As usual, the show floor and demo rooms at the 2015 CEDIA Expo served up plenty of eye and ear candy for custom installers to consider.
Perhaps expected, there were Dolby Atmos demos everywhere (and this year some DTS:X and Auro demos as well) highlighting the audio side of the A/V equation.
On the video side, naturally there were 4K and Ultra HD displays — projection and flat panel — to be found throughout.
Additionally, wireless technology continued to make its way into more and more A/V products, in more creative implementation and (hopefully) greater reliability.
However you cut it, it’s safe to say A/V innovation is alive and well in the channel. Check out these 10 awesome A/V applications from the expo.
ClearView TV Mirrors
Specialty displays that can appear and disappear at the touch of a button always play well with homeowners who might want a hidden A/V solution or some wow factor. ClearView was showing its Hidden Reflections TV mirrors, featuring LCD depth of only 1 inch, that answer both requests — in a custom presentation that can address displays from 7 to 80 inches, hundreds of designer styles and wood finishes to frame the mirror, 10 standard color or custom painted finishes, and edge options that include framed, sandblasted, flat polished, rounded corner, pencil polish and beveled. Also, electronic touches can incorporate loudspeakers, lights, de-fogger, wall controller and IR light indicator. The company also showed its Grand Screen and Bath Series TV Mirrors lines.
“We do a lot of custom work, we just need the size glass and the size TV,” says ClearView accounts specialist Cindy Petersen, who notes the company’s products work well in commercial markets such as hospitality and restaurants. “Usually if people are building a home, they don’t necessarily go with our stock or standard. Because they’re building a home they tell us this is the size glass we want, this is the size TV we want; sometimes they want two TVs in a mirror above the vanities; sometimes they’ll put a TV in the middle mirror with matching mirrors on each side. … We don’t sell directly to the consumer, we sell to dealers, and then we work with the architect or designer, the mill worker, whatever’s required.”
The GoldenEar sound room could easily have had attendees thinking their minds were playing audio tricks on them. Sandy Gross’ company had a full Dolby Atmos setup (7.1.4 channels) accompanying a flat-panel TV in the sound room, and it was handling the Dolby demo disc material (used everywhere at CEDIA Expo) impressively with clarity and detail. Two of GoldenEar’s Triton towers flanked the TV, so naturally it seemed they were part of the action but rather the entire setup and its great imaging came from the Invisa HTR 7000 in-ceiling speaker line that dotted the ceiling of the room.
“We try to jump ahead of what [integrators] are asking for and figure out what they want but don’t know it yet,” says Gross. “So we’re showing basically an in-ceiling Atmos system and this is a good example of that. They always want something less intrusive. Atmos requires a whole load of loudspeakers to do it right, and so this is a way to do it where it virtually disappears.”
Of course, Atmos systems still need the “.1” of a subwoofer to deliver the type of full-range effects that really pull a viewer into the scene, and in GoldenEar’s case it was an ideal way to show off its SuperSub XXL. The new sub (the company is working on a smaller version too) features inertially balanced 12-inch drivers on the horizontal plane augmented by patent-pending technology that adds two planar infrasonic radiators firing on the vertical plane. “It’s got inertial balancing horizontally, which we’ve seen before — several companies have subwoofers that are balanced on the horizontal plane — but this has a driver on either side and a passive radiator top and bottom, and that’s never been done before,” says Gross. “And so it’s a way of getting really tremendous performance into a relatively small box.”
LG continued its big OLED Ultra HD push at CEDIA Expo, dazzling attendees with an array of the ultra-thin, ultra-black-level sets that the company says are now in 2,000 stores nationwide. “Our answer to better picture quality is OLED TV,” says Tim Alessi, head of new product development. “Now our OLED lineup is triple that of last year. There’s another world’s first [for LG], the EF9500 is the first to support next-generation HDR content; OLED is the perfect vehicle for high dynamic range content because of its ability to achieve perfect black levels, it can achieve the brightness range necessary at a lower level so you get that dynamic range for the great viewing experience but it’s much more comfortable because you don’t have to have such high peak brightness.”
With its webOS platform the company is riding the wave of streaming content partnerships to help deliver that 4K format straight to the TV, and LG also mentioned that it is anticipating having Ultra HD Blu-ray announcements for CES 2016. The manufacturer is also trying to boost consumer education around OLED UHD with a training and certification program for retailers as well as a digital campaign. Also, while perhaps not as sexy as 4K OLED, LG also shared news that among its price drops its EG9100 55-inch OLED that’s only 1080p will now be available for $1,999.
