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System Integration for the Connected Home

Home Theater

Farewell, VHS: Funai Electric Ceases VCR Production

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It's something of an end of an era-- Funai Electric, reportedly the last maker of videocassette recorders (VCRs), brings the production of VHS players to an end, 40 years after the launch of the format.

VHS PlayerAccording to Japan's Nikkei the reason is a combination of declining market and difficulty in obtaining necessary parts. Funai made players in Chinese factories before sale under the Sanyo brand.

The company started making VCRs in 1983, 3 years after the launch of its own unsuccessful CVC format. At the peak the company used to sell 15 million VCRs per year, but Nikkei says 2015 sales of Funai VHS units total just 750000. Which is actually a bit of a surprise, since VHS has long been superseded by not only the disc-based DVD and Blu-ray formats, but also HDD-based personal video recorders.


McIntosh Debuts Blu-Ray Player, Preamp Duo

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McIntosh announces a trio of home theatre audio devices-- the MVP901 audio video player, the C2600 vacuum tube preamp and the M100 phono preamp.

McIntosh playerThe MVP901 is described by the company as a 4K-capable device, even if it is not actually compatible with 4K/UHD discs. Instead it upsamples HD and lower resolution content to 2160p with a wide range of image adjustments.

On the audio side a 32-bit/192kHz DAC takes care of most sources, including CDs, SACDs and DVD audio discs. Also built-in are Dolby True HD and DTS-HD Master Audio decoding and support for Dolby Atmos and DTS:X Auro 3D.


Xbox One Follows PS4 With 4K-Capable Upgrade

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Microsoft reveals the future of the Xbox One at E3 2016-- the console will be splitting into two versions, the smaller Xbox One S and a more powerful 4K-capable upgrade dubbed "Project Scorpio."

Xbox One SThe Xbox One S is a more compact (by 40%, Microsoft says) sibling to the Xbox One with a few interesting internal changes. First off, the cumbersome power brick is gone, since the company managed to integrate the power supply. Secondly the machine is able to output 4K/UHD video and add HDR to game visuals, making it a potentially relevant purchase for 4K TV owners.

Other tweaks seen in the pearl white console include a 2TB internal HDD, built-in IR blaster (making it compatible any number of remotes) and a redesigned wireless controller featuring a sleeker design, textured grip and Bluetooth connectivity for compatibility with other Windows 10 devices.


Screening Room: Cinema Savior-- or Digital Death Star?

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Sceening Room

Napster, Facebook, Plaxo, Spotify...what they all have in common is founder or investor Sean Parker.

Sean Parker is the archangel Gabriel of digital disruption, a billionaire entrepreneur whose very presence heralds the apocalypse of traditional business. He is as welcome in any industry as Carl Icahn is on any company board.

Now Parker descends on Hollywood offering a deal that would, instead of 30 pieces of silver, sell out theater owners for a $150 set-top box and $50 per movie.

Attendance at movies bounce-backed last year to 1.34 billion but Hollywood feels the pressure from streaming alternatives. And internet behemoths -- not content to be digital streaming platforms-- are starting to figure out they can be content creators.

Cut out movie theaters, cut out Hollywood's extravagant film companies... it’s a perfect prayer book for digital disruption.

Screening Room claims its secure, anti-piracy technology lets users watch movies using a $150 set-top box: the start-up would charge $50 to rent a movie and users would have 48 hours before it expires.

Film companies are split... According to Variety, Sony, Universal, and Fox are all interested while Disney is not. Their thinking is theater turnout is great if you have a blockbuster, but most films are not. Extra revenue is appealing. And, hey, in the land of Rocky #7, X-Men #7 and 29 Godzillas, who wants to depend upon upping their creativity?

Directors, the rock stars of Hollywood, are split. Peter Jackson, the Academy Award-winning director behind The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit series, is publicly backing Parker’s Screening Room, along with JJ Abrams, Steven Spielberg, and Martin Scorsese.

Others like Avatar director James Cameron and Interstellar director Christopher Nolan argue against. Cameron's producing partner Jon Landau says, "...the in-theater experience is the wellspring that drives our entire business, regardless of what other platforms we eventually play on and should eventually play on. No one is against playing in the home, but there is a sequencing of events that leads to it."

Most theater owners think the film companies want to hand the keys to the kingdom to the barbarian at the gate. Only Chinese-owned AMC, one of America’s largest theater chains is reportedly on board.

