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The Latest Home Theater Tech from the 2016 CES


Auro 3D Audio - Surround Sound On Steroids!
In addition to video, audio is a very important part of home theater, but also of CES. At the 2016 CES there were hundreds of audio products on display, and for home theater there were some great products and demos.
For me, the most impactful audio demo was provided by Auro 3D Audio. Auro 3D Audio, in the consumer space, is a competitor to the Dolby Atmos and DTS:X immersive surround sound formats, but has its own characteristics.
In its basic form, Auro 3D Audio starts with a traditional 5.1 channel speaker layer and subwoofer, then surrounding the listening room (above the listening position) is a set of front and surround speakers. Finally, in the ceiling the Auro 3D audio format employs a single ceiling mounted speaker referred to the as the VOG (Voice of God).
The goal of Auro 3D Audio us, to provide an immersive surround sound experience (similar to Dolby Atmos and DTS:X) by encasing the listening environment in a "bubble".
What was impressive is that although Dolby Atmos and DTS:X provide a similar immersive surround effect with movies, I felt that Auro 3D Audio did a better job with music.
Additional characteristics I noticed, is that when the height layer was activated, the sound not only went vertical, but also became wider in the physical gap between the front and rear speakers. This means that there is no need to actually have a set of wide speakers to get an wide open surround sound experience.
In order to get the full benefit of Auro 3D Audio, you need movie or music content that is properly encoded (Check out the Official List of Auro 3D Audio-encoded Blu-ray Discs).
However, as part of the implementation of this format, and Auro Technologies also provides and additional upmixer (referred to as Auro-Matic) that can take advantage of the Auro 3D Audio Speaker layout.
Auro-Matic not only does a good job with expanding the surround sound experience of traditional 5.1/7.1 channel content, but also does an effective job of bringing out sonic detail and expanding the soundfield up for both two channel and mono (yes, I said mono) source material, without exaggerating the intent of the original recording.
As a final demo, I was also treated to the headphone version Auro 3D Audio, and it was definitely one of the best surround-over-headphones listening experiences I have had. The Auro 3D headphone experience will work with any set of Binaural (stereo) headphones and receiver/headphone amplifier (or even tablet or smartphone) that incorporates the technolology or app.
Auro 3D Audio for home theater is currently available as either a built-in or upgrade format for a select number of home theater receivers and AV processors, including higher-end units from Denon and Marantz, as well as several independent manufacturers, such asStorm Audio.

Martin Logan's Dolby Atmos Solution

Dolby Atmos is becoming a more common feature in home theater receivers, but to take advantage of the immersive surround sound format, in addition to Dolby Atmos-encoded content, you to add either at least two ceiling mounted speakers, or add a vertically firing floor or bookshelf speakers.
Several speaker makers have answered the call, including Martin Logan, which is offering up its Motion AFX Dolby Atmos height effects speaker module, which goes for $599.95 per pair (Buy From Amazon).
The Motion AFX is designed to be placed on top of existing speakers, such as several of Martin Logan's Motion Series, but can be used in combination with other branded speakers, provided there is room on top of the speaker enclosure to place the Motion AFX module.

Wireless Home Theater Speakers Come Of Age

For several years, WiSA (The Wireless Speaker and Audio Association) has been at CES showing the potential of wireless speakers suitable for use in a home theater environment. We are not talking portable Bluetooth or Wifi speakers, but wireless speaker options that have enough built-in amplifier power for room-filling surround sound.
At this year's CES, WiSA displayed products from Klipsch and Axiim that will be available in 2016.
The WiSA banner talking points on the left, examples of the Klipsch wireless speaker control center and Axiim wireless AV receiver (sitting on top of a Klipsch wireless center channel home theater speaker, and, on the right is the rear of a Klipsch wireless home theater speaker that illustrates how easy it is to set up.
All you have to do is designate where you are placing the speaker (left, center, right, left surround, right surround) by pressing the appropriate labeled button on the Klipsch speaker, and either the Klipsch control center or Axiim AV receiver will detect and identify the speakers and perform all the needed setup functions to get going.
Also, one of the features of WiSA-enabled products is that in most cases, brands are interchangeable, which provides flexibility in purchasing and using products bearing the WISA logo.
Also included on the above photo montage is a look at Klipsch's entire WiSA approved wireless home theater speaker system that was on display at Klipsch's booth during the 2016 CES.
However, it is also important to point out that even the speakers are labeled as "wireless" - they still need to be connected to an AC power source so that built-in amplifiers can function.

Bang & Olufsen Goes Big and Small

One of the most interesting audio presentations at CES every year is put on by Bang & Olufsen, and the 2016 CES was no exception.
The Demark-based audio company is well-known for three things: Excellent Sound, Excellent Product Design, and, High Prices. However, no matter what your budget, if you have an opportunity see and listen to their products, you are in for a real treat.
Shown in the above photo are the two main products showcased for 2016, the imposingBeoLab 90 Powered Loudspeaker, and the sound bar-looking BeoSound 35 Wireless Music System.

