And this is also time for the big CEDIA Expo. It's the second most important trade show of the year in the consumer electronics business, after the annual January CES in Las Vegas, though I'm sure that the Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association would disagree on the relative standings of the two events.
While CEDIA emphasizes the custom installation market, it has also become a major venue for introducing new AV products of all sorts. Even some of the smaller audio companies, which traditionally use CES as a launching pad, are starting to participate.
For the past several years the CEDIA Expo has been held in Indianapolis. CEDIA, the organization that runs the event, is headquartered in that city. But for the next two years, at least, the show moves to Denver. And this year, for the first time, it runs for four days instead of the traditional three— this coming Thursday through Sunday, September 14-17. For the press, it's more like five days. The show floor isn't open on Wednesday September 13, but that afternoon is wall-to-wall with press conferences.
It should be great fun this year. Plasma displays generally aren't happy at High altitudes. And while manufacturers have been working on the problem, I hope we won't need earplugs to shut out loud buzzing sounds from those mile-high exhibits.
What do we expect to see? HD DVD and Blu-ray should be out in full force. But we haven't heard any reports of upcoming HD DVD players beyond those now available, and would be surprised to see any announcements of second-generation machines from Toshiba. The format war is still too fresh to announce products that probably won't hit the streets until after CES, at the earliest. We have no real issues with the performance from the first generation Toshibas. It's been stunning. But to keep its present lead over Blu-ray, refinements might be a nice touch—things like a better remote, more disc features to fulfill the early promise of the format, and further improvements to the clunky operating system that HD DVD players are currently stuck with.
On the Blu-ray side, we should see players from Pioneer, Panasonic, and Sony, plus (we hope) at least a low-key announcement that Samsung has finally worked the performance robbing kinks out of its player. One or two major announcements of Killer-Ap titles from each format would also be a welcome addition to the skirmishes.
When we crawl out of the HD DVD / Blu-ray trenches and look around, there should be more than a few developments in sight on the television front. We'll likely see more companies demonstrating rear projection sets using alternatives to the ubiquitous projection lamp. LED-based lighting will be first out of the gate, and we should see more additions to the one or two models currently available. (Samsung already has one, and HP almost did, though reportedly it has been sent back to the lab for more work). Whether or not more LED models will make it to market this year is a question mark, however, as most TV vendors make their big product announcements in the spring, not at CEDIA. But prototype sightings are always possible.
It's unlikely that we'll see laser-based sets on the market before late next year, but Mitsubishi has already shown a prototype to the press (last spring), and may well highlight it at CEDIA. Other companies are also rumored to be working on laser designs.
We don't expect to see anything revolutionary in flat panels, though new forms of backlighting for LCD displays—a development that promises to improve black level, response time, and color—might make an appearance. Falling prices and growing sales, of course, continue to be the flat-panel stories of the year, rather than major technological developments. But the big story for me is that flat panel displays have continued to improve in overall quality, even as their prices have plummeted.
One big question mark is the status of SED. This revolutionary flat panel technology, jointly developed by Toshiba and Canon, has consistently been reported to be year away from production since it was first shown to the trade two years ago. But if Toshiba shows a prototype in its promised screen size of 55" at this year's CEDIA, rather than the 37" prototypes that have been floating around for the past two years, we'll know that this technology might actually happen. If Toshiba and Canon can build reliable models at popular sizes and competitive prices, SED could revolutionize the flat panel market. But those are very big "ifs."
A new 720p front projector at under $5000 won't see anyone in the press running to post a scoop, but 1080p projectors at that price will be very big news. And make no mistake, 1080p will be the projector story this year. We've already heard that Sony (SXRD), Panasonic (LCD), Mitsubishi (LCD), and BenQ (DLP) will announce new 1080p projectors. The first three of those might just crack that $5000 barrier, though prices have not yet been formally announced. Marantz, SIM2, ProjectionDesign, Digital Projection, JVC, Meridian/Faroudja, Sharp, Optoma, and Runco are also expected to demonstrate their 1080p DLP entries. And there will certainly be others.
One prominent player in the projection market that reportedly will not exhibit this year is Dwin. Its 1080p projector is not yet ready to demonstrate, and the company can likely make better use of their resources for R&D rather than showing their current 720p models in a sea of 1080p competitors.
If audio gets second billing in this preview, it's only because CEDIA tends to feature the in-wall designs that custom installers crave and that we tend to avoid here at Ultimate AV. But we'll be on the lookout for promising free-standing designs that will appeal to the serious audio enthusiast who is aware of the unavoidable compromises inherent to in-wall models. We also expect the usual flood of announcements on new audio electronics, most of them AV receivers but with more than a few on interesting new pre-pros and amplifiers joining the party, as well.
If you can't be there (the show is trade only, but like CES some enthusiasts find creative ways of attending!) let Ultimate AV be your show guide. You'll see reports on this site every day of what's happening. We'll keep you up to date on all the hot new products that are either in the stores now or will be within the next few months. Don't miss a day our show coverage, starting this coming Wednesday.