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CES 2006

Once again, CES managed to out-grow itself. This year's attendance reportedly exceeded 150,000, and the show spilled out of the Las Vegas Convention Center over to the Sands Expo Center.

CES 2006

Once again, CES managed to out-grow itself. This year’s attendance reportedly exceeded 150,000, and the show spilled out of the Las Vegas Convention Center over to the Sands Expo Center.

Pete Putman, CTS, ISF

Once again, CES managed to out-grow itself. This year’s attendance reportedly exceeded 150,000, and the show spilled out of the Las Vegas Convention Center over to the Sands Expo Center.

For anyone venturing into the convention centers, a game plan was a must. Needless to say, there were truckloads of TVs and other display products on hand, although the vast majority of them didn’t represent any significant breakthroughs in technology. I saw lots of plasma TVs, even more LCD TVs, plenty of projectors, and rows of rear-projection TVs. (Kind of like being stuck in a bad Best Buy dream.)

Those silly “mine’s bigger than yours!” battles from last year continued as Panasonic unveiled a 103-inch plasma TV, billing it as the world’s largest. But that was simply an inch larger than the comparable offerings from Samsung (first seen at CES 2005) and LG.

In a more practical vein, we saw 50-inch, 55-inch, and 60-inch 1920×1080 plasma TVs from Panasonic, Pioneer, Hitachi, LG, and Samsung (can they make them cheaply enough to compete with 1080p rear projection?). Samsung also introduced an improved FilterBright color system that combines improved anti-glare glass, better phosphor mixes, and 13-bit processing for each color channel.

For the plasma folks, achieving 1080p resolution in 50-inch sizes gives them a leg up on 1080p RPTVs while holding LCD technology at arm’s length. If the only advantage you have is lower price in a given screen size, then 768p resolution isn’t going to cut the mustard.

LG took a different approach with its 50BP2DW 50-inch wireless plasma, which uses 802.11 wireless technology. LG also had a couple of models with built-in personal video recorders (PVRs), the 60BP2DR and 50BP2DR. Each has dual ATSC/QAM tuners for simultaneous viewing and time shifting of TV programs.

There were many plasma models being offered, but they couldn’t hold a candle to all of the LCD TVs and monitors hanging out at the show, particularly in the larger sizes. Sharp added another screen size to its expansive line of Aquos LCD TVs, plugging the 57-inch LC-57D90U ($15,999) in between its 45-inch and yet-to-ship 65-inch sets.

Both Sony and Samsung showed 82-inch LCD TVs at CES, but Samsung got so much buzz about this product at CeBit 2005 that its CES demos were anticlimactic. On the other hand, Sony’s 82-inch Bravia prototype LCD TV demo wasn’t impressive. It claims a wider color gamut for this product using LEDs, but the colors from the Sony Pictures demo clips had plenty of false contours and looked mottled.

LCD prices continue to drop with 37-inch 1080p integrated digital TVs coming this year at $2,999 and 42-inch prices at $3,999. Note that those are both MSRPs; street prices will be considerably lower, particularly if the manufacturer is using LCD panels from China.

Several 1080p LCD TVs and “displays” (with NTSC tuners as factory-installed options) were in abundance at BenQ, Westinghouse Digital, Sharp, Norcent, LG, Syntax Olevia, Philips, Samsung, Sony, and in the LG Philips LCD demo room upstairs. While the 37-inch 1080p products are already on the market, the big battle for 2006 will be in the 40-inch and 42-inch sizes against 768p plasma TVs — hence, the demonstration that plasma manufacturers can get to 1080p if they have to, although at a much higher cost. Unfortunately, both technologies are fighting for a smaller slice of the pie when it comes to profitability. Considering that the six largest LCD manufacturers in China made about 3 percent profit in fiscal 2004, you wonder why they bother.

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CES 2006

Once again, CES managed to out-grow itself. This year’s attendance reportedly exceeded 150,000, and the show spilled out of the Las Vegas Convention Center over to the Sands Expo Center.

All those LCD screens were nice, but the real story was the widespread use of light-emitting diodes (LEDs) across a whole range of flat-panel products at CES — not just in LCD TVs. Wherever you saw LED backlights, you couldn’t help but be impressed by color quality. Reds just popped better, greens were appealing but not over-saturated, and formerly difficult colors like amber yellow and turquoise came to life in a way they had never been seen on plasma screens or with cold-cathode fluorescents (CCFLs).

The LED-equipped rear-projection sets were also impressive for their brightness and contrast. Samsung had the 56-inch HL-S5679W ($3,999) 1080p DLP model running RGB LEDs, and nearby Sanyo unveiled a rear-projection LCD set with a similar engine. Across the aisle, Akai claimed it could make a 46-inch LED DLP RPTV with 1080p resolution available for well less than $2,000 at some point.

Samsung, Philips, LG, Sony, and a host of smaller companies all had LED-backlit LCD TVs and monitors hung on the walls. There are several reasons to move to LEDs as illuminants, such as the pending European Union ban on products that contain mercury, which includes CCFL backlights in LCD TVs and the popular short-arc UHP/UHE lamps in portable projectors.

