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Post-Show Wrap-Up

 

Below are final notes and photos from the writers who attended the show:

Colin Miller:

Though attendance was low, and genuinely new technology was entirely absent, there were still interesting aspects of implementation, the most of creative of which were by loudspeaker manufacturers. Snell's in-wall dipole surround speaker was a trip, and once explained, quite interesting. M&K's Column series suggested a sincere interest in real-world applications.

Aside from the New THX Ultra 2 spec, which Brian Florian will elaborate on, electronics were pretty much the same. Same stuff, really, with different chassis. Meridian's 800/861 is supposedly shipping with DVD-A included, and I'm sure Stacey will follow up on that.

In terms of video, as Brian kept saying, plasma TV screens were everywhere, though I still wouldn't want to own one. LCDs and DLP units are inching their way down in price, and in the case of Dwin's newest DLP, I really had to try to see rainbows, which promises that perhaps the technology will evolve to a point where I'd really want it. JVC's DILA projector, post modification by Stacey's friend William Phelps, looked pretty decent too. Progress is, though, not universal. The DLP projector Runco demonstrated had serious rainbows, and their processor for the CRT presentation had substantial problems with its deinterlacing.

The highlights for me were having dinner with manufacturers. I had an in-depth conversation with David Smith from Snell about loudspeakers, movies, and the industry as a whole. I got to watch Brian Florian involuntarily look aghast as Paul Barton implied that the THX standard was slaved to his entry-level loudspeaker as a reference (it was later clarified that until several years ago, THX used one of Paul's speakers as a known reference to check their measuring system because it produced consistent results, not because its output necessarily embodied the ideal). I also got to yuck around with those mad Canadians from Paradigm, who as a group, are among the funniest around, and know their audio technology enough to make for good conversation to boot.

Brian Florian:

Where's the spice?  CES had almost a pedestrian quality this year, due in part to a lack of "gee whiz" technology advancements or revelations.  What we saw for the most part were the same old speakers, the same old amplifiers, the same old video processors, and the same old plasmas . . . everywhere!  Every electronics name is putting their logo on plasma screens of all shapes and sizes, leading one to scratch the proverbial chin:  Who is buying these things?  Airports are for sure.  I ought to know having logged dozens of hours staring at flight status monitors during my trip this year.  But will such industrial adoption of the technology bring it to the critical mass required for consumer level pricing?  I'm not sure I even care since the picture on them still isn't anything to jump up and down about.

Perhaps I was bored, or maybe I was looking for a gripe, but a lot of video technology demonstrations are looking worse than in previous years.  In 1999 Faroudja unveiled 1080p deinterlacing, and to wit I preached, "it's a religious experience!".  The same demo this year was disturbing, showing over-processed detail on already less than satisfactory demo material.  And therein lies the challenge for this industry:  Even with state of the art hardware at the TAW (Theater Automation World) demo, the visuals were tarnished by the quality of the DVD material itself.  The time has come for us to stop worrying about such things as upsampling video or adding even more audio channels and instead concern ourselves with the media.   DVDs still do not look near as good as the format will allow.  Any company at the show who wanted to talk about "blue lasers" or "HD-DVD" was ridiculed by me.   Show me a DVD library not spoiled by edge enhancement and I'll concede only then that the industry is ready for hardware advancement.

But all was not lost this year in the great city of vices.  THX invited Stacey and myself to their semi-private demo of THX Ultra2.

There are some subtle changes to various aspect of the spec, including subwoofers which are now down 3 dB at 20 Hz (the previous Ultra spec called for -3 dB at 35 Hz) and a new selectable Boundary Gain Compensation function, but the exciting advancement is in the use of 7.1 speaker layouts.

EX is cool, no question.  Episode 1: The Phantom Menace introduced it to the world, so we know the marketing department at Dolby and Lucasfilm are on top of things.  But like it or not, there are scarcely 20 or so DVDs having soundtracks which are encoded with Surround EX.  Anyone with an EX speaker layout (and there are quite a few) knows that non-EX material played in EX mode is a crap shoot as to whether it is going to sound good or not.  So, THX has introduced two new modes for their processor spec:  THX Ultra2 Music and THX Ultra2 Cinema, each of which has been designed to properly present the respective non-EX encoded program over an EX hardware layout.

The original THX Home Cinema mode is still available for basic presentation of 5.1 or Pro Logic decoded material.

THX Surround EX mode remains unchanged

 

THX Ultra2 Cinema derives a 7.1 output from non-encoded 5.1 soundtracks, but puts an emphasis on the surround channels to capitalize on the diffuse nature of the recommended dipole speakers.

 

THX Ultra2 Music derives a 7.1 output from non-encoded 5.1 music, but puts an emphasis on the rear channels to capitalize on the direct nature of the recommended monopole speakers.

Those familiar with THX will notice that the center-surround channel no longer uses dipole speakers.  This does not mean THX is "backing down" on their advocacy of dipole surrounds.  The use of monopole speakers in the rear position is a means of accommodating music material which often favors them as surrounds.  The two center surround speakers, as the diagrams show, are meant to be placed adjacent to each other (the new algorithms include processes to counter act the usual acoustical problems of such an arrangement).  In concert with the new Ultra2 playback modes, a single 7.1 system can now admirably meet the demands of both music and motion picture soundtracks, always employing the complete speaker layout.

