A small building just outside the LVCC evoked memories of Ralph Kramden in his chef hat, as were were treated to a glimpse of The House of the Future. The man of the house is the Life|media LMS-754, a home media server running Microsoft Windows Vista, available in different configurations that include DVD, Blu-ray, CableCARD, and various processors, either in a rack-mountable form factor or as a set-top box. The Life|ware 2.0 software enables elaborate control of the home entertainment experience, while taking it a step further with a new level of home automation, executing user-defined commands called Life|scenes, in collaboration with everything from Lutron lighting to next-generation smart beds. A 16:9 touch screen displays data and allows access from any room in the house.
On Monday night (yes, I'm late), I went to a rave and a product introduction broke out. Mitsubishi's intro of LaserTV was all glitz and glam, complete with white chocolate martinis and dancing girls and swirling lights. And TVs. Mits indeed made one of the loudest, bravest and most fascinating product intros of CES in unveiling its LaserTV category. What's brave is that this is a large RPTV technology, with lasers as a light source, in a world that's not only going flat, but flatter and flatter by the minute.
When Academy Award winner Michael Douglas was announced to be part of XStreamHD's CES press conference, a number of us in the press corps thought, wow now that's a heavy hitter for a spokesperson! Well, in introducing XStreamHD to the assembled press Douglas revealed that his involvement is far deeper- he's one of the company's group of private investors. So, what is XStreamHD?
Life|ware combines home entertainment and automation using Microsoft’s Media Center as a backbone. All sorts of other companies, such as Lutron, Russound, Niles, SpeakerCraft, HP, Samsung, Honeywell, and etc, make devices that interface with the system so custom installers can tailor a complete automation/entertainment package that puts control of the entire home within a touchpanel or remote control.
It’s hard to get the whole concept across sometimes, so the Life|ware people partnered with Disney who supplied the actors pictured here who acted out a corny “life” within a complete Life|ware-equipped home.
My personal favorite of the entire setup was the demonstration of a prototype of the Starry Night Sleep Technology bed by a company called Leggett and Platt. The bed monitors your sleep cycle, respiration, heartbeat – it can even tell if you’re snoring – and adjusts the bed accordingly to make your sleepy night perfect. Move over, Big Brother, this is Big Mother. Pricing hasn’t been set yet, but you can bet it’s going to be expensive (with a capital $).
Definitive Technology's Mythos STS mini-tower is a smaller version of the original Mythos, with both distinguished by their built-in powered SuperCube subs. Also in the extruded aluminum enclosure are two 4.5-inch mids in cast-magnesium baskets, an aluminum tweeter, and the 5x10" SuperCube sub along with its two 5x10" passive radiators. Sounded gorgeous with an African chorus floating over the listening room like a diaphanous multicolored mass of clouds. Price: $1499, five hundred less than the original Mythos. Also new are a pair of soundbars, the SSA-50 ($1099) and SSA-42 ($799). The chief difference between these and DefTech's previous soundbar products is that the new ones handle not just three but five channels (with external sub). The demo revealed discernible rear presence and panning. If not as good as discrete speakers, it was certainly darned good.
As of Oct. 2007 Technical Audio Devices became Technical Audio Devices Laboratories Inc. under the ownership of Pioneer. That will enable them to deepen their existing relationship, with engineering resources dedicated specifically to the new company. New from TAD is a Class A mono-block amp that uses no more power than a Class B amp. There's also a new floorstanding model, the S-3EX. It's far less massive than the flagship S-1EX and uses a ceramic graphite tweeter in lieu of the beryllium used in other TAD speakers. Stand-mount and center versions to come. TAD's Andrew Jones is one of the best and brightest in speaker design and his next moves will be of the greatest interest to us.
Somehow we've spent the past two years failing to notice Avalon's first and still only home theater speaker package, the Evolution, at around $5000 for a 5.1-channel configuration. Efficiency is HT-worthy at 90dB and the tweeter is a super-cool Avalon-made aluminum-ceramic composite dome mated with Kevlar woofer.
I’ve heard about Dolby Volume technology, but I hadn’t heard an actual demonstration until today. Dolby’s Craig Eggers gave a short but very effective demo of the technology using a prototype Onkyo receiver with the appropriate Dolby circuitry built-in. Onkyo’s not ready to bring a unit to market yet, but it’s obviously coming (from somebody, if not Onkyo). Dolby Volume helps keep all the sources and programming you listen to at the reference level you choose. It can also keep dynamic peaks (explosions and the like) within a more moderate range when it’s engaged.
Westinghouse's new TX Series of 1080p LCDs includes 42-, 47-, and 52-inch models, all of which allow you to output 1080p through all HD-capable connections, including component video. The series' release date is listed as March 2008, and prices are expected to range from $1199 to $2499. The 47-inch model will be offered in both a standard 60 Hz model and in a 120 Hz option. The company is also releasing a full complement of 720p panels at lower price points.
Okay, by "the end of wires" I'm not referring to the terminations, silly, rather the conclusion of the wired era. Audiovox is showing off an assortment of wireless loudspeakers, a wireless suboofer (with a nifty, decor-friendly faux chest to conceal it!), and even a kit that will turn ANY pair of speakers wireless. Noise levels in the Main Hall were such that I cannot comment on sound quality, but listen up, cables: You've been given notice!
Didn't I cover the world's thinnest LCD yesterday? That was Hitachi. This is JVC, which is also showing off a new LCD that measures just 1.5 inches deep…mostly. As the company puts it, "across most of its width [the cabinet] measures a mere 1.5 inches deep, with a maximum depth of just 2.9 inches at the panel's center." Why is it deeper at the center? One reason is because, unlike the Hitachi LCDs, these new models have integrated tuners. The new line will include two models, the 42-inch LT-42SL89 and 46-inch LT-46SL89, both of which are 1080p. The estimated release date is early this summer, with no pricing announced.
Ah, the splendor of the high-end table radio. SoundWorks i765 is a fab-sounding 2.1-channel system with built-in DVD/CD player plus a radio with improved AM and FM tuners over all previous models. It also now docks, charges, and provides video pass-through for all of the latest iPods, which allegedly is a very complicated affair.
Far from the madding convention center, Dolby provided A-B comparisons of their new Dolby Contrast technology, part of their HDR ("High Dynamic Range") tech family. The interesting part is that it is a video technology, for adjusting the range of dark to light in the LED backlighting of LCD TVs. By precisely dimming the right area of the screen at the right time, contrast can be heightened as never before, for a very film-like effect. (As the exciting screen image suggests, Blu-ray and DVD playback will both benefit.)
Nestled among Ion's various USB turntable offerings was this different spin on analog-to-digital conversion: The TAPE 2 PC copies old audiocassettes to MP3s, and even grabs track names off the internet via Gracenote MusicID. So all of you erstwhile Walkman enthusiasts (and we are legion) can now transport your library into the 21st century without breaking the bank on hundreds of Duran Duran and Rick Springfield downloads.