by AJ Peck
I had a great trip to CEDIA. Let me share just a bit about what I saw:
The show was held at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta. It is a huge facility with 2 main floors and many, many smaller rooms. As far as I could tell the show pretty filled up the space on both the main show floor and also the various training sessions that were held by various companies and also by the MCIA (Media Center Integrators Alliance).
Let me just go through a few of the companies I saw there, in alphabetical order so as not to show any precedence.
· For Controlling S1Digital
· Using Apple products
I talked to these guys a little bit. They are the partner company that S1Digital uses for controlling the various zones. They have solutions for Apple, Media center, and also the various other systems such as Crestron or AMX.
This was probably the most impressive setup there. I think they might have had the most floor space too. They had many, many displays setup with all sorts of control mechanisms, displays, touchscreens and such. They even had an entire wall of nothing but HDMI control/switches/matrix. They had a couple dozen people giving information about the various products and had 2 ‘stages’ with about 20 seats each that they were doing live demo’s and product information sessions. They guys really knew their stuff and the 8x8 matrix switch demo was particularly impressive. The way they do the DHCP stuff over HDMI is that they pre-authenticate all of the devices so that they can cache the device keys and enable much faster handshaking than pretty much any other solution.
Dolby’s booth was one of the sadder at the show, especially form a company whose name is known by every single attendee. They were showcasing 2 technologies, Dolby Volume and Dolby Pro Logic IIz. Dolby Volume is a really neat idea and I think that it is a really good technology to integrate into almost any setup, except for maybe a dedicated movie theater room. For those that don’t know, the idea behid Dolby Volume is that most people tune their speakers by measuring the levels of white noise and trying to have equal loudness across the whole frequency spectrum. This is usually done with the white noise levels quite loud, which would equate to when you are watching your movie by yourself in a house with no neighbors for miles and you want to hear every detail. Anything short of that is going to lead to some compromises in audio quality. What Dolby Volume does is automatically adjust the audio levels at various frequency points to ensure a quality listening experience even at low levels. This solves the problem of having to turn down the volume during big action scenes (or commercials) and turning the dialog up so that you can hear things.
The other technology is Dolby Pro Logic IIz, which adds an additional element of height to the mix. It isn’t a discreet channel with it’s own unique audio track, but rather the technology extracts information out of the other channels and calculates what you should be hearing from above you. They didn’t have any demo’s at the booth, but I’ve heard from those that have visited test setups that the implementation is excellent and really does a lot to increase the surround-ness of the audio.
· Play Media from a PC
· Can have 1 DVR have receivers from various places that pull from that
· Supposedly can set recordings from dvr-less receivers, but not too sure about that.
DirecTV’s “booth” was actually a little house that they had brought in. They had 2 or 3 “rooms” below and another couple upstairs. In actuality, it was about a 60% scale and was half of a house, so that all the rooms were visible from the side. Basically, the theme of the day was multi-room DVR and the ability to watch from 1 receiver was was recorded on another. It’s a pretty cool idea. According to them, you can have 1 DVR somewhere in your house and then all of the rest of the TV’s in the house could each be hooked up to their own HD receivers and you could watch shows recorded on the DVR from any other DVR or receiver on the network. The sales guy I talked to also said that if a TV was connected to a receiver without a DVR, you could still hit record on a show and it would schedule the recording on one of the DVR’s on your network. I hadn’t heard that before, so I can’t promise that it is true.
One of the other things they were showing off was the iPhone/iPod Touch integration. They had a video camera pointed at an iPhone and had that playing on an overhead screen so that people could see the demo guy scheduling and managing recordings from the device. Pretty cool.
The whole home connected model is really great and I think it is a big step forward from the independent receiver/DVR’s that we have nowadays. In my mind the best setup outside of Media Center would be a quad-tuner DVR that you could put in a closet and hook external hard drives/NAS up to and then you would have what would amount to an extender at each TV location. That’d be swell. Either that or just allow DirecTV to be hooked into Media Center and then DirecTV could focus on the content and let MS handle the software and playback side of things. One can dream, right?
