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CES 2012-Full Coverage

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Chris Heinonen Show Coverage

CES Round Up

CES 2012 was a success for the show, with over 153,000 people coming through the doors over the week. It certainly felt that way, as there was rarely a place to sit down, or room to walk, and always more to see than you could possibly see. I've spent the past day trying to catch up on all the coverage as there were entire venues that I wasn't able to get to during the week. I also only had two days to see everything, as I was taking the ISF Level 2 class and should be certified for that very soon.

The best thing I saw was the Sony CrystalLED display. That was the one thing I wanted to take home and put in my living room and could be totally happy with. The OLED panels from Samsung and LG were also beautiful, and coming for certain later this year we were told, but the content on them didn't let me get as clear an idea of how they performed. The motion on the CrystalLED just set it apart as well.

There is so much to see and talk about at CES, that I will summarize the good and bad things about it this year.

Good:
- New display technologies (CrystalLED, OLED) offer previous unseen flat panel performance that will make everyone raise their game
- 4K displays coming to the home this year
- 3D projectors showing less crosstalk than before
- High-end headphones coming down in price (HiFiMan HE-400, Sennheiser HD700)

Bad:
- Comparison demonstrations between new technology and old technology where the old panel is obviously setup in correctly. If the new technology is so much better, you can have a fair comparison.
- No native 4K content, just upscaled Blu-ray
- Everyone selling a line of headphones, even if that's not their normal line of products at all, just to capitalize on a craze
- The incredible crowds that you have to fight through
- Manufacturers that don't train people in their booth about the new products, so you can't find out information that you need to know

In the end it was a very interesting trip to CES and a chance to get to see new technology years before it might be at your local AV store. Hopefully by the time CEDIA rolls around this fall even more people will be announcing new models, and some of these will be available to buy.

Day 2 of CES began with a relaxing press conference for HiFiMan, which included a piano and violin player to give us some wonderful music while we enjoyed breakfast. Since CES really wears you down after a couple days, the relaxing start was certainly very enjoyable. HiFiMan also introduced a new headphone, the HE-400, which is planar magnetic like their other models but is easier to drive with a 92.5 dB sensitivity, and a list price of only $399. For us to listen to these they gave us all a sample, along with their new HiFi portable player with selectable gain for in-ear or over-ear headphones, and a selection of music from HDTracks.

The headphones themselves sounded wonderful, with lots of details and a very open sound. They were also well built and allow for custom cables if you wish to use them with a balanced headphone amp as well, or just have a shorter set of cables with a 3.5mm connector made for portable use. HiFiMan was also showing off their new high end headphone amplifier, which can put out a ridiculous 5 watts of Class A power into a pair of headphones. The whole unit was very high quality, with a stepped attenuator volume control, and weighed far more than you might expect for a headphone amp. It will list for just under $1,500 when available.

Sim2 was showing off their LED powered Mico LED projector. With 1100 lumens of LED light, this is bright enough for people to use in a lit environment that you previously couldn't consider LED for. The availability of a variety of ambient light rejecting screens as well means you can put this in your living room and had people over to watch the game without having to turn out the lights, and the LED light source means you can run it day after day without worrying about light dimming. They were also showing their projector that uses triple-flash technology for 3D, and a fellow writer who can usually see rainbows on DLP could not see a thing, not any ghosting on the image. Still my favorite 3D projector out there.

Toshiba was showing a 4K display, as well as a 1080p display, so you can see the difference the resolution makes on native content. The 1080p looked blurry in comparison, but it looked to be real 1080p content and not intentionally made worse. People might debate about the need for 4K, especially as there is no native 4K source out there right now for people to use, but it really does look better than 1080p and it will be nice if it comes to the home this decade.

Toshiba was also showing off their glasses free 3D, which used a 4K display as well. In the lower right corner you can see a guide to help you get into the correct spot to get the full effect of the 3D display, which is helpful. I saw a bit of a 3D effect, but not a major one, but I also saw a major texture on the screen that was really distracting to me. Just like with passive 3D, if you want to avoid active 3D glasses you might have to deal with a texture on the screen to do so, and some will find that more annoying that wearing something for the movie.

Vizio was showing off a new line of Blu-ray players, including one with GoogleTV built in, and using a Marvell QDEO chipset. Since the QDEO has done well on our benchmarks before, and GoogleTV seems to be really catching on this year at CES, this might be a very interesting product to get in later this year and see how it performs. The one thing that I really want to investigate is the presence of HDMI pass-through and see if it leaves the HDMI signal totally untouched or if it has an issue.

Vizio also has a new remote for these players, which uses IR but has a keyboard on the flip side. With all the online content searching, as well as wireless passwords and online account info, this makes for a much better solution than having to use arrow keys and the enter button to get data into the TV.

The most exciting thing from Vizio was their new 21:9 Cinewide displays. This is the 71" model, which has a backlit LED array setup to deliver great contrast ratios, but also totally black sidebars when watching normal 16:9 content on it. The extra width really brought kinescope format movies to life (I am biased, with a 2.40:1 screen in my basement), but it also means you can use apps to track sports scores while watching the game without having to cut off anything from the image. These should finally be shipping very soon.

