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Further Observations and Summary - January 17, 2000

Stacey Spears: My favorite video at the show was found in the Faroudja booth.  To quote Secrets writer Brian Florian, “Now that was a religious experience!”  Faroudja was demonstrating their new DVP-5000 that de-interlaced (line doubled) 1080i, presenting us with a beautiful 1080p image.  The projector was the Sony G90.  The source was a spoof of the TV series "Chicago Hope" that was shot on HD video cameras and film converted to HD.  When sitting up close, I could see the scan lines in the 1080i image.  Once they turned on the processing, the scan lines vanished, and the image got brighter.  Of course to take full advantage of the DVP-5000, you need a CRT with 9” guns.  But wait, it gets better.  For those who purchased the DVP-3000, it is fully upgradeable to the DVP-5000.  The DVP-5000 is going to retail for about $26,999.

The next best video of the show was on display at the Vidikron booth.  They had their new Vision One X configured in a rear projection setup using two mirrors in the path.  The projector contains some 270 modifications that were designed by an engineer at Ultimate Entertainment, including a direct digital input.  They had a D5 machine running a single digital video cable straight to the projector.  A 720p video was the source material.  There were live shots during a parade at Disneyland and some fast action sport shots of football and basketball.  Late one night after the show closed, a small group of the press was allowed back into the booth for a 720p/1080i comparison.  The source material was not the same so one could not declare a winner of one format over the other.  The 720p was the same material used earlier, and the 1080i was some Japanese sample material that had very little motion.  What did I conclude from the demo?  Both formats look fantastic!  I wish there would have been a DVP-5000 on hand in the Vidikron booth.

 

The best DVD video at the show, IMHO, was at the Meridian booth.  They were feeding a Runco DTV-1100 with a Snell & Wilcox Interpolator Gold, which was being fed by the Meridian 800 DVD machine via an encrypted digital video connection.  "Wild Wild West" was the movie being shown.  

Meridian was also demonstrating their new flagship loudspeaker the DSP-8000s.  All of the music samples Meridian played were upsampled, and no native 96/24 material was being used.  The DSP-8000s were capable of reproducing some very low bass without the need of a subwoofer.  In fact, they had no subwoofers in their demo room.  The DSP-8000s remind me of a Cylon Raider's helmet from "Battlestar Galactica".

 

The best multi-product demonstration would have to go to Runco.  They held their press conference at a local club called “The Beach.”  They set up an entire room with their products from Plasma to Rear Projection CRT to Front Projection CRT to DLP.  They had all of these monitors calibrated to look the same.  They displayed one at a time using the exact same program material and went around the room.  All of the displays were using their new in-house designed video processors.  They had three models, the 4402 Ultra, 4403 Ultra, and the 4404 Ultra.  The biggest differences between the three are scanning frequencies.  The 4404 adds some more tweaking controls like individual channel delay, but they all use the same video front end and de-interlacing/scaling technology.  Does anyone remember the Crystal Vision comb filter?  Well, that’s what is inside along with improvements.  Runco bought that technology and hired that designer.  This is the first product that Runco has built from the ground up in-house.  The 4402 Ultra will start around $7,999.

 

PS Audio's new P600 is currently set to run at 720 watts continually and can take instantaneous burst up to 1000 watts.  When talking to Paul, he thinks they might up the continuous current  to 800 watts.  The unit was running for several hours at 700 watts and it ran from cool to lukewarm.  Paul also demonstrated his new 150-wpc-power amp powering a pair of Revel speakers.  All power cords and speaker cables were the new PS Audio Lab Cables.  I have not seen a larger cable! 

Paul had set up a nice little demo that allowed him to switch between three PLCs to compare them.  He compared the Power Wedge (Power Pack) and the Monster HTS 3500 to the P300.  He was also able to run straight from the hotel AC and from a clipped waveform.  Only the P300 corrected the sine wave, but then it is the only product which claims that.  As far as harmonics, the P300 was way below everyone else, the Monster harmonics were actually worse than the wall when the sine wave was clipped.

The photo on the left shows the P600 on top with a Wadia CD player on the shelf below, then the PS Audio power amplifier (left) and P300 (right) on the shelf below that, and the bottom shelf had the PS Audio Extension Link.

