Friday, January 11, 2008

CES 2008 Last Day

CES2008 day 3
Wow, what a day! The last day of CES 2008. Never made it to T.H.E. Show, unfortunately. Too tricky to get to and too late in the day.
I did get a lot of time at the Central hall, and a little time to listen to some great stuff at the High end audio Venetian site.
The central hall starts with the huge Microsoft and Intel "booths". "Booths" is the wrong word for some of the displays you see at CES, these things are morethe size of basketball courts, or bigger. I really wish the people manning these booths were not so "friendly". It reminded me of "night of the living dead" zombies all moving in on you to attack you with information about some new gadget or technology. I got away as fast as I could.

I made it to the DLP booth. Even though many think that with the seeming demise of the Front projection TV in leau of flat panels that there is no longer a need for DLP technology, that could not be further from the truth. DLP rocks for Front projection. And Projectors are hot!
Check out the R2D2 Projector:

DLP has the new Dark chip 4 coming out, although with certain program material, you don't care so much if it's darkchip3 or darkchip4:

LG had a great booth with really attractive looking displays. 120Hz video conversion technology, to free LCD from motion blur and artifacts was all over the place this year and LG had a nice presentation on this technology which looks to be coming throughout much of their lineup. Their displays looked cosmetically great as well as visually. They have really come far in a very short time.

LG also had their Combo HD-DVD and Blu Ray players - both for computers and Stand alone. Really great stuff. Not sure if it's really needed so much if the format war is truely over.

Panasonic, had all kinds of insanely great plasmas going on. They had the worlds biggest 150" Plasma:

They had a great demo of their upcoming 1" thick plasmas as well.

The new Plasma series' they had great looking new plasmas in their new consumer lines, but they had such strange program material, that I just can't give you a good shot of them. I didn't see their commercial lines around, but was in a hurry.

One note: Some crazy guy from florida predicted the demise of plasma on a podcast I listen to religiously. I think you guys really need to stay away from that Gator juice! With Panasonic and Pioneer (Kuro and new extreme black) coming out with such great displays I think Plasma is still the high end choice for flat panels.

Sharp had a great booth with beautiful new Aquos LCD Diplays with 120Hz technology, their 120Hz vs 60Hz comparison was the best comparison I witnessed. You could easily see the sharper motion image on the ir demo. I know that 120Hz did not get off to a great start with some manufacturer releases not implementing the technology as well as they should have, but it seems like they are really getting the hang of it now, and LCD may catch up with plasma in the motion resolution area soon. Sharp certainly seems to have it together.
Sharp 120Hz demo:


Sharp Commercial Projectors

Samsung's Gestapo still refuses to let people take pictures in their city block sized booth. So I won't mention all the cool or possibly totally uncool and stupid stuff they may or may not have had. I think I remember something awesome they might have had, but I can't remember because I don't have a frigging picture!

Toshiba had some lovely looking displays and all, but I could feel a pall of over the demeanor of all who entered. It was very much like people at a funeral. They had some great stuff, LCDs with very small black bezels which is my favorite cosmetic attribute in a display, they had a nice interactive HD-DVD demo with the interactive channel making little jazz musician toys move to the sweet sounding jazz music playing from an old HD-AX1 (hey I have that!) but it was a bit somber in there. Maybe it is all really over in this format war.

Adcom had a great display of fabulous Integrated Amps, Power amps, transports and the like which I can't afford, but they sure made me want to change occupations so I could. I'd get into them more, but the whole Toshiba visit has me down, so I just need to go and curl up in a ball for awhile.

OK! Back again, and now at the Venetian for some High End Audio!
You have to forgive the picture quality in these high end rooms, it is not polite to go taking flash pictures while people are listening to this stuff, and I always try and get permission from the reps who are there before taking a picture. I got to listen to about half the speakers I wanted to, since at times these guys have other stuff going on and can't be bothered - especially at the end of the last day. They mostly get guys like me who are into a free listen to stuff we can't afford.

First up, Quad. ESL speaker with II-eighty amps. Quad ESL's are amazing speakers. They are legendary Electrostatic speakers, they sound like nothing. I don't know that the imaging exactly kills me, but this kind of detailed, smooth accurate transfer of electrical currents to sound is a pretty awesome thing for a speaker to be able to do. Most average listeners would find these boring - at first.

Next was the Usher Be-718. At first, the tweeter seemed too bright, albeit extremely accurate, but as the listening material changed and I settled in and everything really seemed to start to coalesce. These were really fantastically musical speakers with excellent imaging, and really accurate reproduction. I only listened to a few songs (typical at these shows) but I really loved them while I listened. I don't know how I'd do in the long run. I have some fear that the beryllium tweeter might get on my nerves with some program material, but I could always weed them out!

