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CES 2013-Full Coverage

ARTICLE INDEX

Chris Heinonen Show Coverage

CES 2013 Wrap-Up

Coming into CES 2013 I wasn't overly excited by what I was going to see. OLED panels really excited me last year, but then they didn't ship, which probably dampened my enthusiasm, and many of the rumored items before the show were things that were either way past the price range of most readers, or technologies like 4K that I think aren't quite there yet. Despite that, I came away from CES with a few things that I really did like.

My favorite products were the high-end plasma displays from Panasonic and Samsung. While OLED might be better, these are displays that most of us can probably afford, and you can get them in sizes larger than 55" as well. The Samsung was demonstrated under much worse conditions than the Panasonic, but the black levels and light output were much improved from last year it looked like, and a source told me that the light output was really far better than before. The screen also did a very good job of attenuating reflections, which combined with the higher light output should make the plasma a wonderful choice for a living room as well as a theater room.

In a dark room the Panasonic ZT60 was really phenomenal. The improved black levels and better red phosphor were evident when seen next to the VT50 from last year, which was already the best TV out there many people think. The larger colorspace also ensures that you can have enough saturation from every color when using the internal CMS or an external processor like a Lumagen to get the best possible image. The new bonded panel looks to be a real winner, though the price has gone up by $500-1,000 they suggested, and we will have to try to get one in for testing to see how well it really does perform.

4K displays were literally everywhere, but with the lack of content and the limitations of HDMI right now (only 30 frames per second for native 4K content and no native 3D 4K), as well as none of the 4K displays seemingly taking advantage of the larger gamut offered by the draft UHD specification, it seems to be something that will be better to buy in another year or two. Of course the 4K content looks great, but when I'd back up to a more reasonable distance I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have been able to tell the difference between 1080p and 4K content.

The one exception to this was the 32" Sharp 4K LCD that is meant for computer use. Using IGZO technology, which allows for smaller pixels as well as faster response times, 4K makes a lot of sense for a desktop display as you can see more data or have clearer fonts and images. The IGZO technology can also find its way to OLED and regular 1080p displays, providing them with benefits beyond just resolution. Priced at $7,000 it targets industries like CAD/CAM and Architects, but this kind of pixel density might be the future with technology like IGZO. The question for home theaters is if we will be close enough to our displays for it to matter.

On the audio side, I really liked the new Thiel 1.7 speakers. I was always a huge fan of the 2.4s from Thiel and the 1.7 slots right into that price point. I didn't get a chance to listen to the content that I'm more familiar with on them at the show, as they were using the new Bryston DAC and media server, but hopefully I will have a pair in house soon for a review so I can see how they perform. With matching center channel and surround speakers available, they could make for a very nice home theater setup as well.

There was also a lot of vinyl at the show, but also the CD1 CD player from Halo that was very interesting. Aiming to be your last CD player ever, if it provides the improvements in data retrieval and timing that it claims to, it just may be your final disc player. My favorite audio product was probably the Olive One music player. After Logitech killed off the Squeezebox Touch, and Sonos still won't support anything beyond 16/44.1 audio, there is a big gap in there for a high resolution, affordable music player. The Olive One offers 24/192-file support, 32 WPC for two speakers, a really nice interface and design, and the option for a hard drive to store your whole library. If it lives up to the demo, I see myself buying a few for around the house, paired up with something like the Golden Ear Aon 2 bookshelf.

With all the things to cover there was a ton that I didn't get to, and so there are more details below on those items. As exhausting as 3 days of CES is, you really could cover it for a week and not see everything there is, and there is THE Show at the nearby Flamingo Hotel that has products from many other audio companies that aren't at CES. In the end, while much of the focus from CES will be on 4K/UHD displays, far more impressive to me were the updated plasma displays offering amazing picture quality we can afford, and I can't wait to test them out.

