|Posted on August 22, 2012 at 10:00 PM|
AKA: “The make you jealous of how awesome it is to be a an A/V product reviewer post”
High Def projection and uncompressed files,
Thin plasma panels and speakers with style,
Automation controls with touchpanel screens,
These are a few of the most awesome things.
I’ve been playing with some really cool new tech lately, and thought I’d share some of the highlights here for those readers that don’t keep up with my reviews in Residential Systems or Sound + Vision. (Also, on an unrelated note, why are you not keeping up with my reviews in Residential Systems and Sound + Vision?)
What is it: Hydra Connect HSS-2
What’s it do: HDMI 8x8 and analog audio 8x16 matrix router
What’s that: Let’s you send any one of 8 HDMI inputs and 8 stereo audio signals to any one of 8 (or 16 with audio) outputs becoming the hub of a 21st Century centralized housewide auido/video distribution system.
Why’s it cool: How can I put this delicately? HDMI distribution up to this point has been what many installers would call a raging, ill-tempered bitch. It’s finicky. You have HDCP (High Definition Copy Protection) issues where screens will suddenly just go blank or flash on and off. Baluns seem to be hit-and-miss. Oh, and to boot, manufacturers are phasing out component video – aka “old reliable” – along with the analog sunset! Meaning that the reliable, cost-effective, always works means of sending HD video around a home is rapidly going the way of Beta and Laser Disc. Except with government mandates shoveling the dirt on its coffin. HDMI is the future, and the future of video distribution will likely look something like the Hydra Connect HSS-2. I have the Hydra in my showroom connected to three HD sources – DSS, Kaleidescape, 3D Blu-ray – and driving 6 displays simultaneously and it is working like a champ. Like a Rocky in Rocky II champ. You know, before he gets all cocky and puffy and gets his ass whipped by T in III. Kaleisdescape on these TVs, satellite on those, and a 3D Blu-ray of Shrek on that set. Also, the system is Control4 certified so the programming is like “click, click, drag, drag, bind, bind, ‘press to sync’ refresh navigators, and done.” Also, they sent along several pair of transmit and receive baluns that use HDBaseT technology that I spoke of here. These baluns have all done a stand-up job of routing 1080p video, digital audio, 3D and even CEC control signals over single runs of Cat5e cabling to all the sets in my store. Plus, I can’t tell you how much better our store’s video distribution looks now – especially the Kaleidescape -- that it is using HDMI.
What is it: Martin Logan Motion Vision
What’s it do: A high-performance sound bar.
What’s that: It awesomifies the sound from those pathetic, anemic “how-dare-they-call-themselves-speakers?!” speakers in your 1.5-inch thick flat-panel TV and creates a near-surround experience from one bar
Why’s it cool: Did you read the part about it being from Martin Logan? Then you already know why it’s cool, don’t you? I have been a ML fan for years. They have the sexiest-of-sexy electrostatic flat panel speakers. Seriously, their speakers should be on display as part of the permanent collection at MoMA. While on display, they’d also be playing some amazing music. Probably jazz. Something modal. People would walk through and stop and stand there for a while before they realized that tears were silently streaming down their cheeks from the sheer awesomeness of the visual and aural beauty. (Then someone would try to touch the electrostatic panel and a guard would yell, “HEY! No touching!” and the magic would be broken.) One of the members at the country club had a pair of the largest ML towers. We called him Rich. Because that’s what he was. And because that was his name. (Classic Rich and John interchange 1. “John, you ever driven a Bentley before?” “Uh, Rich, I barely ever see Bentleys, let alone drive them.” “Here. (tosses keys) You gotta try it. It’s like driving a motor boat!") (Classic Rich and John interchange 2. “You’re taking your friends up to Napa?” “Yeah. We’re going to go wine tasting.” “Here. (tosses keys) Take my (bright Yellow H1) Hummer. You’ll have a blast!") So Rich had a pair of these towers in his listening room. Only other things in the listening room were two giant monoblock amps and three Andy Warhols. Originals. So beyond the look, Martin Logan’s have this airy, open, Galadriel-gliding-through-the-Lothlorien of your brain sound that is just so pleasing and wonderful. It makes you want to listen to stringed instruments and piano playing (yes, I realize piano IS a stringed instrument) and female vocals. The sound bar goes a good way towards doing this for your TV’s pathetic audio with three Folded Motion tweeters, four 4-inch woofers, and seven dedicated amplifiers delivering 100 watts of total system power. All this that mounts on the wall below my TV, takes digital and analog audio and then turns it into glistening ear candy. They also sent Dynamo 1000w subwoofer that gets its signal wirelessly from the sound bar. Cause, you know, if you’re gonna send a sub to review, might as well send me the best one in your Dynamo series. Cause when stuff blows up, I want it to spill that damn glass of red wine balanced precariously on my Tempur Pedic. Together those two speakers create a potent audio duo that has made me not groan and sigh and complain whenever Dana says, “Let’s go watch TV in our room.”
What is it: Sonance’s Landscape Audio System
What’s it do: 70-volt outdoor audio system
What’s that: It’s a luxury landscape styled audio system consisting of 8 speakers, a sub you bury in the ground and a 1000-watt amplifier that turns your backyard into a concert hall that just hammers out the beats.
