Designers of high-dollar home theaters often get first crack at cutting-edge electronics. That was evident this past weekend in Denver, host of this year's annual gathering of the Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association.
We prowled the exhibit floor of giant screens and booming sound systems to spot interesting advances. While not yet aimed at average Jills, these features might soon make their way to homes everywhere:
Fast LCD—Sony will be the first to sell an LCD in North America that's able to refresh its screen at 240 Hz, or 240 times a second. The quick redraw helps the screen keep up with fast motion, reducing the blur that LCDs can suffer in sports, action scenes, and fast camera pans. The refresh rate is twice that of today's high-end 120-Hz screens. Most LCDs today refresh at 60 Hz. The superfast capability is so new that Sony will have it only in the 50-inch KDL-52XBR7 by December, just in time for the holidays.
Web-enabled door lock—In home automation, getting control over entryways has been complicated and expensive. The Schlage Link ($300 starting in October) will be the first door lock on the continent with a wireless link to the Web. That means changing the front-door lock can be as easy as a few mouse clicks. Or just tap on a mobile phone to add a code for a temporary housekeeper or simply to unlock or lock the door. A $13 monthly fee buys the continuing Web service, which can also report when someone has used a code to enter the home. Just as interesting, Schlage is pitching the Web service as a means of controlling other devices around the home.
Up-converting TV—Toshiba showed off new high-definition sets that can improve old, standard-definition video. That's a trick that's common now on DVD players, but the Toshiba Super Resolution Technology sharpens cable or broadcast programming that comes across in less than HD quality. The technology can't pump up the image to true eye-popping HD, but it is a welcome antidote to old fare that can look worse on a flat panel than on an ancient tube TV. A Toshiba rep told us the up-converting capability adds about $300 to the price of a TV.
Fat TV recorders—Free-falling prices for hard drives mean TV recorders that can hold more programs than we'll ever watch. The latest model from pioneer TiVo can capture 150 hours of high-definition programs. That blows away video recorders issued by cable and satellite companies. It's also what distinguishes the $600 TiVo HD XL from the TiVo HD, a predecessor that costs half as much and that can record only about 20 hours. Adding an external hard drive can pump up the capacity of the earlier version, but purists would bristle at the extra cables cluttering their custom theaters.
UltraThin Plasmas—As skinny as many LCD models, new plasmas from Hitachi can go anywhere with comfort. Hitachi has started shipping smaller models and now promises a 50-inch version here in early 2009. The thinness not only makes the set hug a wall better; Hitachi says it also represents a leap in power efficiency. The sets maintain their sleek look front and back. But have a cable or satellite box at the ready—the sets reportedly come without built-in HD tuners.