Home Entertainment 2003 Hi-Fi and Home Theater Event
Thursday By Chris Boylan
kicked off the show this year with a press conference at 9:00 AM on opening day that attempted
to explain why they were appearing at what has traditionally been a high
end audio conference. In a series of presentations that tended toward
overly-polished marketing-speak, a string of VPs and directors espoused the
virtues of the "digitalization" of the home entertainment industry and how
Sony is poised to dominate this new golden age of digital technology.
Tim Alessi, director of marketing for video products, who actually had one
of the more natural presentation styles, talked about the trend in display
devices toward fixed pixel, plat panel displays and away from tubes.
In my personal opinion, tubes still rule the roost in ultimate picture quality,
but recent advances in Liquid Crystal, plasma and DLP technologies, in conjunction
with the drawbacks of tubes (weight, size and tweakiness) have made flat
panel displays a more palatable alternative.
Tim Alessi, Director of Video products
discusses their new line of flat panel displays.
Sony is introducing several new plasma screens, LCD televisions, and LCD
rear projectors including new 60" and 70" LCD rear projection models and
a cool "floating" transparent framed plasma design (seen earlier this year
at CES) as well as a new third generation set-top box for HDTV reception.
Sony’s new plasma line features ultra-cool transparent
Sony also announced their new DVD recorder the RGR-GX7 – a recorder that
supports both DVD-RW and DVD+RW formats for maximum compatibility.
Unfortunately, this recorder does not include hard drive recording capability,
which would have made it an absolute competition-killer. Panasonic and Pioneer
are both introducing new DVD recorders this year that include built-in 80
GB hard drive recording, allowing you to record dozens of hours of video
onto the hard drive, decide what shows or segments you want to keep, do a
little non-linear editing and dump the keepers onto disc. This, to
me, is an excellent approach as it allows you to time-shift a hefty amount
of material for short-term storage on disk and save only the best for the
removable permanent media. But at least Sony is making an attempt to minimize
the format battles by supporting both –RW and +RW variations of recordable
David Bent, director, home audio products discussed the new Sony ES receiver
line, including the top of the line STR-DA9000ES ($4,500 - available in Fall
2003). The 9000 features
two hundred watts per channel, three-zone multi-room operation, "digital
drive" amplifiers, 9.1 channel support, DVI-HDTV input and a new touch screen
remote which David states is as easy to use as an ATM. To continue
this report in English, please PRESS 1. Sony also released a new flagship
DVD/SACD player (sorry, no DVD-Audio support), the SCD-XA9000ES ($3,000 -
available in Fall 2003). In addition
to a host of audio and video upgrades, the new DVD player supports a digital
link for SACD (iLink, aka IEEE1394) between itself and the 9000ES receiver.
Sony’s new top-of-the-line receiver and DVD/SACD combo player.
Sony’s Music Division held its own press conference to update the world on
the progress of the SACD format. The March 2003 release of Pink Floyd’s
Dark Side of the Moon provided a welcome boost in SACD sales with a reported
100,000 copies of the hybrid 5.1-channel SACD sold to date.
Labels that are currently supporting SACD include Telarc, Concord Jazz, Harmonia
Mundi, the newly resurrected Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab, Groove Note,
Domo, Rounder, Universal and Sony Music.
Sony stated that 150 new SACD titles are now being released each quarter,
and more than 800 titles are currently in the catalog with approximately
half of these offered in multi-channel mixes. Of particular note, Abco
is releasing a collection of Sam Cooke titles in hybrid SACD this year and
Sony Music itself (Legacy Records division) is releasing 15 Bob Dylan records
in the hybrid SACD format (some in stereo, some multi-channel).
Demoed through Sony’s new flagship ES receiver and DVD player (connected
digitally, and driving Wilson Watts/Puppies), the sound quality of the latest
SACDs was decidedly mixed. It is likely that this is a limitation of
the original source material. More recent recordings like "Gotta Serve
Somebody" were lush and full-bodied, whereas earlier recordings were not
quite as polished. Steve Berkowitz, Senior Vice President of the Legacy
Records division of Sony stated that their goal in releasing these albums
in SACD was to remain true to the original mixes, which means the higher
resolution SACDs are bound to reveal some of the limitations of the earlier
recordings. Purist Dylan fans will probably embrace this decision.
Steve Berkowitz, Senior Vice President, Sony Music’s Legacy Records
The SACD demo also included a new multi-channel SACD release of audiophile
favorite Steely Dan Gaucho. This gem of studio engineering highlighted
the capabilities of the SACD format and is sure to become a popular demo
Polk Audio’s Paul DiComo,
their self-proclaimed “Minister of Propaganda” presented new models in their
middle-of-the-road RTI line of loudspeakers. Ranging from $159 to $769
each, the new models feature real wood veneers, higher efficiency (90dB to
91dB) and improved drivers.
