The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is perhaps the largest show of its kind on the planet. Companies from around the world use this show as an opportunity to highlight their products, build relationships with distributors and show which emerging technologies their company will be backing in the years to come.
There are always trends to be found at CES, and while this year?s show may not have been as exciting as previous years, several subtle themes stood out. Plasma and LCD televisions continue to push forward with larger screen sizes and declining prices enticing the consumer to buy now while the technology is hot. Thomson, Philips, Pioneer, Sony and other major flat panel manufacturers presented their new products for 2005, while smaller and lesser known manufacturers such as Syntax and Kreisen unveiled LCD television lineups at record setting low prices.
Flat Panel televisions were only one of the themes we noticed this year. As could be expected the convergence gap between your homes personal computer and your home theater is closing even more. With interfaces like FireWire and HDMI coupled with wireless technologies such as 802.11X WiFi and Bluetooth, your PC?s media is only a button click away. Companies like Microsoft, ATI, and NERO among others showcased the power of their multimedia servers and software.
And lastly, the third major theme at the show was the awesome power of two new storage technologies, Blu-ray and HD DVD. Both promise larger storage capacities than ever before allowing companies to store high definition content and media. But which format should you choose? That will be a very tough decision to make. We saw several large companies promoting their support for one format or another. Pioneer, Panasonic Philips, HP, and Sony all showcased new products which take advantage of the Blu-ray format. But with the recent announcement of Hollywood?s support for HD DVD, Toshiba appears to be winning the battle for your home theater. Our predication is that you will see Blu-ray technology in computer and video game applications, while HD DVD will be used more for movies.
The Designtechnica staff was attending CES in Las Vegas from January 2nd to January 9th and walked through the large 1.38 million square feet Hilton Las Vegas Convention Center. This year?s show featured more than 2400 exhibitors and 140,000 attendees. Are our feet sore? You betcha, but our fix for technology subsided the pain in our shoes. Read on as we show you which products attracted our attention in this multi-part feature.
New Trends in Flat Panels
Samsung has announced the largest TV in the world, and this isn’t some big LCD or Projection TV. This 102 inch TV is all plasma with a contrast ratio of 2000:1 and a resolution of 1920 x 1080. Samsung has not revealed a price for this monster of a TV, but expect it to be above $50,000 USD. Every year at CES there is always a manufacturer breaking some type of TV barrier. Samsung didn’t just make the largest TV in the world, they also announced the world’s first 1080P DLP; The HLR5688W is a 56 inch DLP TV with 1920 x 1080 pixel density, 5000:1 contrast ratio and built-in CableCARD. They also announced the world’s largest DLP, the HLR6768W, measuring in at 67 inches.
Sharp showcased several new flat panel displays featuring multiple housing colors and materials. This Sharp Aquos features speakers on the bottom of the display rather than the side. It also features a car quality paint job similar to what we have seen from high-end PC manufacturers like VoodooPC. Notice how thin these LCD?s are.
Perhaps one of the coolest products in the Sharp booth was the Sharp Aquos housed in a wooden case. We apologize for the camera flash, but this was the best picture we could find of their LCD.
Philips had a very strong showing at this years CES and continued to push their new flat panels featuring their Ambilight technology. An ambient light which matches the image on the screen, glows behind the television to give the user a better viewing experience. While we cannot verify this claim, one of Pioneer?s representatives claimed the light noise diminishes the picture quality instead of enhancing it. There is no doubt though that the Philips flat panels are looking better than ever.
Newcomers Kreisen and Syntax both introduced flat panel displays at record low prices. Think under $2000 for a 30? LCD and you get the picture. Televisions from both camps feature PDP panels fromSamsung and LG.Philips, so you can bet they will look good.
The Battle for Your Media
At this year’s keynote speech, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates announced that the company has sold more than 1 million media center PC?s in 2004. This has to have attracted some attention because this year we saw a plethora or companies introducing new products which stream media content from your PC or their own media server, to your television. Are you stuck with a Microsoft product in order to do this? Don?t count on it.
