HDTV at CES 2006

Sony Bravia KDL-46S200 46-inch, 1080p LCD HDTV

As usual, there's no shortage of cool HDTVs to check out here at CES. But a few new developments have caught my attention - all of them good, and all worth considering as you make plans to invest in a new high-def set.

Ultra-High-Def Plasma TVs I'd heard a buzz that plasma TVs offering full 1,920 x 1,080-pixel (1080p) resolution would show up at CES, and it turned out to be true. Panasonic's 65-inch 65PX500 (price yet to be announced) is among the standouts. The company's 103-inch plasma definitely turned more heads, but this 65-incher is the kind that you want to take home with you - and you'll be able to do just that when it hits stores in the fall.

Pioneer is also showing a 1080p plasma set, the 50-inch Elite PureVision PRO-FHD1. The stunning picture it produces will surely have many videophiles eager to fork over Pioneer's $10,000 asking price when it hits stores in May - just in time to plug in the company's Blu-ray disc player, which is also scheduled to arrive around then. Unlike many other 1080p displays on the market, the PRO-FHD1 can accept true 1080p-format signals via its HDMI and DVI inputs.

LED-Driven DLP Another cool trend at CES is to DLP rear-projection TVs that use red, green, and blue LEDs in place of the usual white UHP lamp. Samsung, HP, and Akai all had models on display, although the HP unit I'd hoped to check out had been pulled from the show floor just prior to my arrival. Thankfully, I got to spend some quality time with Samsung's model, the 56-inch HL-S5679W, at Texas Instruments' sprawling exhibit. Samsung plans to ship this $4,200 1080p set in April. The key advantages of LED lamps for DLP RPTVs are a quick 7-second turn-on time, wider color gamut, and no color wheel - the source of the "rainbow effects" that some viewers complain about. A Texas Instruments rep I spoke to was very enthusiastic about the development and indicated that other manufacturers would be jumping on the LED DLP bandwagon in the near future.

Front-Projection Heaven Speaking of 1080p and DLP, a number of companies, including Sharp, Marantz, Runco, Sim2, Optoma, and Projectiondesign, announced front projectors that use TI's new 1080p chip. Having seen a jaw-dropping preview of this technology at the CEDIA show last fall, I was hardly surprised. Unlike the company's previous "wobulating" 1080p chips, the new design uses a discrete 1,920 x 1,080 pixel array to create images. The main model that I got to check out was Sharp's XV-Z20000, which looked pretty amazing on a 110-inch Stewart Studiotek 130 screen. Sharp plans to start shipping the $12,000 projector in the fall.

LCD Expands - and Improves By now every TV manufacturer you can think of - and plenty that you've never heard of - are selling LCD TVs. You can't turn around at CES without smacking your head into one. But the new frontiers for leading-edge LCD manufacturers are screen size and picture quality. As usual, Samsung ran off with the big-screen award; its monstrous 82-inch LCD set gave booth visitors plenty to gawk at. A better real-world option for 2006 will be the company's 46-inch, 1080p LN-S4696D (available in August for $4,999). Sony also plans to add a 46-inch 1080p model to its Bravia LCD line. The company says its KDL-46S200 should be hitting stores in May for around $4,500. A 46-inch screen not big enough? Save up your money for Sharp's 57-inch, 1080p Aquos LC-57D90U ($16,000), which should be arriving in stores this March.

A technology focus for LCD at CES 2005 was LED backlighting - basically the same method that's being used to improve DLP rear-projection TVs. This year, Sony, Samsung, and LG displayed LED-backlit LCDs, all of them still in science-project prototype stage. But another LCD tech development looks like it will be coming on-line much faster. Panasonic, LG, and Philips all demonstrated sets with a strobing backlight that flickers on and off 120 times a second. In each demo I checked out, the picture looked dramatically sharper in scenes with motion than on a nearby "standard" LCD set, had deeper blacks, and could be viewed over a much wider viewing angle. Philips plans to ship LCDs with the new technology, which it calls Clear LCD, as soon as this Spring, while Panasonic is looking to 2007. No word yet from LG on when it will implement this enhancement.

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