Last week, over 20,000 custom installers, electronics manufacturers, influencers and journalists converged in Denver, Colorado for CEDIA Expo 2023. Robert Silva and I covered the event for eCoustics this year and we’re happy to report that there are a lot of cool and exciting things happening in the home audio, home theater and home video space. Here are some of the standout demos, companies and technologies we saw and heard at the show. Most of these picks were chosen jointly by Robert and me, but where Robert had a different opinion, his choice is also included below mine.
Portions of this article also appear on BigPictureBigSound.com.
Most Innovative Video Display: Jupiter 21:9 Direct View Displays
While there were a lot of great displays to be seen at CEDIA Expo, the one that stood out most to me for innovation was from Jupiter (the company, not the planet). Jupiter specializes exclusively in 21:9 flat panel displays. The ultrawide 21:9 (2.33:1) aspect ratio makes them ideal for watching movies and episodic TV series which are composed for the CinemaScope screen format. And while you can certainly display 21:9 content on a traditional 16:9 widescreen display, you get those letterbox bars at the top and bottom of the screen which can be distracting.
In addition to watching movies, the company stated that they also see customers using their displays for video conferencing and other multi-view purposes (e.g., picture in picture or picture next-to picture). Why watch one football game when you can watch three, side by side? While companies such as LG, Samsung, Philips and Vizio previously dabbled in the 21:9 display market for home use, those models are long obsolete or never came to market and none of the larger TV vendors are currently offering 21:9 aspect ratio screens to consumers in large sizes.
While it is possible to create a custom 21:9 display using MicroLED modules or projection-based systems, these generally require more complicated installation as well as much higher price tags.
Jupiter’s 21:9 Direct View LED/LCD panels sell for a fairly reasonable $5,000 in the 81-inch diagonal size (Pana 81) and $13,000 in the 105-inch version (Pana 105) which we saw in person at CEDIA Expo in Theory Audio Design’s booth. Jupiter offers 21:9 displays sized from 34 inches up to 281 inches, however, everything above 105 inches uses component-based MicroLED technology, assembled on site in custom sizes.
More information: Jupiter.com
Robert’s Pick for Most Innovative Display: LG StanByMe Suitcase Display
As Robert says, “Instead of going big for my pick for most innovative display at CEDIA Expo, I went small with the LG StanbyME Go ($999).“
This wireless TV has a 27-inch LED/LCD 1080p touchscreen and is packed within a heavy-duty padded suitcase. It weighs about 30 pounds and can run for three hours on its built-in battery power or unlimited time on AC power.
Here some great ideas on what you can use the StanbyME GO for:
- RV traveling
- One-on-one Business Presentations
- Classroom instruction
- Home Office (move the display around the house as needed)
- Dorm Room or Studio apartment
- Small Patio
More information: LG’s StanbyME Go TV in a Suitcase Offer Wireless Connectivity
Best TV Overall: Sony Bravia XR A95L QD-OLED 4K Google TV
It’s hard to beat OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) TVs for picture quality: rich saturated colors pop off a deep inky black backdrop for an almost three dimensional picture. And this year’s Sony flagship the Bravia XR A95L QD-OLED takes OLED picture quality to the next level. The A95L starts with Samsung Display’s latest QD-OLED panel and wraps it in a slick Sony chassis built on Google TV and featuring the latest version of Sony’s advanced Cognitive Processor XR. The new QD-OLED panel offers up to twice the peak brightness of last year’s model and includes support for Dolby Vision HDR, something that has become more common on streaming services and even Ultra HD Blu-ray Discs.
Sony’s Bravia XR A95L QD-OLED combines the brightness and color accuracy advantages of quantum dots with the contrast and black levels of organic light emitting diodes. The A95L is built on the Google TV platform, with access to Netflix, Apple TV+, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, MAX and virtually all the rest of the most popular audio and video streaming apps. An integrated microphone allows you to use the set with Google or Amazon Alexa voice assistants.
Sadly, this high-end Sony TV probably won’t be a doorbuster at Best Buy this Black Friday as it’s a bit pricier than the average 4K TV. The 55-inch A95L sells for $2,799, the 65-inch model sells for $3,499, and the 77-incher lists for $4,999.