Compact enough to fit behind a TV and enlisting the flexibility of WiSA (Wireless Speaker and Audio) Association, Artison’s Nano Backpack is a slick 1 x 9 x 9-inch “hub” unit that can fuel easy high-performance multichannel audio installations for single rooms. Three internal 100W Class D amps feed any passive LCR channels using Continuous Sigma technology to sound more like Class A but with Class D efficiency, according to the company, while internal 2.4, and 5.8 GHz antennas yield seamless access to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth devices.
The three front channels are hardwired using a Phoenix connector, and a WiSA-compliant wireless output (24/96) drives the subwoofers and surrounds, says Artison. Inputs include HDMI 2.0 (three), Bluetooth 4.0, Toslink, 3.5mm stereo minijack, and RJ45, with an HDMI output including audio return channel. The idea is to address the changing source material and where A/V (and to a greater extent even commercial applications such as video conferencing and collaboration) is headed, and plan for that now along with implementing consumer-friendly technology such as wireless.
“Ultimately, in my opinion, everything that isn’t streaming will be gone. … Now what we have is a system that does movies, music, conferencing, whatever you want, that goes into a customer’s home; the surrounds and the wireless eliminate running wire. Now that initially sounds like sacrilege to the custom installer, but what we’re trying to do is enable the CI guy to open up the market,” says Artison CEO Cary Christie. “This is the tip of a very big iceberg to enable larger market share for custom integrators.”
Custom loudspeaker specialist Leon Speakers’ booth was filled with unique applications for combining audio with aesthetics. One was the Media Décor Illusion product line that was a concept last year and now turned into an actual product that lets the customer choose any frame, any artwork and in a surface-mount or recessed installation be combined with a Leon speaker to conceal it when not in use. Another was the company’s custom cabinets to house Sonos speakers, including the Sonos Playbar soundbar model, in more consumer-friendly designs. My favorite creative Leon piece was one the company previewed last year but is now shipping, the Horizon Curve, which mates with the curved TVs that the company saw as a recent market shift to address, and is a variation on Leon’s popular Horizon Series of custom soundbars. And of course, the display manufacturers throw in the wrinkle of each using slightly different curves for their TVs as well as different mounting styles.
“We’re out now with product that you can order in three different models,” says Leon’s Ethan Kaplan of the Horizon Curve. “It’s available in 4-inch or 5-inch or reference-grade [drivers]. Our approach is we’ll get the TV from the manufacturer or the dealer and we’ll send them to engineering, they’ll get the exact arc and they’ll look at the mounting options because it isn’t always easy. And so we’ve got a growing database of all the different curved TVs; we’ve done up to 70-inch Samsungs.”
Specializing in architectural loudspeakers, Sonance had plenty on hand including its Visual Performance Series products and the Discreet Opening System, which allows for the placement of satellite speakers and subwoofer for more, even coverage while keeping the low-profile grilles that look like can lighting. In this case, the subwoofer looks more like part of a vacuum cleaner, with a hefty box that is kept concealed; meanwhile, a hose-looking unit moves the air to an opening that gets covered with the same size grille as the satellite speakers … pretty ingenious.
Sonance also was educating dealers on its DSP amplifiers that allow them to configure loudspeakers with more than 600 easy-to-implement EQ presets so they can design a whole-house audio system to meet various sound levels and acoustic adjustments depending on where speakers are in the home plus include more speakers for greater coverage. With grilles that mimic lighting and a range of equalization presets that can mimic lighting control system presets, the resonating message from Sonance director of marketing Jack Hill was that installers can look at whole-house audio design much the same way they do whole-house lighting design (oh, and perhaps charge more for their design work).
“When we launched SLS, our outdoor system, we realized that as long as we’re making discreet satellites and hidden/buried subwoofers we were really creating a system that hadn’t been used in distributed audio, so we wanted to apply all that information to distributed audio systems,” says Hill. “The best way to understand this is to equate it to lighting. Would you like your homeowners’ large and expensive kitchen to have just two lights? You could, and you could probably get the right amount of lumens, but it’s probably not going to look that great; chances are you’re going to need task lighting, general lighting, ambient lighting, under-cabinet lighting to really make that experience.
“We want to do that same thing to sound — yes, you could have two speakers inside of a kitchen, but is that going to be the best? Am I going to have to raise my voice because the two speakers are right over that island, or am I going to have something where you and I can have a regular pitched conversation and walk around that space and everyone gets the same [music] experience. We want to bring what we’re calling ‘immersive sound’ to that space.”
New to the custom residential channel, Microlite was demonstrating the benefits of its all-optical screen technology. The company combines several layers of optical film and laminate to achieve what it says is a 180-degree horizontal viewing angle, high gain for ambient light rejection, near perfect color reproduction and support for 4K all the way up to 20K resolution content. The 11 layers of optical film composition include hard surface coating so the screens are scratch resistant; microstructure layer to reduce ambient light and glare impact, expand the viewing angle, and reflect the image for truer color and greater depth reproduction; and diffusion layer to increase gain. The company offers fixed, motorized, no edge, portable pull-up and curved designs, as well as Microlite Infinite Series that seamlessly combines pieces of screens to make “infinite” custom sizes.