From there came almost the opposite in musical selection and speaker sensibility. Von Schweikert VR-4 Anniversary. This is an immaculately done phase coherent speaker that puts the accuracy of the sound coming to your ears above all else. They are handsome, but not at all unusually so. The specs are amazing for such a small footprint, but the listening experience is quite a bit more than what I was hoping for, even with their reputation. These had a wide and deep soundstage which was solid across their frequency range, clear, accurate, musical and without what I'm now sure is phase distortion. These had similar attributes in this way to the Quad ESL, which being an electrostat does not suffer from phase distortion like most of the other excellent speakers I listened to today. Source material, no doubt was a factor in what I heard, but to describe it is difficult. To many, it may sound like a lack of treble, a lack of sibulants, a smoothing of transients. But it sounds Real. They are also incredible with the soundstage. The sax player is exactly Here. Just left and behind the left speaker. Again, the average speaker buyer wants the speaker to have detailed "crisp" highs, pouncing on them. This is for real music.
Now I am not exactly a newbie when it comes to phase coherency, I use Magnepans for my stereo/home theater and Reference 3a dulcets on my computer, but these are making me think about an upgrade.

Also listened to:
Dali Helicon 400
Morel (new prototype)
Spendor S6e

All of these were excellent or better. The Dali and Spendor did not have music playing that was usable, in my opinion to make a good analysis. The Morel was really quite amazing, possibly more enjoyable, than anything else except maybe the ESL or VR-4. Clean, accurate and lifelike, with wonderful imaging. It is a prototype, so it really looks promising.
I would have to go with the VR-4 as my favorite overall. While I think the ESL is a reference standard, it may be a bit too lacking in imaging for me. It could have been the listening material.

Missed: Vandersteen, Anthony Gallo, and everything at THEshow.

Spending 5-10 minutes listening to a system does not give you a real definitive understanding of how it sounds. Sorry.
It is hard for these guys to set things up in the best light. The rooms are not ideal and they have no time for any real room treatments. They have to scrap together systems hoping for a good match. It's amazing they sound as good as they do.
Dali Helicon 400

Morel (new prototype)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

CES 2008 South Hall Hell

OK, today at CES 2008 we started out with the immense south hall, and then went on to the international hall, rather than the central hall. Why? Well, let me 'splain something to people who have never been to this place for a big show like CES.
Transportation is hell. Sure they have the CES buses, the monorail and taxis, but the lines for any of them at the times you need to get somewhere can be extremely long. So, you have to have a good strategy. For the buses - be early. like, really early. For the monorail the same applies along with the need to try to get on at the begin/end points when they are empty. Otherwise you ain't getting on. Packed they are, dude. So we went to the international hall (at the Hilton) and avoided the crowd at the main site. BAM! Home to your hotel or a place to eat in no time.

Another point for those who don't come is, while it looks cool and fun, it is a lot of work. Either you are there manning a booth, or you are there to wander the halls in the search for bright, shiny things to sell. If you are manning a booth, well, you have to go through the same spiel over and over, standing around all day and over caffinating to the point where you become a blabbering zombie. If you are browsing the halls, well, unless you are a marathon runner, your body is not used to walking this many miles in any week, or possibly year. In a side question, I just wonder why it is that it seems that only 1 out of 5 escalators in the city of Las Vegas actually work at any one time? And it's not enough that the hotels make you go through a maze to get to the monorail, but I really suspect some do not give you the shortest path to get there. OK, I digress. Sue me.

So, the South hall is big. Way too big. Inhumane. But awesome.

Obligatory Booth babe shot:

Monster had a huge both, as usual. We love Monster for being the first company to actually provide good cables you could pick up for your stereo or TV at a local non high end shop, we do think their cable department has let their marketing department get a "little" too much power, not to mention their legal department. (please don't sue!) I mean, they are still using the whole "flux tube" thingy? That is soooo 90's, dude. We do, however, like their power products. They look awesome. Not sure why they still have the red displays when the blue is just so much cooler looking, though.

Monster Power:

New Monster III units have voltage readouts:

Kimber Kable is a high end cable manufacturer that I respect (along with Straightwire and a few others). They give you measured specs - really good specs too, and they manufacture cables at a very high level of quality. They use cable geometries that actually have an effect on the specs, they don't just make up some new supposed problem to attack. An example - they have a new version of their 8TC (an old standard with excellent performance for the price) but the only difference is the colors on the teflon insulation. It's more WAF freindly. That, my friend, is good engineering vs marketing. I just wish they'd do a free "Select Series" drawing during CES. People would camp out.

New Kimber Kable 8TC and 4TC

Calrad had their usual fairly compact booth that was totally filled with great stuff,
Small sample:

Calrads XLobby Media Center and a whole lot more, HTPC on steroids at a price that pushes the some buttons in the Whole home A/V and control worlds.
We are a Calrad Distributer, so check with us for delivery and pricing.

