AV Companies That Survived Obsolescence
Why is it that we see a resurgence of vinyl, but not the 8-track tapes? Betamax tapes were supposedly superior to VHS, but quickly faded into obscurity. VHS lasted longer, but try finding a Blockbuster store that rents them (or DVD's for that matter). The list goes on and on; iPods, Curved displays, HD-DVD players? Yet some products survive the test of time. Audioholics contributing writer Steve Feinstein told us about the last new speakers he will ever buy. Does that mean that speaker companies are done producing quality speakers? Have they engineered all they can achieve? We had a chance to talk to the engineers at Bowers and Wilkins recently to look at their new 801 & 805 D4 Signature Speakers and heard significant audible improvements in a speaker series that has lasted over 30 years! Even with these improvements, a three decade old 800 series speaker still sells for $5,000/pair and up!
But technology catches up in some areas (that's what keeps the receiver industry alive!). Does anyone go out and put 20 speakers in a room designed for Dolby Atmos and say, "I'm gonna put a cool 30 year old vintage receiver in here!" Amplifier, maybe, but receiver, no.
Audiohollics contributing writer Matthew Poes says:
The A/V processors from the year before HDMI HT processors came out are a great example. Expensive products became obsolete overnight once HDMI came out and it was no longer possible for current surround decoding to happen via optical cable. The $25k Mark Levinson AV processor was worth less than its parts.
In March of 2023 a nearly defunct A/V company almost broke the internet with news of their return. A cryptic note, "Be kind while we rewind" shocked the world on Blockbuster's website. What does it mean? Five months later and we still don't know. Can these companies make a comeback? Will we see another Vinyl type resurgence in Sony Walkman? People predicted that Toshiba would quickly file for bankruptcy after they lost the DVD format war in 2008, but are now estimated to be worth over $14 billion.
Kaleidescape Movie Server
The source component that has been far and away the most expensive in my home theater system has been my Kaleidescape movie server packing a historical retail price of well over $30,000. I still have the original unit that caused all of the issues with the Hollywood studios because it allows one to actually rip a DVD-Video movie, not just a Compact Disc (which is allowed under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998).
Kaleidescape, at one point and for a good decade-plus run, was the coolest possible source component in the world of home theater. Before the days of 4K streaming, you could have hundreds (if not thousands) of movies, music and television shows in your theater or if you were fancy like me, you could have them shooting to every room in your house via fiber optic cable in 4K resolution and full surround sound. That was a game changer back in the day especially for someone with a 4K Crestron DM switcher that could send 4K video all over your home. Kaleidescape as a company hit a brick wall at one point in its growth in that most of the people who wanted the system – already had one or, in the case of new construction projects, the time to finish a home of that scope could be 18 to 24 plus months. The advent of streamers like Roku, Apple TV and others from Amazon and Google, make it so that you can get tons of 4K movies for a few bucks a pop pretty much fully on-demand. Think about how many movies that you watch over and over again? For most, it is under 25 total. Do you really need thousands of movies on demand locally on your network versus getting them from Apple, Google or whomever?
The company has been able to continue on in the modern era with even more enthusiast-clients investing in the firm thus propping it up financially.
Audioholics contributing writer Don Dunn installs some of the most expensive and exquisite home theaters around and says of the new Kaleidescape products:
The entry level player, Strato and Terra server 6tb is about $8k. Most movies are $29 to buy and much cheaper than that to rent. There are LOTS of movies to buy for $9.99. You get the very BEST resolution, about 40% better or more than UHD Blu-ray. I find the Kaleidescape platform to be reliable and has the best interface in the business. Once you get past the initial cost, it's similar to renting or buying through streaming, but with SOOOO much better sound quality.
--Don Dunn - Contributing writer, Audioholics
No. 2: Faroudja Video Processor
A product from the world of home theater that can boast being both the coolest and then possibly the most useless product in the industry would be the Faroudja video processor. At $15,000, this black box could truly improve the image of an analog, CRT video projector back in the day. As video processing technology developed into “line quadruplers” the performance seemed even better and the prices were sky high. When I was at uber-high-end AV retailer, Cello Music and Film Los Angeles, I will never forget putting in our opening order for Faroudja VP-400 Line Quadruplers. The order was for 24 total units and they were perhaps $25,000 each retail. Literally, every client with a projector that could accept one – bought one. I got a curious phone call after sending a fax (yes, kids I faxed the order as that is how it used to work back in the mid-1990s) to confirm that we wanted two or four. We didn’t. We wanted 24 and they were ecstatic.
The rise of digital projectors and video processing done pretty much all in a chip changed the game. Higher video resolutions from source components was a major factor too. I remember replacing my monstrous and very low light output Sony 7—inch CRT projector with a Madrigal Imaging version of JVC’s early D-ILA projectors. The new projector was so much more bright. It was so much physically smaller too. Did it have reliability issues? Oh boy, did it ever but we’ve never looked back from digital projectors since then.
Today’s 4K and 8K UHD television monitors have beyond powerful video scaling internally as part of their chipsets. You can get a big-bright-beautiful flat UHD monitor for 1/20 of the price of a Faroudja product today. There’s simply no need for aftermarket video processing leaving the value of said products at close to zero on the used market today.
In 2002 Faroudja was acquired by Genesis Microchip. Faroudja's growth in integrated circuits expanded with design-wins in various consumer electronics products such as DVD players, projectors, AV Receivers and TVs. In 2007, Genesis Microchip, and its Faroudja technology, was acquired by STMicroelectronics, a global semiconductor company. Faroudja technology is now found in TV and Set-Top Box manufacturers who use STMicroelectronics system-on-chip (SoC) solutions with integrated Faroudja video processing algorithms. The program helps properly initialize the video signal processing and optimize the LCD panel to produce an accurate picture. The calibrated settings are stored in a video mode called “Faroudja Movie”, optimized for high-end TVs and Blu-ray HD sources.
So what are your votes for products that were fantastic at one point in the history of AV and now are barely worthy of using as a doorstop? Or companies that were once at the top of their game, became defunct and then revolutionized technology. You’ve got two of my personal favorites. What’s on your list? We’d love to hear from you below.