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I realize now that my first two CES 2013 reports have been a bit on the negative side. So rather than harp on questions surrounding 4K and OLED, questions I knew going into the show I wouldn’t be given answers to, I thought I’d fill you in on the positives that stemmed from my second day at the show.
My day began by visiting the Vizio ballroom, which unlike their manufacturer counterparts, was located off site at the Wynn hotel. Vizio has been a stalwart at the Wynn for years and is largely able to be viewed by appointment only. This “tactic” always accounts for an aura of exclusivity -in my opinion-versus the free for all feeling you get when pushing your way through other displays. Vizio’s presence at the Wynn was impressive, among the more impressive of the entire show if I’m being 100-percent honest. The multi-product showcase was anchored by their new, 80-inch, XVT-Series UltraHD display. This UltraHD display won’t be available until sometime late Q3, early Q4, but never the less it showed how far Vizio has come in 10 years. The XVT-Series looked every bit as good as offerings from either Sony or Samsung (whom were getting the lion’s share of attention) and yet will likely carry with it a more realistic price point. The XVT-Series display was playing native 4K content from Dreamworks Animation and while there was nothing with which to compare it to, the image was pleasing. Admittedly, the “4K effect” the display had on viewers meant that most felt the need to view the display(s) from distances no human being would reasonably view from; never the less, any artifacts etc were the ultimate result of compression and not a lack of pixel density. The same could be said for HD though too.
As wonderful as I may have thought the XVT-Series display was -and it was- their soon to be release M-Series was equally impressive -albeit in HD. I asked the good people at Vizio to put the same material (HD) to both the XVT as well as M-Series so that a true, apples to apples, comparison could be made but everyone I talked to just chuckled. In truth, from a distance of six to eight feet, viewing the two 80-inch displays, both the XVT and M-Series displays looked very, very good. The M-Series, in many ways, is the same display as the XVT just sans UltraHD. The M-Series will be coming to market sooner than the XVT and will carry with them a more realistic price point; $859 for the 50-inch on up to $4,500 for the 80. Beyond the image quality, what I liked was how minimal yet elegant Vizio’s industrial design was across the board. They didn’t result to using flashy bezels, kick stands or the like, just clean, timeless design, which made them appear (physically) far more high-end than say Sony or Samsung’s new offerings. In my opinion of course.
Vizio was also showcasing their new Co-Star streaming player, which I had heard about but not yet experienced firsthand. The little $99 box, which is available now, was incredible and among the more versatile devices I’ve seen if streaming/media serving is your deal -it’s mine. I especially love the GoogleTV/Google compatibility which makes the Co-Star practically a do anything machine, when viewed through the lens of Google’s own Play Store. Also on hand was Vizio’s new crop of sound and surround bar speaker systems. Vizio, I’ve been told, is the leader among soundbars based on sales but rather than just make cheap speakers for Vizio displays they’ve set out to challenge performance benchmarks set by AV receivers and discrete 5.1 speaker setups. Their 54-inch model (not yet released) I believe can accomplish their goal of doing just that as its sound was shocking given its modest size and projected price. The other two ‘bars on hand were also impressive but the 54-inch model was my run-away favorite of the show.
Speaking of runaway favorites, one of the more exciting developments at CES 2013 didn’t take the form of an UltraHD display but rather an AV preamp courtesy of American electronics manufacturer Krell. Krell’s new Foundation AV preamp, available later this month, is a return to the days of Showcase, one of Krell’s earlier and more affordable preamplifier designs. The Foundation AV preamp retails for $6,500 and possesses many features not typically found in AV preamps of its ilk. Features such as; 10 HDMI inputs and two HDMI out, full balanced and unbalanced preamp outs, balanced and unbalanced analog ins and full legacy video support with transcoding. Throw in auto room equalization with user adjustable and definable memories and network control and you have the makings for arguably one of the more exciting AV preamps to hit the so-called high-end market in a long while. I was previously ecstatic about ADA’s preamp offerings, but half an afternoon later changed my mind, for the Foundation manages to pack many of the same features as the ADA but throws in better control and then charges much, much less for the whole package. The Foundation even sports a new industrial design that I happen to think looks rather becoming, though I’ve heard from others that they’d rather it look like Krell of old. Krell even debuted a new music streaming player, the Connect, which also looks very promising with its Sooloos style control/interface and high-end, two-channel playback capabilities all for a starting price of $2,500. The Connect, like the Foundation, was styled in Krell’s new image, which when paired together made for a striking combination.