Robert had this to add:
“I agreed with Chris on this pick. The one thing I would like to add is that many often don’t give Sony credit for its excellent video processing and upscaling. Even though it is using a Samsung-made QD-OLED panel, Sony’s processing capabilities elevates this set a little higher.”
More information: Sony 2023 OLED TVs Are Up to 200% Brighter than Last Year’s Models
Best Extra Large TV: LG 97-inch M3 Wireless OLED 4K TV
While TV screens come in all sizes, most of what was on display at CEDIA Expo was on the larger end of the size spectrum. The show is primarily for custom installers who are putting in high end home theaters for their clients so the dominance of ultra large screens at the show makes sense. LG’s 97-inch M3 4K Wireless OLED TV stands out for a few reasons. Its large size makes it a viable choice for home theater. Its new Evo OLED panel with ALR technology makes it up to 60% brighter than last year’s best LG OLED models and its fully wireless audio/video capability is a first for 4K OLED TVs.
Instead of requiring that you plug your sources directly into the TV, the company provides a separate module to handle all of the hook-ups. LG’s “Zero Connect” box accepts network connections, HDMI, USB and analog audio/video connections and transmits the audio and video signals directly to the display. If you’re putting this big boy into an open space, it’s nice to know that the only cable you’ll need to plug in is a power cord. Even the speakers are wireless as the TV includes WiSA on board for wireless speaker connectivity.
The 97-inch M3 model sells for $29,999 while an 83-inch version is available for $7,999. The 77-inch M3 sells for $4,999 which is only a $500 premium over its otherwise identical wired brother the G3. If you’re going to mount your TV in the wall, I’d say go for the G3 instead as you’ll be able to hide the wires, but if a TV in the middle of a wide open floor plan is what you’re going for, the M3’s single power cable requirement makes for a compelling choice.
More information: LG M3 97-inch 4K OLED TV Offers High Performance Without Wires
Robert’s Pick for Best Extra Large TV: Hisense U8K 100inch MiniLED TV
“Although I really liked the LG M3 97-inch TV, one thing that put me back a little is that Zero Connect box requires a line-of-sight wireless connection with the OLED display panel. Although that is necessarily deal breaker, it does mean that you can’t the Zero Connect Box inside a cabinet or out-of-sight. It is important that potential customers (and installers) are aware of this requirement.”
“For my pick for Best Extra Large TV, I chose the Hisense UX U8K 100-inch MiniLED TV. Not only is it a few inches bigger than the LG M3 but is one-third the price at $10,000. OK, so its not OLED so the Hisense can’t display absolute black levels as impressively as the LG, but its MiniLED implementation does include 1500 dimming zones which provide deep blacks and excellent contrast that will please most viewers. Also, with 1,600 lumens light output, this set does a great job with HDR.”
Best Projector: Barco Residential Njord CS CinemaScope Projector
If your screen size requirements exceed 100 inches, you’re going to have to crack open that wallet just a little bit (OK, a lot) wider. Several manufacturers offer projectors that can fill a screen over 100 inches but few are going to give you better results that Barco’s Njord CinemaScope. With 9,000 Lumens of peak brightness, the Njord CS was able to fill screens at or around 200 inches wide in both the Trinnov and StormAudio home theater rooms at CEDIA Expo. Unlike most home theater projectors, the Njord CS is optimized for CinemaScope (2.37:1) viewing. It uses three of Texas Instruments large 0.9″ DLP chips with pixel shifting to create a full 5K resolution. Fed with high quality 4K HDR content from a Kaleidescape media server, the Njord CS created a big, bright, beautiful image, free of the motion and pixilation artifacts we see on some less expensive projectors.
But alas, the best does not come cheaply. Barco’s Njord CS sells for $164,000. Screen not included. For that we’d suggest models from Seymour Screen Excellence or Stewart Filmscreen. Seymour’s Enlightor-Neo matte finish woven screen was used with the Barco projector in both the Trinnov and StormAudio rooms to excellent effect. The screen is made to be acoustically transparent with an ultra-fine weave so you can mount your speakers behind it for transparent sound, without losing any of the picture details.
