The confusion will continue
By David Katzmaier
December 16, 2005
CES 2005 brought lots of new terms into the already-confusing HDTV landscape, and this year we expect to hear at least a couple more. For every time somebody printed 1080p
in 2005, we expect 1080p-ready
to appear this year. So let's get specific.
1080p, take 1.2
Late in 2005, we finally got a chance to review the newfangled 1080p
rear-projection HDTVs, and we ended up liking one best
. That said, even the winner of our shoot-out, Sony's KDF-E60XBR1, couldn't accept 1080p sources; the only model that could was HP's MD6580n (more info
). While 1080p sources are very scarce today, we'll be seeing more of them in years to come, so future-conscious HDTV shoppers have rightly been concerned that none of the current HDTVs can accept these sources. That's why I expect manufacturers of 1080p and even lower-resolution HDTVs to announce some new level of future-readiness in their 2006 sets--maybe True 1080p
or, in one company's case, PlayStation3-ready
--to denote that they can indeed handle 1080p sources.
CES 2006 will also see the introduction of more flat-panel HDTVs with 1080p native resolution, including plasmas--Panasonic introduced 50- and 65-inch versions at CEATEC Japan last October--and more LCDs sized 37 inches and up, in the same vein as the Westinghouse LVM-37W1
iDCR? Maybe in 2007
Although this is another spec-related issue, bear with us for a second. Many current HDTVs have a feature called DCR
or Digital Cable Ready
, which allows them to display digital cable and HDTV cable signals without having to plug into a cable box. You just plug the cable from the wall into the back of the TV and slide in the authorization card (a.k.a. CableCard)--suddenly you're watching standard- or high-def digital cable. Unfortunately, the current system has its share of problems. CableCards can be scarce, and getting one installed can be even more of a hassle than a run-of-the-mill cable install. Once it's in, the CableCard still doesn't let you utilize the cable company's EPG
, nor does it let you order pay-per-view.
These issues with CableCard are two reasons why we'll be hearing at least something about two-way CableCards, which will require new iDCR-compliant televisions, at CES 2006. iDCR, or Interactive Digital Cable Ready, will allow the TV to communicate upstream with the cable provider, enabling EPGs, PPV, and other less desirable features, such as the ability for the cable provider or the content owner to restrict delivery of HD content over copy-protected digital outputs and even shut off or downconvert
the outputs of unprotected analog outputs. While cable companies and TV manufacturers work out the kinks, the next generation of HDTVs will probably be built without iDCR compatibility. Given the slow pace of the talks and the high stakes involved, we don't expect to see any iDCR HDTVs hit the market in 2006, although Samsung will probably have an iDCR HDTV on display at its booth anyway.
Cheaper plasmas, less projection
V Vizio P50HDM
Ever since 42-inch plasmas broke the $2,000 barrier, it's been difficult for manufacturers to sell many 42-inch rear-projection HDTVs. After all, who would want a bulky projection set if a sleek flat-panel costs around the same amount? In 2005, we saw plasmas encroach upon the territory of 50-inch projection sets, and next year, 50-inch RPTVs will be threatened even further. Just this holiday season we saw prices of $2,500 for a 50-inch Vizio P50HDM
; although a great price, it's still $500 to $1,000 more than you'd pay for a "bargain" 50-inch DLP or LCD-based projection HDTV. In 2006, the prices of 50-inch plasmas will fall even further, and we'll see inklings of these plasma price drops--spurred, as usual, by Panasonic--at CES.
Cheaper LCDs at plasma sizes
In 2005, numerous flat-panel LCDs at 40 and 42 inches hit the market at prices from $4,000 to $5,000--significantly more than what you'd expect to pay for a 42-inch plasma. In 2006, that gap will narrow considerably, thanks to plummeting large-screen LCD prices; we expect to see 40- and 42-inch LCDs for less than $2,500 by the holiday season of 2006. They'll still cost more than plasma, but people who are concerned about plasma's reliability (more info
) will likely choose LCD instead.
Next-generation flat-panel tech
Last year, a few companies--most notably Samsung--showed new LCD backlight technologies such as FFL
, but the products didn't hit the market as promised. In 2006, we expect these step-up LCDs to be trotted out again and to finally be available in stores to people willing to pay the premium. Of course, in an HDTV landscape so confusing that people can't tell a plasma from an LCD, we think that marketing a new backlight
technology for LCD will be pretty difficult.
At CES 2005, we also saw a demonstration of the new flat-panel technology designed by Toshiba and Canon called SED
(surface-conduction electron-emitter display). The companies later claimed to have products available for sale by 2006, so we expect them both to announce products that'll be in stores by the holiday season next year. Initial SEDs will be extremely expensive compared to similarly sized plasma and LCD flat-panel HDTVs.