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If This Is Hell, Count Me In

I got a good belly laugh as I was proofreading our Perfect Focus section for the November print issue. It may surprise some of you that despite my editor-in-chief title, I don’t plan out or preapprove everything in the magazine. Perf is one of those sections that has multiple contributors working under the aegis of our gifted executive editor Claire Crowley, and as a matter of course, we give the staff pretty free rein to write what they will. So when I look at it on page layouts a day or two before we ship it to the printer, it’s as fresh for me as it is for you when you open the issue.

This time, I’d just finished putting together our Letters section, in which I’d responded to a reader inquiry about Dolby Atmos with one of my usual geeky diatribes. Then I turned to Perfect Focus and saw that Connected Life columnist and custom integrator John Sciacca had dedicated his column to…Dolby Atmos. Apparently, he’d caught the East Coast version of Dolby’s press demo and tech briefing in New York (Tom Norton, Geoff Morrison, and I attended a sister event in L.A.), and he couldn’t contain his excitement. When I finished reading John’s column, I turned the page to look at Ken Pohlmann’s monthly installment of Signals. And Ken had written about…Dolby Atmos. And he was even more pumped than John.

Aside from apologizing for some redundancy, I’ll ask you to recognize the poetry in our collective enthusiasm. I don’t use this word lightly, and I sure hope I’m not proven wrong, but this really is a revolutionary change for home theater, at least for those of us who still think you can do better than a soundbar.

Right after reading Perf, I recalled something else: Barely a week earlier, LG Electronics had begun selling a floor-busting, 55-inch OLED HDTV for the ridiculous, I’ll-take-two price of $3,499. To call this a breakthrough, just one year after they introduced the category at $15,000, is not hyperbole. That’s a 75-percent price break. And OLED, I shouldn’t have to tell you at this point, is revolutionary. This ain’t just four times more pixels on a 55-inch screen that go unnoticed by everyone except your three-year-old who’s standing close enough to smear it with his jelly fingers. This is a whole new way of making breathtaking images, and it just got affordable overnight in one of the most popular screen sizes.

Not only that, but the push to deliver better sound quality to music consumers just keeps on keepin’ on. Two new lossless streaming services—the first in the U.S.—were announced as we went to press: Deezer and Tidal, the latter being a spin-off of the highly regarded Scandinavian service WiMP HIFI. And I’ll be damned if the vinyl LP isn’t surging back in its own right—sales were up 40 percent in the first half of 2014, while CDs and even downloads continued to drop away.

My point is this: Plasma TV may be dead, and the home theater and audio markets may be getting drowned in a tidal wave of soundbars and cheap headphones. So, yeah, at some level, the AV world as we’ve known it has perhaps gone to hell in a handbasket. But in the midst of this, somehow, almost without warning, there suddenly emerge new thrills, new pictures, new sounds, new upgrades to conquer. I don’t know what you guys think, but from where I sit, I think we’re sittin’ pretty.

Ken C. Pohlmann's picture
1. Great minds think alike. :) 2. Rob is exactly right (see #1). As long as we maintain a critical mass of enthusiasts, home theater is going to kick ass.
ForDuke's picture

I read this opinion with great interest such so that I was ready to pull the trigger for the OLED or Sony 4K. But before I did I though I set up my ISF appointment for my area of the country for this November. I wrote one of the best ISF techs in the nation and I received his reply, and it was so helpful to me.

Hi Phil,

I would be happy to work on the LG, but I would pass on it at this time for several reasons:
•Pioneer 111FD is the most reliable flat screen product I have ever seen.
•OLED has been very unreliable. I used to work for the company that makes the materials in the LG product and we had huge problems with OLED. Professionals are also seeing massive OLED degradation problems causing frequent replacement.
•LG OLED color performance is not very good.
•Pioneer 111FD has the best color performance of any consumer flat panel I have ever seen.
•Standards changes are being discussed for 4K which will cause huge compatibility problems with existing 4K products.

This is not to say I am negative on 4K. I am a huge fan, but I am very concerned about the current display offerings.

I am also seeing huge durability problems with some LED LCD 4K products. One very expensive 4K LED LCD I worked on was severely degraded after only one year of use. At this time I would let the bugs get out of the system and wait for something to fill the gap left from Pioneer exiting the market. Some of the newer LED LCD Sony's look promising. The viewing angle problem appears to be greatly diminished, but I am not sure about durability yet.

We like audio reviews you must take them one as a grain of salt, and look at them as marketing to get you buy newer products even if they are not ready for prime time.

This guy as no ax to grind for any brand or technology, but he is very educated in audio and video setup. Hopefully this will help many to save their hard earned money and hold off a few more years, until then Pioneer rules still after 5 years.