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CES 2011-Full Coverage

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John E. Johnson, Jr. Show Coverage

At CES 2011, it was pretty much as we expected in terms of products, but what surprised us all was the huge turnout. I haven't seen this many attendees in years. So, if people are now getting back to spending their money on discretionary items like hifi, it means things are looking good for the future.

3-D, of course, was everywhere. The problems are several. One is that HD flat panel displays have come down in price so that those who were waiting for them to be affordable, bought their HDTV in the last year or two. They are not about to toss out that new 55" LCD HDTV just so they can get 3D at twice the price and with very little content. It ain't gonna happen, at least, not in the near future. Secondly, the image quality is not very good. I watched movies and various program material on several brands and models, and I did not see a single one that I thought was as sharp as watching just a standard 2D high def movie or program. This is caused mostly by ghosting, which results from the pixels for one eye not turning off fast enough before the pixels for the other eye are turned on. It results in seeing a small amount of the left eye image in the right eye, and vice versa. It also causes a sparkling sort of effect on random pixels on the screen, since different pixels don't all have to make the same change when going from the left eye image to the right eye image. The third problem is the glasses, but that is already being resolved by offering universal glasses that work with any brand of 3D HDTV, and also, the price is coming down fast. One company is offering a Family Pack of four sets of glasses for $299. That is much more acceptable than the $200/pair price I had been hearing during the latter part of 2010.

And, the glasses are not all big and bulky. There are some very petite models, that are not only small, but fashionable, as shown below in the first photo.

If you want to be "hip" when you are watching 3D TV, there are items like this:

For those of you with iPhones (or other cell phones that accept Blue-Tooth), there are now stereo ear buds with the microphone that communicate wireless to your phone. You can talk to your friends, but also listen to your music with the same ear bud(s), in stereo.

If you are willing to wear full on headphones, a number of companies are now promoting surround sound products like these.

You may remember from our 2010 Awards, we listed some technologies to watch. One was 3D, which I reported on above, and another was switching technologies in amplifiers. A new company called Devialet introduced a new integrated amplifier rated at 240 watts per channel that uses a switching power supply, switching output stages, but a Class A circuit that monitors the output, along with some digital signal processing (DSP). The preamplifier, phono preamplifier, DAC, and power amplifiers are all included in a single chassis, so there is a very short signal path between the various circuits.

There are four output boxes that contain the switching output devices (transistors), two boxes per channel. They interleave the switching to produce a 1.2 MHz switching frequency (read our review on the Mark Levinson No. 53 power amplifiers which also use interleaving). The sound was breathtaking. Of course they were using $50,000 speakers, but a bad amplifier would sound bad through excellent speakers. So, it is as we said previously: switching technology is making big advances. The price of the Devialet D-Premier is $16,000. A photo is shown below, with the amplifier mounted on the wall because it is very thin. I would say it is about the size of a laptop computer.

The show floor in one of the convention center halls is illustrated below in a panorama. Even the first day was crowded, when I took this photo, but day 2 was a zoo.

HD cameras for recording yourself engaged in sports activities were appearing. They are inexpensive and shoot full 1920x1080. You can mount them on your mountain bike handlebars, or on your helmet.

Speaking of cameras, snapshot photographers would not have been disappointed with CES 2011, and as I have mentioned several times over the years, hifi aficionados tend to be also interested in photography. Here is a typical display case with many new models, including D-SLRs. Most new digital snapshot cameras will take videos, and more and more of them will also take high definition video. A few Hollywood directors are actually using these cameras to shoot their movies.

How are we going to get the kids away from their earbuds and iPods playing MP3s when the earbuds are so attractive? There is a real problem too. They play music so loud, they are damaging their hearing, and it is permanent damage.

Even the iPhone cases are gorgeous.

This iPad carrying case was just a bit over the top.

The tablet world (iPad is in this category) is exploding. Apple will have its hands full competing with all the new models we saw at CES 2011. Samsung has a tablet that is about the same size as the iPad, but also has a slide out keyboard, so you can still have full screen images while you type, instead of having to use a keyboard image on the tablet's screen.

This particular one is a prototype that will be marketed by Marvell.

MSI showed flat panel displays with slim computers mounted on the back. This could be a real space saver for those consumers with limited desk real estate. This one sells for $599 in the basic model. I guess about $1,000 with more significant RAM and HD space.

Earthquake Sound showed its new game shaker, which mounts to your chair and the shaking is coordinated with the game you are playing.

Earthquake also displayed their new Cinénova7, which has seven channels at 170 watts per channel. It is $3500, compared to the much more expensive model that puts out a lot more power.

GoldenEar is a new speaker company, headed by Sandy Gross (of Definitive Technology fame). In this photo, he is sitting in the sweet spot and fine tuning the channel balance for their new floor-standing model.

GoldenEar also introduced their 5.1 system, which is of the modular design that is so popular right now.

Paradigm also showed their modular speakers, called the MilleniaOne ($249/each). The small speaker arena is really making headway in producing satisfactory loudness without distortion.

Swan Speakers had a huge display, and these were the smallest ones I could find that they were showing. They have beautiful wood finishes.

Lamm Industries introduced their new ML2.2, which is a Pure Class A tube monoblock power amplifier. They sounded fantastic. The price is $37,190/pair, but you get your money's worth.

The anticipated OPPO BDP-95, which is 3D compatible and has balanced XLR analog outputs for the front two channels, was in a display case at the Marvell booth. It comes on the heels of the BDP-93, which is also 3D compatible. NuForce has produced mod boards that you can use to replace the stock boards in the BDP-93. The mod boards have the same DACs for compatibility, but everything else is redesigned. They will be selling the basic mod board for $400 and the deluxe board will go for $800 (this is in addition to the cost of the player itself). You can replace the boards yourself, or purchase the player from NuForce with the mod boards already installed. A photo of the NuForce board (at the top) and the OPPO BDP-93 board (at the bottom) that would be replaced, is shown below.

All in all, I enjoyed myself in spite of the crowds, and you should be seeing more networking and integration of your audio system with your computer and other electronic devices in your home during the next few years.