The big story at CEDIA 2011 in Indianapolis, if you happened to be a native, had to be Payton Manning's possibly career ending neck surgery, though for the rest of us the story was 4K and the emergence of "faux K." 4K, according to the standard set forth by DCI (Digital Cinema Initiative), is an image that is 4,096 pixels wide by 2,160 pixels tall. "Faux K" on the other hand is 3,840 pixels across by 2,160. The reason I bring up the two "formats" is because there was a lot of buzz surrounding 4K;however there was only one company with the goods to back up the hype - Sony.
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Sony was the clear winner at CEDIA this year with the introduction of their new, consumer grade, 4K front projector, the VPL-VW1000ES. Boasting a native resolution of 4,096 x 2,160, the VPL-VW10000ES is a true 4K projector that can also scale legacy sources (DVD, broadcast and Blu-ray) to 4K via its internal scaler. The VPL-VW1000ES has a reported brightness of 2,000 ANSI lumens with a 1,000,000:1 dynamic contrast ratio. On top of being a native 4K product the VPL-VW10000ES is also a 3D capable projector, though Sony was not demonstrating its 3D prowess during the show. Sony says the VPL-VW1000ES will be available later this year, think December, and will retail for a little under $25,000 - not bad, considering the nearest 4K option not named the VPL-VW1000ES starts north of $100,000.
I sat for a demo of the VPL-VW1000ES and came away very impressed. Its upscaling prowess was brilliant and showcased nicely via a clip from Resident Evil: Afterlife on Blu-ray disc. Sony did head to head comparisons of 1080p versus 4K using still photos captured on a large format still camera and again the differences in resolution were readily apparent and far from subtle. In terms of showcasing 4K in its native form, Sony had the trailer for the new Spider Man film for our eyes to feast upon, though if I'm honest the 1080p upscaled demo of Resident Evil: Afterlife was actually more impressive for it really highlighted, at least for me, why one could benefit from owning a 4K projector now versus in the future. No word on when native 4K content will be available for home consumption, though there is a rumor swirling around CEDIA, mainly the Sony booth, that Sony is working on a new compression standard to fit 4K content onto Blu-ray discs. If this is true (and if it can be done), then 4K may be closer to becoming reality than any of us, present company included, ever thought.
JVC had a few new projectors on hand for CEDIA, two of which were being touted as 4K capable models. The DLA-RS65 and RS55 D-ILA projectors both claim to be 4K capable, though closer inspection actually revealed them to be "faux K" projectors, each possessing resolutions of 3,840 x 2,160 - not true 4K. Both the RS65 and RS55 projectors upscale legacy sources to "faux K" via JVC's e-Shift technology, which basically duplicates pixels and offsets them slightly to create a 4K-like pixel density. The RS65 will retail for a little under $12,000 whereas the RS55 will have retail price just shy of $8,000. Both projectors are 3D capable and are THX and ISF Certified.
I got up close and personal with the RS65 and found its performance to be quite good - okay, amazing - though I came away somewhat upset for once again (due to a lack of corporation among the manufacturers), we appear to have two competing standards, true DCI compliant 4K and consumer "faux K." I know why JVC has chosen to make a pit stop short of the true 4K goal - I'm just not sure it was the right move, thanks in part to another projection company named Epson.
Epson was showcasing two new projectors at CEDIA this year, the Pro Cinema 6010 and the Pro Cinema 6100. The 6010 is a 2D/3D 1080p projector with 480Hz technology and a 200,000:1 reported contrast ratio and is the update to the hugely successful Pro Cinema 9700UB. There is also a consumer version in the form of the Home Cinema 5010. Both the Pro Cinema 6010 and the Home Cinema 5010 come with Epson's zero dead pixel guarantee, a replacement lamp, ceiling mount, cable shroud and three year limited warranty. The Pro Cinema comes with two pairs of 3D glasses and will retail for less than $4,000 while the Home Cinema 5010 ships sans 3D glasses (sold separately for under $100 each) and will retail for around $2,000 - if memory serves me.
