Home Entertainment in Review Page 2

Talk About a Format War
As it has been for a couple of years now, high-resolution, multichannel audio was a hot topic of conversation, seminars, and demos at this year's show. People's primary concerns still seem to lie on the software side, although most acknowledged that there was considerably more software available (and present at this show) than at this time last year. The better-known audiophile labels like Chesky and Telarc continue to crank out blues, jazz, and classical titles, often in both SACD and DVD-Audio versions. The hundreds of SACDs that lined the walls of one of the main show corridors was an illustrative statement about the format's progress. Bob Ludwig also confirmed at the SACD seminar that, by the time you read this, many of the Rolling Stones albums will be available on SACD. On the DVD-Audio side, Warner and 5.1 Entertainment are both bolstering the available selections monthly, including some wider-appeal selections from the likes of Bob Marley and the Grateful Dead. Another bullish sign for high-resolution fans was the number of small, relatively unknown record labels and distributors that had SACD and DVD-Audio titles available. This is further evidence that these formats are starting to permeate the record industry.

Since so many new products and formats have debuted in the past few years, things were expectedly quieter on the hardware side this year, just as they were at CES 2002 and CEDIA 2001. In the continuing quest to get digital output of high-resolution, multichannel material, we're making progress. Denon has followed Meridian's lead by offering a player that does just that. Like the Meridian system, the Denon system relies on proprietary encryption and requires that you use their preamplification/processing with the player. In addition to releasing a more-affordable combination SACD/DVD-Audio/Video player, the DV-45A, Pioneer is working on a high-resolution, multichannel digital output system.

The DVD-Audio seminar was surely one of the more interesting to have taken place in the last couple of years. The fireworks began with a verbal sparring match between John Kellogg of Dolby (a major DVD-Audio proponent) and David Kawakami of Sony over how much equipment is actually available on the recording/mixing side for DSD and SACD. As the intensity level in the room picked up, the audience began to pepper representatives from Warner and 5.1 Entertainment about digital output, encryption, and title availability. The back-and-forth here (and similar questions at the SACD seminar) confirmed two important facts: The end users are still frustrated with availability and the wide-ranging effects of copy-protection issues, and record companies are still very paranoid about piracy and are unwilling to commit to an open standard for digital output. But, as they say, Rome wasn't built in a day. —Chris Lewis

A Walk in the Park
Ah, New York in June. The sights. The smells. There's nothing quite like New York in the late spring and summer. Some people would call the malodorous piles of garbage on the sidewalk dirty; New Yorkers call it character. Within sight of the only large patch of green in the city (Central Park), the Home Entertainment 2002 show exploded into the Hilton between 6th and 54th Streets.

The first thing that caught my eye was an inexpensive projector from Faroudja. Inexpensive compared with—say—a house. At around $45,000, this D-ILA projector comes with an anamorphic lens and either Faroudja's Native Rate Scaler or their Digital Cinema Source, a DVD player that's available separately for around $10,000. The DCS is also a full-on scaler with DVI outputs and a whole host of cool Faroudja technologies. You do get what you pay for, as the projector's image quality and brightness were quite good on a Stewart FireHawk screen without appearing washed out. The anamorphic lens utilizes the 4:3 chip's full resolution.

Sony showed off a few products from the newest incarnation of their HTIB line. Last year's model came in second in our May 2002 Face Off, mostly due to its rather weak amplifier. Sony has remedied this in their new line, which has far more power across the board. They also showed off a $300 progressive-scan DVD/SACD player. Look for my review before the end of the year.

Also fun was our Ask the Editors panel, where we drew an almost-full house of true HT fans to ask the illustrious editors questions for the ages. Mostly, the questions related to the future of HD and HD connections, as well as different issues pertaining to high-resolution audio. It was great to see so many people trying their hardest to acquire these high-resolution video and audio formats.

We Angelenos were also treated to something else that we don't usually see. One night, it rained for a bit. Imagine our surprise when this waterlike substance started falling from between the skyscrapers. Shocking! Thanks, New York, for a great time and a great show. Perhaps I'll see you next year. —Geoffrey Morrison

Eye-Candy Galore
With everything that there was to see at this year's show—from vinyl records to line-quadrupled digital video—choosing a favorite product or exhibit is about as daunting a process as the one Paula, Simon, and Randy faced on American Idol. While none of the manufacturers gave me 'tude or sang off-key, Samsung ultimately drew me into their suite with their offer of free candy—and the promise of more free candy. (Fortunately, no pictures exist of the impromptu Milk Dud-eating contest by the male staff of Home Theater. Congratulations to winner Geoffrey Morrison, by the way.)

While there, I was once again impressed by the advances in quality that Samsung has made while still keeping their prices realistic. One of two hot tickets I saw was the SIR-TS160 all-in-one HD satellite receiver ($699), their first to combine high-definition and DirecTV in a single box. It may also be the first with DVI output and high-bandwidth digital content protection. I think even Mike Wood approved. The second hot ticket looked much better in person than on paper—namely, Samsung's 50-inch DLP projection DTV, the HLM507W. I saw an earlier version at CES back in January, and here again the HLM507W struck me not just with its screen size in contrast to its manageable footprint and weight but also with its brightness and clarity. The TV will incorporate a DVI input and Texas Instruments' next-generation chip, and Samsung is planning to sell this thing for $5,000 or less. Right on.

As the incessant partying washed away memories of this year's show, I began to assemble a wish list for future expos. Wish number one: Even more home theater demos! Drop in a television, a center channel, and some surrounds, and the individual rooms throughout the hotel could easily become windows into DVD heaven. Heck, drag in a tricked-out PC, and we could even check out a few new convergence rigs.

Personally, I'd also like to see the show hit the road to a more-exotic locale. As much as I enjoy traveling in crowded trains and subways to New York City from my suburban home amid the late spring heat, a daily commute to the show by cable car in San Francisco or gondola in Venice would be a lot more agreeable. Who's with me?—Chris Chiarella