Thomson owned Acoustic Research announced a new streaming media device which will search your home network for media content and display it on your television in high resolution. We love the polished aluminum look and the fact that Thomson?s goal was to make this product look good in your audio rack.
If you do not want pictures and video streamed throughout your home and would prefer only music, then Philips has the answer for you. As part of their Streamium line of products these new audio receivers will stream music to any room in your home using your existing network. They look great and sound even better.
This is the base station and media server for this Philips system. From our understanding, up to 4 receivers can be hooked up to the base for broadcasting music. Its on-screen menu was very simple to use and music was categorized by Album, Artist, and Genre. The system also supports UPnP.
Sonos attended this year?s show and showcased their Digital Music System which is slated to ship some time this month. What makes the Sonos system unique is their wireless remote control which features a color LCD screen. Simply put one of their base units in the room of your choice and the system will interface with your computer to stream music to that room. Add multiple base units throughout your home and listen to music independently or simultaneously ? it?s your choice.
Upper-end Media Center PC manufacturer Niveus Media was attending the show at Pierro?s press event. They had two flavors to show off, one system which is one of their Media Center PC?s and another which is a media storage server. Announced just last week, you can now control your Niveus system through your Pocket PC handheld giving you even more versatility. Also announced is their new K2 system which comes with ISF certification ensuring high quality content. This could be one of the best looking Media Center PC?s out on the market.
Like we mentioned, many companies have announced digital entertainment set-top boxes, and HP is one of them. However, with HP’s Digital Entertainment Center z550 series, they have taken it one step further. The z550 consists of two different models, both utilizing a sharp looking case that will fit will with your other home theater components. The z552 has two NTSC TV tuners, allowing for simultaneous pause, play and recording of two different channels. The z555 has a single ATSC over-the-air high-definition TV tuner that allows pause, play and recording of HD over-the-air shows. Both come equipped with a double-layer DVD+R/RW drive and are compatible with HP’s Digital Media Center Extender.
IPTV Starts To Make Waves
If you have been reading Designtechnica?s news, then you know that IP based Television, television content which comes through your existing broadband connection, will be available very soon ? if not already. If you are thinking this technology is a ways off and there is no way that television could come through the internet, its time to think again.
Announced during Bill Gates keynote speech, SBC showed off what their service will be capable of. Imagine truly interactive television. While watching a baseball game, you would like to know the batters statistics. Simply push a button and watch as a pop-up screen shows you the games scores, the batters batting average and even multiple angles of the same game. Not only is SBC capable of doing that, but you will be able to watch up to four independent programs in your home using the same internet connection. Oh and did we mention the built in PVR and the capability to tell your PVR what to record ? from your cell phone!
Akimbo is a new product which allows you to download programs of your choice and then watch them at a later time. It uses your broadband connection and you can choose from sports, movies, music, art and more. Akimbo is currently working on an MCE solution, so we are excited to see how the two technologies will be working together.
More Head Turners
Outside of the three major trends we saw at this years show, we saw several products which deserve a mention. With Comdex out of the picture, several PC component manufacturers took up camp at this year’s CES show.
ATI?s new TV Wonder elite may not sound so special on paper, but after a special presentation, we were very impressed by what we saw. Featuring multiple digital comb filters, the TV Wonder Elite was able to take a regular analog cable broadcast and make the text and image being shown a lot sharper and clearer. This will be one hot product when it?s released.
Pioneer had a prototype unit hanging on the wall of their booth. With this television/media server you can stream audio and video content directly to your television. The GUI interface was very simple to use. There is no word yet on product availability and price, or even how it interfaces with your computer. It?s nice to see Pioneer acknowledge the connected home.
Recently added to Wired Magazines Vaporware list, The Phantom Gaming System was on display at the NVIDIA booth. We have to admit that the unit is very attractive to look at, albeit a bit larger than we would prefer. The unique thing about this gaming console is that you download games to the unit using your broadband connection. There is no CD or DVD drive to be found. If the company never makes it to market, we are positive that they could sell the mouse/keyboard controller to the home theater PC market and still make some money.
That wraps up part one of our CES 2005 coverage. We will have Dennis Barker?s show write-up covering more home audio and video products later on in the week.
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