and Interesting at CES 2000
Bill and I got to CES 2000, we were both determined to see and hear
as much DVD & related products as we could. We set out to get
the information for you. You can read
main CES 2000 coverage by clicking this link. But I wanted to
give you my perspectives on the show as well. So let me start out
with a brief recap of some of the new DVD products we saw that left
DVD Highlights at CES
I've got to start off by mentioning some of the excellent
multi-disc DVD-Video players from Pioneer, Zenith, Denon and
Panasonic. I've been waiting to see more multi-disc players on the
market. Recently the options for multi-disc players have been few
(including mostly slim offerings from Onkyo, JVC or Sony). One new,
up-and-coming multi-disc unit from Panasonic doesn't use carousel or
magazine functions, but rather a mechanism similar to an old juke
box, where the disc is separated from a collection of trays, then
elevated to the playing area.
Pioneer has a very cool new multi-disc DVD player -
DVF-727 - that should be hitting stores anytime now. This 300
+ 1 mega-disc model, includes ports for a mouse and a keyboard. Some
Pioneer players have labeling, just in case you have a CS that does
not include the title information on the disc. Or you can create
groups and organize the discs. Some Pioneer players also have a
memory feature that allows you to lock out certain titles in your
collection from being played by children. I also really liked the
Pioneer's DC-302D, a 3-disc DVD player/tuner combination.
Panasonic also has a tuner/amp/DVD player combination on the way
for 2000 (the SC-HT80), with broad appeal and features that are very
promising. This is an excellent option for those of you that want to
a DVD player a surround sound system all in one (for less that you
would spend on the gear separately) and create a nice little home
theater in your living room.
introduced the SC-HT80 with a built-in 5-DVD/CD changer, a Dolby
Digital decoder, an amp, and an FM/AM tuner. It will also include 6
speakers (front left and right, center, left and right rear and a
subwoofer) as well as a remote.
Several prototype players present at CES use flash ROM technology,
so that the player can be updated with software to meet future
specifications, or to add a new feature. This option is very
exciting. Among the players featuring this capability are those
using VM Labs' Nuon technology. Raite, Samsung and Toshiba all plan
on coming out with DVD players using Nuon line, which adds much more
interaction to DVD (click
here to see images from the Nuon booth).
There were also a couple of brands of DVD player that surprised me
- Raite and Esonic. Raite had several players that offered the
ability to play DVD, VCD, SVCD, CD & MP3. Raite also had an "Internet"
DVD player, that has an POP3/SMTP e-mail client with address book
and a wireless keyboard.
Raite MP3-capable DVD player...
"Internet" DVD player.
had some nice set-top DVD players also, as well as a few portable
players. Some of the portables from Esonic and Shinco had TV tuners
as well (you can see them at the bottom of
page of our CES coverage). I picked up some spec sheets and
product flyers... and was surprised to see a familiar face on
Esonic's materials: pop singer Michael Jackson apparently loves his
Esonic Video Discbaby.
you think MJ knows about this ad?
DVD-Audio at CES
All right, enough fun and games - now on to some meatier bits (no
pun intended). There were several players on display that feature
DVD-Audio and Video capability. Some of the manufacturers displaying
these include Denon, JVC, Marantz, Panasonic, Pioneer, Technics,
Thompson (Proscan), Toshiba and Sharp. I was able to find and view
all but the Marantz, Sharp and Proscan units. Even better than
seeing the players, was actually hearing them as well. I heard
demonstrations of DVD-Audio from Toshiba and Technics (courtesy of
Dolby). Oh yeah... I also heard an SACD demo from Sony. More on that
in a minute.
The demonstration by Toshiba DVD-Video, Audio and DTV was very
impressive. The DVD-Audio portion was a classical piece, played in
full 5.1 96/24. The sound was absolutely amazing. We also heard a
192-sampling/24 bit sound sample, the quality of which would please
any audiophile. Each instrument on the demo was clear and present,
with resilience that is usually only captured in "live"
settings. The only drawback during the demo was the air conditioner
on the roof of the enclosed (and rather large) exhibit booth. It
would have been nice to have absolute (or near absolute) silence in
which to experience the DVD-Audio demonstration. One other drawback,
much more important than my preferences, is that Toshiba was not
very helpful in answering questions on their products. The A/V
demonstration was completed by an actor from a memorized script. We
later proceeded to view the products out of the demo room (in the
actual Toshiba exhibit), but there weren't many informative folks to
be found. Plenty of staff, but none really there to answer questions
on DVD-Audio. There were quite a few distributors in the exhibit,
and they seemed to be the first priority of the Toshiba staffers on
hand. Oh well
The Pioneer exhibit included 2 different DVD-Audio/Video players on
this page), both of high quality. The top player, the DV-AX10
plays DVD-Audio, Video, CD, CD-R, CD-RW, VCD and SACD too. Plus,
it's progressive scan, has the DTS out and premium construction.
