Dueling High Def Formats Set To Hit Shelves; HD Displays, Camcorders and More

When January arrives each year, gadget fans feel a familiar twinge that can be only one thing-it’s time for another Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. With COMDEX gone, it’s now the premiere platform for consumer technology.
Sure to be a good sign for content creators, this CES witnessed a number of HD solutions, and ones that consumers may actually be able to afford in the near future.
The biggest HD unveiling was the formal introduction of the two competing high-definition DVD disc formats: Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD. Many of the top manufacturers showed a standalone player for the home theater market, and some also showed a combination writer/player for installation in a computer. Toshiba and Sony were especially aggressive in pushing their HD DVD and Blu-ray formats, respectively. Few manufacturers were willing to reveal prices or shipping dates, though it looks like the standalone players will be closer to $500 rather than the $1,000 price we saw with introductions of DVD and VHS.
Toshiba plans a March introduction for its two standalone HD DVD players: the $499.99 HD-A1 and $799.99 HD-XA1. The HD-XA1 adds a motorized door that conceals the disc drawer, two front-mounted USB ports, selectable interfaces and a backlit remote control that’s motion activated. Sony’s Blu-ray Disc player (the BDP-S1) will ship in early summer and support 1080p. For full resolution, both HD disc formats require televisions or monitors that have a HDMI input with the HDCP copy protection scheme.
Sanyo introduced its own HD camcorder, though this one is remarkable for being so small. Weighing just 8.3 ounces, the Sanyo Xacti HD1 (pictured above) is capable of recording 21 minutes of 720p (1,280 by 720) video to a 1-gigabyte SD card. The resulting video isn’t broadcast quality, though it is impressive for such a tiny device. The HD1 has a 10x optical zoom, high-contrast 2.2-inch OLED display, and 5.36 megapixel CCD for 5.1 megapixel photos. The video is stored in MPEG-4 with the accompanying audio saved in AAC (48kHz, 16 bit, 2 channels).
If CES is any indication, 1080p is about to have a major impact on the home theater market. Panasonic demonstrated the TH-65PX600U, a 65-inch plasma display with a native 1,920 by 1,080 resolution. It’s expected to ship in the summer. Samsung showed an 82-inch LCD television (the LN-S8281D), which the company claimed is the largest commercially available LCD TV. It supports 1080p and has a pixel response time of 8 milliseconds. It will be available some time this year for an undetermined price. Sharp’s entry in the 1080p sweepstakes is the 57-inch LC-57D90U AQUOS LCD television. It features a 1500:1 contrast ratio and 4 millisecond response time. It should be available in March for a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $15,999.99. And JVC expanded its LCOS-based HD-ILA televisions to include 56-, 61- and 70-inch screen sizes. These models have a 1080p native resolution, as well as JVC’s Genessa 32-bit video processor for scaling any video source to 1080p.
Along with the emphasis on HD video at CES was the promise we may be soon be able to distribute HD video throughout the house without having to rely on Ethernet cables. Intellon Corporation demonstrated prototype products based on its new HomePlug AV integrated circuit. The company was able to send two 1080i or two 720p video streams over a standard power line or coaxial cable. If both house-wire systems are used, you could send four HD video streams simultaneously throughout the house. Expect this technology to appear in the second quarter of this year from some of the companies that currently manufacture and sell HomePlug compatible adapters.
Other Gadgets of Interest
Verizon launched a new wireless V CAST Music download service that will complete with Apple’s iTunes. Utilizing Verizon’s high-speed EV-DO network, you use your phone to purchase and download songs directly to your cell phone. You pay $0.99 to own the song only on your phone, or pay $1.99 for a dual download that includes a file you can move to other Windows Media compatible devices. Verizon expects to have more than a million music tracks available by spring. The supported phones have a memory slot to greatly increase the number of songs you can store on your phone. The V CAST network also supports video streaming of music videos, news clips, TV program clips, and video-based weather reports.
With so many devices using the tiny miniSD and microSD flash cards, it was perhaps inevitable that SanDisk would announce higher capacity cards at the show. These two formats are frequently used in cell phones to store audio and video files, in addition to photos. SanDisk unveiled a 2GB miniSD card (up from 1GB), as well as a 1GB microSD card (up from 512MB).
Dell expanded its line of LCD computer monitors with a new 30-inch model. The 3007WFP UltraSharp Widescreen Flat Panel Monitor has a native resolution of 2,560 by 1,600, a 11 millisecond pixel response rate and a starting price of $2,199. To achieve the full resolution, you’ll need a dual-link DVI-D graphics card.
It wouldn’t be a CES without an evening press conference with home theater innovator Runco International. The company announced it will be adding its CineWide with AutoScope technology to more of its DLP projectors. This feature provides an increased resolution and brightness to CinemaScope 2.35:1 aspect ratio movies. Both the electronics and optics are improved in the new projectors.