Industry Roundup

A cheaper, better future: New microprocessors from Intel Corporation could revolutionize the market for flat-panel and slim-profile big screen televisions, according to a December 17 report by John Markoff in the New York Times. Leveraging large-scale integration, the company's chips and design expertise could yield big bright high-definition displays at prices far below today's. In what is perhaps a misquote of Intel executive Richard Doherty, Markoff predicts 50" liquid-crystal-on-silicon (LCoS) rear-projection "engines" selling for $1000 by the next winter holiday shopping season.

Intel president and chief operating officer Paul S. Otellini is expected to make an announcement at next month's Consumer Electronics Show (CES), beginning January 8 in Las Vegas. The company may also have prototypes on display. LCoS television sets from Philips, Sony, and other makers are already on the market, but the technology has the potential to compete against Texas Instruments' Digital Light Processing (DLP) as well as against current LCD and plasma display designs. The market for slim displays is hot and getting hotter, with dozens of companies leaping into the fray. Chipmakers like Intel have long offered "turnkey" designs for bulk purchasers of their semiconductors, thereby lowering engineering and startup costs for any manufacturer who cares to launch a production line. One result may be a flood of high-quality products from relatively unknown makers.

Panasonic HD LCD projector: On December 17, Panasonic announced its new PT-AE500. The lightweight (6.4lb) boasts a 1280 x 720 pixel LCD with a three-layer RGB structure, 850 ANSI Lumens brightness, and a contrast ratio of 1300:1. Color fidelity is said to be on par with some of the best projectors on the market, thanks to development work done in the Panasonic Hollywood Laboratory in collaboration with film industry experts. Refinements include an optimized lens system, automated 3:2 pulldown for best display of film-originated sources, 10-bit digital processing and gamma correction, and a trigger output that can be yoked to an automated screen so that the screen lowers or rises when the projector is turned on or off. Picture quality is said to offer "extremely clear detail and fidelity when reproducing a high-quality video source."

Features include a DVI connection, component video and S-Video inputs, and a port for use with computer feeds. The PT-AE500's twin-blade fan generates only 27dB of operating noise, and the projector's "smooth screen" processing reduces the "screen door" effect that hampers quick-action shots on many LCD-based displays. Panasonic also builds in easy-to-adjust vertical and horizontal keystone correction. The PT-AE500 measures only 11" W x 3 11/32" H x 10 9/16" D, but can cast a 16:9 image up to 100" diagonally from only about 10' away. Best specification may be the price: $2499.95.

Sweetheart deals: Viacom Inc. (parent company of CBS and Paramount Pictures) and cable provider Comcast Corp. have disclosed a multiyear retransmission agreement. On December 18, the partners announced that Comcast would carry CBS flagship stations and cable channels, including Comedy Central, MTV, and Nickelodeon. The primary deal runs through 2008, with some aspects extending to 2011.

European Union regulators have approved a merger between General Electric's NBC and Vivendi Universal. On Friday December 19, the EU Commission gave the go-ahead for an 80% stake by NBC in Vivendi Universal Entertainment, the US entertainment arm of Vivendi Universal SA, which will retain a 20% interest. Value of the deal is estimated at $43 billion, and should reduce Vivendi Universal's staggering debt by $1.7 billion to under $5 billion by the end of next year. The new entity, NBC Universal, projects annual revenues of $13 billion from assets including the NBC Television, USA Network, Sci-fi Channel, CNBC, MSNBC, Bravo, Trio, Universal Pictures, Universal Television, five theme parks, and Spanish-language broadcaster Telemundo. Vivendi's remaining entertainment assets will include Universal Music Group and French film/television concern Canal Plus Group.