Other Gear…

In the Venetian, Rega was showing their brand new RP8 turntable, with its new skeletal body design and structure. $3,000 without a cartridge, and $4,000 with the MC Apheta cartridge installed. The tonearm is their new RB808 model, the plinth is constructed of magnesium and phenolic, and the platter is a three-piece laminated glass construction. Listening a bit in the room I heard a lot of good things and nothing bad (the pops and crackles that many associate with vinyl were absent here) as Rega targets a higher end market than they typically do. The are supposed to have an even higher-end RP10 coming this year, which I'm certainly interested to see how it looks.

Pro-Ject had their new Phono Box RS, their reference piece in phono stages. With single ended and balanced outputs, but more importantly a wide range of adjustments for loading and gain are available to the user, and able to be adjusted without resorting to dip switches. For those looking to find the optimal setup for their cartridge and turntable combination, or want to make it easier to experiment with different settings, the Phono Box RS makes it nice and easy. Selling for just under $1,000, the Phono Box RS is available now.

Martin Logan was showing off prototypes of their new subwoofers, the Balanced Force 210 and 212. With a pair of opposed 10" or 12" woofers, hence the model numbers, these replace the long standing Depth and Descent subwoofers. Compared to those models they feature larger drivers, though only two as opposed to three, but also feature the Perfect Bass Kit that has migrated over to Martin Logan from Paradigm and Anthem. The high level of adjustability that was in the Depth and Decent models has been carried over as well. Shipping for these should be later this year, with prices not set at this time but likely in the range of the models they will replace.

Onkyo also entered the headphone market at CES, with their over-ear ES-HF300 and ES-FC300 models. Both models utilize 40mm titanium drivers as well as ported bass chambers for a wide frequency response. The main difference in the two models seems to be the quality of the cable, as the HF300 models run for $179 while the FC300s come in at $149. A quick listen in the noisy Gibson tent showed they were nice performers, with a much better sound than many other headphones I heard at the show. They should be out in Q1 of this year.

Peachtree Audio was showing off their new novaPre and matching Peachtree220 amplifier. The novaPre is a new preamp that is strictly two channel, but breaks away from the analog-only mold as many other companies did this CES as well. It maintains the tube stage that Peachtree is well known for, but adds a SABRE DAC with 4 digital inputs (USB, Optical, 2x Coaxial) to take advantage of it. The only thing missing that I like to see is a Home Theater Bypass for those that want to integrated their stereo and home theater systems. The Peachtree220 is a stereo, 220 watts per channel amplifier of a Class D design. If you step up to 4 ohms the power moves up to 400 watts per channel, giving you enough reserve for even highly demanding loads. Paired with the novaPre you get plenty of power in reserve, and the bit of tube sound in the preamp that so many people love.

CES 2013 Day 3

After missing the Venetian last year and all of the high-end audio, I made sure to block off a lot of time today to see what was there. First up was the DBox-Kalidescape-Triad-Stewart-ADA-etc… demo room. With a giant screen, a Digital Projection projector, incredibly comfortable seats, and great sound, this was a demo to get to. Watching clips from a few films, including one with motion in the seats, was a great way to start the day out, and a really amazing show of what you can do. It's beyond my means to install in my home, but it's a target to aim for, or at least I need some better chairs.

Next I visited Parasound to hear their new CD1 CD Player. I know the idea of a new CD player now seems very quaint, but talking to Parasound's president Richard Schram gave me an idea of what they were after. Using a Sony transport and a custom, Linux-based platform, every bit is read from the CD at least two times before it is played back. Using a 40 second buffer, if those two reads aren't identical, then it can be re-read until it determines the correct value for that spot, instead of just using the standard error correction method that other CD players use.

This bitstream is then kept in the RAM of the PC, allowing for more precise clocking than a conventional player can offer. It only uses a single DAC for the stereo channels, as using separate DACs introduces another area for timing errors to occur. They were one of the few people to let me pick from a wide variety of music, letting me sample some Radiohead that I was very familiar with. The player and electronics sounded superb, and for those with a large CD collection like myself, it offers a way to get more value out of your existing music instead of having to re-buy the whole collection again.

