Few home automation things – especially in a home theater – can match motorized shades for sheer (or blackout) sex appeal. Whether the shades are coming down in preparation for a movie, or going up after the movie is over, it’s difficult to avoid being mesmerized by the seemingly magical movement of the shade material. But motorized shades have traditionally had two major drawbacks: cost and installation issues (which add to the cost). Lutron’s new wireless motorized cellular shades give the treatment to expensive, difficult-to-install window treatments. The new shades are exciting for several reasons: They’re motorized! They’re affordable! They’re cordless! And I can install them myself! (Yes, I’m drooling over shades…)
The new Martin Logan Montis ($10,000/pair) was producing compelling music in one of the shows isolated (sort of) sound rooms, ably assisted by a pair of humongous McIntosh amps (for newbies, that's a "tosh" without the "a" and without the iPod).
But for me, projectors were the main attractions in the Mitsubishi booth. The currently available HC9000D LCOS design (2D and 3D, $6000) looked fabulous in 2D (it was not being demonstrated in 3D when I was there). I was surprised, in fact, at how bright it looked on its 143-inch diagonal, 16:9, Stewart Studiotek 130 screen (gain 1.3).
Mitsubishi has been busy this year. First was its 92", DLP rear projection set shown at last January's CES. Now they've also re-launched their Laserview RPTVthe $6000, 75", 16" deep, L75A94. I don't think the latter was being shown to best advantage, located as seen in the photo (the set against the wall on the left is the 92" DLP, the Laserview is further to the right, in the upper center of the shot), but it will be interesting to see if MItsubish can make more of a go of it than the first time it was launched several years ago.
The relaunched MK Sound has introduced something it never had before: a true tower loudspeaker. Previous ones were actually just stand-mounts on tower-shaped pedestals. The THX-certified F-950 ($2200/pair) has two 5.25-inch woofers with dual magnets for extra oomph plus a soft dome tweeter in a box to protect it from its own back wave. Also shown were three new THX-certified subs (8, 10, 12 inches) using MK's famous push/pull technology.
Monitor Audio's SF3 in-wall ($399/each) uses a dyed sublimation process -- not Freudian as far as we can tell -- to allow reproduction of any high-res image on the grille, so it hardly looks like a speaker. Monitor also showed a couple of biamped idecks and new trimless in-walls with rounded corners reminiscent of Apple products.
Monster Cable brought along its test gear to demonstrate that HDMI cables can differ. This is a hard sell for many users, considering the high prices some of these products command over others, but a clean "eye" pattern, visible on the display screen, indicates a cable with optimum video performance.
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.
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.
Also in the SpectraCal booth was an LCD TV using quantum-dot technology from a company called Nanosys. A liquid with suspended nanoparticles is sprayed on a film that is added to an LCD TV, and blue LEDs stimulate the particles to glow red and green. Combined with the blue light from the LEDs, this forms full-color images. The image on the prototype display wasn't the best I've ever seen, but it's a new technology that could well improve in the future.
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.
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.
The NHT Absolute Wall is the latest outgrowth of the popular Absolute series. It's four inches deep -- more than many on-walls, but that also gives it a deeper voicing. NHT suggests using this speaker to drive surround, height, or width channels in concert with other Absolute models. Price $199/each, shipping November.