CES 2006 Blunders, Deceptions and Other Goofs
While we enjoyed ourselves at CES this year (in the way that people who get 2 hours of sleep and like to spend 20 hours a day on their feet define enjoyment) there were a number of booths and demos which fell under one of the following categories:
- they failed to impress
- they were intellectually dishonest in making a point or comparison
- they were just downright silly
I'd like to give just a few examples of this from particular booths and demos I experienced at this year's 2006 CES Expo in the hopes that future attendees are not duped or otherwise disillusioned into thinking something is one way, when it is, in fact, not.
Of Cables and Magicians
We sat in on one of Monster Cable's demonstrations and were amazed at how many nodding heads and sounds of awe we heard from the crowd. It was like being transported back into the 1800s where an ignorant crowd of bystanders were duped into a state of euphoria by little Jimmy casting away his crutches after drinking some miracle remedy provided by the selfless snakeoil salesman. While the Monster Cable demo seemed to be accurate in its results - it was deceptive in its set up and application. Here's a rough paraphrase of how the presentation went:
Monster Cable : Gather 'round folks, let's see how Monster Cable products stack up against that "other" speaker cable brand.
Crowd : mild interest and curiosity
Monster Cable : By the way, we have some free tickets to go see Stevie Wonder.
Crowd : Woo-hoo! Show me your magic, oh Monster Cable!
Monster Cable : Here you will see a light bulb. We are sending 12VDC voltage down the typical speaker cable you see installed in many homes. Notice how dim the bulb is.
Crowd : Oooh.
Monster Cable : Now BEHOLD as we send the same 12VDC voltage down one of our Monster Cable brand speaker cables! The light bulb gets brighter.
Crowd : AAAAHHHH!
Monster Cable : So you see, Monster Cable passes signal better. Just as the lightbulb got brighter, your speakers will sound equally better, with more accurate music production, greater overall clarity and maximum bass response as they pass more signal correctly from the amplifier to the speakers.
Crowd : Claps, cheers, begging for t-shirts...
Behind the Scenes: What no one in the audience knew, aside from the fact that Monster Cable had tickets to Stevie Wonder, was that this was simply a comparison of speaker wire gauge , not the brands. Monster was comparing hundreds of feet of what appeared to be 18 or 24 gauge speaker wire against their 12 gauge wire. While this is certainly a neat test, it says nothing about the Monster brand. Do they have the right to do a test like this? Absolutely. Is it good marketing? Absolutely. Does it really say anythng about Monster Cables specifically versus other brands? Absolutely not . A true demo would have been to take Monster Cable's 12 gauge brand versus another 12 gauge brand. The problem is they would have had to have used an LCR tester, as the lightbulb test would not have shown any visible difference. LCR measurements aren't as neat as light bulbs, so while we congratulate the marketing people, we also want to warn consumers and professionals that they should be careful to note the details when anyone is doing a presentation.
*See note on Pioneer Blu-ray Disc Comparison below
The [Insert Fancy Term for Deinterlacing Here] Comparison
Another silly comparison occurred repeated with such companies as LG, who loved to demo their M.P.I.T. or Motion Picture Improvement Technology - which doesn't really improve motion pictures per se, but the images that move across your screen. The problem with this example is that is was actually helpful to those who do not understand how important deinterlacing is with moving images. While we certainly don't want to pick on LG, we simply want to point out that this is something that is merely a variant of the same thing. All displays (should) deinterlace film properly, but they all have proprietary names for the technology used to accomplish the same task (and some are indeed better than others).
LG's demo consisted of two displays positioned side by side. Theirs (on the right) and "Brand X" on the left. Both played images that swept from one side of the screen to the other with fine detail, such as the sheets of music you see in the photo here. A display that properly deinterlaces a film image will show image detail almost flawlessly as it moves across the screen. A display with poor 2:3 pulldown and deinterlacing ability will show what CES attendees saw on the left: a shaky, staggered image that cannot lock on to detail as the image moves across the screen. This was not an issue of bad testing or dishonesty at all, it was simply something mandatory that was touted as new and exciting by nearly all of the major manufacturers. No one should buy a display that cannot do proper deinterlacing of film content and we are glad to see that companies are showing off how this technology works - so that people understand not all displays are the same - and many displays that can show good still images may not perfrom well otherwise.
Toshiba HD DVD Crash and Burn
Oh, the agony of defeat. This just hurt - in a way that makes you say "I've been there, man, don't sweat it." Nevertheless, Microsoft's Kevin Collins popped an HD DVD disc into a new Toshba drive as part of his presentation on the format and nothing happened. Nothing. The player would not play and they hadn't the foresight to rig a quick backup option. Oh well. In our opinion, we're guessing the set-top format war will last just long enough for computers to sneak in and become the mainstay of the high resolution format - allowing the HTPC to win by default. Hey, maybe THAT'S why Bill Gates didn't jump on Blu-ray.
