At time of the year, we have a tendency to reflect and look back on the events of the past year. I'm not just talking about the most popular stories that folks like you read such as The Promise of 1080p, but the major trends and developments in the CE and semiconductor industries. In my earlier Blog from early December, I talked about all of the hoopla that has surrounded HD DVD and Blu-ray. It's a never-ending story, and so far consumers don't seem ready to go out and purchase either format. Of course, this may change in 2007 as audio companies come out with a true universal high-definition player that plays back both HD DVD and Blu-ray.
However, there were other stories in 2006 that demanded coverage. Last week, for example, I talked about the trials and tribulations of SED and its current legal entanglements. Of course, some conspiracy theorists believe that this is just a ploy on the part of Canon as they realize that SED can't be economically-built and that the legal issue is simply a smoke screen so that they can exit gracefully. However, this leaves Toshiba in quite a big pickle as it desperately needs a new display technology. Without SED, Toshiba has no high-end displays (and it doesn't really have LCD and plasma factories), which puts the company at a clear disadvantage against Sony, Mitsubishi, and Samsung among others.
The set-top box industry started its own transformation in 2006 going from STBs with MPEG-2 to MPEG-4. Let's face it; the set-top box will be with us for many years to come. Current incarnations of STB technology come in the flavors of satellite and cable boxes. The two major satellite providers continue to make the move from MPEG2 to MPEG4, and have been deploying new boxes and dishes to take advantage of this compression technology as H.264 makes further in-roads. DirecTV certainly had its problems deploying its new HD boxes, and their new HD DVR boxes continue to be backordered, and suffer from a poorly designed chassis. DirecTV had hopes of turning off its MPEG2 HD signals in favor of HD MPEG4 this year, but simply can't do it. It may not even happen in 2007 at DirecTV's current rate of deployment. And, if they can't really make the new HD DVR work correctly, they may have to return to TiVo for their PVR technology. On the other hand, EchoStar has had a much easier time deploying MPEG4 boxes. However, their lawsuit with TiVo threatens to turn-off over 4.0 million DVRs. This case is now headed for the Supreme Court, and its outcome cannot really be predicted.
On the other hand, the market for cable HD boxes continues to grow as more folks obtain HDTVs. The cable industry has finally come awake, and now embraces HD as a new revenue stream. With the sales of HDTVs reaching record numbers, this is good news for both Motorola and Scientific Atlanta. Most of the new cable HD boxes being put in consumer hands now include HD DVR capability. More and more people are finding that recording their favorite shows on a DVR is a much easier proposition than using a DVD recorder. Sadly, CableCARD is a bust as most TV manufacturers have relegated DCR capability to a few top-of-the-line sets. What was once envisioned as a way to completely eliminate the STB, the cable industry refused to embrace it and made it very difficult for average consumers to even get the CableCARD
Lastly, a small market for IPTV set-top boxes began in 2006 as telcos and others experimented with this emerging technology. IPTV is still in its infancy, and it will take sometime for this industry to grow. Growth in IPTV won't take place till later in the decade. To receive HDTV signals via the Internet requires better Connected Home solutions, and a large pipe than what is currently available except in new home construction. Even so, to download HD content takes hours -- not minutes.
So, as the last Blog of 2006, I want to say "Thank You" for reading Digital TV DesignLine, and I wish all of my readers a Happy and Healthy 2007!