BenQ had their new W7000 projector on display for me, and was showing off Cars 2 in 3D. Since I have a 2 year old son, I've seen Cars 2 in 3D roughly 100 times at this point, and I've seen it in 3D quite a bit as well on various displays. With the BenQ, I saw no crosstalk on the screen, even in the scenes that I've watched many times as I know exactly where the crosstalk happens. With a full CMS to really dial in that Rec 709 color gamut, and 1100 lumens even when calibrated (2000 in the brightest mode for watching sports or something similar), and a range of lens adjustments, this is a projector that will really satisfy those people looking for a great 3D projector for the home. With a street price of $2,500, it won't hit them too hard in the wallet either.

I had never covered CES before, so I wasn't sure what to expect. I have covered CEDIA the past few years so I thought I was ready, but CES is a totally different beast. Everything is bigger, larger, and with less room to walk around. However it also has some really cool stuff that you might not see anywhere else.

Walking into the convention center the first thing that caught our eye was the Sharp 8K display. While a prototype with no firm release date, there is no way I can explain the detail you could see here. With native 8K content that looked to be at 60 frames per second, people and details were as clear as if they were standing there. I couldn't see any pixel structure no matter how close I got to the screen, and on an image of a street you could look as far into the background as you could and it was still incredibly detailed. Forget 3D, if you can get 8K in the future, you'll be blown away.

Sharp was also showing a 4K display next to a 1080p display, and this was even more relevant as the 4K display is going to ship later this year (date and cost unknown). The 1080p looked soft and fuzzy in comparison, though I can't be certain of how the source and display were configured. Even with a 50" display (estimated size, it wasn't posted) you could tell a big difference in clarity from a few feet away.

Sony was showing a prototype of their CrystalLED display. Instead of using a few LEDs to light an LCD panel, this has individual LEDs for each sub-pixel, with over 6 million individual LEDs in total. With people showing OLED displays, this was Sony's way of showing a different tech that offers some of the same benefits.

As you can see, the display is thin, with NO off-axis viewing issues that I could see at all. Colors and brightness stayed all the way to the edge of the screen, even at extreme viewing angles. Blacks were dead black, and the contrast ratio was incredible with some night scenes. The most amazing thing was a panning shot that showed absolutely no trace of motion blur. Having been testing that recently, all displays available now show some motion blur and loss of resolution, that we take it for granted that things just look that way on a display. With this, everything was crystal clear and amazingly detailed. I really hope this keeps developing, as I want this in my living room now.

Though I was focusing on video, JL Audio had some new subwoofers that they were showing over in the car audio section. Priced at $2,000 for the 12", it still uses the high end woofers that JL Audio is famous for, but with a more basic finish and control set than their Fathom line. They looked very nice in person, though I wasn't able to find a ship date.

Not to be left out, Samsung had a 4K display as well. Unlike the Sharp, this was just a technology demo and had no other display to compare it to. It did look very nice, with tons of detail in shots of trees and other nature shots.

Samsung was showing an OLED display that will be shipping later this year. No one could give me a definite price, but it looked very nice with deep, dark blacks and vivid colors. Unlike the Sony CrystalLED demo, this was using a lot more synthetic, CG content so it was harder to tell for certain how great it might look.

LG also had a 55" OLED set, which you might be able to see in the photo above, but you might not since it is ridiculously thin. Dark city scenes looked wonderful, with dark blacks and lights not causing blooming around them. I did notice that when you went off line there was a shift from white to green with the panel, so it didn't have the same color fidelity as the Sony set, but this one will be shipping this year, with a price point not yet announced.

LG also went through and updated their selection of Apps to make it easier to browse, and they had a large selection of 3D content available. This is nice since the lack of 3D content is still a major barrier to its acceptance. LG had a 4K resolution set, but unlike the other sets this supported passive 3D, but the 4K nature means you can get the full 1080p resolution on current content with this passive 3D set. I also didn't notice the patterned retarder that bothered me so much on their 50" passive model, but the bright lights of the convention center could be helping to hide the texture.

Panasonic has been the plasma leader for a while now, and their VT50 looked to keep that up. With a new neoPlasma panel that promises even better motion resolution (where plasma already beats LCD easily), the blacks were inky and deep, and the bezel was thinner than before as well. This has a good chance of being one of the best sets this year that you can buy without a second mortgage to pay for it.

Panasonic made Blu-ray players last year that were fantastic, so good that I bought their 210 model for my home. This year they have a whole new lineup (including a tiny Blu-ray model that would have been an ideal fit for the bedroom that I put the 210 in), and this was their new high end audio model. With dual HDMI outputs, gold plated RCA multichannel outputs, full bass control, and higher end capacitors and other board components, this will be a very interesting one to get in for testing. If they can keep the same great video processing they had last year, but add on even better audio performance, the $350 list price could make it an easy purchase for a whole lot of people.

Of course, people come to Vegas to get married all the time as well. Including these two booth models, who got to spend their day at the Nikon booth posing for people to show off the new Nikon D4 camera, and plenty of show goers who kept coming up and snapping their picture.

CES starts on Tuesday, but companies have already started to announce products to beat the rush of thousands of press releases early next week. LG has already made waves with their OLED panel that they will be demonstrating. 55" large, 4mm thick, and a price that we don't know yet, and it's the one thing I can't wait to see in person. LG will also have a 4K LCD display, and since they are the main people pushing Passive 3D right now, this will allow them to have full resolution 3D with passive glasses, which could be a very nice thing.

Samsung will also be showing an OLED set people believe, and so I'll be checking that out as well. I will be covering everything related to displays, projectors, Blu-ray, and anything else video that I can see. I won't be making it for press day like Robert will, but I will also be taking the ISF Level II course while at the show so I can try to bring even better analysis to video reviews I do in the future.