With the CEDIA (Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association) EXPO Show finished for another year, one can’t help but sit back and wonder what the event was all about. (Personally,I’m still wondering.) Unlike previous installments, many products were debuted prior to the show. And while there were certainly new products introduced this year, they were trotted out in muchsmaller numbers than in recent memory.
It’s a surprise, frankly, given that CEDIA attendance seemed just as strong to passing observers as it did in 2006. Even more so, when onerealizes the just-debuted official press release reveals that the gathering actually played host to an impressive 29,000 attendees, which is much higher than original guesstimates. What’s more,unlike CES, most CE executives from major companies are on the show floor, making it relatively easy to obtain product and technology information. But hey… who are we to judge?We’re just trying to make sense of the highlights.
HD DVD vs. BLU-RAY DISC
The first thing that comes to mind this year about CEDIA is the tug-of-warbetween the HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc camps. Essentially, there is give-and-take between both factions, with each claiming victory over the other. It all comes down to how one interprets NPD data– either based on the last nine weeks (BD) or cumulatively (HD DVD). This comedy of errors in a nutshell: One group claims one set of figures, then the other camp reverses the same numbers,ceding the remaining market share percentage points for dual-format players (LG). (Although, for those counting, in the grand scheme of things, next-generation optical discs only account for about1-percent of all DVD sales… and according to the most recent CEA numbers, DVD sales are up 20.4-percent to 11.8 million players over last year.) According to reports coming out of IBC(International Broadcasters Conference) in Amsterdam and Europe last week, video-disk industry insiders in Europe shared a litany of complaints based on the HD DVD/Blu-ray Disc formatwar, and basically summed it up in one word: confusion.
In Denver, at C.E.D.I.A., eachcamp came armed with its own NPD figures… and, of course, carefully-tailored conclusions. For example: The HD DVDPromotions Group who, in a press releasedated Sept. 6, stated that Toshibahad a 55% market share year-to-date in high-definition standalone player sales followed by all Blu-ray companies at a combined 42%, claiming that the remaining 3% ofthe market is held by dual-format players. While the competition [Blu-ray] may claim that it actually holds frontrunner status based on the last nine weeks of NPD data, Toshiba argues that it has hadcontinued sales leadership in every month since the original HD DVD players launched 17 months backs. Mind you, on the other hand, if you went to the Sonybooth at CEDIA, you’d have been privyto a contradictory flow chart, showing the progress of next-generation video player sales in a completely different light, with Blu-ray having a 55% market share and HD DVD having a 42% share,followed by dual-format players at 2%. In other words, Sony claims that Blu-ray beats HD DVD by 12%. Who is right? I say ask NPD – just be careful how you phrase the question. The HD DVD Promotion Group that there are now more than 300 titles available on HD DVD, with more on the way for the volatile 4th quarter. They claim that there will be1000 titles by year’s end. According the HD DVD Group, Warner Home Video’s300 has sold more than 100,000 copies in the HD DVD format. (If that’s true, it’s an impressive number…)But, by the same token, Blu-ray titles are reportedly currently outselling HD DVD by 2-to-1, which would mean that WHV sold 200,000 copies of the movie 300 on this competing format. Eitherway, it’s an impressive feat, if hard to interpret what such milestones mean for the overall format war as a whole.
Toshiba’s theme this year was appropriately space age. Star Trek: The Original Series, a title it’s really chosen to get behind, will be released on HD DVD in November. In fact, the 10-disc set will offer HD DVD Combo discs with HD DVD on one side and DVD on the other. With a fan base of 9.0 million+ viewers, it’s hoped that the collector’s package will boost HD DVD player sales, as has the recently-released Heroes (on HD DVD only). Toshiba also announced three new HD DVD players with the entry-level 1080p model (HD-A30) @ $399. (According to Toshiba, the best selling CE product on Amazon.com was the HD-A2 HD DVD player.) A company called Venturer will also be offering an inexpensive HD DVD player in the 4th quarter for a reported $199. Guess we’ll wait and see how everything pants out…
Otherwise, Pioneer’s new BDP-95FD Blu-ray player, which ships in October, reportedly includes a new version of the HDMI 1.3a chipset that will actually pass next-generation audio codecs.According to Pioneer, it will be the first BD player on the market that will actually pass those signals. Supposedly, up to now, players that include HDMI 1.3a can’t really pass Dolby Digital Plus,Dolby TrueHD, and DTS-HD Master Audio. Who knows, but I can say that I do have a couple of Blu-ray players from Samsung and Sony with HDMI 1.3a, and neither will pass those audio codecs via HDMI (andall components are version 1.3a).
