SMRCEDIA UK Expo. '99, SMR - Show Report
CEDIA is an international trade association of companies who specialise in planning or installing custom electronic systems for the home.  The 1999 UK Expo concentrated on home theatre and custom  installation, and of course SMR Home Theatre was in attendance.

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CEDIA UK delegate badgeThe Venue...

     The 1999 CEDIA Expo. UK, was held at the Novotel Hotel, Hammersmith, May 19th to 22nd.  The venue was (is) nothing to shout about, a large modern building with 640 rooms due for refurbishment shortly, but with adequate conference facilities and a much improved location over previous years (Selesdon Park, Croydon).  The food was dire - nothing to do with A/V however!


Exhibits Of Note...

     Richard Lord of REL showed a new sub-woofer, the Q200E which was no larger than 10ins square and obviously a direct rival to the small M&K, Velodyne and Sunfire models, only priced at an amazing 600.  Two were used in a system with Myriad processor/amps and Scandinavian loudspeakers the name of which I don't recall, and they outperformed many other much larger designs at the show both as a pair and singly. An interesting feature is the RELs ability to separately or simultaneously handle two inputs, one LFE and one either regular high-level or line level.  Dual controls allow each to be tailored individually and a filter bypass switch is provided if bass management is used at processor level.  The existing line-up of RELs have undergone cosmetic facelifts with sonic 'improvements' to popular models such as the Strata, Storm and Q100E.  Now if only Richard would just stop calling me "Stu!"

Meridian 800 Series DVD     Meridian's booth was tiny (tinny?), unusual for them in the UK although their presence was low-key in Chicago at Hi-Fi '99 also.  Not much audio to speak of, just L/C/R using really small loudspeakers and no sub, a surprise as I expected to see their new 'DSP' models which the Meridian guy proudly informed me were the first models in their range to use 96kHz sample rates.  Humm... anyone remember Nyquist whose law states that sample rates of only twice the highest frequency are needed to accurately reproduce an audio waveform?  Maybe Meridian's sub-woofers are capable of reproducing 43kHz... and maybe not!  The video side of things was excellent however, an 800 Series DVD player (almost in production) delivering images to a Fujitsu plasma display with integral Snell & Willcox interpolator.   Superb.  No tinkering required either (if you've seen Snell & Willcox in action you'll know what I mean), the system worked first time!  Incidentally, the Meridian guys didn't know (yet) how DVD-Audio transports would interface with processors "&we'll make our own proprietary links if it comes down to it" one said.   The 800 DVD is based around a DVD-ROM drive simply because it can extract just about any type of data from any type of disc, no matter what that may be just by updating software rather than hardware. If that Parasound AVC-2500is needed the drive can be replaced for a modest expense - cheaper than a new 800 that's for sure.  Unfortunately the drive is typical PC dirty grey, which is why the 800 has a drop-down flap to conceal the drawer.  Maybe Meridian could employ someone to paint them all black.

     The stand of CSE who distribute Lexicon, Straightwire, Parasound and others in the UK didn't put on an audio demonstration, but there were lots of exciting new products including an impressive-looking Parasound processor, the AVC-2500 which sports Dolby Digital, DTS, THX Ultra badges.  A notable inclusion on the rear panel of the AVC-2500 were two sets of component video inputs and one output set, enabling DVD or HDTV switching.  The processor - which isn't simply a decoder/pre-amp as it includes a tuner - is also capable of fully automatic calibration (channel levels and delay times) and a microphone is supplied for this very reason.  Parasound's new two-channel amp, the HCA-3500, an absolute beast also put in an appearance.  It's dual mono (requiring two mains cords), capable of 350watts RMS into 8ohms, true class A up to 15watts and it tips the scales at 85lbs.  You wouldn't want to drop that fellow on your toe.   In direct contrast were Parasound's Zone components, half-sized pre- and power amplifiers small enough to fit in any out-of-the-way corner.

Bryston 9B-ST   PMC, also responsible for Bryston, were right alongside the CSE stand creating a few awkward moments given the similarity between Bryston and Lexicon amplifiers but the representatives of each seemed welcome to peer into each other's products.  On show under the Bryston name was the new 9B ST modular multi-channel amp, which shares the same principals as the Krell KAV-500... only cheaper.  In its five channel form (one can create bridged multiples) the 9B ST delivers 120watts, 8ohm into all five channels simultaneously and inputs can be toggled between standard RCA line-level and XLR balanced, particularly suited to Bryston's own pre-amps and processors.   I was impressed by how cool to the touch it was, even though it had been running all day long.  Bryston also showed a pre-production Dolby Digital, DTS, THX processor.  A hybrid design, it had discrete digital and analogue signal paths, each element being on separate boards.  It should be competitively priced at circa 3,200.

