Fall HDTV Trends: 3D, Fewer Cables, and Skinny LEDs
Move over, LCD -- here comes green, lean LED. Make room, too, for sets that dispense with unsightly cables and get ready for a coming wave of 3D sets.
These are the big HDTV tech trends on display at CEDIA Expo in Atlanta this week. CEDIA (Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association) is the trade group for people who install high-end home entertainment and automation systems, and its annual show has become the venue of choice for consumer electronics companies who want to show off their high-end wares.
One of the biggest trends is the emergence of LED backlighting as the upscale replacement for conventional, CCFL LCD screens. LEDs are more energy-efficient than LCDs (many sets tout local dimming -- the capability to turn down brightness in dark spots -- and ambient-light-sensitive displays that get darker in darker rooms). LEDs also dispense with environment-damaging mercury, and their superslim screens are capable of richer color. But they also cost more than traditional LCDs, so most vendors are continuing to offer LCDs for those on a budget. Either way, the sets are now almost all 1080p (as opposed to the 720p resolutions that dominated the market earlier in the decade.
Sony, for example, announced a new pair of super-skinny Bravia sets, the XBR10 series, with edge-lit LED backlighting. The sets come with either a 46-inch or a 52-inch screen. They boast speedy 240Hz screen refresh technology to make action video look smoother.
Cutting Those Cables
The XBR10 sets feature another hot technology: WirelessHD. Designed to eliminate ugly cables dangling from wall-hung sets (although they still need a power cord), WirelessHD sets come with transmitter boxes that have the myriad of inputs usually found on the back of the set. You hook up all your audio and video sources -- set-top boxes, game consoles, home theater receivers -- to the transmitter box, which beams their uncompressed signals (1080p and 7.1-channel audio) to the set over the unlicensed 60GHz band.
WirelessHD offers vastly more throughput than even the fastest Wi-Fi ; backers say the first products, all based on chips by a company called SiBeam, move about 4GB per second (802.11n tops out at a theoretical rate of 600mbps). But WirelessHD lacks Wi-Fi's range -- it can cover only up to 33 feet -- which is why it's a cable-replacement technology, not a home networking technology.
All the goodies in the XBR10 series don't come cheap, however; the 46-inch set is expected to run about $4500, while the 52-inch model will go for $5000. Sony plans to ship both next month.
LG Hops on the LED Train
LG Electronics' new SL90 LED sets are also extremely thin -- less than 1.2 inches thick, with no raised bezel. They're due out later this fall with price tags of $2599 for the 47-inch model and $2099 for the 42-incher. A trio of new conventional LCDs, the SL80 series, are somewhat thicker -- 1.8 inches -- but also less expensive, at $1599 for the 42-inch model, $1,899 for the 47-inch set, and $2799 for the 55-inch display.
LG is also bringing three WirelessHD sets to market. The top-of-the line 55-inch LED-backlit 55LHX is expected to ship shortly at a suggested price of $4799, while a pair of conventional LCD sets, the LH85 series, are due later this fall for $3199 (55 inches) and $2399 (47 inches).
Panasonic Shows WirelessHD Set, 3D Technology
Panasonic recently began shipping a 54-inch plasma TV with WirelessHD, the TC-P54Z1, which It had announced at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. The set/transmitter bundle runs $5500.
However, 3D HDTV took center stage at the company's CEDIA booth, in the form of a mobile theater showing dramatic 15-minute reels that included clips from the Pixar film Up! and sports footage. Insisting that its technology is poised to become the industry standard for 3D, Panasonic said it expects to begin shipping 3D-enabled TVs and Blu-ray Disc players next year. The technology requires wearing special glasses, which Panasonic says are superior to those provided for 3D movies in theaters.
Panasonic isn't the only vendor to set a stake in 3D. Jeff Goldsmith, Sony Electronics television VP, says the company is committed to 1080p content in 3D.
"You can bet that we're bullish on the technology as 2010 approaches," he told reporters at the company's CEDIA news conference. Samsung, meanwhile, has for some time been shipping 3D after-market kits.
Sharp Thinks Big
Sharp's new offerings also include a line of four LED-backlit AQUOS sets, the LE700 series, all 1080p sets ranging in price from $2800 for a 52-inch model to $1100 for a 32-inch set.
The company also announced a pair of larger conventional LCD sets at what the company described as attractive price points, given the dimensions involved. The 65-inch LC-65E77UN will sell for about $4500 when it ships later this month, Sharp says, and the 60-inch LC-60E77UN will run $3500.
JVC, meanwhile, announced only one LED HDTV, a petite 32-incher weighing a mere 12.5 pounds.
As skinny as one-quarter-inch at its leanest point, the 1080p JVC LT-32WX50 is slated to ship in November -- but there's nothing skinny about its price (except maybe the effect on your wallet), which JVC describes as "less than $3000."