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issue: March 2005 APPLIANCE Magazine

Home Entertainment Appliances
The Resolution Wars


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by Jill Russell, Associate Editor

The digital age has arrived and as demands for high-tech gadgets spike to new heights, consumer electronic OEMs are embarking on a full-fledged technology war aimed straight for the home.

Offering an entire home theater package, Sharp reentered the digital light projection (DLP) category, introduced a new line of its AQUOS™ LCD TVs, and also showcased a wide selection of audio home theater solutions at the 2005 International CES.

In the midst of a digital revolution, consumer electronic (CE) companies are fiercely competing to attain the top spot on a list of “industry firsts” to increase brand recognition and top unit sales. According to the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), sales of DTV products increased 78 percent in 2004, reaching U.S. $10.7 billion in dollars and 7.3 million units.

One of the largest contributors to this trend, the association says, is the popularity and infiltration of liquid crystal display (LCD) and plasma display technologies. Total sales of LCD TVs, both analog and digital, passed the $2-billion mark in 2004 and are expected to surpass $3 billion in 2005. Additionally, unit shipments of plasma screens, according to CEA, reached 853,000 units in 2004 and are forecast to nearly double to 1.4 million units this year.

Gaining momentum on digital convergence, the latest industry innovations include advancements in record-breaking screen sizes and display technology, home theater systems, and networked remotes. “Six years ago, [television] was a very simple business,” comments Jim Sanduski, vice president of Marketing for Samsung’s Visual Display Products Group. “Fast forward to 2005, and you have an explosion in terms of the different underlying technology platforms for TV. The television industry right now is in a Renaissance period.”

Utilizing cathode ray panel (CRP) technology, Samsung Electronics’ SlimFit TV is said to provide a high-definition, digital solution at a lower cost than LCD, PDP, or DLP displays. The company says it expects the unit to sell well as an update to traditional CRT technology.

Pixels and Crystals

One of the ongoing battles between CE OEMs is that of resolution. The ability to display an image in the finest detail possible has become a major selling point as digital conversion becomes mainstream. Now, as broadcasting stations are increasing the rate of resolution in which they send out that digital signal, manufacturers are producing displays to keep up. Following the U.S. Federal Communications Commission’s adoption of a digital television (DTV) construction schedule in 1997 that would convert analog signals to DTV transmission by as early as December 2006—although the date is speculated to be pushed back—manufacturers have been tailoring products accordingly for the consumer.

Playing its part in the display wars, Samsung Electronics America, Inc. (Ridgefield Park, NJ, U.S.), a subsidiary of its South Korea-based parent, displayed a 102-in plasma screen at the recent 2005 International CES, held in Las Vegas, NV, U.S., Jan 6-9. Although Samsung says the display was more of a showcase piece, the company did announce that it was shipping its 80-in plasma model that was displayed as the same centerpiece only 1 year earlier. According to Mr. Sanduski, the 80-in model is scheduled to ship by the end of the second quarter or by the beginning of the third quarter. “It represents the highest resolution of the DTV standard,” Mr. Sanduski says. “Up until now, the standard had ranged from 720p (progressive scan lines) to 1,080i (interlaced scan lines). The highest definition is 1,920 lines across by 1,080p, or progressive lines coming down the side, and that television is able to reproduce that high quality of a signal.” In addition to featuring an HD format, the 80-in HPR8072 plasma display boasts a 5,000:1 contrast ratio.

Samsung says it is also working on developing HD units that feature smaller footprints with more traditional technology. Samsung SDI recently introduced its SlimFit HDTV, a traditional CRT TV that is HD-ready. Mr. Sanduski says that although the flat-screen CRT TV weighs about the same as traditional CRT TVs because it uses the same basic internal technology, the unit is an example of radically new CRT TV due to its radically smaller size over other typical CRT units. With a 30-in screen size, the SlimFit unit boasts a 16-in depth dimension, as opposed to 24 in. “While the unit is almost a third thinner than traditional CRT, it features higher resolutions—two trends consumers are wanting,” Mr. Sanduski tells APPLIANCE. Samsung says the unit utilizes cathode ray panel (CRP) technology that enables improved brightness and contrast over traditional CRT, but at a lower cost. The company says the units feature an integrated HDTV tuner that works with an antenna to receive over-the-air broadcasts and can process 720p, 1,080i signals.

Samsung expects the SlimFit unit to do well in comparison to higher priced LCD and plasma units because it resembles a flat screen unit at a lower price. “The bottom line is that we feel, as a player in all technologies, that whatever the consumers design desire is, whatever their budgetary considerations are, we have a solution to offer. In the case of our SlimFit TV, consumers who buy it won’t feel like they’re buying yesterday’s technology,” Mr. Sanduski says.

