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CEDIA EXPO 2002

Dec 1, 2002 12:00 PM, PETER H. PUTMAN, CTS


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CEDIA Expo 2002 — the high-end home-theater show that continues to amaze, entertain, educate, and grow — had more than 19,000 people attend this year in Minneapolis, almost as many as InfoComm 2002. Whereas broadcast, professional A/V, and IT business sectors continue to be sluggish, the home-entertainment/theater sector is seeing strong growth.

Some attribute that to the effects of 9/11, whereby people decided to cocoon, surrounded by expensive audio systems and entranced by elaborate front-projection or rear-projection video setups. Others place the blame on the rising cost of movie theater tickets, coupled with the general sloppiness of many theaters and the cost and difficulty of securing baby-sitters during the weekend.

Whatever the reason, home theater is flourishing. Just like any other high-end, high-margin business, it is attracting more and more newbies who want a piece of the pie. Interspersed among the booths of home-theater stalwarts Runco, Sony, Stewart Filmscreens, Faroudja, Mitsubishi, Hitachi, and Toshiba were traditional professional A/V companies such as TV One, Kramer, InFocus, and Digital Projection.

WHERE THE ACTION IS

Philips, a big consumer electronics company, rolled out a new LCD projector at the show. NEC Technologies had a single-chip DLP set in its suite at the Hyatt. JVC unveiled a new SXGA+ D-ILA chassis I had previously seen at InfoComm, and the company even reported orders for its flagship $225,000 D-ILA electronic cinema projector. Optoma brought its entire line of business and home-theater DLP projectors to the show. Barco had a 1,280-by-720 single-chip DLP offering and several plasma panels on display.

The flood of lower-priced front LCD and DLP projectors (which some in the industry refer to as coffee-table projectors) is not only democratizing the idea of home theater but it's also catching the attention of such high-end dealers as Runco, which recently bought the assets of defunct Vidikron and Projectavision. Ostensibly, one of those companies, probably the latter, will be used to market lower-priced DLP and perhaps LCD projector designs.

There's no question that front projection is where the action is. According to a report issued by Pacific Media Associates after CEDIA Expo, there was an 8 percent increase in worldwide sales (from 28,500 to 30,900 units) of front projectors for the consumer market this past quarter. North and South America account for 35 percent of all high-end projector sales, and 87 percent of those sales are using DLP technology.

So it shouldn't be any surprise that companies such as NEC and Digital Projection are drawn to CEDIA. Nor should it be a surprise that companies offering front projectors now have different price points and feature sets (even different distribution channels) for their front LCD and DLP offerings. You can get into front projection for as little as $2,500 or opt for more expensive flat-panel technologies in the $7,000 to $15,000 range.

For that matter, you could also go with a tube projector. Yes, three-tube CRT projectors are still around (hey, I even own one!), and numerous small boutique companies are packaging them with high-end DVD players and video scalers. Newcomers Crystal View and Accurate Imaging fall into this category, with both companies using former Electrohome components and some clever engineering to produce truly spectacular pseudo-HDTV images from DVD, not to mention top-drawer 720p and 1,080i.

Truth is the images seen from many of the 1,280-by-720 front DLP projectors using Texas Instruments' new Mustang/HD2 DMDs (12-degree tilt, higher contrast) were approaching 8-inch and 9-inch CRTs in quality. Although they can't render all the shadow detail of an 8-inch or a 9-inch CRT, these projectors will more than satisfy the average home-theater customer. Accordingly, DLP imaging is the bedrock of the Runco, Yamaha, Sharp, Marantz, SIM2, InFocus, Barco, Toshiba, Samsung, Panasonic, and NEC product lines.

WHAT'S NEW

Strap in, put on your helmet, and take a whirlwind tour of the show floor.

RCA showed several new set-top boxes, including a successor to the indomitable DTC-100. The DTC-200 is a combo terrestrial and ATSC tuner that will sell for less than $600. RCA also had a few combo DVD/DTV sets on display, some with a built-in Web browser. … Faroudja now offers its own plasma monitors (NEC glass) packaged with DVD player/scalers. There are 42-inch and 61-inch models in the line (but no 50-inch monitors, which is a real puzzler) and also a Faroudja single-chip DLP front projector. … Samsung finally put a model number on its 40-inch 16-by-9 AM-LCD monitor. The LTM405W will retail for a bit less than $10,000, and the long-awaited HPM6315, 63-inch wide-screen plasma will debut at $20,000. A new 61-inch DLP RPTV (HLM617W) will also be available. In addition, Samsung unveiled three new DTV set-tops in the booth, starting with the OTA-only T151, the FireWire-enabled T165, and the DirecTV/OTA T160. Also, The T165 permits D-VHS recording with JVC's HM-DH30000U.

Sony is offering three LCD projector upgrades. The company's groundbreaking VPL-VW10HT has evolved into the VPL-VW12HT. It employs three 1,366-by-768 polysilicon panels and provides selectable gamma correction and 1,000:1 contrast, as well as a detachable color compensation filter to reduce green/blue spectral output and boost red/yellow response. (I had suggested using Kodak 10R and 20R Wratten color correction filters several years ago to more than one projector manufacturer for the exact same purpose.) There's also a higher-brightness Cineza with wide XGA resolution as well as a wide VGA version.

