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This is the next in a series of articles taken from the H/DTV Technology Review & CES 2005 Report by Rodolfo La Maestra, published in March 2005. If you are interested in downloading the full version of this report, it is currently available for purchase from our CES Report page.

Panel technology and microchip-based displays have taken a larger position in the HDTV market. It was remarkable the price reduction experienced on LCD and Plasma panels compared to the year before. DLP and LCD are the main technologies now used for RPTVs, although CRT is not yet withdrawing from the market.

Many major companies introduced new lines of RPTV and Direct-view models based on CRT technology, which continues to offer the best value for a good quality display known for its excellent rendition of black, provided space and weight are not a constraint. Additionally, with the new introduction of slim tubes using 33% less depth, direct-view sets might create a shift on the market share for second/third room applications, where small LCD panels were starting to be adopted in 2003/4.

The LCoS technology is showing some successes but also some disappointments. There is a parallel effect of companies switching in and out of the LCoS technology depending of the manufacturer, or chip-company. Some justified by the difficulty of manufacturing the chips, some for the limited availability of them, some due to company direction.

For example, Intel announced at CES 2004 their entry to the LCoS chip manufacturing, then they announced in August a delay in the delivery of LCoS chips for projection TVs, the chip could not be made available by the end of 2004 as planned; but later, the company announced the cancellation of the overall effort. Its competitor, Advanced Micro Devices Inc., is still on course manufacturing chips as planned. The LCoS versions of Sony (SXRD) and JVC (D-ILA) chips and HDTVs continue firm with the technology, while other companies such as Sears became interested in LCoS and introduced at least one set, although it is uncertain if the product would actually be released as planned.

LCD panels are becoming larger and larger from one year to another; last year's 40-inch screens introduction seemed a big step forward, a step into the domain of plasmas; this year the competition for even larger panels is heating up. The plasmas and LCD panels announced at CES 2005 overlap in the 37 to mid-50-inches range; the new large LCD TV panels generally cost more than similar size plasmas, twice as much in many cases, but prices are coming down fast for both types of panels.

The larger LCD TV panels are now at 1920x1080 resolution on the 45+ sizes, while in plasmas the 1080p resolution is seen on much larger sizes. One example of LCD TV panel is the Sharp's 1080p 45" LCD TV panel (AQUOS models 45GD4U and 45GD6U) available since fall of 2004 at an original price of $10,000 MSRP (but seen at $8000 range on the street); other panels in the range of 55, 57, and 65 inches were announced at CES by several manufacturers.

Some DLP lines of front projectors that were typically in the range of $10,000 to $13,000 over the last 3 years (such as the FPTV competition of Yamaha, Sharp, Marantz, etc) are being replaced by updated models but at about the same price range. New features and better technology and chips on the new models seem to justify upholding of the price range.

A similar effect has been noticed with some companies that are introducing new models at a about the same prices than the sets they replace, if not higher. The new sets are suited with newer or better features or chips (such as HD2, HD3, HD2+ TI's DMD chips), or/and add mandated built-in ATSC/QAM cable tuners, which generally increases the TV price between $400-$1000. Tuner integration is starting to show some signs of cost reduction, manufacturers that charged an extra $700 for the integrated HD tuner on their 2003/4 models, are now charging $500 for their 2005/6 models and in some cases even less.

CES 2005 showed a larger volume of integrated sets to meet the FCC mandate and deadlines. However, there are still at least two issues to be resolved: a) the cost of integration and HD-STBs is still too high, and b) integrated QAM CableCARD tuners are being implemented with only unidirectional limited functionality. Unfortunately, when having the tuner inside the HDTV, physical tuner upgrades/replacements would not be as easy as a STB. However, if they were designed properly, they should be able to receive firmware upgrades downloaded from the service provider, as STBs do.

The integration extra cost was expected to come down, and is gradually happening, but as indicated above is not yet to the level it should be. Consumers purchasing a HDTV might not be aware of the actual cost of integration they are subjected to endure. Soon, there will not be monitor-only versions to facilitate some comparisons, such as lower-cost monitors compared against identical integrated versions. Subscribers of satellite services would have no option than to pay for an integrated set with tuners he/she would not need. All those issues still exist throughout the last few years.

Regarding the issue of QAM Cable CARD with only unidirectional features, the recently announced 2005/6 models, and most probably the not yet announced 2006 models from some companies, will not come with bi-directional features. Samsung seems as the only company that made an agreement for bi-directional features (recently with CableLabs), but their 2005 models were announced as only unidirectional.

In other words, consumers might need to wait for at least another year or two before seeing bidirectional features in future QAM Cable CARD integrated HDTVs, which makes for a total waiting of 3 to 4 years from the initial cable plug-and-play agreement approved by the FCC, if not more.

