|Posted on September 20, 2011 at 5:25 PM|
As a home theater nut, the video portion of CEDIA is what really puts the peanut butter in my chocolate. Sadly, the show has definitely devolved over time; in the past, glorious ,financial windfall heydays of yesteryear – you know, before the pin was thrust into the economic balloon – there would be giant, mega booths competing for best demo of the show, blasting out SPLs that would make your cochlea both tingle and whither. There would be these sick dedicated screening rooms, running gigawatt amps connected to 6-figure speakers systems with rows of fine Corinthian leather just because they could. Now booths are smaller and some video companies don’t even bother coming at all. This year LG, Toshiba and Sharp were all noticeably absent. Also missing was Meridian (and their 10 Megapixel projector), Marantz (with no follow-up to my VP-11S2), and no Optoma and their aggressively priced models. Sure others were gone as well. And while Panasonic and Samsung had booths, they were like baby brothers to the CES cities they normally build.
But, despite this, there was still lots of cool stuff to see in the video world – and it isn’t just the Front Projector show, after all -- and I managed to find several things that were not only intriguing but made me long to immediately trash my system, take out a second mortgage on my home, sell a moderately used kidney on e-Bay and jump back on the upgrade train!
Runco - Don't Look Into the Light!
Runco used to be a spectacle or Circus Maximus at CEDIA. They would pair with giant speaker, amp, wire, seating and acoustical treatment partners to build these themed cities where they would put on million dollar plus demos that would often have hour-plus waits to get inside. Seriously, the Runco booth was like the Space Mountain attraction at Disneyland. Any my press badge was like the Fast Pass.
Now, Runco only has a small presence on the showfloor, instead sending dealers up to a darkened viewing room where they can get group demos of the new products. I attended their press conference on Friday and am glad that I did. Last year Runco wowed me with their D-73d, what I called (I’m paraphrasing because I don’t feel like looking up my exact quote), “The best, most eye-comfortable 3D at the Show.” This feeling was reaffirmed when I flew out to Runco’s Oregon HQ and spent an entire 8 hour day watching/reviewing the D-73d. From an eye-fatigue standpoint, the D-73d is about as easy on the eyes as 2D.
So, I was told to expect something even more awesome but along the same lines at this year’s show. So I dutifully headed out of the Resi Daily room and starting walking. And walking. And walking. Then I saw this:
Finally though I reached the Sagamore Ballroom and settled in to see a giant-ass 215-inch wide screen. This was a serious screen for some serious movie watching. And then the lights went down and Runco unleashed the D-113d.
This is the brightest projector that Runco has ever produced, capable of blasting out 11,570 lumens and probably incinerating any flying bugs that might foolishly cross its beam path. Even on this giant screen -- and showing perhaps the only CEDIA demonstration of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ever -- the image was like an awesomely ultra-bright, double-fisted retina punch! I fully expected to see people that stupidly turned around to look back into the supernova sun blast of the lens to have their eyes catch on fire and burn out of their sockets Raiders of the Lost Ark style. (Best...Press...Conference....EVER!) This thing was AMAZINGLY bright. How bright? How about 100 foot lambers on that 215-inch screen bright! Imagine if there was a 20-cell Mag-Lite. Then imagine if you focused that beam down until it was like a lightsaber of light intensity. That would still probably not be as bright as this. Oh. And PS: it still had awesome contrast and black levels.
Chitty Chitty KA-Bang KA-BANG!
And you know what loves brightness? 3D. Both eyes worth. This produced the brightest most engaging 3D I’ve seen. Part of the 3D excellence is Runco’s use of Panavision’s 3D technology.
“This year we’ve been working very closely with Panavision to make 3D done right on a very large scale,” explained Runco’s VP of marketing, Jennifer Davis. The same Panavision 3D system that have been developed for premiere commercial cinemas.
My biggest complaint was the glasses. They were seriously competing for ugliest 3D glasses ever award. And beyond that, they are hard, bite into your forehead-and-bridge-of-nose plastic frame. Whereas the D-73d glasses looked like something James Spader would wear to a cool after-hours A-list party, apparently the filtering system of the Panavision technology requires full light blockage requiring glasses that look like you’re on a polar exploration or something. Hopefully Runco can find a way to purdy-up these bad girls and improve the comfort at the same time. Oh, and the projector costs $230,000 with the optional anamorphic lens system. But, I would totally take this over the Ferrari FF in the Harman booth.
