One way or another, trade shows always end up with a theme. A few years back, 1080p was all the buzz. Last year, it was all 3D all the time. This year, JVC and Sony did their best to make 4K projection the main attraction, but few journalists seemed as excited as they no doubt hoped. 3D was also still the source of a lot of brouhaha, but for the most part, no one really cared.
For me, the most interesting recurring trend was economy, not surprisingly. Companies typically known for their high-end offerings had some really interesting low-cost game-changers on display.
Lutron’s new battery-powered cellular shades kinda blew my mind a little bit. Shade control has always been the domain of the ultra swanky, but these new remote controlled shades, which start at a ridiculous $299 apiece, bring high-end ambient light control well into the range of the pinched middle class. What’s really cool about them is the hybrid drive design, which allows for super-smooth and consistent operation off of standard D-cell batteries. Shade movement remains incredibly consistent for up to three years of normal operation (defined as two ups-and-downs a day), and slows to half-speed when the batteries need to be replaced. The shade material itself is offered in three versions — Single Cell Light Filtering Shades, which allow daylight to filter into the room; Double Cell Light Filtering Shades, which allows for some light filtering, not to mention some energy savings thanks to the insulating design; and Single Cell Blackout Shades, which block light entering into the room, and offer improved energy savings thanks to their aluminum lining. There are also three different system types: a non-system version controlled by IR, which starts at $299 per shade; a non-system version controlled by Lutron’s Pico wireless remote starting at $324; and a Sivoia QS system version compatible with HomeWorks QS, RadioRA 2 and GRAFIK Eye QS starting at $424. Prices go up as size goes up, of course (and depending on fabric choices), but the base price covers basic fabric and one window up to 3 feet by 5 feet.
Portable audio was also a big trend at the show. Monster had its new Clarity HD bluetooth speakers on display, and there’s no denying they look (and sound) sexy, but for my money (much less money, I might add), they didn’t quite stack up to Paradigm Shift‘s Active Atom (A2), which I finally got to really listen to. Holy smokes. That’s all I can say. These little 100-watt-per-channel powered puppies sound smooth as buttah, with a wonderfully penetrating high-end, luscious midrange,and more sumptuous bass than ought to be allowed by law for a speaker this size. Connectivity is also just ridiculous, whether you’re looking for wireless connectivity, RCA, or even minijack headphone-style input. (The latter of which is accomplished by daisy chaining the speakers and selecting Left or Right via a switch on the back). Paradigm also had three new earbuds on display, each voiced to mimic the sonic characteristics of its larger speaker lines: the Monitor ($79), the Studio ($129), and the Signature ($179). They all sounded fabulous for the price.
But the best new ‘phones at the show, in my opinion, came from PSB. Its new $400 M4U 2 is way comfortable, incredibly detailed, wonderfully balanced, and work either actively or passively. Check out Brent Butterworth’s impressions from the show floor for more.
GoldenEar Technology also had a smaller speaker on display, but this one with a more traditional bent (if anything from GoldenEar could be described as traditional). Built around the same High-Velocity Folded Ribbon (HVFR) Tweeter at the heart of its previous speakers, the Aon 2 and Aon 3 ($499 and $399 each, respectively) are new bookshelves with a trapezoidal design evocative of the company’s ForceField subs and a voice that belies their size. The Aon 2, in addition to its HVFR tweeter, features a seven inch woofer and two eight-inch passive radiators in the side, whereas the Aon 3 has a six-inch woofer at its heart, with two 6.5-inch passive radiators. I had a chance to hear the 2s, perched upon some beautiful and hefty speakers stands, and was quite impressed with (although not surprised by) their utter musicality. Even without a sub, they were rich, detailed, and positively penetrating.
As for the most underwhelming introduction at the show, 3D Now claims to turn most 2D HDTVs or projectors into 3D displays. Chris Boylan at Big Picture Big Sound has a great summary of why it just doesn’t work, though.