· Can’t use NAS for storage, USB only
· DLNA will be supported on the ViP922
· Media Center was a ViP211 that was connected via the Ethernet out to a Ethernet->USB dongle on PC.
o Each 211 can handle a single stream
o Works with extenders
o Passes guide data and video/audio stream over communication channel.
o Trial was between MS and Echostar, the parent company of Dish who owns the software. Dish wasn’t part of the trial, and their hardware wasn’t really being trialed, just the software
I was very excited to talk to Dish Network while I was there. They actually had their booth right at the entrance to one of the exhibition halls (DirecTV had theirs very near the entrance to the other main hall facing Dish’s) and was very prominent. They had 2 main items on display. The first and more interesting was the Media Center. They had a Niveus machine that was hooked in via USB to a dish receiver that was hidden in the wall. This was all hooked into Media Center as a tuner, and it was completely seamless. Channel changing was just as fast, if not faster than it is on my own CableCo DVR and the quality looked great. The interface of Media Center is just so superior to pretty much everything out there that it really enhances the product that Dish Network has to offer.
In terms of hardware, I mentioned that it was hooked up via USB. That’s actually only half-true. The Dish receiver (a ViP211) was outputting the video feed via the network port on the receiver. There was an cat5 (or 5e or 6, I couldn’t tell) patch cable plugged directly into a dongle hanging off the Media Center via USB. I tried to capture this in my picture, but I don’t know how successful I was. This particular setup was just a functional setup, and any real product release isn’t going to have the same physical connection, I was told. For example, if (when?) this partnership happens, it very well might take advantage of both tuners in a receiver instead of just the one that this specific beta involved.
In terms of the bits and bytes, I was told that the video was sent through the cat5 cable as a stream. The guide data was also passed through this connection (I guess because zap2it wasn’t provided the Dish Guide data? Potentially they would in a released implementation. I didn’t ask the question though).
Also, the beta testing that was just recently terminated apparently was a trial between Microsoft and Echostar, the parent Company of Dish who manages the software on the receivers. Dish Network wasn’t directly involved as the exact same content was sent to the receiver in the Media Center mode as it would have been in regular TV watching mode.
The other device that Dish was showing was the 922 receiver. This thing is pretty slick. It has the built-in Sling and also has a much larger hard drive. Personally I’m very interested in upgrading to Dish when this receiver comes out specifically for the Sling aspect so that I can watch TV from one of the 3 laptops or 2 desktops that I have in my house, or on the road.
The other interesting feature is the remote. It has a trackpad in it and some of the menu navigation is basically using the trackpad to control a pointer on the screen. One of the options is to playback media from a networked computer. I didn’t get any details on what type of media it could play back, but the fact that it had it was pretty cool. We will probably get more details when the receiver is launched. It’s been out there unreleased for awhile, so I wouldn’t think that it would be too much longer, but the gentleman at the booth said he didn’t have any timeframe that he could give me. Alas.
· Media Server
· Multiple codecs
· Genesis system
o Can handle 4 simultaneous streams
o NAS expansion
I stopped by the booth of Fusion Research. They have a very similar system to the Kaleidescape) except it’s a little cheaper. They were showcasing the Genesis system, which is a central move server that has client front-ends at the viewing location. The server can stream up to 4 simultaneous HD streams. I didn’t talk with them for long, but I did find out that the system can’t play back media stored anywhere but on their own server.
I didn’t talk to these people at all, but walking by their booth, I did a device which I believe is a mass-ripping device. Instead of being the carousel type unit like S1Digital has or Sony showcased, it is more like those dvd burning stations that has spindles of discs that it will pick up and drop into a tray-loading device. I have no other information on this, but I thought it was cool, so I took the picture.
