HDTV manufacturers go bigger


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HDTV manufacturers go big

Larger, flatter, higher resolution, more energy efficient and even cheaper -- that's what to expect from the HDTV set aisles, say experts. "That's one of the laws of the consumer electronics industry," says CEA senior director of market research Tim Herbert. "The march to getting things even better than today."

The once-giant 32-inch set has been dwarfed. "It's the usual 'mine is bigger than yours' idea," says Phillip Swann, president of TVPredictions.com. Last year, Swann says, Sharp introduced a 103-inch screen priced at $70,000. "It's probably in 30 people's living rooms," Swann jokes. "But it's really about publicity, and CES is the perfect spot to do it."

This year's twist is TV manufacturers' full-court push for HDTV sets with a 1080P display, which refers to 1,080 lines of resolution in the "progressive" mode. That's opposed to "interlaced," in which two fields with offset lines make a full frame. Is it worth it? HD content isn't always captured in 1080P, which would diminish the impact of a 1080P screen. "I think you can make an argument that it can be better," Swann says. "But you could also make the argument the consumer can't see the difference. The manufacturers are pushing it as an 'advanced form' of HD, but it isn't true. It's far more about smoke and mirrors."

"Most people probably won't be able to tell the difference with 1080i," agrees David Tice, director of the Home Technology Monitor.

Then there are the DVD players for those new HDTV sets. "You'll see the continuation of World War III, which is HD DVD versus Blu-ray," Swann says. "Hollywood should do a movie about it. With all the twists and turns that will continue to flourish, with both sides introducing new players, new discs and declaring victory."

He reports that there's already one deck that plays both formats. Might we see more at CES? "There's a small consensus forming that it's possible both formats will still exist," Swann says. "And people will get a dual-format player or both players."

Swann points out that one issue that needs to be addressed is upgrading capacity of DVRs for HD, which takes much more space than today's standard-definition NTSC. Comcast does have an HD DVR, he reports, but it only holds 10 hours of HD content. "Then there are issues of getting the DVRs to work with different systems that the telcos and cable companies use," he adds. "A TiVo in my area won't work with our Comcast HD feed. And people who are downloading movies have to deal with how they transfer them in HD to their big-screen TVs. "These things haven't been worked out yet," he says.

Networking content has been figured out by Sony's Bravia HDTV set, which features an Internet video link, and the SanDisk's TakeTV, which enables content to be transferred from the PC to the TV. This year's CES attendees will pay attention to improvements in existing gear and the possible introduction of more. "You're going to see advances in bridging the PC and the TV," Herbert says.

Future display technologies for HDTV sets will also be showcased. Sony will show some OLED (organic light-emitting diode) displays, a technology the manufacturer says will provide a better, higher-resolution image, a thinner display, lower power consumption and, most interesting, flexibility. "You may see the day when the display looks like a piece of paper that you can roll up and take away with you," Herbert says.

Samsung and Mitsubishi are highlighting Laser TV, which relies on three laser wavelengths to replicate the RGB (red, green, blue) TV signal. "They're hoping it'll produce a more rich, vibrant color, that sets can be made at a lower weight and that it'll be energy efficient," Herbert says.

In the meantime, all eyes are still on 2009, when the last analog TV station powers down. That won't affect anyone with a digital TV set who's getting the broadcast signal over cable or satellite, a good thing since studies show that only 40% of the public is aware that a transition will occur. And even though ownership of HDTV sets is growing, says Tice, only a little over 60% of the people get an HD signal.

"Once they see the picture, they'll want to try it," he says. "Most people will transition to HD."