Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Blu Ray Player necessities and upgrades

Got a new Blu Ray Player? Time to upgrade it!!!
So you decided to take the plunge and get a Blu Ray Player to experience the best available High Definition Audio and Video in your own home. Awesome. The high bitrate 1080p video on Blu Ray discs has the potential, and often does look far superior to the overly compressed, poorly processed "HD" video you get coming from your Cable TV or Satellite TV provider. The Audio? With a well recorded disc encoded with Dolby TruHD or DTS HD Master Audio the sound in your home Theater can be truly breathtaking, with 7.1 channels of "Digital Master" quality sound. Virtually the same sound the Mastering Engineer listened to. Even if you don't have the ideal Receiver with HDMI to get TruHD or HD Master Audio, you will still get improved sound using an optical or coax digital connection at up to double the bitrate of what's available on DVD.

What's required for the best video:
An HDMI cable for full 1080p video. Component Video usually supports up to 1080i/720p for Blu Ray discs, but very often the Blu Ray player will output 480p or 480i for DVD's. So HDMI is your best bet for the best video quality.

What's required for the best audio:
For Dolby TruHD or DTS HD Master Audio you will need either an HDMI cable (see above) or a Multi channel I/O Cable, depending on what inputs you have on your receiver. If your receiver does not have HDMI inputs or multi channel audio inputs, then you will have to settle for using an optical or coax digital cable, which will still give you far superior sound compared to what you get from DVD's. If your Optical or Coax digital audio cables are a bit sketchy, you may want to upgrade them a bit to be sure your getting all of those pesky little 1's and 0's that your blu ray player is sending.

How to improve your Video and Audio even more:
Properly setting up or "Calibrating" your Display can make a huge difference in picture quality. Most TV's are not set up in the factory to look their best in your home. They are set up to look their best* in a big box chain store filled with light and alongside other competing TV's.
Setting up the Sound properly in your home theater will make sure your speaker levels are set correctly, your crossover frequencies are set properly and your bass management is set up to get the best results with your subwoofer.

Inexpensive and Easy Upgrade Products:

Video and Audio Calibration and Setup

HDMI Cables

Blu Ray Multi Channel I/O Cables

Optical Digital Audio cable upgrades

Coax Digital Audio upgrades

Further Reading:

Dolby TruHD - Making the Right Connections

DTS core + Extensions

DTS HD Master Audio

*best as in brightest possible with exaggerated colors and excessive, noise inducing sharpness settings.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

CES 2009 Day 3

CES 2009 Day 3
Sands Convention Center/Innovation Hall

Boxee had a very hot booth. Their website description: "on a laptop or connected to an HDTV, boxee gives you a true entertainment experience to enjoy your movies, TV shows, music and photos, as well as streaming content from websites like Hulu, Netflix, CBS, Comedy Central,, and flickr".
So basically they are an HTPC interface with built-in online support for the most popular online TV and movie sites. The interface looked sweet. I can't wait to get home, fire up my Mac and try it out!

Sleek had some very nice looking earbud headphones, both wired and wireless, with some of the most interesting features you can imagine. The earbuds unplug easily from the cables making the cables easily replaceable. Little parts on the headphones can be easily removed to give increased bass or treble, and the fit in your ear seems much better than just about any I've tried. The overall look was indeed, sleek.

Sony had some Innovation award winning nice little camcorders that were as small and feature filled as anything else I saw. Take their "smile shutter" technology, where a still photo can automatically be taken when someone in the move frame smiles - amazing!

Shure had a very cool award winner - an almost adapter sized XLR to USB Microphone adapter for digital recording with zero latency and better than CD audio quality. Basically the smallest form factor Mic Preamp/Audio Interface imaginable. Super cool.

Liquid Image won for a 5.0MP Camera built into a scuba diving mask for swimming, snorkling or scuba diving. Plus, it was pretty cool looking.