· Network support includes Yahoo, Netflix,vudu
· Recommended >4.5mbps internet connection for Vudu HDX
· Some DLNA support, but no H.264
LG had a lot of TV’s at their booth. They were showcasing the 120hz/240hz displays and the thin-bezel screens (it was more thinner than thin. Still >.75” thick). They did have an entire section of network connected TV’s. This included Yahoo, Netflix, and their pride and joy, Vudu. If you will remember Vudu is a company that streams SD, HD, and what it calls HDX 1080p videos. They have a set-top box, but have also recently licensed their products to be integrated into TV’s. LG is one of their launch partners and they were showing a Vudu connected TV at the show. They played a hdx video, and the quality was pretty good. Since there is no local hard drive, the video is streamed live (with probably a minimal buffer) and worked pretty well. They echo Vudu’s recommendation of a minimum of a 4.5 mbps network connection for hd streaming, but I think that to hit the HDX, it is probably a little higher of a minimum.
They also had some TV’s with DLNA support, but none of them had H.264 support.
· Lots of WHS boxes there
· Supposedly was a demo of WHS, but they wouldn’t talk to me
· No ZuneHD in sight
I went to Microsoft directly when I entered the show. However, they were less than helpful. Let me start with explaining the booth. The section that they had was probably 10 feet wide and 50 feet long. (most booths were square and more like 50’x50’ and up). On one end, they had shelves with lots of products on it. As you can see from the pictures, they had lots of Media Centers and Home Servers. They also had an array of tuner cards including the unreleased Ceton CableCard. (One card that was conspicuously absent was the AMD CableCard.) It was kinda cool to see the various Home Servers right up next to each other and I took the liberty of shooting the new Acer WHS. It is much wider than the MediaSmart servers, but felt quite robust.
The bulk of MS’s booth was showcasing Media Center (I guess that makes sense in this environment). They had a server in a rack and had multiple TV’s connected via xbox360’s. In fact, I don’t think that they had any TV’s connected to the Media Center, only via extenders. This was pretty cool, but I’m fairly familiar with Media Center and they were mainly focusing on those people that have never seen/used it and would be interested.
There was a distinct lack of Zune products at the booth, and actually at the show at all. I don’t believe that I saw any devices with Zune support, much less any Zune’s around. I was pretty disappointed by that because I was looking forward to some hands-on with one. Alas.
The last part of Microsoft’s booth had an HP TouchSmart PC running Media Center. I didn’t personally play with it, but looked over some shoulders of people that were. It was running Windows 7 and I will say that they have made some improvements on the touch-friends UI. They had a MediaSmart server sitting next to it and I’m guessing this is where they were supposed to be demoing WHS and Power Pack 3, but the following story will explain why I don’t know.
I went to talk to the gentleman that was standing next to TouchSmart. I asked him if he was demoing Windows Home Server, and he said that he didn’t really know that much about it would go get someone that did. He found a coworker who was in the middle of his lunch and didn’t seem to like being disturbed. He asked me why I was interested in WHS and I said that I was representing Homeservershow.com and was looking to see the demo that they announced they would be showing. He looked at my attendee badge and chided me for trying to spy on their products by not getting a press badge like I was supposed to (I didn’t know that I was supposed to). He then proceeded to say that they had been instructed not to talk to the media and so he walked off and went back to his lunch.
I stood there bewildered for a little while. I mean I am first and foremost an enthusiast, and reporting for HSS was slightly secondary. Enthusiasts are the backbone to Windows Home Server and Media Center and I honestly feel that Microsoft really needs to do everything they can to support the people who evangelize for their fledgling products. I personally haven’t played with Power Pack 3 because I didn’t want to put it on my production server and so I genuinely wanted to see and here the normal spiel that they were giving to the rest of the attendees. I certainly wasn’t asking for any sort of special treatment.
This goes back to my general feel for Microsoft lately. Let me lay a little foundation first. I am an open Microsoft fanboy. I defended Vista when Vista bashing was cool, even to the point of sneaking it onto my wife’s laptop to her initial dismay. I have purchased and upgraded Office from 95, 97, 2000, XP (as short lived as it was), 2003 and 2007 shortly after they were each released. I am very anti-piracy and scold people who make up excuses to use products they haven’t paid for. I am a Media Center user, have purchased 2 copies of WHS, purchased an xbox360 elite the week it was released, and am one of 4 Zune users in my semi-immediate family. I have done Server administration in past jobs and am a fervent believer that the Active Directory network environment combined with Exchange e-mail is one of the, if not the, best solution out there. But when it comes to the home market, Microsoft just hasn’t been paying too much attention.
