For most of the past decade CEDIA has been picking up steam while the winter Consumer Electronics Show (CES) has struggled with its identity as it struggled to digest COMDEX and the computer geeks that came along with the merger. Now, thanks to a very down economy - specifically a terrible housing market - CEDIA is suffering from its own ills. The move from Denver to Atlanta was an unpopular one as Denver was centrally located, well organized and easy to navigate as compared to other CEDIA cities like Atlanta and specifically Indianapolis.
The big business story out of the show was the bankruptcy of Nortek (the parent of brands like SpeakerCraft, Sunfire, Elan, Panamax, Litetouch, Furman and others) but that wasn't the only bad business news coming out of the show. D&M (parent of Denon, Marantz, Boston Acoustics, McIntosh and others) was notably missing. The football field sized Runco booth was reduced to a tiny booth highlighting a line of "entry level projectors" starting at a less than entry level price of $4,995. Hometown favorite, Meridian, was off-site, as were a few others (JVC had a big booth on site) including JVC with a new line of D-ILA projectors. CEDIA just didn't feel as complete as it did in Denver just a year ago. I guess it has been one hell of a year since last CEDIA, after the failure of Lehman Brothers.
Toshiba's fully LED backlit LCD HDTVs were an absolute highlight at the show. While LED prices have already started to drop on lesser sets - look to Toshiba as the new leader in the "what's the best flat HDTV I can buy?" debate. The brightness of their 56 inch set was total insanity; however their color uniformity was better than that of the recently reviewed and comparably priced Samsung units.
Toshiba also quietly released their first Blu-ray player, which they downplayed. My advice: don't mention that other format in their booth as the wound is still healing - but they are moving on. Picking up the moniker of "the best" HDTV from Pioneer's KURO, would do a lot to make Toshiba forget about disc players. And for the record, their Blu-ray player looked fantastic and was pretty affordable for an entry-level player.
MartinLogan was going way-old-school at CEDIA in their sound room by playing vinyl on a pair of $20,000 CLX speakers. While vinyl is kitschy - the Blu-ray 7.1 demo that they were playing on their new bookshelf sized and not-named speakers was jaw-droppingly spectacular. Resolute, powerful and rocking two wireless subs, this system wasn't pricey but it was impressive. MartinLogan needs to name these speakers (I suggest the name "Success") and get them to market as they kicked total ass.
I know, I know - I mention Wisdom at every tradeshow - but they are one of the most up-and-coming speaker companies in the high end business. Dealers can't sell $80,000 speaker systems with 400 pound floorstanding speakers like they used to. For those with the money - Wisdom showed a fully behind-a-screen solution that sounded audiophile-good. I know what you are thinking. Trust me, you couldn't tell that the speakers are behind the screen. They image like mad and the dynamics are off the charts. Wisdom are audiophiles at heart so they demo real music material, not just car crash movie demos. That takes balls as well as a killer pair of speakers. Wisdom has both. That's why dealers who sell big dollar Wilson, MartinLogan, B&W and CAT are also adding Wisdom to their lineups as you can get killer in-wall (and behind screen) performance in places that normally sound bland.
It's been awhile since anybody has done anything new in multi-channel amps outside of the advent of digital switching amps. Classe has a new design that uses as big of a transformer as I have ever seen and a system that brings cool air in (silently) to keep a 600 Watt amp designed to work in an equipment rack at the perfect temperature. For audiophiles who put amps on granite monoliths on their floor - this isn't an issue, but for those of us with Middle Atlantic equipment racks - this is a big deal.
Today's ultra-thin LED backlit LCD HDTVs are causing serious installation problems. You must have HDMI going in but unless you are using thin (think: Volo Cables) cabling, often the actual connections into the back of your HDTV become physically difficult if not downright impossible. Sanus had a number of today's most popular LED HDTVs on display using their mounts that feature better, real-world solutions for HDMI connections. I also saw a slick line of furniture that housed gear below and slickly mounted the HDTV above. There looked to be room for a wine collection on one side as well.
One of the players that had made the biggest move in the home theater market is Digital Projection. Hometown favorite, Digital Projection is well known in the pro video business, but they brought a powerful 3D demonstration to the show that was very forward thinking. 4k resolution video has taken a backseat to 3D at the cineplex level, but DP was bringing the 3D experience to the home theater level which was very impressive. While not stereoscopic yet (meaning no glasses needed), the 3D effects are getting better and better. You could make a strong argument that at a cost-no-object level, Digital Projection had the best video display at CEDIA.
Not enough people know about Stewart Filmscreen Starglass. Yes, you could buy a 100 inch plasma and go through the cost and trouble to install it - or for about 20 percent of the price you could use Stewart's Starglass and have a bigger, brighter and better looking image using a projector and their large format material. Starglass is simply killer looking and it can be used outside, in walls and or any number of out-of-the-box solutions.
Stewart also showed a new motorized screen that rolls a screen up from a cabinet in the floor which is a gravity defying trick that had me wowed. I could absolutely see putting such a screen into the floor of my next home's living room.
Sherwood's Netboxx R904 is one of the most killer AV receivers I have seen in a long while. With new lines and full Internet connectivity - this AV receiver is a game changer. It should be in stores in about a month or two. Absolutely killer product.
Paradigm's new subwoofer takes big bass to a whole other level. Designed to compete with the likes of car audio brand, JL Audio, this new Paradigm subwoofer is a bit of a angular tower with a very nice finish that packs a sick amount of bass into a room. We will take two - thank you very much.
Revel has a new B150 subwoofer to replace their workhorse B15 product. The new sub has more balls than the trusty B15 including a whopping 1.5 inch throw distance and a 1200 Watt power amp. Revel's subwoofer setup software is the best in the business. Revel also showed an Ultima level subwoofer for their higher end applications.
Lexicon showed a Blu-ray player that plays every disc from Blu-ray to DVD-Audio, SACD, DVD-Video and beyond. Enthusiast consumers love this (for $500 from Oppo Digital) but very high end audiophiles have been looking for a more robust, esoteric solution. Lexicon just answered their audiophile prayers.
Definitive Technology showed a very thin, 1.5 inch thick on-wall version of their Mythos speakers called the XTR-50. HDTVs are getting thinner. Definitive has been able to deliver fat-ass sound from a real-world application. Kudos to them as the Mythos system is a reviewer favorite here at HomeTheaterReview.com.
JVC was off site with their new line of three chip D-ILA front video projectors that they have eeked even more contrast performance from. While reportedly they pack 70,000:1 - we will reserve judgment for more real world measurements. It's safe to say, they look absolutely fantastic specifically in terms of color fidelity. Oh yeah, they are bright as hell too - which never hurts.
Krell - SIM2
Krell teamed up with Italian video projector company SIM2 to show an absolutely fantastic system featuring Krell's Evolution 707 AV preamp as well as other Evolution level (top of the line) audio products along with SIM2's sexy projector. The one we love best is the SIM2 LUMIS Host, 3-chip DLP projector which is $50,000 and will be reviewed soon on HomeTheaterReview.com.
Atlantic Technology - Solus/Clements
Peter Tribeman at Atlantic Technology has a new passive loudspeaker technology called H-Pass that doesn't require EQs, electronics or any number of other tricks to get seemingly impossible bass from speakers. Bob Carver was able to make a killing with the same basic value proposition (but a very different technological plan) with his small subs at Sunfire. Peter will have Atlantic Technology speakers with H-Pass technology on the market some time before the end of 2009.
More CEDIA coverage is coming from HomeTheaterReview.com.