The Arcam MS 250 Music Server ($6500) isn't your father's iPod. In fact, Arcam prefers to call it an archiving CD player. It will play CDs, rip them to its 400GB hard drive, and also compile play lists that may be recorded back onto a CD—the MS 250 is also a CD recorder. The hard drive is said to be able to hold up to 1200 entire CDs (not "songs") when they are recorded in full, uncompressed PCM.
You'd never know it by looking at its clean, non-intimidating front panel, but the new Primare SPA22 integrated AV amp houses all the features of a sophisticated AV receiver (it's called an AV amp rather than an AV receiver because it dispenses with AM/FM tuners). Proprietary class D digital amplifiers provide 5 x 100Wpc of amplification, the unit sports HDMI 1.3 and full video switching, the video processing upconverts to a maximum of 1080p via HDMI, and DTS HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD decoding is expected by the time the unit ships in December at an anticipated price somewhere south of $6000.
If you just need a pre-pro, the Primare SP32 dispenses with the amplifier channels and provides essentially the same features as the SPA22, though with upgraded parts and both single-ended and balanced outputs. The price is expected to be comparable to that of the SPA22, and both units look virtually the same from the front (and are available in either a black or titanium finish).
I didn't spend a lot of time at the show scoping out in-wall speakers. Yes, they're big in the custom installation market, but don't really get an audiophile's juices flowing. I discussed this with one manufacturer of premium high-end speakers, who is pondering his first in-wall designs. The problem, he said, is not designing them, it's simply getting excited enough about them to actually sit down and do it.
The Epson Ensemble HD home theater system is a skillfully assembled package consisting of a control center/DVD player (shown here) with two HDMI inputs, a 720p or 1080p Epson LCD projector, a screen, and a speaker/amplification package from Atlantic Technology. The front speakers are integrated into a sleek cabinet that sits at the top of the retractable screen, the surrounds are built into the sides of the projector case (visible in the following entry), and the amplification for the entire system is built into the subwoofer cabinet. The entire package sells for $5000 with a 720p projector and $7000 with 1080p.The overall performance was very impressive and will blow away most consumers with its performance and slick, elegant design and setup. Equal to a more upscale system? No, but a lot closer to it than even the best home theater in a box can manage.
I was impressed, and surprised, by the quality of the image that Meridian's iRIS produced on a modestly sized, flat panel screen. More than a simple iPOD dock, this $400 jewel upconverts the low rez image on a video iPod to 1080p, cleans it up in various ways, and outputs it to your HDTV. No, it's not high def, or even DVD-quality, but it was way better than VHS and more than watchable. Two other nearby screens also showed different program material (animation and TV-based) but they weren't as impressive as this one. If the color balance looks a bit whacked in the photo, it wasn't the demo, but rather my hurried attempts at color correction. The untouched, available light photo was badly skewed by the lighting in the convention center.
Aerial prez and designer Michael Kelly stands next to a version of his company's impressive System 1. it's shown here for the first time with a 2.35:1 screen, which may be flat or curved, masked or unmasked.
SIM2's demo used three new projectors from that company. The first, and the one that impressed me most from a price/performance
aspect (though at $16,000 it isn't cheap by today's projector standards) was the HT-3000E. Incorporating TI's BrilliantColor technology, and SIM2's new Unishape lamp technology that can vary both the color of the lamp and its brightness in a dynamic, nearly instantaneous way, it presented a superb image with excellent deep blacks. Oddly, SIM2 was using a Firehawk screen-8' wide for the 3000E, 10' wide for the other two projectors, the C3X ($20,000) and the C3X 1080($30,000), both of which were demonstrated with anamorphic lenses. (There was a lot of anamorphia going around at this year's show.)