CES 2014 Show Coverage


Chris Heinonen Show Coverage

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CES Final Day Report - Chris Heinonen

Venturing back to the Las Vegas Convention Center, there were still 4K/UltraHD displays to see, and more to look at after Day 1.

Toshiba has a pair of 4K LCDs available later this year. The L9400 series features a 10-bit panel (from the usual 8-bit) that could allow for smoother gradients, as well as full-array local dimming and a 240Hz refresh rate. While not Dolby Vision, Toshiba says the backlight can provide up to twice the light output of other LED LCD sets. It will be available in 58" and 65" sizes this year.

The other 4K sets, the L8400, drops the full array LED backlight, 10-bit panel, and only has a 120 Hz refresh. Otherwise the two are practically identical though the L8400 only comes in a 58" model.

Sharp has a 4K panel that comes in 60" and 70" sizes. The Aquos 4K uses a 120 Hz refresh and is THX Certified. Prices are $5,000 and $6,000 and should be available in the spring of 2014.

Making my way to the Venetian, I am able to actually extend my arms away from y sides and see the products I am trying to look at. And one of the first stops I made is at Thiel. Their new speaker designer, Mark Mason, received very good reviews for his speakers at SVS and now has new speakers to show off at CES. The TM3 is a two-way bookshelf speaker with a 1" tweeter and 6.5" midrange/woofer. When it comes out later this year it will sell for $3,000.

Coming soon after is a full range of speakers, including towers, centers, surrounds, and subwoofers. The TT3 shown here is a 4-way, full range tower that will come out this summer. Price on this will be closer to $15,000 with a final number not available right now. There will be a matching 4-way center and more, which should make for a dynamite home theater.

In the Paradigm room, Rob Sample was showing off what the updated Anthem Room Correction, ARC1M, can do. Now over Ethernet, instead of a serial connection, you can see all your measurements and results. It makes it much easier to set it up or make changes, and makes the best room correction system out there even better.

Paradigm has a new home theater sound bar, the Soundscape is a 5.1 bar that was able to fill the room with bass. It has Bluetooth and multiple digital inputs but no HDMI. There are 3 x 1" dome tweeters, 4x4" woofers, and a DSP amplifier. If you want even more bass it includes a wireless transmitter to use with a subwoofer.

After hearing what GoldenEar did for $1,400 with the Triton Seven speaker last year at CES, I wondered to myself "What can Sandy Gross do if he sold a speaker for $5,000 or $10,000?" Well, I found out with the new $5,000 Triton One. Now with far more powerful amplifiers, more bass units, and an improved crossover, it has no trouble filling the room at the Venetian. The only downside is that the review sample will be going to someone other than me, as I'd love to hear them sing in my own basement.

A pleasant surprise was the performance of the Dynaudio Excite X34. Powered by an Octave Tube Integrated and playing from a MacBook, the bass these speakers produced was really incredible. Listening to "Royals" by Lorde, I heard the song sound far, far better than I had ever heard it sound before. It was also nice to hear someone use more modern music than the usual standards, and that the music held up well with such a nice system.

SVS had a pair of new 12" subwoofers to show off. The SB-2000 and PB-2000 each feature a 12" driver and 500 watt amplifier. They had to go back and design a new 12" driver to be able to handle the amplifier at full power, and said they should easily best their previous 12" designs at this price. The sealed model lists for $699 while the ported box, which is massive in size, sells for $799.

Sony had a room at the Venetian with their new media server and integrated amplifier. The media server has a 1 TB hard drive and can play back everything from 24/192 to Double DSD. It can also convert everything to DSD during playback if you want, but that can be disabled for the purists like myself.

The integrated amplifier manages 80 watts per channel into two channels and is biased towards Class A. Both can be connected with a cable and then the combination can be controlled by iOS or Android apps. Sorry, no Windows Phone app.

Across the room was something very cool: A custom pair of amplifier for Sony's reference loudspeakers designed by Nelson Pass. He went out and found a whole lot of Sony's JFETs from 40 years ago to create this pair of custom amplifiers. You won't be able to buy these, as they're a special pair for Sony alone, but they sounded wonderful playing back Beck's "Sea Change" in high resolution.