Barco's Cine Versum system is a multipiece signal processor and display for high-quality home theater. The Cine Versum processor mounts in a standard 19-inch rack and can be equipped with as many as eight analog/digital inputs for deinterlacing and scaling. The Cine Versum 80 is a front 1,280-by-720 DLP projector rated at 1,100:1 contrast and 900-plus ANSI lumens, and the Cine Versum 50 is a 50-inch 1,280-by-768-pixel monitor. … InFocus now offers the ScreenPlay 7200, a full-blown 1,280-by-768 front HD2 DLP chassis modeled after the Pro AV LP650 (reviewed in the November 2002 issue of Video Systems), which uses Faroudja FLI2300 processors and has DVI inputs. … Zenith has added a 37-inch plasma monitor to its line. The P37W24 is an EDTV (1,024-by-768 nonsquare) product with full DTV and HDTV compatibility; in addition, there are two new DTV set-tops to go with it. The HD-SAT520 is a DirecTV/OTA model, whereas the HDV420 is for terrestrial broadcasts only.

Panasonic decided to bring its groundbreaking PT-D7600, a 44-pound, three-chip DLP front projector, to Minneapolis. It is rated at 5,000 ANSI lumens and offers interchangeable lenses. There is also a new 52-inch DLP rear-projection TV — the PT-52DL52 (1,280-by-720 pixels) — which has a considerable price reduction over Panasonic's first DLP offering. … JVC's DLA-SX21 offers 1,400-by-1,050-pixel resolution and uses a 250W NSH lamp (not xenon), packaging all of it in a 13-pound chassis. It's good for 1,500 ANSI lumens. There's also a new GM-P420UG 42-inch plasma in the line. … Toshiba brought out the MT8, 1,280-by-720 front DLP projector with Zeiss Optics (also used on the InFocus ScreenPlay 7200). It's rated at 1,000 ANSI lumens and 1,400:1 contrast. A full bevy of 42-inch, 50-inch, and 61-inch plasma monitors are also offered. Toshiba unveiled a 57-inch TV using what it calls 1,080p LCOS panels. Toshiba claims the 57HLX82 has the highest resolution of any RPTV on the market.

Mitsubishi showed a pair of new 22-inch and 30-inch AM-LCD integrated TVs. The 30-inch model is the LC-T3020, and it has an integrated NTSC tuner as well as compatibility with Mitsubishi's MonitorLink FireWire system for connection to D-VHS and STBs. No price yet. … Philips had a new polysilicon LCD projector on display. The LC6231 features 854-by-480 imaging (yes, it's wide-screen) with 0.7-inch SVGA panels, cranks out 1,000 ANSI lumens, and does all that with a 6,000-hour lamp and only 29 dB of fan noise. … NEC unveiled the HT1000. The HT1000's design uses a 4-by-3, 1,024-by-768, 0.7-inch DLP but maps only 1,024-by-576 pixels to achieve 16-by-9 image sizes. You can fill the whole 1,024-by-768 area, or 4-by-3 content can drop in as pillar-boxed video. Contrast is claimed to be 3,000:1, and brightness ranges from 800 to 1,000 lumens, depending on lamp mode.

Key Digital Systems unveiled the latest version of its Digital Leeza video scaler. HD Leeza is certainly slimmed down from the earliest version and accepts a wide range of interlaced signal sources. Scaled output resolutions range from 640-by-480 to 1,920-by-1,080p, including several plasma and wide-screen LCD standards. … Focus Enhancements brought out the CenterStage video signal processor, scaling from interlaced sources to a variety of output resolutions up to 1,365-by-1,024 (SXGA) and 1,365-by-768 (plasma). … Sampo now offers its own AliS 1,024-by-1,024, 42-inch panel, the PME-42X6. There's also a 42-inch SDTV version, the PME-42S6.

Yamaha must be happy with sales of its initial XGA home-theater projector, because the company upped the ante with the DPX-1000. This 1,280-by-768 single-chip HD2 design uses 10-bit signal processing and is supposed to have better black levels than those seen on earlier models. It also uses Faroudja DCDi processing. There's even a new front LCD HT projector, the 1,280-by-768-pixel LPX-500. … Sharp took its front DLP projector design to a new level with the XV-Z10000U, a single-panel HD2 DLP design with 1,280-by-720 pixels and DVI input. It is also compatible with home-theater PC sources. For smaller spaces, there are two new DLP projector offerings, the DT-200 and XV-Z90U. Want a flat screen instead? Sharp provides numerous AM-LCD monitors, including the LC-22SV2U 22-inch, 16-by-9, integrated TV/monitor.

Hitachi's 57-inch and 65-inch XWX Director Series RPTVs offer 16-by-9 imaging from a narrow-neck CRT system. They are also among the first RPTVs to integrate a dual-mode digital TV tuner, one that not only handles OTA 8VSB signals but also deciphers 64-level and 256-level QAM digital cable. … Runco was quick to expand its offerings across the new Vidikron and Projectavision lines. Vidikron's VP-46 is a 46-inch, 852-by-480 plasma monitor with DTV compatibility, and the Projectavision FP-3 Formula Plus is a wide-screen, three-panel LCD front projector with an oddball 964-by-544 native resolution and 700 ANSI lumens. Two new Runco-branded products include the Reflection CL-700, a single-chip 1,280-by-720 projector with advanced signal processing, and the Reflection VX-5000c, a single-chip DLP design with high-quality optics, 1,000:1 contrast, and ViViX video processor. Runco is also offering a 22-inch wide-screen AM-LCD TV/monitor, the Crystal CR-22HD, which sports 1,280-by-768 resolution.


Peter H. Putman owns PHP Communications, in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. The author of The Toastmasters Guide to Audio/Visual Presentations, Putman is also a regular columnist in S&VC.



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