CONSUMER ELECTRONICS SHOW: CNET editors cover the Next Big Thing
The next Xbox, high-def DVD,
By David Carnoy
(December 15, 2004)
Every year, a couple of headlines come out of CES. In the proud tradition of bold predictions, we're going out on a limb and stating that game consoles and DVD storage will land on the front page. But that's just the start for home theater at CES.
Microsoft's next box
This year, the easy money seems to be on Microsoft trotting out its next-generation Xbox, sometimes dubbed Xbox Next or Xbox 2. A gaming console might not immediately appear to be related to home theater, but the rumor is that Microsoft is cooking up three flavors of Xbox 2, with the most expensive model allegedly possessing Media Center-like capabilities (the basic Xbox 2 is rumored to lack a hard drive).
Even if the rumors are off-base, there's no refuting that both Sony and Microsoft have designs on your living room. As a result, you can expect next-gen consoles to be more than gaming units and to incorporate an increasing number of home-theater features, including possible support for our next odds-on favorite and big story at the show: high-def DVD.
HD-DVD vs. Blu-ray
As you might already know, two high-def formats, HD-DVD and Blu-ray, are already doing battle, though neither is available in the United States yet. The Blu-ray consortium, named for its blue laser technology, is led by Sony; the HD-DVD consortium (also blue laser technology) is led by Toshiba. Sony's upcoming PS3 is rumored to possibly include Blu-ray support; there's still no word what Xbox 2 will support, though one of the names being bandied about on the Internet for the midrange Xbox 2 is Xbox HD.
What's the other big story? Well, in displayland, it'll be about higher-quality, higher-resolution mainstream displays--and that includes front projectors, too. The key phrases you can expect to see a lot of in print are 1080p and 1,920x1,080 high-definition video. In lay terms, you're talking about a display that can finally show or resolve the true full resolution of HDTV. (For more detail on this, take a look at David Katzmaier's CES preview on TV technology.)
After that, the home-theater headlines get a little smaller. Here's a look at some of them:
From the Far East
Dell, HP, and other computer companies will continue to muscle in on consumer electronics (CE), going head-to-head with those old CE stalwarts with their own audio and video products--many of them networked. However, a variety of upstart no-name manufacturers will show off budget high-def TVs and home-theater-in-a-box systems. Need we say where those products are being manufactured?
DVR meets DVD-R
TiVo and TiVo-like DVRs (digital video recorders) and DVD recorders were popular this year, and with prices dropping, these VCR killers are proliferating. Cable and satellite providers have jumped in with their own "free" DVRs (you pay a small monthly fee for the accompanying service), and DirecTV/TiVo and Dish Network already offer DVRs that can record high-definition programming. We expect to see more hard-disk DVRs married with DVD burners, as well as one of our most eagerly anticipated products: an HD DVR that downconverts high-def video to standard definition and burns it to a DVD with the touch of a button. Also, keep an eye out for Digital Cable Ready (DCR) DVRs (TiVo, perhaps?) that can record in high-def without the cable box.
You have music and images on your computer, and companies figure there's money in helping you bring all that content into your living room--in many cases, wirelessly. That go-between device is called a digital media server; it enables not only MP3 playback through your stereo but also digital photo and video playback on your TV. We said they'd be hot in 2004, and they have been with early adopters. But expect even more consumer-friendly products to be unveiled at this year's show, including networked DVD jukeboxes and A/V receivers that can tap into your home network.
Plasma-friendly speakers and HDMI switching
On the audio front, we don't expect anything revolutionary. But we're already seeing a steady stream of companies trying to tap into the whole flat-panel craze with wall-mountable speakers that actually sound good. And now that most new HDTVs will come equipped with HDMI connectors for delivering digital audio and video in a single cable, we'll have our eye out for A/V receivers that include said connections. Hopefully, we'll start seeing them in midrange receivers so that savvy consumers can take advantage of video switching via their receivers once they buy their new HDTVs.
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