Back In The New York
By Chris Boylan
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Well, folks, the Primedia/Stereophile/HiFi/Home
Theater show was back to my home territory this year -- New York City that is
and there was much rejoicing. Actually things are looking so rosy with
the economy and the electronics industry that they're hosting two shows this
year -- an East Coast show in the spring and a West Coast show in San Francisco
in the fall. It seemed to me that there were a few less exhibitors this
year (not every manufacturer or label can afford to display their wares at two
shows), but there was certainly no shortage of attendees.
Sony kicked off the
festivities again this year with a press conference on opening day. Last year,
it was all about "digitalization." This year apparently we're
all going wireless. Sony's vision for the electronic future is a central
repository for your media storage (movies, music, photos, etc.), and wireless
devices that can access that repository from anywhere in the world where
there's a wireless internet or WiFi connection. Sony exhibited their
wares in many suites at the show this year, one of which showed multiple
examples of these wireless devices, also known as "Location Free
TVs" playing back a variety of DVDs, TV shows, photos and MP3 audio
files, all with no wires. Quality was actually pretty good considering
the lack of wires.
Sony displayed a variety of "location free TVs" in mock
living rooms and
bedrooms. Should we read into the strategic placement of the tissue box that
these devices are perfect for porn? Or tear-jerker chick flicks? You decide.
PlusR, DashR, PlusRW - Can't We All Just Get Along?
Sony had quite a bit more than just wireless TV going on at the show,
including a second generation DVD recorder that supports all of the plus and
dash formats (DVD-R, DVD-RW, DVD+R, DVD+RW) and includes a 160 GB hard drive.
Woo hoo! Finally Sony gets it! If the popularity of the Panasonic
and Pioneer HDD/DVD recorders is anything to judge by, then this new DVD
recorder should be a hot seller.
Sony's RGR-HX900 supports
every recordable DVD format but DVD-RAM and
includes a 160 GB hard drive. Available this fall for $999-$1200 (price
Also appearing later this fall is Sony's first High Definition PVR, which
will support HD recording from broadcast and cable with its on-board cable
card slot. In July of 2004, federal mandates in the US will require all
digital cable providers to supply a cable card to any customer who requests
one. This card enables the consumer to buy his own cable box (like, for
example, this one) instead of being locked into whatever device the cable
company foists upon him. With its internal 250 Gigabyte drive, the DHG-HDD200
($799 MSRP) will record up to 25 hours of HD content, or 250 hours of SD. I
Sony's HDG-HDD200 will offer
up to 25 hours of
HD recording from cable or OTA for just $799.
But perhaps the coolest media device shown by Sony was their production Blu-Ray
disc recorder. They can't call it "High Def DVD" (because the
format is not endorsed by the DVD forum), but that's pretty much exactly what
it is -- one of two competing formats for recording and playing back high
definition video material on a disc the size of a DVD. They used their BDZ-S77
Blu-ray recorder/player (only available in Japan currently) in their home
theater demo to show HD trailers from "Spider-Man 2" and "50
First Dates." Projected through Sony's Qualia 004 SXRD projector
($30,000), this system produced some of the most vivid and film-like video
images at the show. Unfortunately this means there's another format war
in store, and Blu-ray recorders and players are not expected in the U.S. until
late 2005, but my friends, I have now seen our HD future... and it was good.
Sony's Blu-Ray HD recorders are scheduled for arrival on these
shores in late 2005.
On the audio side, Sony was demonstrating SACD through their 9000ES
receiver configured in 9.1 channel mode, driving a Wilson Watt/Puppy 7 speaker
system. Last year, I was under-impressed by this particular combo, but
they must have taken some extra care in set-up, because the sound was actually
quite nice this time around both on the HD trailers and on the multi-channel
SACDs. SACD demo tracks included a new
Diana Krall cut,
Steely Dan's "Babylon
Sister" and a thunderstorm effect track from Dr.
Chesky’s Magnificent, Fabulous, Absurd & Insane Musical 5.1 Surround
Show SACD. After a deluge of rain and crackling thunder from
Chesky's "The Storm," the
audience felt like towelling off -- it was that realistic.
Remotes, Remotes Everywhere...
And Narry A Place To Put Them
If you're a gear-obsessed audio/video geek like me, your remote collection
is probably growing faster than your 401K retirement fund. I have 15
different remotes for my current system, all of which are necessary for one
function or another, on one device or another. I tried programming the
functions of my Outlaw preamp remote into my Marantz RC-2000 universal remote,
but it just wouldn't take so I've been pondering a replacement. That
replacement may just be the brand new Harmony
H688 ($249 -- now shipping). The
remote supports up to 15 devices (coincidence? I think not!) and is all
programmed by pointing and clicking on the Internet.