Robert had these thoughts to add:
“I agree with Chris on this one, this projector was hands-down the best projector I saw at CEDIA. For me one thing to point out is that video projectors generally have difficulty displaying HDR properly because they can’t output as much light as a high-end TV. However, with 9,000 Lumens light out, the Barco Njord CS does HDR content justice. Of course, just as Chris mentioned you have to shell out $164,000 to own one, and you need to make room to place it – this is not a typical compact or normal-sized projector.
More information: Barco Residential Njord CS Projector
Best Two-Channel Audio: Naim Statement Powering Focal Grande Utopia EM Evo speakers
As far as “purist” two-channel stereo systems,there weren’t too many of these on display. While there is still a market for 2-channel systems for hard-core audiophiles, the CEDIA Expo places more emphasis on smart home integration and multi-channel home theater systems as this is where custom installers see the most opportunities. That said, I was surprised that Focal had their Grande Utopia EM EVO four-way flagship speakers ($280,000) set up in the open on the show floor. No booth or barriers around it to keep out the noise.
While the system sounded great, even on the crowded show floor, it sounded even better later in the show when attendees started clearing out. I got to hear this incredible pair of speakers powered by the Naim Statement preamp/power amp combination ($300,000). Just lovely balanced sound with three dimensional imaging, excellent deep bass extension and high decibel levels with ultra low distortion thanks to the Naim amp’s clean 746 watts of power (per channel).
Robert felt similarly about the system and had these additional comments:
“This system blew me away. I actually wandered into the FOCAL/NAIM booth while leaving another booth and was not only impressed the look of this speaker setup, but the sound was amazing. Considering these speakers were running on an open exhibit floor, the sound coming from these speaker cut through all the other booth and crowd noise and I just took a little break and listened. I may be exaggerating but these speakers sounded so good that everything else in the hall just seemed like noise.”
Best “Cost-No-Object” Home Theater Audio: Trinnov Audio “WaveForming,” Ascendo Speakers
Continuing on with the “cost no object” systems, Trinnov partnered with Crescendo loudspeakers to demonstrate Trinnov’s new “WaveForming” technology. In development for over seven years, WaveForming uses comprehensive sonic measurements, precise subwoofer placement and advanced digital processing to solve one of the “holy grails” in the quest for perfect home theater sound: uneven bass response. And this technology was used at CEDIA Expo to create one of the most impressive home theater systems I’ve ever heard.
In a typical home theater or living room, it is nearly impossible to get uniform low frequency response. Low frequency sound waves like to bounce around the room creating standing waves (where bass is exaggerated) and bass nodes (where bass is low or even non-existent) in different parts of the room. This happens when two or more low frequency waves overlap and interfere with each other thereby reducing or increasing the presence of specific bass frequencies in different parts of the room. Using WaveForming, one array of subwoofers is placed in the front of the room to “transmit” the bass while a second array is placed in the back of the room to “absorb” the bass. Basically the rear subwoofers are used to cancel out and shape the bass waves and prevent them from propagating all over the room.
The system that these companies set up was over-the-top: 43 speakers, with 24 subwoofers powered by over 125,000 watts of amplification. The room was custom-built in Italy by custom install company Officina Acoustica. The gear was set up in the room in Italy for measurement and calibration then shipped to Denver where it was re-assembled on the show floor in under three days.
These guys didn’t slouch in the video department either, with Barco’s Njord CS projector lighting up a 189-inch wide Enlightor-Neo screen in a 2.37:1 CinemaScope configuration. MadVR’s latest Envy Extreme Mark 2 processor was used for HDR tone-mapping and AI-based motion processing. For source material, the company used Kaleidescape’s latest media server with 4K HDR content and Dolby Atmos immersive surround.
