Home Theater editor Rob Sabin, senior editor Tom Norton, and I chat about what we saw at the 2011 CEDIA Expo, including the new Sharp Elite LCD TV that looks like a worthy successor to the now-legendary Pioneer Kuro plasma, home-theater projectors with 4K resolution or 2.35:1 native aspect ratio, Epson's first LCoS-variant projector that produced a spectacular image for less then $5000, 3D, Atlantic Technology's bass-friendly soundbar, GoldenEars' and Definitive Technology's new bookshelf speakers, PSB's noise-cancelling headphones, answers to chat-room questions, and more.
CEDIA Expo 2011 is history, but the memory lingers on. Many manufacturers go to great trouble and expense to dazzle showgoers with their booths, and I always photograph a few of the best ones as I wander the floor. My favorite this year was the Klipsch booth with its floating translucent columns encasing LEDs that provided an ever-changing light show. But it wasn't the only booth that caught my eye…
While it would seem a just another target-rich environment for feminism-bashing jokes and inappropriate sexual innuendoes in the sausagefest that is the annual CEDIA conference, the annual Women in CE breakfast held Saturday morning was actually one of the serious high points of this year’s CEDIA for me (and not simply because of the free prizes that were given out). In addition to a very interesting keynote address by Debra Boelkes, CEO of Business World Rising (a leadership development services firm dedicated to the advancement of high potential business leaders and stronger, more inclusive enterprises) that covered some of the societal and personal reasons why women succeed or fail in the current corporate business world, I was able to catch up with an old friend, Molly Gibson, who recently founded Sixty3percent, a retail sales training concept solely dedicated to marketing to women.
According to Molly (a woman with over 20 years of experience in marketing and sales in the CE industry), women make 63% of consumer electronics buying decisions, but despite the overwhelming numbers, they’re not engaged in the process at all. After interviewing hundreds of women in all economic ranges, Molly’s come up with a sales training program aimed at helping retailers and manufacturers to stop ignoring (at best) or alienating (at worst) the half of the population that makes the larger percentage of buying decisions when it comes to consumer electronics. While the ulterior motive for manufacturers and retailers is to sell more stuff to women, if they can figure out ways to do that while also improving the experiences that many women have when they walk into most consumer electronics stores, everyone will win in the end.
ihiji is a service company aimed at helping custom installers help their clients. It’s a neat concept for two things you won’t see: the graph above that kind of reminds you of a nuclear fallout pattern, and the install company’s truck that won’t be parking in front of your home. ihiji’s servers constantly monitor your home’s AV and automation system and can pinpoint problems with IP communication (which are then displayed on the network connection graph), allowing the installer to potentially solve the problem (by sending a reboot command, for example) without ever leaving the shop. It saves on service calls, service fees, and aggravation on everyone’s part.
URC knows how to make a splash with remote control technology, and the new MXW-920 is the splashiest remote control on the market. It’s an IR/RF one-way “wand-style” remote control with a monochrome LCD that’s water-resistant (with a rating of JIS Class 4, IP-class 54 – whatever those mean). It’s PC programmable, uses the same programming as URC’s MX-900 and KP-900, and is probably the slickest, most advanced water-resistant remote control on the market. It has an MSRP of $449.95 (plus programming) and is great for use outdoors, by the pool/tub, or by your side on the couch during really good horror movies that might cause you to pee in your pants.
After coming out with a relatively pedestrian and otherwise less-than-beautiful RadioRA 2 seeTemp wireless thermostat, Lutron has now partnered with Honeywell to offer the slightly more high-tech, slightly easier to manually program TouchPRO wireless thermostat with the same rock-solid Clear Connect RF technology used in the amazingly retrofit-friendly RadioRA 2 lighting control system.
It ain’t cheap, but it sure is easy (and fast). VidaBox gives you a way to archive and browse your Blu-ray and DVD movies, store and play music CDs, record and watch favorite TV shows, create animated slide shows, plus stream Netflix and other internet video content from one of a couple of media servers directly to your TV or via a extenders on other TVs in your house. If you’re worried about running out of storage space, VidaBox offers an expandable RAID6 storage device that – in a single unit – can hold u- to 10, 890 DVDs or 2,640 Blu-rays. In addition to the massive storage capabilities, one of the most impressive aspects of the VidaBox system was the speed of its GUIs and searches.
Media centers start at around $3,300. Clients start at around $2,000. (That ginormous storage server runs $15,000.)
It’s exciting to think about using an iPad2 mounted in the wall instead of a (usually) expensive dedicated touch panel for a variety of home automation/control systems. At least, it’s exciting until you see how much most in-wall iPad2 mounting systems cost. Although primarily known for making media servers, VidaBox showed a new iPad2 on-wall frame/mounting system that’ll have your iPad2 hanging pretty as a picture in minimal time for only – get this - $99. VidaBox offers the frames in seven different colors and finishes, or the frames can be painted to match your wall. Optional chargers (starting at $30) are available for providing continuous power at up to 15 – 25 feet or a steady trickle charge over longer distances, and all that’s required is a single Cat 5 cable from the charger to the frame. (No j-box is required, either.)
