HomeTheaterReview.com writer Ben Shyman recently visited me in Los Angeles. He hadn't seen my new house, and I got to give him an AV technology tour of the joint, including the 4K video, distributed audio, Focal speakers, and whatnot. We started reminiscing on some of the fancy gear that we've both owned over the years. Ben was an early adopter of flat-panel TVs, having invested somewhere near $11,000 on a Fujitsu plasma TV way back in the day. Ben also invested in a professional calibration of the TV and a Faroudja video processor (enter the way-back machine, people), which he sold years later for $3,000. I told Ben that I'm not sure if any trade he has ever done on Wall Street was a better short than selling that Faroudja for $3,000. He agreed, since that external video processor is now completely useless ... thus the term "AV boat anchor."
A few days later, I was out to lunch with Tim Duffy from Simply Home Entertainment, the firm that did the install and programming for my house. He was telling me that a television personality client of his (one of Oprah's experts) called him because he couldn't get his $35,000 Prima Cinema movie server to play movies. There's a good reason for that: Prima Cinema is pretty much out of business. The system didn't catch on with the studios the way that Kaleidescape has, leaving Tim's client with a very expensive AV boat anchor. He was potentially interested in upgrading his theater to a true D-cinema screening room so that he could indulge in the mysterious "Bel Air Circuit," which is where you get pretty much all of the day-and-date 4K releases sent as an accommodation to your house. But that upgrade was going to weigh in at around $350,000 to $400,000. Ouch.
As I thought about other AV boat anchors I've encountered over the years, I reminisced on one of the worst AV products I ever owned: the ReQuest music server. The ReQuest server was a cutting-edge offering in the early days of disc-less music playback, but the unit had so many flaws. While you could rip quite a few CDs at a pretty much lossless level, it took a long time to rip each one on to a traditional hard drive. Plus, the system lacked a back-up component, and we all know what ultimately happens to hard drives--they crap out. My ReQuest died twice with 1,200-plus songs on it before the company came out with a backup drive component. Additionally, the ReQuest had some of the worst metadata ever displayed. Try looking up a three-letter band like Yes. They had Yes listed THREE WAYS: all caps, all lower case, and with a capital Y. From there different albums were attached to each variation. Tales from Topographic Oceans and Close to the Edge might be under Yes, while 90215 might be under YES. It was a total mess and nearly impossible to search effectively. Try searching for Prince, and you get Prince, Prince and the Revolution, Prince and the New Power Generation, The Artist, and The Artist Formerly Known as Prince. And don't get me started on how to deal with his symbol. Needless to say, those of us who tried to go disc-less in the early days were handed a lot of grief and ultimately a boat anchor.
HTR senior writer Brian Kahn offered up his Escient Fireball as another example. Although a much better and more relevant product, the Meridian-Sooloos system might make the list too, as you can pretty much get everything that a Sooloos did for $500 via Roon today.
Tim and I got into debate about what exactly qualifies as an AV boat anchor. For example, I'm not sure a CRT projector is a boat anchor as much as it is just obsolete. If you bought a Runco, Vidikron, Sony G-9,0 or any of the fancy CRTs out there on the market, you likely got your fair value out of it. 20 years of video playback likely got you your money's worth, and you could pass an HD signal through those devices at some level or another during the early days of HDTV. Video processors, on the other hand, are pretty much useless today. Non-HDMI receivers and AV preamps were nominated for potential boat-anchor status, but I'm not sure that's fair either--although they lack the latest features, room correction, and obviously HDMI (at any version), they still did their job for a long time and provided somewhat of a fair value.
AudiophileReview.com editor Steven Stone suggested that some early digital products have boat-anchor potential, and I see his point, although I'm not sure I totally agree. Thinking back to my days in retail, would a go-to digital product like a Wadia 9 DAC be a boat anchor? Digital has very much moved on from that once state-of-the-art converter, but for years it was cutting edge; and, as long as you have a transport and still own some silver discs, you likely can still make audiophile grade sound with it.
On a personal level, my favorite AV source component is my 56-TB Kalidescape server. Thanks to a Crestron 8x8 DM switcher, I am able to send upwards of 3,000 movies at Blu-ray and DVD resolution to any 4K HDTV in my house. If I were to buck up and add a newer UHD component to my K-scape system, it would only add to the coolness, but I am feeling a little light in the pocket these days. I'm sure I will upgrade at some point. K-scape has built strong relationships with the seven major studios, and it includes a robust online store. Nevertheless, the system almost tread into boat-anchor territory when the company recently closed its doors (for about three weeks), right around the time my $30,000 server (retail) crapped out. Kaleidescape bounced back and are seemingly doing okay now. Rumor has it that they have something very fancy to introduce at the CEDIA Expo next month that will help right the ship, which I am thankful for because I can't afford to lose my AV investment in the five-figure level. Not even close.
Do you own a potential AV boat anchor? Have you taken a beating on a past component? Was it just obsolete or a true boat anchor? Let us know in the Comments below.
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• What Gear Would You Choose to Build a $5,000 System? at HomeTheaterreview.com.