Sony Gets Elevated

At a press event last week in Beverly Hills, California, Sony announced three new receivers and a Blu-ray player in the company's premium ES (Elevated Standard) line. Also new this year is a revised policy for ES sales. Unlike Sony's standard models, the ES series will be marketed exclusively through specialty retail outlets. These will include the Magnolia division of Best Buy and independent sellers. Sony feels that only such stores are fully qualified to properly demonstrate these products to consumers, allowing buyers to appreciate and take full advantage of the features they offer. Such limited distribution will also allow Sony to better enforce its minimum advertised pricing structure. The ES products will no longer be available online, nor will they be sold in Sony Style stores.

Starting at the top, the three new ES receivers include the STR-DA5600ES at $2000 (130Wpc x 7, September), STR-DA4600ES at $1500 (120Wpc x 7, August), and STR-DA3600ES at $1100 (100Wpc x 7, August). All will pass 3D signals. Among their many features are support for the Dolby and DTS high-resolution audio formats and a free app that transforms your iPhone (and, presumably, other iDevices as well, though the iPad was not mentioned) into an ES receiver remote. This iPhone remote will offer zone control, a full GUI menu, and Sony's Quick Click remote function allowing source components in the main home theater room to be controlled from the second zone. The receivers are also iPod, XM, and Sirius satellite-radio ready.

Perhaps the most interesting feature of the three receivers is Sony's Digital Cinema Auto Calibration (DCAC) with Automatic Phase Matching (APM), which corrects for phase differences between the front, center, and surround speakers. The flagship 5600ES also offers DCAC EX with speaker relocation that adjusts for the distance and angle of each speaker in relation to the listening position.

All three receivers offer HD Digital Cinema Sound, which was developed with Sony Picture Entertainment. Using a pair of high-mounted front speakers driven by two of the seven onboard amp channels, this feature is designed to replicate the sound quality and acoustics of a commercial cinema.

Additional features are designed to facilitate custom installations and multi-room applications. These include compatibility with most of the leading home-automation systems such as Control4, Crestron, AMX, Savant, URC, RTI, and others. The 5600ES and 4600ES provide two HDMI outputs that can be used to send audio and video to a second zone, and both models can also send video to another room via CAT5.

All models provide a four-port Ethernet hub for flexible interfacing with a home network, and all can retrieve digital media files from DLNA servers on the network; the 5600ES can even function as a DLNA audio server. The Ethernet connection also provides access to both Shoutcast Internet Radio and Rhapsody Music Service, and can also be used for receiver upgrades via the Internet.

Also announced was the non-ES and less fully featured STR-DN2010 network-capable AV receiver ($800, 110Wpc x 7, August).

The new BDP-S1700ES 3D Blu-ray player (August, $400) will have quick start and loading, built-in 802.11n wireless capability, Bravia Internet Video with Sony's new premium video service called Qriocity, DVD upscaling to 1080p, Dolby and DTS high-resolution decoding, and 1GB of built-in memory. The player can also be controlled with the iPhone BD Remote app available from the Apple App store. (A similar program is in development for Android devices.)

I've saved the most interesting tidbit for last—a prototype of a consumer 3D video projector was demonstrated at the event. Everything about it was very hush-hush, and the machine was concealed under black cloth. But I can relay a few random observations. The demo used shutter glasses on a Stewart Studiotek 130 screen. As yet, there is no name or other information for the beast (actually, it didn't appear to be unusually large). The Sony reps admitted that further work was needed prior to introduction, with which I heartily concur.

The 3D effects were good, but in a darkened room on a moderate-size screen (I'd guess no more than 8 feet wide, and possibly less), the picture was quite dim. That was disappointing, but not surprising. Achieving sufficient brightness for 3D may present a challenge for all affordable 3D home projectors—of which we anticipate more than a few at September's annual CEDIA Expo in Atlanta. But when asked if this projector would be among those anticipated CEDIA 3D launches, the Sony reps were noncommittal. The projector's 3D images were also soft-looking, but this is not typical of Sony projectors, and I'm certain the problem will be corrected before a formal launch.