Why Was True Home Theater ‘Missing’ at CES?

Four companies — AudioControl, Wolf Cinema, James and Vutec — combined for $196,000 home theater demo at the massive CES 2017 event, but other home theaters were noticeably missing.


The lack of true home theater at CES 2017 in Las Vegas was clearly noticeable. Even the audio-focused Venetian suites only had one true home theater demo, albeit an impressive one for sure, set up with $196,000 in equipment. 

AudioControl, Wolf Cinema, Vutec and James Loudspeaker combined to power the 7.1.4 Dolby Atmos home theater demo that was entertaining but also educational. The demo used stacked projectors as well as multiple speaker options so attendees could do audio and video comparisons. 

Jim McGall of Wolf Cinema called the theater demo “a shootout with ourselves” in reference to Wolf's TXF-5000 Laser 4K 3-chip $50,000 projector and its TXF-900 UHD/4K Imaging $9,000 projector.

Both units were powered by Wolf's $8,000 Proscaler MK IV. McGall moved back and forth between the two projectors while running scenes from the sci-fi classic “The Fifth Element” starring Bruce Willis. Not even the highly trained eye could decipher the difference.

AudioControl was there too, certainly making the most out of CES 2017. Besides taking home a CTA Mark of Excellence Award for the Best Amplifier for its Director M-Series 4800 amp, the company powered the demo room with its Maestro M9 theater pre/pro ($8,900), its Savoy G3 7-channel amp ($3,000) and its Pantages G3 5-channel amp ($2,500). 

The matrixing capabilities of the Director M-Series allow any of eight analog or two digital inputs to be routed to any zone output. The 2U M-Series M6400 and M6800 includes two digital SPDIF inputs plus two SPDIF outputs that are tied to the matrix so that any one of the input sources can be routed through the digital outputs.

These digital outputs can then be connected to the digital inputs on additional M-Series amplifiers, enabling integrators to use multiple amplifiers and assign input signal routing as needed.

Brandon Cook, director of technical services, was on hand in the suite with other equipment not hooked into the theater, including the compact 2-channel Rialto amp and the Bijou 600 amp. 

“We are conducting a shootout with ourselves.”

— Jim McGall, Wolf Cinema

Cook noted the excitement around the new Director M-Series 4800 that is a 1U, 8-channel solution capable of 100 watts per channel at 8 Ohms, 200 watts at 4 Ohms and 400 watts bridged.

M-Series amplifiers offer DSP-based functionality that can be used either as a standalone matrix-amplifier or as part of a third-party control system from companies including Crestron, Savant and Control4.

The company also announced that NuVo has been added to its Sound Partners Program (SPP). The AudioControl SPP was established as a cooperative initiative with industry-leading architectural speaker manufacturers in order to implement optimized performance profiles as defined by each brand’s engineers.

These profiles, when stored in the DSP onboard the AudioControl Director M-Series of high-performance 8 and 16-channel amplifiers, creates the ultimate whole-house entertainment/commercial audio platform for professional integrators.

DSP profiles for Nuvo’s in-ceiling and in-wall loudspeakers—the Series Two, Series Four and Series Six models have all become available for upload into the AudioControl Director M-Series amplifiers.

“We see this cooperative program as an opportunity, enabling integrators to take advantage of Nuvo’s loudspeaker designs by providing acoustic optimization for each zone,” explains Fritz Werder, VP and general manager, Nuvo and On-Q. “We are excited to work with AudioControl as part of the SPP initiative.”

“We welcome Nuvo and their array of architectural loudspeakers to our Sound Partners Program,” says AudioControl CEO Alex Camara. “The SPP provides professional integrators with the tools they need to differentiate themselves in a competitive market while delivering superb sound quality to their clients. The high-performance and fine-tuning capabilities of the Director M-Series amplifiers coupled with Nuvo speakers will provide an excellent entertainment experience.”

The speakers in the room were from James Loudspeakers. Christopher Doehla of James hooked up $113,000-worth of speakers:

  • Q48s left/right ($20,000)
  • SPL808BE center channel ($12,000)
  • Four SPL6BEQ speakers as side channels closest to the screen ($40,000)
  • Four SPL6CBEQ top-side surrounds ($32,000)
  • Two EMB15 DF 15-inch subwoofers ($6,000)
  • Two QSC 4.5 sub amps ($3,000)

Doehla says the SPL6CBEQ top-side surrounds were actually specially made by James for a temporary theater setup for a fair where the Dolby Atmos speakers were mounted on overhead gantries. 

The screen in the demo was from Vutec. Rick Nealis, national sales manager, noted that the $2,500 Stiletto Zero-Edge 120-inch screen has a bright white opaque material with a 1.3 gain to make the images really pop.

Other components in the theater were a Samsung UHD Blu-ray player, Redray 4K server and Kaleidescape Strato. 

What's Going on at CES?

So why weren't their more home theaters at CES 2017? It is a good question. It is becoming increasingly more apparent that manufacturers seeking to create or solidify trade channel partnerships with integrators are bypassing the giant show. Instead, they are using CES more for international exposure and media clout for direct-to-consumer products.

It also does not help that the multiple venues at CES effectively filter the integrators who are there to no central location. The display technology is housed in the Central Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), the Smart Home Pavilion is at the Sands Expo Convention Center, and the high-performance audio is at the Venetian Suites. Another venue, Eureka Park, also houses all the startups that many integrators like to check out.

“It is becoming apparent that manufacturers seeking to create trade channel partnerships with integrators are bypassing CES.”

Of course, there was plenty to see at the show from a display standpoint. The Sony, LG and Panasonic booths showcased impressive flat panel technology, namely OLED. But there was no audio companion to those flat panels being demo'ed. (Update: Sony had a home theater room within its booth that I apparently missed. See comment below. I stand corrected.) 

Also, from an international standpoint, Integrated Systems Europe (ISE) is just one month away. One audio manufacturer said he had 30 European distributors at CES last year, but only one this year. They are opting to just wait 30 days for the Amsterdam show.  

Lastly, the exorbitant hotel prices are reducing the media traffic. Press people generally don't have two nickels to rub together, so spending $488/night to stay at the Excalibur Hotel is not in the budget. (Yes, that is really where I stayed and what I paid.)

One public relations person said she had generally seen half the amount of press compared to previous shows. 

Then, there is the congestion at the show. As one person described it: “Welcome to CES, where 170,000 people walk in front of you and then suddenly stop at a moment's notice.” Moving between venues takes generally one to two hours.

About the Author

Jason Knott
Jason Knott:

Jason Knott is Chief Content Officer for Emerald's Connected Brands. Jason has covered low-voltage electronics as an editor since 1990, serving as editor and publisher of Security Sales & Integration. He joined CE Pro in 2000 and serves as Editor-in-Chief of that brand. He served as chairman of the Security Industry Association’s Education Committee from 2000-2004 and sat on the board of that association from 1998-2002. He is also a former board member of the Alarm Industry Research and Educational Foundation. He has been a member of the CEDIA Business Working Group since 2010. Jason graduated from the University of Southern California.