Bryston and Thiel had a room together where Bryston was showing off their updated DAC and digital music transport. The largest improvement in their digital transport, in my opinion, was the ability to use a NAS system over Ethernet instead of requiring all the music to be directly connected via USB. They were also showing their Model T loudspeakers that are becoming available. They come in multiple configurations: A regular version with an internal crossover, a version with an external crossover to allow for tri-wiring, and an ultimate version that uses their new external DSP to tri-amp all three channels. They suggested their 6B SST2 amplifier, which offers 3x200 WPC, for that version. The Model T performs just as well at 90 dB as it does at 110 dB, letting you listen loud or quiet with the best possible performance.

Thiel was showing the new 1.7 loudspeaker, which sells for $5,490 a pair and begins shipping this month. It has a metal midrange/bass driver, similar to those utilized on their 3.7 and 2.7 speakers, with a front bass port as well. Listening to them, vocals were clear and guitars sounded great, with a very natural, clear sound to everything despite the challenging room they were placed in. A review of these should be coming up from us in the future.

On the advice of another writer in the Thiel room, I then headed straight for the Magico room to hear the new S1 speaker. A two way speaker utilizing their own custom drivers that retails for $12,600, the Magico looks very ordinary on the initial viewing, but listening proved it wasn't any other speaker. I wish they had cranked the Constellation amplifiers a bit more, but piano coming out of them sounded incredibly realistic and natural. Notes were full and detailed, and didn't have the thinness or edginess that piano so often has from recordings. It's not a speaker most of us can ever hope to afford, but it's one that I would love to spend more time listening to.

Wisdom Audio is usually at CEDIA so I've had a good chance to listen to their speakers, but never their reference line source LS4s, on wall models driven by D'Agostino amplifiers. A pair of these with the required active crossovers sells for $107,500 so they are possibly the most expensive on-wall speakers out there, but did they ever leave an impression. Using their planar array the music was incredibly fast, with seemingly instant response time from those panels. When they switched to an electronica track, they provided that concert experience of a wall of sound coming at you, but they were incredibly clear and detailed the whole time. This was my favorite audio of the show, even though it's far past what I can ever hope to afford.

I made a trip to the WiSA room, where they offered up another demonstration of their wireless audio technology that should be out in stores this year. This demonstration was using a set of Klipsch speakers, as well as a Sharp Blu-ray player, but in this case everything was wireless. The Sharp used the WiHD standard (60 GHz, like the DVDO Air) to stream to the display, and it had the internal transmitter for the WiSA speakers as well, so it was sending the audio to those. The Blu-ray player just sat on the table the entire time. Despite all of the wireless signals going around the Venetian, there wasn't a single hiccup or dropout in the audio or the video for this demo, which is really impressive. For people that want to add better sound to their system, but don't want to run a bunch of wiring, the WiSA solution looks to be a nice one once products start to come out this year.

GoldenEar was in the Venetian showing off their new Triton Seven loudspeaker. A floorstander, but with passive radiators instead of active subwoofers, it features a pair of 5.25" bass/midrange drivers and their folded ribbon tweeter. Selling for $700 each, the Triton Seven did a very nice job with a Pink Floyd cut, bringing across the feel of the recording space, a large soundstage and some very decent bass response. It couldn't plumb the depths like the larger Triton One and Two can, but it did a remarkable job for a speaker in its price range.

There were some more things from the LVCC that I wanted to cover as well. BenQ was showing off a couple new projectors: The W1070 and W1080. They are both DLP based, table top projectors that offer 3D, ISFccc calibration controls, and more. The 1080 is a short-throw model that can be placed very close to the screen while the 1070 is a more traditional model for table top or ceiling mounted. They are available now and we should have one coming in for review very soon.

Panasonic had their AE8000U projector on display, though not showing any image. An update of their popular AE7000U model that launched last year, it is an LCD projector that offers 3D, lens memory, and greatly improved lumen output from the previous model. Panasonic is also showing their own LED+Laser projector, which seems to be one of the hot new things that everyone is trying to do now. All of these use Red and Blue LEDs, along with a Blue laser that excites a Green pigment to create the full RGB spectrum.

