What to our wondering eyes should appear on the floor of South Hall but the Grey Lady herself, The New York Times, touting her apps for computers, smartphones, e-readers, and of course this year's particular CES obsession, tablets. The paper's show coverage also refers to (other) media companies chasing partners at this year's CE extravaganza.
My Home PC is the latest from Control4, whose interface standard bulks large in custom installation and home theater. It marks the first time Control4 has extended its reach beyondproprietary onscreen and touchscreen interfaces to third-party devices such as computers and tablets. With the likes of Denon, Marantz, Harman, Onkyo, Pioneer, Sony, and many more as Control4 partners, My Home PC is likely to see far-ranging use in the a/v sphere and beyond.
LG opened the "press day" by announcing its line of "Smart" products. Smart appears to be the company's new go-to word for many of its new products, ranging from Smart washers, dryers, ranges, and refrigerators ("Honey, the fridge says we need milk and ice cream"), to HDTVs, with cell phones and other devices occupying the vast middle ground in between.
To touch briefly on that middle ground, there was prototype of an LG mobile 3DTV that can be viewed glasses-free (autostereoscopiceasier to do for a single viewer). And there's a new LG smart phone, the Optomus 2X, said to do full 1080p. Better sit close.
But it's LG's TVs that interest us most. There are 31 new LG LCD sets, 10 of which are 3D. The Cinema 3D sets employ LED edge lighting. Three "Nano" 3D sets have full LED backlighting with local dimming. Nano technology, which is new this year, employs smaller LEDs imbedded in a membrane that also incorporates the required diffusion, making the entire structure thinner and, presumably, more easily and efficiently produced.
There are also 12 new LG plasmas, 8 of them 3D.
LG's Smart TV technology, used in many of the higher end models, is a new menu layout that simplifies use of the sets' extensive Internet features. In addition, the new LG ST600 module/set top box, available separately, can bring SmartTV to any HDTV with an HDMI input. Another approach to adding this feature to your existing HDMI HDTV is the new BD690 3D Blu-ray player, which includes an on-board 250GB hard drive plus the SmartTV platform.
But the big LG story is the use of passive glasses in many of the company's new LCD 3DTVs, rather than the active shutter glasses now employed in most current 3D sets. LG calls its passive glasses technology FPR, for Film Pattern Retarder. The sets in the LG lineup that will continue to use shutter glasses include all of the Nano models (and all of the plasma sets as well). There are many upsides to passive glasses, but downsides as well (see the following blog entry).
No prices were quoted, but all of the new sets should begin shipping by early spring.
In a session separate press event run by LG Display (the division of LG that makes the LCD imaging panels for LG and others), we had an opportunity to view LG's shutter glasses and FPR passive glasses sets side-by-side, in three separate setups, only one of which is shown in the photo. The FPR technology, by necessity, discards half of a source's native vertical resolution—inevitable in 3D displays with passive glasses. That is, each eye-image is 1920 x 540. The loss was not obvious in the demo, though for me, apart from some unfortunate ghosting (not uncommon in LCD 3D active shutter sets, but not on plasmas), I found the shutter-glass displays to be a little punchier and brighter (the passive FPR showed no ghosting). The FPR technique is claimed to retain greater measured brightness, as shown in the photo. Other viewers present thought that the FPR was brighter, but I did not (a gamma difference, perhaps).
One real advantage of LG's passive glasses technology is the lighter, cheaper passive glasses, shown here in this lightheaded demo setup. Notice the flip-down glasses on the right, for eyeglass-wearers. The FPR technology employs circular polarization, so you can tilt your head without the image fading out.
Sony must have spent all year prepping for their press event. It was as elaborate as any Disney theme park show, much of it in 3D on a huge and super-wide screen consisting of millions of LEDs. It included a major promotion for The Green Hornet, a Sony Pictures flick that opens next week, and concluded with a performance by one of the 256 Cirque du Soleil troups now appearing on the Vegas strip.
Twenty-seven new Sony BRAVIA HDTVs were introduced. The leading character, and the new Sony flagship, will be the XBR HX929-Series, with full 3D capability and full-array local dimming LED backlighting. It's loaded with Internet features, and comes in three sizes: 65-, 55-, and 46-inches. Prices TBD. Available in March. Some of the new models also use Corning's new Gorilla Glass. It's said to be more resistant to damage than conventional glass, though I suspect you'll still want to hold off on tossing that brick at the screen during the 2012 Presidential debates.
Sony's new top-of-the-line stand-alone 3D Blu-ray player is the BDP-S780 (March, about $250). It's Wi-Fi (of course) with SACD playback as well as CD and the usual video suspects.
Sony is also showing a number of prototypes of products that are not available now, but may be in the future. Three different flat panel demos using autostereoscopic technology (no 3D glasses needed) were shown: a 24.5" 2K OLED, a 46" 2K LCD, and a 56" 4K LCD. The results were better than I expected, though there were some distracting artifacts. As expected, you must watch in specific viewing spots. In a cosy twosome one partner will get good 3D, the other not so much. In places outside the designated viewing zones the 3D effect diminishes and those artifacts increase, though the image does not completely fall apart. Promising, but still a work in progress.
Sony also showed a set of goggles designed for private 3D viewing (as seen in the not-so-clear photo), and a autostereoscopic portable 3D Blu-ray player.
