It's a Wrap

The gear has been packed back up and the rooms cleared. The demo material has been tossed into suitcases, destined to end up in an obscure corner of each exhibitor's factory, the place where overplayed and now unloved recordings go to die. And copious notes have been made on what worked and what needs to be improved.

Home Entertainment 2006 in Los Angeles was a great show. New products were introduced or given sneak previews, and established products could be seen and heard by many enthusiasts for the first time.

Sony wowed showgoers not only with a big-screen demo of Blu-ray, but with some exciting new video displays due this summer in both SXRD and flat-panel LCD flavors. Wilson Audio Specialties launched their new Watt/Puppy System 8 loudspeaker, at a budget-busting $28,000/pair.

At the opposite end of the price spectrum, Aperion Audio showed a new 600-series center channel speaker at under $500, and Hsu Research showed a diminutive two-way speaker that, at $125 each, drew a lot of favorable reactions.

The seminars also were well attended, and, we trust, provided useful information. Meeting readers and fielding your questions is one of the things we enjoy most about these annual shows. It energizes us and keeps the creative juices flowing to know that you are as enthusiastic about audio and video as we are. But it also confirms that there will always be a lot of questions out there, questions that we try to answer throughout the year in our reviews and other contributions here at UAV, not just at our annual shows.

If there was one disappointment, it was the relative shortage of serious home theater demonstrations. Outlaw Audio clearly had the best and most well-attended home theater setup, with their own electronics driving 7.1-channels of Atlantic Technology's best speakers and four (count 'em, four) Outlaw subwoofers. Outlaw's (and Atlantic's) Peter Tribeman likes to find a demo piece that tells a five-minute mini story, has great sound and good video, and comes from an obscure, little seen film. You'll never see the 800th playing of the Diva Scene from The Fifth Element in an Outlaw demo. At last year's show the Outlaw clip of choice was the sandstorm from the recent remake of Flight of the Phoenix. This year it was the sequence from The Core that has a Space Shuttle landing in LA—where else? It was a terrific demo, though Phoenix last year left me more exhausted!

Aperion Audio set up their home theater demo to feature that new, larger center channel speaker. They used a big HP rear projection set for the display. They also had the only HD DVD player at the show, and ran a good demo with both music (including multichannel) and HD DVD. Unfortunately, their HD DVD material seemed limited to Phantom of the Opera. It was a good choice, but clearly they were constrained from using a wider variety of selections by the limited available software and, perhaps more important, the long loading time required to change discs on the Toshiba HD DVD player.

Sony's ambitious Blu-ray demo used five Wilson Watt Puppies (an older version, not the Series 8 that Wilson introduced at the show) and Sony's VPL-VW100 SXRD "Ruby" projector. Much of the demo material consisted of short, fast-moving clips that emphasized excitement but did make it difficult for viewers to appreciate the format's resolution. The one long excerpt was from Chicken Little. While it looked great apart from some banding in the sky that may well have been a flaw in the transfer, computer animation nearly always looks terrific. A split screen image comparing a clip in both standard and high definition, however, was impressive.

HP showed a new rear projection DLP set that uses LEDs for a light source instead of the conventional projection lamp. It's expected in stores my mid-summer. In theory, at least, this should provide better color, eliminate concerns about pricey lamp replacements every 2000 hours (the LEDs should outlast a CRT set's picture tube), and put an end to color wheel rainbow artifacts.

While it wasn't home theater, Lipinski Sound was set up for multichannel audio playback. Their speakers so impressed Fred Manteghian that he asked to review them in a home theater setup. Look for his report in the fall.

Beyond that, HE2006 was primarily a high-end, 2-channel show. But it was still possible to look for, and hear, good speakers in that environment. And many manufacturers who chose to do 2-channel setups also offer center channel speakers, additional models suitable for surrounds, and, sometimes, subwoofers. I spent a lot of time scouting out potential future speaker reviews, and Lipinski won't be the only speaker manufacturer seen at the show that you'll be reading more about in UAV in the fall.

And not to forget the surround sound demo from Kimber-Kable with B&W 800D speakers servicing Ray Kimber's spectacular IsoMike recordings. Kimber did a terrific job in a very difficult room, including an overhead bass trap that can only be described as the world's first starburst of hotel blankets!

For on-the-scene impressions from the show, check out our HE2006 blog if you haven't already seen it.

We'll also be looking as ways to increase the presence of home theater demonstrations at future shows, including next year. The venue for that show is still being decided, but we'll let you know as soon as it's settled. It's never too early to start making plans!