Category Archives: CES

Focusing on sound bars at CES 2017

By Tim Hoogenakker

My day job is as a re-recording mixer and sound editor working on long-form projects, so when I attended this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, I honed in on the leading trends in home audio playback. It was important for me to see what the manufacturers are planning regarding multi-channel audio reproduction for the home. From the look of it, sound bars seem to be leading the charge. My focus was primarily with immersive sound bars, single-box audio components capable of playing Dolby Atmos and DTS:X as close as they can in their original format.

Klipsch TheaterBar

Klipsch Theaterbar

Now I must admit, I’ve kicked and screamed about sound bars in the past, audibly rolling my eyes at the concept. We audio mixers are used to working in perfect discrete surround environments, but I wanted to keep an open mind. Whether we as sound professionals like it or not, this is where the consumer product technology is headed. That and I didn’t see quite the same glitz and glam over discrete surround speaker systems at CES.

Here are some basic details with immersive sound bars in general:

1. In addition to the front channels, they often have up-firing drivers on the left and right edges (normally on the top and sides) that are intended to reflect onto the walls and the ceiling of the room. This is to replicate the immersiveness as much as possible. Sure this isn’t exact replication, but I’ll certainly give manufacturers praise for their creativity.
2. Because of the required reflectivity, the walls have to be of a flat enough surface to reflect the signal, yet still balanced so that it doesn’t sound like you’re sitting in the middle of your shower.
3. There is definitely a sweet spot in the seating position when listening to sound bars. If you move off-axis, you may experience somewhat of a wash sitting near the sides, but considering what they’re trying to replicate, it’s an interesting take.
4. They usually have an auto-tuning microphone system for calculating the room for the closest accuracy.
5. I’m convinced that there’s a conspiracy by the manufacturers to make each and every sound bar, in physical appearance, resemble the enigmatic Monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey…as if literally someone just knocked it over.

Yamaha YSP5600

My first real immersive sound bar experience happened last year with the Yamaha YSP-5600, which comes loaded with 40 (yes 40!) drivers. It’s a very meaty 26-pound sound bar with a height of 8.5 inches and width of 3.6 feet. I heard a few projects that I had mixed in Dolby Atmos played back on this system. Granted, even when correctly tuned it’s not going to sound the same as my dubbing stage or with dedicated home theater speakers, but knowing this I was pleasantly surprised. A few eyebrows were raised for sure. It was fun playing demo titles for friends, watching them turn around and look for surround speakers that weren’t there.

A number of the sound bars displayed at CES bring me to my next point, which honestly is a bit of a complaint. Many were very thin in physical design, often labeled as “ultra-thin,” which to me means very small drivers, which tells me that there’s an elevated frequency crossover line for the subwoofer(s). Sure, I understand that they need to look sleek so they can sell and be acceptable for room aesthetics, but I’m an audio nerd. I WANT those low- to mid-frequencies carried through from the drivers, don’t just jam ALL the low- and mid-frequencies to the sub. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out as these products reach market during the year.

Sony HTST 5000

Besides immersive audio, most of these sound bars will play from a huge variety of sources, formats and specs, such as Blu-ray, Blu-ray UHD, DVD, DVD-Audio, streaming via network and USB, as well as connections for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and 4K pass-through.

Some of these sound bars — like many things at CES 2017 — are supported with Amazon Alexa and Google Home. So, instead of fighting over the remote control, you and your family can now confuse Alexa with arguments over controlling your audio between “Game of Thrones” and Paw Patrol.

Finally, I probably won’t be installing a sound bar on my dub stage for reference anytime soon, but I do feel that professionally it’s very important for me to know the pros and the cons — and the quirks — so we can be aware how our audio mixes will translate through these systems. And considering that many major studios and content creators are becoming increasingly ready to make immersive formats their default deliverable standard, especially now with Dolby Vision, I’d say it’s a necessary responsibility.

Looking forward to seeing what NAB has up its sleeve on this as well.

Here are some of the more notable soundbars debuted:

LG SJ9

Sony HT-ST5000: This sound bar is compatible with Google Home. They say it works well with ceilings as high as 17 feet. It’s not DTS:X-capable yet, but Sony said that will happen by the end of the year.LG SJ9: The LG SJ9 sound bar is currently noted by LG as “4K high resolution audio” (which is an impossible statement). It’s possible that they mean it’ll pass through a 4K signal, but the LG folks couldn’t clarify. That snafu aside, it has a very wide dimensionality, which helps for stereo imaging. It will be Dolby Vision/HDR-capable via a future firmware upgrade.

