Best In Show

All the biggest news about the latest trends and products used to come out of the Consumer Electronics Show - no more. Intimate compared with the vastness of CES, the CEDIA (Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association) Expo gives companies a chance to push some products into the spotlight that might get lost in CES's Vegas glare. Here's a roundup of some show standouts. (For more on the CEDIA Expo, see "The Custom Installer,".)

0601_bestshow_p1_200Surprise, surprise - the iPod was the belle of this year's CEDIA ball, with nearly every manufacturer touting some new way to leverage it. Among the cooler options were Denon's S-101 ($999) and S-301 minisystems ($1,599), which feature an onscreen interface so slick, it's like you and the 'Pod never parted. And Dolby's Virtual Speaker processor delivers convincing surround sound from each system's pair of speakers and subwoofer.

Yamaha added some new tricks to its already terrific MusicCAST system. For the MCX-2000 ($2,200), the company doubled the number of supported clients to 16, doubled the hard-drive capacity to 160 GB, and added an FM tuner and the ability to stream Internet radio. Not enough? This baby is also ready to play XM satellite radio - just get a subscription and add the $50 Connect & Play home antenna.

Monster Cable's new Media Director MCC DIR2000 ($6,995, available March; shown above) means that you can now Monster-ize virtually your entire system. This top-shelf, seven-channel THX preamp/processor features Dolby Digital Plus and DTS HD processing, HDMI switching, a sexy 7-inch LCD screen, and a built-in wireless music bridge to stream Internet radio and MP3 files from networked computers. - John Sciacca

CEDIA was a coming-out party for LCoS in more ways than one. Going forward, DLP is going to have serious competition in the rear-projection TV arena. Along with its SXRD front projector, Sony showcased its new 50- and 60-inch SXRD rear-projection models (check out the review of the $4,000 KDS-R50XBR1). And there were plenty more LCoS-driven RPTVs in the house. JVC displayed a new line of 1080p HD-ILA models: the 70-inch HD-70FH96 ($6,000), 61-inch HD-61FH96 ($4,500), and 56-inch HD-56FH96 ($4,000). Both the Sony and JVC HDTVs use an adjustable iris system to enhance black levels and flesh out shadow detail - areas where LCoS sets previously came up short. And LG stepped into the fray big time by unveiling its 71-inch 71SA1D (shown below), a 1080p LCoS that outsizes the competition by a full screen inch. According to LG, the 71SA1D was scheduled to ship in late 2005, but there's been no word yet on price. - Al Griffin

CEDIA's show floor is packed with companies like Crestron, AMX, and Vantage delivering amazing home-automation control. But these systems are often priced in tens of thousands of dollars, placing them beyond the reach of most of us. Enter Control 4, a company that hasn't reinvented the automation wheel but has found a way to make it affordable for just about everyone. Control 4 made its debut at 2004's CEDIA Expo, but this year it's ready for prime time. It uses a variety of interfaces to control your home theater and multiroom entertainment system as well as your house's temperature, lighting, and security. Amazingly, the system is both inexpensive and easy to use! (Look for a full review in the February/March issue.). - John Sciacca

Speakers designed to complement sexy flat-panel TVs were everywhere again at this year's CEDIA. Polk offered an interesting variation on the theme with its SurroundBar ($950). The 43-inch-wide cabinet features multiple drivers and SDA Surround processing to reproduce all five main channels and create encompassing surround sound.

Not to be out styled, B&W launched its XT series (shown at left). The XT4 tower ($2,500 a pair), XTC center speaker ($800), and XT2 surround ($1,000 a pair) all feature satin aluminum exteriors and a sleek profile, creating a striking, modern design. Fortunately, B&W's hallmark Nautilus tweeter, woven-Kevlar drivers, and sweet sound haven't changed. Watch for a review.

All was not quiet on the subwoofer front. Definitive Technology unleashed its latest SuperCube, the Trinity Signature ($2,995). This bass beast uses six 14-inch drivers and a 2,000-watt amp in a 33/4-inch-high cabinet to deliver a gut-punching 128 dB at 20 Hz and 116 dB at 16 Hz!

JL Audio is bringing its mobile-audio excellence home with the visually arresting Gotham sub ($7,500). Weighing in at 305 pounds and standing nearly 3 feet tall, the Gotham packs an amp capable of delivering short-term blasts of 3,800 watts for thunderous deep bass - well below 20 Hz, if you're counting.

If a large black cube doesn't meet your big-bass needs, check out Sunfire's ContraBass in-wall sub ($2,995). Its "anti-shake technology" is said to counteract the massive forces generated by its two 10-inch drivers, reducing sounds caused by cabinet vibrations by over 10 dB. This allows the sub to generate powerful bass without buzzing or rattling - or cracking your walls. - John Sciacca