When the good people at HomeToys.com asked me if I was interested in covering the CEDIA show as a reporter, I jumped at the chance. The CEDIA show is Nirvana for people like me – people who fantasize about having flat panel plasma screens hanging in every room, and a home that is so automated that it anticipates your every mood, need and desire.

Simply Brilliant UPB Dimming

But when I arrived on the show floor, with my trusty booth location map clearly marked with companies of interest, I was unprepared for how overwhelming the show can be. I literally stood for 10 minutes in the first aisle, wondering how I was going to make it from one end of the convention center to the far end of the football stadium in the next two days.

By the end of two days, I was swimming in information. So I’ve organized what I saw into a few categories that hopefully will help you navigate to what interests you most. They are:


Keynote Kickoff

Flat Panels Galore

Wireless is Everywhere

Whole House Audio

Cool and Unusual Products

Technology as Art

The Package Deal

The Ultimate Home Toys

Wrap Up and Celebrity Sightings

Keynote Kickoff

CEDIA kicked off with a keynote address from Mark Cuban, founder and CEO of HDNet, the world’s first national television network broadcasting all of its programming in HDTV format. CEDIA attendees stood four abreast in the hallways, waiting to enter the main ballroom to hear Cuban speak.

Cuban’s company consists of two channels: HDNet, which broadcasts sports, entertainment and news; and HDNet Movies, which broadcasts original movies and movies to which the company has acquired HD broadcasting rights. Both channels broadcast 24/7 in widescreen (16:9), 1080i HDTV format.

Cuban asserts that once you get HD content, you become dissatisfied with anything else. The biggest ovation came when he stated that all of HDNet’s content is PVR-friendly, i.e. not copy protected. He rationalized that the concerns over copy protection were unwarranted given the amount of horsepower needed to convert HD content for sharing over a peer-to-peer network.

Cuban also raised eyebrows when he claimed that prices are falling about 2% per month for HD technology, and that within a year, you will be able to buy a 42″ plasma screen TV for under $1,000. “At that point, they become like furniture,” Cuban said.

Speaking of plasma TVs…
Flat Panels Galore

I remember a few short years ago when you stopped dead in your tracks at a trade show to marvel at any company that employed flat panel displays in their booth.

Not any more.

CEDIA was awash with flat screens, projection TVs and digital projectors. The large consumer electronics manufacturers showed the greatest range of products, with plasmas, LCDs, and various forms of projection TVs. Samsung featured a number of DLP projection TVs in their lineup. DLP, short for Digital Light Processing, is technology developed by Texas Instruments. According to TI, the DLP chip contains a rectangular array of up to 1.3 million hinge-mounted microscopic mirrors; each of these micromirrors measures less than one-fifth the width of a human hair, and corresponds to one pixel in a projected image.

What it means to a consumer is a picture that rivals a photograph, from a projection TV that is thinner and lighter than older projection systems. The Samsung model HLM507W pictured here is 46″ wide, only 17″ deep, and weighs less than 80 lbs!

Sharp Electronics had the best booth for showing how flat panel TVs will occupy every room of your home. In their booth, built to resemble rooms of a home, flat panel TVs showed up in some unexpected places. Combined with elegant mounting hardware and speakers, the flat panels added a high tech, artistic quality to each room.

The kitchen included a fold-down panel that hid from view under a cupboard when not in use.

In the bathroom, the flat panel complemented the other stylish accessories. One could imagine watching CNN in the morning as you shaved!

Wireless Everywhere

In years past, the word “wireless” was often associated with data networking in the home. Now, wireless technology is being used in many different products, to enable distribution of data and media, and also control of the sources of this content.

One such product is the VIA!2 Wireless Touch Panel and Server Station from ELAN Home Systems. The VIA!2 Touch Panel incorporates a 7.8 inch screen and communicates wirelessly via 802.11b to the Server Station. The Server Station translates the VIA!2 commands into IR or RS-232 commands for controlling whole house audio, home theater, security, temperature, lighting, drapes, and more. At a suggested retail of $3500 for the system, including a docking station, the VIA!2 is positioned among the most affordable of the high-end home control systems.

