Attendance at the just-concluded CEDIA (Custom Electronics Design & Installation Association) Expo, held at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, was down for the second straight year to around 20,000, and the number of exhibitors shrunk from 500 to 400. But the good news for home theater enthusiasts is as follows: What the various exhibitors that remained actually exhibited was a considerable amount of ingenuity.
Amid the myriad goods being shown including high-end projectors; flat-panel HDTV mounts; pull-down screens; hydraulic projector lifts; decorative technology; reclining theater seating; tube amplifiers; cables; ridiculously pricy speakers; and everything in-between, it seems everyone was hawking some new connectivity scheme or other. For example: There were a plethora of HDTVs not connected to high-def sources via the emerging HDMI-cable-replacing WirelessHD standard. And, of course, all these new WirelessHD-enabled HDTVs include an external box to which you connect all your HD sources (cable box, game player, media server, et al) or an A/V receiver. A sudden burst of connected HDTVs (and, of course, Blu-ray players) that can also pull content from your home PC likely signals the coming death of dedicated media servers to boot. In addition, there were also new affordable wireless home automation schemes replacing typical expensive, wall-bursting, wire-pulling methods via the ZigBee wireless control specification.
But out of all these clever inventions, which are most worth keeping an eye on? Here are (in our humble opinion) the top products unveiled this past week.
Vizio VIA VF552XVT ($2,199)
A milestone HDTV, this 55-inch LED backlit LCD set includes a number of choice enhancements. For instance: Built-in WiFi b/g/n (a first); a remote that has a slide-out horizontal QWERTY (a first); a USB jack through which you can play video, music and photos from a USB drive (rare); and connectivity to Yahoo widget-powered Vizio Internet Apps. Better yet, it’s likely to cost less than $2000 when it hits Costco and Sam’s Club in December.
Sony BDP-N460 ($250)
Believe it or not, this is Sony’s first connected Blu-ray player. In addition, when it goes on sale next month, the device will include built-in software for Linksys’ wireless bridge, Sony’s Yahoo widget-powered Bravia Internet, and connectivity to Slacker Internet radio. As an added bonus, later this fall, the player will automatically update itself to supply access to Netflix.
Sherwood R-904N NetBoxx ($650)
It’s a regular AV receiver with 3 HDMI ports, but it’s also a media streamer with an 802.11g adapter to pull in YouTube, Hulu, Netflix, CinemaNow, Amazon Video On Demand, Rhapsody, Internet radio stations, Hulu, Netflix, and a bunch of TV stations along with your PC-based multimedia files.
Archos 9 ($500)
In many ways, this 9-inch tablet, available next month, is a netbook without the QWERTY keyboard half. It runs Windows 7, plays 720p HD video, is equipped with an Atom Z515 processor, offers Bluetooth 2.1 and WiFi (b/g, not n) connectivity, and includes a replaceable battery that provides around 4.5 hours of electro-fuel.
Samsung LN65B650 ($6,000)
At 65 inches, this is Samsung’s biggest LCD HDTV. It’s not only an oversized 120 Hz set though – it’s also connected via the Yahoo widget-powered Medi@2.0 suite with access to YouTube, Flickr, USA Today Sports, Twitter, and other online favorites. Happily, USB ports let you jack in thumb drives with other multimedia content as well.
Panasonic VIERA TC-P54Z1 ($5,500)
Equipped with WirelessHD connectivity, this 1-inch thin 54-inch plasma set has a shiny brushed aluminum bezel and includes an RF remote. As such, we can’t wait to get our hands on it.
JVC GD-463D10 LCD HDTV ($8,995)
JVC’s stab into the 3D realm, this 46-inch LCD HDTV is designed for the custom installation market. Instead of the ornate Panasonic sensor system though, you only need the regular old red/green cardboard glasses to enjoy eye-popping effects.
Seura Hydra ($3,000)
If you need to watch while you wash you’ll want this 19-inch waterproof LCD HDTV, designed to sit (ahem) flush with your bathroom tile. It comes in either a pearl white or black onyx frame but, for an extra $600, you can even match your WC with any Pantone-colored frame.
Toshiba 19LV612 ($350)
Looking for a set that fits right in with your kitchen’s decor? Framing this 19-inch LCD HDTV with a built-in digital TV tuner is a beautiful stainless steel border designed to match all your appliances. Plus, it’s equipped with a slot-loading DVD player on the left edge.
JVC D-ILA DLA-RS4000 ($175,000)
Yep, you read that price right. This 110lb 4K projector is capable of projecting 4096×2400 video (more than four times the resolution of HD), or you can display up to four screens with full HD or WUXGA resolution images simultaneously. We’ll take two, naturally.
