The 2010 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is over and despite many predicting total gloom and doom for the business, the mood was notably up as was attendance. The draw on the show was the fact that many companies made decisions to not exhibit or to exhibit off site during the deepest part of the current recession; thus the show didn't have the level of organization and continuity that one might expectt, but the fact that companies felt buoyant over the holiday uptick in consumer electronics sales was more than enough to make up for the walk between the Hilton Towers and the South Hall (which must be four miles in Bruno Maglis).
The story of the show as you likely already know by now was 3D. It was in every major video booth, in varying levels of completion. While purportedly a future technology - the idea of paper glasses to me looked distinctly retro. The potential for 3D is powerful. The content on the market today natively in 3D is questionable at best unless you have a copy of Avatar. Converting 2D into 3D was being shown too, which had its novelty. There is much more development coming on the technology and it won't be long before you won't be able to buy an HDTV without 3D capabilities. The real ground swell for 3D will come when the sets are "stereoscopic" meaning that you don't need glasses. That is reportedly four to five years away. In the meantime network players like DirecTV, Sensio and ESPN are breaking ground in creating and distributing content, which is key to 3D's future success.
Paradigm speakers get a ton of ink and rightfully so as they are near or atop the heap of bang for the buck speakers. Their latest move in their Signature line was made to drastically increase the efficiency of their floorstanding and side channel speakers, meaning that you need far less power to make these reference level speakers play loudly, resulting in the best sounding demo that I heard at the show. I heard dealers whispering that they thought this Paradigm system was as good as a few brands costing double or triple the money. I couldn't disagree with them. Paradigm Signature S8's compete with my Revels and Wilsons for a fraction of the price. The only thing they lack is the audiophile cache - but cache is hard to listen for isn't it?
Paradigm also showed their reference level Signature $7,200 subwoofer that is designed to take the crown from the likes of JL Audio in terms of high output subwoofers. Needing a 240v AC connection to power the internal amp, this subwoofer has a reported output of 7 Hertz at 126 dB (there is a YouTube video of them testing this in Paradigm's anechoic chamber). You don't need the 240v power to make the woofer go to 7 Hertz as we heard right in a hotel room at the Venetian; however you need it for the 126 dB output. That this woofer is today's new level of extreme is to understate the fact. It also understates why exactly I want one so very badly in my theater.
Anthem has never been in the source component business when it comes to home theater but that all changed with the release of their BLX 200 $799 Blu-ray player. They had three of these units stacked up and being demonstrated for both audiophile demos and videophile purposes on their own D-ILA front projector with excellent results. There are many out there who own Anthem AV preamps (as well as people with other receivers and preamps) who will find this player a compelling option.
It's no news story to you that LED HDTVs are thin, bright and beautiful but I must comment on the grand lobby-like installation that Samsung did at CES. With an artful eye, they layered hundreds of LEDs one on top of another paired with strategically placed mirrors for an effect so grand that people were stopped dead in their tracks. Was it "green"? Not really, even if one of the TVs runs on less power than, say, a plasma - but WOW was it impressive.
Samsung had many demonstrations going in their booth. Specifically of note was their 3D material. They had access to some of the best native 3D content at the show and were able to show the potential of traditional 3D (non-stereoscopic) in real terms. They played a cartoon of a character bounding a ball on a paddle and as he moved it towards you with the ball bouncing to and from the paddle you could clearly see the animated rubber ball shooting to within inches of your face. The WOW factor was high even if the content was animation.
Toshiba had the best 3D demo at the show. They had multiple demonstrations that included both 3D movie trailers on large format HDTVs as well as content being upconverted from 2D to 3D. While the movie trailers clearly looked better because of the fact that they were shot natively in 3D, the idea of converting 2D material to 3D was really the eye opener for me. The fact is - if you buy a 3D set now or in the near future, there isn't going to be much native 3D for you to watch for a while. You likely don't have an HDMI 1.4 capable system and/or a Blu-ray player that can play back 3D. In time you will, but Toshiba has you covered with their CELL technology which was most impressive.
Known as one of the best AV receiver manufacturers in the business and makers of one fine Blu-ray player - Onkyo showed something very new for them - an AV preamp and a nine channel amp combo. Their big brother Integra gets a lot of critical acclaim for their AV preamps (specifically from our reviewers and editors) and now Onkyo dealers will get access to this "sell up" option. They showed a deconstructed version of the preamp and you had to be impressed with the level of build quality in that unit.
Control4 is coming on as the hottest new player in home automation, giving almighty Crestron a real run for their money. While costing less than most of their competition, Control4's new operating system (launching this Spring) shows a major improvement to their stable and reliable current OS. What Control4 showed that blew my socks off was IP control of Apple TV. Apple TV has no RS232 control, thus it has been nearly impossible to make your Apple TV get up and dance using a whole home touch pad system. Apple generally doesn't care about outside vendors the way Microsoft does; however once you drink the Apple Kool-Aid, as Andrew, Ken, Adrienne and I have - it's hard to not want to manage your music, movies and photos this way. Control4 had it wired thanks to an app from their new "App Store" that delivered nearly all of the functionality needed to solve an age-old home automation program. Bravo to Control4.
