Each year at CES, the Digital Entertainment Group (DEG), an industry-funded, nonprofit organization that promotes the benefits of home-entertainment products, holds a reception to honor the winners of several awards voted upon by its members as well as journalists such as myself. This year marked the group's 15th annual event, which was held at the XS nightclub in the Encore hotel. And the winners are...
Photo by Barb Gonzalez
After failing miserably last year, Google TV has risen phoenix-like from the ashes to become an important part of several major companies' IPTV strategy. As you may recall, Google TV tried to integrate streaming services with broadcast and pre-recorded DVR content into a unified Android environment, but the user interface was clunky, and too many services blocked access from that particular platform.
Now, it seems Google TV is getting a second chance from LG, Sony, and Vizio, all of whom introduced products that include the service. LG announced two LED-LCD TVs (LMG860 and LMG620; LG's Android Market interface shown above), while Sony unveiled the NSZ-GP9 Blu-ray player and NSZ-GS7 network media player (a media-streaming box like Roku). Interestingly, Sony had a TV with Google TV last year, but not at this year's show. Vizio introduced three LED-LCD TVs with Google TV (R3D470VS, R3D550VS, and R3D650SV) along with the VBR430 Blu-ray player and VAP430 streamer box.
For me, the stars of CES 2012 were the 55-inch OLED TVs from LG (seen here) and Samsung, which both companies promise will be available as actual retail products later this year. Like the Samsung, the LG EM9600 is a mere 4 millimeters thick with the electronics in the base, but if you want to wall-mount it, some of that base will have to come along, increasing the effective depth. The picture quality is absolutely stunning, with truly infinite blacks and vibrant colors. Given that OLED is infamous for degrading over a relatively short timeespecially bluewill those colors last? LG claims they will, and I certainly hope they're right.
No doubt about it, the 55-inch OLED TVs from Samsung (shown here) and LG stole the show for me. (Yes, there were a lot of 4K flat panels as well, but without 4K content, they are not all that important except for passive-glasses 3D.) This is the first new TV technology to become a real commercial product in many years, and it beats LCD and plasma in every way. Both manufacturers claim to have solved OLED's longevity problem, but only time will tell if they actually have.
No pricing was announcednor was a model number in Samsung's casebut I've heard rumors from $5000 to $10,000. If it's closer to $5000, that will be a home run right out of the gate; if it's more like $10,000, these TVs will be a niche product until the next generation brings the price down.
Home-theater consultant Ray Coronado and HomeTheater.com correspondents Tom Norton and Barb Gonzalez join me to discuss our impressions of CES last week, including OLED TVs, 4K flat panels, 3D, online streaming, audio, answers to chat-room questions, and more.
I couldn't believe it when I looked at my pedometer upon returning to my hotel room after CES closed last FridayI had walked just a smidge under 35 miles in five days! That's way more than I've ever done before, and my feet knew it.
Lying on the bed, exhausted, I couldn't help thinking about all I'd seen in those 35 miles. Some attendees I spoke with summed up their feelings about the show with a yawn, but not me. I found this year's CES to be very exciting, full of important introductions and announcements that will fill the coming year with plenty of things to write about and lust after.
To combat the glare and reflections endemic to plasma TVs, LG has created a TruBlack filter for its flagship PM9700. As you can see in this photo, the screen has a distinctly matte finish, greatly obscuring reflections that are especially problematic in dark scenes.
Pictured here are LG's LM9600 (bottom row) and LM6700 (top row) LED-LCD TVs. The 47- and 55-inch LM9600 use the company's nano-LED backlighting, while the 60-inch version uses conventional LED backlighting with local dimming, and all incorporate LG's L9 dual-core processor and refresh the screen at 480Hz. The 120Hz LM6700 is LED edgelit with LED Plus pseudo local dimming.
As with most of the major TV manufacturers, LG announced big improvements in its Smart TV functionality, which is available in 60 percent of its 2012 lineup, including the LM8600 series shown here. In addition to content from providers such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, Vudu, and many others, LG offers 3D Zone, which streams 3D content and almost 1200 apps from the LG App Store. Also new this year is a full web browser with Flash and HTML 5, allowing you to access just about anything you can find online.