The VIA!2 is shown here, held by ELAN’s President and Chief Technical Officer, Bob Farinelli, who was named to Custom Retailer magazine’s C-Business 50 as one of the 50 Most Vital Influencers in Custom Electronics.

Another company employing wireless technology in an innovative way is Photoloom. Scott Laster, the President and CEO of Photoloom, calls his product an “image appliance”. Upon first inspection, it looks like an ordinary framed picture on the wall. Moments later, however, the image changes!

It’s actually an LCD screen framed beautifully in a matted picture frame and hung on the wall. Images get sent to it wirelessly from a computer. “About 92% of all digital pictures are stored on computers,” says Mr. Laster. “We provide the technology to take those pictures and instantly immerse them in your life.” The image transfer can occur over 802.11, powerline or Ethernet. The display is also a touch panel, allowing users to select the image they want, email it to a friend, or share it with others on the network. Future services from Photoloom will include image backup and recovery, and images that can be subscribed to over the web, for those days when you’re in a black and white, Ansel Adams kind of mood.
Whole House Audio

Another significant trend at CEDIA was the abundance of distributed, whole house audio systems. Xantech, a company known for its line of A/V and infrared distribution and control products, is expanding into the systems business with the MRC44 and MRC88 audio and video entertainment systems. The MRC44 controller/amplifier controls four sources (CD, DVD, VCR, etc.) and distributes their audio/video to four zones (rooms). Each zone includes an LCD keypad for sending commands to the controller/amplifier. The MRC88 expands this concept to 8 sources and 8 zones. In essence, Xantech has taken its expertise in whole house audio, video and infrared distribution and control and integrated them into a scalable system. In fact, each system can be “doubled” to get to 16 sources and 16 zones in a single home.

Another innovation from Xantech is their new Smartpad LCD Touchpanels, shown here. Unlike other touchpanels that have buttons for each function, these LCD panels are completely configurable and enable dealers to create custom designs for homeowners. The user interface incorporates simple drag and drop functions for placing source buttons and action buttons. Images can be added as well. Over a dozen “skins” are available to give the display a unique look and feel.

Oxmoor Corporation showed a similar system for distributing digital audio around the home, but the control panel got a lot of attention for its unique design. The ZON whole house digital audio system includes a router for central control and distribution, distributed input panels for adding sources, and a unique control panel that incorporates a large, backlit knob.

The knob, which is also a push button, enables users to quickly scroll through the sources, choose one, and then scroll through the controls for the source. When the source is chosen and the volume is set, the panel can be set to slowly dim the backlight so the panel fades into the room décor.

Sirius demonstrated another way of thinking about distributed audio at their booth. Sirius, one of the two satellite radio subscription services available today, showcased several consumer electronics products designed to bring satellite radio into your home. Antex Electronics showed a multizone satellite radio receiver called TriplePlay that included multiple tuners, enabling listeners to enjoy different Sirius channels in different rooms.

Kenwood also offered a home Tuner for Sirius channels, but they went one step further with another product called the Here2Anywhere Portable Sirius Tuner. This portable tuner brings the Sirius channels to where you want to be – your home, your office, your car or your boat. It’s like an AM/FM portable walkman that picks up 100 streams of satellite radio.

Finally, OnQ is expanding their distributed audio business to include a line of speakers that work with their traditional structured wiring panels. The Home Entertainment Connection Center, shown here, can be installed behind the home’s entertainment center to efficiently route those audio/video signals throughout the home. In the remote rooms, OnQ now provides a Blue and Gold line of speakers, priced from $70-$125 per pair.

Cool and Unusual Products

Clearly, I had a hard time categorizing the following products, as they don’t necessarily fit into a standard category, yet I believe they will be of interest to you, the HomeToys readers.

