Sometimes, as you wander the aisles and hallways of CES, a pattern or theme appears among the various demonstrations you see. In some cases, this is by design (if you were a real journalist and carefully planned out your day ahead of time). More often than not, however, it's from sheer dumb luck or an unavoidable preponderance of manufacturers chasing a particular, small segment of the market.
Normally the disclaimer* comes at the end, but why hide uncomfortable news? When it comes to home entertainment equipment and someone starts talking about a piece of gear being "wireless", they don't mean "wireless" - they mean "nearly wireless". Okay, now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's talk about Panasonic's new rear-speaker wireless-ready home theater systems. Oh, by the way, "wireless-ready" means you'll need an optional piece of gear to make the system nearly wireless. (But don't let that put a barbed-wire fence around your lofty goal of having free-range wireless chickens. There ain't no totally wireless lunch from any company in this neck of the woods, pardner, but that don't mean you can't dream...)
Call it a wireless musical gulleywasher. NuVo’s (accurately but very dryly named “Wireless Audio System”) uses both dual-band Wi-Fi and MIMO technologies to transmit up to 16 simultaneous audio streams at 600 kbps each, a feat that NuVo claims is the highest throughput of any Wi-Fi music network system. The system connects to home networks to play iTunes and Windows Media libraries and to the internet to access streaming services (Pandora, Rhapsody, SiriusXM, etc.) The system consists of three primary components, including two music player devices with built-in stereo amplifiers (P200, 60-watts x 2; and P100, 20-watts x2) and a network gateway (GW100). The P200 includes built-in aptX Bluetooth technology for wireless music streaming from tablets and smartphones. Each GW100 gateway has a range of about 300 ft (enough to cover an “average” 4,000 sq ft home), and multiple GW100s can be used in combination for larger homes. Prices are: P200, $599; P100, $479; GW100, $199. And, unlike when I first saw (and really liked) the system at CEDIA last year, NuVo says the Wireless Audio System is shipping now.
Fulton Innovation had what I think was the most exciting booth at CES this year. (Yes, more exciting than 3DTV or a iPod karaoke docks.) Fulton Innovation is the developer of eCoupled intelligent wireless power technology. On display was a Tesla Roadster that was being charged through the air as it was parked over a large eCoupled charging pad. Also on display were eCoupled-enabled cereal boxes that had the eCoupled circuitry printed on the boxes using conductive ink. When placed on a shelf near an eCoupled transmitter, the various graphics on the boxes actually lit up. Another aspect of the technology allows a home to have smart cabinets that will monitor the eCoupled-equipped boxes and let you know what cereals, for example, are in the cabinet – and how full the boxes are. In another section of the CES booth, a wireless blender was being demonstrated. If Fulton Innovation has anything to say about it, in the future when we say “wireless” speakers, we’ll really mean it.
The idea for Wireless Audio Solutions Products (WASP) lineup of wireless speaker brackets and wallplates grew out of a custom integrators frustration with the lack of specific wireless audio distribution applications for installations involving more than setting a pair of monitor speakers and a wireless amp on a bookshelf. Several years of research and design have resulted in WASP’s LINK-Mount, LINK-Plate, and LINK-InWall products, each of which feature the use of tri-band wireless technology (2.4, 5.2, and 5.8 GHZ), 50-watt mono-block Class D amplifiers, wireless subwoofer outputs, retro-fit friendly designs, and uncompressed wireless audio transmission. The amplifiers inside the LINK devices use low-voltage power from external plug-in transformers (aka, wallwarts) that allow the mounts/plates to be installed without requiring an electrician. The WASP UWT-201x is a universal wireless transmitter for use with WASPs LINK plates and mounts, and it has selectable line- or speaker-level inputs, a subwoofer input with a choice of discrete or L/R summed wireless subwoofer output, as well as a 3.5mm front auxiliary input jack that automatically overrides the back panel input when you want to use a smartphone or tablet as a temporary local music source. WASP’s wireless audio distribution devices will only be available through authorized custom integrators. (In other words, don’t look for these on Amazon or at Best Buy.) Cool, cool stuff. Can’t wait to try it out and see how well it works in a real install. No pricing was available at CEDIA, though.
Even the most dialed-in, industry-savvy tech writer misses a thing or two along the way, and Sonic Emotion is a company that’s been totally off my radar. (In my defense, they’re only now trying to break into the U.S. consumer market.) The company’s technology, Sonic Emotion Absolute 3D, is supposed provide “all listeners an immersive 3D sound experience from a single device - regardless of their positioning in the room, device location and room dimensions - using any input format...” Despite the fact that that is indeed quite a claim, during a demo this afternoon the folks at Sonic Emotion quickly proved they’re more than just talk. Using an AudioSource S3D60 and a variety of demo material, the presenter quickly convinced the group of us jaded press people that the technology actually does provide a very impressive 3D sonic expansion of two-channel sources from a single box. According to Sonic Emotion, the technology is not room-dependent (as some other simulated surround devices are). The effect was quite good, and it was stable regardless of where I stood in the demo area. Look for more products incorporating Sonic Emotion technology coming later this year.
SE2 Labs has what is most likely the ultimate HTiB. It looks like an expensive espresso machine, but there's so much audio/video goodness inside this beautiful box that the approximately $20,000 price tag seems dirt cheap. Seriously, these guys have put just about everything you'd ever want in terms of high-end home theater gear and capabilities into one extremely well-machined chassis. All you need to add are speakers and an HDTV.
IN2UIT’s very stylish, very portable Filo sound system is light (about 1.7 pounds), less than 2.5-inches thick, includes Bluetooth connectivity and has a li-polymer battery that’s good for up to ten hours of operation. But it’s not just another pretty desktop speaker. The Filo incorporates IN2UIT’s unique electrostatic loudspeaker (ESL) technology the company calls “Electrostatz”. Like larger, more expensive ESL’s on the market, IN2UIT’s Electrostatz speakers are super-slim – in fact, the company claims its speakers are “the world’s slimmest, paper-thin speaker technology in the market”. Electrostatz speakers, however, include a proprietary self-biased (SBESL) nano-diaphragm design, so they don’t require high-voltage bias or transformers, which helps to keep the cost and power consumption low.
The Filo is available in three colors, Vogue red, Mod blue and Urbane grey. Each Filo also comes with a power adapter/charger and a wall mount bracket. Even on the noisy, open show floor, I was highly impressed with the sound quality of the many $299 Filo speaker systems IN2UIT had mounted on the walls of the company’s booth. In my opinion, it outclassed any other Bluetooth-enabled, portable speaker costing under $300 that I’ve ever heard. IN2UIT’s Filo is expected to be available in the US in the next several months.
But only if you have the world’s largest bookshelf to put it on. Pro Audio Technology isn’t a common household name, partly because the company’s speakers – capable of “producing the bone-jarring explosions or visceral slam found in today’s high quality recordings” – are rather big, designed to usually be built-in or hidden behind acoustically transparent screens or wall panels, and are pretty darn expensive. This speaker was on display, no doubt, to generate plenty of “wow” buzz, which it did even though it was not hooked up. Inside Pro Audio Technology’s booth, however, several of the company’s new, smaller, less-expensive speakers were put together in a multi-channel system that was amazingly clean and articulate at regular, keep-my-hearing-intact listening levels. They did let the system out of its cage, though, for a brief moment at the end of the demonstration; and it simply took everyone’s breath away with it’s dynamic and powerful sonic output.
HDNet took a break from filming high-definition bikinis on beaches to bag veteran news anchor Dan Rather who will produce and host a new program called "Dan Rather Reports". The show will premiere exclusively on HDNet beginning in October.