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Cedia Expo 2005

Price continues to remain a driving factor in this channel.

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Pete Putman, CTS, ISF

THIS YEAR'S CEDIA show revealed that there are plenty of large screens to go around. Front projection, rear projection, plasma, LCD, you name it — there was an abundance of product out for inspection at more than 500 booths, some of which spilled out to the main walkways around the Indiana Convention Center. Here's a look at some of the most significant projectors, TVs, monitors, and interfaces I saw.

Front and rear projection

Not surprisingly, “1080p” was creating plenty of buzz at the show. Texas Instruments finally introduced full-resolution 1920x1080 DMDs with impressive single-chip and three-chip demos at their booth, while projectiondesign already had a 1080p single-chip prototype up and running in the RCA Dome that had impressive picture detail, color saturation, and black levels.

Sony fired another salvo at DLP with its second-generation SXRD front projector, the VPL-VW100. This three-panel, 1920x1080 design sports a more affordable and efficient Cermax lamp, higher contrast, dynamic iris, and an eye-popping $10,000 price point.

The significance of Sony's price drop is clear when you consider that SIM2 just rolled out the Grand Cinema C3X at CEDIA, a three-chip 1280x720 front projector priced at $21,995, but InFocus dropped the price on its Model 777 three-chip to $14,995 before the show. Look for further price reductions in all three-chip DLP products as a result of the Sony move.

Samsung had an off-site demo of its H710 single-chip 720p DLP projector, which is fine-tuned by Joe Kane. It will retail somewhere in the $4,000 range. There's also a high-end version of the Kane design, the SP-H800BE, which will have a $13,000 price tag and very limited distribution.

Single-chip DLP models are also dropping rapidly in price, primarily because of the success of Panasonic's and Sanyo's three-panel 720p LCD projectors. Panasonic upped the ante with its PT-AE900U ($3,199), which purports to have improved contrast and grayscale rendering, a more efficient mechanical lens shift, and even better color correction.

Sony also showed a pair of SXRD rear projection TVs, the 50-inch KDS-R50XBR1 ($3,999) and 60-inch KDS-R60XBR1 ($4,999), representing a significant drop in pricing from its older 70-inch model. Not to be outdone, JVC expanded its LCoS product line with the 70-inch HD-P70R1U and 61-inch HD-P61R1U, both of which use the new HD-ILA digital backplane LCoS panels.

Over at the Courtyard by Marriott hotel, Brillian had a private demo of its 65-inch LCoS RPTV. The 6580iFB is a 1920x1080, integrated DTV with a companion media server that will set you back $9,999. Back in the convention center, LG also had a new 71-inch 1080p LCoS RPTV in the spotlight, the 71SA1D (about $8,500). It uses LCoS panels from SpatiaLight.

The DLP RPTV camp was also well represented. Samsung had the HL-R6768W ($5,699), a 65-inch 960x1080 RPTV with CableCARD and a “floating screen” design for tight spaces, as well as a 56-inch model (HL-R5668W, $4,199). Toshiba unveiled three new 1080p TheaterWide DLP models, the 56HM195 ($3,199), 62HM195 ($3,699), and 72HM195 ($4,999). Mitsubishi and HP also had 1080p models humming away.

Epson showed a pair of 1080p HTPS LCD RPTVs in its booth, but couldn't nail down a price quite yet. These stripped-down models lack tuners and also the “nice try, but no cigar” built-in photo printer from older LivingStations. But they did have good-looking pictures, and that's all that really matters.

The interesting thing about all of these RPTV products wasn't the widespread adoption of 1080p technology, but the price points. A 1080p DLP RPTV for $3,199 is about where same-sized 720p DLP sets were priced in early 2004. Is the bottom falling out of the 720p RPTV market? Judging by Samsung's ($2,999) and Toshiba's ($2,499) prices for 50/52-inch DLP models, that appears to be the case.

If you're starting to figure out that the rush to 1080p has more to do with maintaining price margins than it does with content availability or image quality, you're right. It's not unreasonable to assume that in the next 12 to 24 months that you'll see 720p and 768p models dropped altogether from RPTV product lines, with 1080p becoming the de facto standard for all microdisplay TV products.

Flat-panel displays

In what amounts to a major shift in marketing, Fujitsu is moving into integrated plasma TVs. The P42XTA51US ($5,999) is a 42-inch integrated CableCARD TV, while the 50-inch slot is filled by the P50XTA50US ($7,999). Look for a 63-inch model later this year. NEC has redesigned and re-priced its line of plasma monitors with the 42XR4 ($5,995), 50XR5 ($7,995), and 61XR4 ($13,995). No digital tuners in the near future, however.

