The annual CEDIA home theater trade show wrapped up yesterday in Denver, CO. This is normally the biggest show of the year for new home theater projector releases, but this year the show was surprisingly sparse. Several vendors were not heard from including Mitsubishi and Sim2. Runco, the perennial king of the CEDIA floor, had no presence in the exhibit hall. Panasonic, a company that never actually attends CEDIA but releases home theater projectors concurrent with the show, maintained radio silence. Those anticipating an AE9000 are (so far) out of luck.
And now for the good news: Among the products that were released at this show there are some blockbusters. Taking the prize for show floor buzz, and for unquestionably the most dazzling display of jaw-dropping video imagery was Sony with its new 4K projector, the VPS-VW600ES. This 1700 lumen projector was presented on a whopping 180" diagonal 1.3 gain Stewart Studiotek 130 screen. One particular video clip of the Carnaval in Rio taken on a Sony 4K video camera, showed the true potential of very large screen 4K projection when the source material is native 4K. This particular video clip had insane amounts of detail, dynamic range, rapid motion, and variations of low to extreme high saturation color. There is only one word to describe the product managers that would dare use this clip as a demo: fearless. Sony is not the first vendor to bring spectacular large format 4K projection to the CEDIA show, but it is certainly the first vendor to deliver it in an accessible commercialized product priced at a more than reasonable $15,000. This is cutting edge stuff.
The other over-the-top buzzworthy new product on the CEDIA floor was the Epson Pro Cinema 6030, priced at a comparatively paltry $3500. On Saturday afternoon, the third day of the show when most attendees had gone home and the vast majority of idle booth workers were twiddling their thumbs and praying for the closing bell, there was still a long line of dealers waiting in line to see the 6030. This projector wins the award for the Best Picture for the Money at this show, hands down. It is not 4K, and it is not in the same league as the super-premium 1080p 3-chip DLPs, but the Epson 6030 produces a gorgeous picture for $3500. Black levels are extremely deep, and detail definition in dark shadows is impressive. Color appears refined, accurate and natural. And for classic film fans, the 6030 has a BW Cinema mode that auto sets the color temp to 5400 Kelvin for the authentic display of BW films as they were seen in the theaters back in the day. Very cool. The Epson 6030 at the show was displayed on a 1.3 gain Stewart Studiotek 130, 11-foot wide, 2.4 Cinemascope format. It was also being demo'd with a Panamorph CineVista anamorphic lens.
Another astounding and quite memorable experience at this year's CEDIA was Digital Projection's Titan 1080p-LED-3D, the world's first 3-chip DLP projector driven by an LED light engine. Digital Projection's moves video quality into pure Nirvana territory with this release, and if you can pony up $80,000 for a projector and want the absolute best, don't miss it. We won't ever review this model for the simple reason that it is priced the rarified atmosphere of pure dream rather than financial reality for all but a tiny fraction of mortal humans. On the other hand, if you happen to be a rock star, a supermodel, or a hedge fund manager, you are beyond clueless if you don't give the Titan-LED-3D a serious audition as the next upgrade for your super high-end home theater.
JVC is always a formidable player at CEDIA. This year they debuted a new series of 3-chip D-ILA projectors featuring their proprietary 4K eShift3 technology that approximates 4K resolution using 1080p chips. JVC promotes these projectors as having the highest native contrast (contrast within a single frame) in the industry, as well as extremely high dynamic contrast. These JVC models neatly fill the price gap between the Sony VS600ES at $15,000 and the Epson Pro Cinema 6030 at $3,500. They include the DLA-X900R at $11,999 (1,500,000:1 dynamic contrast, and 150,000:1 native contrast), the DLA-X700R at $7,999 (1,200,000:1 dynamic, 120,000:1 native), and the DLA-X500R at $4,999 (600,000:1 dynamic, 60,000:1 native).
JVC had the X900R set up in their demo theater, and while I'm certain this is a superb projector (JVC doesn't build much else), the proprietary video source used for the demo did not seem to push the projector to its limits and I was left wondering what it might truly be capable of.
Runco had two new models appear at this year's CEDIA, but you wouldn't know it unless you were paying extremely close attention. They were deployed in "performance audio" booths. One, the Runco LS-12d, was used in the ProAudio booth, which was designed to show how many decibels can be created in a tiny 400 square foot room with 19 audio channels and 10,000 watts of power (it's a lot). The ProAudio folks were there to sell audio, not video, so the demo clips were chosen for their audio characteristics. Other than some momentary vignettes in Thriller from Jackson's This Is It the material presented in the ProAudio demo was not intended to show off the capabilities of the projector.
Another Runco projector appeared in the Wisdom Audio room, where they demonstrated how quickly an audience can be rendered physically ill from aggressive seat vibration and non-stop massive explosions. With audio this loud and physically abusive, you no longer care what you are seeing. Great for night clubs maybe, but not home theater. Truth is, the Wisdom demo did mercifully include one beautiful video segment of Sting that showed the true (and quite impressive) potential of the $30,000 Runco LS-12HBd projector. But the rest of the clips were of marginal interest visually and had, again understandably, been chosen for their audio dynamics. ProAudio and Wisdom Audio sell sound on steroids, so I don't blame them for pushing the limits for their dealers. It just left me hoping that next year, Runco will return to the CEDIA floor with its own theater designed to show off their formidable product line to best advantage, with a presentation of video and audio in aesthetic balance.
In the end, this year's CEDIA had two highlights-the dramatic Sony 4K splash, and Epson's achievement of a new level of videophile quality at modest price points. At the moment, Sony says that 60 movies are available 4K format, and there will be about 100 by December, so the source content will be there. Beyond that, the VW600ES has an internal 4K upscaler that renders standard Blu-rays in higher apparent resolution. The release of this product at $15,000 will surely stimulate consumer demand for 4K as the next wave in HD video technology.
Epson's release of the Pro Cinema 6030, and its sister version the Home Cinema 5030 at $2500, will be of keen interest to the much larger population of home theater fans who don't want to spend the big bucks on 4K. It used to be that in this modest price range you gave up quite a bit of black level, shadow definition, and dynamic range in exchange for the lower investment. And there is still a difference between these units and the premium priced models, but video technology has advanced to the point where the differences are not nearly as dramatic as they used to be. In many cases you need to see them side by side to tell the difference. On their own the Epson 6030 and 5030 will produce large screen images that will fully satisfy the demands of the videophile who wants the complete dark room cinematic experience in the home.
In short, though this CEDIA was smaller than in years past with fewer projector releases, what we saw this past week was a lot of fun and well worth the trip. There is a lot of exciting stuff about to hit the market this fall.