The annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was held again this year between January 6 and January 9, 2005 in Las Vegas, NV. With the demise of COMDEX, CES has now become the leading trade show in the U.S. covering both consumer electronics and computer products. It was extremely crowded this year with more than 140,000 attendees, and reportedly over 6,000 members of the international press. Unlike C.E.D.I.A. which is a pleasure to cover every year, CES is a monster show growing bigger and more sprawling each year. It covers three convention halls, the Hilton hotel, and various outside structures in front of the Center and South Halls. High-end audio is located at the Alexis Park. Next year, the Sands Convention Center will be used also. Several manufactures such as Thomson (RCA), JVC, Hitachi and others utilize space in hotels like Caesars Palace and Mandalay Bay making CES an extremely more difficult show to cover.
While most current products are on display on the show floors, there are several trends that come to light each year. Last year, for example, the theme of the show was emerging HDTV sets, and how many each manufacture would have in its respective line. Well, HDTV is here and now, and growing by leaps and bounds every day with more and more programming content being brought forth by network, cable, and satellite providers every day. The tuner mandate is a reality, and everyone is complying. By mid-year 2005, all new sets (over 36-in.) will include an ASTC tuner. Some manufacturers are placing them in all sets 27-in. and above. CRT sets are falling to the wayside being relegated to the low-end being manufactured in China, and assembled in Mexico. Many of the newer CRT sets may be what is being called SDTV (or Standard Definition TV). Ultimately, these sets will be able to receive HDTV signals and downconvert them to 480i or 480p.
Trends and Developments
While last year everyone talked about high definition images of either 720p or 1080i in 2004, this year we will see the move to 1080p or screen resolution of 1920×1080. Texas Instruments (TI) announced that three companies: LG, Samsung, and Toshiba will all offer 1080p rear projection DLP sets starting Fall 2005. All I can say is that the images looked stunning to behold. Will there by 1080p programming this Fall? The answer is NO. However, the sets will upconvert 720p or 1080i signals to 1080p. So, it really doesn?t matter right now. JVC previewed their rear projection HD-ILA 1080p product privately, which is a variation of LCoS technology. In the rear projection LCD arena, Epson also previewed their 1080p set. Rear projection LCD has been re-named 3LCD to differentiate itself as a 3-chip solution vs. DLP?s 1-chip solution. Which is better? Let you eyes be the judge. Each technology has its pluses and minuses. Sony will continue in the 3LCD camp with its Grand Wega line plus offer a line of SXRD televisions, which is another LCoS variant. Speaking of LCoS, LG and Brillian will both have 1080p LCoS HDTVs in 2005 in 65-in. and 70-in. screen sizes.
Turning to Video for a moment, there seems to be a Format War looming on the horizon. It will be Blu-Ray vs. HD DVD by the end of the year. Each camp is digging in their heels for this ?face-off? that can potentially hurt the consumer. Who will win? At this point, it?s hard to say. Which is better? This is also hard to say also as each format has its own pluses and minuses. Who is superior? Here again, it?s hard to say. We can say that Blu-Ray has much greater storage capacity than HD DVD, but HD DVD is cheaper to manufacturer with little or no re-tooling by the current suppliers. So, there?s a clear tug-of-war here on various fronts. And, we know from the past that superior formats don?t necessarily win. Just look at Betamax vs. VHS. HD DVD, which has been developed by Toshiba (the leading inventor of DVD), will arrive in November 2005 with player only models from Toshiba, Sanyo, and RCA. Warner Home Video has already announced 50+ titles along with Universal Home Video and New Line. Blu-Ray, which is led by the Sony camp, will offer player/recorder models in early 2006 with titles from Columbia/TriStar (Sony Pictures) and MGM. Of course, there is a remote possibility that the two camps could come to some agreement before each?s official launch, but at this moment in time, it?s unlikely.
On the satellite front, there was some troubling news. Satellite is moving to MPEG4 from MPEG2 for HD content, and this could be problematical for DirecTV subscribers. The Dish Network (EchoStar) has a clear upgrade and replacement path for its subscribers, and has done this before as new (and better) technology has come about. DirecTV, on the other hand, may disenfranchise its current HD subscriber base; namely, everyone who has purchased an HDTV set-top box to date. At their press conference at CES, they had no plans for replacement of boxes from its current subscriber base. What this means is that you would have to buy a completely new box from DirecTV to continue receiving HD content because there?s not enough room on MPEG2 for HD. While DirecTV is launching more satellites (into different orbits), MPEG4 offers better compression. This is all supposed to start mid-year 2005 in the leading markets like NY, LA, and Chicago among other cities. It may also entail a new dish as well with up to 5 LNBs, but we simply don?t know. When DirecTV officials were pressed for details, they did not offer any. All I can say is ?stay tuned.?
