CEDIA Expo 2014---It's a Wrap

The big Blue Bear, the “mascot” for the Denver Convention Center, is sad. Another cycle of CEDIA Expos in Denver has ended; next year we head to Big D, A double L AS (that spells Dallas, my, oh yes).

But this latest two-year run in in Denver ended with a bang. It was one of the most exciting CEDIA Expos in recent memory, thanks to the big story: Dolby Atmos is coming soon to a home theater near you. Maybe not yours, but you might find it hard to resist. Exhibitors at the show certainly did, with twelve demos, including Dolby’s own. I made it to seven, and if I ever see the opening scene from Star Trek: Into Darkness again it will be to soon. In fact, the demonstrations were hamstrung by having only a single Atmos demo disc, though it did have some excellent material. I enjoyed the short Dolby Atmos trailers more than the movie clips. That’s probably because Atmos, to me, is most effective when rendering quiet, atmospheric effects rather than the blow-em-up stuff.

Of the demos I did catch, the JBL Synthesis was the most mind-blowing by far. But with its 17-foot wide screen, 2K Christie digital projector, Dolby Pro Atmos decoder, and 39 (!) JBL speakers including eight subwoofers and three JBL M2s across the front and JBL SCS 8s for the ceiling and surround channels, it was more of a mini pro theater than a home theater. It could play very loud, but with the exception of a demo of Formula One cars buzzing around the track at full bore, the loudness didn’t cut through my head in the way that many systems do that try to produce this kind of high impact sound. At $200,000 this system won’t find its way into many homes, but I have no doubt that a lucky installer will have the chance to duplicate it in at least one lucky home theater fan’s home.

Of the Atmos demos closer to what most of us might aspire to, and noting again that I missed at least five, the best was easily in the GoldenEar room. It was a setup that might well satisfy an audiophile planning to use the same system for both music and movies. An Oppo Blu-ray player fed an Integra Dolby Atmos-ready pre-pro. The speakers were all GoldenEar, of course, featuring Triton Ones ($5,000/pair) at the front left and right and four discrete GoldenEar Invisa StereoPoint speakers in the ceiling. The only truly pricey parts of the system were three Pass Labs monoblock amps driving the front speakers

Due to time issues I did regrettably did miss a couple of major demos, including Steinway Lyngdorf. The latter’s pricey new pre-pro (I didn’t catch the price, but if you have to ask…) will decode not only Dolby Atmos but also Auro-3D. The latter is another immersive sound system developed in Belgium, which was also demonstrated at the show, though not nearly as broadly as Atmos. It’s competing with Dolby in theatrical immersive audio (though Dolby appears to have a significantly broader distribution), and plans to do the same in the home theater business. Auro-3D differs in that uses a channel-based approach rather than Dolby’s object-based. (To learn more about object-based immersive audio, check out our articles on Atmos on this site, and on dolby.com. For details on Auro-3D, visit auro-3D.com.)

The show was also rife with in-wall and on-wall speakers, along with booth after booth of home automation detritus. None of these subjects are my beat, but among the new home theater audio gear that I encountered, apart from a flood of Dolby-Atmos enabled AVRs, the most exciting was the new Classe Sigma-series pre-pro and 5- and 2-channel class D amps. The latter (Amp5 and Amp2) offer a compact 200W channel into 8 ohms. The Sigma SSP surround-sound processor, however, appeared to be a scaled down version of Classe’s $9,000 SSP pre-pro, with very different styling but most of the latter’s features. Even at $5,000 it could be a hot ticket. The only downsides are that it’s only HDMI 1.4 and is not yet Dolby Atmos ready. In fact, its current hardware will not accommodate Atmos. But the hardware might be upgradeable later without boat-anchoring the whole device; its design is modular. Even then, however, the real-estate on the relatively compact rear panel might not be able to handle an elaborate Atmos setup, though 7.2.4 systems (seven main channels, 4 height channels, 2 subs) should be do-able and will likely be the most complex system most users can accommodate.

CEDIA Expo is, of course, also a video show, and in that regard is much more projector-centric than CES. The latter will always have more video displays, but most of them will be flat screen HDTVs and Ultra HDTVs. At this show, LG had the most introductions in the flat screen category, with its large, often curved, LED/LCD Ultra HD designs. These included a monstrous, 105-inch, 2.35:1 curved model with full backlit local dimming. Yours for only $125,000. Most exciting, however, were the new 4K OLED models, though at $10,000 for the 65-inch model and $25,000 for the 77-incher, they aren’t for the light of wallet either.

Among the relatively affordable video projectors launched at the show, the new reflective LCD models from Epson, the Pro Cinema LS10000 (about $80,000) and the LS9600e ($TBD) made the biggest splash. The big news on these projectors is that they use laser illumination—no lamps to replace. The LS10000 is specified at 1500 lumens of peak brightness. While it will accept a 4K input, it is not a true 4K projector but rather uses processing akin to what JVC uses to squeeze a bit more out of a 2K source, or display a 4K source, though with less than true 4K resolution on the latter. The LS9800 omits this 4K feature. Both also have a very fast, multi-position, lens memory feature. I had some reservations about the LS1000’s color balance and sharpness, but that could easily have been the unfamiliar source material. We look forward to getting a production sample for review.

It was a bit surprising that JVC had no new projectors to show, but when your existing products are arguably among the best it’s easy to make a case why you’re standing pat. At least for now. I suspect we won’t have to wait a year until the next CEDIA to see what JVC has up its sleeve for its next generation of projectors. We have no inside information on that, but it isn’t hard to hope that this might include one or more true 4K models.

We hope someone does step forward to apply a little downward price pressure on the market’s current 4K projectors. So far, the cheapest 4K consumer projector available in the U.S. is Sony’s VPL-VW600ES. Sony recently showed a cheaper VPL-VW300ES at IFA (IFA is the European CES, but open to the general public). But they have no current plans to bring it to our market so it was nowhere to be seen at CEDIA. It does omit some useful features, including the dynamic iris and lens memories. Sony’s biggest news at the show was that they’re opening up their 4K media server so it will be usable with 4K displays from other manufacturers for downloading 4K movies from Sony’s entertainment network.

More than a few projectors impressed me at the show, but two stood out among the even remotely affordable. The SDC-6 from Wolf Cinema isn’t new, but at $6,000 it presented a bright and pleasing picture on 112-inch, 0.85 gain screen. And SIM2 Multimedia, celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, showed the Nero 20th. This compact, $14,000 single chip DLP features LED illumination and produced plenty bright picture on a 15-foot wide, Vutec 2.35:1 screen. I thought it looked slightly soft (from the reliably crisp Samsara Blu-ray), but that was likely due to the very large screen.

etrochez's picture

The Epson projector is $8000.