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.)
How weird is this? Just the other day, I was staring at this huge empty wall in my house, thinking, "What this wall really needs is a 150-inch plasma. It would really tie the whole room together." And then I see this at the Panasonic booth. Pricing and availability have yet to be announced, but our PR rep assures us that this is a real product that will actually come to market. So start collecting your loose change.
Another fun Boston Acoustics product is the Horizon Duo-i table radio, a stereo audio system with a built-in iPod dock, AM/FM tuner, alarm clock, and remote control. The Boston P.O.P. is available here too, so you can get this $200 unit in lots of fun colors. Here's a little piece of design genius: The entire front aluminum trim is a touch-sensitive snooze bar, so you don't need good aim to extend your all-important beauty rest.
Analog video capture as we know it is fading away, as almost everything under the sun already exists in digital format, at least on our PCs. But what if we could go straight from the composite or S-video output of a source (VHS, camcorder, maybe even DVD…?) and push a digital version of that video via USB onto, say, a portable player such as a video iPod or a PlayStation Portable? Mere days from now, Pinnacle Systems will begin selling the Pinnacle Video Transfer device which does precisely that, an all-in-one solution for one-touch analog-to-digital recording WITHOUT A PC. Clear red and blue lights indicate ready and recording status, and we can also toggle between good, better, and best Mode (quality/file size) settings. Encode takes place in real time and the digital videos can be watched immediately, and later renamed as desired. AC power is required, but the Pinnacle Video Transfer will also charge your iPod while it works.
For one of my last demos of CES2008, I stopped by the Definitive Technology room in the Venetian. There, in addition to showing off the newest Mythos ST speakers, they were putting on demos of the company’s new Solo Surround Array speakers. The SSAs join the growing number of single speaker simul-surround thingees that reduce the multiple speakers of the traditional surround system to one slim one. Of all the slender systems I’ve heard, the Definitive SSA-50 is by far the most impressive, the most surrounding, and the most amazing. Regardless of whether I was standing in the back of the room or in the middle of the room’s “sweet spot”, the effect was stunningly immersive. It certainly won’t replace a full-blown 5.1-channel system, but for the rear-speaker challenged, wire-averse, or stubbornly dcor-driven, this is a single-speaker solution that will make you sit up and listen.
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.
And now for something COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. How about an electric fan subwoofer? Sound far-fetched? Well, here it is from Eminent Technology’s Bruce Thigpen. How does it work? The motor spins the fan at 1000 rpm. The blades are flat with no signal and do nothing. Fast rotation causes them to couple to the air far more efficiently than a cone. The angle of the blades themselves is changed according to the signal by a 15” woofer magnet and voice coil causing them to quickly blow one direction then the other as the voice coil, attached with a mechanical linkage, directs. With a DC input, it makes an excellent $12,900 fan. The result is a transducer capable of response flat from 25 Hz down to 1 Hz at earthquake levels (over 110 db) even with a 200-watt amplifier and with decreasing distortion as frequency drops. After hearing this invention with several film soundtracks I think I can safely say that it has truly gone where no speaker has ever gone before, and with plaster cracking force!
This is a view of the box the fan subwoofer requires. It could actually be mounted in a hole in the wall between two rooms if it weren’t for the fan noise. The box you see is a fiberglass-lined labyrinth inside, mostly needed to eliminate the whirring sound. The actual infinite baffle enclosure behind the fan is the second room itself, not the box. The box fits up against the wall and its opening into the listening room looks like a large air-conditioning grille. The fan subwoofer moves so much air that ET kept the windows open in the enclosure room to prevent any kind of restriction. How low will it really go? ET had a precision real-time analyzer showing absolutely no rolloff down to near DC! 10-20 Hz effects in film soundtracks were spectacular!
It’s not the most portable of camcorders, but it’s guaranteed to make quite an impression the next time you take it to your kid’s soccer game. In fact, the other team might quit before the game even starts when you whip this baby out of the back of your minivan.
Sennheiser’s new MX W1 wireless earphones are said to be the industry’s first “true wireless” stereo earphones based on Kleer’s wireless audio technology. The Kleer people seem to be very clear about their beliefs that their wireless technology blows the ears off of Bluetooth technology. They say it has something to do with spectral footprints, bandwidth, power consumption, audio quality, and wires.
Do we detect an extra spring in Thiel's step? The revered but staid speaker maker suddenly let fly with THIELnet, which retrofits existing speaker and sub models for the networked present and future. Using wireless technology from Bicon, better known in the telco industry, THIELnet offers either wireless or ethernet connections from either 5.1-channel or multiple stereo sources. The newly renovated models include the SCS4D stand-mount speaker (based on the SCS4) and the SS1D sub (based on the SS1). You go, Thiel.
The Thiel room was a full home theater setup using their new CS 3.7 speakers with Sim2’s C3X DLP projector and a 110”-wide screen. The three chip C3X is quite a good 720p projector when it comes to filling large screens and the newest model, the HT3000, is a 1080p single chip DLP at about the same price. Though the picture was good, it was the sound that blew me away. Never have I heard Thiel speakers sound like this. Then came the shocker: They turned off the active shielding on the Synergistic Research Tesla Series cables (interconnects, speaker cables, and power cords) and much of the magic just disappeared. Either these cords sound real bad with the power off or real good with it on or maybe both, because the difference was far from subtle and was easily the most impressive cable demo I’ve ever heard. These newest cables, much smaller than before, are expensive but not out of reach and certainly deserve investigation for any high-end home theater sound system.