They have made strides recently with combining the eHome team, and I had high hopes for Windows 7 and the Zune HD, but I have seen them drop the ball recently. First off, the announcement the night before the CEDIA show, they had a press conference that was a big let-down. Yes, opening up CableCard to the general user is good, but I don’t see that as doing very much to help Media Center become more mainstream. Whether it was their fault or not, they dropped the ball with the Dish Network tuners (which could have done a lot to bringing more attention to Media Center). They have a pretty good media player in the Zune, but this product is totally orphaned from anything else Microsoft is doing.
I would have really liked to see them do some marketing of the good products that they have. I would have loved to see the new Zune and to hear about some partners announced for products supporting the ZuneHD. Even if it was something as simple as a Zune Dock for a Denon receiver, they need something to steal some of the marketshare away from Apple. They need a tie-in with some sort of media distributor. Yeah, Netflix is a great partner, but the lack of online content really makes the integration not serve as a replacement to any real movie rental. Heck, they already have an existing system in the xbox/Zune marketplace, why can’t I rent those movies or TV shows through Media Center? It just comes across that they don’t care, and my experiences at CEDIA just reinforced that point. I really hope that they can announce something significant by CES, because if not, I don’t see them being able to make any sort of impact in the Consumer Electronic marketplace.
Time to step off my soapbox.
· Pandora, Vudu
Mitsubishi had quite a few TV’s including one of the lazer TV’s. They were showing it with the 3d glasses which was cool, but on a small screen, really didn’t do a whole lot. More on that later.
· G10 supports AVCHD
· Supported video playback on both Plasma & LCD
· VieraCast = no DLNA
o Does support Picasa, Amazon Video on Demand
· 3d display demo uses shutter glasses, IR controlled
o General availability summer 2010
o Depth-3d, not “jump out at you” 3d
Panasonic had one of the larger booths at the show. They had hundreds of products, including a portable Blu-ray player, a few camcorders, many Blu-ray players, and dozes of TV’s showcasing everything from wireless HDMI to Dolby TrueHD to 240hz. They had one of the 103” TV’s on display and I will say that was very, very impressive. I want one.
One other aspect that they were showing was 3d. They literally had a truck parked in their area (think the size of a big TV including the side out sections on each side) that had a mini theater in it. They were bringing people in about 20 at a time and showing a demo of their 3d implementation. The technology they had used shutter glasses using the alternating frame principle. Put simply, the screen alternated images on what it was showing such that every even frame was for the right eye and the odd frames were for the left eye. They had us each put on glasses that would physically make one lens opaque and then the other so fast that you really couldn’t tell that was happening. I didn’t ask what refresh rate the display was using and thus the glasses. Each pair of glasses had an IR receiver on the bridge of the nose that would read information sent from transmitters next to the display. This is how it would sync the glasses to the TV content. Speaking of content, this was far and away one of the most impressive, realistic 3d demo’s I’ve ever seen. I’m familiar with you’re current 3d stuff such as the theme park rides (have annual passes to both Disney World and Universal Studios Florida), the movies (saw Nightmare Before Christmas when they re-released it in 3d a few years ago), and the 3d commercials during the super bowl, all of which are done using either red/blue or perpendicularly polarized lenses. All of those show the content as jumping out from the screen or being between the screen and you. This was very different. What the 3d added was depth. I know it sounds cliché, but you look into the display and it really did seem like you were looking through a window at a real-world scene. The demo including some amazing Grand Canyon landscapes, some sports action showcasing the upcoming 2010 Olympics in Canada, and some other clips.
