DISH Network is attempting to "hop" all over its competition at CES with a new whole house DVR that records prime time, all the time.
As part of a full company makeover that includes a new kangaroo mascot, the satellite TV provider is introducing Hopper, said to be the world's most advanced DVR. It's a 3-tuner model with a massive 2-terabyte hard drive that can record up to six HD programs simultaneously, and allows simultaneous viewing of different channels in up to three additional rooms through the companion Joey set top box.
One of the more interesting developments out of yesterday's CES press conferences was the imminent arrival of gesture control for upcoming models from Samsung (pictured) and LG Electronics. Gesture control uses an Xbox Kinect-like camera mounted near the screen to allow hand movements to be used to change channels or volume, for example, with no need to pick up a remote. Samsung's version should also allow voice control according to the company. We'll report more on this feature from the floor; stay tuned.
This bouncy little guy got to curl up at the DISH press conference, and seemed reasonably bored despite the 4,000 camera flashes he had to endure. But those of us in the CES press corp looked and acted more like cattle as we were herded through a marathon of dog-and-pony shows at the Venetian hotel and the Las Vegas Convention Center yesterday. Celebrity sightings included Justin Timberlake at the Panasonic press conference promoting the new MySpace app in this year's HDTVs, and Will Smith with director Barry Sonnenfeld were at Sony's event to promote Men In Black 3. Sony closed it out with an acoustic guitar-accompanied performance by Kelly Clarkson. But the best news out of the day for Home Theater was the announcement of pending OLED and/or 4K sets from LG, Samsung, and Sharp. The real show begins today; check back for our reports from the floor.
THX's long-promised Media Director technology has finally found its way into products including two Sharp Elite LCD TV models and the Acurus ACT4 preamp-processor. Media Director automates the selection of video parameters for Blu-ray and DVD titles, saving the less tech-savvy consumer a giant pounding headache. This can be something as basic as selecting 2D or 3D mode or something more subtle. In the example somewhat fuzzily shown, under "Video Processing Flags," are two entries reading: "Video content is intentionally noisy." And: "Video content contains film grains" [sic]. It works not only with Media Director encoded content but also with regular content when the disc is played in a BD-Live enabled Blu-ray player which will go online to grab the data from the THX database. If you're not ready to ante up for a top-line TV for the kitchen, you might still get limited Media Director functionality in a non-Media Director product. It's great that this newbie-empowering technology is finally seeing implementation.
THX has been applying its grey cells to the power amplifier, as THX grey eminence Laurie Fincham explained. The prototype shown uses what he calls a Class ABC topology with newly tweaked rail-switching power supply and compact ceramic (as opposed to bulky electrolytic) capacitors, all run off a lithium iron phosphate battery (yes, iron, not ion). In the picture you see a super-skinny two-channel output stage; adding capacitors would make it only 25 percent larger. Anyway, the result is a powerful low-profile amp that runs cool and efficient, avoiding both the power piggery of Class A and the problematic performance of Class D. And yes, it sounded great with Sonus Faber speakers and Steely Dan's "Gaslighting Abbie," achieving both well controlled bass and a high degree of overall transparency. Why this, why now? Fincham points out that his team is liberated from the tyranny of the product development cycle, enabling them to take a longer view and to incorporate ideas from the entire history of audio going back to the 1920s but also including the latest tricks. For example, the type of battery used is relatively new to audio but has been deployed in things like power tools and electric bikes. The THX amp design has yet to be built into licensed product but current licensees are getting their first look at this show. Potential uses include everything from inexpensive compact products to BD-receivers to high-end multichannel amps.
Samsung's new lineup of LED-edgelit LCD TVs is topped by the flagship ES8000 series, available in screen sizes up to 75 inches. Cutting-edge image-enhancing technologies are said to provide a brighter picture and greater contrast, and the dual-core chipset allows multiple apps to run at the same time. Users can control the TV with the company's new Smart Interaction technology, which includes voice control and gesture control using a built-in camera. Also, face recognition automatically logs into each family member's Smart TV account.
Not to be outdone by its cross-town rival LG, Samsung introduced its own 55-inch 3D OLED TV at its press conference today. This gorgeous, ultra-thin masterpiece incorporates a dual-core chipset that allows multiple Samsung apps to run simultaneously. Like the company's other high-end TVs, this one includes Smart Interaction technology that lets you manage your TV experience with motion control, voice control, and face recognition. Welcome to the next generation of television!
The Sony press conference was very short on details regarding home-theater productswe'll have to get that info in the booth over the next few days. But the company is still clearly bullish on 3D, showing a 3D trailer for Men In Black 3, after which star Will Smith and director Barry Sonnenfeld (right) took the stage with Sony CEO Sir Howard Stringer (left) for some lighthearted banter.
At the conclusion of Sony's press conference, American Idol sensation Kelly Clarkson performed her tune "Mr. Know-It-All" with acoustic guitar. The sound system was too loud, and I'm not a big fan of hers, but the audience seemed to enjoy it immensely.
Dish Network will bring Blockbuster@Home and an expanded version of HBO On Demand and Cinemax on Demand to customers who haven’t been able to stream movies and TV shows because they have slow internet. “Dish Unplugged” will stream content directly to the “Hopper” DVR via satellite.
Roku showed a network media player that is simply a large dongle that connects directly to your TV set. Shrinking the already small Roku 2 design even more, the new device doesn’t reduce the content or experience.
The Roku dongle will connect to an HDMI port on your TV. It will not come with its own remote. Instead, once connected, you can use the TV remote to navigate the Roku’s home screen, channels and to control playback.
After flying under the radar for awhile, BenQ is back with a new home-theater projector, the W7000 ($3999, currently shipping). Like all BenQ projectors, this one is based on DLP, but it's the company's first 1080p model to offer 3D, using active glasses with DLP Link instead of IR or RF sync. The W7000 is said to produce the Rec.709 color gamut and 2000 lumens of light output, and its dynamic iris is available in 3D mode. I watched a bit of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides presented on a Screen Innovations Black Diamond II screen, and it looked quite good, even with some room light, though darkening the room completely certainly looked better.
Photo by Barb Gonzalez
Freelance home-theater journalist Geoff Morrison and I spent a pleasant hour discussing 3D on a CES panel called "3DTV: From Theater to Living Room." Topics ranged from 3D technology in commercial cinemas and at home, the objections to 3D voiced by many, what we might see in the future, our own opinions about the subject, and answers to audience questions. A fun time was had by all!