While the movie clips were impressive with tight focus, a cohesive dome of three dimensional sound, deep, precise and impactful bass response, it was a much simpler demo that proved even more effective. The company played a low bass sweep from 20 Hz to 100 Hz. First, without WaveForming, the bass frequency exhibited the typical problems we hear in home theater systems: peaking in some frequencies, disappearing in others: it was a very bumpy ride. Then they played the same sweep with WaveForming turned on and the sound level stayed just about perfectly consistent through the entire sweep. I sat through the demo a second time and heard the same results in a completely different part of the room. Many companies promise that every seat will be the “best seat in the house” but Trinnov Audio appears to be delivering on this promise.
While 24 subwoofers is a lot to ask (even for one percenters), Trinnov demonstrated that they can get good results with as few as five subwoofers – three in the front for transmission, two in the back for absorption. The first part of the demo, a scene from “John Wick 4” used just five subs and had impressively even bass response, with deep extension and excellent dynamics. When more subwoofers were added for the later clips, the fullness, definition and extension of the bass response improved even further.
When pressed for pricing of the full system, all the exhibitors would say was that it was “well into seven figures,” so yeah, over a million dollars including gear and installation. But for those with the resources, these products and technologies can provide a very special viewing and listening experience at home.
Robert agreed and had this to add:
“This was THE demo of the show. One of the hardest things to get right in a home theater setup is getting your subwoofer to sound right. Using 5, 14, and 24 subwoofers Trinnov successfully demonstrated how their Waveforming technology could eliminate the effect of standing waves and other issues associated with Subwoofers. Although 24 subwoofers provided the best result, I was perfectly satisfied with the part of the demo that utilized “just” 5 subwoofers. Also, I am not just referring to how loud or deep the subwoofers went, but the layering and detail that was present even in parts that didn’t call for those “big punches.”
Best Reasonably Priced Home Theater and Stereo Sound: Theory Audio Design ic6 In-Ceiling/In-Wall Speaker
If you don’t have a few hundred thousand dollars burning a hole in your pocket, don’t despair! There are plenty of more affordable options that can provide excellent sound. Case in point: Theory Audio Design’s ic6 in-ceiling speaker ($675/each). These versatile point source loudspeakers were the brainchild of legendary speaker designer Paul Hales, who also founded the company. Although they are intended for in-ceiling use, they’re also perfectly happy sitting in a wall, in an external cabinet for surface mounting or in a pendant housing, hanging from the ceiling.
Theory started their CEDIA Expo demo with just a pair of in the ic6 speakers installed into the front wall. These 9″ diameter round speakers feature a coax point source driver with a 1.4″ advanced polymer compression tweeter surrounded by a 6.5″ carbon fiber woofer. When Hales started playing music, we were blown away by the rich dynamic sound. On their own, the bass response doesn’t go below about 60 Hz, but the bass that was present was full and precise. Hales showed the same speaker in a pendant design and in cabinets for on-wall or on-ceiling placement. The timbre was the same no matter how it was housed.
After a while, Hales added one of their subs to the mix and things got really interesting. Instruments and voices just sounded real, piano sounded like a piano, drums had the snap and attack you hear from a live kit, and vocals floated in space with a tangible presence. With the subwoofer added — their new iws12-9 High Output Multi-Mount Sub ($2,050) — the bass extended all the way down to about 24 Hz. The character of the sound did not change, but the extended bass response provided much more heft, impact and weight to the mix, adding to the overall sense of realism.
The only additional consideration for prospective installers and customers is that Theory speakers are designed to work with Theory’s own ALCs (Amplified Loudspeaker Controllers). These are more than just amplifiers, with advanced DSP and processing on board to make each speaker sound its best in its specific location. The Theory DLC-250.4 500W 4-channel amplified loudspeaker controller sells for $1,950 and can drive four independent channels and up to 16 Theory Audio speakers. Its compact design takes up half a standard rack space, so it’s easy to fit two of these in a rack to power a full 5.1.2-channel immersive surround system. Just add your favorite A/V processor (or receiver with preamp outputs) and you’ll be off and running (and rocking and rolling) without having to take out a second mortgage.