So when is this stuff coming out? They guy who was hosting the 3d demo said that Panasonic is really at the forefront of 3d from the technology and is just waiting for a standard to be agreed on so that they can take their tech and implement it in a standards compliant manner. I did hear one comment that (it wasn’t directly from Panasonic) that the upcoming 3d movie Avatar, which is supposed to breathe life into 3d as more than just a gimmick, is going to be a driving force for 3d in the home when it is released to home on Blu-ray.
My personal opinion on 3d is that it is really cool for certain situations, such as at the theater or a special event, but isn’t really something that is home-friends. The whole glasses thing is a pain, and on any display less than about 60 inches, the added benefit is pretty small, especially when you consider that you’re almost certainly going to have to pay a good bit more for 3d equipment versus what we currently have. We’ll have to wait and see though.
· Gigabit recommended for network, pretty much required
· Recommended separate physical network for MediaCenter CableCard streaming
· Use Arcsoft exclusively for BluRay playback. More stable
· Using Intel chipset for graphics on client pc’s. Supposedly have better color reproduction for Videos than AMD/nVidia
· Use Autonomic Controls for any remote controlling beyond simple MCE remote
· Disable sleep on all boxes due to the instability
S1Digital was my 3rd most anticipated stop (after Dish and Microsoft). For those that aren’t very familiar with the company, I highly recommend checking out Ian Dixon’s interview with them one his Podcast. In short, S1Digital has just come out with a new device is a bit of a hybrid between Windows Home Server and a Media Center Server. The setup that S1Digital has is a WHS machine setup someone, say in a rack. Connected to this server is up to eight CableCard tuners. Throughout the house are various TV’s connected to client machines. These client machines are full-fledged Media Centers. The bit of trickery involved is the fact that the server binds each of the CableCards to a client such that the client operates as if that tuner was plugged directly into the device. They can then watch premium content on the client without having to do any wiring for coax or have an ugly external CableCard sitting in the way. Because the clients are full Media Centers, they retain the local playback abilities for DVD’s and, using a 3rd part app, Blu-ray movies.
On the networking side, they have a minimum required of gigabit wiring and they recommend having a physically separated network just for the Media Centers. I’m guessing that HD content can get pretty bandwidth intensive when you are streaming. I asked how the technology worked, and he honestly didn’t know. My personal hypothesis is that what they are doing is that there is a tunnel created between the server and the client by which the client believes that the USB CableCard is actually plugged in locally the server is just forwarding all USB I/O information over the network to the virtual USB device on the clients. I could be completely wrong on this (maybe it is a virual network device instead) but it’s a shot in the dark.
In talking with them, I learned some interesting bits about their products. One is that the clients only use onboard graphics. The gentleman I talked to who is the manager for the support (so he has to deal with anything that doesn’t work as it should) and he said that they have found that the Intel video chips give the most accurate color and video reproduction and don’t suffer from the same driver issues that the nVidia or AMD chips give. Also, with the hardware video acceleration, the onboard vide is more than powerful enough to drive a full 1080p signal without an trouble. A couple of other points he said was that they use Arcsoft’s Blu-ray player because it is most stable and reliable, and that they disable sleep and hibernate on the clients because they have found it to be too unstable and causes issues with HDCP handshaking and such.
The last fun device they had on display is a Blu-ray changer. The unique aspect to this device is that it works as an external USB drive which passes the data on the discs to a computer. It is a not a stand-alone set-top-box like the Sony changer is. S1Digital uses a licensed copy of My Movies for its Movie Storage, and you can actually use this changer as a mass-ripper by loading it up with discs and it will go through systematically and rip each disk. (I wouldn’t mind renting one for a few days to do my own collection). The device isn’t on the market yet, last I heard, and the unit shown was a non-working prototype.
· Supports vob, mkv, H.264, xvid
· TV support started in 2008
· Stereo audio only, no multichannel output to receiver from TV
Samsung had a lot of TVs. They were showcasing many different things, like all the other guys. They did have a DLNA equipped TV, which the sales person said supported VOB, mkv, H.264, xvid and non-HD divx files. That’s the best support I heard when talking to people and I was asking that question specifically. Look for a follow-up article at some point investigating this idea.
