Price: $6,003 At A Glance: Discrete center-channel drivers built into main speakers • Grilles custom-sized to match flat panel • Can also be mounted on the wall
One of the more interesting things I overheard during this year’s CEDIA Expo in Indianapolis was an offhanded comment that “the sound quality of TVs today is worse than it was with TVs 20 years ago.” Think about that for a minute. A new, George Jetson–style, 50-inch flat-panel HDTV hanging on the wall makes one of those old, 50-inch, three-CRT, rear-projection (analog) TVs look like something even Fred Flintstone would pass on. But put those two sets side by side, close your eyes, and give a good, long listen to a movie, a football game, or even the nightly news running on each one of them. Despite the 20 years of technological “improvements” between them, my highly educated (I am a professional, after all) guess is that most people will pick that hulking behemoth 50-inch console rear-projection TV as the one they’d rather have if sound quality were the only concern.
Price: $1,100 At A Glance: Built-in keyhole brackets • Triple-voice-coil side-firing surround drivers • World’s first seven-channel soundbar
Seven Channels Plus
When you hear that we can now add a seven-channel soundbar to the list of the many technological wonders in the world today, your first inclination might be to ask, “Dude, it’s a flippin’ soundbar. What’s the point?” And I might respond, “Uh, marketing?” So you can imagine that when the new Atlantic Technology FS-7.0—the world’s first seven-channel soundbar—arrived, I wasn’t terribly enthusiastic to set it up. After all, I would need to remove my current in-wall center-channel speaker, replace it with a blank panel on which to mount the new all-in-one system, and then run seven speaker wires across the floor. I don’t know whether it was the titillation that comes with undressing a new piece of gear or the surreptitious sniffing of Styrofoam packaging, but for some reason, I began to warm up to the idea of a seven-channel soundbar. After all, I’ve never known Atlantic Technology to be the kind of company that would do something simply because it would make good copy in an ad, so the thing just might sound good. If nothing else, it certainly would have plenty of cool drivers scattered all over the cabinet and lots of settings to fiddle with.
Price: $899 At A Glance: H-PAS bass enhancement technology • Multichannel DSP for two-, three-, or five-channel soundfield simulation • Switchable display for top or bottom orientation
Frank•en•bar [frang-kuhn-bahr]: noun 1) a soundbar with parts and pieces taken from traditional home theater systems—processor, switcher, amplifier, remote control, speaker drivers, etc.—which are bolted together into a single cabinet and shocked into life with one power cord. The typical Frankenbar has a dual purpose: a) to provide much-improved sound quality over that produced by the speakers built into modern televisions (such an easy task, by the way, that it could seemingly be accomplished by a couple of tin cans and a string); while at the same time b) significantly reducing the number of boxes in the system, as well as dramatically simplifying the installation process. 2) The ultimate example of an all-in-one integrated system, except for the fact that virtually every Frankenbar—or any soundbar, for that matter—usually requires a subwoofer in order to sound acceptable to the human ear. This mandatory subwoofer, by virtue of being a physical object that takes up floor space, is more often than not considered both an eyesore and may in some areas be legally acceptable grounds for divorce.
Not content to rest on their laurels (laurels can be so uncomfortable at times), Atlantic Technology has upgraded their well-regarded System 4200 THX Select home theater speaker system by adding an "e" to the model number. Well, in all honesty, Atlantic Technology has done more than simply reprint brochures with the new nomenclature. (Although it is a great, money-saving idea...) The new improvements include permanently attached finishing panels on the front- and center-channel speakers and a couple of improvements to the system's subwoofer.
Sometimes you wonder how some companies get involved in seemingly unrelated product categories. Amidst more traditional iPod/iPhone/iPad add-ons, accessory manufacturer Griffin was showing off a pair of IR-controlled helicopters that you pilot using your iOS touchscreen device. The $49.95 current model (HELO TC) will be joined soon by a $59.95 version (HELO TC Assault) that was shooting small plastic “missiles” at unsuspecting CES booth gawkers. Although a little tricky to fly at first, the helicopters were a lot of fun to fly using the included iOS app. Movement is controlled either with a virtual joystick or by tilting the iOS device. When asked how Griffin got involved selling remote-controlled helicopters, I was told the “unofficial” story: the staff all like flying them at the office.
Las Vegas was built, in large part, on the acquiring and spending of golden nuggets. Today, of course, golden nuggets (in the form of dollar bills) are handed over to the casinos in enormous quantities. There was a huge golden nugget, however, to be found in the GoldenEar suite at the Venetian - and this one didn’t get put on the closest gaming table. Sandy Gross and team have put together an absolutely unbelievable LCR soundbar that’s so flipping good, it was THE most exciting audio product I heard the entire Show. Somehow this amazing 49-inch wide soundbar sounded as if it were more like 15 feet wide; and combined with two of GoldenEar’s ForceField 3 subwoofers ($499/each), the $999 SuperCinema 3D Array was easily one of the best sounding soundbars I’ve ever heard in just about any price range, especially when it came to reproducing two-channel music - a task most soundbars fail abysmally at. Thankfully, in this case, what happens in Vegas isn’t staying in Vegas - and we’ll be getting one of the first samples for review in the next few months. Stay tuned...
Aural Acoustics is a speaker company with roots and attitude from the old days of hi-fi before anyone ever thought of pairing speakers with a TV - but the new company has a decidely modern, music-and-home-theater sensibility. They debuted their first speaker (the Model B) at the 2005 Home Electronic Show in New York City to great reviews. This year, the company used a hotel room in the Alexis Park during the 2006 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) to unveil the new Model P50. Although the low-key venue was less well attended than either of the two main convention centers, almost everyone who braved the long shuttle bus lines and made the trek to the Aural Acoustics room were extremely impressed with what they heard.
Sound control company Auralex brought examples of the company’s HD Cinema Series of absorption panels that not only seriously improve the sound quality of your home theater room – they can seriously improve the looks of your room, too. The panels come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors; so you can mix and match panels to come up with your own unique look. Panels start at $255/each.
There are days - many of them just like today - when I muse over how nice it would be to replace nearly all of my body parts with shiny mechanical, motorized versions. (No more worn out feet or stiff backs at the end of a long day covering a convention!) If it ever does become feasible to cyborgify myself, I know just the folks I’ll have do it: Future Automation. One stop at their booth immediately gives you the impression that if there’s a way to make something move, slide, lower, raise, turn, or otherwise shift and hide, these guys have figured out how to get it done. You won’t find their mechanisms boxed and stacked on an end cap at Best Buy or Walmart, though. Future Automation likes to do the weird, wacky, and close-to-impossible stuff. Until now, they’ve concentrated on motorizing the UK. Now they’re bringing their hidden-wire act to the US. Welcome to America, guys!
Price: $1,995 At A Glance: Upload and download content from Internet services •
Excellent user interface • Designed to integrate with a variety of home-automation systems
There are some days when you’re just not sure it’s a good idea to get out of bed in the morning. Enjoy a few days like that, and you’ve made a week that’s rotten enough to justify drowning your sorrows in a pool of bourbon and absinthe. Now put a couple of those disastrous weeks on your calendar, and you’ll lay off the bourbon and go straight for the absinthe.