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Custom-Install Market Comes Of Age At CEDIA

Audio/video suppliers acknowledged the custom-install channel’s growing prominence during last month’s CEDIA Expo.

Harman International, Onkyo and Thiel, for instance, signaled their intention to target the channel more aggressively, and many of the exhibitors used the show to unveil new products or diversify into new categories.

Companies venturing into new categories included:

  • Harman International’s Madrigal audio brand, which launched the Madrigal Imaging brand with two CRT front projectors at $45,000 and $60,000.
  • Escient, which unveiled its first branded changer, a 200-disc CD/DVD model sold as part of a $5,000 PowerPlay package that comes with CD/DVD disc-management controller.
  • Audio suppliers NAD, Proceed and Rotel, which unveiled their first DVD-Video players.
  • Sonance, which unveiled the Navigator, its first keypad-based multizone, multisource distributed-audio system. A ship date hasn’t been determined. Last year, Sonance entered the distributed-audio market with in-wall amplified volume controls.
  • SpeakerCraft, which unveiled its first amplifiers to complement its in-wall speaker line.
    In distributed-AV developments, home-control system manufacturers Home Systems Plus introduced it’s first distributed-AV system, and home-control supplier Crestron introduced its first distributed-audio system.

In other developments:

  • Hard drive-based audio servers came down in price. Arrakis plans October shipments of the $1,995 Digilink, which delivers music to one zone. A three-zone option brings the price to $2,495. Previous models were priced at $5,995.
  • More suppliers committed to adding THX Surround EX to their decoders. NAD and Pioneer Elite are among the latest.
  • The Web, PCs and home-control systems were integrated more tightly. Crestron, for example, unveiled its CrestronHome system, which incorporates a built-in Web server that enables owners to access the system remotely from any Web-browser-equipped PC.
  • Select suppliers expanded their in-wall speaker selections. Among them were NHT and Klipsch, which upped its selection to 10 SKUs from six with the launch of the Synergy Custom and Reference Custom series. These speakers are sonically matched with enclosed Synergy and Reference speakers, enabling installers to create a sonically coherent home theater speaker system consisting of in-walls and en-closed speakers.

In DVD-Audio, suppliers demonstrated or introduced DVD-AV players, but with the exception of Panasonic/Technics, suppliers reaffirmed plans to hold off introduction until next year.

“The music companies decided to launch in January and February,” said Bob Stuart, president of Meridian and a major influence in developing the DVD-Audio specifications. His comments reinforce earlier comments by one music-industry official who said music companies and music retailers are too busy during the holiday season to launch a new format.

“The recording infrastructure is nearly complete,” Stuart said. “Authoring and mastering systems are in an advanced prototype stage.”

Before they ship titles, however, music companies want to test their discs on production-model players, which aren’t available yet, Stuart said. “There’s quite a large number of recording projects under way” for the January-February software launches, he added.

During the Expo, California Audio Labs, Denon, Kenwood and Onkyo said they would hold off their DVD-Audio launches until next year.

Kenwood, for example, said it would show several models during its spring dealer show for shipment sometime in the first half and that some would be combination DVD-AV players. Denon said it would show DVD-Audio at CES for first-half shipment.

Onkyo previously said it was targeting first-quarter shipments of an Integra Research-branded DVD-AV player, but now the company isn’t so sure. Because the product would include progressive-scan outputs, Onkyo is waiting for clear direction from Hollywood and the DVD Forum over copy-protection technologies for progressive-scan outputs, said senior VP Mark Friedman.

For their part, Meridian and Madrigal showed high-end DVD-Video players whose modular design permits upgrading at a later date to play back DVD-Audio discs.

Madrigal’s first DVD player, the $5,995 Proceed PMDT, is due in mid- to late October. Its card-cage modularity and software-based operating system would enable users to add DVD-Audio playback, progressive-scan outputs, and other features in the future. It is also compatible with the Phast home-automation protocol.

Meridian’s second DVD-Video player, the 800, runs from $12,000 to $16,000 and has been available since the end of July. All electronics reside on removable slide-in cards, and its DVD-ROM drive is also replaceable. An empty bay is available for a second drive.

Optional cards for line doubling, video scaling and DVD-Audio are planned for next year.

Standard features include the up-sampling of non-compressed digital audio to 88.2kHz or 96kHz.