The consequence of such waiting is that many more millions of integrated TVs would be sold over the next two years suited with just unidirectional features, probably in the range of 30+ million judging by the trend of sales (in 2004 alone the yearly sales jumped to 7 million sets from 3 million in 2003). The cumulative total of QAM CableCARD integrated sets sold by the end of 2006 could be close to 40 million sets.

Unfortunately, the FCC approved plug-and-play agreement has stretched its plan for unidirectional-soon-to-be-bidirectional longer than expected. Many of those 30+ million consumers will be footing the cost of an early replacement of an otherwise good integrated HDTV w/unidirectional QAM Cable tuner, to get a bi-directional version, or by having to lease the duplicated Cable HD-STBs for the bi-directional services. Perhaps you might be one of those consumers.

CES showed a large adoption of DVI and HDMI connections in HDTV displays, HD-STBs, and DVD players with upconversion to HD. Such connection is for the transmission of protected digital HD uncompressed video. HDMI will provide also multi-channel digital audio over the same cable. Check the Digital Connectivity section for details on this area, the industry is moving consistently in that direction.

The support for IEE1394 on integrated tuner equipment has increased. Such feature allows for HD networking and external HD recording to DVRs and D-VHS. Make sure the integrated set you want has 'activated' IEEE-1394 two-way connections. Even when present, they might only work with the manufacturer's proprietary implementation of it, incompatible to other brands and models, such as the case of the Toshiba's new stand-alone DVR (Symbio) designed to work only when paired to certain new Toshiba's integrated TVs. Check the HD-DVRs sections.

New products are beginning to show support for the Broadcast Flag content protection, as mandated by the FCC. There is a section at the end of the report that covers that subject, or read my article regarding DTV content protection regulations, on issue # 4 of the HDTVetc magazine.

When looking at the following listings of equipment, remember that the date that appears a head of each grouping (like Oct 04) indicates product announcement/introduction, and provides a perspective of the maturity of a product that facilitates comparisons within the same manufacturer, or other manufacturers. The date also helps anticipate that new products could be announced shortly in 2005, following the manufacturer's annual cycle, when out of the CES timing. A good number of manufacturer groupings will also have a CES 2005 subheading usually located towards the end of each group to include all the information announced/disclosed at CES 2005.

Regarding acronyms and terms, I include at the end of the report a Glossary of Terms related to H/DTV and Home Theater technology. I use the term TTM to indicate Time To Market (product reaching the stores); TBA as To Be Announced (used for time or price); '1394' or 'IEEE1394' (FireWire connection) interchangeably; 'CR' for Contrast Ratio (check the glossary for the definition); and 'component' for component video inputs/outputs to carry HD analog signals between pieces of HD equipment, mostly known as 3-wire YPbPr but could be VGA RGB or BNC.

Be sure that you read the next article in the series: CRT, LCoS, D-ILA, SXRD, SED, and LCD

Posted by Rodolfo La Maestra, October 14, 2005 1:45 PM

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About Rodolfo La Maestra

Rodolfo La Maestra is the Senior Technical Director of UHDTV Magazine and HDTV Magazine and participated in the HDTV vision since the late 1980's. In the late 1990's, he began tracking and reviewing HDTV consumer equipment, and authored the annual HDTV Technology Review report, tutorials, and educative articles for HDTV Magazine, DVDetc and HDTVetc  magazines, Veritas et Visus Newsletter, Display Search, and served as technical consultant/editor for the "Reference Guide" and the "HDTV Glossary of Terms" for HDTVetc and HDTV Magazines.  In 2004, he began recording a weekly HDTV technology program for MD Cable television, which by 2006 reached the rating of second most viewed.

Rodolfo's background encompasses Electronic Engineering, Computer Science, and Audio and Video Electronics, with over 4,700 hours of professional training, a BS in Computer and Information Systems, and thirty+ professional and post-graduate certifications, some from MIT, American, and George Washington Universities.  Rodolfo was also Computer Science professor in five institutions between 1966-1973 in Argentina, regarding IBM, Burroughs, and Honeywell mainframe computers.  After 38 years of computer systems career, Rodolfo retired in 2003 as Chief of Systems Development from the Inter-American Development Bank directing sixty+ software-development computer professionals, supporting member countries in north/central/south America.

In parallel, from 1998 he helped the public with his other career of audio/video electronics, which started with hi-end audio in the early 60’s and merged with Home Theater video, multichannel audio
, HD, 3D and UHDTV. When HDTV started airing in November 1998, and later followed by 3DTV and 4K UHDTV, he realized that the technology as implemented would overwhelm consumers due to its complexity, and it certainly does even today, and launched his mission of educating and helping consumers understand the complexity, the challenge, and the beauty of the technology pursuing better sound and image, so the public learn to appreciate it not just as another television.