LED color can be achieved with separate red, green, and blue diodes, operated either in steady-state mode (sucking lots of current along the way) or in switched mode with fast refresh rates. White LEDs can also be put to work with embedded color filters much the same way that CCFLs are used, running continuously or pulsed. The pulsing technique has one advantage — it improves motion detail in LCDs.

A fifth LED lighting scheme demonstrated at the Digital Experience tabletop show by Cree Inc., a manufacturer of LEDs in Durham, NC, showed an efficient white LED chip with discrete red, green, and blue elements that could be tuned individually. Several of these chips were incorporated into a backlight that used no more power than a CCFL, but was considerably brighter.

The most obvious advantage of LED illuminants is color quality. CCFLs are bright and don’t draw much electricity, but their spectral output is quite lopsided in favor of greenish-blue color shades. Samsung and LG both showed CCFLs with improved color rendering, but they didn’t hold a candle to the nearby LED light engines.

LEDs are also durable when compared to projection lamps. The estimated life of an LED is between 50,000 to 100,000 hours when it’s operated within normal current limits. It can withstand quite a bit of mechanical shock without breaking, survives a wide range of operating temperatures, won’t explode if operated right to the end of its life, and doesn’t change color as it ages.

In the projector world, InFocus and Optoma both had low-cost ($2,999) single-chip 720p DLP front projectors. Optoma also unveiled the HD81, a new single-chip 1080p model that will sell for less than $10,000. It resembles a SIM2 design with its round shape and recessed lens. Toshiba had a new low-cost home cinema projector in a similar case design with Silicon Optix Realta processing that will retail in the $1,400 range.

BenQ’s “spa” DLP projector was a zany product. This desktop DLP design has a small compartment where drops of aromatherapy oil can be placed. As the projector warms up, the oil is heated and disperses through the room. That immediately begs a question: What happens to all of the oil vapor when it cools down and condenses back onto the projector housing?

Things were just as busy in the rear-projection TV department, where long-time supporter of LCD RPTV technology Panasonic unveiled several new DLP models this year, while Sanyo showed 55-inch and 65-inch LCD rear-projection sets and Epson put the spotlight on a pair of new 1080p LCD monitors using the latest 0.9-inch panels. Sony managed to cut 30 percent of the depth out of a new 55-inch SXRD RPTV, but Texas Instruments went one better with a 9-inch-thick DLP set with a 44-inch screen that’s intended to fit existing TV furniture.

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CES 2006

Once again, CES managed to out-grow itself. This year’s attendance reportedly exceeded 150,000, and the show spilled out of the Las Vegas Convention Center over to the Sands Expo Center.

At the other extreme, Optoma came up with three super-sized BigVizion 1080p DLP RPTVs in a 600-pound crate for in-wall installation. All three have 1080p resolution and the screen size choices are 80, 90, and 100 inches with prices in the $18,000 to $26,000 range. The front screen tilts up at a 45-degree angle for servicing, and there are two front screen surface choices.

For those into the whole “Elvis has been sighted” thing, Canon and Toshiba’s elusive surface-conduction electronic-emitting device (SED) was much easier to inspect this year — both companies set up small theaters to show arrays of 36-inch models. For some odd reason, the lines were enormous at the Toshiba booth, while you could easily walk right into the nearby Canon demo.

Unfortunately, we still haven’t seen the promised 55-inch version of this technology, so we only know that the Canon/Toshiba joint venture SED Inc. can make more than one 36-inch model. There’s a formidable obstacle to the success of SED, and that’s the market priced structure for flat-panel displays in this size category. Unless the 55-inch product can be delivered for less than $5,000 retail, it doesn’t stand a chance against plasma, LCD, and all the different RPTV iterations.

No visit to CES would be complete without a discussion of about Blu-ray and HD-DVD. Both formats had plenty of demos around the convention center. Although most of the players shown incorporated Blu-ray technology, the HD-DVD camp had numerous announcements of movie titles and software partners.

Toshiba claims its HD-DVD players will be shipping shortly; two models were demonstrated at CES with the least expensive priced at $500. In addition to HP and Microsoft, both of which insist on support for the iHD interactive overlay for HD-DVD (something the Blu-ray camp doesn’t plan to support), NBC-Universal, Warner Brothers, and New Line studios will have films available in the HD-DVD format for 2006.

CES showed that if you follow the display industry, you’ve got plenty on your plate for the coming year. Price wars between plasma and LCD (particularly at 40- and 42 inches), continued migration to 1080p resolution on all technology platforms, another video format war (just what we need), and the usual “phantom” technologies hovering in the background will keep things interesting for months to come!

Pete Putman is a contributing editor for Pro AV and president of ROAM Consulting, Doylestown, PA. Especially well known for the product testing/development services he provides manufacturers of projectors, monitors, integrated TVs, and display interfaces, he has also authored hundreds of technical articles, reviews, and columns for industry trade and consumer magazines over the last two decades. You can reach him at [email protected]

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