At its press event Monday before the main show floor opened, Panasonic was almost silent on the performance details of its new sets (none of the big manufacturers were making a big deal about improved picture quality, though if pressed they will admit to evolutionary improvements in their new 1920 x 1080 models). But Panasonic was big on improved convergence. We certainly aim to find out in our reviews when the new sets become available.
90% of the Panasonic’s 2012 models offer Web connectivity, which is clearly the main theme song of this year’s CES. At the press event Panasonic also announced a working agreement between Panasonic and MySpace (!?) for enhanced social network connectivity, such as texting with your friends while you all watch the same movie. I can see this for sports, but for films? And can this joint effort resurrect a moribund social networking service that has clearly lost its trench war with Facebook? Panasonic and MySpace certainly hope so; they even trotted out celebrity Justin Timberlake at the press event to help promote this new launch. Timberlake co-starred in a recent movie about the origin of Facebook; now he’s helping to (possibly) reinvigorate MySpace.
With Internet connectivity, you can now play competitive video games over the Web. How long before such games become championship spectator sports we can watch passively on HDTV, bringing us full circle? With 300 channels, maybe they have already and I’ve just missed it.
Later at the show we obtained more details about Panasonic’s 2012 sets. New models in the VT50, GT50, and ST50 series of plasma sets will make up the meat and potatoes of Panasonic’s updated designs, expect to be available in 2-3 months if past delivery schedules are maintained. There will be an expanded range of new Panasonic LCD IPS designs as well. In fact, there are 15 new LCD models, 13 with LED backlighting. Seven of the LCD sets are 3D, including three in the ET5 series using passive glassesPanasonic’s first departure from full HD 3D (passive glasses sets cut the vertical resolution seen by each eye in half in a 1080p set). In addition, the LCD line now includes 47- and 55-inch sizes. Previous Panasonic sets at 42-inches and larger have all been plasma designs. With LCD now dominant in the market, could Panasonic be hedging its bets?
The first development project to follow the death of the late, great Jim Thiel is the CS1.7, which will replace the decade-old CS1.6 as the company's entry-level floorstanding speaker. Its aluminum drivers include a one-inch tweeter and a 6.5-inch woofer with the familiar vibration-controlling star diaphragm. A CS7.3 flagship tower will follow eventually. Given Thiel's traditionally long and pensive development philosophy, it's anyone's guess when the larger speaker will arrive, but the smaller one is very tentatively slated for the first quarter of this year at around $5000-5500.
This is Mishka the talking dog saying "I love you" on YouTube. No kidding. If it's on the internet, you know it must be true. This was actually a demo of InstaPrevue, a feature being built into Onkyo's network-enabled a/v receivers. The cool part, aside from the talking dog, is that you can view picture insets showing the content of source components as opposed to prosaic text labels like HDMI1, HDMI2, or that classic of the genre, HDMI3. The talking dog (have we mentioned the talking dog?) was being streamed from an iPhone via MHL, or Mobile High-definition Link, another new Onkyo receiver feature. Onkyo was also talking up cloud storage capability for receivers via its partnership with MP3tunes. The first two gigabytes are free.
Not much has emerged from the Denmark-born Jamo speaker brand since its acquisition by the Klipsch Group, now itself acquired by Audiovox. But that's changing with a bevy of new Jamo products including the MS25 satellite speaker shown here. What a civilian might identify as a tweeter firing into a spoon is actually Jamo's implementation of OmniPolar technology acquired along with Mirage. This new design was reshaped by authentic Danish designers. There will be no new products labeled Mirage, bringing an end to the historic Canadian speaker brand. The product development guy who briefed us punctuated his presentation by saying "Mirage is a brand, OmniPolar is a technology"—a technology living on under another banner.
As reported by our colleague
Darryl Wilkinson, the Klipsch press conference mentioned the G-17 Air compact system, whose drivers and flat enclosure hail from the new Gallery line, and the ginormous one-piece Console, the latter to be produced in Klipsch's hometown of Hope, Arkansas. But the latter was not shown at the time, so here it is. Interesting, the bleeding-edge Palladium and other higher-end Klipsch lines are moving their manufacturing from China back to Arkansas due to higher costs in the former. This isn't a knock against the Chinese but we can't help feeling pleased that more Klipsch speakers are going to be made in America.
The Atlantic Technology exhibit at the Venetian featured the first 5.0-channel demo of the smaller H-PAS speaker. We hope to atone for this awful picture of of it with a quasi-review in our print mag. What depraved impulse moved us to go gallivanting off to Vegas when this product was sitting in our bedroom? H-PAS uses a variety of construction techniques to produce deep, true bass without resorting to a sub. While this demo was less than ideal, we could still hear an ideally proportioned rhythm section with precisely pitched bass guitar tones and good impact from the drums. Closing our eyes actually made it sound better: Once we were freed from the tyranny of visually reinforced preconceptions, our ears told us this was the good stuff. Incidentally, the speaker will be sold in single units, so if you want five or seven of them, no sweat.
Vegas is a brutal town and, like Stephen Mejias, we hate it. Among its few saving graces: Guests at a half-dozen elite hotels can travel to the convention center via monorail. It almost makes up for the obnoxious mini-bar fridge policy at one stop on the monorail, Harrah's: If you purchase your own drinks and leave them to chill, the management will confiscate them. A label inside the mini-bar fridge says so. Sure enough: it happened. Thanks Harrah's. Let us return the favor.
Photo by Barb Gonzalez
Freelance home-theater journalist Geoff Morrison and I spent a pleasant hour discussing 3D on a CES panel called "3DTV: From Theater to Living Room." Topics ranged from 3D technology in commercial cinemas and at home, the objections to 3D voiced by many, what we might see in the future, our own opinions about the subject, and answers to audience questions. A fun time was had by all!
After flying under the radar for awhile, BenQ is back with a new home-theater projector, the W7000 ($3999, currently shipping). Like all BenQ projectors, this one is based on DLP, but it's the company's first 1080p model to offer 3D, using active glasses with DLP Link instead of IR or RF sync. The W7000 is said to produce the Rec.709 color gamut and 2000 lumens of light output, and its dynamic iris is available in 3D mode. I watched a bit of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides presented on a Screen Innovations Black Diamond II screen, and it looked quite good, even with some room light, though darkening the room completely certainly looked better.
Roku showed a network media player that is simply a large dongle that connects directly to your TV set. Shrinking the already small Roku 2 design even more, the new device doesn’t reduce the content or experience.
The Roku dongle will connect to an HDMI port on your TV. It will not come with its own remote. Instead, once connected, you can use the TV remote to navigate the Roku’s home screen, channels and to control playback.
Dish Network will bring Blockbuster@Home and an expanded version of HBO On Demand and Cinemax on Demand to customers who haven’t been able to stream movies and TV shows because they have slow internet. “Dish Unplugged” will stream content directly to the “Hopper” DVR via satellite.
At the conclusion of Sony's press conference, American Idol sensation Kelly Clarkson performed her tune "Mr. Know-It-All" with acoustic guitar. The sound system was too loud, and I'm not a big fan of hers, but the audience seemed to enjoy it immensely.