Meridian has their recently released Prime headphone amplifier available for listening. Powering a pair of Audeze headphones it has no issues with volume on them, even with their demanding loads. It has an analog filter that can introduce a slight bit of crosstalk into the signal to provide a more stereo-like image. Turning it on moved the soundstage from the sides of my head to slightly in front and was a bit more enjoyable to listen to.

Martin Logan had a final version of the Credenza tabletop system that was shown in an early form at CEDIA. With two of their folded-motion tweeters and a fairly substantial mid/bass driver it can put out a good-sized sound. Listening to "Reckoner" from Radiohead (good choice on music guys!) the sound is large and clear. You can add an external subwoofer if you would like to as well. It features Airplay, Bluetooth, and will be $899 when it is released in the next couple months.

Martin Logan also had their Balanced Force subwoofers on display. Here is a 212 model with dual 12" opposed woofers and a clear top. They won't ship it with a clear top, as you wouldn't be able to see anything anyway with the internal sound damping in place.

CES Tuesday's Report - Chris Heinonen

The theme of CES 2014 this year is fitness gadgets. They are everywhere in the convention center. But we don't care, so we'll focus on TVs instead.

If you announced a TV this year, there is a good chance it was a UHD model. UltraHD is everywhere this year and content is following along. Netflix, Amazon, and others are promising streaming 4K this fall using HEVC or VP9 for better compression. There is no announcement for physical media, other than the media server from Sony that only works with their displays.

Sony is out with new UltraHD models, with the X950B topping the line. These are rear array LED models that should offer better contrast ratios and black levels than edge-lit sets. Only available in a 65" and 85" sizes, release dates and prices are not known yet. The stand design is very nice with the cables going up the legs to be totally hidden.

The cheaper X900B UltraHD sets are edge-lit and have the side speakers that Sony introduced last year. These also feature extended dynamic range through backlight control, though in the demo scenes they had up I could notice a fair bit of blooming around bright objects. Available in the spring, price TBA as many displays here are.

Blu-ray players are still around, but not as big a deal as they were before. Sony updated theirs with the BDP-S6200 and BDP-S5200. The higher end model adds 4K scaling, likely making it a replacement for the BDP-S790.

Sony is making a push for high-resolution audio at CES as well. They are now shipping a new integrated amplifier that produces 80 watts per channel and retails for $2,000. More details weren't available to me, but I'm hoping it will be available to listen to when I make it to the Venetian on Thursday.

Going along with the high-resolution audio push is the updated version of Sony's 1040 receiver, the STR-DN1050. No prices or details were available beyond the fact that it will support native DSD playback.

BenQ has updated their W7000 projector, reviewed here before, to the W7500. The new model replaces the DarkChip2 with a DarkChip3 that offers improved contrast ratios and still provides 2,000 lumens. It also has ISF modes for calibration and retails for $2,799.

Another theme at CES is people trying to take over multi-room audio from Sonos. Samsung has expanded their new Shape line of wireless audio to support 5.1 channel setups like Sonos can do. It uses a WiFi mesh network so how well it performs compared to Sonos, which uses it's own wireless network, will have to be seen. The Shape M7 is available now at $400 a speaker.

LG also has their own version, the NB8740, though it supports 24/192 audio while most do not. It also offers a line-input so you can use it with your TV instead of a sound bar if you like. Having used Sonos for a while, how well these succeed will really be more about software than hardware so we will need to test it when they come out.

A big product that we got to see early is the Oppo Planar Magnetic headphones and amplifier. The headphones are very comfortable to wear, with lambskin pads and a much lighter design than other models. Extended listening sessions with these should not be hard to pull off as they feel great on the head.

The headphone amplifier is much further along than when I saw it last year, with the screen in place and all the inputs working. It supports 24/192 audio as well as native DSD and has a gain selection on the back for your headphones. The interface is clean and easy to use, and it played back FLAC and mp3 files from my iPhone through the front USB port easily. Both will hopefully be available soon, with pricing yet TBA.

OLED is everywhere, but most of the sets are still prototypes or without details, and curved. They're all curved. It seems they are doing this just because they can, but hopefully someone releases a flat one this year. LG even has OLED sets in the press room that just play CNN or ESPN all day and they look fantastic. I just wish they were flat.

