Price: $18,790 At A Glance: Unique design with proprietary components • Seamless topto-bottom coherence • Wide dynamic contrast • See-through transparency and clarity
Defining the Possibilities
Speakers sometimes remind me of cars. The marketing campaigns are built around uniqueness, but in a larger sense, most are far more similar than different. Most cars have combustion engines, four wheels that go around, and options that are more distinguished by the jargon that describes them than by their functionality. These days, many speakers are assembled from materials that are purchased from a handful of well-known source component companies. They often have much more in common with each other than people are led to believe.
Price: $15,000 At A Glance: LEDs promise longevity, consistent performance • Excellent color • Good contrast mitigated by unrefined dynamic contrast performance
Get the LED In
The last few years have been a golden age for digital front projection in home theater applications. Today’s best projectors offer an absolutely stellar combination of price, convenience, essential features, and most importantly, performance. In virtually all of these respects, today’s digital projectors shatter any expectations we had a few years ago. But there is a rub. Digital projection as we’ve known it has been driven by analog lamps for illumination. These lamps, which generally cost $300 to $500 each, age and need to be replaced every couple of thousand hours. If you insist on the very best performanceyou may need to replace them even sooner. In addition to dropping light output, aging lamps also affect a projector’s color performance, gammaand gray-scale tracking. Inother words, the lamp-driven projector you buy today isn’t the same projector you’ll have after several hundred hours without a touch-up calibration.
Price: $6,995 At A Glance: Extraordinary out-of-box performance • Exceptional blacks and contrast • Very strong value proposition
Dynamic Images From Runco
Runco is one of the names that the home theater industry is built on. That’s not hyperbole; neither home theater nor Home Theater would be here today without the vision of men like Sam Runco. He helped design the products that created the custom install channel, and he championed front-projection home cinema. A few years ago, Planar bought Runco, and while Sam is no longer there, the Planar PD8150 we reviewed in June 2008 signaled that we could look forward to innovative new front-projection designs under the Planar and Runco banners.
Price: $899 At A Glance: Reference Blu-ray and DVD performance • Significant audio upgrade at a reasonable price • Excellent speed and ergonomics • Terrific disc compatibility
The Best Has Gotten Better
With all of the resources that are available to the Blu-ray Disc Association’s major manufacturers, it’s remarkable that the first company to cure the ills of standalone Blu-ray players was Oppo Digital with its $499 BDP-83 (HT, September 2009). Upon that player’s release, many enthusiasts were using the PlayStation 3 for its speed and reliability. Standalone players were too slow and prone to disc incompatibility issues. They also had a hodgepodge of hardware profiles and decoding and interactivity features that bewildered consumers. When Oppo’s BDP-83 came along, it did everything that a Blu-ray player should do, and it did it right and fast. In short, it was a next-gen Blu-ray player that acted like one. That player earned Home Theater’s Top Pick of the Year in Source Components and overall Product of the Year for 2009 (HT, November 2009). Plus, it earned a check from me to Oppo. The BDP-83 I bought last year as a reference has been bulletproof during the time I’ve owned it. Compatibility issues have been few and far between. But when they’ve come up, Oppo has acted swiftly with hassle-free firmware updates from the Internet. It has been so bulletproof that it’s difficult to imagine changing it out or upgrading it.
Some of the best sound at CES was from speakers that don't officially exist. KEF gave the press a look at their skunkworks with a “concept” speaker called the Blade. In a cabinet carved from carbon fiber, the Blade uses the latest version of KEF’s Uni-Q coincident midrange and tweeter with four woofers mounted in close proximity around the sides of the cabinet to better emulate a point source. The woofers on either side of the cabinet cancel cabinet vibrations. The sound that came from these speakers was simply magic. Driven by Audio Research electronics, I heard spooky, lifelike imaging, high-resolution of detail, and tremendous dynamic swing and punch. Bass and drum kits in particular were simply right there in the room with us. Sticking to its story that this was a technology demonstration, KEF wouldn’t say that this speaker would ever come to market. But the sound here is just too good to keep it in the hangar at Area 51.