CES 2013 Day 2

Heading over to SIM2 they were showing off their new Fuoriserie projector. Based on the SIM2 Lumis Solo projector, it is more of a bespoke version with higher-powered lamps and even better lenses than standard. They are only producing 30 of them, but it certainly looked nice in person. I won't be getting one of these in for review unfortunately, but the Lumis platform that it is based off of should be arriving sometime soon to see how it fares in my room.

This was also in the SIM2 booth, though not from them. I really have no idea who makes it as I had to run off for another meeting, but with an integrated turntable and CD player, it certainly looked interesting.

Sharp was showing off their 4K displays, though without pricing available for them. They are already shipping in Japan so they will be here soon, but probably around mid-year. One 4K display that is also already shipping in Japan is their 32" 4K display using IGZO technology. Here you can see a shot of how much detail there is on a 4K display, and how detailed it looks up close. IGZO promises tighter pixels, faster refresh rates, and a better overall image than current LCD technology.

Sharp was showing off their regular displays as well, which have a new split-screen mode that allow you to watch something while having a web browser up at the same time. What was nice about this is that the browser supports Flash and HTML 5, so streaming sites like ESPN3 will play on the Sharp displays. All Sharp LCDs are now LED lit, which the 7 series and 8 series all feature their Quattron technology..

Toshiba also has a line of 4K TVs in a variety of sizes. They had native 4K content playing on some of them courtesy of RED and their upcoming RedRay player. There was a side-by-side demo of 4K upconversion vs. 1080p, but it seemed the 1080p was overly soft, and there was a lot of visible edge enhancement on the 4K one that really distracted. They did have a really nice looking TV guide on their new sets that is much better than the standard guide.

Panasonic had changed around their line of plasmas this year, removing the U and GT series and creating a new high-end series, the ZT60. The main improvements were in the VT and ZT lines, where there is a new red phosphor that allows for a truer shade of red, as well as 98% of the DCI colorspace, which is a far larger colorspace than sRGB. Panasonic has also teamed up with SpectraCal, the makers of CalMAN, so you can pull these color points back into the sRGB space to have accurate color for current content. The black levels also looked fantastic on the new ZT60. In a demo of last years VT50 and the new ZT60, set just to cinema mode out of the box, the ZT60 has a much more pure red and a much lower black level, with better detail and almost none of the sub-pixel flicker that you can see on plasma when you are close. I imagine the ZT60 will compete for the reference display we can actually afford.

Very interesting to me was a new app from Panasonic for their TVs that let you adjust the calibration from an iOS or Android device. You can choose a color space, adjust the 10-point grayscale, gamma, CMS, and everything else from your tablet. The huge advantage here is calibrating without any menus on the screen that can lead to incorrect readings from the screen, as happens with many displays. I really want to see how well that works as it can make the life of a calibrator like myself much easier.

LG was showing their OLED TV that begins to ship in the first quarter of this year for $12,000. Unfortunately the content was a bit of CG-looking stuff that makes it hard to judge picture quality, but the colors were vivid and the blacks looked very good. Once we can actually see our regular content on it and measure it we can really judge how it looks. You can also see from the side profile just how thin it is.

LG was also showing a LED-Laser hybrid projector, but unlike the other models this was a very short throw model that goes right up against the wall and can do a 100" image from that close. Estimated price was around $10,000, but when the competing short-throw Runco projector is almost $20,000 we will have to see how the LG performs as it might be a nice option for some people.

Finally LG has their 4K TVs that are coming out this year as well. The 84" model is available now and sells for under $20,000, while the 55" and 65" models have prices and ship dates that are TBA (everything at CES was TBA it seems). These have the same benefits and flaws of other UHD TVs, but with LGs commitment to passive 3D it means you should be able to watch 3D in full 1080p resolution on them without the eyestrain that often accompanies active 3D for many people.

Finally I got to see the Olive One player, which Olive has been promoting with crowd-funding at IndieGoGo the past month. This was the item I might be most excited about, as the $400 box has a stereo 32 WPC amplifier, a gorgeous aluminum and glass case, and a wonderful interface for listening to all of your music. You can also install your own hard drive (or order one with it installed) and also keep all of your music on it. Their software fill find your iTunes library and other music and migrate it over for you, making the job very simple while keeping all of your metadata correct. This comes out in July, though models can be ordered now though their IndieGoGo site.

