As we stepped through the door at Lenbrook's joint PSB and NAD exhibit, PSB's Paul Barton said: "Have you heard the NAD digital amp?" The M2, winner of a CES Innovations 2010 award, was playing with PSB's floorstanding flagship Synchrony. It had a tight and crisp though not terribly warm sound compared to what we have heard the same speaker do with analog amps. (Incidentally, the Synchrony is one of our all-time favorite towers.) Power output 250 watts times two into either four or eight ohms. Price $5999. NAD also showed its new M56 Blu-ray player, which is fully up to date with BD-Live capability, and at $1999, it ought to be.
The Digital Experience is an annual press event held at the Mirage that showcases the latest in mobile digital devices, computer peripherals and anything that is, well...digital. AV components are typically not part of the event, but this year Samsung showed two unique home theater products, the HT-BD8200, a 2.1 channel sound bar with a built-in network BD player (shown in the background) and a wall-mountable network BD player. The HT-BD8200 includes a wireless subwoofer and an iPod dock and can stream digital content from Netflix. Prices were not announced and the sound bar is expected to be available mid-year. Note: The wall-mountable BD player in the foreground is black, not red.
You can't call it a sound bar, but the goal of Niro Nakamichi's latest system is to eliminate the need for rear speakers in a home theater. The new system uses two speaker cabinets - one below the TV that produces the LCR signals, and one above the TV that creates the pseudo surround information. The system also comes with a subwoofer and processor/amplifier. The system uses psychoacoustics to create its effects and doesn't rely on sound reflections off the side walls as many other no-rear-speakers systems do. Although it still can't compete against a full-blown discrete speaker system, I must say that in the brief amount of time I had to listen, it blew away any other soundbar I've ever heard. Of course, at $1,899 for the system, it's more expensive than any other sound bar that I can remember listening to. The cosmetics are a little industrial for my tastes, but it's definitely a high-performance system to consider if you can't have rear speakers.
It may sound glamourous to you, having the opportunity to come to CES, see all the latest new CE toys, and write about it for you. Yes, it can be fun and the best part for me is interacting with friends and colleagues I don't get to see year round. Days start early and usually end very late. However, this year I did't need an alarm clock to get me up in the morning, no matter how tired I might have been the night before. We are staying at the Hyatt Place, a wonderfully remodeled hotel, a bit off the beaten path, which is quiet and tranquil compared to the large themed hotels with casinos. But there is always a catch. It is right in front of McCarren airport and each and every plane flies directly over us. Fortunately, McCarren has a curfew from midnight to 6am. So there is a small window of opportunity for uninterrupted sleep but you can set your clock by that first flight of the morning.
You can be forgiven if this looks like one of those odd, transparent speaker systems. But it wasn't put in the Avalon room to compete with the Avalon Time. Its a passive room treatment device from Acustica Applicata (sounds like a singing technique, like a capella), an Italian company. The visible "eye" is a mechanical iris diaphragm, which combined with a port in the base with an adjustable opening and an internal membrane can tune the device to between 26Hz and 60Hz. This is said to improve the low frequency resolution by tuning out bass problem areas over a narrow or broad range. $3600 each.
You may not know the NXT name, but it's possible you've heard their flat panel speakers, which are found in products ranging from automobiles, LCD televisions and portable PC speakers. NXT is a manufacturer that licenses their unique flat panel speaker designs to various companies and at this year's CES they showed the Q-AV System, an adjustable LCR speaker that adjusts from 37 to 52-inches in width to accommodate plasma or LCD televisions of various sizes. The LCR system shown in the photo has three full range drivers and was accompanied by a subwoofer and flat panel rear speakers. No price was available.
One of the coolest parts of the drive from Southern California to Las Vegas is the Cajon Pass, especially if you're a rail fan like me. The Cajon Pass connects the So Cal basin with the High Desert where multiple rail lines weave through spectacular geography rising from sea level to over 4000 feet elevation. These mile-long container trains carry goods shipped from Asian ports to the Ports of Los Angeles or Long Beach and then to destinations in the Midwest or East Coast. Perhaps your next flat-screen television, home theater system or disc player is in one the containers on this train.
Onkyo's first foray into separates includes the PR-SC5503 surround preamp-processor ($2699), with the up-to-date feature set you'd expect in an Onkyo receiver, and the PA-MC5500 multi-channel power amp. The amp's got nine channels of 150-watt AB amplification, enough to accommodate both height and width channels, and can connect to the pre-pro via XLR. Both about to ship; pre-pro price may be around $2699. Onkyo also showed the BD-SP807 Blu-ray player which boasts Anchor Bay video processing. (And the company plans to introduce its first -- perhaps anyone's first -- HDMI 1.4 receivers this spring, reports TWICE.)
I've always liked Optoma's 1080p DLP projectors, except for one thingno lens shift, which makes placement difficult. I guess the company listened, because the new HD8200 takes lens shift one step beyond normal. Called PureShift, the Optoma shifts the entire light engine up to 20% left/right and 30% up/down, keeping the light path in the center of the lens. It'll be available only through custom installers for $5000 starting in February. The similar HD808 will be available at retail for $3500 in March; the 808 uses the DarkChip 2 DMD, whereas the 8200 uses the DC3 chip for greater contrast.
We've missed Optoma's engaging big-screen demos the past few shows, but we had to miss them again this year. The featured attractions here were several project 3D demos using video projectors. Unfortunately, they were disappointing compared to the 3D demos elsewhere at the show, with decent 3D effects but noticeably compromised resolution.
The big message at Panasonic's press conference was 3D with "full HD" resolution (i.e., 1080p)many current 3D systems cut the effective resolution in half to accommodate two eyes separately. The company is spearheading a drive to develop a standard for 3D HD content production, mastering, and display this year, with products appearing in 2010. Director James Cameron is on board, and Panasonic Hollywood Labs, Panasonic's R&D arm, is working with studios and manufacturers to achieve these goals. I've never found 3D all that compelling, and it sometimes gives me a slight headache after a while, so I welcome any substantive progress toward a standardized improvement.
Panasonic not only made the biggest push for 3D at the show, it also had the most consistently effective demos. All used shutter glasses, and all of Panasonic's new plasma sets are claimed to use faster phosphor elements to minimize left-right crosstalk (lingering images can be an issue when separate images must be presented for each eye. (Hopefully the new phosphors won't compromise color accuracy. The color in the demos looked fine, but such demos invariably deviate from the D6500 color standard.)
Panasonic has two samples of its 152" (diagonal) plasma at the show. This one is showing 4K source material in 2D on the 4096 x 2160 pixel screen (that's 17:9, slightly wider than standard widescreen). The set is made from a full; Panasonic plasma mother glass, in its latest generation. This 2D picture was stunning. No price was announced, but if you have to ask...