Robert also appreciated what the Theory system had to offer and had these additional notes:
“I’ve never thought of Theory Audio Design as ‘affordable’ but in the world of custom installation, what I heard and saw at this demo definitely fine-tuned my perspective on what the company is all about. The fact that Theory was able to design an inexpensive speaker (ic6) that can be implemented in several different form factors (in-wall, on-wall, in-ceiling, and pendant) and deliver the same quality result is really innovative and impressive.”
“Even with out using a sub, the speakers were clean down to 60Hz. Of course, if you need a sub Theory Audio has one of those too (iws12-9). The only downside in terms of total cost of a Theory system is that you have to use their amps and processors. However, that insures the best audio results.”
More information: Theory Audio Design Wows Crowds at CEDIA Expo
Best Wireless Multi-Channel Immersive Audio Technology: DTS Play-Fi and WiSA Technologies
Although CEDIA Expo is all about professional installers and custom home theaters, the show also had vendors, products and technologies that would appeal to A/V hobbyists and general consumers as well. While movie-lovers enjoy immersive surround sound like Dolby Atmos and IMAX in theaters, one factor that has limited the adoption of these immersive formats at home is the complexity and cost of a multi-channel surround system. Many folks don’t want to pay a lot for a surround sound system and don’t want to have to deal with running multiple speaker wires all over the room.
While there are several TV makers and speaker makers like Sonos who offer their own proprietary wireless speaker solutions, two companies are making strides in bringing to market new wireless surround sound technologies that could be embedded into any TV, soundbar or speaker design. This pursuit of a new wireless multi-channel standard would allow customers to choose a compatible TV from any brand and match that up with a compatible speaker system, also from any brand. The two companies working on these new standards are WiSA Technologies (Wireless Sound and Audio) and DTS with DTS Play-Fi.
WiSA has been delivering wireless speaker solutions for over a decade and recently expanded into multi-channel surround. WiSA offers three different flavors of wireless multi-channel audio.
WiSA HT (Home Theater) supports up to eight channels of wireless audio (7.1 or 5.1.2 surround). With the help of a wireless dongle, WiSA HT can work with any TV that has an HDMI eARC port. WiSA HT is a audiophile-friendly format with support for multi-channel 24/96 High Res Audio over wireless. It also features extremely low latency which means you shouldn’t see any lip synch delays or problems synchronizing speakers in multiple rooms. It is not yet available in TVs, but the SoundSend dongle can be used with just about any modern TV with an HDMI eARC port. This does make installation slightly more complicated.
WiSA DS (Discrete System) – this is a hybrid wired/wireless system for sound bars which relies on the front channels (front left, center, front right and front height channels) to be delivered from the TV using an HDMI cable with eARC. The soundbar then has a WiSA DS transmitter on-board which sends the rear surround, rear height and subwoofer channels out to those speakers wirelessly. Since the soundbar is normally placed very close to the TV, the requirement for a wire here is not too inconvenient. Using this hybrid system, WiSA DS can support 5.1.4-channel immersive surround (5 surround channels, 1 subwoofer and 4 height channels). The WiSA DS format does not support High Res Audio but it does offer “better than CD quality” at 16-bit/48KHz.
WiSA E is the company’s latest offering, like WiSA HT, WiSA E supports up to eight channels as of now, but could be expanded to more channels over time. And though both WiSA HT and WiSA E currently require the use of WiSA’s proprietary transmitter chip, company reps told us that they are working to deliver a software-only solution for WiSA E that will work with any of the commonly used WiFi chips in current TVs. WiSA E also supports High Res Audio but at lower resolution than Wisa HT (24-bit-48KHz).
Meanwhile DTS has their own multi-channel surround format called DTS Play-Fi. At CEDIA Expo, the company announced (and demonstrated) the latest version of Play-Fi “DTS Play-Fi Immersive Home Theater” which now supports up to 12 channels of sound. This gives the DTS Play-Fi format the ability to deliver a full 7.1.4-channel immersive surround sound system, seven ear-level surround speakers, a subwoofer and four height speakers. Technically the system can drive a 7.2.4-channel system, but both of the subwoofers receive the same low frequency signal. 7.1.4 is considered by many home theater pros to be enough channels and speakers to create a seamless immersive surround sound stage even in medium to large living rooms and DIY home theaters. Also, DTS said that their solution is designed to be software-only on the TV side, which means it can be ported to multiple TV brands, regardless of their WiFi chipset.