Making their first post-Dan D'agostino show appearance, Krell demonstrated their new Evolution amps to the audiophile press core. They are open and even a little self-deprecating about the fact that Dan is gone and there is a bitter dispute being hashed out in court. They are also moving forward with a new line of amps that can run at nearly no power for standby - but then, like flicking the nitrous switch in your street-rod - you can go into full Krell power mode. The new Evolution amps were notably better than the earlier models with a far more open soundstage and drastically improved highs and mids. They did an A-B demo and it wasn't subtle. Good news for people (like Ken Taraszka) who already own the EVO amps as there will be an upgrade path. Krell also showed an all-out $10,000 Blu-ray player, which they used as an audiophile source. It plays Blu-ray, DVD-Video and CD. Gone is support for SACD and Krell hasn't ever really done DVD-Audio. The fit and finish of the player was absolutely top-notch and the video feeding a SIM2 Mico50 projector was jaw-droppingly good.
PrimaLuna is a brand poised for audiophile success in the new economy. $2,000-ish priced components with killer industrial design and all of the sex appeal of audiophile tube products. Their $2,200 tube integrated amp was lust worthy. Priced right and delivering musical passion is a good combo. Check these guys out.
SIM2 showed their LED projector in - get this - a well-lit room. Nobody does this, as ambient light kills the performance of front video projectors. SIM2's LED Mico 50 ($22,000 est.) doesn't sweat it, especially when using the SI Black Diamond 0.8 gain screen. The color resolution was fantastic and the brightness was like having the light from the top of the Luxor pointed at the screen. I asked the SIM2 guys if they ever worried that they could catch the screen on fire and they laughed. It was that bright. Krell's Blu-ray player looked fantastic going into the projector. SIM2 also had a trick $30 "App" for their dealers being sold through Apple that allows you to use an iPhone or iPod touch to calculate the elements needed to setup one of their projectors.
Sanus showed a full line of really nicely done furniture for AV gear as well as installation racks, speaker stands and beyond - but what really caught my eye was their ultra thin HDTV mounts. Go to the LG, Sony, Samsung, Sharp, Panasonic or Toshiba booths and you will see .75 inch thick 55 inch LED HDTVs that draw you in like a bug zapper. But how the hell do you install such a set when the HDMI cables don't fit and or bend? How do you tilt the set even slightly? Sanus is the answer. Their ultra-thin mounts provide real world solutions for today's fast moving world of waif-like HDTVs.
We love going for demos at Wisdom Audio not only because they make the best inwall speakers known to man but because they are "recovering audiophiles" like our staff, with roots that go all the way back to Madrigal (the parent company behind Mark Levinson, Proceed before Harman) and they put on one hell of a demo. This year they were using the new Classé 600 watt per channel monoblock amps that we just got in for review and they sounded absolutely fantastic, especially on the Marcus Miller Blu-ray demo. But what was possibly the most killer thing they had was a cinder block retrofit kit for their ultra-high-end inwalls that adjusted and fit in for the drywall or plaster in ways that no other inwall speaker does. People from Europe were flipping for this slick installation idea.
B&W showed a new version of their top of the line speakers including updated 801, 802 and 803 speakers at their reference level. The speakers were wet with drool from the many people who just wanted them. I thought I saw one guy put one over his shoulder and walk away, but I think he got stopped. I also could have been mistaken. They will ship in the coming months. B&W also has very comfortable audiophile grade headphones. You will note that they are not sponsored by Lady Gaga or Beyonce like other CE products. B&W products are used by studios like Abbey Road and supported by artists like Peter Gabriel. To me that carries a lot of weight. Oh and the headphones sound fantastic.
Sherwood's NetBoxx receiver is one badass network device. Packed with digital amps, this wirelessly connected AV receiver delivers 7.1 and any number of download sources from a very small, very slick package. The form factor is fantastic and at around $700 - it's a killer receiver option.
Live from Denmark comes dnp's Supernova screen that, when paired with a Digital Projection Titan projector made one of the better images we saw at the show (or more specifically T.H.E. Show). dnp's screen material is one of the most talked about in the world of front projection and makes one hell of a picture - once again - in a well lit room.
I found the coolest new company called J-Corder. They refurbish old tape decks and more specifically Technics reel to reel machines. Their display at the Venetian was retro-fabulous complete with a disco ball. For those with access to master tapes and/or archival material from back in the day - you too can have a reel to reel in your audiophile rig. If it was good enough for Marcellus Wallace in Pulp Fiction - then why not you?
I didn't see the entire CES show, let alone did I get to see all of my clients and/or their booths. HomeTheaterReview.com had five people doing show write ups and those will be posted within days to show a multi-opinion and deeper look at a show that was attended by over 112,500 professionals. To see and cover everything is simply and physically impossible. For those who want to complain, please send an email to [email protected]
as my feet literally were bleeding after Day One. Both feet. On the tops. Ouch.