Also super cool was Runco’s LS-100d. This features an ultra-short throw lens system that is capable of displaying a 92-inch diagonal image while sitting mere inches from the screen. The 18-inch deep projector mounts flush to the screen wall, and can be mounted above or below the screen. Davis stated that this allows installers to “put a projector in places where projection was never considered before become of room constraints.” It literally mounted DIRECTLY to the screen and then beamed an awesome image. This would be so cool at the foot of a bed. Specifically the foot of MY bed.
Sim2 - Still innovating from Italia; Che bella!
Now that Vidikron is gone – with their once SO awesome Pinanfarina case stylings and actual Ferrari paint colors (prompting Sam Runco to famously say, "I make pretty pictures, not pretty boxes" – Sim2 remains one of the only high-end A/V manufacturers left that hails from Italy. For that reason alone, I have to give them some love. Sim2 celebrated 15 years of “innovation in projection technology” at CEDIA and launched 15 new models and now have models ranging from 7k to 100k.
Sim2’s executive VP, Alberto Fabiano, gave a wonderful quote at the press event. “The luxury market is still there and that’s who we’re catering to. We are not interested in making products cheaper; we’re interested in making products better. We don’t care if other companies are making cheaper projectors; Sim2 is interested in making the next best projector.” I LOVE that sentiment. Let the other guys race to the bottom; we’re gonna keep pushing the boundaries at the top. Bravissimo!
Sim2 demonstrated the new Nero 3D-2 single chip 3D projector that uses active 3D technology and produces 2000 ANSI lumens. (Nero is Italian for black. And also a Roman Emperor who might have burned Rome to the ground and killed his own mother. Totally unrelated to picture quality.)
Unfortunately Sim2 selected some really grainy, NASA shuttle footage for the demo which really didn’t show off the true potential of the projector. It was cool watching the tools float and hover in space, but it didn’t have the pop and wow of an HD film. I can say that it was plenty bright. Not bright like the million-suns-exploding-Runco bright, but regular projection screening room sized screen bright.
While they didn’t demo it, Sim2 is also coming out with the new Nero 235 that will feature Texas Instruments’ new 2560 x 1600 resolution chip. The exciting bit of this chip is that it will allow for full resolution anamorphic 2.35 presentations AND full resolution 16x9 projection without needing an external lens. (More about that in the Digital Projection section below.)
Elite – Guess who’s back?
I own a Pioneer Elite TV – a final model, 9G, 60-inch, in case you wondered – and I loved the brand. The Elite name was synonymous with high-quality video for every year the brand was in existence right up until the second that Pioneer decided that it was no longer economically viable to continue to make displays. Well, this year the Elite nameplate is back, now being manufactured by Sharp. I will be honest on two fronts here: one, I didn’t spend a lot of time looking at the new Elite sets. I was only able to give them a cursory, walking-past glance. So, while I can say that they have a sleek cabinet aesthetic – and have been getting a lot of great kudos and accolades from others – I cannot offer any personal commentary on the video quality. And two, I’m not sure that Elite has a lot of chance to make a comeback. I don’t think that the video retail marketplace has improved ANY in the years since Elite has been gone, and I don’t know that a $6000 60-inch set or $8000 70-inch set is going to be any more commercially viable today than it was years ago; years ago when the pricing disparity between other sets was even closer than it will be now. Also, I’m sure that Elite had some things to share with Sharp – like the gloss black, Urushi finish cabinet – as far as video technology goes, the truth is that Elite NEVER made an LCD set and was known for Plasma technology. Time will tell is this glorious deep, black and penetrating Phoenix can actually rise from the ashes. Also, I *just* got a call from our Elite rep and apparently to re-up as an Elite dealer you need to order THREE receiver models, a Blu-ray player and BOTH of the panels. Oh, and you need one up and one back of ALL items! That is an opening order like $20,000 plus which I feel is going to be too rich for many dealers blood.
Stewart Filmscreen – Bling is the new Black!
I didn’t spend a lot of time at the Stewart booth. I’m sure they were talking about their new 5D screen material (optimized for both 2D and 3D presentations) or some other awesome new screen material formulation. But while I was walking by I did notice this:
The new Couture Collection. For those times when you have a Housewives of Somewhere client that says, “Ewww! Black! That’s just so icky! I can’t have that in my house. It is going to clash with my diamond and sparkle décor and my gold lamay evening petticoat!” you can swallow down that part of you that is dying to scream out, “It’s black because that is what makes the picture LOOK BETTER! Because it draws your eye TO THE IMAGE! And this is going in a DEDICATED MEDIA ROOM! Where you go to WATCH MOVIES! In THE DARK! Why in God’s dear name would you even consider having something SHINY AND SPARKLY UP BY THE PICTURE TO DISTRACT YOU?!?! You are the reason why I go home and DRINK EACH AND EVERY NIGHT AFTER WORK!"