Chris Montreuil:

Well my first CES is now over and the prevailing feeling is one of exhaustion. One cannot be fully prepared for the CES experience until you step into the convention center and witness the sheer opulence of it all.  After the initial shock wore off, I could not help feeling like the proverbial kid in the candy store with the exception of there being too much candy for even this sweet tooth to bear. You could literally spend an entire week in the convention center alone without having experienced hi-fi offerings at the Alexis Park Hotel (high-end stuff was there) or The Show (competitor to CES, located at another hotel).

Of all the manufactures I visited, the one thing that struck me was the fractionalization with regards to the high-resolution formats specifically in the areas of a digital transmission standard and the technical differences between DVD-Audio and SACD. With so many unknowns, it seems as if many companies have been put into a holding pattern. The most common response to the question of plans to implementing a digital interface for SACD and DVD-Audio was, "We are in a wait and see mode right now". Thankfully, companies such as Meridian and Muse are not waiting for the adoption of digital link standards and are implementing their own proprietary methods of carrying a high-resolution signal. While this concept might prove frightful to some who wish for a more universal connection, this might actually be beneficial to the end user. According to the engineers I spoke to, some of the proposed methods of carrying 24/192 or DSD, i.e. Firewire, possess significant sonic compromises to the extent that the inherent benefits of the new mediums would be wasted. I can only hope that the integrity of the mediums is maintained when a finalized standard is adopted. Unfortunately, from those I spoke to, this seems unlikely at best. If that issue was not enough cause for concern, there seems to be derision between the proponents of DVD-Audio and SACD with regards to the technical superiority of each of the two formats over the other. I was fortunate enough to speak with some very knowledgeable engineers from various manufacturers, and the general consensus was that as a medium for delivering high resolution content, at least from a technical point of view, DVD-Audio was the favored format. I am the last person to be issuing a treatise on the technology behind the two formats, my constituents here at Secrets being far more qualified, but I heard the same general pros for DVD-A and cons for SACD from enough engineers to think that in a contest of measurements, DVD-A reigns supreme. This is not to say that SACD doesn't sound good. Quite the contrary was proven in the Halcro/Wislon room where I heard a couple of SACD selections, played via a Marantz SA-1, that were quite impressive. But from a purely technical perspective I heard no engineer espouse the virtues of the SACD format over its rival. Unfortunately, I did not have time to speak with representatives from Philips or Sony, the main proponents of DSD, as to their take on the Direct Stream Digital process as it compares to DVD-Audio. Perhaps at an upcoming show I will be able to report from the other camp.

That said, the fundamental superiority of the new digital formats, when properly mastered, is obvious. DVD-Audio demonstrations at the Meridian and Muse booth left me convinced, albeit under unfamiliar conditions, that we are heading in the right direction. I spent quite some time in the Muse room and found myself utterly involved in the music being played despite the fact that I was not a particular fan of the artist or genre of music. That fact alone speaks volumes about the potential of the format.

John Johnson:

It was apparent at CES 2002 that attendance was down, not only in the number of visitors, but exhibitors too. The cab drivers told me they think attendance was around 50,000, which is way down from previous years. The economic downturn, and of course, September 11, 2001, are the reasons. Nevertheless, there was plenty for us to do, and we were busy non-stop for all show days. Many previous CES exhibitors had moved their base into their hotel suites, rather than having booths on the CES floor. This saved them a fortune in exhibit costs, and also reduced the noise.

While our senior editors, along with newcomer writers Brian Weatherhead and Chris Montreuil, were visiting all the booths, taking pictures, and lining up review products, I had my hands full with our new project, conducting video interviews with industry professionals. I only had my digital video camera and a tripod, and had to do the interviews wherever I could find a spot that was reasonably quiet, usually in the registration area. I used available light to maintain as casual an atmosphere as possible for the people being interviewed, so that they would not get nervous. The daylight faded about 3 pm, and some got nervous anyway.

I checked around the exhibits to see if any TV manufacturers were showing models with Firewire or DVI ports, but could find none. The standard is too new I guess. Zenith Electronics (one of the video interviews) said that all their TVs are now digital, so I imagine that DVI is not far away. You will need a DVI port to watch full resolution HDTV signals (e.g., 1080i) from a satellite HD box. Otherwise, the signal will be downconverted to 480p before going to the television. That problem will put a damper on HDTV sales for a while I am afraid.

As the other writers say, plasma screens were everywhere, including our booth. Zenith Electronics generously supplied their 40" 4:3 model, which we used to display the Secrets home page to passersby. Most people who visited our booth were just as interested in the Zenith plasma as they were in our website. In spite of plasma's faults (e.g., lack of deep black levels), it has an excellent future. The novelty will wear off, but that won't decrease the appeal of having a big screen that hangs on the wall, taking up essentially zero floor space. If they could be mass marketed to the point of producing 72" plasmas with an MSRP of less than $10,000, that would mean adios to a lot of other types of TVs, I think.

A number of manufacturers were showing proprietary digital links from DVD players to receivers and TV projectors. This is due to frustration with the overall industry's slow progress with DVI. These proprietary digital links require some sort of encryption to prevent digital copying. In order to get enough bandwidth, one company was sending the digital video output of a DVD player to their video processor and then sending that output via three individual digital cables to the projector. So, does that mean DVI may not end up having enough bandwidth for consumer's needs?


Click on links below to go to the photo pages for each day.

DAY-0    DAY-1    DAY-2   DAY-3    DAY-4    Wrap-Up

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Copyright 2002 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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