HE2005 Day 2: Tom Norton

I was born in New York and moved to Connecticut when I was 5, but I visited the city often over the next 20 years. The visits have slowed since I've lived far from the northeast US, so every time I come back, the milling throng of multicultural humanity crowding the sidewalks continues to surprise and amaze me. And on April 28, they all decided to crowd into the Hilton Hotel.

Okay, not all of them, but enough to make the exhibit areas of the hotel resemble Times Square. Nevertheless, getting around the floors (and up and down the Byzantine elevator system) is half the fun—much like navigating Broadway at midtown on a Saturday night.

I was a little disappointed by the number of rooms offering serious home theater setups (as contrasted to simply video per se), but there was still a lot to see and hear. Joseph Audio has won many "Best Sound" awards at previous Home Entertainment shows, and while we no longer conduct a vote on the show's "Best," Joseph always has something new and exciting to offer. As in past years, they weren't doing video, but they were set up for multichannel audio—specifically, the Mercury and RCA three-channel recordings recently released on SACD. For the center channel, Joseph introduced the new Pearl Center. Priced at $11,000, it's designed to be used either with their top-of-the-line Pearls (about $20,000/pair), or the three-driver RM55LE ($12,500/pair)—the latter was used for the exhibit, partnered with Manley amplifiers and a McCormack universal disc player. It looks exactly like the Pearl's woofer cabinet turned on its side, with the mid/high frequency satellite system perched on top.

Paradigm always puts on one of the best home theater demos at shows, and this year was no exception. With a full complement of Signature series speakers and the P5 amp and D1 pre-pro, together with a Sharp DLP projector, they delivered a balanced program starting with music, followed by a music video and, finally, a film clip. My only quibble was with the presenter who was determined to tell us in advance just how great it would all be. It was, but it's always harder to live up to raised expectations.

A second visit to the Samsung room revealed that their new 1080p DLP RPTVs are scheduled for release in June. The company's big 67-inch model was on display not only in Samsung's own room but in the Texas Instruments room as well (the latter was open only to the press). TI was producing a better picture with the set. Samsung was driving it to make the brightest possible picture and, in the process, was clipping the whites and blurring detail in the brightest areas of the picture—a problem I also saw at the Mitsubishi line show a couple of weeks back.

In my visit to the TI press room, company representatives confirmed that their new 1080p chip for home display applications (and the new 720p chip as well) does indeed use the pixel-shift technology I reported on in my Day 1 report. TI calls it Smooth Picture (though UAV tech editor Scott Wilkinson discovered that this technology was actually developed by Hewlett Packard, who calls it Wobbulation, and TI licenses it from them). Judging from the Samsung display TI was showing, I saw no downside to this. The jury is still out on any possible long-term-viewing disadvantages, as well as how well this technology will scale up to a large projection screen.

Naim Audio was another company that had multichannel music, but no video. Their system consisted of speakers from their new n-Series: four n-SATs ($1600/pair) at the corners, an N-CENT ($1150) in the—you guessed it—center, and an n-SUB ($3000). The prices shown are for black lacquer, with cherry and maple slightly less expensive. The n-Series is perhaps a bit pricey (aided, I suspect, by the current weakness of the US dollar), but it was producing a lean, sweet, well-balanced, and relaxing sound.

Aperion Audio makes a full line of budget speakers, including a number of new models. By the end of May, they will launch a new line of slightly higher-end (but still very affordable) designs. The 633-T Towers list for $998/pair. The new 533-S4, three-way Vertical Array Center Channel ($280) stacks its midrange and tweeter on top of one another to minimize driver interference in the horizontal plane—a rarity at this price point. These speakers are available as a package, together with the new 632s (for surrounds) and S-10 subwoofer, for $2375. A quick listen was inconclusive (someone was listening to acid rock when I passed through the room), but I plan another visit later in the show if time allows.

By mid June, Algolith should be shipping its new Dragonfly video processor (about $3500) using HQV deinterlacing/scaling technology from Silicon Optix. The Dragonfly has a number of interesting capabilities (including eWarp, which lets you place your projector just about anywhere in the room), but its signature feature is the Realta HQV chip. HQV is based on Teranex's pixel-level video processing, rendered down from the multiple chips in their large, Tiffany-priced processors to a single highly integrated chip that's affordable enough to built into mid-priced televisions, projectors, and DVD players. The Dragonfly will be the first stand-alone video processor to include the chip, and it will accept sources at a variety of input resolutions and then output the most widely used modes: 480i/p, 576i/p, 720p, 1080i, and (from its HDMI output) 1080p/60. Silicon Optix, who acquired Teranex and now markets the chip, demonstrated its capabilities using a bare circuit board as well as the new HQV-equipped Denon DVD-5910 DVD player with a JVC HD2K 1920x1080 projector. It was, in a word, spectacular, and helped to produce the best image seen so far at the show.

Since most TVs and projectors today operate at a native rate of 720p (slightly different in the case of some flat panels), a 1080i high-definition source must be converted to 720p for display. Silicon Optix claimed that most TV manufacturers do this by using just one 540-line field from each 1080i frame, scaling it up to 720p, because this requires much less processing horsepower than deinterlacing 1080i to 1080p and then scaling to 720p. I reported this technique first in my review of the InFocus ScreenPlay 777. (So far I have not seen it mentioned in any other publication.) This essentially limit's the resolution of such a source to 540p, which, technically, is not high definition. On the other hand, the Realta HQV is said to first convert a 1080i source to 1080p, then downconvert that to 720p.

Up to now, Belkin has been known largely for its computer cables and accessories. But the company is now jumping into consumer electronics in a big way with its AV cables, power conditioners, UPS battery-backup devices, analog audio interconnects (including the Silver Series with its silver-plated conductors), speaker cables, digital cables, and video cables, including HDMI and DVI. Their newest product is RazorVision, available in component, DVI, and HDMI form. This product offers in-line adjustments that are said to enhance a system's contrast and detail. I'm always a little skeptical of claims for magic cables, but I'll reserve judgment until I can test the product. The DVI and HDMI versions will be available soon at $249 for the 8-foot version and $299 for the 16-footer.—Thomas J. Norton