“When light hits your image, if [the screen] is truly optical the colors won’t change,” says Microlite product manager Michael Chien. “For people who are very picky about sparkle, artifacts on the surface, it’s no problem — we have another material we call black crystal and we put another layer on the front and all the sparkle disappears.” The company was particularly eager to show off its F 3.0 high-gain, ISF-certified material that it says handles 4K and high-brightness projectors especially well.
It seems everyone has hopped aboard the wireless multiroom audio wagon in recent years. Monster joined the fray with its sleek SoundStage offerings it demoed at CEDIA, which do a nice job of living up to their name in delivering big sound from small form factors (aided by rear-firing bass drivers; Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” was very full sounding while I was at the booth). Three models —S1 ($279), S2 ($349) and S3 ($449) — offer various sizes and affordability, and the system leverages Monster’s partnership with Qualcomm and its AllPlay wireless platform. SoundStage can stream local or service-based content as well as Bluetooth and connected sources, supporting resolution up to 24/192. A nifty way to control the system is via Monster’s SoundStage app, which can give users functionality for various rooms and sources, including local content, and Monster’s StreamCast lets users cast music from their mobile device to all speakers on the network. Functions like skipping to another song can also be performed right from the top of the speakers.
“What we like to say is that it’s all about the performance, and there’s two components to performance: wireless performance and audio performance,” says Monster product area manager Eric Kiner. “With wireless performance, we’ve combined Bluetooth and Wi-Fi; Bluetooth is great because almost anyone can use it right out of the box … what we’ve done on top of that on the wireless side is made it so you can connect to Bluetooth and then you can group all those speakers together and distribute Bluetooth over Wi-Fi network to all those speakers, so if you want to play YouTube or something not traditionally associated with one of those third-party [music service] apps you now have that capability.”
There was a little something for seemingly every audio application at the Klipsch booth. You had the Reference Premiere and Reference Premiere Dolby Atmos lineup that the company was demoing with clips from Dolby’s Atmos disc, making everyone look upward as the RP-140SA height channels were raining sound down on the crowd; you had the Pro THX series of THX Ultra2 certified architectural speakers that borrow from the company’s professional-grade technology to boost the home theater experience (with sleek edge-to-edge grilles); you had the massive Cinema lineup that really is meant to give a home theater a truly pro level THX-certified audio experience; and the Reference Premiere Wireless Home Theater speakers, driven by the RP-HUB1. More on the latter (pictured), the hub can connect up to four HDMI devices and supports Bluetooth, and sends the transmission wirelessly from a two-channel system up to 7.2; the speaker series includes towers, bookshelf, center and subwoofer models and is expected to roll out in January.
“So we have the 4 C’s — cinema, as in pro; custom; cabinet, we have our Atmos floorstanding product, handcrafted, with the dedicated Atmos module cabinet; the fourth is cutting the cord,” says Mark Casavant, SVP global product development, Klipsch Group. “High-definition wireless — we showed this at CES and we’re showing it here because it’s launching. This transmit at 24-bit/96kHz, doesn’t mess with your Wi-Fi, it’s robust and you can start with just two speakers … you just plug them in. It’s not just about convenience, it’s also high-resolution, it’s all in the digital domain, and it’s efficient electrically — the amplifiers aren’t pushing power through an analog processor, amplifiers are directly coupled to the drivers, and 100 watts here is equivalent to about 200 watts from a standard receiver or amplifier.”
Big things can come in small audio packages, and Totem proved it at CEDIA Expo. Apart from a fantastic Dolby Atmos demo featuring the company’s Tribe loudspeaker products, in an adjacent area Totem was simply blowing minds with its Kin Mini Flex loudspeakers. The demo setup included a pair of the Mini Flexes, which were due out shortly after the show, and a Mini Sub that was also new. At $375 apiece ($395 including mounting hardware) for the Flex and $499 for the sub, at sizes that underscore their Mini moniker, the highly affordable combination produced what had to be among the best sound for the value at the expo. Not only that, but the speakers were placed at odd angles and positions to underscore the incredible imaging and soundstage they managed to produce. All in all it was an exciting demo to hear for anyone looking for a small-footprint loudspeaker that doesn’t compromise on sound quality.
“We placed them slightly angled. They could be on the wall, or far away. It still images — we’re always the king of imaging,” says Totem founder Vince Bruzzese. “Because of the phase coherence, you can shift and move the speakers as we’re doing here [during show demos], and you still get that big image.” Not only that, but deep male vocals being played were deftly reproduced, and there was absolutely no strain in the speakers with very full dynamic tracks Bruzzese played.