The only downside to the DLNA support on TV’s is that the audio is limited to stereo only, because the TV’s don’t have a way to decode the audio and then pass back more than 2 channels to a receiver. So not quite perfect, but still convenient none-the-less.
· Outlet strips have a master power connector, that when a cetain threshold of power is used, other powers get power. If under threshold, they’re turned off.
o Have in 4, 6, 8, and 10 out configurations
o All have phone/coax/network surge protection
SIIG is a company I hadn’t heard of, but they did have a specific item of interest. They do a lot of work in power outlets, and the product line they were showing had 4, 6, 8, and 10 outlet configurations. The selling feature of these devices is that one of the outlets on the strip is designated as the “master”. The strip then detects how much juice is being pulled by the device plugged into that outlet and if the power falls below a certain threshold, the outlet strip will completely turn off power to all of the “slave” outlets. The application to this is that you would plug your TV into the master and your receiver and players into the slave outlets and whenever you turn your TV off, it would power off all your other devices, and when you turned your TV back on, it would power them back up. It thought this was a really cool idea and would love to see this tech become more popular. I didn’t get a chance to look for pricing for the outlet strips, but conceivable, you would be saving money on your power bill due to the decreased power usage. The other really nice perk to these outlets strips is that they also do surge protection on a coax, phone, or network line so that you can make sure that your devices are protected from all incoming cabling.
· Only TV’s support DLNA. Blu-ray player and receiver only very specific partners
Sony was showcasing many different technologies in players, receivers and TV’s, but I thought I would highlight one section real-quick. They had all of their network connected devices next to each other to compare what they support. The TV is the only device of the trio that supports DLNA, while the Blu-ray player and the receiver supporting only very specific partners. The sales rep boasted that that Sony has more partnerships than anyone else, but really, does golflink.com really count towards your numbers?
· Have battery-backup solutions including one that will power-cycle a modem/router combination with an introduced delay on the router to properly operate
· Have IP based power management to remote diagnose problems. Includes thermometer reading, power usage, port on/off
Tripplite is another company that focuses on power-related equipment. They showed me a couple new technologies that they have. The first is a very specific power strip that has dedicated outlets for a modem (cable/dsl) and a router. The idea behind it is that if you ever need to reset your internet, you want to turn both your modem and router off, turn your modem on, wait a little bit, and then turn the router on. This device does all of that power delay for you so that it should, in theory, allow for a graceful router reset with minimal interaction. It thought it was a clever idea, but I don’t know how many people would need it.
The other thing they showed was an IP connected power management device. It was rack-mounted power bar that had around 8 outlets. The device has a built-in web-server that will let you monitor the total power usage by all of the devices, and also the ability to turn on and off individual outlets. They also have a thermometer accessory that will let you remotely get the temperature inside your rack. I could see some high-end custom installations finding all of these devices handy.
· Music Cast – MCXP200
· Comes with Twonky DLNA server
o FLAC support
· neoHD solution
That’s pretty much all of the booths that I visited. Let me leave you with some parting observations: Sadly, there wasn’t as much DLNA device support as I was hoping. There were many, many companies that had partnerships with specific services, such as vudu or Amazon Video on Demand, but not very many that supported an open standard such as DLNA. I’m guessing that a year from now things will change in that regard. There was also a big push towards green technology. I’m not a big fan of being green just for the sake of feeling better about one’s self, but I can really appreciate the efficiencies in devices such as self-dimming lamps that sense ambient daylight or automatically retracting shades that provide shade in the heat of the day or smart hot water heaters.
All-in-all I was able to glimpse what the more affluent live life with, and, in a sense, get an idea of what the average consumer will be living with 5-10 years from now. I consider it a great honor and a great privilege. I really enjoyed myself and the change to do some reporting for HomeServerShow.com I hope that I was able to share just a little bit of what is happening in the world of consumer electronics.
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