Commuters in New York's Grand Central Terminal got an eyeful of huge TVs and the people who love them last week—see full-sized shot in the Galleries. It was the first stop in a Panasonic plasma tour that will also reach Chicago, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Miami, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington DC, and possible additional places. Says here: "The Panasonic Plasma Tour will be staffed by Panasonic Plasma Concierge experts who will be able to answer consumers' questions and give advice... Featured in the display will be Panasonic's full line of industry-leading Plasma TVs including the 37-inch, 42-inch, 50-inch, 58-inch, the recently debuted 1080p 65-inch, and the 103-inch model, the world's largest Plasma TV.... We know that consumers are looking for bigger screens and, when it comes to large screens, there is no better option than high definition plasma." All righty then. Did you know all Panasonic plasmas are covered by the Concierge program? And that you can call a toll-free number (888-972-6276) so a trained specialist can help you "get on with the experience of enjoying HDTV's benefits"? Well, I should hope so, since Darryl told you last June. Check out the Plasma Concierge website too.
"Where am I supposed to put the center speaker" is a question increasingly asked by new owners of flat-panel sets like say, oh, Panasonic plasmas. Above the screen? Below the screen? No, to the sides, insists Panasonic, but the company proposes going beyond the usual "phantom center" surround-processing solution. The idea is to keep the center as a discrete channel but move the drivers into the left and right speakers. Each tower has a separate enclosure to hold the center-channel drivers, as you can see on the righthand side of this speaker, which I denuded before anyone could stop me. See more pictures and details from yesterday's Panasonic press event in the Gallery.
Family-tier cable packages are drawing fire from family activists—and regulators are listening. Brent L. Bozell of the Parents Television Council is an especially loud complainer. He dismisses Time Warner Cable's family tier as "a very bad joke.... It is perfectly obvious Time Warner is deliberately offering a product designed to fail. According to Time Warner, no family should want to watch sports. According to Time Warner, no family should want to receive any news channel other than Time Warner's CNN. According to Time Warner, classic movies are not appropriate for families. And neither is religious programming.... I bet you couldn't find five employees of Time Warner who would subscribe to this foolishness for their own families." Bozell bared his teeth in December but a recent echo by Federal Communications Commission chair Kevin Martin lent greater weight to his "legitimate concerns." Martin added that members of Congress are equally concerned. Both parent groups and the FCC appear to be moving toward their previously stated preference for letting consumers order cable and satellite service channel by channel, à la carte—or to use the PTC's resonant phrase, "cable choice."
On-demand movie viewers are happy to pay an extra dollar to avoid ads. And they prefer conventional to convergent delivery media. Those are the conclusions of a DIGDIA survey. It grappled with two questions at once. Given a tradeoff between advertising and price, how would viewers prefer their movies: with ads for a buck less, or without ads for a buck more? Also, what on-demand (or on-demand-ish) delivery medium would they prefer: TV, PC, or DVD? Here are the results:
A good idea has gone slightly awry with the recall of 11,800 Philips Ambilight plasma HDTVs. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, nine users have reported arcing in capacitors on the back of the enclosure. Arcing is a prolonged and visible electric discharge—not the sort of thing you like to see when you're kicking back to watch American Idol. Affected models include the 42-inch 42PF9630A/37 and three 50-inchers: 50PF9630A/37, 50PF9630A/37, and 50PF9830A/37. All sets are from the 2005 model year. For more information see the USPC warning or call Philips at 888-744-5477. Despite all this, Ambilight is a very cool feature that builds backlighting into the set, easing strain on the optic nerve. An x-treem optimist might even point out that Philips has reinvented the fireplace.
Philips has decided to say goodbye to the initial version of its Aptura TV-backlighting technology. As Philips explained, it used "high-output fluorescent lamps, operated in scanning mode." In effect, the backlight blinked rapidly. This, Philips said, would "cancel out the sample-and-hold effect, which is characteristic of LCD technology," thus reducing motion smear. Better contrast was another benefit, as the backlight dimmed for dark scenes, and worked in tandem with video processing to reduce light leakage. The "deep dynamic dimming" also increased viewing angle. Philips has long been selling non-switching backlit TVs in its Ambilight line, and plans to explore a new and little-used backlighting scheme using LED technology. Philips already markets LED products through its lighting division. (Thanks to Geoff for spotting this one.)
