Sharp’s DLP front projectors have always been overachievers that offered a ridiculous amount of performance for the money. Nevertheless, with the company’s sharp (ahem) focus on LCD flat panels, I wasn’t certain we’d see any new front projector products from Sharp at this show. Well, I was wrong!
You know, with several hundred of Sony's closest friends. This is a good snap shot of what CES press day is like. Lots of lines, lots of people, and lots of madness. It was hard to tell what was being said from back there. I think he said something like, "blessed are the cheese makers." (Hint- Monty Python reference.)
OK, it’s early. I’ve only hit two press events so far. But I have to say that with all the talk of ludicrous refresh rates, Internet content, ultra contrast and local dimming, no one is talking about improving LCD’s biggest weakness- off-axis viewing. In every key respect- black levels, resolution, color, contrast, and you name it, local dimming LCDs compete with the very best plasma designs. But watch one even a little off center and it all goes to hell. Why is no one taking aim at improving that? Maybe someone will surprise me later today!
Toshiba has been keeping itself busy since HD DVD went under. Lots of DVD players and components but I did not hear the “B” word at any time during Toshiba’s 2009 CES press event. But Toshiba is bringing other content to its CE components in a new, and big way in 2009. Toshiba is integrating connectivity into its 2009 lineup by collaborating with Microsoft, Yahoo and other partners. Toshiba’s 2009 lineup will be rife with network-based connectivity, featuring Widget channels for Myspace, Cinemanow, Yahoo and CBS. Many products will be Windows Media Center PC “Extender” devices, and the line will include a standalone “Network Player” box.
Last, wireless HDMI is also coming from LG in a big way. At the press event the company didn’t elaborate on too many details, but did suggest it can pass signals as high in resolution as 1080p/60 “uncompressed.” I’m guessing in this context that means the wireless system itself doesn’t apply on the fly video compression to restrict bandwidth requirements while moving the HD signals around. No mention was made of the other side of this equation, which in the case of Blu-ray is bandwidth intensive lossless audio. I’ll visit LG on the showroom floor once the show opens and find out more. While single wires are great, no wires is even better- as long as it’s really the free lunch LG is claiming it to be!
On the TV side, LG is pushing its LCD flat panel HDTV offerings with LED backlighting and local dimming with 240 zones. While we weren’t aware that LG had local dimming LCDs in 2008, the 2009 “Mega Conrast” models are at least twice as good- 240 dimming zones compared to last year’s paltry 128. In the numbers game, 2,000,000:1 contrast ratios are claimed. In reality local dimming is very real, and has driven the LCDs we’ve seen that employ it to blacks and contrastlevels that are astounding. They’re on our list for 2009 for sure.
LG was in its customary and brutal 8am time slot (11am on the east coast LG’s John Taylor reminded us- thanks for that John!) and got the 2009 show off with a big bang. Rather than buy into forcing consumers to choose Blu-ray vs. streaming/downloads, its answer is to offer both. Its 2008 Internet connected BD300 Blu-ray player connects to Netflix and Netflix HD. Expanding on that, LG’s 2009 BD players and select HDTVs will offer Netcast, which is LG’s proprietary name for a feature set that delivers Internet derived content. Partners will include Netflix (and Netflix HD), YouTube, and CinemaNow with more content partners coming online later. Pictured here is one of LG's Blu-ray powered HTiBs.
I know what you’re thinking. Is that glass half empty or half full? Is it water or whiskey? Ok, that’s a trick question- the answer is obviously dependent on the answer to the first question. And what has the proverbial glass on my mind is CES 2009. I’m here in Vegas and the mood is indeed as subdued as many expected. So far it’s like low season at the hotels here. So, is our perspective on this glass half full? Or is it now a question empty or emptier? Where’s the news?
Month in and month out I receive letters from readers about pricing on Blu-ray, and noting that the public won’t buy in until Blu-ray is cheaper. What the public at large will or won’t buy into isn’t quite the same thing as what Home Theater readers will buy and for how much. For you, as a Home Theater reader, how cheap is cheap enough? Cheaper than an iPhone or an iPod? Walking through Costco the other day I saw every day pricing on players that was well below $299, and I’m sure we’ll see cheaper prices around the holidays. But realistically, is Blu-ray cheap enough to make it down your chimney this year? Was there ever a case to make that Blu-ray was genuinely “expensive” to begin with?
After many months and much gnashing of teeth online and print, Home Theater's ratings are in fact returning starting to product reviews with the January issue being assembled now. The ratings are not only coming back, we think the more streamlined version we've come up with is actually better than what we had before.