Linksys showed its new ultra-fast AC1300 Wireless Universal Media Connector at CES. Although a number of routers were launched last year with the new 802.11ac capability, few devices are available to take advantage of the faster speeds. Smart TVs, Blu-ray players, AV receivers, and media streamers can be connected to the AC1300 via Ethernet cables. The device receives the wireless signal from the router using 802.11ac and transfers the stream to the devices for higher quality HD video without lagging, long buffer times or other interruptions.
The previous 802.11n standard can connect at speeds up to 300 Mbps (megabits per second) on a home network. The new standard is capable of gigabit speeds with single wireless connections at up to 500 Mbps. While a Vudu 3D HDX movie only requires a speed of 9 Mbps to a streaming player, wireless speeds decrease drastically over distance. It's important that a wireless router is sending the signal as fast as possible as it can dip below the speed needed over relatively short distances within a home.
The AC1300 can receive the fast stream from the router making sure that your device doesn't downgrade your Netflix 1080p stream to a standard definition movie. This 802.11ac connector is available now for $159.
Home automation and energy management had a big presence at CES, and Nexia Home Intelligence came to the Show to show off some recent additions to the growing portfolio of Z-Wave-enabled devices that are compatible with the Nexia ecosystem. Primary among those were: the new Schlage Touchscreen Deadbolt that provides keyless entry and built-in alarm technology that will notify you if someone tampers with the lock or tries to break into the home while you’re away; the new eMonitor Trane Energy Management Solution that monitors energy usage data 24/7 and provides overall energy usage reports, as well as real-time alerts and notifications of situations such as circuit overloads – or even if a freezer door has been left open; and new zoning capabilities with the Trane ComforLink II Control command center/thermostat that uses zone temperature sensors to figure out which areas of your home need additional heated or cooled air. (Unfortunately, the zoning features aren’t compatible with all HVAC systems – including mine…) While indoor/outdoor cameras, networked appliance and lighting control AC modules, wireless deadbolts, heating/cooling control, energy management, and web/smartphone control of the system are all features within the Nexia architecture, home AV control is not.
Every CES is loaded with exhibits from hopefuls looking to make their mark. Many of these tales of aspiration and struggle are never told. Let us say up front that Taiwan-based oBravo does not yet sell its products in the United States. However, its AI-25P powered sat/sub set got our attention with its folded ribbon tweeter, which produced remarkable detail with violin, acoustic guitar, and other stringed instruments. The 2.1-channel system including speakers, sub, compact amp, and dock would sell for $2500. Note that the dock has the 30-pin Apple connector but a snap-in module adapts it to the new Lighting connector.
Panasonic and Sony have teamed up to produce OLED panels using a (presumably more productive and thus likely more economical) printing technique. If successful, the company's will share panels though go their own way on electronics. Should be interesting to watch. This 4K, 56-inch Panasonic OLED did look fabulous. Of the OLEDs on display at the show, only Sony's and Panasonic's were 4K.
Panasonic is introducing 32 new HDTVs at the 2013 CES16 plasmas and 16 LCDs. The Plasmas range in size from 42- to 64-inches, and the LCD sets cover the ground between 32- and 65-inches.
When Panasonic first started shipping LCD displays a couple of years back, it restricted the LCD lineup to sizes impractical for its HD plasmas, that is, under 42-inches. No longer; bigger sets are now “in,” so the company clearly sees a future in both technologies. But rumors to the contrary, plasmas remain an integral part of Panasonic’s HDTV lineup.
Only brief comments at the press event related to any improvements in basic video performance. As we’ve witnessed from some manufacturers so far on this CES press day, the presentation centered on enhancements to the set’s “Smart” features. This year, Panasonic’s interactive menus allow each member of the family to customize the menu to favor their favorite sites. It can save separate favorites for each member of the family, and even recognize each viewer with its built-in camera (scary!) and switch to the appropriate menu for that individual.
