by Mel Lambert | content-creators.com
With US consumer-electronic sales in 2010 reported to have topped $175 billion, followed by a forecast for 2011 sales of some $182 billion – matching 2008’s record-setting figures – it would appear that our economy is finally recovering. And if last year’s CES confab confirmed the accelerating acceptance of stereoscopic displays – further underscored by the recent announcement by ESPN of a 24/7 3D sports channel – then last week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas was all about generating audio and video content for the growing number of consumer-access channels, ranging from smart phones to fully integrated home-theater systems with high-speed access to media from a growing number of delivery sources.
In terms of hardware advances, 2011 is set to be the year of the PC tablet; what Apple started last April with its innovative iPad looks set to be repeated by close to 40 firms showing comparable offerings at this year’s CES, including the Motorola Xoom, the first Android Honeycomb tablet fitted with webcam, HD video and widescreen display. According to CEA figures, tablet sales for 2010 topped 10 million. And such devices are not just intended for content consumption. Several DAW manufacturers are already looking at enhanced tablet-based controllers that will feature touch-sensitive GUIs with on-surface interactive controls and full connectivity via WiFi and/or wired links. And by mid-year, it is expected that enhanced connectivity options and custom versions of current workstation software will further enhance our creative choices, not to mention provide interactive control of outboard equipment from a central mix position.
Both Dolby and DTS unveiled latest-generation audio-compression and related solutions tailored specifically for emergent media-delivery channels. “Consumers today are getting entertainment on new devices,” stated Kevin Yeaman, Dolby Laboratories’ president/CEO. “They should expect a rich, high-definition audio experience, where and when they want it, whether they are using a PC, tablet or smart phone.” In addition to a large booth on the exhibition floor spotlighting music, motion picture, TV and gaming applications, the Dolby Definition Lounge within the Rain Man Suite at nearby Caesars Palace enabled visitors to fully experience Dolby Surround 7.1 mixing. Avid Artist Series controllers replaying Pro Tools stems let participants hear for themselves how films such as Disney/Pixar’s Toy Story 3D and Disney’s Tron Legacy (the sixth movie to be offered in that immersive format) benefited from multichannel playback capabilities. Other new technologies unveiled at CES2011 included the re-designed PC Entertainment Experience, Home Theater v4 and Advanced Audio v2.
In addition to new offerings for automotive, movies, gaming, PC and IPTV markets – including two new set-top boxes for the French HDTV market – DTS showcased its new Neo:X technology, which is both a playback format and a repurposing codec for existing multichannel material. Within its presentation theater, the firm was showing a specially recorded composition in 11.1-channel – essentially, a 7.1-channel layout with two additional side channels and a pair of height channels above the front loudspeakers – that had been created especially for the event by music producer Patrick Leonard and sound designer Diego Stocco, plus a selection of current 5.1- and 7.1-channel Blu-ray soundtracks that were being processed within Neo:X to create a fully enveloping 11.1-channel experience. Neo:X is a consumer format being touted by DTS as the perfect accompaniment to 3D cinema, music or gaming presentations. (The first Neo:X-equipped products are expected to ship in Q2-2011.) The firm was also showing a proof-of-concept demonstration for live digital delivery of 3D video with DTS HD surround sound over Verizon’s new FiOS internet TV service.
More powerful production tools are also just around the corner, courtesy of new developments from Intel and Microsoft. Second-generation versions of Intel’s Core i3/5/7 processors – codenamed Sandy Bridge – were formally unveiled at CES2011 and look set to offer more creative horsepower for laptop systems. The new Core i7-2720QM, for example, is described as being 831% faster than its predecessor. “The integration of the microprocessor and Internet is the foundation of an ecosystem that Intel is building around smart TV, netbooks, tablets and cars,” offered Intel president/CEO Paul Otellini.
The processor family takes advantage of new onboard graphics technology with 32-nanometer silicon technology, and integrates an HD processor, a shared L3 cache that is both part of the graphics card and a low-power, high-performance core engine. Sandy Bridge also enables three new functions: Intel Insider, which provides enhanced content protection, and will be used by Warner and Fox to protect copyrighted video streams; Quick Sync, which accelerates video-format conversions; and Wireless Display/WiDi 2.0, which enables real-time 1080p steaming from a PC/laptop to a HDTV TV or display.
For pro-audio/video applications, the new Intel architecture will dramatically reduce rendering and transcode times for a variety of material, in addition to streaming files via WiFi links from laptops to large-screen monitor displays. Otellini told a standing-room-only CES press event that Sandy Bridge will represent more than a third of Intel Corp’s revenue, with a total of $125 billion from the PC industry.
In his traditional pre-CES keynote address, Microsoft president/CEO Steve Ballmer stressed the importance of gaming platforms, stating that in the product’s first 60 days, some eight million XBOX 360 Kinect consoles had been sold, a success well beyond the company’s estimate of five million. By spring, XBOX 360 will be able to view Netflix and Hulu Plus content, using Kinect as the remote control. And Windows’ upcoming support of System on a Chip will streamline the development of interactive, streaming and on-demand hardware. “Whatever device you use now or in the future,” Ballmer concluded, “Windows will be there.” The firm also unveiled Touch Mouse, a multitouch device for Windows 7 that combines the virtues of a mouse with finger-based gesturing for interactive GUIs.
Monster received a CES Innovations 2011 Design and Engineering Award for its Max 3D Universal Shutter Eyewear System, which is compatible with all stereoscopic 3DTV systems, in addition to announcing reduced pricing for several cable and reference headphone series. The firm unveiled new TRON Daft Punk Special Edition and Miles Davis Trumpet headphones; Monster and Crestron have also partnered in a series of HDMI-based products for the custom-installation market.
High-end audio exhibits at The Venetian included a number of familiar brands. Westlake Audio president Glenn Phoenix demonstrated a pair of LC8.1 bookshelf speakers that had been equipped with Phoenix Effect antennas laced around the component drivers and connected back to the Boulder power amplifier via a dedicated connection; the add-on is said to dramatically reduce PE-sourced sonic anomalies. Whatever the mechanism, the result from the modified systems sounded remarkably open and transparent with a variety of playback material.
Studio guru and speaker designer Alan Sides was also showing off the virtue of his Viola Audio-powered Ocean Way HR3 Reference Monitors with a variety of Sides-recorded material, including a 30-ips analog tape of the Jaws soundtrack secured 33 years ago using just two overhead mics. Doesn’t get any better than that, in my humble estimation. Manley Laboratories was replaying a range of material via a pair of Neo-Classic 250 Monoblock-powered Tannoy Kingdom loudspeakers using a choice of Linn Akurate Music Server front end and a Linn Soundek LP12 turntable and Steelhead phono stage; both digital and analog sources sounded outstanding.
Finally, the Consumer Electronics Association presented its Digital Patriot Awards to the Federal Communication Commission in acknowledgement of the latter’s National Broadband Plan for freeing up spectrum and meeting growing broadband demand.
Mel Lambert has been intimately involved with the international AV production industry for more years than he cares to remember. He is principal of Content-Creators.com, a Los Angeles-based consulting service, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.