2003 CES, Day One

Bigger, better, more. That's the future as envisioned by technological giants Zenith Electronics Corporation and Royal Philips Electronics, which kicked off this year's edition of the world's largest trade show with huge flatscreen television sets and plans to make technological interconnectivity deeper and more seamless than it has ever been for the average citizen.

Zenith has launched more than 40 new digital products at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), including flat-panel displays in more than a dozen screen sizes—some of them capable of true high-definition images. A unit of Korea's LG Electronics, Zenith is making a big push with liquid-crystal display television, demonstrating the technology in sizes ranging from 13" diagonally to 52". Zenith is also showing plasma display panels (PDPs) from 40" to 60" models, including 50" and 42" integrated HDTVs, said to be the first PDPs with built-in HDTV tuners. More than 90% of Zenith's 2003 lineup is digital, according to sales and marketing vice-president Ken Lee.

Zenith has an imposing array of PDP and LCD TVs, and monitors, enough to whet the appetite of even the most jaded home theater fanatic. Perhaps even more enticing is the announcement of forthcoming high-definition personal video recorders (PVRs), which should be available beginning this spring. Configured as set-top boxes with built-in 80-gigabyte hard drives, the PVRs will record full ATSC HDTV. No mention was made regarding copy-protected content or archiving recordings on external media, such as recordable DVD. Zenith is also bringing out a DVD recorder and announced one of the most innovative—and obvious—product concepts unveiled the first day, a rear-projection LCD HDTV with a built-in high-definition PVR. Zenith is also pushing the industry’s first DLP (digital light processor) rear-projection integrated HDTV, with the latest-generation chipset for terrestrial and unscrambled cable HDTV reception, as well as 30" and 34" widescreen HDTVs. Company theme for this year: "the High-Definition Authority."

Philips doesn't have a vast array of new products, but it does have a new tag line ("Experience Better") and a renewed sense of destiny, thanks to last year's addition of a couple of veteran executives to its management team. A joint-marketing effort with American audio manufacturer Bose, Inc. will put Philips home entertainment products in front of an entirely new audience this year. Philips has teamed up with Bose to integrate its video gear with Bose sound systems in more than 100 Bose stores nationwide.

The Dutch technology conglomerate is making rapid headway on wireless interconnectivity for information and entertainment systems of several varieties, including wireless multichannel surround sound, something long seen as a sort of holy grail by the home theater industry. In Las Vegas, Philips also unveiled its own 52" LCD television, a sample of which looked amazingly bright in the press conference at the city's convention center. The LDC set is the offspring of a joint venture with LG Electronics, parent of Zenith, as noted above. A 42" model is also getting much attention, indicative of widespread recognition by the industry and the general public that flat-panel displays are the next big thing.

Philips has also announced some new DVD recorders based on the DVD+RW format, incompatible, for the most part, with the DVD-RW format backed by Pioneer and others. Here Philips was hyping the child safety aspects of DVD recording, including transferring photos and home videos of kids onto DVD for possible use later should the children disappear. A useful public service, yes, but an oddly conceived marketing scheme. Philips DVD recorders won't allow transfer of MacroVision-encoded videotapes or copy-controlled high-def programming, according to company execs in a post-presentation Q&A session.