Ed Selley pounds the Halls in Berlin to bring us the latest and greatest in HiFi and Home Cinema. Oh, and white goods...
The IFA show held in the enormous Messe exhibition complex in Berlin in the first week of September is the largest consumer electronics show in Europe.With a far wider focus than is usually the case with shows, it is the event that brings out every major consumer brand to show off what they can achieve.
IFA is absolutely enormous. Major brands like Samsung and Sony will take an entire hall rather than have anything as mundane as a stand. The result is that IFA takes a big chunk of time to get around. I was there for a little over eight hours in total and the photos below are a result of me pretty much walking non-stop. I undoubtedly missed things and if you were thinking of asking whether a particular television was there and what I thought of it, the answer is that it almost certainly was but it kind of blended in with the other 10,000 or so models being exhibited. There were some standout products on display and I took pictures of a few for your edification.Elipson Planet LW.
It was thanks to Elipson that I was at IFA in the first place and their new product is an active version of the Planet L that was reviewed by us last year. While the Planet L is a conventional (at least in specification terms) passive speaker, the LW makes use of internal Bang & Olufsen ICEPower digital amplifiers to make them fully active. Each speaker contains a stereo amplifier allowing the woofer and tweeter to be powered independently. The crossovers are revised to make best use of this power and further improve performance. The Planet LW makes use of the Kleer wireless technology to allow you to stream files straight from a laptop or iDevice. Elipson hope for a November release in the UK and even in the barn sized surroundings of the hall they were in, their performance was very impressive indeed.Panasonic.Our very own site editor Phil Hinton was an independent guest on the Panasonic stand as part of their live Web broadcasts which ran for the length of the show; but I swung by to see what was on offer. As well as a fully equipped beauty area and working kitchen (complete with hourly chef demos) the standard wall of TV’s was in attendance. Technology demonstrations included a very good 143” 8k panel and a slightly less convincing glasses free 3D demonstration on a 103" plasma screen (both of which were in an area so dark and crowded as to make photos pretty much impossible).
The Panasonic hall like most of the Japanese and Korean house brands was focussed as much on their entire portfolio and forming a “brand identity” as it was showing a specific product off. Their stand probably represented the best attempt at showing what they do as a company and had enough space to avoid being horribly crowded. If you are a TV fan, there were no new models announced at IFA, we have to wait until CES in January for those.
Samsung had separated their white goods into a different hall so their main hall was focussed on screens, tablets and phones. The result was a bit more crowded than the Panasonic enclosure but one that showed off an awful lot of product. The 55inch OLED Screens are finally starting to look like finished products, which we may very well see in Europe early next year (after a soft launch in their home country) While Samsung also had some giant 4k2k screens on display, there was a sense that the Galaxy series- both tablet and phone were the company priority this year. The Galaxy tablet in particular was extremely impressive.
Although every man and his dog had an Android tablet on display, the Galaxy felt slick and cohesive in a way that very few others did. Response to commands was instantaneous and the UI felt intuitive and well thought out. It also didn’t feel like an iPad clone so I wait with baited breath to see how the next year’s worth of lawsuits pans out. If you are waiting for Samsung to launch a 4K screen you may be twiddling your thumbs for a while. An executive from the company is reported to have said that they see a bigger future with the OLED screens than higher resolution. It will be interesting to see if that attitude has changed by the time CES rolls around in a few months (when everyone else announces their models).
Sony’s hall was all about brand identity and divided neatly into zones that cleverly abutted one another in relevance- so phones and tablets led into headphones and earphones which in turn led to full sized audio. The result was pretty impressive and meant that you could go straight to the bit you wanted to see with minimal guesswork.
Of all the 4k screens on display, the Sony one was my personal favourite (and this is a process that is entirely subjective rather than reached by any deep scientific method). The picture was natural, noise free and had a wonderful sense of depth to it. It also looked relatively elegant but IFA might be the worst place on earth to make decisions of this nature as you develop a sort of “scale blindness” where you wind up viewing a 50” screen as “compact.”
The LG hall was narrower and longer than some of the other brands which did affect how items were laid out. Although every manufacturer was pushing 3D to a greater or lesser extent, the LG stand was the most comprehensively 3D of the lot. As they use a passive system, it was a simple matter for staff to simply hand everybody a pair of passive glasses on the way in. This did mean that the stand looked a little like a Blues Brothers convention but it was effective nonetheless.
It might be seen as ironic therefore that the best picture on the LG stand (and for me, the entire show) was their 55” OLED that was being run exclusively in 2D. Simply put, of all the devices I saw at the show (with the possible exception of the Siemens luxury kitchen which isn’t really the target category of AVForums) this was the one I coveted the most. The jump in size from the previous OLED screens I’ve seen really pushed home the advantages of the format and the industrial design is extremely appealing as well. If anyone at LG wants me to thoroughly shake a unit down over a period of, say two or three years, they know where to find me.
Yamaha had their recently released AV receivers on display in a sort of “shop counter” arrangement where they could be viewed on rotating platforms. The chaps manning it seemed to speak every European language and this display method was the easiest for making unit comparisons. The range itself looks evolutionary rather than revolutionary but I am sure performance should be good.
Across the way from Yamaha, Onkyo and TEAC were exhibiting together for the first time as both companies now share European distribution. As you might expect, AV receivers were a significant part of the stand but a big chunk of space was given over to two channel audio. With a range of Stereo Amps across both brands and some nifty digital products including a Spotify equipped digital audio player, Onkyo look to be on a determined move into the two channel category.
There were a number of glasses free 3D systems on display at IFA but the Toshiba one was probably the most convincing that I saw. The screens have a very definite sweet spot but there was much less loss of fine detail than some of the other systems on display. As a glasses wearer, the system has considerable appeal, but there is a little way to go yet before the system is truly up to speed.
Loewe rarely put in an appearance at UK shows so their stand was a good chance to see what they are up to as a company. As well as some very attractive desktop audio products and a range of electrostatic speakers that I confess I had no idea existed before the show, they had an area set aside to their customised high end screens. The screen in the pic with the embossed logo of the German nobility that had ordered it was a seriously impressive piece of design and craftsmanship. I couldn’t find anyone wanting to quote a price but I understand you tell Loewe what you want and they come back with a quote based on how outlandish your request is.
Promotional models were everywhere at IFA. Dressed in every permutation of outfit from “very respectable” to “barely legal,” there must have been several thousand present in total. Manufacturers made use of their models in various ways including leaflet bombing, gymnastic displays (no really) and sometimes even product demonstrations. In terms of demos, for every lucky lady doing a spot of Wii tennis, there were some slightly less fortunate ones, as seen above showing just what the latest Philips hoovers are capable of.
The dominating product category of IFA 2012 was headphones. I’ve gave up counting after forty stands and the sheer variety of designs was enormous. The headphone category has expanded dramatically across Europe but it will need to expand by quite a bit more if everyone entering the category is going to make the sales they are presumably hoping for!
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