New Gear: Bang & Olufsen Play Line Debut

When Bang & Olufsen unvelied the Beolit 12 portable speaker at this year's CES, company VP Henrik Lorensen described it as the first entry in a new brand, aimed at courting a different kind of B&O customer - somebody younger, hipper, and probably unfamiliar with the B&O brand to begin with. Turns out, reports Lorenson, that the company has achieved its goals, with some 70 percent of Beolit buyers being first-time B&O purchasers. Play, it seems, has wings, and while B&Os definition of a casual consumer is a bit more upscale than, say, that of a mass-market CE manufacturer (I'm thinking they have in mind a 30-something exec at an interactive agency, with a healthy options package, an active social life, and a SoHo loft - and maybe one in Soho too), they're devoting serious attention to developing a new breed of B&O customer.

Today, Lorenson introduced a fuller Play lineup, including a TV, a uniquely styled iPad dock, a revamped iOS tabletop dock, and new colors for the Beolit.  

TV Time: The BeoPlay V1

The flagship product is the Beoplay V1, an edge-lit LED LCD TV, with minimalist styling, available in 32-inch ($3,249) and 40-inch ($3,999) sizes. The lovely powdercoated case accepts any of four modular stainless steel fittings - a wall mount, a floor stand (both available later this month) and a steampunky pulley-adjustable ceiling mount and table stand, dates TBA.

Beyond that, it's a fairly traditional set, with Ethernet and Wi-Fi connectivity but without its own suite of streaming services or a tuner (there's a slot around back in the wire-management bay that'll accept an Apple TV or other small streamer). It's also a DLNA media player, and with 5 HDMI inputs, a single modular analog in (choose your own adapter for a multipin jack) and 5.1 outputs, it can easily function as the centerpiece of a multimedia setup ("home theater" to you).

On the audio side, there's a 5.1 decoder onboard, using B&O's True Image tech to automatically down or upmix content to match the available speaker configuration. Out of the box, it's a 2.1 set, no psychoacoustics at work. Three ICEPower modules (at 32 watts per channel) drive left, right, and center/sub channels. 

The onscreen interface is clean and welll laid-out, and the set ships with B&Os Beo 4 programmable universal remote; the system lets you assign names and remote shortcuts to the various HDMI inputs, and assign modes and settings to those inputs. Playback from network sources via DLNA was smooth and seamless. Browsing, overall, is almost Apple-like, as befits the overall look of the product. Image quality is solid, and the onboard ICEPower amplification provided robust, if somewhat localized reproduction of demo audio material, such as Kenny Rankin's take on "Round Midnight."

Obviously the V1 isn't a value proposition. The accent here is certainly on style, convenience, and other ineffables - you can definitely get comparable overall performance for a lot less. 

Tablet Transformation: BeoPlay A3

Also rolled out today was the BeoPlay A3 ($549), a unique, wedge-shaped battery-powered iPad (yes, iPad only) speaker dock - B&O calls it a "speakerframe" - that adds some audio oomph to your tablet in the form of a sub/woofer and three (yes, three) tweeters. Only two of the tweeters are active at any given moment; using B&O's own "adaptive stereo orientation" tech and an onboard accelerometer, the device automatically switches drivers as you move it from portrait to landscape orientation, and even swaps left and right channels if you turn it over.

Not only will the wedge shape have you thinking that you're Captain Kirk signing orders on a PADD; the beveled shape rests comfortably in your lap, on your desk, and in a variety of orientations. Lorensen told us that the battery should last at least 5 hours in continuous use, with 8 to 10 hours likely; the A3 will charge a docked iPad when plugged in.

Rubber gaskets hold your tablet securely in place; the docking connector is mounted on a sliding tab that fixes the iPad securely in place. Two gaskets (which you can leave attached to your tablet) ship with the unit, for the iPad 1 and 2; a New iPad-specific version is on the way though the current iPad 2 gasket does fit the New as well. While it's easy enough to remove your gasketed iPad from the A3, the gasket itself isn't smartcover compatible, however, and B&O is really targeting this to a user who'll devote an iPad to the A3 (it was suggested during the demo that a retired iPad 1 or 2 would make a nice dedicated media device for those who've upgraded to a New iPad for everyday use). 

The A3 sounds quite good; though it isn't a room-filler it definitely provides enough volume and clarity for nearfield use, and in the suggested applications (gaming, Skype, meetings, turning your tablet into a small kitchen or kids' "TV") it certainly shines. The automatic stereo switching is definitely evident in use, though the stereo image is narrow as you might expect from such a small unit, it's nice that you get a sense of space appropriate for your viewing orientation. It's an interesting product that we'd like to play around with a bit more.

Dock Revamped: BeoPlay A8

There's also a more traditional dock in the Play line: the old BeoSound 8 iOS dock has been rolled into the new family, and given a new lease on life with a modular dock connector and a dose of AirPlay. It's a pricey proposition at $1,149, but it still has some serious low-end kick for its small size and minimal depth, and it remains one of the most dramatic looking iOS accessories out there.