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CES 2005 - It's Just So BIG!
Part 3 - (Audio, Video, Home Theater Gear and...
the Monster in the Courtroom)

CES South Hall featured audio and video exhibits
The South Hall featured mostly audio, video and home theater exhibits.

Down the aisle from the Temple of Runco in the Convention Center's South Hall was Parasound, who is clearly staking a claim on the mid-level home theater separates market with several new products on display.  The model 7100 Home Theater Controller ($3,000, available in March, 2005) and 5250 five channel amplifier ($2,500, also slated for March, 2005) make a nice affordable alternative to the higher priced models in their Halo line. The 7100 controller features all the latest surround decoding (including Dolby Pro Logic IIX), THX Ultra2 Certification, plus video up-conversion that passes S-video and composite video inputs to component video outputs. 

Parasound's new home theater preamp processor
Parasound's new home theater preamp/processor, the
model 7100 and five channel amplifier, the model 5250.

Perhaps more interesting to the purist audiophile who is looking to integrate a high quality multi-channel source like DVD-Audio or SACD into his or her system is the P2 preamp (price: TDB, availability: "within 60 days") which includes a phono preamp (MM/MC) as well as two 7.1 channel analog inputs and 8 channels of output. 

Parasound's new audiophile stereo preamp with multi-channel analog inputs
Parasound's new analog-only audiophile stereo preamp,
the P2 (top) features 2 multi-channel line level inputs.

Parasound's P2 preamp - rear inputs
The P2 rear panel includes balanced inputs and outputs (for 2 channel
sources only), plus unbalanced inputs for multi-channel sources.

While I was lingering at the Parasound booth, chatting with Barry Willis from Stereophile, Gordon Sell from GSPR came by and offered us a guided tour of some of his other clients' coolest new items at the show. First stop was Atlantic Technology, who were showing off their new integrated Left/Center/Right speaker the FS-4000 ($899, available March, 2005).  This unique slim design is intended to hang on the wall, complementing the visual aesthetics of flat panel televisions, while greatly enhancing their sound.

Atlantic Technology's FS-4000 integrated LCR speaker
Atlantic Technology's FS-4000 integrated LCR
speaker, shown here with the grille removed.

Canton was next up, introducing a new high-end center channel speaker in their "Karat Reference" series.  Weighing in at 88 pounds, the Karat Reference 2 DC ($5,000) features a 3 1/2 way design, power handling up to 600 WPC and a rated frequency response of 20 Hz to 30KHz.  Yes, my friends you can finally set your processor's center channel speaker to "Large" in good conscience. Canton also showcased their new "Vento" line of loudspeakers.  Named for the Italian word for wind, the Vento "combines German engineering with Italianate curves."  Well they sure were easy on the eyes, and if the sound is comparable to other Canton speakers I have auditioned, then they should be easy on the ears as well. Models include the Vento 809 DC ($5,000/pr), Vento 807 DC ($3,500/pr), Vento 802 ($2,000/pr) and the Vento 805 CM center channel ($1,500 each).  All are available in cherry wood veneer and silver lacquer finishes and should be available now at your local Canton dealer. 

Gordon Sell and Barry Willis pose with the new Canton loudpeaker
Gordon Sell (GSPR) and Barry Willis (Stereophile) pose with Canton's new
"Vento" loudspeaker. Vanna White, look out! You've got nothing on Barry.

Last stop on the GSPR train was Wireworld, who introduced a new DVI/HDMI cable as well as a unique new flat speaker cable. The DVI/HDMI cable, the Starlight 52 "Five Squared" (Pricing: TBD, Available February, 2005) can be run as long as 100 ft. says the manufacturer, and features a newly designed silver-clad copper internal shield for "nearly ideal shielding and conductivity."  Their new Horizon 52 "Five Squared" flat speaker wire ($1.50/foot, available now) and Insta-wire™ speaker connector (patent pending, $5/each, available February, 2005) are ideal for custom installers but also useful to anyone who enjoys quick speaker set-up. With these cables, neither stripping nor crimping is required -- just cut the speaker wire to length, slide the end into their banana-style connector, snap the edges in and you're good to go.  The cable is asymmetrically shaped so it only fits into the connector one way, thereby eliminating potential phase problems.  A very clever solution indeed.        

Wireworld's new DVI/HDMI and Speaker cables
Wireworld's new Starlight 52 DVI/HDMI cable and
Horizon 52 speaker cable with Insta-wire connectors.

Denon had quit showing demos for the day when I finally reached their exhibit area with weary feet an hour or so before closing time, but many of their new and upcoming products were out on silent display. It seems the theme this year had been to add DVI and HDMI to more of their products, both DVD players and receivers.  The upcoming AVR-4806 home theater receiver ($3,500, available in April, 2005) was one example of this. This 130 WPC THX Ultra-certified behemoth will be one of the first to feature HDMI switching. It also includes a DVI connection and three component video inputs. Outputs include both HDMI and component video.

