|Posted on September 10, 2012 at 7:35 PM|
My first official, non-press-related day at CEDIA EXPO began at 5:50 AM after The Darryl Wilkinson's alarm went off. It sounded like an angry, malevolent, homicidal robot had burst into our room and was augmented with the flashing of the the iPhone's arc sodium light that punctuated the staccato bleeps and blaps of the hostile robot intruder. Since I had no idea what this was, I leapt out of bed yelling, "I don't know what's happening?! Why is this happening?! What's going on?!" as I battered the Hampton Inn's alarm clock mercilessly trying to get it to stop.
And with that, it's Day One of EXPO!
After a slightly more civilized wake-up at 7:00, I joined a breakfast presentation by JVC. Historically JVC shows its continued support of the custom installation channel by launching a slate of new high-performance front projectors and this year was no different as JVC is launching nine new projectors, all but the bottom two featuring an upgraded version of the company’s e-shift2 4K scaling. Contrast levels have increased nearly to the point of blacks SO black they will swallow a newborn sun level, with the top models producing 130,000:1 native contrast.
Following the JVC event I was able to step onto the EXPO showfloor for the first time, and I must say, it’s always an electric, exhilarating experience. Day one of the EXPO is filled with excited energy as exhibitors and attendees both are fresh and ready to go. I visited first time exhibitor, Darbee, and saw a demo of its video enhancing product, the Darblet. I’d love to examine what it does with test patterns, but the demo I saw with a Blu-ray of Avatar was very impressive as it seemed to lift a subtle veil from the video and add more contrast and depth.
One of my favorite speaker designers is Andrew Jones, and I never fail to attend his TAD demos at CES. They are $60,000/pair speakers with beryllium drivers and cost-no-object design, using amplifiers and cabling that would cost more than many ocean-front homes. But at EXPO Jones was demonstrating a new line of speakers he designed for Pioneer, with towers selling for $250/pair! Obviously they don’t sound the same as the TAD models, but the sound was incredibly impressive for the price.
The URC (formely Universal Remote Control) booth was hoping – as it always is – with an on-going training. I was able to get a demo of URC’s new network control processor that offers on-screen graphics and a Wii-style gesture control. URC said the product is still in Alpha-testing, but the early look showed promise and it will be interesting to see how the industry embraces – or rejects – gesture-based control. I also got a giveaway of Spike, the odd prickly-pear/sea urchin remote control they handed out. The remote has an interesting "back story" (you can read it here) and would hurt like bloody hell if you threw it at someone or accidentally stepped on it in the middle of the night.
SnapAV had a flurry of activity at its booth, and I got a great demo of the new Wirepath surveillance DVR which is Control4 certified. With this product, dealers are able to easily add IP camera features with traditional, low-cost analog cameras. SnapAV also demonstrated a cool rack-building design tool and a new upgraded on-line purchasing system where dealers can save an unlimited number of shopping carts allowing them to easily recall orders in the future.
The folks at SurgeX are usually good for a great demo because the really like blowing stuff up at their booth. And by "stuff" I mean competing surge protection products. I stopped by to see what they would fry this year, but unfortunately they were just smoking some MOVs (metal-oxide varistor) which isn’t nearly as cool as watching a piece of high-end electronics turn into silicon slurry before your eyes. They did demonstrate a very cool remote management system that allows dealers to check in on jobs, but easily manage who has access to this feature. This keeps ex-employees from being able to log-in to old jobs, or, say, have someone peep in on a client’s house uninvited.
Of course I had to visit Kaleidescape, and they gave me a peek at the first unveiling of the new download store. The store is still being finalized, but it has a very Kaleidescape UI, and the purpose is to make it incredibly easy for Kaleidescape owners to add new, bit-for-bit Blu-ray quality movies to their collections. They stressed that any movies purchased would be identical to the actual disc, including all special features, commentary and subtitle tracks. Also, users will be able to easily fill-out their collections, as the store will “know” what movies the user already owns. This will allow owners to easily fill out their collections with every film by a specific actor or director or, say, every Academy Award winning film. You could see that if you had the budget -- and storage space -- to add 100 new movies and a $2500 bill at the click of a button, that you could build out an awesome film collection in no time. Kaleidescape expects movie pricing to be very competitive with current street prices, but didn’t have any specifics. They also feel that it will take around 4-5 hours for most movie downloads at typical high-speed rates. Also cool at the Kaleidescape booth was new developments to the iPad app, with the addition of Rotten Tomatoes reviews and Common Sense Media. This allows users to get more information on movies in their collections, and make an informed decision on what films are appropriate for kid viewing. Finally you'll have a third-party resource to consult when you wonder if Saw III is appropriate for your daughter's First Grade sleepover.
At Control4’s booth I discussed the new Sony partnership which will see Control4 technology embedded into new Sony ES models. I’m not sure if this is better news for Sony – who will now give dealers a terrific incentive to sell its higher-end receiver models – or Control4 – who will now have a bunch of systems out there waiting to be fully unlocked. I think it’s a great development and will be excited to see how it plays out and I hope to get my hands on a review sample to see how the setup process goes and how easy it will be for a typical end-user to make it work. I also got half of a nice veggie sandwich which was greatly appreciated.
Had to stop by the KEF booth to “touch the Blade,” which was on display this year in a very Lamborghini orange color. And, much like a Lambo, the Blade still looks frickin’ sexy no matter what color it is. (For the record, I wouldn't buy the Orange Sherbet color though.) KEF also showed a new powered monitor that is designed for near-field monitor listening and stupid-simple connection. The speaker is surprisingly heavy, attesting to its solid build quality, and takes a USB, analog and digital audio input for a variety of connection options.
My day on the showfloor ended with the Runco event. At EXPO two years ago, Runco unveiled the D-73d, which was the best 3D projector I’d seen. Last year at EXPO Runco stepped it up with the D-113d, a light cannon that put out a pulverizing amount of lumens and used PanaVision technology for 3D. So, of course, I was curious to see what Runco was bringing this year and they didn’t disappoint. They announced five new models, including the X-200i, a new Xtreme Projection series model that brings 3D to Runco’s lowest price point at just under $15k, and a model that Jennifer Davis, Runco’s VP of marketing called “the “darling of this line,” as it is based on Runco’s Copenhagen industrial design. Also displayed were two new models in the Signature Cinema line that uses Digital Cinema grade lenses and produced a stunning image on the 14-foot wide screen.
Following that I rand back to the Resi Press room and filed my story on the Runco event and then headed off for a great dinner with the folks at Polk Audio, concluding the day with a terrific Maytag bleu-cheese crusted strip steak.