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International CES 2007 Show Report
Consumer Electronics Show 2007
Sunday: Press Conference Day
Page 1

Russ Johnson and various members of Pioneer USA  Russ Johnson of Pioneer USA touted plasma displays while also explaining how the Japanese manufacturing home base was asked to build a totally new design from the ground up. Innovation is key, as is each individual on the engineering teams ideas. The newest versions will allow for faster reaction of the phosphors, reduced secondary reflections, and basically deeper blacks and less prone to having problems with ambient light. The new ASIC (Application Specific Integrated Circuit) technology will aid in better processing of the video signal. Audio-wise, there is a new half-height Blu-ray drive for computer use, AV receivers with an array of audio processing and includes iPod connection. Pioneer is going to focus on Blu-ray technology.

While i have covered video, perhaps not an audiophile thing, Pioneer does manufacturer the Mark Levinson branded car audio system. Mobile technology demands things like multiple amplifiers, carefully positioned drivers for time and phase accuracy... and of course a way to lower the noise floor. Added benefits of a proper car audio system means less fiddling with buttons and more time enjoying the music. Like a complex home system, connectivity and ease of use are some of the keys. The car audio representative of Pioneer stressed that as music becomes more compressed (iTunes, MP3 etc.), delivering improved sound quality become that much more important. There are over 136 million vehicles, so imagine the possibilities for a high-end audio company.

Of interesting note is that LG, while semi-new to Americans, is a longstanding technology innovator. Their products have been available  in many other parts of the world for a long time. LG announced a dual format Blu-ray and HD DVD player! It was asked at the Pioneer conference if they plan on a like device and they said no at this time. Also of note, no DVD-Audio support on Pioneer's new Blu-ray players and i am not sure if SACD will be supported. As Sony's new Blu-ray unit does not support SACD, as reported within our industry news page, one can only wonder if there is any future for the format.

Leaked information is that during Bill Gates' presentation tonight is that Microsoft will be releasing a Xbox with iptv and other features. As you know, there is a big battle for the livingroom and home wide entertainment delivery. As such, we audiophiles need to either be relinquished to a perhaps solidarity experience and dedicated room or hope that the major driving forces recognize the need for high-end sound quality. There are various better audio home network units already on the market, yet with more and more audiophiles using Slim Devices Squeezebox 3 Network Music Player.

The Toshiba press event was highly anticipated and a standing room only event. While Pioneer supports Blu-ray, Toshiba is taking the HD DVD stance. Toshiba's Regza line, their premium product akin to Pioneer's Elite series, hopes to show further innovations with high-definition products. Toshiba desires backward compatibility and advanced new technologies. This allows for a smoother transition versus forcing the either/or game that can confuse and perhaps frustrate consumers. On the other hand (uh oh), their press releases state "Some DVD-R/DVD-RW and CD-R/CD-RW discs may be incompatible due to laser pick up design and disc design." It goes on to say their products may not support MP3/WMA/JEG/DivX. Now lack of MP3, in my opinion, is a good thing. Good riddance you dreaded compressed audio format. WMA, on the other hand, can be high resolution and lossless.

After the Toshiba event, which ended at 11am, i was set to camp out in lin for tickets to Bill Gates' conference. Now one does not just show up to such things minutes before the door opens, as the hall only holds about 5000 people. One must sit in a line that at 3pm that will provide you with a pass to gain entrance to the venue at 5pm. The seminar begins at 6:30pm so imagine the long hours of waiting.

BouchonAs an avid watcher of the Travel Channel, i recall Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations program, a truly brilliant show, mention a restaurant in the Venetian. So a brisk walk and i find myself at Bouchon, claimed to be one of the best places to eat per the wise and well-traveled accomplished chef Mr. Bourdain. On his show he had a wonderful variety of food, and made specific mention how he hated this place, if only because their food was incredible. He said that even the lowly pommes frites (French fries) were amazing. So as i type this i find myself at 11:20am about to eat what is probably my last meal of the day.

 

So of all the seafood, French delicacies, and other blissful concoctions on the menu i went for the tried and true. The good ol' standard meat and potatoes, as if you can't get those relatively simple thing right then what is the point. Add to that, my stomach needed something, well, something that would at least sustain life for the next 12+ hours. Upon sitting down at the bar i noticed the obligatory Bunn coffee maker, a dreaded contraption that unapologetically drops down caffeine to the unfortunate. Fortunately right next to that machine from Satan is a tri DIVA espresso machine. Oh there is a G-d after all.

My meal just arrived and it looked nice, basic presentation. Like high-end home audio, visual aesthetics play a part to overall enjoyment even though it generally does not make the food taste better (or enhance the sound of a system). In any event, i cut right into the steak and it was ok, perhaps my cut was a bit thick. Slicing thinner yielded a nice texture and flavor, plus a more tender bite. Well, i have probably gone on too long about food. Sorry, it is another passion of mine, as is driving and soon to be racing on a proper road course track. So back to audio and i'll leave behind mentions of Bouchon serving Illy espresso, akin to the Bose of espresso, versus Cafe Do Ponto that is akin to high-end audio.

The whole mainstream show, which has been going this way for the past few years, is now extremely pointed towards convergence and connectivity. Am not sure how that will shake out within our industry, which are generally stand-alone high-end audio products. Good news is that CEA, the folks who produce the CES, seem to be doing a bit more at promoting better audio through their "Great Audio Experience." The band touted as "America's Favorite Rock Band," Three Doors Down, will have two performances in hopes of making more show attendees aware of our audiophile desires. As i recall from meeting the band when they were just up and coming at the 1999 Woodstock they were very personable.

Am not sure what the upcoming days have in store, as it is now 1:05pm on Sunday and am waiting in line to get a ticket to attend Bill Gates' presentation. Am also hoping that the change of venue from the way over there Alexis Park venue has now migrated high-end audio to the twice as expensive Venetian hotel. Promise to try, in a nearly futile attempt, to cover the over 1.7 million square feet that is the CES. Then we have The Home Entertainment Show (T.H.E. Show) and the many dedicated high-end devices there.

Of interesting note is the early July International SINOCES (thin SINO CES) event in China. Years ago i came to realize that China was truly delivering some high value for the dollar products. These were generally tube amplifiers year ago and have now expended to other bits within the high-end audio stable. So it is notable that the large and proverbial 600 pound gorilla CES is doing the same for China as they have done in Las Vegas for decades.

It is now 2:30pm and fortunately my camping out for Bill Gates' conference is directly in front of a quite a few high-end audio exhibits. As such, have been meeting and chatting with various manufactures, distributors, and members of the press. During discussions it appears the general consensus that both DVD-Audio and SACD are dead. Don't blame me, i did not kill them. The real question my friends should be "Which high-definition video format will prevail and what are the format's audio capabilities?"

This is not to say that three years from now you will not be able to buy new music from boutique labels, it is to say that, like vinyl, it will be that much further away from mainstream. With analog (vinyl), there is a nice resurgence and a good amount of supporting and improving hardware to choose from. Am not sure if we can say the same for their digital counterpart, though a chip manufacturer could decide to continually improve their support for these digital formats and supply them as a single chip or chipset solution to support an array of (then) current formats. Perhaps the 7.1-channel dts HD and TrueHD will be adopted by various audiophile labels.

 

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