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Consumer/Corporate Divide Hard to Find at CES

Jan 25, 2007 12:46 PM, By John McKeon


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Michael Dell, CEO of Dell Computers, may run one of the world’s leading suppliers of personal computers with all kinds of home entertainment capabilities—but he still told the recently concluded Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas that the company does 85 percent of its business with government, educational institutions, and corporations.

Dell’s comments highlighted a show that continued one of its most pronounced trends of recent years, the increasing difficulty of sorting corporate and business multimedia—the pro AV channel’s long-time home turf—from the vast universe of home entertainment and consumer applications.

You might have shopped at CES for a new interactive whiteboard for the kitchen—what better way to maintain your grocery list? A high-definition tele-presence solution could be just the thing for communicating with your kids’ teachers. Want a set of powered line-array speakers for your home theater? How about a video switching and signal processing system to route dozens of inputs to as many as eight high-res screens simultaneously?

It was all there: Both products expressly designed for high-end pro applications and items that were long considered the province of professionals, but have found new homes in people’s dens.

Microsoft’s Bill Gates, also a CES keynoter, pointed to the ubiquity of high-quality video and the growing inter-connectedness of devices. “We have incredible devices with very high fidelity,” he says. “Think about these high-definition screens that when you buy it, you just drool looking at that picture, it's such an improvement over the classic TV screen that you used to have, and now it connects up to your high-definition cable, to your PC, to your games, all those experiences taking advantage of that incredible visual capability. Network bandwidth has gone up very dramatically, we're avoiding that being a bottleneck, even as we're sending high-definition signals around.”

Expanding bandwidth is one enabler of this convergence, and declining hardware prices are another. Pacific Media Associates reported recently that the average street price of a 42in. plasma display dropped 25 percent between last October and November. This was one factor behind an extraordinary finding in PMA’s Consumer Flat Panel Display Sell-Through Tracking Service: that sales of plasma and LCD flatpanel displays doubled in that time period.

Numerous speakers at CES predicted a near-future in which high-definition video moves effortlessly among wireless phones, gaming systems, PCs, televisions, and other devices in offices, autos, airports, and dens. Rapid rollouts of digital cable systems, fiber-to-the-premises, and other infrastructure should provide all the bandwidth this future requires, and equipment manufacturers are rapidly delivering the displays.

1080p resolution, in particular, seems emphatically to have arrived. Pioneer, Hitachi, Mitsubishi, LG Electronics, Sharp, and other companies all showed 1080p LCD, plasma, and projection systems. Some observers commented that the “future-proof” 1080p systems, delivering the highest-definition available, may be the last plateau prospective buyers were awaiting before making their investments in HD.

Bandwidth, content, and devices: Although their converge may blur the lines between markets, it is also clarifying the promise of the future. “We are entering a world where soon anyone can access what even the rich could not obtain just a few years ago,” says Gary Shapiro, president of the Consumer Electronics Association. “It is a marvelous world of opportunity, knowledge and immediacy.”



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