The Thiel room was a full home theater setup using their new CS 3.7 speakers with Sim2’s C3X DLP projector and a 110”-wide screen. The three chip C3X is quite a good 720p projector when it comes to filling large screens and the newest model, the HT3000, is a 1080p single chip DLP at about the same price. Though the picture was good, it was the sound that blew me away. Never have I heard Thiel speakers sound like this. Then came the shocker: They turned off the active shielding on the Synergistic Research Tesla Series cables (interconnects, speaker cables, and power cords) and much of the magic just disappeared. Either these cords sound real bad with the power off or real good with it on or maybe both, because the difference was far from subtle and was easily the most impressive cable demo I’ve ever heard. These newest cables, much smaller than before, are expensive but not out of reach and certainly deserve investigation for any high-end home theater sound system.
Toshiba is clearly promoting its Regza LCD sets above other technologies as there were only two DLP sets shown. The new Regza line has some impressive innovations which could push Toshiba to the LCD forefront. Even the 720p sets have a dynamic backlight to improve contrast ratio by a factor of 5 and advanced 14-bit video processing (instead of 8). All 1080p models have a wider color space but the Cinema Series sets (available up to 57”) also have XVycc technology for enhanced color space conforming to the new IEC standard plus a 120 hz refresh rate. Most models are coming by April but the Cinema Series will be delayed until June/July.
Sony showed this giant 82” LCD prototype, which featured LED backlighting and XVycc color space, but you can actually buy a 70” model (for $33,000) with similar technology. A special SXRD rear-projection prototype was powered by a laser rather than a light bulb and was only 10” deep. While there were many claimed advantages of using a laser as a light source, I found something just a bit wrong-looking about the picture on the SXRD prototype. The current SXRDs looked great as did the LCD sets.
Sharp was showing a side-by-side comparison of last year’s 1080p LCD sets vs the new models. One comparison showed the advantage of 120 hz refresh rate vs standard 60 hz with 120 having a very obvious advantage in maintaining focus during movement. The second comparison showed the far darker blacks of the new sets, which have 3000:1 contrast ratio enhanced to 15,000:1 by the dynamic backlight. Many sizes are offered (most available now) to directly compete with plasma including a 65” model (coming early summer). The premium D92 series also features a 5-wavelength backlight for improved color. The step-down D82 series has slightly less contrast and a 4-wavelength backlight. A mega-contrast (and mega-expensive) 37” model was also shown boasting a million to one contrast ratio.
Surround from standard stereo headphones? You bet, and virtually indistinguishable from your speakers. Smyth Research has been conducting stunning demos at shows for a few years now and finally the technology has been licensed by Yamaha. This system tracks head movement so the virtual soundstage remains stationary even when you move your head, and the personalization feature allows you to measure your speakers using microphones placed in your ears then perfectly duplicate them with the headphones. I can’t begin to tell you how convincing all this is. I’m just glad that it’s now commercially available. The little silver boxes you see are the Yamaha implementation.
Samsung had an impressive showing of newly developed LCD technology beside the old. Their LED backlit model boasted a 100,000:1 contrast ratio and a new, clearer panel for enhanced contrast and color clarity. One comparison showed how the LED backlit set, even working at 60 hz, was able to show motion as clear as a conventional set running at 120 hz. While Sharp seems to have the advantage in LCD right now, that may all change in the third quarter of this year when these new Samsung models arrive.
Hitachi’s latest entry into the plasma wars is a mid-priced 50 inch model with 1280 x 1080i resolution and a retail price of only $2499. Though this set doesn’t have the full 1080p resolution of 2 million pixels, it does have 30% more than the 768 sets it competes with pricewise. The new cosmetics (thin black bezel, speakers at the bottom) look great. Their 42 and 55 inch models remain and there is a new and impressive 60 inch model.
Luke Rawls of Meridian was showing their new MVP6080 processor in this side-by-side comparison. The MVP6080 works as a scaler but also has some truly advanced motion compensation. The result is a complete elimination of the judder inherent in film based source material. Some of the slow pans taken from movies looked so jerky on the unprocessed side compared to the totally smooth look of the processed side that I wondered how I was ever able to ignore it so well before. The MVP6080 inputs HDMI 480i and 1080i and outputs at the display device’s native resolution but at 48 hz (compatible with most projectors) or 72 hz (compatible with only a few products—CRT projectors and Pioneer plasmas in particular). Perfectly smooth motion is possible because it calculates and makes new frames to fill the gaps as 24 fps (film) is converted to 72. The product is available in April at a cost of $27,000. And you thought Faroudja’s used to be expensive!
Texas Instruments is promoting their DLP technology with a prototype rear-projection set having a claimed 100,000:1 contrast ratio. While no such product is yet available from any of their licensed manufacturers, just proof that it can be done with DLP should be enough to make Sony and JVC very nervous. The RPTV shown was only 12 inches deep and was clearly able to go right on down to coal black. Imagine a state-of-the-art 3-chip front projector with that capability. It’s coming.
Optoma had an impressive demo using their new HD81 1080p DLP projector fitted with an anamorphic lens and beautifully filling a huge 171 inch (diagonal) 1.3 gain Stewart screen. The HD81 is based on the TI Dark Chip 3, boasts a 10,000:1 contrast ratio, and an impressive 1400 Lumen light output. The accompanying processor is the HD-3000, which features Gennum VXP technology and a host of high-end features. The projector and processor sell for $6000. The special lens (not required) adds $4000 more.