Harmony's H688 remote is so simple even your wife can use it.
By the way, dude... your wife is hot!
Once you get your Harmony remote home, you simply visit their web site,
select the devices you own (their database currently includes codes for over
80,000 models), click a button to download the remote codes to your PC or Mac,
then transfer the codes to your remote via the supplied USB cable. No
more pointing one remote at the ass-end of another remote to painstakingly
learn one function at a time. And no learning some less-than-intuitive
programming language just to program in your devices. Harmony even
codes macros for you (they call them "activities") like "watch
TV" or "watch a DVD" or "listen to radio" by guiding
you through the steps it takes to perform this function. Press a button labeled
"watch a DVD" and the Harmony remote can turn on your TV and select
its Video 2 input, power up your AV receiver and switch it to "DVD"
and press play on the DVD player. Voila! The H688 differs from its
predecessors in that it has more tactile, responsive buttons (they feel kinda
like cell phone buttons), full back-lighting and a layout that specifically
lends itself well to Tivo and PVR devices. Stay tuned - full review
Big Flat Mama
In the "bigger is better" department, Samsung
was showing off their new 46 inch LCD flat panel TV - the LT-P468W, with a
whopping 1920x1080 resolution and 800:1 contrast ratio. This is one of
the few HDTV-capable monitors that supports the full resolution of HDTV
(1080p). In showroom conditions, it was hard to get an accurate reading
on the picture quality - it definitely had plenty of detail, but there were a
few digital nasties present as well (a light gray haze in dark areas and
slight motion artifacts). Actually, I'm no huge fan of plasma, but the
50" plasma next to it (also a Samsung, of course) had a more natural
picture to my eyes. This should be taken with a grain of salt of course,
because trade shows are not the ideal conditions for evaluating high end audio
or video gear. A well calibrated set in a normally lit room would
probably look much better.
Samsung's LT-P468W 46" Widescreen LCD flat panel HDTV
Next door, in the VOOM
ROOM, Samsung flat-screen HDTV panels were ubiquitous - used by Voom to good
effect to show off many of their 35 HD channels (21 of which are exclusive to
Voom), all of which are available via Voom's satellite service. Voom
positions themselves as the most comprehensive provider of HD programming
(three times as many HD channels as the competition, so they say), but they
also include a good selection of SD programming as well as support for local
HD channels via a roof antenna (which they provide, by the way, and install
for you if necessary). Voom plans to introduce their HD recorder (PVR) in the
fall, with a 160 GB internal hard drive. This may seem small for a High
Def recorder, but Voom plans to migrate from Mpeg2 to Mpeg4 compression before
then, so they'll be able to squeeze much higher quality into the same
bandwidth and disc space. But with the upgrade to Mpeg4, current
customers will not be left out in the cold. All current Voom receivers
come with a built-in expansion port which enables them to be updated from
Mpeg2 to Mpeg4 when the time is right (expansion port is visible on the right
side of the Voom receiver pictured below).
Voom is planning an upgrade from MPEG2 to MPEG4 encoding
before releasing their HD PVR this fall.
Monstrously Clean Power... And More!
the company that pretty much put high-end tweaky cables on the map in the
1980s, has recently diversified into power products, such as high-end power
stabilization and power cleaning (and even alkaline and rechargeable
batteries). This year, Monster is even further into the realm of high
end home theater and audio reproduction with the introduction of a line of
power amplifiers, attractive high-end loudspeakers and even stylish
audio/video furniture. In an attempt to hook today's MP3-enthralled
consumer on the benefits of high end sound reproduction, the head Monster
himself, Noel Lee demonstrated his ultra-high-end components with an iPod MP3
player as the source... and it actually didn't sound half bad! Well, it
shouldn't, with several tens of thousands of dollars worth of gear and
speakers to play it through.
Get your clean power here, folks, from MonsterPower.
Monster's new "M-Design" brand is behind the new
lifestyle-oriented speakers and furniture. One of Monster's more unusual
products is a frame for flat panel TVs that has high-end center, left and
right speakers invisibly embedded into it. It's called the "InvisiSound"
and it will sell for between $3,995 and $6,995 depending on size, finish and
Monster's InvisiSound hides center, left and right front
speakers in a frame that surrounds your plasma TV.
Continue to Part II including
Martin-Logan, Outlaw, Joseph Audio and more
Click here to see
complete listing of show exhibitors.
Click here to see our
2003 show coverage.