Instead, you can take a deep, blood pressure reducing breath, massage that temple vein back from the aneurysm ledge and calmly say, “Oh, you’re so right! Black is just so 2000. With the new Stewart Couture Collection we can install a screen in any number of horribly tacky and sparkly finishes to match your horribly tacky and sparkly house!”
Draper Nocturne - Outdoor screen with sass!
Draper's Terry Coffey demonstrated a wonderful sense of humor and terrific understanding of the power of Social Networking by creating a Twitter account -- @Draper_Nocturne -- for the show where he tweeted from the perspective of Draper's latest projection screen meant for the Great Outdoors. The screen's tweets were sassy and taunted people to come visit, and when I received the tweet, "I saw you touching that other company's buttons. When are you gonna come touch mine?" I knew I had to stop by for a visit. So, here I am, uh, touching the Nocturne's buttons.
For the record the screen is meant to go in all-weather environments and is a perfect addition to the new outdoor theaters that are becoming increasingly popular. This gives installers another sales opportunity and makes an easy install for poolside big screen entertaining. Also for the record, I own a Draper Multi-View screen that switches between 115-inch 2.35 and 92-inch 16x9 aspect ratios and drops down in front of my Elite flat panel for when I want to seriously get my movie on.
Digital Projection - Take that lens and shove it!
Digital Projection had one of the most impressive booths at the show. It was huge. And had tons of giant images beaming everywhere as well as a cool take on digital projection signage and a virtual, constantly changing backdrop when you walked in. And, their marketing guy, Michael Bridwell, totally came to the Sciacca low blood-sugar rescue by hooking me up with some emergency floor rations, of which I'm still grateful. (Plus, he's friends with Glasses, so that already elevates him above a lot of other people.)
DP grabbed my attention before the show by announcing their new dVision Scope projector. This projector utilizes a version of the new TI WQXGA (2560 x 1600) chip to deliver a full resolution, no-loss in light/contrast, 2.35:1 cinematic experience without needing an external (and costly) anamorphic lens. Once you’ve made the move to Blu-ray discs, you’ll quickly find that many of them (probably around half) are not filling your 16x9 screen. They are wider-than-wide, having been filmed in scope format with a ratio generally somewhere 2.35 times as wide as it is tall. These are usually small, independent films no one has heard of like Star Wars, Terminator, Titanic, Transformers, The Dark Knight, Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, Inception… So, you know, a couple that you’ve *maybe* heard of. The best way to view these films is on a front projection screen that has a 2.35 cinematic aspect. But this has typically involved some vertical stretching of the image that is then horizontally stretched (back to the proper proportions) by an external lens system.
From their press materials: “When 1.78 content is being viewed, that content is simply displayed by the projector at 1080p resolution. When wider aspect ratio content is presented, the wider content continues to be displayed at 1080 pixels of vertical resolution, so the vertical height of the image is maintained. Horizontally, the image is re-sized to fit a 2560 X 1080 format. Then the projector’s aspect ratio is adjusted such that the wider content is presented with increased horizontal resolution (beyond the 1920 horizontal pixels associated with 1080p content). The projector automatically detects the presence of “letterbox” black bars and will re-size the image to fit the height of the DMD (1080p) while maintaining the proper aspect ratio.”
So the new dVision Scope AUTOMATICALLY detects the proper aspect and then adjust itself, providing the highest resolution, best presentation possible all the time. Here’s a video I shot of the system in action:
Panasonic – Who needs a projector?
A projector isn’t the only way to get a giant image. While they have a 150-inch model (didn’t see it at the show, but saw it at CES 2 years ago), Panasonic brought out the 103-incher. And as I stumbled out of the press room and onto the showfloor through one of the many different entrances, I walked straight into this:
One way to catch attention on the showfloor is a 3D station set up in front of a 103-inch Plasma showing Avatar. Like flies to honey…
Vivitek – Two screens is the newest BIGGER
The Vivitek both was using two projectors and some seemless melding software processing to blend the images together to fill up this 240-inch diagonal mega wide screen. While you could see the point where the two images met up, it was *just* visible and wouldn’t have been distracting at all. Certainly a small, worthwhile price to pay to have a super bright, giant-wide image for your next Ben Hur party.