As usual, I attended CES 2009 and spent a lot more time talking with mobile devices vendors (my day job) than home theater. This was a good strategy for anyone this year because the Palm pre stole the show, but there were still plenty of thin LCD TVs, 3D TV, mobile TV, and a few speakers and receivers sprinkled throughout the sprawling show floor. I didn't make it to the Hilton, where most of the high end audio was housed, at all. Still, it's hard to avoid home theater when you have to attend press conferences from Sony, Samsung, LG, Toshiba, etc. and walk the show floor.
After talking to the Dolby Mobile folks, I was pressed into sitting through a terrific demo of Dolby IIz, which adds a (derived, not native) height channel. I've been using Yamaha receivers for years that perform the same trick, so I could certainly appreciate the notion - Dolby seems to be going more for sound placement (i.e., making it sound like the helicopter is hovering above you), while Yamaha is intended for room augmentation (i.e., making it sound like your room is bigger). The 9 minute demo certainly sounded great, but if I listened to my own home theater at those volume levels I'd be deaf before the end of the movie.
I also saw the latest generation of DLP in both super-large format (Optoma's HD8200 projector) and small (TI-powered pico projectors for use with cellphones were everywhere). I stopped by the Optoma booth to see the pico projector, and stayed for a short demo of the HD8200 on a 2:35 screen in a completely dark room. They were playing a clip from I Am Legend, a movie I have only seen in projector demos, so I know the clip well. Contrast ratio and black levels were insanely good, but there was weird artifacting that appeared just before fast motion content that drove me crazy. It could be an issue with the setup, the source, or a bug in a preproduction demo unit, but if I had bought that system, I'd be returning it.
Finally, at the Sony press conference the swag was an eco-friendly bamboo fiber bag, which feels like silk and is apparently intended to be used (and reused) for grocery shopping. Or something. When I unpacked it after the show, I noticed that the care tag is unintentionally poetic and hilarious, a sort of bad translation haiku:
Do not close to fire
Only for shipping bag
Washing will shirink slightly
Only non-chlorine blench
Wet dark cloth will fadeing
The color will fading under sunlight or fluorescence for long time