(As posted in the Model 998 Forum by Peter)
Fellow Outlaws and Gunslingers:
On behalf of the Outlaws, I want to thank you for your comments and criticism about us in this thread. In particular we have found the extensive comments by RedslinPA very perceptive. (I wonder if he is bugging the Hideout!)
Developing a fully featured, state of the art surround processor is extremely complex . Indeed, the market for surround processors has become a moving target with everyone struggling to keep up with the changing technology environment for HDMI, connectivity and audio codecs. Yet those of us in this business have no choice but to play the cards we have been dealt, even if they are constantly being re-shuffled in the middle of a hand.
As I promised you last week, here is an update on the Model 998. We waited until now so that we could include information from the in-person meetings the Outlaws held last week during CEDIA Expo in Atlanta with our processor design team. With those meetings now complete, we can provide you with an up to date status report.
While there has been a great deal of on-going activity and much progress on the Model 998, we have also confronted a number of technical issues that had to be resolved.
First, and most important, despite our continued commitment to implementing Trinnov processing on the Model 998, we have encountered substantial development hurdles. At the same time, the design team has had its hands full working to ensure a totally bug-free implementation of HDMI Version 1.4a with both 3D capability and the Audio Return Channel.
The time and effort required to deliver truly consistent compatibility with the wide range of Blu-ray players, cable boxes, satellite receivers, telco based services such as FIOS, games and other external sources is a major challenge. These are new technologies that require extraordinary care and testing. (Anyone who has followed the discussions in the on-line forums knows that even some of the big players in this industry have already learned the hard way that this is a difficult technology to master).
Given a finite set of engineering resources, we realized that it would simply cause an unacceptable delay if we were to simultaneously implement both Trinnov and HDMI Version 1.4a in a new AV processor at the same time and expect it be trouble free at launch.
With that in mind, it is clear to us that, at this time, flawless implementation of the new HDMI Version 1.4a features is more critical than Trinnov. Therefore, we have decided to modify our product plan by dropping Trinnov for now, with the revised processor named the Model 978. This will cause a slight delay in the introduction date from late this year to the first quarter of 2011, but it assures us a bug-free launch. Once we get past the launch of the Model 978 we will be free to return to work on the Trinnov-enabled Model 998.
To be clear, the Model 978 is not a “new” project, but simply a modified version of the same Model 998 we have been working on. As such, we can take advantage of the work already done to fill you in on some of the features and functions you will see in the Model 978.
From an operational standpoint, the Model 978 will be simple, straightforward and easy for everyone in the house to operate. The knowledgeable home theater enthusiast will have the power and flexibility they demand, while the more tech-averse members of the family will be able to use it without problems. After all, what fun is great sound and pictures if it’s too hard to use?
This ease of use will even extend to direct USB software upgrade capability. No “loaders” will be needed; simply download the files to a USB stick, plug it into the front panel USB jack, press a few buttons on the remote, and you will be good to go.
The Model 978 will include five “fast switching” HDMI inputs along with two HDMI outputs, and it will be fully compliant with Version 1.4a offering 3D compatability and the Audio Return Channel.
Our video processing and scaling will be from Anchor Bay, using the chip sets found on many high-end Blu-ray players and AVRs.
On the audio side there will be both balanced and “standard” unbalanced outputs, (including dual subwoofer outputs). Of course, there will also be multiple analog and digital inputs for your legacy sources.
As part of this “simple, straightforward, and great sounding” philosophy, we’ve intentionally decided not to include every “bell and whistle”. For example, there will not be any network connectivity or similar services. That is best left to other companies who specialize in this sort of technology, and you’ll have many options for that in your system as time moves forward. (In addition, the testing and compliance necessary for adding broadband or home-network connectivity would simply delay the product further.)
In the last year we have all noticed that networking capability has become redundant throughout home entertainment systems as it appears in a host of products. As more and more devices are network-equipped, it makes no sense for us to duplicate what you will undoubtedly have in your HDTV, Blu-ray player, video game console, HTPC, AppleTV, Roku, SqueezeBox, Popcorn, BoxeeBox or similar product to deliver networked entertainment and other subscription and streaming services. This way, those who desire such services will be able to select the product that best suits their needs without our cost-penalizing those who are not interested in them.
Our job will be to provide the needed HDMI, digital audio and analog audio inputs for you to connect to and to deliver the great sound and video these network services provide.
There is one more VERY CRITICAL aspect of the Model 978 I want to tell you about. The Outlaws have always been committed to audio quality, and that is where this processor will really shine. While the Model 978 will not include Trinnov, it will offer an Audyssey suite of EQ/Room Correction and Volume Leveling technologies.
The ADC, DSP and similar key components have also been carefully selected for audio quality with careful attention to both two-channel and multi-channel audio performance.
Most important, the Model 978 carries one addition to what was planned for the Model 998: true state of the art DACs. We’ve already auditioned them using a reference board, and the sound is just incredible. Regardless of the audio/video source or surround mode, the Model 978 will deliver sound quality well beyond anything we’ve ever been able to offer until now.
We will provide more details as we get closer, but a few additional points in anticipation of your questions:
- This will be an “Outlaw Exclusive” product. It is designed by us, and is being developed in conjunction with experienced engineering teams. Further, it will be built in a factory we have selected after examining a number of potential manufacturers. This isn’t an “off the shelf” product shared with others. If you want a product with these features, you’ll have to buy it from us.
- We own the design and we will own the software code. That means it will ship with all features working as promised. In the unlikely event that there are any problems we’ll be able to promptly correct them. If a patch is needed, you will have the USB-direct upgrade feature to modify the software without any “loader” hassles.The Model 978 will retain the same industrial design and appearance we’ve previously shown for our next generation platform.
- Based on the current schedule, we will have the first Alpha samples in November and a planned release date in the first quarter of 2011. As with any complex product, this date is subject to change due our requirement to put first round of off-tool samples through an extensive beta test that some of you will be part of. In addition, with some of the standards a moving target, we can’t nail down the exact time that will be needed to obtain all the needed certifications from HDMI, Dolby, DTS, UL/CSA and for FCC compliance testing.
The above notwithstanding, we’ll ship it as soon as it is fully ready, not
before. We will do our beta testing before the product ships, not afterwards. We strongly believe that while home theater is a hobby to many, it has to be enjoyable for all and having to struggle to make a processor operate as it was intended should not be part of that equation.
The final question, of course, is “what will it cost”. We’ve already ordered some of the critical long-lead parts, but semiconductor pricing is still quite volatile. In addition, the cost of copper, aluminum and steel along with other parts and costs may cause some changes one way or the other. For now, let’s simply say that it will be a great value at any price. Oh, and yes, despite the model number change, any “Outlaw Owner Discounts” promised for the Model 998 will, of course, be applicable here.
A closing note: Along with the Model 978 and Model 998 we are in the midst of the most aggressive new product development cycle in our history. We have four design teams with specific specialties working on five new products, and they will ALL
be Outlaw exclusives. (Although one company has asked us to build a version for them.) One product is so unique that we can say with a certainty that not only will no other brand offer it; there is no product like it anywhere in the consumer or professional audio markets. Two of these new products are in beta test as you read this, and at least one of them should be available before Thanksgiving. (It is the product we promised to the winner of the “Peter’s Demo” search a while back.)
Yes, there have been some bumps in the trail over the past year or so. However, let there be no doubt that the Outlaws are here to stay. We are committed to delivering high-value, high-performance audio and video products for many years to come.