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 was showing the color advantages of their LCD sets using LED backlighting.
This side-by-side clearly showed more realistic colors, especially reds and greens, though the non-LED set had slightly better blacks. In a technology statement off to the side, Hitachi confidently stated that they expect to achieve infinity contrast (meaning a set that can truly go down to absolute black) by the proper application of LED backlight modulation. Looking to the future (maybe next year), Hitachi also showed a new method of smoothing out film judder and a technology to greatly enhance the resolution of lower resolution upscaled images without noticeable artifacts.
Here’s an interesting demo showing the difference between 8-bit and 10-bit color (that's 10 bits per primary or 30 bits total). One of the Sony LCD sets was modified to operate at 10-bit while the other was stock. The whole point of the demo was to show the improvements possible with HDMI 1.3, which is required for 10-bit color to be delivered to the display. I expected and saw a much smoother grayscale without visible transitions, especially at the dark end and a complete elimination of false contouring. I didn’t expect the not so subtle difference in color. Though I was told the color space of set number 2 wasn’t altered and saturation was identical, each color appeared deeper and richer. 10-bit allows a far greater color depth and it shows. While a number of display technologies run at 10 bits or higher, there has never been a way to deliver that from the source, plus the source material (even HD-DVD and Blu-Ray and current video games) aren't 10 bit yet. The HDMI group is hoping that manufacturers will take advantage of 1.3's greatly increased capability and improve their sources accordingly.
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!