A three-month delay of the DTV transition is in the works at Congress. Sen. John Rockefeller (D-WV) has introduced a bill that would delay the switchover from analog to digital broadcasting from the currently scheduled February 17th to June 12th.
Formerly known under the informal project name of Blackbird, the THX Media Director has emerged from R&D and we got a sneak peak. Metadata are authored into Blu-ray (or whatever) discs. The player might handle the metadata with a firmware upgrade or you might need a new player. Your surround processor, possibly the Lyndorf pre-pro certified for this purpose, then uses the metadata to adjust aspect ratio, color temp, picture mode, surround processing, and all those other settings that are either a bear to deal with or you (well, other people) might not be knowledgable to fool with. If this thing flies, it'll bring high-end home theater performance out of the tweaker ghetto. (Pictured, two early THX Media Director certified products, top: Anchor Bay DVDO VP50 video processor. Bottom: Lyngdorf D-1 surround pre-pro.)
Room Caster is the name of a high-end wireless technology that connects devices within a room. THX is working on it with San Francisco-based Radiient Group. It works with high-bandwidth signals in the 5GHz band, with as many as eight channels and resolution of up to 24 bit, 192kHz. The only compression used is whatever's inherent in the source signal. The demo showed it working smoothly. Likely uses will be in surround receivers, source components, and docking devices. Prototype transmitter pictured.
THX's long-promised Media Director technology has finally found its way into products including two Sharp Elite LCD TV models and the Acurus ACT4 preamp-processor. Media Director automates the selection of video parameters for Blu-ray and DVD titles, saving the less tech-savvy consumer a giant pounding headache. This can be something as basic as selecting 2D or 3D mode or something more subtle. In the example somewhat fuzzily shown, under "Video Processing Flags," are two entries reading: "Video content is intentionally noisy." And: "Video content contains film grains" [sic]. It works not only with Media Director encoded content but also with regular content when the disc is played in a BD-Live enabled Blu-ray player which will go online to grab the data from the THX database. If you're not ready to ante up for a top-line TV for the kitchen, you might still get limited Media Director functionality in a non-Media Director product. It's great that this newbie-empowering technology is finally seeing implementation.
At CES 2008, THX began talking about Media Director, a program that would get hardware and software to talk to one another via metadata, automatically running movies with the right audio and video parameters. THX is now assembling a database of 1000 popular movie titles, codenamed Aardvark, to assemble the metadata needed for each piece of content. And it's now using the HDMI Infoframe Analyzer, shown here, to test audio and video devices to ensure that they shake hands and exchange metadata with one another, sort of like digital beings swapping business cards in a bar.
THX has been applying its grey cells to the power amplifier, as THX grey eminence Laurie Fincham explained. The prototype shown uses what he calls a Class ABC topology with newly tweaked rail-switching power supply and compact ceramic (as opposed to bulky electrolytic) capacitors, all run off a lithium iron phosphate battery (yes, iron, not ion). In the picture you see a super-skinny two-channel output stage; adding capacitors would make it only 25 percent larger. Anyway, the result is a powerful low-profile amp that runs cool and efficient, avoiding both the power piggery of Class A and the problematic performance of Class D. And yes, it sounded great with Sonus Faber speakers and Steely Dan's "Gaslighting Abbie," achieving both well controlled bass and a high degree of overall transparency. Why this, why now? Fincham points out that his team is liberated from the tyranny of the product development cycle, enabling them to take a longer view and to incorporate ideas from the entire history of audio going back to the 1920s but also including the latest tricks. For example, the type of battery used is relatively new to audio but has been deployed in things like power tools and electric bikes. The THX amp design has yet to be built into licensed product but current licensees are getting their first look at this show. Potential uses include everything from inexpensive compact products to BD-receivers to high-end multichannel amps.
THX had a lot to talk about. Tascam is a new brand among THX-certified receivers with the PA-R200, shipping in January for $1299. It is THX Select2 certified. The German manufacturer Teufell has earned THX Multimedia certification for the G850 satellite/subwoofer set, including a dual six-inch sub said to reach down to 35Hz. It ships in February or March at a price to be determined. The first THX-certified (for video) 4K display is the Sharp LC60HQ10, a Japan-only model. Finally, a pair of A/B demos showed the fruit of THX's collaboration with Sontia on a means of correcting acoustic defects in loudspeakers, as opposed to room correction or other forms of DSP magic. With satellite speakers the SPT Optimized version had noticeably greater bass extension. With monitors, there was better focused soundstaging and more detail, though also more brightness, that last part not necessarily an improvement. Initial applications would include soundbars and other products where speakers are matched with amps.
THX is about to take its home theater involvement to a new level with a new program whose working name is Blackbird. If the THX folks pull it off, Blackbird could resolve several issues that plague home theater buffs.