each pixel on the site, which should be a calibrator's dream. Sharp's form factor is thinner than January Jones.
Savant stole the trade headlines at CEDIA by filing a law suit against home automation leader Crestron that seemingly gained them some sympathy votes from AV dealers and installers who are looking for more Apple-centric and more affordable solutions. Savant uses the Mac OS as a platform as well as some of the Apple hardware to provide uber-slick home automation solutions. The iPad has been Savant's coming out party as they are using it everywhere from handheld controller to an in-wall touch panel and beyond. Considering what a touch panel from the competition costs versus the iPad - Savant has a value advantage right off the bat. Compared to the Microsoft-based media server and automation companies Savant has a reliability and stability advantage. Savant's rise in prominence is notable but perhaps more notable was the lack of presence from the Microsoft based servers and automation companies. In years past, they were everywhere at CEDIA pushing ways to put Vista-OS home automation systems into your home. Ironically, it was the Macintosh based system that came out on top. Lastly, Savant made a very slick and very relevant iPod touch hard remote that actually houses the iPod touch in it but also has the hard buttons needed to say channel surf or easily do volume control. I can see this as a breakthrough product for the Generation Y audience down the road as they buy their first homes.
LG was rocking a wireless 1080p system that allows you to put your ultra-thin HDTV on the wall with the electronics off to the side. The design options with this concept are endless. LG also had some of the brightest LED, super-thin HDTV sets at the show including top applications such as Cinema Now and many others.
Revel showed an entire line of installation product including new in-wall speakers that are frameless like the Sonance Architectural speakers. They have new lines of in-wall speakers including a reference speaker that comes equipped with analog EQs that allow you to tune the speakers to the needs of the room.
Samsung is one of the only companies other than Panasonic still making a 65-inch set but their LED is ultra-thin. While maybe not packing the same blacks as the Panasonic - Samsung likely wins the application contest. They had it all. Netflix, Blockbuster, Cinema Now and dozens of others. The online interface is slick and easy to use so that you can customize the programs that you want to run on your TV. HDMI 1.4 allows you to spit the audio back into your system with ease.
The founder of Krell was not at the show but someone handed me a CD with a press release on his new line of amps starting with the $37,000 300-Watt monoblocks with a very specific design to them. Physically, they are not huge and they use copper to dissipate heat. The front of the mono amps are designed like a time piece, including finely machined parts in a voltage meter that also includes a hand signature right in the VU. It's not clear when these new audiophile amps will be shipping.
Utah-based RBH redesigned their 10T speakers to use a more tapered cabinet that also allowed them to lower their price point to $10,000. While you might say "$10,000 is a lot of money for speakers" (and you'd be right) these speakers compete with large speaker system costing many times the asking price which now is lower than before. Value is a key theme at CEDIA, which during booming markets can skew towards insane.
MartnLogan showed their new $2,000 EM-ESL speaker, which is a key price point as this is the entry level to their hybrid electrostatic line of speakers. Moving up the food chain, MartinLogan had on display some of their Summit loudspeakers dressed up in custom finishes. Their chrome finish on a black base was pretty striking. Their custom shop can make your speakers unique to you just like Fender does with Stratocasters. Want your speakers painted in purple or wrapped in leather - no problem as long as you are willing pony up the bucks.
This brand of speakers from the U.K. had been missing in action for years until Walter Schofield, the former head of Mark Levinson and exec at Meridian, brought this well engineered speaker line back to the states a few months back. Their Diamond series speakers have some really nice products including a $350 bookshelf that both looks and sounds like a $1,000 a pair speakers.
Jamo had a two-piece LCR in-wall speaker system that was really innovative. These relatively large circular in-walls have built in subwoofers with tweeters and midranges the handle the side and center speaker duties. Literally all you need to do is position a pair of these bad boys in between your HDTV and you are rocking 3.1 channels of sound from two in-wall speakers. It's a very smart idea.
Krell was showing much of their lofty line in the SIM2 booth. Their Evolution 707 AV preamp is still the apex predator in its ecosystem. Their S-300i integrated amp is ironically being used by more AV integrators for custom applications, not just because of its audiophile sound but its iPod integration as well. Krell also announced an aftermarket power cable, which is something that I thought that I would never see. Some in the booth were raving about its performance. Other dealers like the idea so that they can customize the cabling in their rack-based installations.
In its day there was no more value packed amp than the Dan D'agostino designed Aragon 4004 MK2 power amp. It was like getting most of a Krell amp without most of the Krell price. While Nelson Pass was designing Adcom amps for the value market back in the day, Dan was doing the same for Aragon. Today's Aragon, run by some of the engineers from Klipsch who owned the brand before its re-launch, carries amps with an updated look - far nicer metal work and newer internal parts. However the overall product looks and feels like the old product that we know and love. The new company is just getting rolling and adding on reps and dealers. One should be opening near you sometime soon if you want to take a spin in an updated classic.