I sat in on a demo of the Pro Cinema 6010 and came away very impressed, especially with regards to its 3D performance, which I found to be exemplary and among the best I've seen regardless of price. That says a lot, for I generally hate 3D and I'm not alone, for 3D was NOT a selling point or even a draw at this year's CEDIA show. For their asking prices, both the 5010 and the 6010 are the projectors to beat in their price brackets though the most impressive video demonstration of the whole show came by way of another Epson projector - the Pro Cinema 6100.
The Pro Cinema 6100 is a 2D only front projector, which will retail for less than $5,000 when it becomes available later this year. Featuring Epson's version of D-ILA, the Pro Cinema 6100 has a reported 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio with a unique anamorphic lens memory setting which basically renders the need for an anamorphic lens useless - provided you don't mind sitting through the 6100's automated zoom out and focus procedure. The Pro Cinema 6100 features a new industrial design language, which is simply stunning. In terms of its performance, the Pro Cinema 6100, projected onto a Stewart Cine-W auto-masking StudioTek 130 screen, was bite-the-back-of-your-hand brilliant in terms of its contrast, color and detail presentation. While the Sony may have had it over the Pro Cinema 6100 in terms of its overall resolution (evident in only the finest details), I believed the 6100's performance, pound-for-pound, was more impressive. The Pro Cinema 6100's lens memory feature is also a nice addition and one I wish more projectors had. I can't wait to get the Pro Cinema 6100 in for review, though if the reaction to the 6100 at Epson's booth is any indication, I may have to get in line.
Vutec / Stewart / SI Screens
Vutec had a large portion of their booth dedicated to their ArtScreen solution, which has come a LONG way since the last time I saw it at CEDIA 2010. Now offered in a variety of wood veneers, Vutec's ArtScreen does go a long way in dressing up a front projection screen as well as your HDTV, especially when mounted on a motorized articulating mount.
Not to be outdone Stewart Filmscreen also added a number of wood veneers to their Couture Collection of screens, which unlike the Vutec veneers are wrapped around the frame of the screen itself versus outside it. Both solutions looked brilliant though Stewart's doesn't mask your screen with artwork when not in use.
SI Screens had their Zero Edge Black Diamond screens on had at CEDIA this year and to the casual viewer probably appeared more like large LED or LCD displays than front projection screens, thanks to their slim profile and barely there bezel.
Other Video Brands
Toshiba, LG and Sharp were AWOL at this year's CEDIA leaving Samsung and Panasonic to pick up the slack, though their presence seemed mostly to be for appearances only. Companies like Digital Projection were on hand though I'm not sure how relevant their current line-up of products are now that Epson, Sony and JVC have thrown down the proverbial gauntlet. Looking past a shaky economy for just a moment, how can Digital Projection hope to sell $20,000 - $40,000 1080p projectors when Sony is doing 4K for less and Epson has basically set the standard for 1080p and done so for under $5,000? A year ago, hell - six months ago - I could make a strong argument for companies like Digital Projection, but after this year's CEDIA... not so much. Sorry, but when the grand daddy of high-end video, Runco, is touting a $4,000 1080p DLP projector, it's time to jump on the budget bandwagon.
Also disappointing was the luke-warm roll out of Pioneer - I mean, Sharp's Elite 3D LED HDTV. Showcased along the back wall of Pioneer's booth, the 60-inch Elite was on full display with no one stopping to take a look-see. The Elite did look good, arguably the best among the LED displays at the show (though it's easy to be the best when your competition stays home), I'm just not sure it's worth it - I'm holding out hope until our review unit arrives.
In terms of audio there was a bit more to be excited about at this year's CEDIA over past shows - though the focus was squarely on high-performance, high-value products, lead by none other than Sandy Gross and his new speaker company GoldenEar Technology.
Read more coverage on CEDIA 2011, starting with GoldenEar on Page 2.