The group at Anthem/Paradigm now offers complete turnkey home theater solutions comprised of separate electronics, speakers, a Blu-ray player and a front projector and screen. The results almost shook the Venetian hotel to the ground. The Anthem line brought in Statement series electronics with the D2v processor, A5 power amp, three BLX-200 Blu-ray players (continuous demo, no disc swapping), and an LTX-500 LCOS projector driving an SI Black Diamond screen. Paradigm’s Signature S6 speakers held down left and right duty in this surround system, but my eyes and ears went immediately to the presence of two ginormous SUB 2 subwoofers at the front of the room. The $7499 SUB 2 uses six 10” woofers in its unusually shaped cabinet. And get this. Wiring 240v AC to the SUB 2 Paradigm claims 4,500 watts RMS sustained with its Class D amplification. If you can only wire for 120v, don’t’ feel too bad. Paradigm claims 3,000 watts RMS sustained over old-fashioned 120v lines, which isn’t exactly anemic either. The cabinet/driver configuration cancels cabinet vibration, and all that’s left is earthshaking bass. The versatility of this system was extraordinary, bringing me to my emotional knees with an evocative KD Lang concert performance before shattering that blissful calm with a bonecrusher (ok, hunter-killer) scene from Terminator Salvation (all the demo material was Blu-ray). Then Anthem/Paradigm’s Rob Sample played Nine Inch Nails Beside You in Time, and we were whisked off to the concert arena. I’ve never heard rock concert bass portrayed as convincingly in a home theater system. Not only was the bass pounding at startlingly high SPLs, the air in the room was fully charged. I saw NIN live in 2008, and this is as close as I’ll get to that energy until they come around again. This is powerful stuff. So powerful that I need to know more. Paradigm’s on the hook to send me a SUB 2 review sample. My neighbors have no idea what’s coming for them!
Wolf Cinema has something for those who can’t quite go to the screening room screen sizes supported by its big D-Cinema based projectors. The company was holding private demos showing pre-production samples of a new LED-based projector that will be available later this year. While it’s not small, it looks kinda cute next to the company’s digital cinema based line. The image was bright and punchy, and loaded with crisp detail on a 106” wide 2.35:1 screen. It didn’t hurt that the source material was comprised of clips of serious eye candy like Baraka and the psychedelic Speed Racer. Still, the projector wasn’t missing any of it. Final pricing is not yet determined, but is expected to be around $23k. While it already has a model number, Wolf Cinema’s John-Paul Lazars mentioned calling it the Cub, and I’m running with that. Consider the start of an online campaign!
REL subs have produced some of the best bass performance I’ve ever heard for music and cinema. Thudpuckers that can crank out LFE are a dime a dozen. Subs like REL’s that can rattle the roof, but also keep up with the rhythm and pace of music are rarer by far. The Gibraltar is a concept piece with a gorgeous finish. Final specs and release date aren’t known, but a woofer that looks like this and sounds like a REL will be welcome. There’s a reason that most black box subs are often hidden from sight. A hot looking box like the Gibraltar might occupy a more prominent spot in people’s rooms!
It’s not every show that I see a truly unique new display category emerge, but Seura’s displays are just that. Damned difficult to photograph, but fascinating. Building flat panel displays into pretty looking art and picture frames is one thing, and Seura does that too. But Seura is building flat panels seamlessly into mirrors, kitchens, bathrooms and even showers. Shown here is the waterproof Hydra and its color matching options. I tried to get a shot of one of the mirror displays, but the reflections were out of hand. You have to see it to believe it. Utterly unique. I can’t wait to shower with Monday Night Football!
Things are tough all over. This man is the prettiest model that Definitive Technology could afford to show off its new Mythos XTR-50 ($799 each). Bada-bing. Actually that’s Definitive’s man in charge, Paul DiComo. The new XTR-50 is Definitive’s answer to the flat panel’s ongoing bout with anorexia. Although the speaker also ships with attractive table-top stands, the XTR-50’s wow factor is its shocking 1.6” depth, which is all the more startling when wall-mounted around one of the latest wafer-thin flat panels. Wall mounting is ultra simple with the supplied brackets, and they can be oriented horizontally or vertically (even the Definitive logo detaches and re-attaches to match). Now all you need is a flat panel that doesn’t look fat when surrounded by two or three XTR-50s.