Why’s it cool: My current backyard audio system is a pair of weatherproof speakers under my eave. But that’s not even true, because I don’t even use those anymore. So, my current backyard audio system is really the AirGo speaker by Russound. And, it does a good job of letting me AirPlay stuff from my iPad to the single speaker that sounds pretty good. But, come on. It’s a single speaker. With one 6.5-inch woofer. And my backyard is, well, frankly, it’s bigger than that. If I want to feel the bass from the AirGo, I need to sit within a few feet of the speaker. And if I want to hear music at any appreciable level on the other side of my pool, it will be playing at SPL levels that would be considered “hostile” and “abusive” to anyone sitting close. The Sonance system lets you arrange 8 drivers in an arc around the listening area blanketing it with an amazingly cozy, security blanket of even sound. Then, for some serious audio listening, you install the could-have-been-an-oil drum-in-a-previous-life subwoofer. Ideally buried underground. Cause, anytime that you are given permission to conceal a piece of audio gear by burying it, lost-treasure-of-Jack-Sparrow-style, you should probably grab your shovel and jump at it. The Sonance system sounded SO good it was actually kind of off-putting. Like, should music sound that good outside? I’m in my backyard, lying by the pool, reading a book, drinking a beer and listening to music that probably sounds better than 99% of the audio systems INSIDE the homes of my neighbors. (I’ve done some audio installs in my neighborhood, so, ya know… #Respect) The evenness of the sound coverage – same volume and bass levels all around wherever you walked, sat, lay, swam – was also amazing, unlike the BLARING loud zones of typical outdoor systems. It also made me aware of just how tolerant we have become to just-good-enough or something-is-better-than-nothing audio in outdoor areas. I say, NO MORE! It CAN be better! Nay! It SHOULD be better!
What is it: DISH Network Hopper
What’s it do: Housewide satellite DVR system
What’s that: Allows you to record an insane amount of HD programming that you can view on multiple TVs around the home in pure, digital, HD-ness.
Why’s it cool: Raise your hand if you love your cable provider. (Looks around...) (sounds of crickets...) (dodges tumbleweeds...) Exactly. First, satellite looks better. I kind of fought this fact for years, but once the DISH picture came up on my Elite Plasma, it was undeniable. The picture is just…better. It’s cleaner, it’s free of noise and artifacts and just looks…better. Hopper is packed with SO much tech someone should really write like an 1800 word review on it. (Oh, yeah. I did. It's right here.) It has 3 built-in HD tuners, which means you can watch/record three things at once. But, through the magic of some kind of magic, during PrimeTime hours – 8 to 11 PM -- Hopper can record SIX shows! As in everything on NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox plus two other channels. And it does this automatically. Just capturing EVERYTHING on the networks during PrimeTime every night. Thought you missed a new show that you heard about two days after it aired? Think again, sucka! Hopper got it for you! This is awesome as I can’t tell you how many times the two-tuners in our DVR boned us on a Sunday night. And Hopper has a 2 Terabyte hard drive so it records like 2000 hours of programming. Plus, using a technology called MOCA (not to be confused with Café Mocha) it streams content to little server players called Joeys. These guys are so slim they can mount on the wall behind your flat panel TV. I know, cause I’ve got one behind mine. (Along with a Control4 HC-250 processor. And a Kaleidescape M300. You could say that the space behind my bedroom 46-inch flat panel set is some of the most valuable tech real estate in the area.) So, you can record all the stuff you want, then watch it in ANY other room. (This is perfect when coupled with a great soundbar like, say, the Martin Logan Motion Vision...) Also, you could be watching a show in one room, decide that you really want that second glass of scotch, but that you’d better take it into the bedroom, so you pause the show in one room and then immediately pick in up in another. Again…AWESOME. There is so much cool stuff to say about Hopper, including that some PPV movies support 1080p and 3D and a really cool Slingplayer that lets you view your live or recorded content on your iPad (or computer) anywhere in the Internet-covered world. Also, DISH will frickin’ give you the system when you sign up. GIVE! I mean, how cool is that? This is also the first product that I gave perfect tens – value, performance, features – across the board. So, yeah. You could say I was impressed.
What is it: D-BOX Motion Platform
What’s it do: Provides the dimension of motion to your home theater.
What’s that: Your couch MOVES in response to the on-screen action. Car turns right, you feel like you’re turning with it. Car drives over gravel, you feel like you’re on gravel.
Why’s it cool: OK, so this just arrived yesterday and is currently sitting in a giant Pelican travel case in our living room awaiting installation, but I already know this is gonna be crazy-cool so I had to include it here. This is a system that attaches to the framework of my couch and has four powerful actuators that move the furniture in response to what you’re watching in multiple different directions and speeds. D-BOX techs code each movie – like frame-by-frame encoding like a foley artist – to have the seating respond EXACTLY to the onscreen action. I wrote about my experience in D-BOX seating when we saw the new Spiderman movie so I am totally excited to give it a more long-term try out at home. Also, I had been holding off on letting Lauryn watch Star Wars waiting for the right time. I had been thinking that I’d wait until she was seven – cause, you know, I was seven in 1977 when I first saw Star Wars – but know that we’ve got the D-BOX for a bit, I think this is a momentous enough occasion to introduce Lauryn to A New Hope. (Of course, expect a full blog on the experience and an interview with Lauryn on her thoughts on Star Wars.)
Know of any cool tech I should be reviewing? Drop me a comment and tell me about it!