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Home Entertainment 2002
Hi-Fi and Home Theater Event

Home Entertainment 2002

Report By Chris Boylan

A Hi-Fi Show In The Post-9/11 World

 
  It was the first major Hi-Fi show in New York City post-9/11, and in the throes of a less than rosy economy, I wasn't exactly sure what to expect at this year's Home Entertainment Expo. Endless questions ran through my mind... Would the exhibitors come?  Would the public show up?  Would anyone care?   And while were at it, who exactly cleans up after a Seeing Eye dog?  While this last mystery still perplexes me, Im happy to say that that the exhibitors came, the people watched and listened, and it was good.

As with last year, I went "under-cover" with a regular old show attendee badge -- no press pass -- to see if I would get a vastly different experience of the show (from comparing notes with fellow writers, I didn't seem to miss much).  Unlike some of the audio purists here at Enjoy the Music.com (and I mean that in the nicest possible way), I actually really enjoy multi-channel sound and even *gasp* love to watch movies on my home theater system!  So I'll be including some of my impressions on the video, multi-channel and home theater set-ups that had some impact on me -- good or bad.

With the challenging conditions of a show (poor acoustics, short demo sessions with mostly unfamiliar material, and perpetual sonic bleed from other rooms), you should not take these impressions as the final word on any of the equipment referenced - they're just completely subjective biased opinions and snap judgments of an audiofool like you... who happens to write for an online publication with a circulation in the tens of thousands.

As was the case last year, high-end multi-channel formats dominated the largest displays, but there were some surprisingly good sounding stereo rigs as well.  In fact, my own choice for 'best-in-show' featured source material that was purely standard resolution stereo (plain ole vanilla CDs), but the system was anything but 2 channel... But I'm getting ahead of myself - my favorites shall be revealed in good time...

 

The Krell/Faroudja Monster System
Once again this year, many manufacturers made a statement by assembling cost-no-object reference audio and home theater systems.  As in 2001, Krell and Faroudja teamed up to put together a killer multi-hundred kilobucks A/V rig complete with 425 pound subwoofers (Krell Master Reference), gleaming aluminum towers (Krell LAT-1), and an impressive array of black and steel componentry.

Krell Showcase A/V Preamp/processor and DVD Standard DVD drive
Krell's DVD Standard and 7.1 channel Showcase
A/V Preamp processor - Got enough inputs?

 

 

Fraoudja's Video Processor unit - not just water-cooled... it's Evian-cooled!
Faroudja's Video Processor - It has DCDi 
processing, and it's Evian-cooled!

This year, Faroudja chose to highlight their new projector - a super-tweaked lightweight beauty based on a JVC pro-line D-ILA (Direct-drive Image Light Amplification) model.  To grossly oversimplify things, you can think of a D-ILA chip as a 3D LCD panel on steroids.  The benefits of D-ILA over CRT projection are simpler set-up, lighter weight, and higher brightness.  The Faroudja FDP-DILA1 projector includes custom video processing and a custom lens assembly.  Faroudja also featured their Digital Cinema Source Native Rate series Digital Video Processor with their patented DCDi (Directional Correlational Deinterlacing) processing. 

The Faroudja FDP-DILA1 D-ILA projector
Faroudja's FDP-DILA1- a souped-up version
of JVC's Professional Line D-ILA projector.

Demo material featured standard resolution DVDs, including a fun, colorful and motion-intensive clip from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, as well as high action clips from Driven and Chicken Run.  There were few if any artifacts to be seen, with smooth motion, excellent color and detail and great contrast.  But I seem to recall that last year's demo system (with the Sony G90 3X9" CRT projector) had a more film-like quality.  The source might have had something to do with it.  Last year's source was line-doubled 1080i High Def (!).  But even still, this year's set-up was right up there among the best video at the show and it did a great job with the material that people actually own today - DVDs. 

As for the sound of the Krell system, the imaging and spatial cues were rock solid, the bass was deep and extended and the overall dynamics were phenomenal.  But at times the dialog was a bit lost in the mix and hard to make out (particularly in the clip from Driven).  This may have been the source, or it may have been the calibration of the system or even the acoustics of the room.  Overall I'd give the sound of this year's Krell/Faroudja system the edge, but the picture was more enjoyable to me in last year's set-up.

 

OK, Maybe Plasma and DLP Don't Completely Suck
Every year, certain technologies begin to emerge as contenders in the high end home theater market.  This year, I saw some really nice looking pictures from DLP projectors and some perfectly acceptable plasma displays.  On the Plasma-side NEC's Plasmasync 61MP1 ($27,995) with a Faroudja-enhanced DVD source looked quite good even in a bright hallway, and Sharp's PZ-43HV2U ($10,995) was quite enjoyable to look at.  I'm sure it had nothing to do with the source material.

 

Sharp's PZ-43HV2U Plasma HDTV comes with your very own Victoria's Secret model
Sharp's HDTV-ready 43" Plasma
can make even a Victoria's Secret

model look good. 
Waitaminute... strike that... reverse it.