That means high-density, thick walls on sides, cover, front, rear
and under carriage - reducing noise and vibration to nothing. The
other model (the DV-08A) did not have the same solid construction,
but as an Elite player, it should still be fully-capable. Having the
DV-AX10 coming in around $5000 is quite pricey. But its ability to
do everything is extremely cool, and very much ahead of the curve.
I'm very excited to try out both of these units.
Let me tell you about the Dolby demonstration. The player used was
the Technics DVD-A10 (Audio & Video capable). The 5.1 DVD-Audio
sample was recorded in April 1999, at the Sumida Triphony Hall in
Japan. This demonstration was a piano piece, that had astounding
sound quality. The harmonics of the piano were crisp and clear. The
pianissimo and fortes were much more dynamic and impressive. The
presence of space and depth in the soundfield was very evident. Each
chord sustained wonderfully, holding the integrity of each note. The
fullness and warmth of the audio made it sound real and tangible. I
felt like I was listening to a grand piano in a music hall, hearing
each key stroke perfectly, with the music surrounding and enveloping
me. Needless to say, this was an extremely impressive demonstration.
If this is what we can expect from DVD-Audio, then bring it on!
The Dolby demonstration also included information that DVD-Audio
discs can include Dolby Digital encoding as well. When you see a
DVD-Audio product with the Dolby logo, then you'll know that you can
play that product on your current DVD player in at least 2.0 sound.
When you later get a true DVD-Audio player, you'll be able to
utilize that higher spec as well. The DD encoding on DVD-Audio
products can be played at 96/24 PCM specs.
The other part of the Dolby demonstration was something they called
Dolby Headphone. This Dolby technology involves a special chip that
process any multichannel sound source (2.0 and up) to a sense of
space and acoustics when listening via regular stereo headphones.
The result is a wonderful and realistic surround sound effect. The
difference is easily noticed, whether listening to music or a movie.
Both were demonstrated, with excellent results. This technology is
already being made available on Singapore Airlines (and soon Quantas
as well), and can be used in any audio device.
This brings me to another exhibit I stopped by - SRS Labs. I've
been familiar with SRS for some time. Their Theater 2000 product can
allow what they call "TruSurround" using only 2 speakers.
The effect is very impressive. The unit pre-mixes up to six channels
of digital audio into a two-speaker output, while retaining all the
original audio information. The MSRP on the unit is $169.95, and is
well worth it if you only have a 2-speaker system and want to add a
surround effect for minimal cost.
2000 from SRS Labs.
if you're wondering about SACD, I did hear a demo. Quite honestly, I
was a little disappointed in Sony. The SACD disc I listened to did
not have a regular CD track for comparison, even though a CD "layer"
is supposed to be present on SACDs. SACD is also still only
2-channel. I asked when 5.1 sound might come down the pike, and was
told, "we want to make sure we perfect 2-channel sound before
we tackle 6 channels." I also heard SACD through speakers, but
the booth was quite noisy and it was definitely not the right
environment for listening. That aside, I was not impressed by SACD.
The dynamics and quality was just not as dynamic as DVD-Audio. Nor
was I impressed with the Sony booth. They could easily have had a
prototype 6-channel SACD or a progressive scan DVD player on hand.
At this point, I'm not anticipating a format war, as some fear. I
don't really see much comparison at all between SACD and DVD-Audio.
And many DVD-Audio capable players will also play SACDs. Phillips
even had a DVD-Video player that also played SACDs. Bottom line: I
wouldn't recommend buying an SACD-only player. It would be a shame
to see it turn into a 60lb paperweight. Did you know that Sony Music
is one of the 5 music labels that have pledged to support DVD-Audio?
I'm sure you've read that already, but I think it bears mentioning
Everyone I spoke to about DVD-Audio indicated release dates ranging
from April to end of the summer. But they're all going to wait for
CSS-2. Almost all of the players on display will have hardware to
update when this new security encryption scheme is finalized. I
doubt that any form of audio watermarking will pass muster (and
several technicians in some of the exhibits agreed).
Still, after walking through CES 2000, and sitting in on the DVD
Entertainment Group reception later that evening, one can certainly
see that DVD-Audio will be supported from many angles. Hearing the
news about the five music labels dedicated to supporting the format
got me all excited again. I don't think that this will be thrown at
Joe Average consumers (like me) without giving us options. CD got
music into the digital age, and it's time to go the next step. I
think that DVD-Audio is so far presented with everything as
promised. DVD-Audio sounds awesome, it does a lot, and offers a lot
of possibilities. Whether you feel you want to own this type of "high
definition" sound product or not, is totally up to you. But I
simply can't wait. DVD-Audio is going to have a great start
and I'm hoping it will be soon.
Well, thanks for checking this out. Please feel free to email me
takes in a demonstration of Super Audio CD at the Sony booth.
to know Frank... and maybe win some free music DVDs too!
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