Polk also introduced their new high-end LCI series of in-wall/in-ceiling
speakers, which incorporate many components and design elements from their
flagship LSI line, plus flexible, adjustable filters that allow the owner
or installer to compensate for room placement choices that may impact acoustics.
Proud papa Matthew Polk poses with a cross section of his new baby
(no loudspeakers were harmed in the making of this photo).
Monster Cable sponsored
the press lunch, and Noel Lee, head monster, revealed his vision for the
high end market. Mr. Lee believes that the key to success in high-end
audio is to get in touch with the "mp3 generation" and put passion back into
the industry – show the kids how great their MP3s sound through high quality
amps and speakers, and they’ll be ready to plunk down their hard-earned cash
on the good stuff when they grow up and get jobs.
In the coming months, Monster intends to diversify their own product line
to include high-end amplifiers, speakers, A/V furniture and even a home theater
seating option called the “Action Couch.” Mr. Lee did not reveal whether
the couch will come with its own action, or will help the buyer get some
action, but all will soon be revealed (details to follow in August, 2003).
Lee’s rousing speech was followed by one by David Hyman, chief strategist
of Gracenote whose CD Database
– cddb – is used by virtually every media player on the PC (and in many other
applications) to lookup artist, title, track and genre information from CDs.
Hyman’s belief is that the future of the high end audio market may depend
on embracing the computer, or more specifically the computer’s hard-drive
as a true high-end audio source component.
With the proliferation of broadband technology and the ever-shrinking price
of high capacity hard drives, Hyman rightly stated that there is less and
less need to use lossy compression codecs like MP3 to rip and store music.
Currently lossless compression codecs can store songs in half the space they
take up on a CD with absolutely no loss in quality. This means you
can store an entire, full-quality, full length CD in 250 to 350 megabytes
of space, fitting approximately 250 full quality CDs onto a standard
80 GB hard drive. Hyman believes the high-end audio market needs to
step up to the plate and devise a new invention that will ease in this convergence,
and get audiophiles thinking about their computers as viable high end source
devices... an interesting idea to say the least.
On a more traditional high-end note, McIntosh was on hand to demonstrate
their new stereo and multi-channel gear including the new MC501 monoblock
power amplifier (500 watts per channel into any load - $8,200/pr.) and their
new XRT28 loudspeakers (12,000 Watts of power handling - $18,200/pr. – also
available in an in-wall version).
McIntosh’s new monoblock amplifier and tower loudspeaker put
out some smooth, yet butt-kicking sounds with deeeeeep bass!
Providing the video portion of McIntosh's demo system, MAXX donated their
Maxx 1400 projector ($11,000) to the system, featuring a whopping 1,400 x 1,050
pixel resolution. The Maxx 1400 is based on the LCOS chip (Liquid Crystal
on Silicon, or as I like to call it "Liquid Crystal on Steroids").
The home theater demo, which featured clips from the latest Bond film Die
Another Day as well as a live Roger Waters DVD, was an excellent example
of both audio and video done well.
Sim2/Seleco held a press
conference to discuss their plans for future display devices. In an ingenious
approach to minimizing the impact of the HDTV connection format war on their
customers (DVI, HDCP, M-O-U-S-E), Sim2 has decided to separate the video
connections from the display device itself. According to Sim2’s Michael
Verkinder, in their new projector design, the projection unit chassis is
connected via a simple fiber-optic connection to an input/output box.
The box is then connected to the source components via iLink, RGB, component,
DVI/HDCP, HDMI or whatever new digital format the industry dreams up.
Rather than scrap the entire projector just to enable a new connection format,
the new design would only require the upgrade of a relatively inexpensive
connection box. The projection engine itself would be kept intact, minimizing
upgrade costs and installation hassles. The fiber-optic connection
is purported to support connections as long as 1,600 feet without appreciable
A new Sim2 design will feature an outboard input/output
this one connected to the display device by a fiber-optic cable.
Michael also talked about other upcoming Sim2 developments
such as the implementation of a 3rd generation DLP chip from TI into a
future Sim2 product. Among other improvements in the chip are enhanced
light efficiency and contrast ratio. As the new TI chip itself is not
yet in production, it was too early for Sim2 to give any details on its implementation.
But it is clear that Sim2 is striving to remain at the cutting edge of display
Rounding out today’s audio and video adventures was a nice sounding system
featuring Cain and Cain
speakers (Studio Ben ES - $12,500/pr.) and the Art Audio PX25 monoblock amp ($10,500/pr.)
– a very smooth tube/horn combo high-end system with natural ambience and
Single-end tubes + horn-loaded speakers = audio bliss!
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