Unlike Samsung, Sharp Electronics Corporation (Mahwah, NJ, U.S.), the U.S. subsidiary of Japan’s Sharp Electronics, is anticipating that digital light projection (DLP) technology will soon overtake the CRT market and has announced its reentry into the DLP market with its 650 and 750 Series. The two series are available in 56-in and 65-in screen sizes and feature a Texas Instruments (Dallas, TX, U.S.) chip set, built-in ATSC tuners, and a 1,200:1 contrast ratio. “As an industry, we are transitioning away from the CRT technology,” Bruce Tripido, director of Product Marketing for Sharp’s Display Devices, explains. “We are transitioning toward micro display technology, which allows for higher performance, higher brightness, as well as a slimmer footprint for these DLP TVs.”

In the LCD market, Sharp’s latest product offering boasts a high resolution and a sleek, slim design. Introducing a 65-in version of its AQUOS™ line of LCD TVs, the company says the units feature 1,080p panels and contain a proprietary scaling technology that ensures clear images. The unit also utilizes the company’s Advanced Super View/Black TFT Panel, which reportedly provides high brightness levels, a 800:1 contrast ratio, and wide viewing angles. Winning a Emmy® award from the National Television Academy for its product technology, the 65-in units are equipped with a response time technology called Quick Shoot that enables the pixels to change color and essentially respond to the digital signal and change accordingly in under 12 msec.

Also taking the LCD segment by storm, Westinghouse Digital Electronics’ (City of Industry, CA, U.S.) new line of LCD displays, including 27-, 30-, and 32-in models, are scheduled to ship in March 2005, while a 37-in model is set to ship in the second quarter. The company says its 42- and 47-in displays are set for a third-quarter release. Westinghouse says its units feature a 2-million-pixel display with a 1,920 by 1,080p resolution. The company says that in addition to incorporating the latest technology into the display, designing the overall look of the unit was also important. The company designed what it calls a standard form factor on all of its new LCD units that create a so-called “spine” on the back. This, explains John Araki, director of Product Marketing, enables a sleek design because it centralizes the electronic components on the back of the unit.

“The way the connectors are placed, the way that the form factor is thin, that’s where all the electronics are standard in all three lines, and it is easier to take this form factor and migrate all the way from 27- to 37-in and also migrate to 42- and 47-in we will later introduce,” he tells APPLIANCE. This design, according to Mr. Araki, helps reduce overall cost because it allows the company’s vendors to utilize the electronics board area and customize it according to different product models. “[Suppliers] can position their electronics package so that it allows us to achieve features and migrate it to all the lines,” says Mr. Araki. “We don’t have to repeat things and start from the beginning.”

Westinghouse says it has also integrated a picture technology called Faroudja DCDi®, which reportedly adds to the units’ 3D capability using a comb filter and the de-interlacing capability of the digital image. The units also feature True Life™ video processing technology that the company says helps deliver crisp and clear images in a thin, 2.3-in flat-panel design. “This technology takes the TV signal and then processes it with a video decoder and an image scaler,” Mr. Araki says. “It basically provides a video path that optimizes what the color should be, what the overall response should be, and what we call the richness, or the vibrancy, of the picture.”

Westinghouse Digital Electronics has introduced its new 37-in LCD display, striving to provide high-quality LCD displays at a comparatively low cost. The company says its units, scheduled for a second or third quarter release, feature a 2 million-pixel display and a 1,920 by 1,080p resolution.

Integrated Solutions

Besides focusing on display technology and sleek designs, CE makers are working to provide solutions that combine high-tech imaging with other components such as DVD players and recorders, all in a simple package.

The winner of 16 CES awards, LG Electronics, Inc. (Seoul, South Korea), while showcasing a 71-plasma screen at the CES show, also introduced its plasma HDTV displays with a built-in digital video recorder (DVR). The company says the models, available in both 50- and 60-in models, each have an integrated 160-G hard drive DVR. This, according to Michael Ahn, president and CEO of LG Electronics U.S.A, Inc., the company’s North American subsidiary, allows consumers to easily record over-the-air broadcasts in HD for up to 14 hours of programming. Users can also record up to 62 hours of programming with standard definition formats and up to 150 hours in an analog format. In addition, the units feature the company’s 60,000-hour “DoubleLife” panels, which are said to increase PDP longevity, in addition to a 5,000:1 contrast ratio and a brightness ratio of 1,000 candellas. A Gemstar TV Guide is also installed on the unit to assist with programming and recording.

