Every year we like to get out our crystal balls and speculate about what the future may bring. Let's not get confused like old Scrooge in Dickens' A Christmas Carol in his encounter with the Ghost of Christmas Future. Concerning to the topics covered in Digital TV DesignLine, the two that will be the most volatile and possibly controversial will be displays and next-generation optical discs. There will also be developments in Set-Top Box design, Digital Rights Management, HD Recording and Voice/Data Networking.
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. DirecTV certainly had its problems deploying its new HD boxes, and their new HD DVR boxes continue to be backordered. DirecTV had hopes of turning off its MPEG2 HD signals in favor of HD MPEG4, but simply can't do it. It may not even happen in 2007 at DirecTV's current rate of deployment. 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.
Of course, the market for cable HD boxes continues to grow as more folks obtain HDTVs, which 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.
Also, there will be small market for IPTV set-top boxes in 2007. As noted below, 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 TV signals via the Internet requires better Connected Home solutions than are currently available except in new home construction.
The market for HD set-top boxes that convert digital HD signals to older, legacy NTSC standard definition TVs really won't materialize till 2008. At this time, companies like LG offer these inexpensive STBs to consumers that don't/won't have HDTVs. This market will be part of the U.S. Federal government voucher program that will coincide with the turn-off of analog TV signals in February 2009.
Displays are a very volatile category. Prices continue to drop for all display types. LCD TV prices will continue drop precipitously. At presstime, a 32-inch LCD HDTV was priced at $699, and a 50-inch plasma's prices were reduced to $1,699 (both models included a screen resolution of 1366x768 and were available from Vizio). Of course, all of this is to the detriment of the old trusty CRT. The CRT is going the way of the Dodo bird, and will soon be a museum piece.
On the other hand, 1080p screen resolutions will be the story for 2007 from every display technology from LCD, Plasma, and MicroDisplay. Of course, MicroDisplay will continue to offer the best value for the money with consumers. For example, at the current Holiday selling season, a 50-inch 1080p DLP HDTV or an HD SXRD TV cost around $2,000 compared to a 50-inch 1080p plasma HDTV.
In late 2007, we can expect to see a completely new display technology from both Canon and Toshiba, who are in a joint venture developing SED or Surface-conduction Electron-emitter Displays. Some people feel that 1080p SED displays could displace 1080p plasma at the high-end, and have it called SED"the plasma killer." At the recent CEATEC 2006 show in Japan, Toshiba announced a new 55-inch HDTV using SED technology to be available by Christmas 2007. Toshiba feels that SED will provide better overall performance at a price competitive with 1080p LCD and Plasma HDTVs.
SED televisions are similar to traditional tube televisions. Electrons are fired at a screen to create images. However, instead of coming out of a large electron gun, the electrons are fired from several thousand nano particles. One advantage is that SED televisions are much thinner than tube televisions, and have been described as "the best of both worldsCRT and flat." The performance and picture quality will also be significantly higher than LCD or plasma high-definition models. The contrast ratio is a whopping 50,000 to 1, which is far higher than LCD or plasma. The response time is a millisecond, thus the image blur or ghosting that can occur with some LCDs does not occur with SED. Currently, the LCDs with the fastest response time is in the 4-6 millisecond range. SED televisions will also last for reportedly 30,000 hours or greater, putting them on par with traditional tube TVs. "Power consumption of SED televisions is about half that of plasma and lower than LCD," Naoaki Umezu, Toshiba's chief specialist on SED, told journalists at CEATEC 2006.
Carbon Nanotube (CNT) televisions, which are similar to SED, are also under development in both Japan and Korea. Reportedly, a major Korean brand is looking to bring out one model late next fall (2007), but as to who it is was not verified at presstime of this article. Lastly, other companies are also pursuing carbon nanotube and related FED technologies such as Applied Nanotech, and others for possible late 2007/early 2008 introductions.
HD DVD/Blu-ray Disc
The jury is out as to which format, if any, will win over the other. While Toshiba will stay a "die-hard" HD DVD fanatic, and Sony a fan of the Blu-ray Disc, there will be a movement towards a true Universal high-def player. Several stories relating to next-generation optical discs have been posted on Digital TV DesignLine, and EE Times recently regarding ICs and chipsets from Broadcom, STMicroelectronics, and NEC Electronics that will finally allow true 'Universal' DVD players that can decode and playback both HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc. These machines will offer the best of both worlds and allow the consumer to buy into the future of high definition DVD. As early as CES 2007, we could see the first products announced that will accommodate this technological feat.
Now, my speculation is that this is what the major audio brands like Denon, Yamaha, Marantz, and Harman have been waiting for. They aren't tied to either the Blu-ray camp or the HD DVD camp. They are the perfect candidates. They've offered Universal DVD players before, meaning those players that played back DVD-Audio and SACD, and now they could be at the forefront again. All of the major audio companies are developing A/V Receiver with HDMI 1.3 so it makes sense that they would develop a 'Universal' hi-def DVD player with HDMI 1.3 also allowing the passage of Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, and DTS-HD. Although, it should be noted that each of these audio companies will need to do more R&D to engineer these technologies into various types of products.
Manufacturers of both audio and video products seem to have awoken from a deep sleep, and have recognized the importance of good video processing. Several HD display products along with HD DVD/Blu-ray Disc players now include processing from Faroudja, Silicon Optix, Analog Devices, and Qpixel among others to improve overall picture quality. To this end, audio manufacturers like Denon and Yamaha has also recognized the importance of superior video processing in audio products, and will be including more processing and video scaling on high-end AV Receivers and AV Processors in 2007.
While there's certainly activity on the Digital Rights Management front such as the Image Constraint Token (ICT), it has not been invoked as yet for HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc. Will it? Right now, it's unclear what the Hollywood Studies will do. As can be seen by the recent controversy over DVD and the iPod, Hollywood will do whatever it can to block "fair use" by the consumer. So, it's a constant struggle on the part of the CE industry and consumers to fight the Hollywood community over "fair use."
IPTV continues to grow seemingly at a snail's pace. While some inroads will be made in 2007, its time has not yet come. Of course, while some providers might differ on that, the fact remains that it's still not easy to move signals around the home, and there are many pitfalls to keeping constant audio and video signals moving around the Connected Home. And, many current solutions don't really address HD. While it's easy to wire a new home with Cat. 5 cable, older homes are still a challenge. Technologies such as 802.11n hold some promise for the easy passage of audio and high definition video signals in the future, but it's unlikely that 2007 will be the year for it to come to fruition. Service providers offering Internet Protocol TV will grow in 2007 even though many operators are still in the experimental stage.
HD recording is still in its infancy, and will continue to grow in 2007 especially via Satellite and Cable HD boxes. It's the quickest and easiest way for consumers to make HD recording. While there are HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc recorders in Japan now, they may not make it to the U.S. or European markets in 2007. On the other hand, there are now HD camcorders for consumers, but most don't record at full 1920x1080 resolution.