On Tuesday I walked up to the Sahara Hotel to buy a monorail pass and travel to the Las Vegas Convention Center. I visited the Microsoft booth and talked to some of the people involved with Media Center and some others with Windows Home Server. I'd really like it if Windows Home Server were part of my TechNet subscription, so I tried to find someone that could forward my request. I also wanted to find out why there isn't better integration between Vista Media Center and Windows Home Server. It sounds like better integration between the two is definitely in the plans. Microsoft's eHome Program Manager told me that adoption on Vista Media Center has been very good and based on EPG (electronic program guides) downloads, the data supports this assertion. I gave him my card and he is going to send me this data if he can.
I also visited the DTS booth. They were demonstrating their Surround Sensation technology that creates a virtual surround from only 2 channels. I listened to the headphone demonstration, which played the same clips from the original 2 channel mix and the enhanced virtual surround version. I think it did a pretty good job, at least it seemed better than the surround headphone technology that Lake Technology licensed to Dolby a few years ago. I still wasn't very impressed with DTS's demonstration because the levels were so much different between the stereo and surround samples. It's pretty hard to determine which is better when the volume level is so different. Of course the Surround Sensation sample was much louder than the stereo sample, so it seemed to be much better.
After talking to DTS's Director of Product Management about licensing, I walked toward the next exhibitor on my list, Dolby Labs. My left show felt very loose, so I look down to see if my laces untied. I noticed the laces were still tied, so I lifted my foot to get a better look. The sole of the shoe was separating from the upper part. It was falling apart with every step. I realized that I couldn't continue walking around with my shoe coming apart, so I headed to the exit to get a cab to drive me back to my hotel so I could get the only other pair of shoes I had with me, my Nike running shoes. I must have looked like thump-drag because I had to drag my foot on the ground so the shoe would hold together. That didn't really help. The shoe came completely apart just before I reached the elevator to go up to my room. The pic on the right is what they looked like just before I threw them in the trash. Anyhow, that wasted a good chunk of my day.
From there I went to the Venetian to check out the "high performance audio". More and more of these vendors are realizing that computers are pretty good at storing and playing music. Many of them had their equipment connected to PCs. Some of them were just using a S/PDIF connection to their high end processors or preamps. Others had USB connections. Most were limited to 2 channel stereo sound. The only ones playing surround were playing off of stand alone players. If you want to see some pretty pictures of some of the equipment at the high performance audio exhibits, check out Steve Guttenberg's blog.
For those of you that are frustrated with audio playback of HD DVD or Blu-ray discs using Cyberlink's PowerDVD, I wish I had some good news. I stopped by Cyberlinks suite at the Hilton to see if I could speak with them to learn what we need to do with our products to support high resolution playback (with no downsampling, etc.) and the whole protected path. Since I didn't schedule an appointment, they wouldn't speak with me. I tried setting up a later appointment, but they weren't interested. I was also interested in speaking with representatives from TC Electronics. They sell the DICE chips, which are suppose to be pretty good IEEE1394 (FireWire) chips. When I went to the TC Electronics booth I learned that it was a different company. There was another booth for a company called Dice Electronics (you never know, maybe they are changing their name to match their flagship product). Both of these companies were selling something related to automobile electronics.
I did spend some time speaking with representative for HDMI, USB and IEEE1394 technologies. The USB folks had a section of the exhibit floor with several companies displaying their solutions. None of them were dealing with USB audio. I did get a chance to meet with the Chapter leader for the USB3 spec. He mentioned that they've received several requests for allowing clocking from the host system over USB3. That's currently a big problem with USB1.1 and USB2 because you have to reclock everything if you use USB. Anyhow, he said they are considering adding this to the USB3 spec. I also met with the people that are promoting IEEE1394 at the HANA Alliance. Obviously, they think we should stick with FireWire and they made a pretty good case. They also seemed to endorse the DICE technology as our best solution.