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Home arrow HDTV Features arrow News arrow ONE INSTALLER'S OPINION (CES EDITION) by Terry Paullin

Written by Kevin Miller   
Saturday, 24 January 2015

Each January we trek to Las Vegas with the promise of new audio/video delights. Sometimes we are disappointed. This time we were not.

If much of what we saw hits the streets in Q3, Q4 and Q1'16 as alleged, we are truly in for a level of video excellence yet unseen in our living rooms and dedicated theatres. The downside is that joined at the hip with the new stuff is new terminology that will need to be scrutinized, explained, tested and plainly stated for what it is ... or is not. Stay tuned.

For openers, OLED display technology was front and center at Panasonic and LG. Both were stunning and both were 4K. B-T-W, 4K dropped off the 2015 buzzword list - it's now assumed that 90% of all new offerings from all the major TV makers will be UHD panels and projectors. If I could have left the show with one panel it would be the LG 77" - not because it was better than the Panny, but because it was BIGGER! Bad news here is that the 77 is a curved/flat panel. Good news is that it can be ironed out with a button push.

One of the aforementioned technologies is HDR (High Dynamic Range). It was previewed at limited venues last year, but was out front with at least four manufacturers at this year’s show.

Here's a surprise - not all HDR is created equal ... so whether it adds to your visual pleasure or simply irritates your ocular nerves will be very much a function of how it's applied by a given provider. At its core, HDR enhances images by taking advantage of a set’s peak luminance output. That means to be effective, it must be employed on sets that have higher than average light output to begin with. Also, these displays need to have local area dimming. Edge lit models need not apply. The "dream" application would be to pair HDR with a set that had, say, 8 million "local" areas (read that 4K OLEDs).

The hitch in the giddy-up here is that the thing that will steer any given HDR application will either be metadata provided by the Studios, "Generic" metadata in some box for normal BDs and broadband programs or simply a new switch in the "advanced menu" ... Auto HDR?

We clearly saw examples of overdone HDR at the show. The surest sign that the knob was turned up too high is that metallic objects tended to sparkle as if they had just suffered a triple application of silverware polish. Giving credit where credit is due, Samsung had the most believable version, rendering images brighter and clearer and yet always staying this side of offensive.

According to Futuresource, a leading consulting firm, the loudest "Show Noise" on the audio side was about multi-room audio offerings to compete with the current installed leader, Sonos. The second big deal was Hi-Rez audio (comeback) followed by Mobile applications. Guess Dolby Home Atmos didn't make their radar.

Last month, I expressed concern that Dolby Home Atmos would not deliver the hoped for experience to the consumer, largely due to the nature of small room acoustic propagation. The various audio demonstration rooms at CES provided a great opportunity to hear what Atmos advocates and their primary competitor, Auro-3D, had to say about "Ceiling Sound" to cover both broad approaches.

Most interesting was a visit to a relatively high end speaker manufacturer who should be (my opinion) the largest supplier of Atmos enabled speakers. In attempting to dig deeper, we asked about recommended speaker set-up/calibration procedure for an Atmos "bounce" room. We got three different answers from this same manufacturer. The first came in the form of a printed handout that said, quote; "In order for ... Dolby Atmos to be most effective, it's critical that the vertical reflected sound arrive at the listening position in perfect time coherence", This implies, of course, laser-like targeting of the sweet spot. Next we heard from the sales guy in the room. When I pointed out that the Atmos enabled drivers were not on gimbals and would therefore be difficult if not impossible to "direct", he informed me that what they were really trying to achieve was an "overhead cone", more diffuse than direct radiation. When he left the room, I had a one-on-one with an installer type who had obviously done the pre-show set-up. I asked him what equipment/procedure did he use? He just smiled and said "magic". He was kidding of course, but it was a clear signal he had no better answer.

My skepticism aside, whether Home Atmos gets traction in the marketplace or not will require cleaning up the "story". Speaker manufacturers need to tell the same story with regard to set-up procedure and calibration and it needs to make more sense than "Magic".

In another room we talked with a speaker vendor supporting the Auro-3D codec. While announcing they were "height speaker agnostic" (supporting both Dolby and Auro) they suggested that the desired effect could be had without putting the speakers in the ceiling (or bouncing) at all. They rather convincingly demonstrated their solution of placing four speakers on the corners of the listening area on poles extended to just below ceiling height and pointing them at the sweet spot. Clearly this would be the easiest, cheapest plan to implement, but I'm afraid the available market would be limited to man-cave bachelors.

Get the story straight, guys. Too many stories equal little or no credibility.

So we did something different this year. We started a day before "Press Day" to attend the "Storage Visions 2015 conference, billed as "an entertainment Storage Alliance". Big yawn you say? Maybe not.

When you think about where we're trying to go with 8K resolution, 12 bit color, 4-4-4 chroma sampling, HDR, Hi-Rez Audio, it begs the question "Where are we going to put all the data?" Is it off to the cloud? Will it be safe in the cloud? Will stream and store be the primary media mode?

Now throw in panel participants as divergent as IBM, Facebook, Samsung, Intel, Echostar, Corning Glass, SMPTE and the Bringham Young University discussing topics like Speed is the Need, Keeping it Safe, What's ahead for Hi-Rez Content? How fast can you find it? And you have our attention for what we will soon be facing.

Here's what you should know about storage. After Gigabyte, Terabyte and Petabyte come Exabyte, Zetabyte and Yottabyte. Got it? O.K., a Yottabyte is a 1 with 24 zeros behind it. Not yet? O.K., a Yottabyte will hold all the data on 47 Trillion Blu-Rays. I'm sure it's clear now.

Finally, a deserved mention of what has become a CES institution, the Monster Awards/Concert. If you are not a Monster dealer, you should become one just for the invite. This year for the first time it was held in the Axis Theater (normally home to Brittany Spears) in Planet Hollywood. Last year's headliners, Fleetwood Mac, would have killed for this venue. Noel Lee's and Steve Miller's insistence on sonic excellence drove the move this year. It was simply the best sounding concert I have ever heard ... and I've been to a couple. Let's hope we never look back!

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Copyright (C) 2007 Alain Georgette / Copyright (C) 2006 Frantisek Hliva. All rights reserved.

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 27 January 2015 )
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