The Klipsch “Theaterbar”: This another eyebrow raiser. It’ll release in Q4 of 2017. There’s no information on the web yet, but they’re showcasing this at CES.

Pioneer Elite FS-EB70: There’s no information on the web yet, but they were showcasing this at CES.

Onkyo SBT-A500 Network: Also no information but it was shown at CES.


Formosa Group re-recording mixer and sound editor Tim Hoogenakker has over 20 years of experience in audio post for music, features and documentaries, television and home entertainment formats. He had stints at Prince’s Paisley Park Studios and POP Sound before joining Formosa.

China’s online video network Youku calls on Nokia’s Ozo ecosystem for VR  

One of the largest online video platforms in China, Youku, has chosen the Nokia Ozo VR ecosystem of technologies to create and distribute immersive VR content to more than 500 million monthly active users. Their platform features daily views of more than 1.1 billion.

Youku will use the entire Ozo VR solution, which includes the Ozo Camera, Ozo Software Suite, Ozo Live and Ozo Player SDK, in the creation and distribution of content ranging from film and television to news and documentaries, as well as professional user-generated content featuring Youku’s top talent.

Youku will integrate Nokia’s Ozo Player SDK and Ozo Audio solutions into all its platforms, mobile apps and consumer offerings, enabling its enormous audience to enjoy 3D 360-degree VR. The Ozo Player SDK allows VR pros to create VR app experiences on most major platforms with a single, unified development interface.

Full-featured reference players are also included in the SDKfor all supported platforms — including Oculus Desktop, Oculus Mobile/GearVR, HTC Vive and Google VR for Android and iOS. The multi-platform Ozo Player SDK is now available in a free version as well as a Pro tier with more features and larger deployment options.

 

Dell 6.15

Wacom’s Intuos Pro Paper Edition lets artists sketch old-school

Do you miss the days of just pulling out your sketchpad and letting your creative energy flow? Well, Wacom has a new solution for you that bridges old-school paper-and-ink drawings with portable digital technology.

Wacom is at CES showing its new Intuos Pro and Intuos Pro Paper Edition pen and touch tablets. While the two products have similar functionality, the Intuos Pro Paper Edition gives artists the ability to incorporate paper into their workflow — and when not used with paper, this version will also function as a regular Intuos Pro.

The tablet allows ink-on-paper drawings to be captured and stored digitally on the Intuos Pro Paper Edition so they can be refined later on the tablet with any compatible layered raster or vector software application. This means no more scanning.

“The Paper Edition lets artists secure a paper on the device and sketch, draw or write with an real ink, analog pen, while it captures the information digitally because it is seated on our Electro-Magnetic Resonance board and stored for later use,” explains Wacom’s Doug Little.

Little also emphasizes that while the Paper Edition does function as a Intuos Pro when paper isn’t involved, the newest Intuos Pro is “thinner and lighter and features our new Pro Pen 2 (4x the pressure-sensitivity of our previous pen). It also features the same ExpressKeys for creating shortcuts and modifiers.”

Wacom Intuos ProThe new Intuos Pro is less than half an inch thick but offers the same sized active area in a smaller overall footprint. It comes equipped with anodized aluminum backing, a smaller pen stand with 10 nibs and a new pen case. Both sizes of the Intuos Pro, Medium and Large, use a TouchRing, Multi-Touch and eight ExpressKeys for the creation of customized shortcuts to speed up the creative workflow.

The Paper Edition adds a Paper Clip (to attach the artists favorite drawing paper), pressure-sensitive Finetip gel ink pen and the Wacom Inkspace App to convert drawings for use with leading creative software applications. The Inkspace App environment also allows users to easily store and share their artwork.

The new Wacom Pro Pen 2 comes with both the Intuos Pro and Intuos Pro Paper Edition. This new pen features 4X the pressure sensitivity than the former Pro Pen, delivering 8,192 levels of pressure to support a natural and intuitive creative process.

The recently released Wacom Finetip Pen, included with the Intuos Pro Paper Edition, provides smooth-gel ink. Designed for those who begin their creative process on paper, the Finetip lets users visually depict ideas that are automatically digitized. Users can also select a Ballpoint Pen as an optional purchase.

Available in medium and large models, Intuos Pro is Bluetooth-enabled and compatible with Macs and PCs. The Intuos Pro Medium ($349.95 USD) and Large ($499.95 USD) will be available this month.

Intuos Pro Paper Edition will contain added features as a bundled package to enable paper-to-digital creation. The Intuos Pro Paper Edition Medium ($399.95) and Large ($549.95) will be available this month as well.