Texas Instruments teamed with Audyssey Laboratories to demonstrate a new technology called MultEQ, for equalizing sound in a room. No picture can communicate what I experienced in this demo – you had to be there and hear it for yourself. What TI and Audyssey are developing is a technology that will begin to show up in consumer electronics products late this year. Together, they increase the size and quality of the “sweet spot” – that magical area in a room where the sound from your audio system sounds best to your ears. The technology uses an audio sensor located in a remote control to measure sound levels in several different locations of a room. Then, through some signal processing magic, the technology alters the output from the speakers to compensate for the unique characteristics of the room. It corrects for nulls and peaks, and corrects for the center channel audio reflecting off the screen. The result is amazing! The music comes alive. The movie soundtrack has new depth. Horn sections reappear in jazz music, and actors’ voices resonate with the depth and clarity they naturally have. The demonstration used two sets of speakers: a $2500 set of Klipsch speakers, and a $250 set of Panasonic speakers. The before and after experience, using MultEQ, was dramatic for both sets of speakers.

NEC has taken the hint from their customers and has begun marketing their business projection systems for home use. They demonstrated the WT600 Mirrored Reflection Projector. What is amazing about this device is that it can project an image 42 inches wide when positioned only a few inches away from the wall. When positioned 26 inches from the wall, the projected image is 100 inches! At $6995, it offers both homeowners and businesses a versatile means of achieving large image projections in tight quarters

Mission, the company known for its line of speakers, has taken a fresh look at where speakers can be placed. Combining TFT display technology with SurfaceSound loudspeaker technology, Mission’s ViSound products provide audio and video where you least suspect them.

The vanity mirror shown here is an example of where Mission intends to go with this technology. A small display shows the news in the lower right hand corner. Meanwhile, the audio seems to come from the mirror, yet no speakers are visible. That’s because the top section of the mirror, the topmost rectangle, is actually a speaker! Specially designed transducers drive the upper portion of the mirror. The transducers cause vibrations, which result in sound waves emanating from the surface. If you touch it, you can feel the slight vibrations. Otherwise, you would never know there was a speaker in the room. Mission anticipates adding sound to other products in the future.

Also in the category of “now you see it, now you don’t” is a product from VisionArt, a division of Solar Shading Systems. You say you’d like to mount your new flat panel plasma screen in the game room, but you can’t bear to part with your crushed velvet painting of Dogs Playing Poker? Fear no more. You can have your cake and eat it too. VisionArt has created a product that conceals wall mounted and recess mounted plasma monitors with a motorized, retractable fine art print that is framed in a decorative picture frame. Now, with a push of a button, your room is transformed from high culture to high tech.

For those of us who are meteorologically challenged and do not know a dew point from a dipstick, there is help from WeatherHawk. They make a solar powered weather station that collects information on wind speed, temperature, relative humidity, rainfall, barometric pressure and solar radiation. It then calculates the dew point, heat index and wind chill factor. It sends all of this information to your computer via a 916 Mhz spread spectrum wireless transmitter and receiver that can operate over distances of up to a half mile. At $1500-2100 list, it’s geared for those individuals who demand the very finest in weather sensing equipment.

Finally, I didn’t expect to find innovation in something as mundane as wire. Well, I was wrong. For a clue, ask yourself where the wires are on all those beautiful plasma screens you see in the commercials and magazine ads. The answer is, they’re hidden behind the walls. This may or may not be an option for you, depending on the kind of home you have. Enter DeCorp, with their FlatWire technology. This is wiring that is so flat, you can mount it ON the wall, cover it with a mesh, spackle it with special plaster and paint it, and you’ll never know it is there. They have flat wires for audio, video, voice/data and electrical connections. The picture from their booth shows a plasma TV being powered by a flat AC power wire while obtaining its picture from a flat video wire.

Technology as Art

As I wandered the aisles of CEDIA, it occurred to me that when you pay thousands of dollars for a pair of speakers or an audio amplifier, you expect more than a well-crafted piece of equipment. It had better look good too. Since beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I thought I’d share a couple of the products that caught my eye.

Nautilus series speaker
from Bowers & Wilkins

Retro radios and phonographs from TEAC

Amplifier from Classe Audio
The Package Deal

Not all products at CEDIA were geared for the ultra high-end audience. Many companies have begun packaging components into competitively priced systems for the average homeowner.