Available now for pre-sales ordering is a VAIO F Series 3D laptop (about $1700). Oddly, this does require active shutter glasses. It also does 2D-to-3D conversionfor fun with spreadsheets. Seriously, however, there are genuine business and engineering applications for real 3D, including CAD and medical imaging.
Sony's new HDR-TD10 3D High Definition Flash Memory Handycam Camcorder (about $1500, April) is one of the first the full HD 3D consumer camcorders. It includes two separate 1920 a 1080 CMOS sensors and two lenses to capture distinct 1920 x 1080 data streams for each eye. It's also capable of 2D still image capture at 7-megapixels. At present, playback is from the camera only via an HDMI link to the video display. The future should bring dedicated playback devices (such as a 3D Blu-ray player with a flash card slot). Oh, and you can view the image you're shooting in autostereoscopic 3D on the 3.5" viewfinderno 3D glasses required.
Sharp's big announcement was the addition of a 70-inch Quattron set to its lineup. The LE935 will have full LED backlighting with local dimming and is expected by spring. A 70-inch set was said to offer 62% more viewing area than a 60-incher. There will also be new sets in the LE835 an d LE830 ranges, all connectable with Wi-Fi. The XV-2 17000 3D DLP projector under $5000), first shown at CEDIA EXPO 2010 last September, will also be on display here at CES.
Sharp also announced three new 3D Blu-ray players (February), the BD HP25U, 35U, and 75U. Sharp also launched an E-Media Tablet and reader, the Galapagos. (Tablets appear to be a big item this year, thanks to Apple's iPAD!).
Samsung went all Opra on us with it's sit-down, let's talk press conference. They announced that one million 3DTVs were sold in the US in 2010, well under predictions but ahead of the rate that many other new technologies have achieved in their first year. About 35 million TVs are sold in the US each year, however, so that's actually a pretty small percentage. Nevertheless Samsung claimed a 70% market share of 3DTV sales, and this year 3DTVs make up 60% of the company's new HD lineup.
Samsung is going with the flow in using "Smart" as a catch phrase this year for many of its products. The company expects to sell 6 million 3DTVs this year, two thirds of them Smart TVs. The new gee-whiz feature in the D7000 and D8000 sets is an ultra thin frame, barely 0.2" wide (see photo). In addition, Samsung's new active 3D glasses sport an ultra svelt, and it's said far more comfortable design.
Samsung's new BDD 7500 3D Blu-ray player is as ultra thin as the new TVs, and incorporates its own built-in 2D-to-3D conversion.
Recession? What recession? Panasonic's TV sales were up 30 percent in December 2010 over the previous year, the company reported at today's press event -- and sales of Viera sets were up 45 percent. So the little logo projected above the doorway in the picture above is one potent little symbol. The biggest sellers were 54-, 58-, and 65-inch sets. Areas of future growth include 3DTV, projected to rise to 32 percent of the worldwide market by 2014, and IPTV, expected to hit 42 percent the same year.
Perhaps the biggest news for 3DTV fans is that Panasonic will push for a standard for active-shutter glasses. For consumers, this would be a big improvement over the current balkanized situation, with each manufacturer having its own type. Panasonic says eyewear interoperability would drive growth. We're guessing it would also help the company defend its investment in active-shutter 3DTV technology at a time when passive 3DTV is starting to arrive from Vizio and LG. Panasonic is also opening a 3D Innovation Center to foster production technology in Hollywood. A new committee of the International 3D Society will do the same in Japan. Panasonic also seeded the student filmmaking community with 3D camcorders, with results to be chronicled on the website of the Campus Movie Fest.
A life-size mannequin of Chinese basketball wonder Yao Ming was the most visually striking element of Monster Cable's typically eventful pre-show press conference. This "aspirational figure" says he integrates technology into his busy life because "music helps me achieve." He promo-toured China with Monster last summer, but what really raises an eyebrow is that Monster has opened 10 Yao stores in China. Entire stores devoted to a single marketing idea. Wow.
Monster now has 34.9 percent market share in headphones, thanks to its Beats line, with only Bose even coming close. Last year's Miles Davis Trumpet earbuds have gone into a second generation at a lower $299 price point. The "world's smallest" in-earphones achieve their small size by building the driver into the tip, not the body. Trumpet-valve-like controls are built into the cord. A release of Davis' classic Sketches in Spain in surround complements the product.
Driving from Las Vegas to LA, I had to stop and get a picture of my favorite highway sign, which marks the exit to Zzyzx, California, an unincorporated settlement in San Bernardino County and the former site of the Zzyzx Mineral Springs and Health Spa that is now occupied by the California State University Desert Studies Center. My ride was a 2010 Lincoln MKZ on loan from THX so I could evaluate the car's THX-certified multichannel sound system. I played a wide variety of music on CD and DVD-Audio, including jazz, classical, and rock as well as two CDs I recorded—one with my wife, Joanna Cazden, and the other with my avant-garde trio Many Axes.
DTS-HD Master Audio is nothing new, of course, but the 7.1 demo sounded superb using standard home-theater gear, including a Sony PS3, Onkyo TX-HR3007 AVR, Definitive Technology Mythos 1 speakers, and Earthquake subwoofer. I learned a bit about the upcoming next-gen Neo, which will upmix to 11.1 channels to add height and width speakers to an existing surround system, much like Dolby Pro Logic IIz and Audyssey DSX.