It’s important to note that while DTS is the brand behind Play-Fi, DTS Play-Fi is perfectly happy reproducing Dolby Atmos or IMAX Enhanced immersive surround. The surround decoder is actually built into the TV, where the Dolby or DTS surround signal is converted into multi-channel PCM sound. This multi-channel PCM signal is then sent wirelessly to all compatible speakers in the room.
Having spoken at length to executives from both companies, I’m encouraged that both formats seem to be making good progress. But neither format has “arrived” just yet. By that I mean that for either format to succeed, they need partners: TV makers and speaker manufacturers who will license and embed the companies’ technologies into their products.
DTS Play-Fi does seem to be a little further along in that they recently announced that TPV, makers of Philips TVs in Europe will include DTS Play-Fi Immersive Home Theater in select Philips TVs which will come to market within the year. Philips also already has DTS Play-Fi-compatible soundbars and speakers available now in both Europe and the United States. The product is far enough along that they were able to give live demos of a full 7.1.4-channel immersive surround sound system and showed us what the DTS Play-Fi user interface and set-up screens look like inside the Philips TV menu. Meanwhile WiSA’s speaker partner Platin does have 5.1.2 and 5.1.4 channel immersive speaker systems that support WiSA HT and WiSA DS in production, but the multi-channel WiSA formats have not been announced by any TV manufacturers yet.
We’re expecting to see additional partnership announcements at CES that might reveal which of these technologies is going to gain market share in wider markets such as the United States. Hopefully by this time next year, there will be more options for simple wireless immersive surround sound that customers can actually buy and set up in their own homes.
Robert had these thoughts to add:
“Chris summed up everything pretty well on what was shown at CEDIA for both DTS Play-Fi and WiSA. The only thing I would like to add is that although WiSA was pretty much the only generally accepted wireless home theater option until DTS Play-Fi decided to jump in with both feet, I don’t think they are threats to each other. I feel that not only will refinement accelerate, but more consumers will become aware that wireless home theater options exist and they can be affordable. Also, I think that more high-end speakers makers (in addition to Bang & Olufsen) will see DTS Play-Fi or WiSA as viable two or multi-channel wireless home theater speaker options. Also, for home theater more TV makers have to jump onboard.”
CEDIA Expo’s “Most Popular” Award: Kaleidescape
When companies invest tens of thousands of dollars into a trade show to make sure absolutely everything goes as planned, they certainly don’t want to have to worry about whether their audio/video sources are going to behave. And if you want to play clips from multiple shows or movies, no one wants to have to swap discs every few minutes and wait to get through those non-skippable menus at the beginning of the movie. For this reason (among others), Kaleidescape was extremely popular at CEDIA Expo. Their media servers and players were used in no less than 42 different booths to provide high quality 4K video and immersive surround sound to show attendees, making sure their exhibiting partners got to show off their gear in the best possible light.
Kaleidescape systems start at about $9,000 for the media player and server. The system combines the convenience of streaming (instant gratification) with the picture and sound quality benefits of physical media. According to company reps, a full 4K movie can be downloaded to one of Kaleidescape’s media servers in about 8 minutes. And once you’ve downloaded it, you won’t have to worry about buffering or network outages. Playback and navigation is immediate and responsive. While Kaleidescape may be out of reach to most consumers, it’s what you’ll find in many high-end home theaters, whether those be in a penthouse in Manhattan, the Hollywood mansion of an A-List director or actor or the mega-yacht of your friendly local billionaire.
The Bottom Line on CEDIA Expo 2023
After attending CEDIA Expo 2023, I’m enthusiastic about the future for audio, video and home theater. Whether you’re interested in deploying your own high end home theater or just in the market for a new TV, projector or set of wireless speakers, there was a lot to see and hear at this year’s show. CEDIA Expo will return to Denver next year and we’re already looking forward to next year’s show.