CONSUMER ELECTRONICS SHOW: CNET editors cover the Next Big Thing
CES 2005 wrap-up: big-time TVs
By David Katzmaier
(January 10, 2005)
You have to hand it to Samsung: by now, anybody who's read a CES wrap-up knows that the Korean manufacturer produced a one-off, 102-inch plasma TV that, depending on the report you read, "wowed" or "floored" or "astonished" show-goers.
The most common TV question overheard at the show was, "How can LG claim that its 71-inch plasma is the biggest? Samsung's is 102 inches!" (Hint: the LG booth did say largest "production" plasma; that company's 71-incher goes on sale this year.) Getting noticed is the hardest thing to do at CES, and Samsung did it well. The company's massive booth, which seemed more like a mini convention in itself, was home to a carpeted orgy of TV innovations.
Show-goers were also treated to the world's largest flat-panel LCD TV, Sharp's 65-inch Aquos. A pair of these, one black and one silver, sat front and center at the company's booth, flanked by concentric ranks of smaller LCDs; the 45-incher looked positively diminutive next to the 65-inch set.
1080p comes home
Counting inches is the most common way to cover TVs at CES, but this year, pixel-counters also had a field day. Nearly every manufacturer either announced or announced plans to produce 1080p-capable televisions to be released this year. A native resolution of 1,920x1,080 (or 1080p, for short) allows these sets to theoretically show every detail of 1080i high-def, the highest-resolution HDTV format.
Japanese major players such as Sony, Toshiba, Mitsubishi, and Hitachi decided to save specific announcements for their respective line shows later this year, while Korean early risers such as Samsung and LG saw fit to announce 1080p microdisplay TVs at the show itself. Samsung's set won our Next Big Thing Award by virtue of its "largest" designation and the company's leading role in advancing DLP's popularity, although a 52-incher will hit stores next month and LG's version will likely arrive around the same time. Toshiba talked up its TalenX 1080p DLP light engine but didn't make specific announcements.
For its part, Panasonic announced a 1080p-capable LCD-based microdisplay, while JVC followed suit with a 1080p LCoS/D-ILA-based set.
Is 1080p that much better than the 720p microdisplays currently available? Samsung's booth had an interesting comparison between the two resolutions that might have been a little too accurate (a rarity in booth demos). It put one next to the other on same-size screens, and yes, the 1080p version appeared slightly more detailed, especially from the viewing distance of about six feet (the walls of the booth hemmed you in, so you couldn't stand further back). But the difference took some concentration to notice, and with 1080p prices significantly higher than those of 720p sets, the technology will, as usual, appeal first to early adopters.
CRT: back with a vengeance
Most TV pundits we talked to, both on the manufacturing and the editorial side, predicted that in 2005, sales of microdisplay rear-projection HDTVs would surpass those of CRT-based versions. But direct-view CRT sets should continue to sell well in smaller sizes, and new thin-tube CRTs from LG, Samsung, and Philips may improve the attractiveness of these stalwarts. Meanwhile, RCA announced a $300 direct-view tube with a built-in ATSC tuner, so you can watch crystal-clear digital broadcasts via antenna for free (albeit at regular TV resolution).
CRT is still recognized as the picture-quality champ, which is why backers of next-generation flat-panel technologies such as Toshiba's SED (Surface-conduction Electron-emitter Display) say their technology provides "CRT-like quality in a flat form factor." We were treated to a demo of SED at the show, and in many areas, particularly black-level performance, it outdid the plasma and LCD sets in a side-by-side comparison. (Disclaimer: the demo was controlled completely by Toshiba and deserves more than a few grains of salt.) We'll have to wait a while for SED, though; a first-generation 50-inch version won't hit until this time next year at the earliest. Other nanotube technologies are under development by manufacturers, but SED is the closest to market.
LCD backlight extravaganza
Back at the Samsung booth, two new LCD backlight technologies were giving passersby instant tans. LED backlights promise the best color palette yet in a flat-panel TV, as well as ultrabright images, and both Samsung with its LNR460D and Sony with its Qualia 005 showed LED-powered flat-panel LCD sets. A less expensive and less explainable backlight technology promoted by Samsung, FFL (flat fluorescent lamp), found in the LNR409D, supposedly provides better color than regular backlight technology but doesn't cost as much as LED backlights.
While everybody likes to talk about flat-panel TVs, the real money, at least in 2004, was in rear-projection microdisplay HDTVs. CNET contributor Kevin Miller chaired a forum on DLP and mentioned that at least 200 different manufacturers attended. That's just DLP; LCD and LCoS have their advantages from a rebranding standpoint, too, meaning that lots of companies you've never heard of will be rushing microdisplay-based sets to market this year (think Akai, Vizio, Brillian). Some names you have heard of are also getting into microdisplays new for this year, including Epson, Nakamichi, and Sharp.
Plasma plods along
Aside from gigantic size and high prices, plasma didn't deliver the kinds of innovations that we saw from LCD and microdisplay HDTVs. Panasonic and Pioneer both announced new plasma lineups with similar features and price points as last year, although each company's next-generation panels could provide even better image quality in 2005 (both won Editors' Choice awards last year). LG's plasma with a built-in hard drive was the most interesting non-image-quality plasma innovation we saw.
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