     Also on the PMC stand were their own branded loudspeakers and taking centre stage their new FB1, a floorstanding cabinet about the size and shape of an NHT SuperTwo.  They've been introduced as demand for specific home theatre designs increases and were shown alongside a matching centre which can be mounted either horizontally or vertically and has matching drivers - of course.   The FB1 boast an impressive frequency response of PMC FB120Hz to 22kHz, although there wasn't LF content of note on the show-floor, from a cabinet 1meter high.   Available finishes are black (there's a surprise!) walnut or rosewood, the latter being particularly impressive.  Tentative price, for the black finish, is 1,100 per pair.

     Apart from Meridian's superb image display - there were other projectors of note - including a Seleco CRT too expensive to recall in detail for fear of serious financial damage (around 40,000).  Mass-market plasma displays, particularly those from Sony and Pioneer were less than impressive, especially the Pioneer which had just about every image problem you can imagine.  The Pioneer guy was tinkering with it as I skulked in the back of their room - as he reduced the sharpness control down to "0" he remarked to his colleague how much better it looked, not a surprise given many of the faults had been masked by the adjustment.   The Sony presence was less than confidence building, the staff on-hand knew little of their new DVD players - they were using a Panasonic as a source - and had never heard of an XBR monitor.

     Pioneer showed a prototype receiver offering DTS, Dolby Digital, MPEG-Audio (MPEG in Europe only) and THX Select processing priced at 1,600, the feature of note being the remote control, a touch-screen design offering ten pages of virtual keys and being fully user-programmable. I liked the design, particularly as oft-used buttons such as volume up/down and power on/off were regular keys - easy to find in the dark without activating the screen.

     On the loudspeaker front, the Wharfedale Loudpanels were on display (NXT flat-panel technology) and as usual were blow away by the sound of a passing gnat flapping it's wings, but their PR company bribed press members with glasses of champagne until we admitted in a drunken stupor they did sound good afterall& B&W's stand sounded atrocious no matter what drugs were injested and it was completely deserted, no surprise in the circumstances.

Genelec 1029A     Genelec's loudspeakers I really liked.   They're nearly all active monitors, connected via analogue line-level or S/P-DIF and available in a wide range of shapes and sizes.  I listened to a system comprising five 1029A (5" mid, " tweeter) and a 1091A sub-woofer with a Lexicon MC-1 and Panasonic DVD source.  Ashley Slade who is responsible for Genelec PR in the UK decided he'd be buying the Lexicon, although he did need a little assistance from yours truly to select the correct decoding option.  Anyway, I digress... this would be considered their budget system (OK, maybe not the processing part of it).  The room was small but the sense of spaciousness produced by the system was impressive, dialogue was clear and precise and dramatic scenes had the type of impact I've only previously heard from much larger boxes.  The 'Aria' scene from 'Fifth Element' was one demo piece, and even at reference level there was no sign of strain from any of the 'speakers.   The Genelec room was tucked away in a corner and overlooked by many, I sat alone for twenty minutes.  Either it was the location or my aftershave.

     One of the seminars I attended was Lexicon dealer training, the sole purpose being to heckle Bart LoPiccolo throughout.   Much to his relief I think I behaved and didn't disrupt the others who took part. An educated crew they were too, asking all the right questions at the right times. Actually, I had the feeling Bart would be preaching to the converted but even I learnt one or two things so I guess there's always something about a Lexicon you don't know.   There were a number of DC-2s and MC-1s at the show one of which was used by THX in their seminar.  The DC-2 was displayed in a case with innards exposed, but the MC-1 works were kept tightly under wraps - Lexicon are still being coy about their use of the AKM 4393 DACs.

     A little interesting news to come from THX is that Surround EX equipment will have either one or two additional centre surround outputs, at the discretion of individual manufacturers.   This will enable systems to use two centre surround amplifiers and loudspeakers, in much the same vein as the way Dolby Surround and Pro-logic are implemented today.   The first licensee of Surround EX is Lexicon, theyre planning on the introduction of operating software supporting EX sometime in September.  Whether therell be any software is another matter, but we can be sure Austin Powers II, the second theatrical EX movie will be released to DVD long before The Phantom Menace, the first EX motion picture.

     Disappointment of the show:   Those 'in the know' had it on good authority that at the end of the THX seminar, all (yawn) three hours of it, there would be a 15minute clip of 'The Phantom Menace', something THX refused to publicise.  The seminar was sparsely attended, I counted eleven, but at around 3pm vultures began to gather outside conference room 1 to catch the main event.  Remember, in the UK 'Phantom Menace' isn't released for months yet.   A atmosphere of excitement descended.  What did we get? A 90second clip with distorted monaural audio offset to the right of the screen which one Keith Haddock delicately described as "crap" in a rather vocal way.  Humm& remind me again what the THX philosophy is?  What a swizz.


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Last updated 30 May, 1999

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