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CES 2009 Report by Greg Mahoney

Another CES has come and gone. Although attendance was down, some would say that the people who did come really had business to conduct and that the quality of meetings being conducted was of a higher caliber for all manufacturers.

The primary buzz at the show centered on HDTV and the advent of 240 Hz refresh rates from all the majors, Sony, LG, Toshiba and Samsung in their new LCD and plasma sets. The 240 Hz refresh rate is demonstrable in the ability to produce a picture that is clearer and more defined when fast motion objects and very detailed still frames such as a test pattern are panned across the screen. Samsung had an excellent display of three monitors comparing 60, 120 and 240 Hz refresh rates and it is clear this technology works.

The trend of thinner and thinner HDTVs continues with some of the majors showing TVs that are now under a half inch in thickness. These panels are truly something that can be hung on the wall. Many of these sets will now use an LED light source which further increases the contrast ratios and richness of the available color palette. Yes, these sets will at first be expensive but like almost everything else in consumer electronics the advanced attributes of these sets will find their way to the masses.

There was also a plethora of 3D demos at the show and this is exciting technology, but it was also exciting in the 1950's and nothing really came of it. The demos at the show were for the most part, in my opinion, abysmal. The effect was excellent but resolution and color accuracy were lacking in most of the demos. One manufacturer the Da-Lite Screen Company showed their new 3D screen technology called virtual grey that sets a new standard in 3D polarization by virtually eliminating cross talk or "ghosting" In the past, the biggest obstacle in passive 3D stereoscopic projection was the ability of the projection screen to retain the integrity of polarization in the image reflected from the screen. I saw a demo of this and it is the best 3D I have seen in a home theater situation
This technology should accelerate the possibility of 3D in the home theater environment. I also see possible uses in the medical arena. This technology was also shown in the nvidia booth providing total immersion in the gaming experience and this is where the first practical use of 3D will prevail.

On the audio front, it is becoming apparent that more and more manufacturers and consumers are embracing the music server digital front end and there were many showing product at the show. Most notably from an audiophile standpoint Sooloos and Qsonic whose touch screen interfaces are the epitome of ease of use. Naim showed their excellent stand alone HDX player designed to replace your CD player with and audiophile grade hard drive player.

PS audio PerfectWave Transport

PS Audio PerfectWave Transport and DAC

The real news for audiophiles though comes from PS Audio with the introduction of the PerfectWave Transport and PerfectWave DAC. The Perfectwave Transport uses EAC (Exact Audio Copy) to rip files to an internal 64MB buffer to play back the music. This process pretty much eliminates jitter and the aural results I heard are incredible. The Perfectwave Transport is also the only player that will play back the new HRX 176.4 kHz 24 bit files from Reference Recordings. The Beta units of these PS Audio products are being tested now. The Secrets crew will ask for a review pair once production units are shipping.

There were some interesting new speakers and upgrades of existing product announced at the show.

Perfect 8s $300k glass speaker system

Two speaker manufacturers caught my eye, or was it the glint from their speaker cabinets, as their product cabinets were made from glass or as one manufacturer insisted crystal. Perfect 8 from Sweden showed the Force a $300K glass enclosure speaker system using cone and ribbon drivers. The system sounded fantastic, but there were other speakers at the show that sounded just as good for a fraction of the cost. The other glass speaker was from Crystal cables and called the Arabesque. It also sounded very good but no price was tendered.

The MBL 111F Speaker

MBL of Germany showed a new speaker the MBL 111F, the little brother of the 101 MKII. This is my candidate as the best sounding display at the show. The sustained pedal of the organ from Saint Saens Organ Symphony was amazing.

The other room that had a very lifelike sound was the Anthony Gallo Acoustics room. Anthony Gallo personally demonstrated his new Reference 3.5 speakers an upgrade from the 3.1s. These were probably the second best sounding speakers, next to the MBL 111Fs, I heard at the show.

Lastly, it was nice to see the high end preamp manufacturers finally embrace and include the latest DTS Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD audio codecs, it's about time they stopped dragging their feet.