PART I – HD Displays
Toshiba/Canon previewed their new S.E.D. technology to select members of the press by its developers from Japan. S.E.D. stands for Surface-Conduction Electron-emitter Display. Essentially, S.E.D. is the marriage of the best of CRT (tube) technology with the best attributes of flat panel displays. It was absolutely phenomenal! S.E.D. has a native resolution of 1080p, and has a reported contrast ratio of 8600:1 along with a response time of 1 ms (milliseconds). The set is self-illuminating for low power consumption, and is about 4-in. deep. It will be offered in 50-in.+ screen sizes at a premium price (think current high-end large-screen LCD prices) starting 1st quarter 2006. The comparison they made was with plasma and LCD monitors. All displays were configured at 720p for a fair comparison including the SED sample. There was unprecedented image clarity from S.E.D., and extremely precise image detail. The blacks were perfect equaling or bettering the best CRT displays that I?ve seen in over 20 years. Every editor in attendance was truly impressed. Everyone felt that it was the best display that we have seen (including SXRD) to date.
Plasma TVs were shown in numerous booths at CES. Virtually every major CE brand now has a stable of plasma TVs Brands that are household names, and some that you might not be familiar with. Currently, Samsung has bragging rights by showing its 102-in. 1080p plasma display. While this was only a hand-built sample, they were trying to show off to everyone their manufacturing prowess. My only question is how do you get it in the house? Can it be folded? Maybe you have to build the house around it. At present, there were no plans on producing this technological marvel in the near future
LG, on the other hand, announced that they were finally shipping their 71-in. plasma HDTV, which was introduced last year, costing a mere $75,000. LG had numerous plasma introductions at the show including their new 50-in. (50PY2DR) and 60-in. (60PY2DR) integrated HD models featuring DCR (Digital Cable Ready w/CableCARD), and a 160GB DVR with TV Guide On-Screen. All new models feature LG?s proprietary XD Engine technology. LG further announced that it will also be shipping its large 55-in. (55LP1D) flat-panel LCD HDTV in Spring 2005. With a screen resolution topping 1920x1080p, this model features integrated ATSC/NTSC tuners. It received a 2005 CES Innovations Award.
Not to be outdone, Pioneer Electronics introduced four new replacement plasma widescreen displays ranging between 43-in. and 50-in. screen sizes. Both models are integrated HD models, which are DCR capable. The four models come in two flavors: single body styles or models with a separate media receivers. All models feature Pioneer?s Pure Drive proprietary technology, a First Surface Pure Color Filter, Deep Encased Cell Structure, Advanced PureCinema II with 3:3 pull-down (instead of 3:2 pull-down), and Advanced Continuous Emission III (ACE III).
Sharp continues to pioneer flat-panel LCD technology with new introductions to its AQUOS line. Sharp introduced a whopping 65-in. HDTV LCD, which is a reported 30-percent bigger than the previous record holder. This HD model will have a resolution of 1080p, is Digital Cable Ready with CableCARD, and will be available in two finishes: titanium and piano-black. Pricing and availability were not announced. Previously, Sharp?s largest HD LCD display was several 45-in. models with speakers on either side- or bottom-mounted. Sharp recently won an Emmy for the technology behind the AQUOS line.
JVC will continue to expand its D-ILA line in 2005 by the addition of four new models in screen sizes ranging from 52-in. to 70-in. All models will feature integrated HD tuning. The company will also introduce two 1080p HD-ILA models in the Fall. They will be available in both 61-in. (HD-61FH96) and 70-in. (HD-70FH96) models. Pricing has not been set as of yet.
While the Taiwanese group of companies continues to pump out flat-panel LCD displays in record numbers, Westinghouse Digital is attempting to lead the pack. Westinghouse announced their new 1080p line with screen resolutions of 1920×1080 for 2005 to include 37-in., 42-in. and 47-in. models with a MSRP starting at $2,499 beginning in 2nd quarter 2005. All models with have a 12 ms (millisecond) response time, and feature twin DVI inputs. BenQ, to stay competitive, will also be offering both a 37-in. (DP3750) and 46-in. (DP4870) 1920×1080 flat-panel HDTV flat-panel LCD models. Model DP4870 will have a response time of 8ms.
We can expect only more and more flat-panel products to be introduced in 2005 by all CE manufacturers as prices continue to drop precipitously. Further, virtually all manufacturers offer MicroDisplay rear projection HDTVs. While the overwhelming majority of models will be 720p DLP sets, 3LCD and LCoS will also be represented in 2005. It should also be noted that several companies like Toshiba, Hitachi and RCA among others will continue to offer low-cost CRT-based rear projection HDTVs at prices starting at under $1,000 to reach consumers with limited television budgets. Lastly, some CRT manufacturers will offer Standard Definition TVs (SDTVs) in sizes under 36-in. that will take HD signals and downconvert them to 480p. These sets could be in the $500 to $800 range.