Thursday, September 4, 2008

CEDIA EXPO: Press Day Overview: Can Tru2Way, Internet Connectivity, Do Away with the Set-top Box?

Press day at CEDIA EXPO 2008, the day prior to the show’s official opening, proved fruitful for manufacturers on various fronts. For one, a good cross-section of industry journalists showed up to see the latest and greatest products. And second, the day was blessed with gorgeous weather in Denver, CO that made trudging from one hotel ballroom to another ballroom in an entirely different hotel, hour after hour, a not-so bad experience (we plead with you: please make all the press conferences in one venue next year!). But more important than the weather is the new products, and we got a sneak-peek at plenty of them, including the latest flat-panel TVs and Blu-ray players from the top manufacturers.

Traditionally, when we talk about connectivity with a TV, it’s in reference to a video source like a cable or set-top box. But as the Internet continues to play an important role as a conduit for good-quality video content, people are more often looking toward the PC as a source of entertainment. Flat-panel manufacturers are picking up on this growing trend, and coming out with innovative partnerships and designs to accommodate. In fact, connectivity is one of the key components of Panasonic’s “Viera message”, and the company’s latest plasmas certainly fall in line with it. A feature called Viera Cast allows a TV to essentially work as an IP device, connecting to the Internet via Ethernet, than porting content from partners, who range from YouTube to the Weather Channel and Bloomberg news. Sony is also continuing its focus in this area with new Bravia models, including the sexy new ultra-thin 9.9mm thin model, that utilize the company’s Internet Link technology. Sharp’s gorgeous new limited edition XS LCDs (I’ve never seen reds reproduced so sharply, excuse the pun!) incorporate Sharp’s ongoing Aquos Net feature that provides content as well as remote tech support. All companies plan to come out with new Blu-ray models that include BD Live as well for enjoying additional content from the ‘net while watching a compatible Blu-ray disc title.


The most interesting new method of getting content to the TV, however, hails from a new initiative called Tru2Way, which is essentially a cable technology that will download applications to the TV itself, including channels, guide, pay-per-view specialty content, etc., where the content will continue to reside. The technology, if it takes off, will essentially replace the need for a set-top box altogether! Panasonic, one of the key companies involved with the technology, will have Tru2Way operating and on display at its booth, so I’ll definitely be checking it out. The company also says that it will announce Tru2Way products in the coming weeks that will be available in time for the holiday shopping season. It’s unlikely we’ll see them that soon in Canada, if at all, but stay tuned!

Auto Picture Control

Manufacturers are also showing a greater focus on automatic picture adjustment that can adjust an image, in sections, based on room conditions and factors like ambient light. Toshiba calls its variation on this idea AutoView, which includes an ambient light sensor and film content detection to not only improve the picture, but also to conserve energy at night time. Another significant new technology developed by the company is called SRT (Super Resolution Technology), and this works to improve picture by up-scaling essentially any video source that’s connected to it, whether that be a DVD, cable signal, or video game. Sony employs Advanced Contrast Enhancer Pro to help improve picture quality; and Sharp’s version, which adjusts the brightness of a screen according to ambient light, is called Optical Picture Control.

Going Green

An area in consumer electronics that is becoming of more and more importance is energy efficiency, and every manufacturer has officially jumped on that bandwagon. Panasonic claims that its new Blu-ray players consume 20% less power than previous-generation models; while Sony’s new models are 55% smaller, resulting in reduced packaging (not to mention shipping weight!) Sharp, a company that has been at the forefront of environmental friendliness, says its new LE series promises to be up to 30% more efficient than traditional LCDs using the new Picture Control function. The company’s new D85U and D65U models, available in 42”, 46”, and 52” sizes, are also RoHS and Energy Star 3.0 compliant, resulting in 20% less energy consumption. A dedicated power-saving mode also helps to conserve energy.

This merely scratches the surface of what’s at the show, but it sure starts things off on an enticing note: CEDIA EXPO officially begins today. Stay tuned to this Website for daily updates from the show floor, including information on new products, as well as an inside look into some of the courses being offered.
A Few Neat Product Highlights:

Panasonic: A new DECT multi-cell wireless phone that is home automation-capable. By simply depressing keys on the phone, customers can perform tasks like adjusting lighting or temperature in the home. The phone is also really rugged, able to withstand drops, and even water spills!

Toshiba: The new XV Cinema Series Regza LCDs are top-of-the-line, employing the aforementioned Auto View and SRT technologies, along with a new double-skin cabinet, whereby you can see through the top layer into a second layer of design.

Sony: The new BRAVIA KDL-52XBR7 LCD TV features ultra-fast 240Hz refresh rate that the company calls Motionflow (or “Mo-Flo” for short!) The new KLV-40ZX1M LCD is just 9.9mm thin, and also boasts Motionflow (but at 120 Hz). Frustrated customers will also be happy to know that Sony claims its new Blu-ray players, of which there are five, will employ a quick-start feature that makes an inserted video ready to go in six seconds. Sony also whet our appetites with the promise of a 400-disc Blu-ray changer to be available in 2009.

Sharp: The Aquos XS series LCDs produce gorgeous, sharp, and ultra-bright pictures, and will come in 52” and 65” sizes. Other features include 1080p technology (of course) RGB-LED backlighting, and integrated speakers developed jointly with Pioneer. The new D85U and D65U series models (the latter of which replaces the existing D64U series) are RoHS and Energy Star 3.0 compliant, and employ neat-looking angled edges for a slightly different look than what you might be used to.

[Photo: Chris Matto, Senior Brand Manager, Sharp Electronics of Canada Ltd. (left) poses with Daisuke (“Doug”) Koshima, CEO & Chairman of Sharp Electronics of America and the company’s new limited edition XS series LCD TVs. Two iterations will be available in 52” and 65” screen sizes, both featuring advanced technology like RGB-LED backlighting, 1” thin frames, and an audio system developed jointly with Pioneer.]

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