Tomorrow, more from the Las Vegas Convention Center and some from the Venetian.

CES started on Monday afternoon for me as I landed in Las Vegas and headed straight over to see what was new from Vizio. The main new TV attraction was their UHD display, an 84" 3820x2160 model that currently has no price but is due out later this year. It is LED edge lit with a few zones and watching custom 4K content provided by Dreamworks it looked very good in person. When asked about my concerns with 4K, including the lack of an HDMI standard that supports more than 30 frames per second at 4K or 3D, they indicated that they would have either a dual HDMI solution or try to utilize the new HDMI standard if it is completed in time.

Vizio also had a large selection of new sound bars available to listen to. I was a big skeptic of the sound bar before I had one in for review, but my wife made it clear that I need to find one to use for our living room. The lower end model from Vizio is simply a 2.0 version, but the higher end models are full 5.1 systems with wireless subwoofers than run the surrounds from the subwoofer itself to make installation easier. The highest end model also has an HDMI input and output and can handle TrueHD and DTS HD Master Audio codecs. Vizio is nice enough to include all the cables you need in the box, so you don't have to run out and find a Toslink or RCA to 3.5mm cable before you can hook up your sound bar.

Sony has a new selection of 4K displays including 55" and 65" models, but prices on those are not known yet. One of the displays was showing a newspaper to demonstrate how much detail there could be in true 4K content. If you pressed your face up close to the display then you could read the words of the newspaper, but as soon as you went to a more reasonable viewing position those words were no longer readable, much like they would be on a 1080p display of the same size. 4K certainly looks fantastic in person, but I think a lot of that is how close you usually have to stand to a display at a trade show. Sony also has their Tri-Luminous lighting system for their higher end displays this year. This has a much larger gamut than Rec 709 traditionally does, and allows for shades of blue and green that you can't get on a display typically.

Of course, no content uses this gamut and often when you have too large of a gamut, it leads to everything being very oversaturated and having eye-popping colors where they should really be muted. Sony gave an explanation as to how they deal with this, but it didn't make much sense to me and we will have to wait until we can test one out to see how it works in real life.

One thing that was really cool to see from Sony was a prototype 4K content delivery system. Current owners of their 84" 4K display have been given a server for their systems with 10 movies pre-loaded on it for them, but their 4K projector and their new 55" and 65" models don't have this. This new system will replace that server, and will also have a way to send new movies to customers, though that method isn't decided upon yet. Compatibility with other vendors wasn't detailed either, though if it uses HDMI 1.4 I see no reason it wouldn't work fine.

One thing I thought did look cool was the speakers on the side of the new 4K sets. Instead of being hidden on the back or behind a grill, they were molded into the sides of the set, making it appear to almost not be there, but up close they had a very distinctive look that was quite striking.

Sony was showing true 4K content from the World Cup on these sets, but I think this actually was a bad idea and shows the problem with 4K sets right now. Since HDMI 1.4 doesn't have a full 4K spec in it, the fastest you can do motion with 4K resolution is 30 frames per second and not the usual 60. Because of this, the motion of the soccer ball was very choppy and clearly worse than you would see at 60p. A new HDMI revision should fix this, but that hasn't been announced yet, and we have no idea if sets can be upgraded to that either. I think this is why most 4K demos stick to 24p films or custom scenes of nature without much fast movement typically.

The prototype 4K OLED from Sony was just amazing. Incredibly detailed, perfect motion and viewing angles, amazing black levels, just everything you want OLED to be. You couldn't get that close to it, and it's just a demo unit so don't plan on seeing it anytime soon, but OLED can't get here soon enough.

Samsung has their new living gallery framed TVs on display, which look really striking in person. They look like the kind of set I would put in my house, if my house was totally redecorated by someone and I lived in a wonderful loft overlooking the city that I always see on TV. It really looked quite stunning, but it also looks like it is at a perfect height for my kids to run up to it and attack it. No pricing was available on these yet.