Demos Set up By Deaf Monkeys in Pajamas
Some of the listening demos we encountered were less than stellar. And when we say less than stellar, we mean we have no choice but to assume that local labor laws and budget cutback had caused some of the vendors to hire deaf monkeys in pajamas to set up their 5.1 listening demos. Almost all minor manufacturers and those not in Alexis Park were guilty of this to some extent... Picking on LG we quickly noticed that the system was set up to have a sweet spot the size of a baseball and the center channel speaker was placed wherever there was room underneath the display rather than centered. In addition, the fancy seating didn't even allow one to sit in the optimal listening position and room acoustics consisted of glass side walls and hardwood flooring. Still, it looked pretty and we will of course admit that the CES showfloor is no place for a serious sound quality demo.
Monster Video Cables - Take Two
OK, the second time I went past Monster in the South Hall I barely caught the end of the demo. In fact, I just heard the words; "See how much brighter the display on the right is compared to the one without Monster Cable power conditioning?" There are so many opportunities for shenanigans here that I just shook my head and kept walking. You want to impress me with regards to power conditioning? Give me a couple of the following tests:
- Send a massive power spike though the system and let me see what comes out the other side
- Unplug the UPS (if your product even provides an uninterruptible power supply) from the wall during a particularly critical audio and video passage and let me see if the playback hiccups
- Vary the voltage into the unit +/- 40 volts and let me see how the voltage regulation system (assuming you have that in your unit) acts upon the voltage output.
- Show me the sine wave output of the power conditioner when a less pristine power line is run into the unit.
Now THAT would be a useful and practical dog and pony show that would impress. Of course, only a handful of companies could actually do all of the test listed above, so we don't think you'll be seeing too many of these next year. Here's another "impressive the masses" tip: When designing Power Conditioners and Surge Suppressors, it's generally a good idea to make them tough enough to be able to stay connected during storms or even a lightning strike - I mean, if Page 4 of the User Manual tells you to disconnect a surge protector during a thunder storm what's the point, right? Yeah, we thought that was odd, too.
Flashy Features You Don't Need
Apparently, there exist a group of consumers (you know who you are) who absolutely need to know how much information (signal) is going to their subwoofer at any given time. They are so concerned with this that they are knocking down the doors of every subwoofer manufacturer who will listen in order to add some additional Christmas lights to the front of their already well-lit home theater equipment. Well, a company called Cybersound was on hand at CES with the solution to this oft-neglected problem. Introducing the Cybersound 5.1 home theater system with BBE high definition sound technology. The subwoofer which comes with this system features a level meter that shows when audio content is being sent to, and amplified by, the subwoofer. The level meter does not show the input voltage or output level in dBs, it simply makes a nice flashing motion with a bright level meter. Finally, a solution for those who never really knew when exactly their subwoofer was working... Of course, the subwoofer was highly active during dialogue-only scenes which were displaying on the television - so we're left wondering why the crossover for the system was set quite so high (250Hz is my guess.) Alas, that is a question for another day!
Audioholics A-B Testing Comparison
As we looked at the various innaccurate or bogus tests and comparisons throughout the show, we decided to perform one of our own. Once we arrived at the Paris, we took two dessert crepes and set them side-by-side. We wanted to utilize the same decisive techniques we learned at CES to determine which crepe was better than the other. Looking at the two, we quickly saw that the chocolate crepe was obviously much less desireable since it had a darker color overall. Both had a double scoop of homemade whipped cream (thanks, Gene) so that wasn't a determining factor until we noticed that the whipped topping on the bananas foster crepe was oriented at the bottom of the plate - thus indicating it's more heavy nature and clear superiority. We further noted that the molecules of powdered sugar were much more neatly distributed on the banana crepe. Finally were able to clearly ascertain that the bananas foster crepe was the clear choice for taste and quality. While Diana and Tom disagreed with our assessment, we were completely within our rights following the examples we saw at CES and so Gene and I split that bananas foster crepe and clearly had the more delicious dessert.
Until next time...
*Regarding the Pioneer DVD vs. Blu-ray Disc comparison that was previously included in this article. I was able to speak with Chris Walker, Manager of New Technology at Pioneer, who actually set up the display and managed the creation of the BD and DVD content. The discs were both mastered independently from high definition video and the two players were synchronized as best as possible to loop and playback the content in a side-by-side comparison.
Both comparison stations were set up using HDMI with the Pioneer Elite DVD player upconverting the image to 1080i and the Pioneer BD player outputting 1080i. Each signal went to a pair of Pioneer 50" plasma displays set to the factory default (lovingly referred to as "torch" mode). Chris set up the system and last viewed it on Day 1 (we saw it on Day 3), but in either case it was informative to hear that Pioneer did indeed set up this demo in a straightforward and honest manner to demonstrate the differences between the standard and high resolution DVD formats. While we cannot explain or resolve the admittedly subjective differences I saw in the presentation with the facts of its execution, I felt it was best (and common sense) to give Pioneer the benefit of the doubt and remove this section from this article. Ater all, I would want the same respect and courtesy given to me and my staff...