Moving right along, there were also new Blu-ray players introduced from Sony (see: the BDP-S500), and their first ES model (BDP-S2000ES). While Sharpofficially announced its BD-HP20 Blu-ray player for the U.S. market, which will be priced at $549.95, the company also discussed its new D64 Series of LCD HDTVs. There were also erroneous reports ofplayer introductions including a BD model from Harman Kardon. Further companies like JVC and others additionally showed prototype BD players under glass. In general though, the majority of audiomanufacturers are still sitting on the fence, possibly hoping for a lower-cost dual-format player. Denon also showed its first BD player as did Daewoo (DBP-1000). Both Samsung (BD-UP5000)and LG(BH200) announced new fully-featured dual-format players at $999 each that will be available next month, and prices could drop to $799 by the Holidays. In other words, they’re won’t be ashortage of hardware options if you’re interested. There’s also a third HD format – HD VMD – in the wings from a company called NME I metwith Dr. Eugene Levich, who created the format, and his staff, who hopes to bring this inexpensive high-definition optical disc player to market sometime in the 4th quarter of this year. According toDr. Levich, this is the first optical disc format to be designed and created in the U.S. However, it will be manufactured in China. HD-VMD is a red laser format that is essentially an outgrowth ofMicrosoft’s WM9 that was available a few years ago. At the time, you could only playback WM9 movie titles on a Windows Media Center PC with a lot of RAMspeed, and only a handful of titles wereproduced, including the undefeatable Terminator 2. and a fast clock .
NME VMD Player
According to NME, which stands for New Media Enterprises, the basis of the HD VMD system is the use of multilayer disc technology, and the red laser. Currently, the HD VMD discs include 6layers of 5GB each for a total storageoduce titles in the HD VMD format. capacity of 30GB,which the company believes will hold a 3-1/2-hour HD movie perfectly with extras. Reportedly, at launch, there will be 3,000 titles globally, although, it should be noted that the majority of thesetitles will be from European, Indian (Bollywood) and Asian home video companies. Reportedly, NME is close to announcing a deal with a U.S. home video company.
At HD VMD launch, there will be two players: One at $169, and one astep-up at $189. The more expensive model will include a USB, with units expected to be sold at Radio Shack and Costco as well. While this is an interesting proposition, I can’t really see how it canfly being up against major CE brands and heavyweight movie studios. If anything, HD VMD can only cause more confusion on the part of the consumer. And, it there’s enough confusion, the consumer willsimply stick with a good quality upconverting DVD player from companies like Oppo Digital. On the other hand, the HD VMD format and associated systems could do well in the European, Indian, and Asianmarkets. drive and a media card reader. A robust copy protection scheme will be employed from OptiKey. Initially, the HD VMD players will be available at amazon.com, and pcrush.com
SATELLITE SET-TOP BOXES
On this front, there were several new satellite set-top boxes on display from DirecTV and EchoStar. (For example, the new DirecTV HD set-top box – HR21 replaces the current HR20.) Except for a new cabinet color (from silver to black), enhanced cosmetics and software tweaks though, it’s pretty much like the previous HR20 model. DirecTV will also offer the HR21PRO, which is identical to the standard HR21, but doubles the hard-drive space to 500GB up from 250GB and has a special optical HDMI connector. EchoStar, on the other hand, has added the ViP722, which boosts hard-drive capacity to 350GB, adds Internet access via an Ethernet connection, and introduces an external hard-drive option.
In terms of displays at CEDIA, LCD flat-panel is taking over the world. Pioneer’s new Kuro plasma TVs, however, looked absolutely spectacular! TheKuro panels are reportedly completely redesigned, and these 1080p beauties are among the most impressive plasma panels that I have ever seen. Note that there were also two lower-cost 1080p plasmaTVs introduced by Panasonic with fewer features that weren’t quite as mind-blowing.