According to LG, the units are an industry first and provide an important solution to a growing consumer concern—the utilization of space. “The integrated PDP HDTVs provide a space-saving solution to consumers,” says Mr. Ahn. “This eliminates the need for a separate set-top box DVR and cable box that consumers would have had to previously purchase in order to record content and to receive cable.” Besides offering a HD display with DVR-capability, LG also integrated memory card slots into the units. The slots can read up to nine different file formats so that, according to Mr. Ahn, consumers can view a variety of media, including digital images.

“The major factors [in the industry] are simplicity and convenience.” Mr. Ahn tells APPLIANCE. “Consumers are seeing multifunctional, premium products for a variety of areas-especially the home. They are seeking high-end products that deliver on performance, style, and design,” he explains. “Consumers want electronics that are cool to use, yet are simple to set up and operate. Plugging one cord into the wall is now an option when setting up a flat panel TV if you have an integrated tuner, cable card-ready, and DVR incorporated set.”

Wanting to offer consumers a more permanent solution in the ever-changing face of technology, Brillian Corporation (Tempe, AZ, U.S.) announced its latest rear projection TV featuring a chip technology called liquid crystal on silicon, or LCoS® Gen II technology. The technology is said to produce results similar to that of LCD and DLP technology, but at a much lower cost. The technology works by utilizing a layer of liquid crystal between a single glass plate and a silicon microchip. According to the company, the electronic circuits that control the formation of the image are fabricated on the silicon chip and are polarized before and after the light reflects from the chip, reportedly making the final result less pixilated and more easily scalable over other rear projection displays.

According to Rainer Kuhn, vice president of Sales and Product Marketing for Brillian, the company’s new 65-in rear projection TV offers the innovative LCoS technology in combination with integrated features and upgradeability. “The focus of the product was really to do everything possible to maintain optimal video signal quality from when the video signal is received into the TV to the time it is presented on screen,” he says. “We literally took no shortcuts in putting in the best video components to make sure the best on screen image would result.”

To do this, the company added a 6 mega-pixel light engine containing three micro displays, each entirely devoted to one color—red, blue, and green. This, says Mr. Kuhn, eliminates the use of a spinning color wheel, which sometimes creates a rainbow effect behind certain images or during fast-paced scenes. The light engine is said to help deliver high-contrast images and stark black and dark images with its contrast ratio of 2,000:1. Additionally, the unit features a pixel-warped video processor chip set, which scales DDI, VGA, and MTSC formats to the appropriate resolution of 1,080p.

However, the company says what makes the unit distinguishable from its competitors is the fact that its software and hardware can be upgraded. Upgrading software allows users to add features and control adjustment settings. In regard to upgrading hardware, several features, including an ATSC tuner, a cable card, or media reader, can be added into the set after purchase. For the consumer, this offers a direct benefit of added flexibility and creates a longer life for the product. “For example, the consumer may not want an ATSC tuner in the unit when they first buy it because they utilize a cable service for HDTV,” Mr. Kuhn explains. “But, if they move to another area, and they want to get over-the-air HDTV signals, they might want to put an ATSC tuner in. With our unit, they can do that.”

Utilizing a patented technology called LCoS (liquid crystal on silicon), Brillian Corporation introduced its rear-projection TV that is said to provide a clearer and brighter picture over other display technologies. The units feature a three micro display light engine, and software and hardware can be upgraded.

The Home Experience

As digital technology is dominating the display category, manufacturers are developing home theater components to follow. At the forefront of the home theater category are front projectors. Typically seen with high price points geared toward a premium market, CE makers are bringing the technology down in price, but raising features for the tech-savvy consumer looking for a theatrical experience without wanting to leave the comfort of home.

Showcasing its Z2000 front projector at the 2005 International CES, Sharp says even with the recent interest in home theater, it is still considered a niche market. “It’s kind of an interesting phenomena,” Mr. Tripido tells APPLIANCE. “[The market] is growing exponentially, but at the same time, it’s a small segment of the display market.” The Z2000 is said to feature a low price point with a 1,280 by 720p HD resolution. Utilizing a chip set by Texas Instruments, the unit offers a contrast ratio of 2,500:1 and a brightness level of 1,200 candellas. “Historically, the home theater was something that was unattainable in terms of expense,” Mr. Tripido says. “It’s still probably not affordable to the average customer, but the demographic that can now afford to build some kind of theater has definitely grown.”

