Another big trend at the 2009 CES is ultra thin LCDs and plasmas. But that was a trend last year, too, and few of the sets have yet reached the market. Interestingly, the 9mmn plasma that Pioneer showed last year was a no-show this year. Are consumers willing to pay a premium for extra skinny displays? Are they unhappy with their current 4" thick flat panel. The jury is still out
Another big theme this year is enhanced contrast, for which we have SED, Pioneer Kuro, LED backlighting with local dimming, and Home Theater mag to thank (OK, we're blowing our own horn here a little bit for continuing to make a big deal out of better blacks). Clearly, LG believers it is Mega-ready.
The media server category is growing. Sooloos distinguishes itself by concentrating on its touchscreen interface. You can import iTunes or Windows Media Player libraries, though ripping through Sooloos will allow true gapless playback by encoding each CD as a single long file. The basic configuration holds 2500 CDs though a test version has done up to 100,000. Touchscreen is fanless, therefore totally silent, and suitable for your listening room. Rendering and storage components are separate and can be kept in a closet. You can search with multiple criteria -- jazz, or jazz with Thelonious Monk, or jazz with Thelonious Monk recorded in the 1950s. There's Rhapsody support. Meridian made a wise move by getting involved with these people (and vice versa).
For those days when your significant other tells you to turn the volume down, Audio-Technica has a new set of headphones that will make your home theater experience a much more private one. Its latest bunch of headphones are easy on the ears and eyes, and they come in both in-ear and on-ear varieties.
The A-shaped Avalon Aspect boasts 92dB efficiency, which should make it compatible with home theater use as long as you're willing to buy five of them -- no complementary center or other models yet. For $8500/pair you get two 7-inch kevlar woofers and a one-inch proprietary neodymium composite tweeter. The latter gets a waveguide-like treatment thanks to a foam structure built into grille. You won't see it unless you pop the grille and look at the underside, as Avalon showed us.
Built (that's the company's name) apparently makes interesting accessories, such as a unique backpack for a laptop. But that wasn't my main interest here. Take a look at the odd-looking "wall" that was used to set off Built's exhibit. It consists of an accordian-like construct of stiff brown paper, and when stretched out becomes free-standing with an outside edge that resembles thin vertical ribs with gaps in between. I immediately thought "acoustic room treatment." Just a thought, of course, and it might not work at all, but it's perhaps an interesting idea for a cheap (perhaps--I don't know the price of the product) diffusor. The product itself is made by a Canadian company called Molo, the paper is fire-retardant, and it apparently comes in a variety of colors.
We thought the tiny sat CDT showed at last year's CES sounded great, and after a year of further tweaking, it's shipping as the Sonapod. In a 5.1 set with any of various subwoofers, it might sell for anywhere from $900-2000. CDT also showed a small triangular sat that was like nothing else we've ever seen. Possible review material.
The Panorama is a $2200 bar speaker from Bowers & Wilkins, one of the world's coolest speaker manufacturers. Available in March, it has distinctive curves at the sides which distinguish it from other bar speakers. Behind the metal grille are two 3.5-inch drivers in the middle, handling the center channel; two 4-inch subs that go down to 40Hz, and at the sides, two pair of 3.5-inch full-range drivers. You'd think the latter would split the front and surrounds channels, but no, each driver mixes the two with some DSP magic. Unlike a lot of bar speakers, this one has three digital inputs (both coax and optical) and two analog ins, and onboard decoding for Dolby Digital, DTS, and Dolby Pro Logic II (but not the new lossless stuff).
It’s not easy to admire a sleek flat panel on your wall when you have to look at a large, cumbersome mount behind it. Look no further than Premier Mount’s WTFM3765 ($230), a super-thin mount that will hold a flat panel on the wall with hardly any space between. Dubbed the “World’s Thinnest Flat-Panel Mount” for a reason, this mount places your flat panel less than a half inch from the wall.