Somfy makes a blinding array of motors and automatic control solutions for window coverings, and the company’s new TaHomA total home automation system aims to take over the rest of the house – not just the shades. In addition to providing comfort and sweet, sweet convenience, TaHomA is designed to manage what Somfy calls the home’s “Energy Triangle” (consisting of shades, lights, and thermostats) to ensure that the home is running as efficiently as possible. The current iteration of the TaHomA user interface has been nicely improved since the first prototype version I saw at CES in January of this year, and it makes both usage and programming control very easy the homeowner via the PC, iPad, iPod touch, or other handheld device. Motion sensors, remote controls, in-wall switches, and wireless thermostats are all available parts of the system to extend its reach. Participating suppliers include Cooper Wiring Devices and Leviton. Currently the system is not capable of a great deal of AV system control, but stay tuned – this looks like it could be the beginning of something especially nice in the world of home automation.
Adam Audio is a virtual unknown in the home theater world, but their monitors grace a good many recording studios across the land. The company came to CEDIA with their new GTC (Grand Theatre Components) speaker line, which features an unusual modular construction. Look closely at the picture and you'll see that the driver pods are modular and on their own screw-down plates. This allows the mid/tweeter cluster to be reoriented for L/R or center channel duties, insuring that the proprietary Heil-style ART (Accelerating Ribbon Technology) planar tweeter is always optimal for the application. The design also allows the plate to be physically moved from the top of the speaker to the center location for center channel use. Likewise, in situations where the speakers are mounted into a faux wall (as they are here) or behind wall fabric, the mid/tweeter can be repositioned to better ensure ear-level placement. The three models are all ported cabinet designs but only the top two, the GTC77 and GTC88 (just a bigger versioin of the 77) feature the modular construction. All three cabinets average about a foot deep. The GTC77, with an X-ART tweeter, 4-inch midwoofer and two 7-inch subwoofers is expected to start shipping soon at around $1,500 to $2,000 retail.
NAD was at the show with a slew of new products, among them a revamped 4-model AV receiver line: the T 748 (100 watts x 7, $900), T 757 (120w x 7, $1,600), T 777 (140w x 7, $3,000), and the flagship T 787 (shown here, 200w x 7, $4,000). The big news for enthusiasts is that NAD's future-proof MDC design has moved down in the line and now begins with T 757, the lowest price yet for an MDC receiver. MDC stands for Modular Design Construction and allows the unit's input/output circuitry to be user-updated as needed over time to swap in new HDMI versions or introduce new flexibility. Portions of the receiver's jack-pack are on slide-in/screw down modules that can be changed from the rear panel. Home Theater's review of the T 757 is coming soon.
Monitor Audio and NAD both showed high-end, high-performance iPod docks at the show that take straight aim at B&W's successful $600 Zeppelin iPod dock. NAD's VISO 1 is a $700 model that has PSB's renown speaker designer Paul Barton behind it and plays music from a mounted iPod or via a lossless Blutooth connection. Meanwhile, Monitor's Technical Director Dean Hartley is the brains behind that brand's new two-model i-deck series.The i-deck 100 ($499) is the more compact unit with a pair of the company's 3-inch C-CAM bass drivers and two 3/4-in C-CAM Gold metal dome tweeters. The iDeck 200 ($599) is the flagship, with a pair each of 4-inch woofers and 1-inch tweeters. Both offer a clever automatic EQ system in which a built-in microphone picks up three bass tones sent out when you first power the unit up, allowing it to detect its proximity to room boundaries and adjust the bass accordingly. Given the engineering talent behind the Monitor and NAD docks, it's no surprise that both sounded pretty good for an iPod dock, even on a crowded show floor.
Sanus showed off a revision of its value-priced ready-to-assemble Basics Series furniture line with an attractive new feature: tool-less construction. Really, not even a screwdriver. The screws and screw cams/posts of yesteryear have been replaced with a combination of internally hinged parts (such as drawers) that are already partially constructed and simply fold out to their final shape, and easy-to-use lever cams that pull the final pieces together and hold strong. The new designs both speed and simplify construction—something to celebrate if you've ever pieced one of these together the old way.
Manufacturers of control systems and many other products have embraced the iPad in a big way, building apps that turn these small flatpanel computers into easy-to-use, high powered touchscreen controllers. But the iPad's (or iPhone's) strength as a do-it-all device is also a weakness if you're going to use it as a remote control. The reality is that these multipurpose machines can be quite inconvenient if at the moment you need to switch an input on your receiver or press the Pause button for your disc player your tablet isn't woken up, unlocked, and running the correct page of the control app in its open window. And that assumes the device hasn't walked away altogether with another family member who needs it for web browsing or a round of Fruit Ninja. RTI's solution, believe it or not, is a second inexpensive remote to keep around as a backup. The new SURFiR ($149, shown next to the iPad) is an option for anyone using one of RTI's controllers and the company's RTIPanel app for Apple iDevices. Unlike the company's usual remotes, the SURFiR requires no programming, and system commands you execute with it automatically update the RTIPanel display—the two track each other. Apps are great, but if you're busy looking at email and just want to make a quick volume adjustment, the SURFiR companion remote is intended to provide quick, easy, tactile control at low cost.