With all the talk about OLED and 4K at the show, it was easy to overlook the other 2012 TV introductions. Panasonic's new plasma lineup includes four series (from flagship to entry-level left to right in the photo above)VT50 (55 and 65 inches) with Infinite Black Ultra panel; GT50 (50, 55, 60, and 65 inches) and ST50 (50, 55, 60, and 65 inches), both with Infinite Black Pro panel; and UT50 (42, 55, and 60 inches). Not shown are the XT50 (42 and 50 inches) and 50-inch TC-P50U50, the only TV in Panasonic's lineup without 3D capabilities.
Whereas Panasonic used to make only small LCD TVs and large plasmas with no overlapping screen sizes, that is no longer true. New for 2012 are four series of large-screen, LED-edgelit LCD TVs (flagship to entry-level right to left above)WT50 (47 and 55 inches), DT50 (47 and 55 inches), ET5 (42, 47, and 55 inches), and E50 (42, 47, and 55 inches). All use IPS (in-plane switching) LCD panels for wider viewing angles, and they offer Viera Connect online content apps.
Panasonic's latest incarnation of the connected-TV paradigm is called Smart Viera, which includes not only movies and TV shows but social media, such as Twitter, Facebook, Skype, and the newly resurrected MySpace. Users can load apps from the Viera Connect Market, and a new graphical user interface makes control easier than ever. One app of particular interest is Flixster, which implements UltraViolet, the emerging service for storing your purchased movies and TV shows in the cloud, watching them on a variety of devices, and sharing them with up to six family members or friends.
At CES, legendary audio company McIntosh introduced a special 50th Anniversary Limited Edition McIntosh MC275 tube power amplifier. According to McIntosh, the 75-watt x 2 MC275 was designed and engineered in 1961 by McIntosh co-founder Sidney Corderman and the McIntosh Engineering Team, and it's been an object of desire for McIntosh aficionados ever since. Adding to the excitement of the introduction, McIntosh handed out what has to be one of the best press kit flash drives in the history of CES: a miniature version of the MC275 with 4 GB of flash memory hidden inside one of the output transformers. McIntosh says they are only building 275 of the 50th Anniversary Limited Edition MC275 (hmmm, I wonder where they came up with that number?), so it's destined to be a highly sought after piece of gear. I'm not sure how many mini-MC275 flash drives McIntosh has to give out, but I know it's going to be quite a collector's item, too. Now, if I could just figure out where to connect the speaker wires...
One of the surprise finds I stumbled upon on the last day of CES was a company called iOmounts. They make a very clever magnetic mounting system for iPhones and iPads (or any flat tablet or touchscreen device, really) that’s easy to use, very stable, and is designed for quick release. The mount uses a stainless ball with a round magnet that’s sculpted on one end to fit the ball. The other end is flat. A thin circle of metal gets attached to the back of your iOS device, and this is what is held in place by the flat end of the magnet that’s attached to the ball. While the magnet is holding the device, you can slide it around the surface of the ball in order to position the iOS device at almost any angle. When you’re done, you simply pull the device away from the magnet and go on your way. It’s a great idea for someone who wants to use his/her iPad as a second monitor - or especially for anyone who uses an iPad/iPhone as a temporary remote control in a home theater. The iOmounts come in two sizes. The shorter version starts at $69, while the taller version starts at $89. A wall mount will be available for $49. Everything (except the magnets) is made in Colorado, and they’re expected to begin shipping in March.
If you were exhibiting at CES and you didn’t have any earphones or headphones to demonstrate, then you must not have gotten the memo that said everyone must make earbuds. Amidst the bewildering variety of mostly mediocre offerings, Sonomax was showing off their latest eers - custom molded earphones. Unlike most other custom molded earphones which have to be professionally fitted, eers come in a do-it-yourself kit that includes a special goo that flows into your ear and hardens to create a custom-fit for your specific ear. According to Sonomax, "Since ears are more unique than fingerprints, perfect fit and comfort can only be achieved with custom-fit earphones.” The PCS-150 uses a single driver. The PCS-250 uses dual drivers and a crossover. Both models include in-line microphones for use with mobile phones. Pricing will be approximately $199 and $299 respectively.