 

Perpetual Technologies was demonstrating their new and improved, soon to be released P-A1, the Swiss army knife of audio products.  In its basic form, it is an upsampler/resolution enhancement box.  It takes any digital audio input and upconverts it to 96/24.  Next it performs resolution enhancement (noise shaping and dither much like the Audio Alchemy DTI Pro 32) to the signal.  This is all for $999.

For an additional $399, they can add speaker correction to the box via a software flash.  (The P-A1 has a USB port on the back.)  They actually had this running at the show with a pair of Martin Logan speakers.  When they first turned it on, I really could not tell.  Then they turned it off and, WOW, what happened to the music?  They then repeated the procedure a few more times, and each time I was hard to notice the change when turning on, but as soon as you removed the speaker correction, it was obvious something had happened and for the worse.  This was all done over a very short period of time, perhaps 10-15 minutes.

I definitely preferred the speaker correction on, once I realized what I was missing.  I think these should become available in March or April of 2000.  Then the next upgrade is for room correction.  This will be an additional $699.  The P-A1 is digital in and digital out.  If you need analog output, you can add their new P-A3 24/192 DAC that will retail for about $599.  If you want an all-in-one solution, you can get their DAW-1 for $1,999, which is essentially a P-A1 and P-A3 in one box.  The $1,999 does not include the speaker or room correction, you still have to pay the additional $$$ for that, but from the short demos I have heard, I think it will be well worth it.

 

In the same room as the Perpetual team was Dusty Vauters new company Monolithic.  Dusty’s line seems to cover the analog side of things for those 2-channel vinyl fans.  He has the new PS-1 phono stage, PA-1 line stage, HC-1 dual mono power supply, and HC-2 digital/analog power supply.  If you would like more info on the Monolithic line you can call him at 805-929-3251.

 

There was a little German company, Cinematrix, who will be working with MSB Technology to offer a progressive scan upgrade for ANY DVD player!  It will cost somewhere between $400 and $600.  Not only will it do 480p, but also it can output ANY resolution!  They have a windows interface that lets you set the output.  It does 3:2 pull-down detection as well.  They tap directly into the digital output of the MPEG decoder.  There is also a spot on the board for a future upgrade.  This upgrade will allow you to change the frame rate, so it will be able to do 72 FPS.  I think I am going to have my Sony S-7000 upgraded as soon as it is available.

 

You may remember that Albert Von Schweikert went out of business from his situation in New England due to a flood.  Well, he is back now, with his company in California. His new VR-7 is replacing the original VR-6 that he had before, and the new VR-5 is replacing the VR-4.  Albert told me that he believes the new VR-5 sounds better than the VR-6s, and I hope to get a pair for review!  The VR-7 was playing in the room, while the VR-5s were in a back room on display.  The finish on the VR-5 is nothing like I have seen before.  The picture in our show report does not do justice to the detail of the woodwork.  The VR-7s will retail for $15,000 a pair, and the VR-5s will retail for $5,950 a pair in standard wood and $7,950 in the exotic wood.  His new speakers are contained in a single enclosure unlike his previous designs.  Albert also told me that he plans a horizontal VR-5 to be used as a center channel in the future.

Camelot Technology had their long awaited Round Table progressive DVD player on display.  The Round Table uses the DVDO PureProgressive DV-101 engine inside.  The DVD player will output a 96/24 digital audio bitstream.  They have built their powered S-Video cable into the output of the Round Table allowing you to run cable lengths up to 150 feet.  There are switches on the back that let you set the output to either RGB or YUV and 96/24 or 48/24 audio.  Camelot also introduced a new composite-to-S-Video converter called the Excalibur Plus.  Its not much bigger than an RCA jack on the end of an interconnect.  It's designed to take sources that do not output an S-Video signal (like a VHS VCR) and convert it to S-Video so you can use a single video switcher in your receiver (most receivers will not let you combine composite and S-Video inputs into a single S-Video or composite output that feeds your TV).  The price of this little guy is $35.  I have one on hand now to try out.

Colin Miller: When it comes down to what I thought was the thrust of CES, I'd have to say, simple maturation. There were lots of Plasmas, starting to look better, perhaps even good with enough outboard help. Ironically, the future of single-lens projectors may not be improving LCD projectors, but rather DLPs, but even then, as evidence by the Runco press conference, the Vidikron demonstration, and the Faroudja demo with that Big Sony brute that had 9" rocket launchers (9" CRTs are necessary for true 1080i resolution), the state of the art is still the old standard, the three gun CRT.

