HE 2003—Day Two

The Westin–St. Francis has begun to fill with audiophiles and home theater fans eager to experience the best gear on the planet. They won't be disappointed.

Two of the most compelling displays are just beyond the lobby on the main floor. Sony Electronics has spared no expense in setting up three adjacent demo spaces—one for SACD (see our report on Stereophile.com); one showcasing the company's huge array of flat panel televisions (LCD and plasma); and a third for Sony's video projection technology.

The projection demo takes visitors through an introduction to projectors with a current entry-level product,the $1800 VPL-HS2, then an immediate step up to a better one, a versatile and very good looking $2995 VPL-HS10 that someone in the crowd said has long been back ordered. These projectors are mere preparation for what lies behind the black curtain—a prototype "SXRD" projector that experts here are describing as "the best video on the planet."

Hyperbole? Perhaps, but the SXRD (silicon crystal reflective device, Sony's twist on LCoS, liquid crystal on silicon) projector casts an incredibly bright and amazingly detailed image on a 15' diagonal screen. Images seem to pop off the screen. "Better than real" might be another apt description.

SGHT Editor Tom Norton declined to give the SXRD a full endorsement, expressing some misgivings about the projector's rendering of reds. Blacks, however, are no problem — how does a 2000:1 contrast ratio sound, home theater fans? That's what Sony claims the prototype is doing here. It's capable of 3000:1, according to a company rep. Intense prodding failed to make him cough up either delivery date or price, but he did allude to a street date "sometime this fall." Don't expect affordable SXRD technology anytime soon.

Atlantic Technologies and Outlaw Audio are packing them in for demonstrations of the model 8200 speaker system driven by Outlaw's budget electronics. Atlantic Tech speakers are designed with "real world" acoustics in mind. The company's "CORE" (custom optimized room enhanced) technology provides plenty of options for fine-tuning speakers to any room in which they are installed. Adjustments include a three-position high-frequency switch, one to compensate for boundary effects, and another for "THX/Normal" or "Behind Screen" positioning.

The system on display here includes a "dummy" center channel beneath the screen. The operating center channel speaker is behind the screen, a new type from French company Screen Research. Said to be acoustically transparent but optically reflective, the prototype here is made of a tightly woven elastic fabric, the result of significant research into materials that wouldn't create "mirages" with DLP projectors. A two-meter "Permascreen" (part of the company's "Audio Screen" line) will sell for approximately $2000 when it becomes available later this summer, according to representative Yves Trelohon. The screen in use here looks very good with an image cast by a DWIN TV3 high definition DLP projector.

Outlaw Audio is not only producing awesome sound at HE 2003, but also offering incredible deals for lucky attendees. On day one of the show, Outlaw dropped the price of its highly regarded model 950 preamp-processor by $100, from $899 to $799. Want to power up a surround system? Outlaw is offering a show special on its M-200 monoblock amplifier: buy four at $299 each and get the fifth one free. 200W x 5 for under $1200 is a bargain in anyone's book. Company founder Peter Tribeman is proud of a prototype receiver on display, a mockup of the upcoming Outlaw RR-2150, claimed to be "the first two channel receiver with bass management." The RR-2150 will be available sometime this fall, he said. Outlaw is also giving away one of its ICBM electronic crossovers in a random drawing.

Outlaw, Atlantic Technologies, and Screen Research got very good results from a smallish boxy room by carefully treating the walls with CinePanel acoustic treatment panels from Performance Media Industries, Ltd. PMI makes both absorber and diffuser panels (in an easy-to-handle 2' x 4' size) that can work wonders in problem rooms.

British manufacturer Wilson Benesch Ltd. has some gorgeous, and lovely sounding, stuff in room 620—the Chimera Odyssey Series Reference loudspeakers. Over a quarter million British pounds were invested in driver research and development for the new products, according to company reps here. Among the more intriguing claims made is that a unifying design for the drivers results in a unified sound—ie, one with very low coloration. Not for the faint of heart or light of pocketbook, a full Odyssey Series surround system would set you back approximately $33,000, not counting subwoofer and cables.