There was one other preamp that caught my eye at the show, this time from San Francisco electronics manufacturer Parasound. While Parasound had a number of new products bowing at the show the one that most interested me was the arrival of their new P5 stereo preamplifier/DAC. DACs are becoming a hot commodity among two channel and home theater enthusiasts alike and the P5 continued on the trend, only it (the P5) was priced within the realm of reason compared to the competition (in my opinion), retailing for around $1,000. Some of the highlights include analog bass management, USB, coaxial and optical digital inputs, a selectable phono stage and fully balanced inputs and outputs -including one for a subwoofer. Like I said Parasound was showing a few other new products but it was their P5 that stood out for me.
There wasn’t a lot of hoopla surrounding 3D this year (thank God) however that didn’t stop some manufacturers from still showing it off -if for no other reason than to prove their product could still handle 3D. Vizio did this, as did arguably my favorite projector of the show, SIM2′s Fuoriserie DLP projector. Without belaboring the point the Fuoriserie is expensive and represents SIM2′s most ambitious flagship effort to date. The Fuoriserie is an entirely hand built, top performing HD projector made from the best parts the front projection community and Texas Instruments have to offer. From the outside it looks like a classic SIM2 projector however internally you’ll find a whole new lamp assembly good for 5,000 plus ANSI Lumens (that’s freakishly bright for a single lamp anything), optics hand sourced from Fujinon and a whole new mechanical color filter system (it’s a 3-chip design so no color wheel) capable of reproducing the full DCI color space -another huge improvement. Again, it is expensive ($100,000) and is only being manufactured in limited quantities -as in 30 -but it proves one thing if nothing else, HD isn’t dead, in fact, at CES 2013, it was capable of embarrassing many 4K demos quite handily. SIM2 also had on hand, the fabulous M.150, which is still the finest projector I’ve seen and measured to date.
Speaking of displays and HD, another fine picture -arguably the best -coming out of CES 2013 came by way of Panasonic’s new ZT-Series plasma. The ZT-Series is an all HD affair though Panasonic claim it to be the finest display they’ve ever made and after taking in not one but two demonstrations of it I’m inclined to agree. The picture looked positively -dare I say -4K, only the signal wasn’t upscaled or comprised of source material you yourself will never possess (or even see outside of a tradeshow). Moreover, unlike many of the UltraHD/4K panels at the show, the ZT-Series, like the SIM2, was capable of displaying most (in the ZT-Series case 98-percent) of the DCI color space. The brightness and contrast were also class leading for not only a plasma but for all of the displays I saw at the show. While there may have been “brighter” displays none looked more natural and naturally resolved than the ZT-Series. The ZT-Series will go on sale later this year and customers can expect prices to range from $500 to $1,000 more than current VT-Series offerings. Like the Vizio XVT-Series, the ZT-Series is on my watch list and may be on my must have list as well.
Obviously there was a lot more to see at CES 2013 but these were a few of my personal standouts. I’ll be posting a full run down of all the booths and rooms over on Home Theater Review soon, but for now thought I’d weigh in with a few of my favorites. It wasn’t a disappointing show, though like with shows of old, there was a lot of hype passing as substance, which I tried to look past. I know there is a lot of “excitement” surrounding many of the products featured in Sony, Samsung and LG’s booths, and for good reason, however, I still have my doubts how many of those so-called award winning products are actually real. All of the products that caught my eye are precisely that, real, and either are available now or will be very, very soon. Technology is a wonderful thing, however, if the general consumer can never experience it for themselves than what good is it? Anyway, my list wasn’t meant to represent the end all, be all for CES 2013 -it’s just a few highlights that resonated most with me following the show.
As always I thank you all so much for reading and until next time, take care and stay tuned…
12/7/13 – NOTICE FROM ANDREWI am currently recovering from illness so new updates/posts have been suspended for the time being. I will still monitor the forum and comments section(s) and respond when I can. Thank you for your well wishes and understanding. -Andrew
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