Vuzix won for the first and only Widescreen Video eyewear. It has 16:9 video form factor they claim equivalency to a 52" widescreen. Not sure how they figure that, but they look cool enough. Hopefully they don't weigh as much as a 52" widescreen...

The logitech Harmony 1100 touchscreen universal remote won my award as the best remote I saw. Certainly won't be cheap.

The Tonium Pacemaker P211 won for being the worlds first pocket-size DJ system that "let's you mix, play and perform anywhere, anytime. I saw some people having a fantasic time with it at their booth. It's about the size of a womans compact mirror. Pretty amazing stuff.

Chieftec stepped up with some pretty serious looking HTPC cases with VFD screens and impressive looking construction quality and nice finishes.

Venetian High End Audio

Judging speaker quality is a tough job in short listening sessions, especially without control over the music being played. The manufacturers always play music that highlights what they consider a speakers strengths and downplay it's weaknesses. The rooms are also vastly different. Some rooms are small and narrow and others are huge with high ceilings. All of these differences make trying to compare imaging and bass performance tricky at best.

Totem diverged greatly from their typical designs with the new "Wind". They are pretty stunning looking and sound pretty incredible with the usual Totem "tonefullness".

Usher was showing off some new models in their Dancer series. I listened to the Mini One and another who's name escapes me. I love these speakers and the Beryllium tweeters are fantastically detailed and yet still somehow sweet sounding to me. The overall sound though, seems entirely dominated by them. I love to listen to them, but I don't know if I could listen to them forever.

I also listed to the new TAD Compact Reference, which also sports Beryllium in a scaled down version of their Reference One's. These seem to do a better job of matching up the tweeter with other drivers. Their coincident tweeter/midrange and woofer are from the Reference One, and the sound is superb, but they apparently didn't have enough power to drive them in the rather huge room they had.

YG Acoustic claimed to have "The best speaker on Earth". They were massive and filled the huge room they were in with some rather profound quality sound. It was hard to find fault with them, but they just seemed to me to have too much in the upper midrange/lower treble area. It seems to be pretty typical for a lot of speaker companies to have various bulges in what you might call the "detail" area. It is some fantastic detail indeed, but it's not my cup of tea.

Vandersteen was spinning serious vinyl on a seriously scary Table. I show my lack of high end knowledge by not immediately recognizing it, I guess, but I cannot fathom how it could possibly be shipped without complete disassembly. It sounded absolutely wonderful. Of course the Vandersteen speakers are what I came to hear. I am a big fan of time alignment and coherence in speakers and have never had a chance to hear Vandersteens, which I hate to admit. These were Vandersteen Seven's and they were utterly wonderful from top to bottom. It may have helped that I listened to music I liked, and perhaps the cozy setup they had helped as well. But it's a bit telling that I came back for another round of listening. I certainly can't afford these, but I'll definitely check out the lower end models next time I'm shopping for speakers.

Quad ESL's are considered one of the finest speakers available. I heard them last year as well, and again they sounded as "right" as any speaker I've ever heard. I don't know if I just hit them at the wrong time, when they are playing music without a wide sound field, the room is just too narrow, or if they just don't create any kind of wide sound stage , but both times they sounded practically mono. If not for that, I'd gladly sell my car, move close enough to work to bike it, and live happily with these forever.

Von Schweikert Unified 3 was another speaker I think I would love to live with. I didn't hear much familiar music, and there was, at times, some background noise, so I know they are extremely good, and can't wait to hear them again.

Friday, January 09, 2009

CES 2009 Day 2 the South Hall

CES 2009 Day 2
South Hall
South Hall is a favorite, since I see so many of our current favorite vendors and get a lot of chances to find new products. It's big, really big, so it's tiring, but there are also chances to see the latest technologies as well as fun, weird stuff.
Getting Internet provided TV content onto your TV is another new rather universal theme, but their are issues with all the implementations other than a full fledged HTPC solution, and anyone doing that knows that there are plenty of issues even with that. This is a fledgling market that is only now finding its way and trying hard to monetize their offerings. Buying into one proprietary solution is fraught with possible future issues. Anything that can't be easily updated, as well as anything that has no easy way to input information (such as URL's) in characters as well as numbers is likely to be unusable at some point. Buyer beware!

