Passing the Torch

After traipsing dozens of miles through aisles as crowded as a big city subway train in rush hour, I have seen thousands of light-emitting diodes, if not hundreds of thousands. I have seen every video display technology and their variations known to civilization. I have heard nearly every reproducible sound audible to the human ear. The Consumer Electronics Association, which runs CES, says that more than 140,000 people attended or displayed at this year's show, exceeding last year's record-breaking attendance and making it the best-attended CES in history.

No technology takes the video trophy. Plasma, LCD, and Digital Light Processing (DLP) displays appeared equally common throughout CES. The most popular screen sizes, nearly all widescreen, were 40 to 56 inches. TVs using cathode-ray tubes (CRTs), the old-fashioned picture tube, were conspicuous by their absence. A few companies paid lip service to the original video display technology but didn't waste precious display space on it. Nearly every company hedged by showing sets in more than one technology. Even Sharp, the master of LCD, introduced a few DLP models. Only Pioneer bet its future on a single approach: plasma. No one technology looked absolutely best, allowing for variations in screen size, setup, ambient lighting, and program material. But all types of TVs probably looked better at CES than they will at most dealers, since the manufacturers send technicians to CES to perfectly adjust the displays.

The CD player effectively vanished. In odd corners you could still find a CD boombox or portable, but home CD players were very few and far between. Since nearly all DVD players now play not only commercial CDs, but also home-burned CD-R and CD-RW discs, the need for dedicated CD players has evaporated.

In a corollary, most companies center their lines of DVD players around ultra-slim models, less than 2 inches high. From Daewoo to Toshiba, DVD players looked incredibly sleek, barely like the components of just a few years ago. And prices for full-featured players were nearly as slim as their chassis.

American brand names that once carried major mojo are fading into the past. Attendees at the LG Electronics and Philips press conferences had to ask about the status and survival of Zenith and Magnavox, the American brands taken over by the Korean and Dutch company, respectively. France 's Thomson Consumer Electronics was so busy talking up its new joint TV venture with China 's TCL that those three letters were more common at its press conference than RCA, its main U.S. brand.

In the recent past, Japanese companies competed for the right to brag about having the largest booth at CES. Now they play second fiddle to Korea 's LG Electronics and Samsung, whose displays were as large as the business district of the small town where I live. Soon, Chinese companies will be commanding the prime real estate at CES. < < Back to the International CES 2005 index