In response to the growing market, Samsung introduced its HT-P1200 home theater system that includes the company’s extended super digital sound management (SDSM-EX) that reportedly simulates a 9.1 channel sound from only five speakers. The unit features a USB-cable connector that enables the unit to play digital music files and also provides a play list on-screen, accessed via the unit’s remote. “We figured people were spending a lot of time downloading their favorite songs [on portable devices], so we wanted to give them the opportunity to come home and then play that back in something other than their headphones,” explains Bill Hadam, senior manager of Digital Audio for Samsung. The unit features HDMI technology, which allows the transfer of a digital signal from the DVD player to the TV to stay in the digital format until it is converted onto the screen, and 800 W of power and a 150-W subwoofer.”

Also noting the rise in popularity in home theater, Sanyo Fisher Company (Chatsworth, CA, U.S,), a subsidiary of the Japan-based Sanyo Electric Co., Ltd., introduced a new LCD projector. The PLV-Z3 is said to set new standards with its motorized iris and automatic lamp control that adjusts brightness levels to match its current images. The company said it added a 10-bit true image processing technology, compared to the traditional 8-bit, which adds additional grayscales to the unit’s display capabilities. With the higher-bit processor, the projector can now display more than 1 billion colors compared to the previous 16.6 million.

Mark Holt, vice president of Sales and Marketing of Sanyo’s Presentation Technologies, says the combined features comprise what the company calls TOPAZreal (Total image Processing for Advanced Z-series). “The sensor in the iris is what makes this product stand out,” he notes. “Taking in the brightness and contrast ratios, the unit sends information to the sensors and adjusts the iris accordingly.”

The company says the unit’s short-throw lens can create a 100-in image with the projector only 10 ft away and has been designed specifically to display DVD movies. The unit, according to Mr. Holt, features a digital HDMI connect that allows virtually any digital device to connect to the projector to display images on a large screen.

Toshiba America Information Systems, Inc. (Irvine, CA, U.S.) is offering a wireless projector for the home theater experience. The company showcased its TDP-S20U and TDP-SW20U projectors at the CES show. Weighing in at less than 6 lbs, the wireless units provide a 2,000:1 contrast ratio and an SVGA resolution of 800 by 600 and are said to be designed for traveling professionals that can then bring the technology with them. The projectors feature three video input sources and include audio in/out connectors as well.

Philips Electronics’ RC9800i wireless remote is said to be ready-to-use, out of the box and configures itself after the user answers a few simple questions. According to the company, the unit offers an entire home network solution and can access and organize multimedia content with view on a color touch-screen display.

High-Tech Networks

In line with the move away from analog signals, the industry is looking to provide an entire home digital solution. With a higher adoption rate of digital television, CE makers are designing for new market-consumers that want a networked home for their digital appliances. According to market research by the NPD Group, consumers who have installed a home network to link PCs, audio systems, and televisions are most interested in using the technology to share photos and music, and most of those users believe that the TV can be the most effective interface in a home network.

Based on this belief, Philips Electronics introduced its color touch-screen remote control designed to control TV displays, video content, and multimedia files from the PC or Internet. The remote is equipped with Wi-Fi technology and can take the place of other remotes in the home. It also can recognize more than 600 brands of CE devices. According to Anthony Fonzo, marketing manager for Home Entertainment Networks Products for Philips Electronics North America, the remote is ready for the consumer to use out-of-box. “This remote literally speaks to you in your own language,” he tells APPLIANCE. “It asks you very basic questions—things like, ‘Do you have a television in this room?’—and by the time you are done answering those basic questions, the remote has already programmed itself to control all the devices in that room and eventually throughout the home.”

When answering the remote’s prompts, the control creates its own macros system for turning devices on and selecting the correct inputs based on personal preferences and component function. For example, instead of having a single button for every component needed to watch a DVD (i.e., turning on the TV, DVD player, and stereo system), the remote takes those components into consideration and combines them into one activity to form one button on the remote for that particular function. The result is a single function on the remote that when pressed, turns on the TV, DVD player, and stereo system at once. In addition to controlling digital visual and audio equipment, the remote can access digital music files, photos, and multimedia files from the PC to display on the television. The unit comes with a recharging cradle and can be upgraded by using its USB connection, where new codes and features can be downloaded through the Internet. And because the unit it equipped with Wi-Fi, a TV programming guide can be accessed through the remote via the Internet.

“Consumers essentially want everything, anywhere, anytime,” Mr. Fonsdale says. “Consumers have always wanted technology, and they’ve always wanted devices to make their lives easier in some sense. To create something they couldn’t have otherwise done—to bring them a simple, useful technology—is delivering on our company promise.”

 

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