CES 2004: Day One

The Consumer Electronics Show doesn't open until Thursday, and they're still setting up booths and taping down carpet. The rumor is that the South Convention Hall is behind schedule, and they'll be working all night long to be ready. But as is CES tradition, the major consumer electronics manufacturers scheduled a full day's worth of press events—and they weren't going to let the sound of pneumatic power tools get in the way.

Starting bright and early, LG Electronics kicked off the show with the announcement of a 76" plasma display, which the company calls the "world's largest." The as-yet-un-named screen is expected to ship fourth quarter of this year. Company president Michael Ahn explained that "the 76" PDP exemplifies our company's innovations and serves as a powerful symbol of our premier brand positioning."

So is bigger better? That's what the industry is betting on. Manufacturer after manufacturer announced larger displays this year, many with a plethora of connection options, and reports of increased production capacity. Pioneer was clearly proud of its new plasma displays, many incorporating direct digital cable connectivity with built-in Electronic Program Guide (EPG). Not strictly high-end video, but still amusing was the company's video version of a audio DJ's scratching turntable. A very effective demonstration of the DJV-X1 had a live DJ scratching video and audio back and forth in creative ways.

Philips began its presentation by restating its goals and intentions for growing its business in the US. This was followed by several new product announcements, including an update on their "Streamium" line. On display was a flat screen TV with a live high-bandwidth Internet connection. The TV automatically connected to a website hosted by Yahoo that allowed the user to select various video streams for viewing directly on the screen. Philips says that stand-alone Streamium products are available now, and a TV with the technology built in will be available by the end of the year.

Philips also gets the award for oddest home theater product concept. The company introduced a technology dubbed "Ambilight," essentially a set of lights positioned behind one of their flat screen TVs that changed color in sync with the colors on the screen. In other words, when there is a lot of blue on the screen such as with water or sky scenes, the wall behind the TV glowed blue. When the scene changed to fire, the wall glowed red. Philips describes this as "surround sound for your eyes." Whether this is the dawning of a brand new way of watching movies or a distracting gimmick that will soon be abandoned was hard to tell. Either way, the company is taking it very seriously.