Optoma had a great demo of their HD8200 Projector.

Da-Lite had a great 3D Projector Screen Demo which was lots of fun. 3D was all over the place this year. You have to wear glasses of course, but they are getting way better at it. I'm sorry I missed the Panasonic 3D demo, but there were extremely long wait times.

Thermaltake and Moneual had some stunning looking HTPC cases with VFD screens and touch screens.

Gefen is shipping their Wireless HDMI solution, and has tons of new great products.
The Gefen product line always seems to grow exponentially, and as a Gefen distributer on the East Coast we try to make all their popular products available quickly to east coast installers and consumers. They have a lot of new "problem solvers" as usual, for HDMI Audio and Video, extension, digital signage, switching and distribution.

B&W always manages to bring their high end stylish models but none of their other various lines that we can afford. Tons of room in the booth for more, but mostly wasted space.

Supra Cables from Sweden had a large booth. They are a longtime manufacturer trying to break into the North American market. Looked like good stuff, but where were the beautiful Swedish models? Come on, that's CES marketing 101!

Powerbridge had a nice little booth with all their latest rather ingenious in wall Flat panel power and A/V connection products for installers and DIYers.

DataComm has a similar line of in wall AV and power solutions for the installer market. We are hoping to add their product line very soon.

Calrad had the usual plethora of connectivity products. They had a nice litttle 4-channel headphone Amp perfect for schools, a nice PC HD to HDMI scaler for up to 1080p, a single Cat5e HDMI extension solution and all of the usual HDMI and AV Wall plate solutions they should rightfully be famous for. They also have the xLobby Media Management and Automation control line popular with installers. We've been a very happy Calrad distributer for a long time and love their determination to provide installers with the widest selection of installer products at great prices. Unfortunately they had no models in skimpy clothes, just knowledeable human beings.

Asus had a huge booth. One thing I didn't get was a lot of there laptops had "sparkles" look which unfortunately extended all over the keyboard which could make visibility of keyboard letters in common overhead lighting situations rather bad. HP had some similar models, so apparantly bad ideas are contagious. Their much maligned HD audio card was there, but not labeled. Hopefully they'll get those problems sorted out soon. Their "Bamboo" series notebooks I had to say looked fantastically desireable. I just hope they hold up to the road. Their Eee touchscreen all-in-one computers seemed fun, although HP had a more spectacular version which we'll get to. These used the Intel Atom N270 and should hit a very good price point. Touch screens are indeed very fun and natural to use, although they still have some weak spots.

Netgear is working hard to get your Internet Video onto your TV with a selection of products. They looked very worthy of further investigation.

iDapt, from Spain had a really cool little power solution for charging up to three varied devices at once with one little box using modular replaceble connectors. They come with a variety of interchangeable "tips" - connector modules. So you could have an iPod/iPhone, cell phone and GPS all charging at once. They even had modules for AAA and AA rechargeable batteries. Green is in baby! It seems like a brilliantly done system, and we are hoping to offer them.

Finally, HP had some of their usual great stuff, although they also thought sparkly finishes on the keyboards of some of their laptops was cool. They had some awesome 25.5" displays with any feature you could want. My favorite was their all-in-one Touch screen Display/Computer. Seemed like the same 25.5" display size, but I could be wrong. The touch screen functionality needs some work. I could not "minimize" a window using my fingers, and some things worked a bit like they didn't quite have it all nailed down yet, but fun was undeniable. The connectivity looked great, the overall look was nice and if it all comes together it's a real "Grandmas" computer at very Apple competitive prices. These things could be very hot! And Screen cleaning
cloths and sprays will also be a huge seller!

Again no time for pictures yet. I'll have to fill them in after I get home. For what is considered a rather "dead" CES, this one has lot's of good stuff going on.

