CES 2004: Opening Day

Some of the most welcome news to come out of the 2004 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was Sumiko's announcement of BARCO's return to the North American market. BARCO has long been a leader in professional and industrial DLP and CRT products, and has now developed a new line o f consumer-oriented DLP projectors called CineVERSUM.

There are five projectors in the CineVERSUM line, ranging from the flagship model, the CineVERSUM 120, a three-chi 16:9 DLP capable of accommodating 90^#150;150" diagonal scrrens, to single-chip CineVERSUM 60. The $49,995 CineVERSUM 120 comes with its own digitl video processor, the MASTER, which is a modular design which can be configured for a wide variety of analog and digital source. It utilizes a proprietary umbilical to connect to the 120 projector, which offers, Sumiko claims, "unparalleled performance and installation convenience." A version of the 120 is available without the MASTER for $10,000 less.

Sumiko was also showing a new and fascinating product from Vienna Acoustics called the Schönberg Trio, which can only be described as a wall-mounted single-unit front-channel array. The 33" W by 10.5" H by 3.5" D Trio is designed to be hung under a flat-panel array and houses three discrete two-way loudspeakers in it separate-but-equal enclosure. It's shallow and has an elegant black and silver livery that struck us as simultaneously classic and modern (so, good name, guys).

Getting speaker placement right in systems employing wall-mounted panel displays can be a tricky proposition. The stated purpose of the Schönberg Trio—to provide a wide soundstage and natural articulation without dominating a room's floorplan—strikes us as a worthwhile concern. Actually, our real reaction was Doh—why didn't we think of that?Vienna Acoustics has other speakers in the Scönberg line that complement the Trio's sound and profile.

Speaking of flat-panel displays, while we were wandering around the show floor at the Las Vegas Convention Center, we were struck by the tremendous range in picture quality we saw from supposedly state-of-the-art video displays. It's not a kind environment for non-CRT displays, but picture adjustment varied from astonishing to eye-poppingly awful. The most egregious sin, to our eyes, were the 16:9 displays showing 4:3 images that were distorted in attempts to avoid the dreaded black bars. We fail to see why squat distorted images are preferable to slivers of unused screen, but we're picky that way.

Another impression from the show floor: Flashier technologies like Plasma displays may get all the column inches, but "older" technologies, such as liquid-crystal displays demonstrated color depth and image clarity that was consistently impressive, especially from 20' away, where other screens looked washed-out and flat.

Sharp literally had big news concerning LCDs: It announced the world's first available 45" diagonal LCTV, the AQUOS LC-45GD4U, which will be manufactured in the company's new ¥100 billion factory in Kameyana, Japan. The 45" television requires huge glass masters, which most manufacturing facilities are unable to accommodate, Sharp reports. The new Kameyana plant will allow Sharp to quadruple its production of LCD monitors—and a good thing, too, since it just announced three additional offerings in the widescreen AQUOS GD4U line: 26", 32", and 37".

Panasonic is bullish on plasma, introducing a new line of PDPs yclept VIERA. There are three High Definition models: the TH-50PX25U/P (50"), the TH-42PX25U/P (42"), and the TH-37PX25U/P (37"). All boast ATSC integrated tuners, 3000:1 contrast ratios, Picture-in-Picture, SD Memory Card slots, and HDMI inputs. All accommodate Panosonic's CableCARD, which allows them to receive digital cable television systems services directly from the cable operator without requiring a separate set-top box. Prices have not yet been established.

The VIERA line also includes two Enhanced Definition plasma sets, the TH-37PD25U/P (37") and the TH-42PD25U/P (42"), as well three 4:3 LCD models and a pair of HD 16:9 displays.

Panasonic is one of many companies at CES convinced that the public is eager to replace its old VCRs with nice new DVD-Rs. The company added four new DVD recorders to its popular DIGA line. Two of them, the DMR-E85H and DMR-E65 feature the TV Guide On Screen (TVGOS) Electronic Programming Guide (EPG). The DMR-E75 is billed as the first dual DVD Recorder/VHS. The DMR-E55 completes the DIGA line. All four feature a new Direct Navigator system, said to simplify the preview process. All Panasonic DVD recorders support recordable DVD-RAM and DVD-R1, as well as play DVD-Video, music CDs, video CDs and CD-R/CD-RW2, and MP3 formatted discs.Is DVD-R the mass market's "killer app"? We're still betting on those big, flat screens.