Home-Theater Harbingers

Now that we've entered the "tweens" of the 21st century, we finally leave the "aughts" behind. It was an eventful decade for home theater, and I could wax rhapsodic about how far we've progressed in the last 10 years, but I'd rather focus on what's to come, especially since CES starts this week. What home-theater harbingers might we see in Las Vegas?

First and foremost, 3D will be everywhere. Now that the 3D specification for Blu-ray is finalized, I'm certain we'll see lots of 3D-capable players at the show, though most won't be shipping to retailers until late in the year—after all, the spec was finished only a couple of weeks ago, so manufacturers haven't had much time to complete their engineering, much less build and test prototypes. The new spec encodes full-resolution 1080p for each eye, and it's completely independent of the display technology.

Speaking of which, we'll also see scads of 3D-capable displays, including flat panels and front projectors—JVC has announced it will present 3D demos with twin 4K projectors, and Optoma will be showing 3D front projection with a much more affordable system. While the spec for 3D-content storage and delivery on Blu-ray is a done deal, there are myriad display technologies vying for a piece of the 3D pie, such as active shutter glasses and passive polarization, of which there are several variations.

The good news is that this format war is essentially meaningless—as long as the display manufacturers design their systems to accept and decode the 3D Blu-ray signal, you will see 3D using the glasses that come with the display. You might not see full-res 1080p in each eye—some systems deliver only half the vertical resolution to each eye—which is one big differentiating factor to which I'll be paying close attention.

Of course, another trend at CES will be an increasing emphasis on streaming online content via Blu-ray players, TVs, and set-top boxes. I hope to see a device that lets you get content from anywhere on the Web, not just certain providers that partner with different manufacturers.

Flat panels will continue to get thinner and less expensive on average, though we aren't likely to see any large-screen OLED TVs other than prototypes and concept demos. In fact, I don't expect any commercially available OLED TVs larger than 15 or 20 inches for several years at least, mostly because the technology remains very expensive and difficult to manufacture in large screen sizes.

However, we are sure to see more LED-illuminated LCD TVs, though the trend is clearly toward edgelighting and away from backlighting, because edgelighting is less expensive and allows thinner cabinets. I really hope to see plasma TVs make a strong showing—I hate to think that this technology's market share might suffer further erosion in 2010.

Speaking of LED illumination, this technology will continue to be applied to front projectors as well, though there might not be many new-product announcements at CES, which is less of a projector show than CEDIA. With Digital Projection, projectiondesign, Runco, SIM2, and Vivitek already in this market, there are sure to be others in the near future.

I've been surprised by the number of press releases for wireless systems this year—I know of three PC-to-TV systems and two 7.1-channel wireless audio systems that will be introduced at the show. Other news in this regard will likely include more wireless subwoofers and surround speakers as well as wireless HDMI systems, though this market segment has grown more slowly than I expected.

Another audio trend is an increasing implementation of alternative surround schemes such as Audyssey DSX, Dolby Pro Logic IIz, and a similar system from DTS, which derive so-called "height" channels to enhance the sense of envelopment from movie soundtracks. I'm sure we'll see more A/V receivers that offer one or another of these systems.

Finally, this year's CES will no doubt be "greener" than ever, with virtually all companies touting products that consume less power and include fewer toxic substances, both of which are big advantages for LEDs over CCFL backlights and conventional projector lamps. Energy Star 4.0 goes into effect on May 1, 2010, and it promises a 40-percent reduction in power consumption over current levels, so we will undoubtedly see lots of products sporting this label.

Now it's time to saddle up and hit the road for Vegas. I'll be blogging throughout the show, so be sure to check UAV often. Meanwhile, I hope the new year brings you everything you desire and nothing you don't.

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The Audio Dufus's picture

Happy New Year! Guide to Home Theater is my favorite since 1996! My new year's resolution is to get a new Plasma (please don't mention LCD in my presence) and I was made aware that as of May 15, 2009, all Pioneer plasma patents were now the property of Panasonic. CES is here, will the Kuro technology be incorporated into the Panasonics? I can't sleep, I can't focus, oh will they?!? And if so, how do you suppose my Sony Superbetamax will look on such a fine monitor?

Robert's picture

^ LOL. About a Panasonic Elite Kuro plasma with 3D full resolution for each eye, and wireless to boot? Oh, and only 2mm thick? I too have been a regular subscriber to Stereophile Guide to home Theater since the very 1st issue in 1996, now called Ultimate AV. And I was a subscriber to Stereophile since the 70s! Now I just purchased a new receiver with all the latest, but without DTS height decoder!, and only 9 power amplifiers on board! If I want the two Back surrounds, the two Wide surrounds and the two Height surrounds working all in tandem, I'll need 11 power amplifiers!, and 3 subwoofers too!, for a full 11.3-channel surround sound system... Oh, and probably with HDMI version 1.4 for the 3D capability! I will also need to replace my display of course, and buy another Blu-ray player, all with HDMI v.1.4 and 3D capable... So much for my two latest Blu-ray players! And my display? I already owned it for a very long time, 2 years! I can't honestly see no end to these follies. Welcome to the new decad

The Audio Dufus's picture

I don't think they can call it Panasonic Elite as Pioneer still has the Elite receivers and Bluray---you know, the ones with the hand selected parts upgrades. I have always wondered how you select capacitors and resistors by hand---this one has the prettiest paint stripes, this one has the straightest prongs. Then again, Roy Hobbs told that Savoy kid to pick him a winner when Wonderboy cracked, and look how that movie ended. But really, I gotta know when the Kuro technology (obviously developed from alien technology gleaned from Area 51 I've gathered from my reliable inside sources) will show up in the Panasonics because just when I got the green light from the wife for the Elite, they quit making them. Help me out, Scott!

The Audio Dufus's picture

Here is the link to the 2009 Pioneer Annual report detailing the sale of the plasma patents to Panasonic. Fun reading if you don't have anything better to do.Pioneer states: "The Company resolved to transfer its patents for plasma display panels and modules to Panasonic Corporation at the Board of Directors

Jerry's picture

Scott, the introduction of hdmi 1.4, deep color, 3 (stinkin') D displays and discs, has my stomach in absolute KNOTS. I hope these silly gimmicks disappear along with the other audio horrors like mini disc,et. al. What especially frightens me is the creation of movies soley for the shallow purpose of showing off these useless technologies. As if cinema is in better shape now. This could trumpet the death knell for ANYTHING weighty to come out of hollywood ever again.

Oscar Worthy, DDS's picture

The Panasonic IPS-Alpha plasma is the mythical "Panasonic Kuro Elite" you speak of.

Richard's picture

Scott: I am a fan. I first heard you on Leo Laporte's The Tech Guy podcasts. I enjoyed those short segments. Your new show, Home Theater Geeks, is great. I am learning a lot. Your show has jumped to a tie with Steve Gibson's Security Now as my favorite podcasts, displacing other long running TWIT shows. The reasons are that your content is fascinating, your guests are amazing, and you don't digress into rat holes of irrelevant material. I recently, blogged about 10.2 surround sound after hearing about on your first episode, http://rhftech.com/blog/2010/01/technology-marches-on-10-2-surround-sound/. Thank you for making this information available. Pax vobiscum.

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