Samsung also showed their new F8500 plasma series, which is their new reference line and coming out early this year in 51", 60" and 64" models. With a new integrated stand, greatly reduced reflections, and black levels that looked better than the E8000 I reviewed this year, I really can't wait to see what these do in person. It's not new or fancy tech, but it's still the best tech we have for displays at home for a reasonable price.

Samsung also has a curved OLED display as a demo, and their own 55" OLED display that will be out this year they say. The price and date are not known, just like last year, but hopefully they go quick to keep up with LG.

Samsung was showing off how their PC monitors are calibrated at the factory to correct grayscale, gamut, gamma, and uniformity. I haven't tested one of these yet, but I wish all display vendors could do these for their TVs.

HiSense is a name we don't really know yet, but they're trying to make a big mark in the USA as well. Their 110" UHD display looked very good as you would expect, but I was more interested in their 65" backlit array LED display. With over 570 controlled zones (the Elite LCD has under 400 I believe) you should get very black backgrounds without haloing, and it has a full CMS as well, for what they said was close to half the price of the comparable Elite. I'd really like to see this in person and find out how it performs, as the demo material they were using was less than great.

Most of the main convention center is video related, but Sony was showing off matching center and bookshelf models of the high end SS-AR1 loudspeaker. I didn't see anything about pricing or availability, but with the raves that the SS-AR1 received, I really want to see if they can extend this to a full home theater setup.

Finally, Sennheiser was showing off their classic Orpheus amplifier and headphone set, but with a really nice turntable driving them. It was nice to see such a nice source at the LVCC and not just in the Venetian, and it sounded wonderful on the headphones. They were almost too revealing of groove noise on the table it seemed.

Starting next week, Las Vegas will be overrun by everything that is new in Home Theater and Home Audio, in addition to all that is new in computers, headphones, personal electronics, flying gadgets you see on kiosks at the mall, massage chairs, and really anything that uses electricity. We will keep the focus on home theater and audio for you and cover what will be there.

Last year we saw OLED debut and then never go on sale. LG finally put their $10,000, 55" OLED display, seen above, on sale in South Korea last week so we expect to get US sale dates and prices at the show, as well as a look at the final design. Samsung also has their OLED display but still no information on when we can buy it so hopefully that comes out as well. One nice surprise last year was the CrystalLED tech demo from Sony, but with no idea if it can be a marketable product or not. They have announced a partnership with Panasonic but the details of that are still somewhat unknown and if they will have an OLED to show as well. Hopefully we start to see these shipping in the first quarter of this year.

With OLED proving to be hard to produce, everyone is rushing to produce their own UltraHD (aka 4K) sets. With 84" models now available from LG and Sony for $18,000 and up, they are priced well past OLED and what we are likely to buy. Now we're seeing some of the non-major companies, like Westinghouse and Hisense, announcing 4K models for CES and LG announcing models as small as 55" for the show. With the benefits of 4K at 55" not being much past 4-5' away from the screen, I'm not really sure of the benefits here except for passive 3D with full 1080p resolution. 4K projectors are what I'd really like to see where the image size and distance could provide benefits, but those are more likely to come out at CEDIA.

The real issue with 4K is the total lack of content unless you buy from Sony. Red has announced Red Ray, that will do 4K on a disc, but I've not seen any content from them yet. I also don't expect to see a new disc format yet beyond that with wide 4K support as we also need a new HDMI specification for 4K 3D, 60p 4K and more before we can have a disc. Hopefully some more details will be talked about with all the 4K displays there, but I'm not expecting it.

On the audio side, one area that's very exciting to me is the proliferation of turntables in the $1,000-1,500 price range. I reviewed the Clearaudio Concept in 2011 and really loved it, and since then we have seen the RP3 and RP6 from Rega, the Traveler from VPI, and now the Ingenium from AVID in this price area. All of these turntables feature technology that comes down from their higher-end models to hit a really nice price for consumers. Hopefully I can get a couple more of these in for review to see how they perform. Of course the best part of CES is the surprises (the worst is the walking and the crowds), so hopefully we will have a lot to write about and to look forward to seeing in our homes this year.