Apparently, consumers want 3D HDTV, whether they know it yet or not. 3D was the It technology at this year's CES. The industry is convinced that the big-screen success of 3D, especially Avatar, will translate into a desire for 3D in the home. I remain skeptical. Just because people love it in the theater doesn't necessarily mean they'll love it at home. If the random comments I heard on the show floor are any indication, the need to wear 3D glasses is still a big hindrance.
That said, the show's numerous 3D demos did seem to impress attendees, and even I warmed a bit to the concept by show's end. As one colleague reminded me, 3D is just another TV feature to add to the list in 2010. If you want to pay more for a 3D-capable television, there could be plenty of options by the end of this year.
Probably the most persuasive 3D demo I saw came from Panasonic: Movie footage looked great, and the extra depth in sports and concert footage really made you feel like a spectator at those events (only with better seats than I'll ever have). Panasonic's new VT25 Series of 3D plasmas is scheduled for spring release, and the company announced a partnership with DirecTV to launch three 3D channels by June. Other noteworthy announcements include a 3D-capable Blu-ray player and the addition of Skype video conferencing to the VieraCast Web platform.
Samsung was the only company to actually draw applause during its press conference for its new 9000 Series of edge-lit LED-based LCDs, which look gorgeous and measure just 0.3 inches thick. The company plans to release a complete "3D home ecosystem" with a TV, Blu-ray player, active-shutter glasses, and home theater system. Samsung has teamed up with DreamWorks and TechniColor to produce 3D content. They also announced Samsung Apps, an open-source apps store for the company's Web-friendly TVs, Blu-ray players, and mobile phones.
As usual, LG had a lot to show off. I was especially impressed with the new top-shelf LE9500 Series: These LED-based LCDs are only about 1 inch thick, yet they still use full-array LED backlighting with local dimming (as opposed to the edge lighting employed in most super-thin LED designs). The LE9500 models are also 3D-ready and THX certified, and they incorporate Skype video conferencing as part of LG's NetCast Web platform. The new BD590 Blu-ray player also caught my eye because it adds a 250GB hard drive for media storage, including the ability to directly download VUDU movies. The company also demoed its new portable DVD player that adds a Mobile ATSC tuner, so you can watch HDTV on the go.
Of course, the Sony booth was not lacking in new LCD models. The top-shelf LX900 Series, scheduled for a summer release, offers integrated 3D, with a built-in 3D transmitter and two pairs of active-shutter glasses. This edge-lit LED series also has 240Hz technology, an attractive new Monolithic Design, a new OptiContrast panel, and built-in WiFi connectivity to access Sony's BRAVIA Internet Video platform. The step-down HX900 and HX800 Series are 3D-ready, and the HX900 features full-array LED backlighting with local dimming. Sony also announced three new Blu-ray players, one with 3D capability and all offering SACD playback.
Toshiba focused primarily on its new Cell TV system, which employs the Cell processor found in Sony's PlayStation 3. This high-end LCD design uses eight core processors, with 143 times more processing power than a traditional TV. To say the TV is "features-laden" would be an understatement. The list includes full-array LED backlighting with local dimming (with 512 zones!), ClearScan 480Hz technology, 3D capability, a 1TB hard drive and built-in Blu-ray player, 802.11n, DLNA media streaming, Net TV channels, and video conferencing. Toshiba also announced three new Blu-ray players, including a 3D-capable model for release later this year.
Amidst all the 3D hype, Mitsubishi would like to remind you that every rear-projection HDTV the company has released since 2007 is 3D-ready, including the 82-inch DLP rear pro. So, if you're looking for good value in big-screen 3D, you might want to check out their offerings. Because Mitsubishi's 3D technology is not compatible with the recently approved Blu-ray 3D spec, the company has developed an adapter that will allow Mitsubishi 3D-ready displays to work with upcoming 3D Blu-ray players. The 3DC-1000 adapter is scheduled for release in late spring.
Sharp did have a 3D prototype on display, but the company's focus was on its new QuadPixel technology, which adds a fourth sub-pixel to the LCD design. In addition to red, green, and blue, these models also include a yellow sub-pixel, which the company says will allow the TV to produce more natural color--most notably in the yellow and gold departments. The new high-end LE920 Series will feature a slim edge-lit LED design with QualPixel, 240Hz, and AQUOS Net with Netflix streaming, and the line includes a new screen size of 68 inches.
In terms of its TV division, Westinghouse has been fairly quiet of late, but the company did announce a new line of LED-based LCDs. The line, which uses edge LED lighting, features models sized from 24 to 55 inches. The smaller screen sizes (42 inches and under) will start to appear in April, with larger 46- and 55-inch models to appear in the third or fourth quarter.
Monsoon's Volcano is a place-shifting device, à la Slingbox. This cool product lets you view live or recorded TV from your set-top box anywhere in the world over a network. Best of all, you can transfer recorded files to your PC, Mac, or mobile device so that you can still view them on the road when network connectivity is lacking. The estimated price will be around $199, or you can get the Volcano and a 250GB external hard drive for $299.
NetGear's Stora offers networked attached storage and streaming media in one device. This $230 unit has a 1TB hard drive for storage (with a 2TB model to come), and you can stream stored media content to any device that has a Web browser. It's also DLNA-certified for in-home streaming. The interface looks great, and it appears to be much easier to use than similar products I've seen.
If you bought your HDTV and Blu-ray player before the explosion of Web platforms that allow for video-on-demand and media streaming, consider a standalone box like the new Boxee Box by D-Link. This device lets you access movies, TV shows, and music from the Internet or a hard drive, including music sites like Pandora and last.fm, and it adds social networking functions for Facebook and Twitter. From the demo I saw, it has a nicely conceived user interface that should make it easy and fun to use.
OmniMount highlighted a number of its newer TV stands and flat-panel mounts, as well as its new Essentials accessory lineup that includes screen cleaners, surge protectors, and cable management kits. The product that caught my eye was the omnimount (OMF), a low-profile flat-panel mount that comes with everything you need for quick, easy installation, including a drill bit, template, and level. It costs $39.95 and supports up to a 42-inch panel, or up to 40 pounds in drywall alone.