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Picture This: Consumer Electronics Show 2008

Feb 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By Jeff Sauer

Display companies set to deliver slimmer, brighter, and maybe even wireless products.


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Consumer Electronics Show 2008

How thin can they go? Display makers presented a range of LCD and plasma products as thin as 0.8in. at CES 2008.

When I first started attending the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 15 years ago, products didn't usually show at CES in January if they wouldn't be ready to start volume production in the spring. CES was about scheduling deliveries to shelves in September — in time for the holiday shopping season. Admittedly, product cycles are shorter now — many products at this CES will actually be replaced before this year's holidays. Yet, more than in recent years, many of the biggest announcements at CES 2008 had to do with future products that probably won't arrive during 2008.

The big exception was the rash of much-thinner LCD panels from a wide variety of manufacturers — some of which will ship very soon. Hitachi led the way with a 32in. LCD with a depth of just 1.5in., which should be shipping shortly. Larger sizes are to follow over the coming months: A 37in. is expected during Q2 and a 42in. in Q3 of 2008. The caveat to this ultra thinness is that panels will have a separate, freestanding AV module for connections and the ATSC/NTSC that would likely otherwise make the panels thicker. Indeed, JVC's super-slim 42in. and 46in. LCDs — available this summer — will also have a panel depth of 1.5in., but they bulge to 3in. in the center of the back where those ports and built-in tuner reside. Still, it's a very thin and sleek look.

LG Electronics showed a 42in. LCD with a depth of just 1.7in. and connectivity and invisible loudspeakers built into the bezel, but no ship date was announced. Sharp showed prototypes of 52in. and 65in. panels that will be just about 0.8in., which should be available this summer.

Hitachi showed a prototype of a 0.75in.-thick LCD. Amazingly, that was still not the thinnest display announced at CES.

Sony announced the availability of the OLED-based XEL-1, shown as a prototype last year, for roughly $2,500. The XEL-1 is an 11in. TV with a depth of an amazing 3mm (about .12in.). Sony and Samsung also showed prototypes of larger OLEDs: from Sony, a 1cm-thick (less than 0.4in) 27in. TV; and from Samsung, 14in. and 31in. TVs that are less than 1cm (0.4in.) and 2cm (0.8in.) thick, respectively.

The slimmest surprise, however, came from plasma, with Pioneer showing a 50in. prototype of a 9mm-thick (about .35in.) plasma. That's three times as thick as the XEL-1, but with nearly five times the viewing area. Like OLED, plasma is a self-emitting technology that doesn't require the depth of a backlight. Therefore, it should ultimately have a thinness advantage, Pioneer claims. Even better for mounting: This new thin plasma weighed just 41lbs. Hitachi also showed a 50in. prototype plasma with a depth of just 1.5in.

PLASMA STRIKES BACK

Pioneer's 9mm-thick plasma wasn't the only salvo from a technology that has been losing market share to LCD. In this year's only significant big announcement, Panasonic unveiled a mammoth 150in. plasma. That's nearly 50-percent larger than Panasonic's size-leading 103in. panel from a couple of years ago — a panel that Panasonic claims has done surprisingly well, with more than 3,000 units installed worldwide. (To learn more about some of these installations, see svconline.com/displaymounts/
features/avinstall_dawn_giants
.) More practical for the rest of us, Panasonic also had a demonstration highlighting the efficiency gains of plasma. New-generation plasmas can use up to 50-percent less energy than previous-generation models.

For me, however, the most impressive demo I've seen in a long time came from Pioneer Project Kuro. In its press conference, Pioneer boasted about having been able to eliminate all idling luminance from a plasma screen — thus attaining the Holy Grail of absolute black. Amazingly, the demo backed it up.

This is future technology, but the progress is astounding. Imagine a dark, black-curtained room with three side-by-side PDP-5010FD plasmas (Pioneer's latest, critically acclaimed panels that already boast very strong black levels) showing the same footage. Now imagine from out of the blackness, right next to the center plasma, emerges yet another plasma that you realize has been powered on the whole time but unseen against the black backdrop. Imagine, too, watching black-background screen material and literally not being able to see where the plasma screen ends and the surrounding black bezel and black curtains begin. It was a well-crafted demo to be sure, with the new panel initially hidden behind a curtain as the crowd entered, and then the curtain covertly withdrawn amid the misdirection of the flashy, eye-drawing images on the other three screens. But that doesn't diminish the technical achievement of having video images appear to float in the air in a dark room.

PROJECTION AND WIRELESS

While there were only a couple new projectors at CES 2008, they were still quite noteworthy. First, Hitachi announced a new ultra-short-throw 3LCD projector able to display a surprisingly unwarped 60in. image at just 1.6ft. and a 100in. image from a distance of just 3.3ft. While not yet firm, the price is expected to be $2,995 — significantly lower than Sanyo's price for the ultra-short-throw LP-XL50 announced at CEDIA — when the CP-A100 starts shipping (imminent).

Mitsubishi's 3LCD-based FL7000U is being dubbed as “corporate 1080p,” given its native 16:9 aspect ratio and 5000-ANSI-lumen, ambient-light-combating brightness. Mitsubishi expects a street price of roughly $15,000.

Way in the back of the lower hall, a 3M engineer group had a tiny booth where it showed a prototype of a projector that was as small as a cell phone. It produced just 10 lumens of brightness, but it had a core LCoS light engine that was roughly the size of half a domino — making it small enough to fit a personal projector inside a real cell phone, a camera, a camcorder, a notebook, a car dashboard, a game player, or a whole lot more to stir the imagination.

Wireless video was a bigger topic around CES 2008, but few solutions were more than technology demonstrations. Just about every major display maker showed a wireless-capable prototype panel — most using some form of MPEG-2 or MPEG-4 to recompress the analog signal coming out of a player or cable box. Few companies offered a timetable for shipping, and worse: At least two prominent CEOs were embarrassed by nonfunctioning press-conference demonstrations.

Still, while it may take some time (one of last year's hot companies, TZero, was not on the show floor following delays with its wireless HDMI chipset), wireless video is likely to become a major issue over the next couple of years. There were at least two noteworthy solutions at CES 2008 that seemed fairly close to shipping. Belkin showed a transmitter/receiver pair that uses Aminom's chipset for sending uncompressed HDMI. Using Pulse-Link's ultra-wideband chipset, Westinghouse Digital showed a commerical LCD digital signage panel with built-in wireless HDMI using minimal JPEG2000 compression.



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