Press Day at CES - Something Wickedly Good Comes this Way

The day before the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) officially opens, members of the press are "treated" to an exhaustive lineup of press conferences. Some are good, some are awful, and very few are worth waking up before the sun rises. On the other hand, every now and then you find a nugget of golden information that makes all the coffee and pastries you can cram in your stomach worth wile.

We'll spare you the fluff and the disappointingly repetitive rehashes of past press conferences. Herein are the interesting bits from the pre-show festivities.

True to form and fully involved in the game of oneupmanship that goes on during CES, LG made several interesting announcements. Get ready to take out a second mortgage on the house so you can afford LG's new 71" plasma display panel, model MW-71PY10 - "the largest plasma on the market for consumer purchase". The new model will be capable of 1920 x 1080p (progressive-scan) resolution. While a number of companies have claimed the ability to build giant flat-panel TVs in the past, actually shipping them is another matter. LG claims shipments will begin sometime within the first three months of this year. Start talking with your banker now, though, because this behemoth will set you back $75,000. (Hey, that's not much more than $1,000 an inch.)

On a slightly smaller scale, LG also announced two new HDTV plasmas (the 60" 60PYDR2 and 50" 50PY2DR) with integrated 160GB digital video recorders (DVR) that can record up to 14 hours of high-definition programming or 62 hours of digital standard-definition programming. The new recording plasmas feature built-in CableCARD capabilities and dual slots for nine different memory card formats. These sets are expected to be available at an LG retailer near you sometime after April.

On an even smaller scale, Thomson - the folks who bring you RCA and Acoustic Research, among others - touted their intention to bring highly affordable Standard Definition TVs (SDTV) to the market. SDTVs, as defined by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), "receives ATSC terrestrial digital transmissions and decodes all ATSC Table 3 video formats, and produces a useable picture" with "active vertical scanning lines less than that of EDTV" with "no aspect ratio specified". To cut to the chase, SDTVs receive terrestrial Digital TV broadcasts but displays them in 480i - very similar to what you'll get with basic satellite or digital cable service. While this may seem to be a step backwards at a time when everyone is talking HDTV, TTE expects the 27" CRT-based SDTVs to sell for under $300 making it ideal for someone who can't afford a true HDTV or doesn't want to spend a lot on a Digital TV that's meant to go in a room (bedroom, bathroom, kid's room) where the image quality isn't as critical a consideration.

Toshiba gave a tantalizing hint of their new flat-panel TV technology (jointly developed with Canon) called SED (Surface-Conduction Electron-Emitter Display) that will be a true 1080p display with 8600:1 contrast ratio and an astounding 1 ms response time. The sets will consumer 1/3 to 2/3 less power than current flat panels and should start shipping (with limited availability) in the final few months of this year. Of course, they'll be expensive at first - although no prices were mentioned.

The HD Radio folks focused a lot of attention on the expansion of the number of radio stations around the country which will soon have the capability to broadcast an HD Radio signal (that's a digital signal that coexists with the analog radio signal). They also mentioned a new feature called SAP which allows radio stations to broadcast at least two "near CD quality" digital channels in the same bandwidth. With Sirius and XM also in the radio broadcast game, it looks like radio may become exciting again.

Finally, Monitor Audio debuted some very stylish - and highly affordable - new speakers, subwoofers, and in-wall/in-ceiling speakers that we can't wait to hear.

Stay tuned. There's more to come...