A pair of companies, TCL and HiSense, are integrating Roku into some of their TVs this year. Since Roku is still so much better than all the other integrated streaming solutions, this is a nice change to see. For a secondary TV one with Roku built in would be a big feature for me to look for. These aren't out until later this year, and I couldn't get details on pricing yet, but perhaps some other vendors will start to offer this as well.

Toshiba went past 4K with a 5K set that is 21:9 in size. 5160x2160 resolution makes it ideal for watching movies shot in scope format. The updated HDMI specification even includes support for 21:9 content, though manufacturers will have to start making that for it to look ideal. This seems to just be a prototype and not something we will be seeing at stores in the future, but it looked really nice.

Sharp is showing off HD sets using something called Quattron+ that adds additional sub-pixels for higher resolution. The exact make-up of the array isn't something they talked about so I'll be curious to see what the design is. Images on them looked good, though I rarely trust content on the show floor as it's so tightly controlled. Since Quattron is a bit of a debatable feature, I'm not certain how this will perform but I look forward to seeing it. These sets start at $3,000 for the 60" up to $6,000 for the 80".

Sharp also is showing their own set using the Dolby Vision HDR technology like Vizio is. It is running the same demo loop that all the sets do, but it never stops looking bad. The crowd around the set made it impossible to grab a good photo of it, but it looks great.

CES Monday's Report - Chris Heinonen

The day before CES opens is a mob scene of gigantic press conferences as members of the media move from ballroom to ballroom. So I skipped it and instead went to see what Vizio had to offer in their off-site demo room.

Vizio is bucking the tide a bit this year and eschewing two things that everyone else loves: being thin and 3D. Instead of shaving off another fraction of an inch on their TVs to try to be even smaller, they have moved all their TVs to rear-array LED lighting systems this year. They are now designing their own backlighting system instead of buying them from someone else and have more control over the design of everything.

The budget E-series, which ranges from 22" to 80", now has LED rear array lighting on every set over 29" in size. Every TV is also available in a smart version, even the 22" one, which is a change from before. The number of lighting zones varies as you move up in size with 16 on the largest sets and only a handful on the smaller ones. While rear array lighting adds a bit of thickness to sets, they're still very thin and it should provide more uniform lighting and better black levels.

The step-up M-series also has rear array lighting with 32 zones on every size except for the 32" model (which has five). The M-series, and the other Vizio models, have a redesigned Apps model that lets developers leverage HTML 5 for their apps. Since HTML 5 is used for a lot of computer, smartphone and tablet apps now, this makes it much easier to port apps over. This should let Vizio get app updates faster, and have a larger selection of apps to choose from as well.

While Vizio showed a 4K proof-of-concept last year, it was never released. This year they have 50", 55", 60", 65" and 70" UltraHD TVs for release later in the year. The P-series offers 64-zones of LED backlights, HDMI 2.0 inputs, 4K streaming support with Netflix, and hardware accelerated HEVC decoding. Ship dates and price are still to come on these.

The big news is their Reference Series sets. Using high dynamic range technology from Dolby, these sets can produce up to 800 nits while still maintaining low black levels, thanks to 384 LED zones, that allows for enormous contrast ratios. What really helps them stand out is support for more of the Rec. 2020 standard including a much larger color gamut.

Using content from Dolby for this, compared to a standard UltraHD set from Samsung, the colors more saturated and vivid on the Vizio. Not a fake, badly setup TV vivid, but producing richer reds and blues that the current HDTV color space can not support. Watching Star Trek the uniforms would be a different shade while other tones were the same as they were supposed to be. The highlights are almost too bright at times, but the black levels still did well.

The two models, 65" and 120", are still works in progress and some scaling and dynamic lighting issues could be seen. Last week Vizio sent people from RED to the Rose Bowl (which Vizio sponsors) with 4K cameras to capture footage of the game. Displayed on the 120" Reference monitor this simply looked stunning. People are life size, or larger, and the detail you can make out is incredible. The Reference Series sets come with an included base and wireless sub for true 5.1 audio, but can be displayed on their own if you have a separate sound system. This is really why Rec. 2020 excites me, not for the extra resolution, but the greater color gamut and bit depth it offers over HDTV.