So in comes Sean Parker with a devil's bargain to open the door: he will give customers two tickets to see in theaters every movie they stream through the Screening Room-- and he will also give movie theaters as much as $20 of the $50 rental fee.

Sean Parker

In fact, Parker is telling Hollywood he will only keep 10%. What he probably isn't explaining is how he could end up owning the movie platform, able to extract a fortune from an audience portal and cut new deals at-will.

Peter Jackson is so convinced Screening Room could create an additional $8.5 billion in annual revenue for studios (if the expected 20 million households join Screening Room renting an average of 12 movies per year that he is the first major filmmaker to go public with a detailed rationale

He thinks if Screening Room engages 25- to 39-year-old customers who’ve "almost completely bypassed cinemas" —this will allow studios to invest more money in film budgets and making more movies overall.

On an interview with DEADLINE, Jackson argues Screening Room is designed to sell movie tickets to people that want to buy them but can’t. "Who are those people? The frequent moviegoers — the ones that go to three films or more and generate over 50% of box office — are only 11% of the movie-going audience. So 89% of everyone that goes in the theater only sees one or two films a year and those are the ones you need buying more tickets.”

“Here’s the key to Screening Room: In 2014, people aged up to 24 went to the cinema 15 million times. People 40 and over, 15 million. Then look at the key age group — 25-39 — there was only 6.7 million people. That’s because a lot of those people are bringing up young families, concentrating on their careers. Most of them were frequent moviegoers when they were younger, but not now, because they cannot get out.

The director went on to tell DEADLINE, “Screening Room did surveys, and the non-target audience was asked if they’d pay $50 to see a film at home. 83% of that non-target audience said no. That’s what we want, for those people to continue seeing movies in cinemas. We asked the same question to our target audience; the people stuck at home, the 25-39 year olds. And 70% said yes they would spend $50. This is what persuaded me.”

If this sounds to you like when book publishers defended their decision to help start Amazon, then you share our own deja vu.

The implications for residential integrators are not yet clear. The promise of a new and secure STB suggests Screening Room recognizes they can’t partner with internet companies and telcos who are selling their own cable and movie channels. Will they attempt to use residential installers? Will installers also get a piece of the monthly film rental?

While this should have modest impact on the residential kit being sold today, it does beg the question of how cinemas will react to keep attracting customer.

Go Read Peter Jackson’s Defense of Screening Room


Marantz Presents NR1607 Network AVR

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Marantz announces a compact network AV receiver-- the NR1607, a sequel to 2015's NR1606 offering featuring high current descrete power channels on 7 channels, Dolby Atmos surround (up to 5.1.2) and future DTS:X audio support.

Marantz NR1606The AVR packs Bluetooth and wifi connectivity with dual antennas and dual-band (2.4/5GHz) for robust connections even in crowded areas. It handles audio streaming via AirPlay, Spotify Connected, Pandora, internet radio and local network storage drives. Lossless audio support comes through DTS:X and Dolby TrueHD as well as high-resolution FLAC, AIFF, WAV and DSD (2.8/5.6MHz) files.


UHD Alliance Starts Blu-ray Certification

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UHD Alliance certification expands to UHD Blu-ray players, with the first product to bear the Ultra HD Premium badge being the Panasonic DMP-UB900.

UHD PremiumReceiving such certification requires compliance with performance metrics for resolution, high dynamic range (HDR), peak luminance, black levels and wide colour gamut, among others. Also involved are recommendations for immersive audio and other features, all in the name of "delivering a premium UHD experience in the home."

So far the UHD Alliance has awarded 30 TVs with Ultra HD Premium certification. In addition it plans to develop a premium standard for live UHD content broadcasts.


Making Private Home Theaters into Real Theaters

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What’s the most you ever paid to see a movie? Some people pay $500 per film to see Hollywood’s latest with a special first-run service (a service sold via AV dealers).

Is that incredible?

Prima Cinema movies cost $500 each-- and require $35,000 in hardware (using an encryption technology to prevent illegal copies of movies)--to be shown in private homes.

“We found the market is very acceptable to the price point,” says Jason Pang, Founder. “You are paying for an event for friends and family, a first-run film. Some of our clients have spent as much as $4 million on their home theaters. Our clients tell us their wine costs more than the $500 screening.”