Dish Network has begun promoting a packaged deal that includes an HDTV with its Dish Network service. Yes, they are actually selling the TV with the service. The 811 bundle includes either a 34″ CRT or a 40″ rear screen projection HDTV for $1499. The 921 bundle includes PVR capabilities for recording HD content to disk. Both systems can view standard definition as well as high definition content.

Samsung has packaged up a Home Theater in a Box. The HT-SK6 includes a progressive scan multi-disk DVD player with a built-in amplifier capable of driving the six Klipsch speakers that come with the system. Priced at under $500, the system provides a home theater environment for the consumer on a budget.

The Ultimate Home Toy

This brings me to my favorite part of the show – those products that reside in my fantasy home – the home I buy after winning the Super Lotto.

Personally, my Ultimate Home Toy would be a dedicated home theater. A home theater requires the careful integration of high-end audio systems with world-class video projection systems. Then, to cap it all off, you must create the environment in which to enjoy this amazing entertainment – shall we say, the creature comforts.

The ultimate Home Toy goes to JVC for their QPIX GA DILA Super Projector. At $200,000 (lens sold separately), it is not for the faint of heart. This product typically goes into commercial video theaters, event halls or theme parks. However, according to JVC reps at the show, they have sold a handful to individuals for use in their private homes. One such homeowner was building a $2 million home theater “addition” to his house and wanted the very best projector.

For those of you looking for something a tad lower in price, there is the new Qualia line of projectors coming from Sony. The Model SXRD, incorporating a Carl Zeiss lens, retails for just under $25,000. Sony showed clips from Bad Boys II on a 120-inch screen, and the resolution was breathtaking.

Next we move on to the speakers. How about a pair of TAD Home Audio’s Model-1 Loudspeakers? They come with beryllium tweeters that are so stiff that touching them is forbidden lest they crack. But oh, the sound…it’s from heaven! At $45,000 per pair, they fit right in with the projection equipment.

Next come the creature comforts. After all, we need to be supremely comfortable in order to best enjoy the experience. This calls for theater seating from Irwin Seating, supplier to movie theaters, concert halls, and now you, the home theater owner. Some models recline, some are leather-clad, and most have convenient places for drinks and food.

And yet, these chairs are not quite complete. When the tanks rumble in during Saving Private Ryan, or the explosions reverberate through the room during the latest Matrix sequel, you don’t want to just hear it, you want to FEEL it. Enter the Guitammer Company with their ButtKicker series of low frequency effects products. Believe it or not, these devices actually mount to the bottom of your theater seating and vibrate the whole chair in synch with the audio track of the movie. The sensation brings you that much closer to being immersed in the movie.

Finally, where Samsung has packaged a Home Theater in a Box, the company Feature Presentation has packaged a Home Theater in a Truck. You give them the dimensions of the room you want decorated like a home theater, and for about $35,000 or so, they ship to you a pre-fabricated set of columns, wall panels, ceiling soffits, lighting, carpets, chairs, and other amenities that turn your dumpy old bonus room into an authentic looking home theater. Optional upgrades include a Box Office with stuffed ticket taker (~ $2,000), a Marquee showing the movie Now Playing (~ $1250) and solid wood usher doors featuring the round windows you remember from classic theaters of yesteryear.

There really is no end to how far you can go in creating the home theater of your dreams.
Wrap Up and Celebrity Sightings

Clearly, CEDIA offers something for everyone in outfitting a home with the latest in entertainment gear. You will be seeing flat panel TVs in more and more settings in the home. And they will increasingly be HD compatible. Wireless technology is also being built into more products, increasing their capabilities while reducing the time needed for installation. Whole house audio continues to be high on homeowners’ wish lists and therefore continues to drive innovation in that sector. And if you can afford this kind of technology, increasingly you also will be buying a work of art in terms of industrial design.

So, on behalf of the staff at HomeToys, as well as Austin Powers and Felicity Shagwell, I wish you great success in outfitting your home with some of these amazing home toys.

Steve McConaughey