Flat-panel HDTVs have undergone rapid changes in technology and pricing. There are now two types of 3D systems for you to decide between, screen sizes have continued to inch up, prices have come down, and the battle between LCD and plasma for image-quality supremacy has heated up, with the latest generation of top-line LED models challenging plasma’s long-held position at the top of the enthusiast heap.
A lot of consumer electronics editors and reviewers have a love-hate relationship with product ratings. The love side comes from knowing they make readers happy. Assuming the ratings structure is well thought out (that is, simple and easy to understand) and the ratings are applied with fairness and accuracy, they wrap the whole product up in a nice little ball and tell you, at a quick glance, whether it's a winner, loser, or in-betweener. Perhaps most important, a good rating, or a good rating coupled with a seal of approval like our Top Picks designation, is validation that the product is worthy of the money you plan to spend on it. Given the sea of black boxes, identically thin TVs, and similar speaker systems out there, we recognize that giving you this validation is really the essence of our job at Home Theater.
I’ve given a lot of thought lately to our Top Picks list and what it should take for a product to achieve Top Picks status. This is no small matter. Most of us on the edit staff have counted on magazines just like this one to help direct our purchases, so we take the responsibility seriously. Home Theater’s list of best products needs to reflect the highest standards we can apply—and to be presented in a fashion that’s intuitive and useful.
Price: $600 At A Glance: Excellent tonality • Good imaging • Cumbersome WiFi setup
I've never been a big fan of paying for brand names for their own sake. Build quality? Yes. Performance? Absolutely. Aesthetics? Sure. Ease of use? Certainly. Each of those has value, and it often makes sense to pay more, even a lot more, for any one of them. But sometimes, in the course of shopping for whatever, you encounter an entry from a well-respected or even elite brand that at first glance seems so outlandishly priced you have stop and wonder: what am I really paying for here?
Suffice to say that was me when Bowers & Wilkins first suggested I take a little ride with the Zeppelin Air, the company's $600 iPod dock...
Polk Audio has introduced its first-ever headphones, and they hope you'll take 'em on the road, or to the gym, the court, or anywhere else you play, practice, or get fit.
The company's four new UltraFit Performance headphones, which range in price from $50 to $100, were designed from the ground up to provide high quality sonics in a highly durable and sports-friendly package that resists falling from the ear or falling apart when worn for rigorous activities. Three in-ear models include the UltraFit 500 ($49.95), the UltraFit 1000 ($69.95), and the UltraFit 3000 (pictured, $99.95). A fourth over-the-air model, the UltraFit 2000 (also pictured, $69.95), features an airframe design with a behind-the-neck reflective wraparound headband.
Adam Audio is a virtual unknown in the home theater world, but their monitors grace a good many recording studios across the land. The company came to CEDIA with their new GTC (Grand Theatre Components) speaker line, which features an unusual modular construction. Look closely at the picture and you'll see that the driver pods are modular and on their own screw-down plates. This allows the mid/tweeter cluster to be reoriented for L/R or center channel duties, insuring that the proprietary Heil-style ART (Accelerating Ribbon Technology) planar tweeter is always optimal for the application. The design also allows the plate to be physically moved from the top of the speaker to the center location for center channel use. Likewise, in situations where the speakers are mounted into a faux wall (as they are here) or behind wall fabric, the mid/tweeter can be repositioned to better ensure ear-level placement. The three models are all ported cabinet designs but only the top two, the GTC77 and GTC88 (just a bigger versioin of the 77) feature the modular construction. All three cabinets average about a foot deep. The GTC77, with an X-ART tweeter, 4-inch midwoofer and two 7-inch subwoofers is expected to start shipping soon at around $1,500 to $2,000 retail.
NAD was at the show with a slew of new products, among them a revamped 4-model AV receiver line: the T 748 (100 watts x 7, $900), T 757 (120w x 7, $1,600), T 777 (140w x 7, $3,000), and the flagship T 787 (shown here, 200w x 7, $4,000). The big news for enthusiasts is that NAD's future-proof MDC design has moved down in the line and now begins with T 757, the lowest price yet for an MDC receiver. MDC stands for Modular Design Construction and allows the unit's input/output circuitry to be user-updated as needed over time to swap in new HDMI versions or introduce new flexibility. Portions of the receiver's jack-pack are on slide-in/screw down modules that can be changed from the rear panel. Home Theater's review of the T 757 is coming soon.
Monitor Audio and NAD both showed high-end, high-performance iPod docks at the show that take straight aim at B&W's successful $600 Zeppelin iPod dock. NAD's VISO 1 is a $700 model that has PSB's renown speaker designer Paul Barton behind it and plays music from a mounted iPod or via a lossless Blutooth connection. Meanwhile, Monitor's Technical Director Dean Hartley is the brains behind that brand's new two-model i-deck series.The i-deck 100 ($499) is the more compact unit with a pair of the company's 3-inch C-CAM bass drivers and two 3/4-in C-CAM Gold metal dome tweeters. The iDeck 200 ($599) is the flagship, with a pair each of 4-inch woofers and 1-inch tweeters. Both offer a clever automatic EQ system in which a built-in microphone picks up three bass tones sent out when you first power the unit up, allowing it to detect its proximity to room boundaries and adjust the bass accordingly. Given the engineering talent behind the Monitor and NAD docks, it's no surprise that both sounded pretty good for an iPod dock, even on a crowded show floor.
Sanus showed off a revision of its value-priced ready-to-assemble Basics Series furniture line with an attractive new feature: tool-less construction. Really, not even a screwdriver. The screws and screw cams/posts of yesteryear have been replaced with a combination of internally hinged parts (such as drawers) that are already partially constructed and simply fold out to their final shape, and easy-to-use lever cams that pull the final pieces together and hold strong. The new designs both speed and simplify construction—something to celebrate if you've ever pieced one of these together the old way.
Manufacturers of control systems and many other products have embraced the iPad in a big way, building apps that turn these small flatpanel computers into easy-to-use, high powered touchscreen controllers. But the iPad's (or iPhone's) strength as a do-it-all device is also a weakness if you're going to use it as a remote control. The reality is that these multipurpose machines can be quite inconvenient if at the moment you need to switch an input on your receiver or press the Pause button for your disc player your tablet isn't woken up, unlocked, and running the correct page of the control app in its open window. And that assumes the device hasn't walked away altogether with another family member who needs it for web browsing or a round of Fruit Ninja. RTI's solution, believe it or not, is a second inexpensive remote to keep around as a backup. The new SURFiR ($149, shown next to the iPad) is an option for anyone using one of RTI's controllers and the company's RTIPanel app for Apple iDevices. Unlike the company's usual remotes, the SURFiR requires no programming, and system commands you execute with it automatically update the RTIPanel display—the two track each other. Apps are great, but if you're busy looking at email and just want to make a quick volume adjustment, the SURFiR companion remote is intended to provide quick, easy, tactile control at low cost.