There weren't many surround receivers on the floor of the Las Vegas Convention Center, but Sherwood was a hardy exception, showing a half-dozen new ones shipping between April and May. The top-line model is the R-977 with a rated 145 watts times seven into six ohms. It features Anchor Bay video processing, internet radio with vTuner, DLNA, direct USB connection of iOS devices, and a phono input. Perhaps more interesting is what's missing: Sherwood is no longer the lone receiver brand supporting innovative Trinnov room correction, a prominent feature of the old (and more costly) R-972. Instead it is relying on the proprietary SNAP room correction that it has also used previously. Price is $1000. At the opposite end of the line is the 5.1-channel RD-5405, selling for a mere $170.
THX had a lot to talk about. Tascam is a new brand among THX-certified receivers with the PA-R200, shipping in January for $1299. It is THX Select2 certified. The German manufacturer Teufell has earned THX Multimedia certification for the G850 satellite/subwoofer set, including a dual six-inch sub said to reach down to 35Hz. It ships in February or March at a price to be determined. The first THX-certified (for video) 4K display is the Sharp LC60HQ10, a Japan-only model. Finally, a pair of A/B demos showed the fruit of THX's collaboration with Sontia on a means of correcting acoustic defects in loudspeakers, as opposed to room correction or other forms of DSP magic. With satellite speakers the SPT Optimized version had noticeably greater bass extension. With monitors, there was better focused soundstaging and more detail, though also more brightness, that last part not necessarily an improvement. Initial applications would include soundbars and other products where speakers are matched with amps.
DTS offered one of the show's more interesting audio demos with DTS Headphone:X. The audience were given Sennheiser headphones selling for roughly $100. With headphones off, we heard an 11.1 channel check with front, front height, center, side surround, back surround, and back surround height channels (not including sub). Then the channel check was repeated with headphones on. It sounded precisely the same and the sound still seemed to be coming with the speakers. Finally we were invited to hear the channel check while removing and replacing the headphones. At this point it became clear that the sound was coming only from the headphones. The steering was impressive, with the side, back, and height channels occupying their places in the soundfield with the same confidence as the front channels. DTS also did an A/B demo of the Vizio VHT215 2.1-channel soundbar with various technologies acquired along with SRS Labs. Even amid the noise of the show floor, it was clear that what is now called DTS TruSurround (formerly SRS TruSurround) was lifting the soundstage clear of the bar's physical limits. Just a little, but enough to be noticeable.
The upcoming Samsung OLED was discussed earlier in this report (scroll further down) but the flat version, at least (a Samsung curved OLED is shown here) may sport a unique feature. It can display two totally different 3D programs on the screen simultaneously. These images are then separated out by using 3D-like active glasses that pass only the program the individual wants to watch. But how can it do this and still maintain full 1920 x 1080 resolution? Because the glasses alternate twice as fast as they normally would. That means that the images must flash on the screen twice as fast as on an ordinary 3D set. They can only do this because OLEDs can switch blindingly fast. The demo we saw worked flawlessly,though the issue of isolating the sound effectively is still open. This means that in addition to brilliant color, inky blacks (the light from the OLEDs can switch off instantaneously at the pixel level when required), and off-axis performance equal to plasma, there should be no more motion blur on an OLED HDTV than is present in the source.
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.
Here's a front shot of the Theta Supernova preamp-processor covered in an earlier blog. It should sell for around $10K, just a bit more than half the cost of a fully configured Theta Casablanca. The only open question appears to be if the Supernova will offer the same advanced room correction that will grace the Casablanca. My vote is yes, it should.
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.
Amid enough high-end audio components at the Venetian Hotel (the CES venue for specialty audio) to wear down the sternest poker face when confronted with the price tag, the CWT 1000 from T+A Electroakustik (based in Germany, doncha know) produced a sound that almost might justify a per pair price sufficient to buy a nicely equipped Mercedes or BMW. It has six 120mm midranges and a 920mm long electrostatic tweeter, both in side-by-side line arrays, and four 8-inch woofers. There's also a larger CWT 2000 weighing 263 lbs.
LG's BH9430PW all in one home theater system may be a bit (OK, more than a bit) less ambitious than some of the components we discuss in this report and review in the pages of Home Theater, but for many folks it's all they think they can afford (which is not always the case). It's said to be a 9.1-channel system, but I saw only 5.1 channels in the demo. The small speaker cones use Kevlar, a material long used in some very high-end speakers. B&W, for example, began using Kevlar for some of its drivers in the mid 1970s. I didn't get to hear the LG system; the demo began with a far too loud (for me and the system) crash, boom, bang action scene and I was out of there like a shot.
On the video side, CES is a flat screen HDTV-fest, not a projector show. Nor is home theater a common site at the audio-centric Venetian Hotel exhibits, dominated by expensive 2-channel audio. But I was delighted to come across at least one superb audio/video setup. The new Gray Wolf is the latest 3D LCOS projector from Wolf Cinema, and at $8000 the company's lowest price projector to date. It looked amazing--and amazingly bright on a 132-inch wide, 2.35:1 Screen Innovations Black Diamond 0.8 gain projection screen.
The program material I viewed included the latest Mission Impossible flick (from Wolf's collection) and scenes from Prometheus. The latter was one of the three discs I had brought to the show (which also included Thor and How to Train Your Dragon. I was surprised to see a bigger crowd in the room when the selections were finished than before--given the 2-channel-centric leanings of most of those who visit the exhibits at the Venetian. (All of my choices, by the way, were based primarily on their music and visuals, not their action.)
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?).
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.
The Revel Rhythm2 has an 18-inch aluminum driver with four-inch voice coil backed up with 2000 watts. Of course like any state-of-the-art sub it can be room corrected via USB, in this case with a third-party measuring tool. But this one is slightly unusual because it takes into account the bass output of the speakers as well as that of the sub. The demo was impressively powerful though marred by an unavoidable rattle in the room ventilation—if you want to own a sub this powerful, you may need to invest a little extra to make the room fit for it!