Sony Electronics additionally unveiled two full high-definition 1080p BRAVIA front projectors (the VPL-VW200 @ $15,000 and VPL-VW60 @ $5,000) that offer the ultimate in cinema-like performance for the home theater. The new 1920 x 1080 progressive Silicon X-tal Reflective Display (SXRD) projectors feature 24p True Cinema technology. Both projectors can accept an external anamorphic lens (sold separately) that, when paired with Sony’s Anamorphic zoom mode, allows users to watch movies in their native aspect ratio of 2.35:1.
As for JVC, the company talked about its D-ILA front projector technology and LCD displays. Representatives showed a movie clip and animation of their new 1.27-in. 4K D-ILA chip thatoffers a screen resolution of 4,096 x 2000 for Digital Cinema venues. Needless to say, the image quality was quite impressive! JVC is also working on 8K chips, and hope to offer a home projector witha resolution of 1440p in the near future. JVC also unveiled two new D-ILA projectors (onefor the pro market (the DLA-HD1) and one for the consumer market (the DLA-HD100)). Both of these new 1080p projectors will feature a native contrast ratio of 30,000:1. Impressive!
JVCfurther showed off their new 2nd generation Clear Motion Driver II Technology for LCD TVs witha 120 frames per second (120Hz) rate, and conducted side-by-side comparison tests against Sony, Sharp and Toshiba. The end result: The JVC image quality in fastscenes was superior to the competition. Was it a fair test? I don’t know. I would have to conduct it myself with Sony’s top-of-the-line Bravia, Toshiba’s new Regza Cinema Series and a Sharp panel tofind out, but hey… it’s not exactly what I’d call an unenviable task either.
Toshiba also announced new REGZA LCD TVs with a Super Narrow Bezel (SNB), which is less than1-in. wide, and will feature a 10-bit panel. These Cinema Series models also include 120Hz refresh rate, xvYCC, 14-bit video processing and dynamic backlight. Sadly, there was no mention of SED. However, there is hope thatan announcement will be made at CES 2008.
Even though sales of MicroDisplays are down from previous years, TI announced that sales of rear projection DLP sets were up about 12% (at the expenseof other technologies such as LCoS and SXRD) and will continue in that direction as long as they can bring innovation into the technology. They expect to see growth in the coming years. The latestinnovation from TI was 3-D, which was first announced at IFA two weeks ago, and shown at CEDIA. Personally, it’s a little too gimmicky for me, and I don’t like to wear 3-D glasses. Currently,Philips sells non-glasses-requiring 3-D LCD displays to the digital signage industry (using 42-inch panels @ $10,000 approx). If prices could come down to consumer levels, the technology would bemight be viable and compelling.
TI additionally previewed the new DarkChip4 DLP chipTI sees 2008 as a turning point for DLP through the elimination of the color wheel andlamp with illumination by either LED (Samsung) or laser (Mitsubishi). that offers a dynamic contrast ratio of 100,000:1, and will be used in front and rear projection models in 2008. We can expect tosee a transition in 2008 away from color wheels and lamps to LED and Laser illumination for DLPmodels. We can also expect to see these DLP MicroDisplays continue to get slimmer. For 2008, it’s expected that many rear projection DLP sets will be around 12 inches deep. TI believes that they canget the depth down to about 6 inches, which is truly impressive! It was also hinted that a major brand, who currently does not offer a rear projection DLP set, will offer DLP rear projection displaysin 2008.
Sharp, on the other hand, outlined its future by showing off a 10th generation glass substrate for LCD that was claimed to be the world’s largest with a dimension of 11213/64-inches by 120 5/64 inches. There can be six 57-inch panels from this glass substrate. These panels will be built at Sharp’s newly announced factory for the 21st Century at Sakai Cityin Osaka Prefecture. The manufacturing complex will produce LCD panels and also thin-film solar cells. Previously, Sharp introduced their new D64 Series of LCD HDTVs with a reduced depth of about3-1/2-inches.
As noted above, LCDTV is now the driving force of the digital TV business, and this is expected to continue for the next several years at the expense of plasma displays and rearprojection MicroDisplays. However, in terms of front projectors, displays with a resolution of 720p are still the most popular with consumers. Displays with 1080p resolutionare finally starting totake hold. Front projection TV continues to grow in popularity as more and more people want the home theater experience. In fact, I’ve seen several excellent examples of front projectors at CEDIA. Iwas especially taken by a new model from Samsung (SP-A800) that uses 1-chip 1080p DLP technology, and was designed by technology guru Joe Kane.
