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CES 2006

Once again, CES managed to out-grow itself. This year's attendance reportedly exceeded 150,000, and the show spilled out of the Las Vegas Convention Center over to the Sands Expo Center.

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Pete Putman, CTS, ISF

Once again, CES managed to out-grow itself. This year's attendance reportedly exceeded 150,000, and the show spilled out of the Las Vegas Convention Center over to the Sands Expo Center.

For anyone venturing into the convention centers, a game plan was a must. Needless to say, there were truckloads of TVs and other display products on hand, although the vast majority of them didn't represent any significant breakthroughs in technology. I saw lots of plasma TVs, even more LCD TVs, plenty of projectors, and rows of rear-projection TVs. (Kind of like being stuck in a bad Best Buy dream.)

Those silly “mine's bigger than yours!” battles from last year continued as Panasonic unveiled a 103-inch plasma TV, billing it as the world's largest. But that was simply an inch larger than the comparable offerings from Samsung (first seen at CES 2005) and LG.

In a more practical vein, we saw 50-inch, 55-inch, and 60-inch 1920x1080 plasma TVs from Panasonic, Pioneer, Hitachi, LG, and Samsung (can they make them cheaply enough to compete with 1080p rear projection?). Samsung also introduced an improved FilterBright color system that combines improved anti-glare glass, better phosphor mixes, and 13-bit processing for each color channel.

For the plasma folks, achieving 1080p resolution in 50-inch sizes gives them a leg up on 1080p RPTVs while holding LCD technology at arm's length. If the only advantage you have is lower price in a given screen size, then 768p resolution isn't going to cut the mustard.

LG took a different approach with its 50BP2DW 50-inch wireless plasma, which uses 802.11 wireless technology. LG also had a couple of models with built-in personal video recorders (PVRs), the 60BP2DR and 50BP2DR. Each has dual ATSC/QAM tuners for simultaneous viewing and time shifting of TV programs.

There were many plasma models being offered, but they couldn't hold a candle to all of the LCD TVs and monitors hanging out at the show, particularly in the larger sizes. Sharp added another screen size to its expansive line of Aquos LCD TVs, plugging the 57-inch LC-57D90U ($15,999) in between its 45-inch and yet-to-ship 65-inch sets.

Both Sony and Samsung showed 82-inch LCD TVs at CES, but Samsung got so much buzz about this product at CeBit 2005 that its CES demos were anticlimactic. On the other hand, Sony's 82-inch Bravia prototype LCD TV demo wasn't impressive. It claims a wider color gamut for this product using LEDs, but the colors from the Sony Pictures demo clips had plenty of false contours and looked mottled.

LCD prices continue to drop with 37-inch 1080p integrated digital TVs coming this year at $2,999 and 42-inch prices at $3,999. Note that those are both MSRPs; street prices will be considerably lower, particularly if the manufacturer is using LCD panels from China.

Several 1080p LCD TVs and “displays” (with NTSC tuners as factory-installed options) were in abundance at BenQ, Westinghouse Digital, Sharp, Norcent, LG, Syntax Olevia, Philips, Samsung, Sony, and in the LG Philips LCD demo room upstairs. While the 37-inch 1080p products are already on the market, the big battle for 2006 will be in the 40-inch and 42-inch sizes against 768p plasma TVs — hence, the demonstration that plasma manufacturers can get to 1080p if they have to, although at a much higher cost. Unfortunately, both technologies are fighting for a smaller slice of the pie when it comes to profitability. Considering that the six largest LCD manufacturers in China made about 3 percent profit in fiscal 2004, you wonder why they bother.



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