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Show Review: CEDIA EXPO 2007

The biggest home theater trade show of the year is the CEDIA Expo (Custom Electronics Design and Installation Assn.). It is open to members of the trade and press, and it is the trade show most manufacturers of high performance video and audio products target for the unveiling of their latest offerings. The CEDIA Expo always happens in early September. This year it was in Denver, CO, and it just wrapped up four days of exhibit hall activity on Sunday.

In the projector industry, CEDIA 2007 will be remembered for the startling fact that Texas Instruments' DLP technology sudden found itself behind the 8-ball when it comes to contrast ratings in the spec wars. Since consumer attention is riveted by specifications (contrast specs in particular), vendors who make DLP-based projectors have always enjoyed the marketing advantage of being able to tout higher contrast ratings than their LCD or LCOS competitors. And for the most part, those higher contrast ratings reflected real performance advantages in black levels and dynamic range.

But this year, the truth appears to have changed. The Texas Instruments booth was featuring a pre-production sample of a Sim2 1080p projector with their latest DarkChip 4, the next generation DLP chip scheduled to appear in projector products next year. The contrast rating on that Sim2 projector was quoted at 15,000:1. Meanwhile, in the Epson booth a few steps away, Epson was unveiling its newest LCD projector, the Powerlite Cinema Pro 1080 UB (for "Ultra Black") with D7 panels and quoting up to 50,000:1 contrast. Sony's new SXRD product, the VPL-VW60 was boasting 35,000:1 contrast, and the newly announced JVC DLA-RS2 was being quoted at 30,000:1. (By the way, of these three, the JVC DLA-RS2 is the only one that does not have a dynamic iris which has the effect of exaggerating the contrast rating. So in reality, JVC's achievement of 30,000:1 native contrast with its D-ILA technology was of greatest significance, assuming the specification is accurate. To be sure, the demo did not reveal any reason to be skeptical of it.)

Consumer Alert No. 1: With the latest advances in contrast, the contrast rating on a projector is becoming less significant as a buying factor for most consumers. In order to get the full benefit of a projector that is capable of 30,000:1 contrast or more, it needs to be viewed in a pitch black room with no reflective surfaces. And indeed, many of the projector demos at this year's CEDIA were being staged in virtual black holes in which you could not see the person standing next to you. While a darkened room will always ensure the best performance from a front projection system, rendering a room totally black is not a realistic option for most consumers who want to use their living room or family room for purposes other than the dedicated screening of films. High contrast performance from a projector is indeed desirable. However, once it realistically gets beyond 10,000:1, other performance factors become just as important, if not more important, for the user's ultimate satisfaction with the image on the screen. So in short, though the latest contrast ratings are impressive, it is wise to keep them in perspective.

Consumer Alert No. 2: This year's CEDIA was unusual in that many vendors were announcing products without declaring their price--keeping their powder dry, so to speak. Many products which are scheduled for shipments in the forth quarter have not yet been priced. Manufacturers are watching developments in the marketplace, and will set a price only when they are ready to take orders. In such a volatile market, it is the common sense thing to do from the vendors' perspective, so we shall just have to wait for pricing to unfold on a number of the models discussed below.

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