Don't be surprised if the home video headlines at the 2008 International Consumer Electronics Show look like reruns of the past four or five years. The big themes will continue to be the Blu-ray/HD DVD format war, network video delivery, and the slow but steady transition from analog to digital broadcasting.
Every year seems to be "the year" for network video streaming, and 2008 is no exception. Expect more units with wireless-N capabilities and bundled with every audio and video codec you can imagine. But for the category to ever go mainstream, the bigger issues--securing A-list content, simplifying setup chores, and improving reliability and quality--need to be addressed. And while Apple won't be at CES, the following week's MacWorld conference could well see Apple announcing an upgrade for Apple TV, allowing users to purchase video directly from the device--something the iPhone and iPod Touch can already do with music.
Consumer electronics manufacturers pretty much dropped the ball on DVD-recorders with digital high-def tuners this year, so more robust models should crop up with support for true HD pass-through and electronic programming guides (EPGs) utilizing program guide data already embedded in the digital ATSC signal. Along the same lines, we're hoping to see some standalone DVRs designed to be primarily used with over-the-air ATSC signals, which is another product consumers were missing in 2007.
2007: A look back
Last year, when we picked the LG BH100 as the Best of CES overall winner, we made a much bigger deal of the fact that the combination Blu-ray/HD DVD player actually existed than of its astronomical price tag. The combo player went on to receive a lukewarm reception in the market, a reception that wasn't helped by the eventual CNET review, from which we'll quote: "After thoroughly testing the BH100, we learned a few things that gave us cause for concern: no CD playback, somewhat limited HD DVD functionality, and subpar soundtrack support, to name the main ones. The worst part, of course, is the $1,200 price tag, which means you could buy both a Blu-ray capable PS3 ($600) and an Xbox360 ($400) with the HD DVD add-on drive ($200) for the same price--and get two high-performance game consoles for 'free.'" 'Nuff said. A pair of newer universal players, the Samsung BD-UP5000 and LG BH200, are already on the market, but there's no denying they owe a lot to the trailblazing (albeit flawed) BH100.