Aside from the emergence of a rear center channel as a more standard option (really not new, just newly marketed by the main stream powers) as either a proprietary matrix-derived channel or a pair of "EX" rears, surround processors and associated hardware aren't really offering more than Dolby-Digital and DTS as viable formats. Oh sure, DVD audio and five-channel SACD are on the horizon, and based on the Sony demo of their format (SACD), very promising. I did like it when, during the Sony SACD five-channel demo, after the choir faded to silence, the room immediately shrunk when the demonstrator stopped the recording, as this high-resolution recording, with 5 discrete channels, had caught the choir room itself so successfully. Then again, not a single seat in the demo room had an ideal geometry to it, so one could hardly call it a critical evaluation in terms of focus or depth of the image. But, that's really the nature of convention booths.

Nothing really knocked me on my tail, so to speak. The Perpetual Technologies demonstration, which featured its digital speaker correction abilities with a pair of Martin-Logan Aerius', was interesting at the least, in my estimation insightful into the nature of loudspeakers, and I'd even dare say impressive; this was something I wouldn't mind owning at all. The Von Schweikert room sounded pretty good, as far as these far from ideal demo rooms go, and the new Meridian DSP 8000s really have a lot going for them, due in part to phase/amplitude correction provided in the digital domain. Although they did sound pretty good in the middle of CES' booth area, the background noise level did nothing to help the presentation.

What impressed me most during my journey were not products at all, but rather the minds behind them. After leaving the Meridian demonstration, Stacey introduced me to Rhonda who graciously helped me iron out my understanding of the ins and outs of digital audio, explaining not only the basics of their digital loudspeakers, but the advantages of upsampling performed in their 800 DVD player, and the fundamentals of digital input receivers as it relates to the Meridian 861 processor and its FIFO (First In First Out) technology. She wasn't the only one. Rich Walborn, the VP of engineering for M&K, thoroughly answered a backorder of questions I'd been stowing in the recesses of my brain, relating them specifically to M&K products, as well as loudspeaker design in general, covering cumulative phase relationships of drivers, crossovers, and EQ, the benefits of active loudspeakers from a design perspective, the in and outs of the acoustics of multiple point-sources and their relationships with each other, baffles, and grilles. Between the two of them, I'd say the experience was sincerely enlightening. 

Of the three CES shows I've been to, I'd certainly have to admit that I had the most fun at this one. Aside from getting some real substance in conversation from the M&K and Meridian crowd, I did also enjoy tooling around with Stacey for some of the show, the most entertaining instance being Sam Runco's personable and up-front presentation. Did I mention the booth? This was our first time with one, and we had many of the staff there (JJ, Mrs. JJ, Cynthia Johnson, myself, Stacey Spears, Brian Florian, Evan Upchurch, Scott Evans, and Paul Knutson), uploading photos, meeting the passersby, and eating lots of sandwiches. This was almost, but just short of, a vacation.

JEJ: I did not really see any particular focus at this CES. HDTV is now out and about, but it was not the big thing anymore. DVD Audio is still under development, but some prototype players were there, along with announcements of DVD Audio disc titles coming out in March. IEEE1394 connections appear to be about to take off, and assuming no real difficulties, we should see the results by the end of this year, namely some receivers with 1394 inputs and outputs for connecting sources, such as DVD players, with just one cable. It will probably still take a few years to perfect, since various manufacturers want to use their own way of doing things, so even with 1394, not all components may be able to communicate properly with each other. One thing that did concern me was the rumor of more channels being added to digital surround, such as 10.2. We now have 6.1 ("EX") which has upset many consumers to no end. Even 5.1 is not really established, and already, more additions. Where are we going to put all the speakers? How good would a $1,000 receiver be if it had to contain 10 power amplifiers? I hope the industry takes a long look at itself before jumping into something like this. How about just spending five or ten years making 5.1 better and better? It is like computer software. Instead of just coming out with version after version that has new features, they should concentrate on making the previous version work more efficiently.

Click on links below to go to the photo pages for each of the days at the show.

DAY-0    DAY-1    DAY-2 (Page 1, Page 2)   DAY-3    DAY-4

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