Yamaha YHT-S400 ($600)
One of the truly great ideas, this is a 3.1 channel surround sound system with a 2-inch-high soundbar connected to an 50 WPC AV receiver with a built-in 100-watt subwoofer via HDMI. This arrangement, due early next year, elegantly simplifies connectivity and lets you attach up to three HDMI components.
Panasonic SC-BTX70 ($1,000)
Own an HDTV? Now you can match it with a Blu-ray player, a 2.1 channel surround system and an iPod speaker dock all packed in one home theater system in a box that sits elegantly just below your flat-panel set.
Airfonix AFX-19IP001 (apx. $300)
Running speaker wire for outdoor or rear speakers can be a pain the back – and wallet. Thankfully, this reasonably affordable iPod dock is also a USB hub and a transmitter that beams 24-bit uncompressed stereo audio to compact receivers that can be connected to any speaker.
Samsung HT-BD3242 ($800)
An instant home theater of sorts, this 5.1 surround sound system includes a connected Blu-ray player with access to Pandora and Netflix, tallboy front speakers and powered wireless rear speakers to simplify connectivity.
Yamaha MCR-140 ($400)
Put your iPod or iPhone into a wireless dongle and transmit your music wirelessly to this otherwise traditional but modular iPod dock speaker system. Now you can control your music, take calls or surf the net and check email while you groove. You can even match your décor – the gizmo will come in 10 colors when it’s available next month.
JVC SR-HD1500US/SR-HD1250US Blu-ray Recorder ($2550/$1995)
The surprise of the show, these are the first Blu-ray recorders for the U.S. market. Designed more for the video pro, neither will record TV, but come equipped with FireWire, USB and RS-232 jacks to connect pro gear and high-def camcorders, along with 500GB/250GB hard drives to store content for continual duplication.
Toshiba BDX2000 Blu-ray player ($250)
The world, or at least custom installers, got its first look at Toshiba’s first Blu-ray player this past week. It’s a straightforward BD-Live deck with an SDHC card slot, and it’ll be available in November, which should please fans of the manufacturer.
Samsung HT-BD8200 ($800)
Even simpler than a traditional home theater in a box system, this sleek 2.1 channel soundbar incorporates a vertical connected Blu-ray player with Netflix and Pandora access, as well as a wireless subwoofer.
NAD Master Series M56 ($2000)
It may not be THX certified like competing models, but inside its steel chassis and behind the die-cast aluminum front panels this NAD BD-Live Blu-ray player packs a plethora of audiophine- and videophile-friendly bells and whistles, including uncompressed 24-bit 7.1 linear PCM playback, a 7.1 analog output and, for custom-installed systems, an external IR input for connectivity to home control and automation systems.
Pioneer Elite BDP-09FD ($2,200)
For more well-heeled audiophiles, this is the first THX Select2-certified reference Blu-ray player. Aside from its 16-bit video processor and 8 Wolfson Audio DACS, the 30lb BD-Live deck, which its solid steel frame, is built like an Abrams and includes 4GB of memory, twice as much as usual.
Crestron Prodigy (apx. $3,200)
Trying to expand beyond its intricate custom-installed whole home automation roots, Crestron has created a simplified DIY system based on the ZigBee wireless specification. For the price indicated, the Prodigy can control up to six rooms’ AV, lighting and climate conditions.
Savant Protégé (apx. $5000)
Also answering the call for a simpler to use/easier to afford complete home control (A/V, lighting, climate, security, etc.) solution, Savant unveiled its wireless Protégé system. Instead of, or supplementary to, touch panels and RF remotes, you can happily use an iPhone in conjunction with it to control your house.
Control4 EC-100 ($TBA)
You’ve heard of LAN and WAN. Well, now there’s the HAN (Home Area Network), referring to wireless control of your home’s energy usage. To make a long story short: The Control4 EC-100 will the first system-based HAN touch control pad to monitor, control and automate new smart meters that are, in turn, connected to the growing number of two-way smart grid energy systems being rolled out by local power companies. As such, it can save you a considerable amount of cash, and help your home operate a little greener.
Kwikset Smartcode ($100-$110)
In a clever touch for home security, when someone punches their code into this electronic combination door lock, designed to be integrated with a Control4 system, you receive a notification email. More interesting still, the lock can be programmed for up to 30 codes, allowing you to monitor a number of individuals’ comings and goings.
Pioneer ETap (TBD)
Pioneer is still developing this total entertainment control media hub network concept. Equipped with Control4 wireless control protocols and a 1TB drive onto which you can rip Blu-ray discs and all your other multimedia content, ETap lets you pull, push and control all your multimedia content throughout a variety of devices.