Tomorrow, the Sands "Innovation Hall" which is generally very good, and then the Venetian for High End Audio.

CES 2009 day 1, Central Hall

Central Hall
Flatwire had a big booth with the "best dressed" booth babe - dressed in Flatwire cables.
(I'll try to post pictures later)

The biggest thing that was very clear in the Central Hall was that all the big time Display manufacturers are taking motion artifacts and motion resolution to be the new holy grail. Clearly 1080p "full HD" is no longer a big selling point, and every display is sporting multiple HDMI connections so everyone has moved on to eliminating motion blur and lost resolution during on-screen motion. Most of the majors had comparisons of their 60Hz, 120Hz and 240Hz refresh rates and "pseudo data" interpolation schemes. After all, if the images "between" actual image data have to be created, they are not "real" image data. The problem is that it takes a heck of a lot of processing power to make up quality interpolated images at these refresh rates, so the room for improvement is going to be there for some time to come. It was impressive, though to see the improvements made since last year on most of these super speed LCD's. LED backlighting is ever getting more impressively "localized" creating much more natural images and better black levels without loss of shadow detail among other positives. Of course the fly in the ointment is that "film" is shot at 24fps, and has, as a result, natural "judder". Take out the judder and everything starts to look like it was shot with a video camera, rather than film, and this will no doubt upset the purists to no end. Of course "thin is in" with flat panels, and LG and Panasonic had screens that looked flatter than projector screens.

LG had an extremely impressive booth. Aside from their 240Hz and LED backlight demos, one very impressive feature was their built in "Picture Wizard" to help you adjust the display for best contrast, white level sharpness, tint and colors. Very impressive! Kudos to LG for what looks like a very easy system to use. Of course it won't adjust for the source device, but that is obviously beyond their control. There was an OLED display demo that was impressive, but it was still rather small. They also had a 3-D projection demo that was quite impressive. It might have looked even better if some previous user of my glasses hadn't put their fingerprints all over the lenses...

Panasonic had an enormous booth with a few awesome demos of their plasma displays emphasizing their new plasmas full 1080 lines of resolution with very fast motion, compared with much lower resolution available from LCD displays. They also had a demo showing some rather stunning black levels. Plasma is still alive and well and kicking with Lead boots on. Their demo of their PT-AE3000U demo was impressive, but I saw no mention of any upcoming Organic LCD Projector.

Pioneer had the usual gorgeously black Components and plasmas with awesome picture quality and extreme black levels. The surprise was the Speakers. The TAD and EX series look extremely impressive. I heard the TAD before and was extremely impressed, but it seems the EX series is the "trickle down" line which looks really promising.

Toshiba had a nice booth with lots of nice looking displays, but the disconcerting "XDE" DVD playback demo seemed to have some obvious edge enhancement. C'mon Toshiba, give up the malice and embrace the Blu! Everyone else sure seems to.

One company who shall remain nameless due to possible legal reasons - let's just say the companies name starts with an "S" and ends with an "amsung" had the usual (for them) policy of "no pictures". Therefore they will not be discussed.

Sony had "the worlds first" 240Hz display! Well, maybe they were first, but they sure aren't the only ones to have one now. They did have a lovely assortment of lovely Sony displays at all price levels - expensive, extremely expensive and explosively expensive. Hey, we kid, we're kidders! I have two Sony TV's myself, and a projector, and a PS3!.... Love that Sony stuff.... Anyway, Sony was all about the "Blu". They even had a Mega Changer for Blu Ray disks so that you can Buy, buy, BUY those Blu Ray disks! I mean c'mon! People are going to notice all of the artifacts, lack of detail and macroblocking on Netflix Instant and Hulu eventually... Well, ok, some people will.

Monster Cable had something new and impressive - a Lamborghini!

Canon had some HD camcorders that will literally fit in the palm of your hand! And so cute too! The SD camcorders were even smaller still. Soon you'll be able to wear them like a ring!

