Denver - 16th Street Shakedown
As I leave Denver after three days of being under the gun to pump out show reports (don't worry fans, it was only friendly fire), I can sit back and shoot for the bigger picture.
In the area of video projectors, CEDIA 2006 was an embarrassment of riches. We saw incredible looking projectors like the 1080p Sony VPL-VW50, a.k.a. "the Pearl," slated for release this year for $5,000, the InFocus IR78, a DarkChip3 720p DLP projector whose only fault might be that it is too bright (but not too loud – an absurdly low 22 db) that will list for $4,500, and the Joe Kane / Samsung SP-H710AE 720p DLP collaboration projector that sells for a ridiculously low $4000. That's basically the same set Samsung introduced a year ago for $12,000. And although I didn't get to see it (and neither did Shane judging by his photograph of two closed doors at their offsite suite), Tom said the upcoming $7,000 JVC D-ILA is killer.
I see a new digital projection system in my future. My near future.
So much for the obvious. Something I didn't expect to see was the plethora of large LCD panels. They were everywhere – and they looked good. Really good. Plasma manufacturers watch out! One plasma manufacturer whose marketing department hasn't bothered walking the aisles of Costco recently is, as one of my colleges put it, offering 2004 technology at 2004 prices. LCDs don't bust up during shipment like Plasmas, they don't weigh as much and don't cost as much to ship, they don't consume as much electricity and – oh yeah, they don't get unfairly defamed as much as plasmas do by the Best Boys.
What about music and movie whole house distribution systems? So far, these systems are very expensive, oriented towards custom installers (that's CEDIA's beat, after all) and nowhere near as user friendly in the installation department as systems of the future will be. For example, if a 14-year-old boy can't ask another 14-year-old boy how to set sharing permissions to the iPod dock in his room on the kitchen PC and get a straight answer, he's not going to call a custom installer to find out. Long live personal devices.
I think you'll see more user friendly, DIY type whole house systems in the future. Microsoft's Jive, er, Viiv technology will be viable someday (after everyone's current computers get long in the tooth and are replaced by newer dual-core technology) for some of the things we'll want to do. But the systems of the future will have components that talk to each other in a fixed, defined and pre-agreed-upon formats (HDMI lessons learned we hope) developed by large companies in conjunction with open source organizations that think unit sale numbers in the millions, not the teens (like how many pro-baseball players will buy this system and how many will have to buy it again when their wife takes the house?)
There's a joke about a man standing on the corner selling pencils for a million dollars. Business is slow, but if he can only sell one . . . . That's today custom whole house media distribution system installer in a nutshell.
As far as the high definition format war, I have to believe it hasn't even begun, but from all reports, HD-DVD isn't the dog that the BluRay camp was trying to make us believe. For starters, I've never seen a good BluRay demo yet. Not one. The players always look and behave like amateurish prototypes and the HD-DVD crowd is eating this up. The high-end video gurus I run into are very much pro-HD-DVD and anti-BluRay, mostly because of the latter's reliance on MPEG encoding which is judged inferior to the VC-1 encoding method available (and used) for HD-DVD. It doesn't help that the first batch of BluRays are MPEG2, and not MPEG4 which the format supports. The 2nd gen HD-DVD players from Toshiba are out and the writing may be on the wall. BluRay will make a fine gaming format.