Friday, September 5, 2008

CEDIA EXPO: Hot Products & Demos

While some think attendance is down at this year's CEDIA EXPO (blame the economy and the fact that the show began right after the Labour Day long weekend), it's still chock-fulled of exhibits and attendees of every ilk. Last year, it was evident that the breadth of products on display covered the gamut of home A/V, moving heavily into areas like computing and home decor as well. It makes sense, after all, since custom A/V has really become about lifestyle, not just about the living room. At this year's event, the scope has broadened even more: I've seen everything from vacuum cleaners to a neat new spin on the bean bag chair in something called the Cuddle Bag (I have to admit: it is quite comfortable to sit in!) Here are a few "quick hits" on some other interesting products at the show:

The Squeezebox Boom: You've likely heard of the Squeezebox from Logitech, a DVD case-sized device that allows you to stream music from the Internet or your PC to a stereo system within the home. The Boom is essentially a self-contained unit, adding a speaker and amp to the portable package. It's an ideal option for a secondary location in the home, like your kitchen or bedroom. It'll be available for US$329 at the end of September.

LG's 47" LED LCD TV: The "hot" trend in the LCD TV arena seems to be LED backlighting, and LG's new 47" model is pretty impressive, offering blacker blacks and an overall sharper image. LG's intelligent sensor automatically adjusts the picture according to ambient light; another technological trend that's all the rage at the show. It will be available in September for $3,499.

Tivoli NetWorks Radio: The small, classy-designed tabletop radio uses WiFi technology to play back music and other audio content, like podcasts, wirelessly from a PC. By setting up the radio either via WiFi or Ethernet connection, you can listen to Internet radio stations from around the world, streaming tunes from your PC’s playlist, or your favourite podcasts, from anywhere in the home. It sells for $649, and comes in various finishes including cherry and walnut. Separate, matching speakers are available for $120 each.

If you're currently at the show, here are a few demos worth checking out:

Belkin's FlyWire HD distribution system: This is the first time that the product, which can send HD signals from one source display to another, has actually been up and running for us to see. It works within a 100-foot range (depending on obstructions). I watched a cartoon animation via a connected Blu-ray player, and picture quality was decent, although I can't say it blew me away. At just $999 when it first launches in November, it's a nice entry-level piece for those who want to port content between just two rooms. And we can expect this category to grow exponentially this year.

Epson Ensemble HD: This product has been in the works for a long time, and it's a neat idea for the customer that's looking for a quick and easy solution to home theatre. The package, which won't be available in Canada until November or so, includes a projector housed within an integrated surround cradle, screen with a left, right, and centre speaker built right into the frame, sub, controller with a built-in DVD player and various other connectivity options, equipment cabinet, universal remote, and all of the cables and other installation tools you'd need. Epson claims that the system, which will sell for US$4,999 with a 720p projector and US$6,999 for a 1080p projector, should take about four hours to install. I was impressed with the image quality during a short demo; it's definitely worth a look. While you're in the area, check out Epson's anamorphic lens demo that shows off the capabilities of its latest projector in full widescreen format (a captivating, dark scene from Harry Potter), as well as traditional 16:9 HD TV content (a fascinating excerpt from the Beijing Olympics).

Denon Audyssey Dynamic Volume: Have you ever been watching a TV show and found yourself jumping for the remote when a commercial comes on because the volume has been cranked up ten notches? This feature will automatically adjust volume based on three modes so that it always remains leveled. A demo at Denon's booth shows you how it works so you can hear it with your own ears. This third-party feature will be available in all new Denon receivers. Now that's clever!

Pioneer Elite demo: The new Pioneer Elite plasma TVs are absolutely gorgeous in both style and picture quality. It's worth taking in the 15-minute demo that shows off the company's strength when it comes to producing the blackest blacks.

Avoca Voice-Controlled Music Storage System: I wrote about this music storage product a few weeks back, but I finally had the chance to see it work live at the show. Essentially, it's a hard drive that stores tunes from inserted CDs, which can then be accessed wireless using the companion handheld device (HP iPAQ). The cool feature is that it operates via touch-screen as well as voice commands. I was amazed that the handheld device was able to pick up our voices despite the loud and crowded show floor. Hold down a corner button on the touch-screen display and just speak your command. You can say everything from "Play Madonna" to building your own playlists that can be called up by voice commands. Your voice can also control things like "next track" or "turn down volume". If you prefer, you can assign nicknames to tracks, which will probably be a useful feature for classical fanatics that will often have concertos and the like with long, drawn-out titles in their collections.

Stay tuned for more from the show!

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