TEAC had some good looking USB Turntables which should be good considering the TEAC heritage. They also had a lot of Pro duplicators and stuff you'd more likely associate with them.

Blue had a booth way in the back with their Microphones. Very nice stuff.

Urrgghhh. It's just too late for me to post pictures tonight. Maybe tomorrow. My Thai food was a level "7" in hotness when I should stick with a "5", and I forgot to get a receipt! Was hoping to do something tonight but the South Hall awaits me tomorrow. It's going to be a long day.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

CES 2009 day -1

CES 2009 day -1

If you can get to CES a day or two early, it's always a good idea. There are, actually things to do here, and places to eat. I love to wander around and see the amazing amounts of new construction projects going on and visit old haunts as well as new places I can have as old haunts later. Some old haunts go away and I'm sad to see them go. My first stop for food was "Burger Bar" in Mandalay Place for my favorite sandwich - a King Salmon steak "burger" with Asparagus, Portabella mushrooms, lettuce, tomato, onions and Dijon mustard on a sesame seed bun. I washed it down with a nice IPA while watching a replay of the Eagles losing to the Patriots in the super bowl on a small LCD screen in my booth. Being an Eagles fan, I've seen this video countless times, and I can tell you, the Eagles always lose. My next meal of note was at "Red 8" at the Wynn They had an off hour special for $18.88 which I got the vegetarian version of. The service was excellent and the food was rather good, contrary to some mediocre Yelp reviews. Nothing like the greasy Chinese food you get in a lot of places here in the states. Of course in the Wynn it better be good.
This year there were tons of hotel deals due to the economy but I brainstormed the Sahara as by base of operations. Why? It's the first stop at the unpopular end of the monorail and it's in walking distance to the convention center. I've been hosed before at the fun end of the strip with huge lines for buses and the monorail, plus it was really inexpensive. The monorail station is insanely close to my room, actually, and so the entire strip is quite accessible. Plus, I finally made it to the "Stratosphere" and checked out the panoramic view - highly recommended. The area has some well regarded restaurants and while the neighborhood is certainly more sketchy than the upper strip, well, you can safely just jump on the monorail and be uptown in 15 minutes or so.

Tomorrow, Thursday, I'm hitting the International show at the Hilton, and then the Central Hall. Should be fun! The International hall is always weird, and I have completely failed to learn how to say "Hi, are you single, and do you want to run off to New Jersey with a dirty old man" in Mandarin Chinese, so it's not looking like a promising morning. The Central Hall should cheer me up though, since that's where they have all the awesome new TV's, Computer technologies, Music and DJ stuff and hot, friendly American booth babes to make me feel manly again.

Friday I'll hit the South hall, which should be a full days worth of brutality, walking two levels of ginormous floors. I normally try to do this on day 1, and can barely feel my legs afterwards. If time permits, I'll crawl through the North hall seeking hot booth babes to take pictures of, in what is, of course, the "Car sound" hall.

On Saturday I'll check out the Sands Expo and Convention Center, which is quite difficult in itself. Somehow, I always get totally turned around at some point and lose track of where I've been. I brought a compass this time, which may make me screw up even more. I'll finish off with High End Audio in the Venetian which is sort-of attached. I generally try to get a listen to the best high end speakers. I'm a bit of a speaker fanatic. What else influences the sound of your system more? And what else can you listen to for 5-10 minutes and get a general idea of how they sound? I wish I had time to go to "The Show" - the other high end audio event going on at Alexis Park and St Tropez hotels but I doubt I'll have time, and they are oh so snobby there, it's hard to get a listen unless you're certified "high end media". Don't get me wrong, most rooms they are incredibly nice, but some just take one look at your non Gucci shoes, or whatever and attitudinally pee on you.

That's the plan, in any case. I'm going to miss some good football games, but I have the Eagles/Giants set to record on Sunday while I'm flying back home. I may have to miss work on Monday due to staying up all night watching the game. I hope nobody tells me who won beforehand...