In a Diablog about my pianistic hero Sviatoslav Richter, I ended by wishing aloud for the re-release of an 18-disc boxed set Philips originally issued about 15 years ago. Following up with an email, I got this response from Ken of the Decca Music Group: "I'm happy to confirm that all
Decca and Philips's Richter recordings are due to be re-released over the
coming months, and you'll be able to read about them, with US release date
information, on the iClassics site." The first three freshly released two-disc sets entitled Richter: The Master celebrate his command of Beethoven and Mozart, with a third volume of Scriabin, Prokoviev, and Shostakovich and presumably more on the way. The packaging is nothing special but it's great to see this material becoming widely available again. The reissue series will cover both the Philips and Decca catalogues, including (I hope) Richter's late-in-life examinations of Haydn. And it will give a new generation of listeners a chance to buy recordings sold until now only in used form by ripoff artists. Some of the Philips "authorized recordings" titles, issued separately from the box, command secondhand prices as high as $60--and the box itself goes for up to $2000. Me happy boy.
The CEO of Philips Electronics North America seems to be having a midlife crisis. Or at least, his company is. Asks Paul Zeven: "Have we gone too far? Are we in step with the needs of today's American consumer?" Philips research suggests that manufacturers have gone astray. "My company has studied the relationship between technology's complexity and consumers' attitudes and found that two out of three Americans have lost interest in a technology product because it seemed too complex to set up or operate. We also found that only 13 percent of Americans believe technology products in general are easy to use. The study concluded that only one in four consumers reports using the full range of features on most new technology products. If these findings aren't enough of a wake-up call, the study also found that more than half of Americans believe manufacturers are trying to satisfy perceived consumer needs that may not be real." It's telling that Zeven looks not to the hardware sector for a new role model, but to the likes of Google and Craigslist. The solution, he says, is "design, manageability and functionality."
The Pioneer Blu-ray player won't be arriving in June after all. In fact, it won't be out till autumn, according to a vague report in Reuters. Blu-ray's official software launch had already been delayed from May 23 to June 20 to coordinate with a delay in the launch of Samsung's player. If Samsung comes up with the goods on time, that probably won't change again. Pioneer's Blu-ray internal hard drive made its debut more or less on time last month, so presumably the player hitch is software—DRM?—as opposed to hardware related.
Looks like 2006 is not the year of Blu-ray after all. Pioneer has announced that its BDP-HD1 won't hit until December, having already been postponed from May to June to November. Sony had previously delayed its own BSP-S1 until December 4. The Panasonic DMP-BD10 has been out since September. And the Samsung BD-P1000 hit in July, though plagued by a problem with the video processing chip. Well, maybe 2007 will be the year of Blu-ray.
Today Pioneer announced that it would stop manufacturing plasma panels. The company will continue marketing plasmas, probably using panels made by Panasonic. So maybe this isn't exactly the end of an era for the fabulous Kuro plasma line. Still, the news sent a chill through Kuro fans. Do you own a Pioneer Kuro? If so, what do you think of it? And while we're at it, which do you like better in general--plasma or LCD?
High-performance audio's long, slow decline is officially a crisis. The latest figures from the Consumer Electronics Association say that portable audio devices now outsell components—"for the first time in history," as This Week In Consumer Electronics reported. Put portable, home, and car audio together and the audio industry grew a total of 29 percent in 2005. But that includes an 85 percent hike in sales of portables, four percent growth in car audio, and a decline of 16 percent in the good-sounding stuff that sits on your rack, if you still have a rack. You can blame paradigm shifts, generational changes, i-everything, blabbity blabbity blah, but there's a smoking gun here, and I'll talk about it tomorrow.
The Home Entertainment Show—affectionately known among old-timers as the Stereophile Show—blossomed near LAX last week from June 1-4. This was the first year at a new location, the Sheraton Gateway. Far from the madding crowds of CES and CEDIA, HES does a great job of bringing manufacturers together with dealers, press, and public in a friendly context. That includes live music, reminding everyone present why we got into this business in the first place. The show has been extensively covered by our sister publications Ultimate AV and of course Stereophile. Their reporting skills and, in particular, their monopod-steadied photo prowess shame me. But then, I see this show differently than they do, with an eye for monitor-sized speakers that can be multiplied by five in a surround system, and a more jocular view of the show's historic two-channel orientation and some of the oddities that entails. Following are a few impressions. I'll post the least awful of these pictures to the Gallery plus a few extras.
The show was full of fridge-sized speakers but none of them sounded as good as the Totem Acoustics Dreamcatcher ($450/pair), driven by much pricier Plinius electronics. This was the most immediately appealing, and possibly the most accurate, sound at the show. It was utterly free of the grotesque coloration that marred dozens of larger speakers on display elsewhere. This picture looks good because I did not take it.
HSU Research is best known for its affordable high-performance subwoofers, but Dr. Poh Ser Hsu is also a dab hand at speaker design, as generously illustrated by the HB-1 "bookshelf" (to sensible people, that means stand-mounted) speakers. They had all the efficiency of horns with, to my ears, none of the beamy feeling that affects other horn designs. The sound remained consistent as I moved up and down and around the room. At only $125 each, this speaker may become the underground bestseller of 2006.