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Toshiba, Sharp, Denon, and More

July 8, 2007

Toshiba has announced a new round of flat-panel TVs, Sharp's Blu-ray player is now expected in the fall, and Denon is rolling-out an HDMI 1.3 A/V receiver. Also, another note on the cable set-top-box integration ban.

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Toshiba is gaining market share with its Regza line of LCD flat panels, and has shifted its marketing strategy in response. Following closely in Hitachi's footsteps, Toshiba has decided to drop its line of DLP rear-projection TVs in favor of the flat TVs.

Does this mean micro-display TVs are on the way out?

Eventually, yes, but not anytime soon. The likes of Sony, Samsung, and Mitsubishi are keeping the popular rear-projectors on the market. Micro-displays fill the 50" to 70" HDTV range at prices significantly lower than smaller LCDs and larger-screen front-projectors.

A few years back Pioneer had the hottest RPTVs on the market and dropped them to focus on plasma. Hitachi was an RPTV technology leader for awhile and has now dropped them. HP dropped its award-winning rear-projector sets last year to focus on flat panels. It's simply a matter of sales volume and profits.

Of course a couple of years ago we started seeing manufacturers drop their CRT lines of TVs, both rear-projector and direct-view, and now they're close to being extinct. Only budget-brand 4:3 CRT direct-view sets survive, and they'll disappear as soon as the public becomes generally aware of the transition to widescreen digital TV.

RPTVs don't have a lot of competition in their size range right now. Will we be seeing 60" flat-panel TVs selling for $2000 in the next couple of years? Doesn't look like it today, but that's what makes watching the digital TV industry so interesting.

What we're seeing is more of the consolidation that the highly competitive digital TV market has been undergoing. It's certainly been happening with plasma TVs; fewer manufacturers are making them now. Manufacturers cannot afford to play a niche role in any technology; they have to play to their market strengths. Meaning they need to sell a LOT of TVs to achieve economies of scale.

In its June 28 press release, Toshiba made a point of its LCD market-share gains.

Their share of the 32" to 42" LCD market went up 90%, to 10.8% of the market.

They're looking to do the same thing in the larger sizes, from 46" to 57". Their full line-up begins at 26", and is offered in three series: HL67, HL167 (Full-HD 1920 x 1080), and LX177 Cinema Series.

All of these have 14 bit internal video processing for "accurate 12 bit output," and dynamic backlighting for better effective contrast ratios. The Full-HD models add a wide-gamut backlight for more saturated colors. The Cinema Series sets add a 120 Hz refresh rate to minimize motion blur, with "Motion Vector" frame interpolation. Cinema Series sets also have HDMI 1.3 inputs.

MSRPs and availability:

26HL67 $800Now
32HL67U $1000Now
37HL67U $1200Now
42HL67 $1400Now
Regza Full-HD
42HL167 $1800Now
47HL167 $2500Now
52HL167 $3500Now
Regza Cinema Series
42LX177 $2300Now
46LX177 $3000Now
52LX177 $4000Now
57LX177 $TBDJuly

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Sharp is expected to come out with its belated Blu-ray player this fall, according to reports coming out of Europe. A U.S. Sharp rep would only tell me "we may have something to share in the Fall timeframe."

Sharp had previously announced their first Blu-ray player for the second-quarter 2007, which of course did not happen.

The new BD player has a European model designation BD-HP20S; that's the third model designation I've seen in the last year. No pricing yet, which is no surprise given the extreme price flux in the high-def player market these days (as in going-downhill-in-a-hurry).

We can expect features as before: HDMI 1.3, lossless audio format decoding, 1080/60p and /24p output, etc. 5.1 analog output has also been reported, as has a quick-start feature that gets something up on the screen within seconds. Sharp makes its own blue laser pickups, and reportedly this will be an all-new Sharp-original product.

I'll be looking for it. It'll have to be really good to survive the competition.

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Denon has joined the HDMI 1.3 A/V receiver club with the AVR-3808CI, reported to hit the market before the end of July. These new HDMI 1.3 receivers are must-have components for anyone with a Blu-ray (or HD-DVD) player wanting to decode the new lossless audio formats: Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio.

It appears to be in the same class as the 7.1-channel Onkyo TX-SR805 with 130 watts per channel. The Onkyo has been available for close to a month and had garnered great reviews.

The Denon supports 7.1 channels of PCM 24-bit/192kHz audio. It has four HDMI 1.3 inputs (and one out) compared to 3 and 1 for the Onkyo; total harmonic distortion is the same (0.05%); both have an Audyssey setup system; the Denon weighs 36 pounds to the Onkyo's 51 pounds (that's not going to blow away); the Denon's MSRP is $1600 versus $1000 for the Onkyo (selling for $900). Onkyo sells to a mass market.

The Denon's video processor is more capable than the Onkyo's (and perhaps comparable to higher Onkyo models): a Faroudja DCDi (FLI-2310) chipset that reportedly upconverts analog 480i source content to 480p/720p/1080i/1080p (in case your TV can't do that stuff).

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Last week I reported on the FCC's proposed rule on standards "to ensure bidirectional compatibility of cable television systems and consumer electronics equipment." New standards are needed so that competitive set-top-boxes and bi-directional digital cable-ready TVs can make their way to market.

I also described the FCC's "integration ban" that went into effect on July 1 making it illegal for cable companies to distribute the bi-directional CableCARD-less set-top-boxes they love so dearly. I noted that the FCC has been granting a number of waivers to the ban as an incentive for cable companies to go digital and because of the mess that the proposed rule is seeking to clean up.

What I didn't know at the time was just how many waivers are being granted.

Cable giant Comcast, which was denied a waiver because they refused to commit to going all-digital by 2/17/09, has just submitted an indignant written complaint to the FCC, citing more than 130 other cable companies who are getting waivers.

That's a lot.

So there's really not going to be a big integration ban impact on consumers until the FCC gets their new standards working.