Thursday, January 8, 2009

CES: Some Points From Day Zero

Day Zero trends of interest at CES--still trying to grok everything I saw before the doors opened.

Green, green, green. I’ve asked a couple of cab drivers and a number of fellow blackjack players what they think green means. Pretty much universally, no one has a clue. But most folks think it’s a good idea, whatever it is. Me too.

Wireless high-def. Even more people talking about wireless high-def (including announcements by LG, Panasonic, and others), but I stand by my earlier prediction--nothing that’ll blow your socks off value-wise in time for the holiday 2009 selling season. I specifically asked the panel at this morning’s Parks Connections Summit when we would see a $30 BOM to enable a $100 (at retail) embedded TV receiver and a $100 external sender. I received the same answers I’ve received over the last year (which were the same answers I myself gave in 2006-2007). Volume will drive this, certainly, but the answer I wanted was “Holiday 2009”. I didn’t get it.

Local dimming. The ability to turn off power to regions of the screen (enabling LCD blacks to actually look as black as plasma’s blacks, rather than a really dark gray) is being embraced much more widely this year. I saw a soon-to-ship LCD TV yesterday whose black actually looked black. Shocking! Demos in 2006 and 2007 were science projects, while CES 2008 demos from Dolby, Sharp, Toshiba, and others were basically educational in nature. This year, local dimming really seems to be hitting home. I’m not nearly well-educated enough on TV manufacturing technologies to claim that this is another nail in the coffin of plasma, but the weight and energy savings of LCD combined with real blacks and reduction/elimination of motion blur by moving to 240 Hz makes me question how plasma responds to stay relevant.

Over-the-top content. Whether we’re talking about Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Unbox, Intel/Yahoo widgets, and lots more options, over-the-top content delivered via IP is finally here to stay. I will admit that I’m NOT a huge fan of all sorts of technology embedded in the television itself that isn’t the television itself. I remember sitting in a lab in Suwon in early 1997, looking at a TV with a PC inside of it. Then, it made no economic sense to take a component with a four-year useful life cycle (the PC) and put it inside of a device consumers purchased and kept for an average of 15 years. Today, with replacement cycles in the living room less than half that, one could argue that embedding isn’t such a bad idea; one could also argue that it’s a helluva lot cheaper to not burden the TV with the cost adder of the feature. I’m in the latter camp. To date, the only truly successful consumer electronics combo product has been the clock radio, although camera phones are getting there. I have no doubt that network-connected TVs are the wave of the future, but I question how many “services” TV manufacturers should bundle in, due to their added cost. I’m sure I’m sounding like a Luddite here, but I think that replacing a media adapter (to deliver more functionality) every couple of years is preferable to just having a TV’s services die on the vine after a few years. That said, the TV guys have rushed to include these features; since we’re now getting to the point of Netflix & YouTube connectivity being checkbox features, manufacturers ignore this trend at their peril.

Lots more to come. Gotta run.

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