Denon's upcoming AVR4806 features one DVI and 3 HDMI inputs
Denon's upcoming AVR4806 receiver features one
DVI, 3 HDMI, and three component video HD inputs

Across the aisle, Marantz was still doing home theater demos, showcasing the latest version of their critically acclaimed VP-12 single chip DLP projector, the VP-12S4 ($13,499 with short or medium-throw lens, $16,499 with long-throw lens).  Featuring the current TI HD2+ chipset, the VP12S4 actually represents a radical redesign of the VP12 with all-new video processing optimized for high definition sources.  According to product manager Dan Miller, Marantz looked for a high quality High Def scaling chip from the likely suspects, but none was to be found so they partnered with Gennum (well known in the broadcast industry, but not so much in the consumer realm) to implement an optimal custom solution.  Gennum's VXP ("Visual Excellence Processing") 9350 chip handles format conversion for all SDTV and HDTV input formats (480i, 480p, 1080i), scaling them to 720p output for display in the native rate of the projector. The result, on 1080i High Def source material was a smooth film-like image with natural, accurate colors and minimal image artifacts. 

Marantz shows their latest version of the VP-12 projector
Marantz shows their latest version of the VP-12 projector, the VP-12S4.

Over in the Monster Cable/M-Design rooms, the monsters were showing many interesting items including the "Action Couch Extreme" ($14,999 to $19,999, expected in Summer, 2005) which is an enhancement of their existing Action Couch that provides, yes, you guessed it, Motion Simulation.  Although I thought I heard the name "D-Box" mentioned, when asked what technology they were using the monstrous reply was "that is yet to be decided."  Hmmm... licensing negotiations, anyone? 

Other items on display included many pieces I had seen previously at the Home Entertainment Show in New York last May, including elegant home theater furniture, elaborate power conditioners, high ticket tower speakers and gut-wrenching powered subwoofers, but one unusual product that caught my eye was a new mirrored screen option for their InvisiSound™ frame ($4,000 for frame, $5,000 including mirror). In case you have not seen or heard of this before, the InvisiSound frame for flat panel televisions houses an assortment of speaker drivers concealed within what looks like a fancy picture frame. The mirrored front completes the illusion -- what appears to be a large framed mirror actually hides a plasma or LCD television up to 50 inches in size, with a full complement of left, center and right channel speakers.  At the touch of a button, I "found Nemo" as the plasma screen jumped to life and the sound of music and talking fish filled the room. The sample on display was "early production" and it did dim the brightness of the picture a bit, but the Monster Cable folks expect to improve on this before it goes into final production.        

Monster makes TVs and speakers disappear with Invisisound
Monster Cable's "M-Design" makes TVs and speakers disappear
with InvisiSound frames for plasma and LCD displays.

They Did The Monster Bash

Later that evening, Monster Cable continued their tradition of hosting one of the hottest parties at CES with a live performance by Rod Stewart at their dealers' awards banquet. Although I shouldn't complain (free tickets to Rod Stewart and all), but Monster Cable did put the press folks all the way to the extreeeeme right side of the hall where it was difficult to make out the fact that there was someone on stage, let alone that it was Rod Stewart. I ended up mostly watching the big screen monitor instead of the stage. And I gotta say, for a 60-year old, Rod Stewart was remarkably well preserved and put on a great show.  Belting out his classics plus a few traditional American classics like "What A Wonderful World," Rod put the BOOM in Baby Boomers. I can only hope to be as energetic in my so-called sunset years. Go, Rod!

And as luck would have it, I sat next to a gentleman with a very interesting story.  His name was Mike Shkolnik, and he was working on an article for a newspaper in the Northwest. He told me a monstrous tale about the darker side of audio marketing and legal wrangling, of which I had only heard vague rumors. According to Mr. Shkolnik, it seems that Monster Cable, for the last few years, has been sending threatening "cease and desist" letters and even filing suits against folks who use the word "monster" in their company name, web site address (domain name), even movie titles (e.g., "Monsters, Inc.").  Apparently Monster Cable is now claiming rights to the word "monster" and anyone who uses that word in any professional venture, beware!

Mike is the owner of the domain "monster.biz" which he quite lawfully acquired with the intention of selling monster toys (which you can find at his primary site "madmartian.com").  Shortly after registering the web site, Mike claims he received a cease and desist letter from Monster Cable, as well as a demand that he relinquish the domain name to Monster Cable.  He fought back... they dropped the case (he actually gained a monetary settlement from Monster Cable as well as a letter of apology), but apparently others have not been as lucky, including the owners of a small vintage clothing store in Washington state called "Monster Vintage" (monstervintage.com) who have seemingly spent the last couple of years in legal hell.

According to the Monster Vintage web site, attorneys representing Monster Cable sent letters to the owners of Monster Vintage in 2002 claiming trademark infringement and sent these folks a "license agreement" that would enable these small business owners to license back their own domain name from Monster Cable for a fee plus a percentage of future gross income from the business. How Monster Cable could claim a trademark on "Monster Vintage" eludes me (completely different industry, completely different context, nary the word "cable" in sight, etc.), but the story makes for interesting reading.  According to the latest updates, earlier this year Monster Cable dropped the suit, but that doesn't erase the damage done (monetary and otherwise) over the last two and a half years.  Meanwhile, Mr. Shkolnik says he is planning a documentary on the subject of trademarking common English words, which you can read about at the web site, "Monsters of Crock" and he details his own experience with Monster Cable on his own web site.

Continue to Part IV, featuring Sanyo's Z3 front projector, Sony's SXRD rear projector and surround sound camcorder, Samsung's REALLY BIG Plasma HDTV, DTS Entertainment's latest acquisition and much more.        

Just joining us, why not start at the beginning in Part I of this report?













































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