Panasonic demonstrated its 8th generation plasma TVs, ranging in sizes from 37 inches (an “endangered species” category for plasma) to 65 inches. The latter (Onyx TH-65XVS30U) retails for $18,999, and the 50-inch Onyx TH-50XVS30U will set you back $7,999. In the meantime, Panasonic's “generic” 50-inch TH-50PX500U has been priced at $4,499. All models are fully integrated digital TVs with CableCARD slots.

Pioneer had the best-looking plasma TVs at the show. The PRO-930HD is a 43-inch model with improved black levels and color that will retail for $5,000, while the PRO-1130HD fills the 50-inch space at $6,500. In the PureVision line, the PD-4360HD ($4,500) and PD-5060 ($6,000) also made their debut. All four models contain a new crystal emissive layer for improved efficiency.

LCD displays are generating as much news as plasma displays. Samsung had the LN-R469D 46-inch LCD DTV ($5,999) up and running in its booth. It's a CableCARD set with DNiE processing and had acceptable picture quality, but higher black levels than nearby plasma monitors.

Across the way, JVC hung up its LT-40FH96 (no price yet), a 40-inch LCD TV with 1920x1080 resolution that comes out of the Samsung factory. Around the corner, SIM2 had yet another version of this panel, the HTL40 ($6,995) and HTL40 LINK ($9,995) with an outboard video processor.

BenQ unveiled the DV3750 ($3,299), one of several 37-inch 1920x1080p LCD TVs at CEDIA, but identified it as an “LCD display” in a clever piece of wordsmanship. The reason? As you probably know, all 36-inch and larger TVs must now have digital (ATSC) tuners built-in. By bringing this product into the country as a monitor and making the NTSC tuner optional, it gets around that FCC requirement.

Ovideon also had a 1080p 37-incher (no price yet) in its booth, while Mitsubishi had its LT-3780 all spiffed up, running the same 1080p content loop as its 1080p DLP RPTVs.

LG made a statement about panel size with its 55-inch 1080p 55LP1D (about $14,000) integrated TV, but as impressive as it looked, it was only the second-largest LCD TV at the show. Sharp took the crown with its Aquos LC-65D90U ($20,999). It's a 65-inch integrated digital TV with improved color rendering and a claimed contrast ratio of 800:1. The 45-inch category has also been upgraded with the metal finish Aquos LC-45GD7U ($6,499) or black finish LC-45GD5U ($6,499). Both are CableCARD sets with outboard media control boxes.

Video scalers and processors

Silicon Optix's Realta HQV processor had numerous design wins at CEDIA, including NEC for the latter's TheaterSync video processor ($3,595). It helps clean up analog and digital sources as well as scale them to plasma resolution. Digital Projection will also carry a branded version (VP1000) of this processor.

Lumagen's RadianceXD ($5,999) is a more advanced video processor that will be using the Realta HQV processor. Radiance is a 10x2 video switcher with audio-follow and latency correction, and supports numerous HDMI inputs and outputs. Calibre also introduced a new scaler (Vantage HD, $2,900) using the Realta processor, and you'll find it in new TVs coming from Syntax and Brillian.

DVDO, which uses its own processor, showed the latest generation in its line of video processors. The iScan VP30 has four HDMI inputs and HDMI/RGBHV output, and comes with numerous presets for plasma, LCD, and microdisplay standard resolutions. It costs about $1,999.

The bottom line

First off, 1080p is here to stay for better or worse, and the only reason that matters is rapidly declining prices and sales margins of 720p and 768p RPTVs in the CEDIA sales channel. From the looks of things, those sets are quickly headed to the generic, low-cost marketplace and big-box stores — a place already familiar to 768p plasma and LCD TVs and monitors.

Secondly, plasma is getting more and more affordable with every passing month and is poised to run a great deal of 720p RPTV product out of the market altogether. Don't believe me? Watch what happens when 50-inch plasma street prices start to hit $2,500 later this year.

Third, Texas Instruments' hand has been forced with respect to full-resolution 1920x1080p DMDs. The prices of 960x1080 RPTVs have already dropped too far in too short a time for many models to even appeal to the CEDIA channel, and pressures by manufacturers to get production and shipment volumes up will quickly force these products into big-box stores.

Fourth, video scalers and processors are getting very good and very cheap at the same time. The smart home electronics dealer will bundle video processors and scalers with every sale, particularly with plasma and microdisplay RPTVs that need lots of help with analog and MPEG noise correction.

Pete Putman is a contributing editor for Pro AV and president of ROAM Consulting, Doylestown, PA. Especially well known for the product testing/development services he provides manufacturers of projectors, monitors, integrated TVs, and display interfaces, he has also authored hundreds of technical articles, reviews, and columns for industry trade and consumer magazines over the last two decades. You can reach him at pete@hdtvexpert.com.

 


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