Of course, the Sharp unit uses a proprietary digital connector (no iLink or DVI here) and it requires the optional set-top box (pictured) in order to support HDTV signals, but hey, whaddya want for *only* 11 Grand? 

Even better-looking in the Sharp room was their flagship DLP offering, the XV-Z9000U front projector.  Projecting onto a Stewart Filmscreen Firehawk 110" screen, in a dimly lit room, the Sharp projector displayed beautiful images from an HDTV source.  The XV-Z9000U ($10,995) features a Native 720P High Definition Panel (1280X720 pixels) with built-in scaling for 1080i and other HD and standard def sources.  Contrast was excellent (specs say it's 1100:1) and the blacks were deeper than I'm used to seeing on DLP.  It also included a nice jack pack with two component/RGB inputs (5 RCA jacks each), 1 composite (RCA) and 1 s-video, plus a D-sub 15 pin computer input.  For video, I'm a tube (CRT) bigot, but I'd be happy living with this particular DLP projector in my living room.

 

Sharp DLP projector (XV-Z9000U) jack pack
SharpVision XV-Z9000U DLP projector rear panel

On the audio front, Sharp was displaying their Home Theater in a Box system, the sd-at100 ($1799.95), which actually sounded great, considering the price.  It includes a built-in DVD player and receiver (only 25 Watts per channel, alas not going to shake any foundations), but it features DTS, Dolby Digital and Dolby Pro-Logic II. If you need a home theater in a small room, and your significant other is screaming for something small and sleek, then check this puppy out.

 

Sharp Home Theater in a Box - SD-AT100
Sleek and Sexy - the Sharp SD-AT100 Home Theater in a Box

 

And on to the sounds...

At last year's show, I gave best-stereo-sound-in-show nod to Innovative Audio's excellent display of the Wilson Audio Watt/Puppy 6 system, powered by Spectral amplification.  In a cramped little hotel room, they managed to produce a deep, wide, natural sound.  This year, in the large Gibson Suite, Wilson was back with their newly upgraded Watt/Puppy 7 ($22,400 per pair in standard finish) with plenty of breathing room.  To help fill the larger space, the Watt/Puppy 7 was supplemented on the low end by the WATCH Dog powered subwoofer ($9950), and driven by VTL tube amplification.  The sound?  Again, excellent soundstage depth and musicality and wonderful dynamics.  Horns had the attack of live music.  There was a slight hint of strain during some of the more demanding material.  But again, this is a trade show so who knows what was the cause of that?  The room may have been a little large for that particular speaker/amp combination.

Wilson Audio Watt Puppy system, version 7 with VTL amplifiers
Wilson Audio's Watts/Puppies
were barking up a storm at HE 2002.


 

Wilson Audio Watchdog Subwoofer
Speaking of big dogs, the Wilson Audio WATCH dog
weighs in at 283 pounds and packs a serious WOOF!

 

Down the hall some more excellent sounds were coming out of the Clinton Conference Room, where high end speaker manufacturer Nearfield Acoustics teamed up with Tenor Audio, Aesthetix and some Canadian dude named André Thériault.  I'm not sure if Monsieur Theriault himself was there, but his turntable was (the Phono #4), and it was a thing of beauty.  
 

Andre Theriault's Phono #4 turntable
Andre Theriault's Phono #4

Monsieur Fremer was there (that is, Michael Fremer, of Stereophile Magazine), who sat down next to me and whipped out some vinyl.  Mike and I shared the sweet spot -- does this mean we're going steady?  The hosts gladly indulged Michael's music selection (go figure) which was a very lush-sounding Alison Krouse tune.  As they are known to do, the Nearfield Acoustics Pipe Dreams threw a huge and wide soudstage and produced a wonderfully smooth and musical presentation.

 

Nearfield Acoustics Pipe Dreams Hemisphere Reference 18
Nearfield Acoustics' Pipe Dreams Hemisphere
Reference 18 sports
72 tweeters, 36 midrange drivers,
and two 18" subwoofers in a two-tower, 

two-cylinder configuration.  The towers are 7 feet tall.  BIG!

The room designers really did a nice job matching equipment and taming the acoustics of the conference room.  If this system sounds this good in a hotel room, I can only imagine what it sounds like in a home environment.  Tenor Audio's OTL amps and Aesthetix pre-amplification seemed a very synergistic match for these speakers.

 

Tenor Audio OTL amps and Aestetix preamplification
The Tenor Audio OTL amps and Aesthetix line
and phono stages looked almost 
as good as they sounded at Home Entertainment 2002.

 

Well, that's not all she wrote, but that's all I'm writing for now.  Stop by soon for the next segment, in which I'll describe a battle to the death between SACD and DVD-Audio.  Which format comes up standing?  Tune in soon and find out.  Also, coming soon are details on some killer audio and home theater systems from TacT, MBL, Martin Logan, Eggleston Works, Wilson Benesch and much much more.

 

Click here to see a
complete listing of show exhibitors.

Click here to see our 2001 show coverage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
 

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