AT A GLANCE Plus
Superb color and contrast with room lights out
Lights-on viewing can be more satisfying than with
a conventional screen
Don’t expect miracles: Lights-out viewing still offers a superior picture
No screen can provide a projector’s best performance in normal room lighting, but the Screen Innovations Slate takes aim at this goal and, though not scoring a bull’s-eye, comes closer than most.
The surest route to realizing a knockout, big-picture home theater is to install a separate projector and screen. Once you’ve experienced it, you’ll wonder how you were ever satisfied with a “tiny” flat-screen HDTV.
Up until a few years ago, the biggest obstacle to realizing that ideal was the price of a good projector. Today, however, you can buy an excellent projector for under $3,000, and although that’s not chicken feed, it’s within the reach of many serious home theater enthusiasts. But what was once a secondary stumbling block is now front and center: the need for a fully darkened room to wring the best performance out of that projector. With most projection screens, there’s little choice, and this has kept home projection a niche market.
SIM2 Multimedia celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. In its demo, the small, LED-lit Nero 2 projector ($14,000) was putting out more than enough light on a huge, nearly 12-foot wide screen. The picture was gorgeous, if just slightly soft, likely due to to the very large screen. The projector's light output is rated at 1400 lumens, which is generous for an LED projector.
Classe introduced its new Sigma line at the show, consisting of the Sigma SSP surround sound preamp processor and two amps, the 5-channel Amp5 and the 2-channel Amp2. The latter are both compact class D designs offering 200W per channel into 8 ohms and 400W per channel into 4 ohms.
The Sigma SSP, shown in the photo (though it looks far, um, classier in real life than my middling photography might indicate. It is loaded with features, including SPDIF and 24-bit asynchronous USB digital inputs, DSP-produced parametric EQ and tone control on all channels, and all of the other modes and features of any competent pre-pro. But it has only one HDMI output, is only HDMI 1.4, and is not yet Dolby Atmos-ready. But it's modular design should make future Hardware updates possible. The Sigma SSP and Amp5 are $5000 each, and the Amp 2 is $3500. All three should be available by the end of the year.
On Friday afternoon a CEDIA panel was convened to discus the subject of immersive audio. And we all thought that immersive sound meant 5.1- or 7.1-multichannel! But with Dolby Atmos there's a new kid in town. And Dolby Atmos isn't alone.
The panel was moderated by industry tech guru Michael Heiss, and consisted of Brett Crockett of Dolby, Andrew Jones of Pioneer and TAD, Dr. Floyd Toole, a consultant with Harman Kardon, and Wilfred Van Baelen, the founder of Auro...
Sony's booth at CEDIA EXPO never approaches its presence at CES, but inside the pillars surrounding its exhibit and announcing its presence it demonstrated a stacked pair of its VPL-VW1100ES 4K projectors using material stored on its media server. I didn't think these projectors were performing at their best (and having reviewed both the VPL-VW1000 (the predecessor to the VPL-VW1100ES and essentially identical in performance if not in features) and the VPL-VW600ES I can vouch that they are competitive with the best home theater projectors you can buy). But on music a Sony ES audio system did extremely well, even if the room was far from optimum for sound.
One piece missing, however, was the new VPL-VW300ES projector Sony introduced recently at IFA (IFA is the European CES--more or less). The VPL-VW300ES is a stripped down and less expensive VPL-VW600ES, eliminating such features as the dynamic iris and lens memory. My Sony contact indicated that the company does not intend to market this projector here.
While JVC introduced no new projectors at CEDIA EXPO for the first time in years, it still produced some of the best-looking images at the show. Using a native 4K source, its top of the line DLA-X900 looked particularly striking in low lamp mode on an approximately 130-inch wide screen. For those unfamiliar with JVC's current models, its higher-end designs can accept a 4K input and process it so that can be reproduced by the projector's 2K (1920 x 1080) LCOS imaging chips. Through further processing it then simulates 4K. Though it isn't true 4K, it can look very good.
I'm guessing that in the depths of JVC's R&D facilities they're working on a way to produce an affordable true 4K home theater projector. So far no one has done this--unless you consider Sony's $16,000 VPL-VW600ES affordable (but see the story above).
By now you've likely heard of Dolby Atmos-Enabled speakers, which include an additional driver or drivers firing out of the top at an angle to bounce Atmos' height information off your ceiling if installation of ceiling speakers is impractical--as it will be for most of us. In addition to dedicated Atmos-Enabled speakers, several add-on modules were seen at CEDIA, which are designed to sit on top of your main left and right front speakers and surrounds if you want to add Atmos but don't want to replace your entire speaker system.
The 44-DA from Atlantic technology is designed for this purpose. At $500/pair, it employs a concentric driver (a coaxial woofer-tweeter). While designed to be a perfect fit atop the company's THX-4400 L/R speakers, it can be used on any speaker with a flat top surface large enough to accommodate its approximately 8.4-inch width and 9.5-inch depth.
Parasound's new ZoneMaster 1250 12-channel amplifier couldn't have arrived at a better time. Of course the name suggests a custom installation with multiple zones, but it could be used to satisfy the demands of Atmos as well, supporting a multitude of ceiling and surround speakers in a variety of configurations. Any pair of channels can also be bridged. Without bridging, the power is rated at 50W per channel into 8 ohms, all channels driven. A bridged pair of channels is rated at 120W into 8 ohms and 200W into 4 ohms. I can conceive of a user bridging three pairs for the front channels and using the other six unbridged for a 5.2.4 Atmos setup.
While the JBL Atmos demo remains the champ at the show (at least through the first two days) for shear impact, undistorted output level (in a good way), and immersion from 39 speakers, it's not likely to find its way into too many homes. The Atmos demo from GoldenEar, however, was a more conventional 5.4.4 setup with five conventional channels, 4 true ceiling speakers (no reflective Atmos here), and four subs. It was both impactful and at the same time subtle in a way that will please many audiophiles with at least some interest in home theater. Not that a lot of audiophiles wouldn't covet the JBL (I'll take the JBL for my big room when I win the lottery, and something like the GoldenEar for the smaller!), but the GoldenEar is more practical.
The GoldenEar system used an Oppo Blu-ray player, an Integra Atmos-ready pre-pro, three Pass Labs monoblock amps for the front channels, six other amp channels for the two surrounds and two ceiling speakers (I didn't catch the make for the latter, but it was far more modest and less pricey than the Pass amps). The speakers were the GoldenEar Ones left and right, a SuperCenter XL, GoldenEar Twos for the surrounds, and four Invisa HTR 7000s for the ceiling channels. The four subs were the powered subs built into the GoldenEar Ones and Twos. The levels chosen were loud enough, but sensible, and the experienced convinced me, at least in these fledgling days of Atmos (I remain open minded on this), that true ceiling speakers just might produce the best Atmos results.