BeoLab 90
First up, the BeoLab 90. Although its design is really weird, to say the least, the sound it produces is nothing short of amazing.
Bordering on magic, the BeoLab 90's built-in room correction system can create a stereo sweet spot for multiple listeners sitting in up to 5 different room locations at the same time - a phenomenal feat when you consider the complex physics that is required to accomplish this.

BeoSound 35
The BeoSound 35, on the other hand is definitely a more modest audio product (at least in Bang & Olusen terms), but offers a high-end twist on the wireless music system concept.
The BeoSound 35 can be wall or shelf mounted, and, yes, it can be used as a sound bar for your TV (albeit a very expensive one). However, it also has the ability to stream music from the internet from a variety of source (Tunein, Deezer, and Spotify), and also incorporates Apple AirPlay, DLNA, Bluetooth 4.0.
In addition, the BeoSound 35 can stream music to other compatible Bang & Olfusen wireless speaker products, allowing it to serve as an anchor for a multi-room audio system.
The BeoSound 35 also incorporates light, but heavy duty, aluminum construction, housing two 4-inch mid-range/bass drivers and two 3/4-inch tweeters (which face outward to the sides at 30-degrees providing a wide stereo image). The entire system is powered by four 80 watt amplifiers (one for each speaker).
Although not as sophisticated as the monster BeoLab 90, the BeoSound 35 effortlessly produced room filling sound during the CES demo presentation.
The BeoSound 35 is priced at $2,785 (USD) and is expected to be available through Authorized Bang & Olfusen dealers beginning mid-April 2016.

Our Audio Past Becomes Trendy Again

CES is all about the future of consumer technology, but in one important case, our past is returning for a second run.
In the past few years there has been renewed interest in analog two-channel audio and vinyl records. Combine that with the introduction of Hi-Res two-channel digital audio, and you have a new hybrid of listening options for both casual and serious music listening options for consumers.
With that in mind, there were several exhibits at the 2016 CES showcasing audio turntables and two-channel stereo receivers, including Sony, who displayed their new PS-HX500 turntable (which also performs analog-to-digital audio conversion), Onkyo with their previously released flagship two-channel analog and network and hi-res audio enabled TX-8160 two-channel stereo receiver (Read my previous report for full details), and Panasonic, with several new products from their resurrected Technics audio brand - including the SL-1200GAE 50th Anniversary Limited Edition turntable.
High quality music listening is back!

Dish Goes Over The Top

A lot of products are showcased at the annual CES, and, frankly, some of them are just plain "over-the-top". For 2016, my pick for the most over-the-top product at CES is Dish's Hopper 3 HD Satellite DVR.
So what is so unusual about the Hopper 3 The answer: It has 16 built-in satellite TV tuners!
What this means is that the Hopper 3 can record up to 16 TV programs at once. This is more than enough capacity for even the most avid video recording fanatic.
To further facilitate all that recording capacity, the Hopper 3 also comes with a built-in 2 Terabyte hard drive.
In addition, the Hopper 3 can display four channels on your TV screen at once (referred as the "Sports Bar mode") - If you have a 4K Ultra HD TV, that means 4 live 1080p resolutionimages on a single screen.
Other features include a beef-up processor for increased menu navigation speed, and the ability to work with Dish's satellite Joey boxes for even more recording and multi-room TV viewing capability.
Dish is also coming out with a new Voice-enabled Remote Control for the Hopper system.

Home Theater Gets Personal

To finish off my annual CES wrap-up report, we wanted to include something a little different.
At last year's CES we got the first taste of Virtual Reality with a look at the Samsung Gear VR, so this year we wanted to dig a little deeper to see how such devices might fit in with the home theater experience.
In search, we found two such product variations that are not so much Virtual Reality-oriented, but more optimized for movie watching, the Vuzix iWear Video Headphones and Royole X Smart Mobile Theater.
Neither product requires the use of a Smartphone as its screen.
Keeping with the home theater theme, both devices allow you to connect an HDMI source (such as Blu-ray Disc player) to small control box, that is, in turn, then connected to the headset.
In the headset there are the glasses (which allow 2D or 3D viewing depending on content) that incorporate separated LCD screens for each eye, as well as a audio headphone system that allows for surround sound listening.
Both systems, despite their bulky appearance, where fairly comfortable after a few minutes (you have to get used to it).
What you see is a virtual large movie screen, and what you hear (depending on content) is a pretty decent surround sound experience.
Although both systems need a little tweaking (higher-resolution screens, and a little more compactness), the movie watching experience was pretty good.
For the home, such devices can allow you to watch a Blu-ray Disc movie, along with thunderous surround sound, without disturbing the neighbors, or the rest your family, on those late nights.
For the road (not while you are driving, of course!), you can take your home theater experience with you just take along your iWear Video Headphones or Smart Mobile Theater, plug in a compatible source (some Blu-ray Disc players are so compact, you would fit one in a small laptop bag), and you are all set.
It will be interesting to see how these products are accepted by consumers in 2016.