In the world of front projectors, 1080p is now the buzzword with the most inexpensive projectors costing under $3,000. More manufacturers are making anamorphic lenses available for their projectors to boot. Even companies like McIntosh now offer a 1080p projector with a motorized anamorphic lens to complement their high-end audio equipment. And since McIntosh is now under the D & M umbrella, I understand that some of the technology that’s in the new Marantz projector is also in the McIntosh version as well. (Boy, talk about cross-pollination…) While DLP continues to make inroads into front projectors, 3LCD continues to lead the marketplace. Other companies that offered new projectors included Sanyo (PLV-Z2000), Mitsubishi (HC6000) and Epson.
In fact, Epson introduced several impressive models including their first 720p MovieTime projector (with an integrated DVD player) on a swivel base, and their impressive Ensemble HD HomeCinema System, which is a joint venture with Atlantic Technology for a complete home theater audio/video system and experience that includes all wiring and molding besides the projector andintegrated 5.1 speakers. The Epson Ensemble HD Home Cinema System features an attractive contemporary design and comes with virtually everything necessary for proper installation and maximumperformance – in other words, truly an “instant home theater system.”
The Ensemble HD Home Cinema System includes a choice of Epson PowerLite 3LCD (three-chip) high-definition multimedia projector with either true 1080p native resolution (1920 x 1080 pixels) at $6,999 or a more affordably-priced 720p option at $4,999; a unique 100-inch motorized screen that quietly lowers and retracts within the unique top-mounted front-channel (Left, Center, Right) ceiling-mounted speaker system; an audio/video controller with an integrated upconverting DVD player; the aforementioned newly engineered Atlantic Technology speaker system; and a proprietary 150-watt subwoofer containing all 5.1 channels of amplification. It also includes a universal remote that controls the entire system including the motorized screen; all necessary mounting brackets; all audio, video and power cables that are needed to complete the installation while maximizing performance (including HDMI); and a unique wire management track system that hides all of the included cables from users’ sight.
Pioneer showed off their new SC-09TX A/V Receiver, which is expected to be released in early 2008 at around $7,500. Suffice it to say theunit’s a real live wire, offering more than 1400-watts of power! It includes a new ICEpower Class D amplifier, and features a myriad of selling points including: Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD MasterAudio, xvYCC, DeepColor, HDMI 1.3a, Home Media Gallery and a 1.5-inch LCD screen.
In terms of other audio components, there were loudspeakers everywhere in all shapes and sizes. Did any stand out? Good question… I liked the Atlantic Technology speakers that were integrated into a 100-inch screen from Epson (see above). Were they the highest quality? No, but for their application and price ($6,999 for the complete system), it was unbeatable. Of course, high-quality speakers from companies like Polk, Definitive Technology, TruAudio, Thiel and others were also available for listening tests, and they sounded terrific. In terms of A/V Receivers, all of the manufacturers are quickly adding HDMI 1.3a connectivity, and including the new audio codecs – Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio – which were previously unavailable, on their high-end models. Yamaha, for example, now has an 11.2-Channel A/V Receiver. The most impressive receiver, however, will be the Pioneer discussed above. It was truly unbelievable!
CEDIA did answer a nagging question of why current HD DVD/Blu-ray Disc players with HDMI 1.3a are not passing the new audio codecs.Apparently, the chipsets for the current crop of HDMI 1.3a players will not decode theadvanced audio codecs, and a BD player from Pioneer in October will be the first model with the true capability – maybe it should be called HDMI 1.3b. I have been testing a new Onkyo (875)receiver with new Dolby and DTS processing, and couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t getting TrueHD. Now, I know why. It just goes to show that still HDMI is not created equal.
While I have becomea firm believer of one cable carrying digital audio and digital video signals seamlessly, it’sgetting ridiculous that we still are not quite there yet. Also at CEDIA, there were several new HDMI cables introduced by Monster Cable and others that claim higher performances over long distances. All told, there was plenty for the hometheater enthusiast to get excited about, or at least intrigued (and/or puzzled) by. Translation: We’ll be back next year to bring you even more cutting-edge A/V action, and see how things shakeout with new products – and of course that nagging battle over next-gen video formats – as the situation develops.