The Custom Installer: CEDIA Showstoppers

People often ask me, "How do you keep up with all the new technologies? The market changes so fast." One of the best ways to stay current is to attend trade shows where the latest gear is on display and you can actually talk with the folks who designed it.

My favorite show is the CEDIA (Custom Electronics Design & Installation Association) Expo, which features products geared toward custom installation. The Expo takes the coolest ingredients from the Consumer Electronics Shows, simmers them over low heat to steam away nonessentials like car audio, cellphones, batteries, and appliances, and tosses in tons of brand-new technologies for spice, creating a mélange that's irresistible to the techno-geek in us all. The Expo is like Mecca for custom installers, and this year's pilgrimage attracted nearly 25,000 pros from around the world.

The custom-installer side of me loves the Expo because it offers a chance to find products that can help with upcoming projects - like a motorized, room-dividing drapery system from Electric Shade capable of making angled turns and extending more than 20 feet. And there's also the opportunity to network with other professionals to find solutions to install challenges. The S&V writer side of me loves the Expo for the chance to schmooze with manufacturers, probing them for off-the-record comments on what they think the future holds for their companies - and the open bars and goodie bags at the press events ain't bad either.

Audio Developments One trend I noticed was how fast new technologies are being adopted and brought to market at entry-level prices. People are now blasé about 5.1-channel surround sound since most A/V receivers offer at least 6.1 channels, and a majority now offer 7.1 channels. Another technology that's been fast-tracked is Dolby Pro Logic IIx, which was introduced at last year's Expo and is now in most receivers.

But there are still some developments at the "high end" that will make you want to call in for a credit-line increase. Both Denon and ADA are giving more than lip service to the idea of multiroom A/V receivers. Denon's new flagship AVR-5805 ($6,000) is literally two receivers in one with 170 watts for each of ten channels - among other amp configurations, it can drive two 5.1-channel systems simultaneously! And it offers discrete line-level outputs for up to four more zones plus DVI (Digital Visual Interface) and HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) switching. ADA's HTR-2400 ($9,999 to $11,999) can drive a 7.1-channnel system with100 watts all around while at the same time powering 16 additional stereo channels in eight zones with 100 watts each!,

Now that the original Star Wars Trilogy has finally come to DVD, why not enjoy it the way George Lucas does - on a THX-certified home theater speaker system? The "X" used to stand for eXpensive, but not so much now that Sonance is adding a $1,000 THX Ultra2-certified model and a $475 THX Select model to its Cinema LCR Cabinet line. Both are expected to be available in December.

Proving again that great things can come in small packages, Apple's iPod quickly became the most popular portable digital music player yet. But until now there hasn't been an elegant solution for integrating an iPod into your home audio system. Sonance's iPort is an in-wall or rack-mountable docking station that gets the music out of your iPod and sends it wherever you want. Sonance plans to have it available before the end of the year at a price to be announced.

Video Projection Systems Was it just last year that we were drooling over the new front projectors using Texas Instruments' HD2+ DLP (Digital Light Processing) chip, which offered greater contrast and adjustability? Front projectors with these chips initially fetched $10,000 and up and were on the must-have lists of well-todo home theater owners everywhere. But Sharp has now brought HD2+ performance to the masses with its $4,500 XV-Z2000. Its price should get you off the fence if you've been contemplating a front projector.