A small building just outside the LVCC evoked memories of Ralph Kramden in his chef hat, as were were treated to a glimpse of The House of the Future. The man of the house is the Life|media LMS-754, a home media server running Microsoft Windows Vista, available in different configurations that include DVD, Blu-ray, CableCARD, and various processors, either in a rack-mountable form factor or as a set-top box. The Life|ware 2.0 software enables elaborate control of the home entertainment experience, while taking it a step further with a new level of home automation, executing user-defined commands called Life|scenes, in collaboration with everything from Lutron lighting to next-generation smart beds. A 16:9 touch screen displays data and allows access from any room in the house.
Okay, by "the end of wires" I'm not referring to the terminations, silly, rather the conclusion of the wired era. Audiovox is showing off an assortment of wireless loudspeakers, a wireless suboofer (with a nifty, decor-friendly faux chest to conceal it!), and even a kit that will turn ANY pair of speakers wireless. Noise levels in the Main Hall were such that I cannot comment on sound quality, but listen up, cables: You've been given notice!
Ah, the splendor of the high-end table radio. SoundWorks i765 is a fab-sounding 2.1-channel system with built-in DVD/CD player plus a radio with improved AM and FM tuners over all previous models. It also now docks, charges, and provides video pass-through for all of the latest iPods, which allegedly is a very complicated affair.
Far from the madding convention center, Dolby provided A-B comparisons of their new Dolby Contrast technology, part of their HDR ("High Dynamic Range") tech family. The interesting part is that it is a video technology, for adjusting the range of dark to light in the LED backlighting of LCD TVs. By precisely dimming the right area of the screen at the right time, contrast can be heightened as never before, for a very film-like effect. (As the exciting screen image suggests, Blu-ray and DVD playback will both benefit.)
Nestled among Ion's various USB turntable offerings was this different spin on analog-to-digital conversion: The TAPE 2 PC copies old audiocassettes to MP3s, and even grabs track names off the internet via Gracenote MusicID. So all of you erstwhile Walkman enthusiasts (and we are legion) can now transport your library into the 21st century without breaking the bank on hundreds of Duran Duran and Rick Springfield downloads.
At the Dolby booth, this prototype of the first-ever audio/video receiver with the new Dolby Volume technology was on display outside their mini-theater. Onkyo, with a tradition of early integration of new audio technologies, won the honor of debuting the new process which organically rejiggers the loud and quiet parts of a soundtrack within a scene, such as hard-to-hear dialogue amid background sound effects, as well as equalizing the levels between two different programs when we change channels or go to commercial, with very enjoyable results in all of the demo I've heard in the past year. Clearly this is something that consumers have been demanding, one of those seemingly simple problems that's a bear to solve (otherwise everyone would do it!)
The newest iPod dock from Creative actually upscales the video quality to 720p or 1080i, and it holds up remarkably well on the big screen. The Creative Xdock HD is a $399 bundle which includes a receiver to accept streaming audio in a second room of the house, and it can support up to three additional receivers, sold separately.
This summer, look for Belkin’s FlyWire system to wirelessly connect HDMI source components to your HDMI-enabled TV. (Other, lesser connectivity standards are supported as well.) The two-box bundle is prematched, so installation and configuration of the sending and receiving units shouldn’t cause unbearable grief, and the results that they showed at their booth were flawless, even amid God-knows-how-many competing wireless demos in the South Hall. No firm price has been set yet, but expect to fork over between five and six hundred clams.
Analog video capture as we know it is fading away, as almost everything under the sun already exists in digital format, at least on our PCs. But what if we could go straight from the composite or S-video output of a source (VHS, camcorder, maybe even DVD…?) and push a digital version of that video via USB onto, say, a portable player such as a video iPod or a PlayStation Portable? Mere days from now, Pinnacle Systems will begin selling the Pinnacle Video Transfer device which does precisely that, an all-in-one solution for one-touch analog-to-digital recording WITHOUT A PC. Clear red and blue lights indicate ready and recording status, and we can also toggle between good, better, and best Mode (quality/file size) settings. Encode takes place in real time and the digital videos can be watched immediately, and later renamed as desired. AC power is required, but the Pinnacle Video Transfer will also charge your iPod while it works.
High-end gaming PC overlords Alienware showed off an ENORMOUS curved LCD screen here in Las Vegas, tentatively named... Alienware Curved Display. It's even more impressive in person, wider than any consumer-available screen I've ever seen, with a curve that does a better job filling the user's field of vision for a more immersive experience.