Another CES in the Can!

CES is over and by this time the huge exhibits have been dismantled and put in storage until next year. This year marks my 20th CES, and that doesn't include the summer CE Show that used to be held every June in Chicago, Ill.

Although the economy is in a slump and attendance was lower this year, that didn't stifle the development of innovative products I saw and heard in Las Vegas. Here's a show summary and a recap of the best of the best home theater products from CES 2009.

Show Attendance

Overall, the CE Show was not as busy as previous years. The show seemed busiest on Thursday and Friday, the first two days of the show. On Saturday the show was busy in the morning but floor traffic decreased noticeably after noon. Sunday, the show floor and other venues were almost vacant and some exhibitors were trying to pack up early. Preliminary attendance figures from the Consumer Electronics Association were 110,000 for CES 2009 compared to audited attendance of 141,600 at CES 2008, a significant decrease. There also appeared to be a noticeable increase in international attendance.

Press Coverage

Every press conference was packed with reporters and bloggers from many different countries. Bloggers were everywhere. There was even a 'Blogger' registration category and a Blogger Room separate from the Press Room. It made me wonder if there were as many eyes reading blogs as there were bloggers writing blogs. Time will tell.

Exhibitor Trends

More exhibitors showed their products in hotel suites and other off-site locations than in previous years. This trend seems to be growing and is partially due to the high costs of erecting large trade show displays and show staff. Several off-site suites I visited were invitation-only events.

Many of the exhibitors in the home theater electronics, speaker and multichannel category use the CEDIA show held in September to introduce new products and many of the new electronics I saw were previously introduced at CEDIA, 2008.

Product Trends

Sound Bars: Consumers shopping for sound bars are sitting in the sweet spot. Many manufacturers introduced powered sound bars and passive systems in prices ranging from $499 to over $2000. Some models used electronic methods and others used reflective surfaces to create virtual surround sound. The classiest model I saw was the B & W Panorama priced at $2200, and the most affordable model was the Polk Audio Surround Bar SDA priced at $499. This trend appears to indicate the lack of ability or reluctance of some consumers to install rear surround speakers. Another trend to address this issue is wireless speakers, covered below.

Although it's not exactly a sound bar, the Paradigm Edge is a 2.1 channel Compact Entertainment System that serves the same function. It looks like a tabletop system with a slot-loading DVD player and a built-in subwoofer enclosed in an isolated chamber. The demo sounded very good and if Paradigm can keep the price at $499, I think it will be a hit.

Wireless speakers: This category continued to evolve with new wireless home theater systems and retrofit wireless technologies. The most impressive was from Radiient Technologies. Radiient has formed a co-licensing and co-branding partnership with THX and introduced THX Roomcaster. The demonstration consisted of a home theater receiver, a DVD player and a THX Roomcaster system broadcasting a multichannel signal to five transceivers connected to five powered speakers and a powered subwoofer. Retrofit models will also be available with a rechargeable battery pack for passive speakers. The system will be available soon and THX Roomcaster is offering an "early adapter, early adopter" system special for enthusiasts who can’t wait for wireless speakers. The system will sell for $1999 and is available for pre-order. THX Roomcaster is one of the most innovative products I saw at the show.

Streaming Content: The trend towards content streaming from the Internet started with the LG BD300 network Blu-ray player introduced at CEDIA, 2008 and continued at CES with three network home theater systems from LG. The systems feature content download capability from You Tube, Cinema Now and a growing library of HD content from Netflix made possible by new hardware/content provider partnerships.

AV Receivers: Pioneer introduced four new AV receivers priced from $199 to $499, all with HDMI 1.3a connectivity. Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD decoding are included in the top three new models starting at $299. These are the most affordable receivers I've seen with these features.

AV Pre-Amp/Processors: While celebrating its 60th anniversary, McIntosh introduced the seven-channel MX-150 AV Controller with the Room Perfect Auto-EQ system and HDMI 1.3 capability. The MX-150 has an AES-EBU balanced-line input and dual balanced outputs, RS-232 control port and video scaling to 1080p resolution. The McIntosh MX-150 will sell for $12000 and will likely appeal to enthusiasts who appreciate the classic McIntosh style, cosmetics and performance.

Speaker Systems: Wisdom Audio launched its Sage Series L150i Line Source In-wall Speaker System. Each L150i incorporates a 76-inch tall planar magnetic midrange and high frequency driver combined with twelve six-inch woofers each housed in separate aluminum back-box enclosures. Wisdom's multichannel demo included their Sage L75i in-room version of the L150i speaker. Priced at $15000 each the L150i is certainly not the speaker system for the common man, but the demonstration was one of the best I heard at the show. The photo above shows the three front speakers and the video display at the Wisdom Audio suite.

Another great speaker demo was the 8300-SE Reference Speakers from the RBH Signature Series. The beautiful wood grain finish on the speakers was nearly as impressive as the demonstration in which clarity and bass depth were outstanding.

Other Trends: Green products and Recycling. Major electronics manufacturers Sony, LG and Samsung seemed to be in competition for offering the "greenest" products, those that have the least impact on the environment, particularly power consumption. For example, many television manufacturers had wattage meters attached to their new sets that displayed power consumption in real time.

The most dramatic statement came from Sony that reinforced their commitment to recycle one pound of e-waste for every pound of new product that they sell.

That's all for now. Until next CES, good listening!