CES 2004: In-Car DVD-Audio from Panasonic and Elliot Scheiner [HFR]

CES 2004: In-car DVD-Audio from Panasonic was under the spotlight on the Friday afternoon of CES when I spent some time away from the main show floor at the Las Vegas Convention Center to attend a reception entitled “A Concert in Your Car” at the Aladdin Hotel, held by the car audio group of Panasonic. As I reported earlier (see associated stories, below) DVD-Audio took another step towards greater consumer awareness with the development by Panasonic and Elliot Scheiner of the “ELS” DVD-Audio system for the Acura TL. I only had a short time to listen to the system at the Dolby booth so the Panasonic reception provided the opportunity for a more in depth assessment.

At Surround 2002 Elliot Scheiner and some of his fellow professionals caused something of a stir by admitting their reluctance to mix for a hard center channel. Elliott appears to have changed his mind as a center speaker is very much in evidence in the dashboard above the head unit in the ELS system! The demo disc that comes with the car has plenty of good test material, including a couple of tracks that really show the difference between stereo and multichannel audio. Just as in a home system, the differences are not subtle. From both the driver and passenger’s seat the multichannel was very enveloping and the sweet spot did not seem to be limited to the driver’s location. A really aggressive mix such as Nathaniel Kunkel’s award-winning Insane Clown Posse disc would have been a really good demo, but it was not available at the reception.

Elliot Scheiner and Panasonic RepresentativeSurround engineer Elliot Scheiner (left) with a Panasonic representative at CES 2004

The ELS system has a few shortcomings. It is only compatible with DVD-Audio, CD and DTS music only discs (sometimes referred to as DTS CDs). It does not have anything similar to the Harman Specialty Group’s Logic 7 processing to extract multichannels from stereo, and it is not compatible with DVD-Video so you will not be able to play all those concert DVDs, not even just the audio (the system does not have a proper video display). There is some flexibility in calibration of output levels but not of the sophistication you would see in a home system. Finally the system is only available as an OEM factory option – you will not be able to stop by your local car audio installer and order one for your own car. One other very neat thing about the Acura TL is that it has a built in Bluetooth receiver/transmitter linked to the audio system and a microphone, so that with a Bluetooth enabled phone, you can make cordless hands free calls.

After my listening session in the Acura, the Hummer H2 caught my eye – a totally different vehicle fitted with what looked like an after-market ELS DVD-Audio system. My interest was piqued as my wife and I have just bought a new car and while the audio system is no slouch, it is not multichannel. Further investigation revealed however that the system in the Hummer is a one-off built by Panasonic for development purposes. However, this got me to thinking about whether the other specialised car audio manufacturers were working on after-market DVD-Audio products. More on that in a later report…