LAS VEGAS – Panasonic's 150-inch plasma HDTV monitor and Sony's quarter-inch-thin organic light emitting diode (OLED) screen – both debuting at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) – may have put the focus on big and slim as the future of television.
But a more subtle trend – several manufacturers' integration of Internet video access into television monitors – has even greater implications for TV's progression. Panasonic, Sony, Philips, Samsung, LG and others showed prototype TV sets that offer easy access to Web video, while Motorola, Cisco (via its Scientific Atlanta subsidiary) and NDS demonstrated next-generation set-top boxes (STBs) aimed at the converged market.
(By the way, Panasonic's giant set does not have a price tag or delivery date set; the Sony OLED monitor will be available within a month, priced at about $2,500.)
At a "Triple-Play" panel, Martin Stein, senior director of digital media solutions at Motorola, affirmed that Internet Protocol (IP) is the future of video distribution, although he acknowledged that switched digital video (SDV) will continue to play a major role in the near term.
For its part, Scientific Atlanta showed an array of new STBs in its 8500 HDC DVR series, which include high-capacity, high-definition (HD) digital video recorders (DVRs). One unit was the Comcast-branded model that Comcast CEO Brian Roberts described in his keynote address here.
The Scientific Atlanta STB includes "visual networking" capabilities, a term that Cisco CEO John Chambers, in his remarks to a "Leaders in Technology" banquet, cited repeatedly as a vital element in future Internet communications.
Meanwhile, NDS – still trying to crack into the U.S. cable market – privately demonstrated its newest integrated system for video/voice/data access. The company says the device is being trialed at a U.S. cable system. Its architecture features a "VideoGuard" USB thumb-drive, which can be used to move programs from the STB to a remote player, such as a car video system or portable player.
Moving video around the house was also a key theme of many wireless HDTV developers.
Separately, with the digital broadcasting Digital TV transition barely a year away, much of CES focused on the newly launched consumer education campaigns and the availability of low-priced digital-to-analog converter boxes. An NTIA official told CED magazine that SlingBox, a subsidiary of EchoStar, will offer a box for $39.95. Forty dollars happens to be the value of the coupon subsidies that the NTIA is distributing.
Comcast's Roberts, in his keynote remarks, reasserted the vow of a "broad rollout" of Internet services at rates up to 100 Mbps by year’s end, with more HDTV content available online. Roberts showed the new Panasonic digital cable-ready TVs, as well as a video portal to Apple's iTunes and a unified messaging service.
FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, during his third-annual "one-on-one" on-stage conversation with Consumer Electronics Association President Gary Shapiro, continued his assault on the cable industry. Martin said that he hopes TV set makers can create ways to deliver cable TV without the need for STBs, citing "innovations" such as the Tru2way devices being developed by Panasonic and Comcast.
Separately, a Panasonic executive told CED that the delay in delivering the quarter-million STBs that Comcast announced two years ago is prompted by a problem with the Broadcom chips on which the boxes are being built. He indicated that prototypes are being field tested now, and that a larger rollout will come "soon."
More Broadband Direct:
• Convergence tops CES agenda; Martin continues cable assault