CES Day 1

Day 1 at CES is always press-event day. The show floor isn't formally open, and if you do manage to get in (which requires an exhibitor badge), the most exciting thing you'll see is a fork-lift barreling down on you. And while you wonder how they will ever have things ready for the next day, they always do.

I don't know of it was some strange vibe that filtered down from the cosmos, or the result of the currently booming economy, but this year's day-before-opening press events were packed. Lines were long, and Sharp even ran out of box lunches for their noon press event (If You Feed Them, They Will Come).

There weren't any huge surprises, but the news was juicy nonetheless. Both the Blu-ray and HD DVD camps began by dialing up the format war. No fewer than five manufacturers (Sony, Panasonic, Sharp, Pioneer, and Philips) announced Blu-ray players, Toshiba announced two different HD DVD models, and Thomson a single HD DVD machine. The real surprise was the low $499 projected price on one of the Toshiba's and the Thomson.

No doubt more players of each flavor will show up on the show floor in the next couple of days from manufacturers who have not yet held press conferences.

Pioneer won the high-end price-point championship with its $1800 BDP-HD1 Blu-ray model, scheduled for May delivery. Toshiba announced a March delivery for its two HD DVD players. The other machines mentioned should show up before summer.

But I've learned from past experience that delivery dates announced at CES should be taken with a grain of salt. The most popular date announced for delivery is usually March—too far off to be overly committal, but close enough to keep interest percolating!)

Pioneer had other announcements in addition to Blu-ray. Though its press event featured car navigation systems (yawn) and car stereo (a huge market, for sure, but only rarely covered here on UAV), there were also several new high-end speakers based on drivers derived from those in the super-expansive TAD designs. At $1700 to $450 each, these EX-series models might be a tough sell through many Pioneer dealers, but based on their TAD pedigree (TAD is the pro driver division of Pioneer) they might well deserve a listen. I did hear unfinished samples at a Pioneer press event last summer, and was impressed enough to request them for review as soon as they ship (in the merry month of March). June will also see the launch of a new 1080p, 50-inch Elite plasma design.

Sharp has a new line of Aquos LCD high definition televisions claiming improvements in contrast ratio, viewing angles, and response times (as low as 4 ms). The flagship of the new line (though the previous 65-inch model remains available) is the new LC-57D90U, a 57-inch design with Sharp's new 5-wavelength backlight claiming an enhanced color spectrum and 1080p resolution ($15,999.99, around the Ides of March). Moving down to the company's smaller screen sizes drops the asking price dramatically (including two other 1080p models, the 45-inch LC-45D90U at $4999.99 and the 37-inch LC-37D90U at $3499.99, both in May).

Sharp also announced its first 1080p (single-chip) DLP projector—probably not the last we'll see at the show. The XV-Z20000, which uses TI's new full-resolujtion 1920x1080 chip first shown to the trade at CEDIA but not available in any current product, will be shipping in the fall. A long wait, but about the same time we'll see similar products from the competition. No price was announced.

DTS held an impressive demonstration of its new DTS HD Master Audio format, capable of lossless 7.1-channel compression. It will be included as an available playback format in all upcoming Blu-ray and HD DVD players. Apart from bass that boomed rather conspicuously—almost certainly an acoustic problem and not a format issue7#151;the sound in the demo was superb for such a large room (using PMC speakers). The 12-foot wide image, from a 2K professional DLP projector, was outstanding as well. If you're at the show, this is one demo I can definitely recommend making time for.

Toshiba is showing several new televisions at the show, but conspicuously absent is a near-production prototype of its SED display technology. The company will be showing the same 36-inch lab prototype model it has been showing here and there for the past year and a half. The company did say that a 55-inch model should be commercially available later this year, though no price was suggested. At that size, I suspect we're talking very high end.

Sony has a booth on the show floor for the first time in memory (they usually set up shop in one of the large exhibit rooms). Their press conference covered everything Sony from digital cinema to camcorders to various types of gadgets like their portable play station (the PSP), but we were on the lookout for display and Blu-ray news.

Sony's dedicated Blu-ray player is expected in early summer of 2006 (possibly later than the Blu-ray-playback-capable Playstation3) and 20 Blu-ray titles from Sony and MGM should be among the first releases. In a private conversation, a Sony rep heavily involved in Blu-ray planning said that over 200 titles from all studios should be released by the end of 2006. He also said that he expected all Sony and MGM releases to be mastered in 1080p.

As to new Sony displays, only a new 55-inch SXRD PTV was mentioned. But that's for September 2006. It will also accept a native 1080p input—a change that is also expected to be be incorporated in the next generation of SXRD rear pros.--TJN