Thermaltake is awesome. Not only do they keep coming out with a plethora of great htpc and big, desktop cases but they are doing great power supplies, drive cases and fans. Their Toughpower with Q-fan power supplies are not only very efficient (Green) but have extremely low noise levels, so these may be a good choice for your HD-HTPC. They go way up in wattage ratings like many gamer Power supplies as well.

Audioquest as always has a lot going on with their cables, and they are some very nice cables. We have a hard time buying into their whole "DBS" thing, as there are dielectrics available that we think are certainly good enough for the signals involved - call us "gomers" or skeptics", whichever you like. I doubt that NASA is using the science involved there, but then again, NASA probably doesn't have tube amps and such. In any case they also make really great connectors that are a bargain in the high end world. Now they have a new installer line of connectors and cable, their ITC line. Seems quite impressive from the demo we saw.

Zalman had some nice and as usual, quiet HTPC cases available, as well as their spectacular array of CPU and video card coolers. They also had 3d video software for games. It was cool, but not like their usual beautiful, quiet pc/mac cooling solutions.

There was a large HDMI booth with significant manufacturers. Some were very interesting. Others, were very much gestapo like in the questioning of your business practices and possibly your lifestyle. HDMI is a lovely one cable solution (despite the connector) but the CES proponents you have to try to talk to with questions and complaints are almost always angry, paranoid fascist types. Dudes?
But, hey the Gennum booth was super!

The international booths are always interesting, and we make sure to check them out and take a lot of pictures. There are secrets there, but we can't explain. At CES a lot of deals are made, a lot of partnerships are created. The best companies find the best partners. They go back and forth on design and specs until they are both happy and test demo units at each iteration. Manufacturing 101 . Hello?

And then there are those companies that distribute all the crap that doesn't sell, because it is funky, defective or nobody wants it, or because the manufacturer quit that business... And they sell it cheap... some people I know think it is an example of "dumping", an attempt to destroy the competition in the market, to take it over and rule the market, then raising prices.
I just think we are currently biased to price over quality throughout a larger scale of the consumer market than usual. Time will tell. I think it will change if the wider scale of the economy improves.

Well, there was a lot more we checked out, but time doesn't permit mention at this time.
We still have the central hall with a zillion LCD's and Plasmas to check out, and then some nice relaxing listening to do at the high end audio area at the Venetian, my personal desert for all of this blisterization on my feet. I also hope to hit T.H.E.Show - the other high end audio show going on here at the same time.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

CES2008 Sands Convention Center

Hey, we finally made it here to Vegas for CES 2008, and started our Trek at the Sands Convention Center in the afternoon. There are many items here in the "innovations" awards area that have already gotten a ton of press, so we'll pick on some of the good and bad among them, and add some of the quirky and/or cool products that end up at the Sands.

Robots were all around, not just carpet cleaners for a change.
Here are some "interactive robots with sensors that respond to your motions, more or less.
Some are friendly:

Some are manly:

Some are, er, different:

Here's a great one for a fathers day present, it cuts the grass!

Lian Li always has a few mega super killer PC Cases. This was big, red and beautiful:

Arctic Cooling had some very nice cooling products:

Addlogix Has a nice PC to TV Wireless video streamer that looks rather promising
You may want to check for availability since we sell Addlogix

Here's a remote that could be great - if they only they bothered thinking about the ease of use of the "Play" button, stop, rewind, etc. All the same size and type - real cute but not easy to feel in the dark.

Now this is more like it:

Logitech is apparently getting their act together

Here's an innovation in ugliness:
B&W has come out with the strangest looking iPod dock ever devised. It probably sounds fabulous, but it looks like an unexploded WWI bomb, or something.

An Innovative waste?
Kensington Liquid FM: Automatically finds the best frequency for your ipods signal. But does it sound better than any other ipod fm transmitter?

Sorry, that is it for now. Tomorrow is a full day in the South hall and Central Hall - where the real action is!

Friday, January 04, 2008

CES 2008

Starting on Tuesday, January 8th, we will be at CES2008 in Las Vegas Nevada. I'll be posting from there tuesday, wednesday and thursday on the various electronic atrocities available for your consumer dollar in the upcoming year. Of course there will be all kinds of promises of wireless audio and video breakthroughs, whole house a/v sharing, new exciting processors from Intel and AMD (they are still in business, right?) , of course there will be a new, exciting version of HDMI to upgrade all of your Home Theater components to, and all kinds of wild and crazy ideas like connecting your refrigerator to the Interweb. I'm excited, we're excited and so should you be. Everyone else promises great coverage, but this year we'll deliver what you want! Booth babe pics, right?