So when I turn on one of these new Panasonics, will it default to the calibration controls?
We've all been wondering when Panasonic would make use of some of the Pioneer Kuro knowledge that Pioneer engineers brought with them when they went to work at Panasonic some three years ago whewn Pioneer left the TV business (Panasonic also reportedly licensed some Kuro technology). We won't know for certain until we get our hands on one of the new Panasonic ZT series sets when they come out in the spring (in 60- and 65-inch sizes. But in a dark room demonstration, the blacks looked considerably deeper than the blacks from last year's well-received VT series sets. There will be new sets in all of Panasonic's plasma lines, of course (and LCD sets as well), but its the ZT that has us champing at the bit. Prices are as yet unknown, but hopefully they won't be outrageously higher that the VT series (perhaps $1000 or so more?).
If you want to see the future of Paradigm's Signature line, take a closer look at the 30th anniversary speakers shipping soon including the Tribute tower and Inspiration monitor. The wood veneer enclosures, a Paradigm first, will probably trickle down to Signature and the woofers come from the existing Signature. Shipping has been pushed from December 2012 to February 2013 and the originally envisioned limited run of 400 units may be increased though not much.
The Fidelio HTL9100 soundbar Philips introduced at CES is the first we’ve seen with detachable wireless speakers. Remove the compact enclosures from either end of the wing-like soundbar and the system automatically shifts from virtual surround to discrete 5.1 surround. The speakers’ on-board amplifiers are battery powered and said to run up to 10 hours when fully charged. Other highlights include Bluetooth connectivity for streaming music from smartphones and tablets, two HDMI inputs, and a sensor/equalizer that detects whether the soundbar is mounted on the wall or sitting on a shelf and adjusts the sound accordingly. The HTL9100 comes with a wireless subwoofer and will be available in May with a suggested retail price of $800.
Plex is a media server and suite of apps for your computer, mobile devices, a variety of connected devices that helps you access and control your local and online media from just about anywhere and easily share it with friends and family. There are specific versions of Plex apps for Roku boxes, LG TVs, Samsung TVs, and Google TV. If it really is the “bacon of media apps”, though, digital-media-savvy vegetarians are going to be left out.
When I asked if the Polk Woodbourne one-piece audio system, discussed earlier here, can be used as a soundbar, the answer was yes,since it includes at least one digital input and can decode Dolby Digital. At it's $599 price, that's a bonus likely to be useful to the right customers. The white grille cloth, however, might be better in black in that application.
A lot of compact wireless audio systems have crossed our desk over the last few years but the forthcoming Polk Woodbourne, named for a neighborhood in the company's native Baltimore, is different. It has a fiberboard (not plastic enclosure) and the enclosure is sealed (not ported). Wireless options include both AirPlay and Bluetooth apt-X. Power is 70 watts RMS for each woofer and 20 for each tweeter. The demo was impressive for its spaciousness, thanks to the outward-aiming mounting of tweeters on the far sides of the curved baffle. We could close our eyes and imagine we were hearing a larger system. Pricing will be $599 when it arrives between April and June. Polk also showed the new TSx series which replaces the TSi. There are three towers, two monitors, and two centers in cherry or black. Woofers are polypropylene impregnated with other materials so that the intrinisic resonances of any one material are canceled out. Their size has increased in the towers and the larger center from 5.25 to six inches for bigger bass. Pricing ranges from $199 for the smallest center to $999/pair for the biggest tower.
The Habitat1 powered subwoofer from REL is not only wireless (meaning that no wired connection is needed to your AVR, though of course you must plug it into the wall!) but is designed to fit inconspicuously against the wall. There are two active 6.5-inch drivers, a 10-inch passive radiator, and 200W of amplification. More than one may be daisy chained together if desired. The passive radiator sits in the back and given space to breathe by spacers that separate the enclosure from the wall by an inch or so. A stand will also be available to those who don't wish to drill holes in their walls. $2000, available in April.