What time-shifting was to the VCR generation, place-shifting is becoming to the home-network-enabled. Extending personal entertainment to every room in your home is the mission of SkipJam, a company whose main product is the iMedia Center, a box you can attach to multiple A/V components including your cable or satellite receiver, home theater receiver, DVD player, and TV.
When we last visited director Barry Sonnenfeld (February/March 2004), he was a man without a home theater. Having sold his house in Amagansett, New York, and not yet ready to move to Telluride, Colorado, he had to watch DVDs in the screening room at his East Hampton, New York, offices.
The second day of the DisplaySearch HDTV Conference 2005, held on August 24 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, began with a session on the current state—and future—of the HDTV market. The presentations from DisplaySearch, Samsung, and Panasonic were heavy on statistics. I won't report them in eye-glazing detail here, but a few will inevitably be scattered throughout this report.
I hate it when members of my family blame me when anything goes wrong with our home theater system. As if I'm some sort of geeky gear guy, they heap abuse upon me if the DVD player hiccups because of the greasy, fingerprint-smeared disc they carelessly slid in it. No sound from the satellite receiver? No picture on the TV? The remote control isn't working? They call me. (And why does it always seem to inconveniently happen when I'm resting regally on my porcelain throne?)
In a nasty world, Sonos makes wholehouse music distribution friendly.
Not to sound cynical, but, at this stage of the distributed audio game, "me too" products don't cut it anymore. What we want is something new, something different, something better. Luckily for Sonos, that's what their Digital Music System delivers. Much of the allure in these gray and silver boxes lies in the freedom they promise. It's not just a question of wired or wireless—although wireless is an option here, sort of, and it's mighty desirable. This system is also independent from the computer, so that you can connect it to a PC, a Mac, or even Linux—or directly to a network storage drive for even greater flexibility.
At about the same time the Spice Girls hit number three on the Billboard charts with "Say You'll Be There" in 1997, Energy Speaker Systems was striking gold of their own with a set of tiny home theater speakers called Take 5.
The 42-inch display size has become a battleground of sorts between liquid crystal displays (LCDs) and plasma displays. Ironically, the older technology, LCD, is the relative newcomer here. Prices on both sides have dropped quickly. You can now buy an HDTV (qualified by both resolution and the integration of a tuner) for just a little more than the price of an EDTV just over a year ago. LG Electronics is one of the only companies with their feet on both sides of this issue (the other biggie being their across-the-Han rival, Samsung). LG also makes an LCD in a 42-inch size, which is rather rare. Most are either smaller or slightly larger. There are lots of questions and misinformation about these technologies, so hopefully we can clear a lot of that up. This isn't a true head-to-head Face Off; let me tell you why.
My curiosity was naturally piqued a few years ago when I heard that Parasound was going upscale with their look. This was a company that had become virtually synonymous with performance plus value, facilitated somewhat by forgoing aesthetic flair, and I wondered where the decision to go uptown with the finish in the Halo line would lead. The first good sign was the Halos' higher price tags. It costs a lot more to make boxes look that good, and this told me that they weren't taking resources away from performance to do so. What ultimately satisfied my curiosity, though, was how good the Halo models sounded. Yet, there are still those who want Parasound performance, have less to spend, and don't mind—or maybe even appreciate—Parasound's rugged, utilitarian old style. The New Classic line is exactly what they're looking for.
You may recall that I've usually tried to dip into the historical well when introducing the many international audio systems that we've reviewed lately. This at least spares you from yet another opening paragraph of worn-out exaggerations about paradigm shifts and in-your-face phrases like "in your face." I'm somewhat stumped here, though. The Japanese and English seem to have avoided pairing up, or squaring off (directly, at least), in any high-profile military conflicts. There have really been no economic or cultural wars between them. I can't even find a case where they've faced off in a major sporting event. But one place they have gotten together often is in the listening room—and I suppose that is what we're here for, after all.