DTV Primer

Chris Llana, Editor


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CES Report

January 9, 2006

Well, it's CES time, and the big news this year is the long awaited introduction of the two competing high-definition video disc formats. HD-DVD (the underdog) comes out first in March with loss-leader-priced players. Blu-ray Disc follows in May.

People who saw side-by-side demos of Blu-ray versus conventional DVD (and the same comparison with HD-DVD vs. DVD) all noted the substantial improvement in picture quality (resolution, color accuracy, contrast, etc).

HD-DVD Toshiba is coming out with two HD-DVD players: 1) the HD-XA1, expected to be in stores in March at a cost of $799, and 2) the HD-A1 for $499.

These will connect to HDTVs via an HDMI interface and will support 720p and 1080i. Both will support the two new high-end audio formats--Dolby Digital Plus, and DTS-HD (Now formally called DTS-HD Master Audio).

Toshiba plans an extensive marketing blitz starting in February including special offers for those purchasing both Toshiba HDTVs and HD-DVD players as a package.

About 50 HD-DVD movie titles to be available at roll-out, including The Matrix, Million Dollar Baby Batman Begins, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, King Kong, etc. About 150 additional titles will follow during the rest of the year.

Blu-Ray Disc (BD) Blu-ray Disc players have been announced by several manufacturers. Samsung will have its BD-1000 out for $1000 (or perhaps less) in April. Pioneer Elite will sell its BDP-HD1 player for $1800 beginning late-spring.

Panasonic and Sony will follow with players in June. Philips and Sharp with follow that.

The Pioneer BD player will output full specification HD (1920 x 1080 pixels), progressive scan at 60 frames per second (!), which is very impressive. I do not yet know whether this is a feature of the Blu-ray Disc specification or is a feature of the player. If this is typical of BD discs, then that puts it ahead of HD-DVD (which apparently supports only 720p and 1080i, and not 1080p).

Blu-ray Disc production, which has been an issue because of the new technology it uses, will begin in March (with single-layer 25 GB discs) and ramp up from there. By late summer production will include dual-layer 50 GB discs.

About 70 Blu-ray titles will be available at the outset, with hundreds to follow this year. A sampling: The Fifth Element, House of Flying Tigers, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, Underworld Evolution, Mission Impossible 3, Total Recall, etc.

Some studios will release titles only in BD and others only in HD-DVD and others in both formats.

TVs

Sony displayed a new 55" 1080p rear-projection LCoS TV using their SXRD technology. It's 30% thinner than earlier models. It's part of Sony's new "Bravia" line.

Toshiba introduced a slew of new flat-panel TVs--including advanced LCDs. It's full-of-promise SED flat-panel sets were also displayed. These will now be offered in both 36" and 55" sizes, but specific pricing and availability dates have yet to be announced.

Sharp also introduced new LCD sets with improved technology, in larger sizes and with 1080p screen resolution. These included a new 57" model (not at all cheap) to go with their 45" and 65" sets. Other manufacturers also displayed cutting-edge technology LCD flat-panel sets, many with LED or strobing backlighting.

Samsung showed off a new 56" DLP rear-projector that used an LED light source (vs. more conventional light bulb). These red, green, and blue LED lamps are supposed to give more accurate colors and are longer-lived, and are showing up in the latest models of DLP and LCD rear-projection sets. The other advantage the three separate LED colors has over a white incandescent light bulb is the elimination of the color wheel (responsible for the "rainbow" effect).

Another clear advantage is bulb life: 20,000 hours versus several thousand for regular incandescent lamps.

HP and Akai also displayed DLP sets using LED light sources.

Camcorders

HD camcorders continue to proliferate and develop. Recording media is no longer limited to Mini-DV cassettes. A couple of makers displayed units that use small 1.8" internal hard-disks (in the same 30 GB and 60 GB sizes used in Apple's video iPods).

Samsung is working on a Blu-ray HD camcorder.

Satellite

DirecTV's new HD satellite receiver supports both MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 coding (the latter used for DirecTV's latest HD local channel services, now in 12 markets and expected to be in 24 others within a few months).

DISH continues to add HD content, including 15 channels of HD programming from VOOM, and featuring 5.1 channel audio.