CES 2008 ended a week ago paving the way for several future trends and developments. As several manufacturers unveiled their 2008 lines it became apparent what will be on retailers' shelves this coming Summer and Fall. It also became apparent what the manufacturers believe the consumer wants, which directly affects how products are created and designed. We also got glimpses into the future of displays, and a possible outcome of the high def disc format war. We are also getting glimpses of how high def discs could be bypassed entirely by HD video downloads. We further received a preview of how wireless HD products are finally starting to come into their own after many years of slow progress and some false starts.
This was the first CES in recent memory that I saw so many really thin TVs, and I mean really thin. Hitachi previewed their new 1.5-in. line of LCD and plasma TVs, Sharp had ultra-thin models of about an inch or so as did many other brands. Pioneer showed us a prototype of the 50.-in. Project Kuro plasma of only 9mm deep. All of these displays had really thin bezels as well. All benefit from downsized chipsets and SoCs, and are a sight to behold. If a TV company doesn't have a really thin LCD TV today, they will have a display sometime this year. It's the "hot" concept in TVs this year. As well, the design of the cabinet is also coming to the forefront from companies like Philips and others. These TV companies seem to think that technology will take a backseat to design and form factor. I'm not so sure, but we'll see how this plays out this year.
Another key area for LCD displays in 2008 will be backlighting. At CES, Sharp and Samsung were showing premium LCD-TV lines that use LED backlighting, and they certainly looked impressive. But price, however, will keep these BLUs (Back Light Unit) out of the main stream for some time. Luminus Devices and Global Lighting Technology, on the other hand, were showing a Sharp 47-inch LCD-TV retrofitted with their edge-lit RGB LED BLU called PhlatLight. Image quality was off the charts. The BLU had been built by Jabil, and Luminus is hopeful that TV sets using their BLU would be commercially available in 2H'08. This technology, which is far less costly than 'direct' LED with 1,100 or so LEDs, could bring LED technology to mainstream LCD TVs this year. Actually, the edge-lit approach by Luminus is novel, I think, and certainly more efficient. Supposedly, Sharp and Samsung are currently using the 'direct' LED approach. I expect, however, the other TV manufacturers, will take a hard look at PlhatLIght technology, which Samsung currently uses in their slim DLP HDTVs.
Many reporters, bloggers and journalists thought that the high def DVD format war was over at the start of CES because of the Warner Bros. announcement only producing Blu-ray Disc movies after May 2008. Toshiba, however, said, "not so fast" as HD DVD players accounted for 53-percent of the stand-alone player market in 2007 with Blu-ray only having about 44-percent (the remaining 3-percent or so went to combination players " LG). So, Toshiba is coming back like gang busters with reduced pricing on all player models. Will this cause confusion with the consumer? Absolutely! And, to add more spice to the mix, Sound & Vision magazine named Toshiba's HD-XA2 their "product of the year."
Of course, a high def format war could be moot if video downloading finally takes off this year. And, according to Steve Jobs of Apple, 2008 is the year of video downloads. With new deals with five movie studies, Apple TV can change the future. Reportedly, Apple sold only 7 million movie downloads last year compared with about four billion songs and 125 million TV shows. Presently, Netflix and CinemaNow are still largely a curiosity. Newer companies like VuDo and xTremeHD hope to change the concept of HD video downloads. Will they? It's hard to say as video downloading has been promised for about 10 years now, and we're still waiting. Video downloading does go against the grain of some folks as they like to collect and keep physical things. Although, music downloads from iTunes, for example, have also shown that folks want the ease and convenience of downloading. And, with larger hard-drives and servers coming to market, the market could be ripe for downloading. Let's just hope that DRM doesn't get in the way.
2008 will also see wireless HD technology finally take off. Even if it's only between the display device and a media center type set-top box, wireless has been a dream for many years. As well, with technologies like 802.11n may facilitate HD downloads to a PC, and sending those signals to a set-top box from either Apple, LG or someone else that can receive and process those signals. As these developments become available, I'll report them in Digital TV DesignLine. So, stay tuned!