LAS VEGAS—The best place to scope out the next nine months in home electronics and entertainment is the annual CES tradeshow. The January, 2009, show revealed among other things that flat panel TV sets will become even more anorexic; LCD TVs will adopt LED-backlighting and still faster refresh rates; sound bars that project discrete audio channels will proliferate; Blu-ray Disc players will be available in a variety of styles; anything larger than an iPod will likely sprout an iPod dock; and TV sets will increasingly connect directly to the Internet so viewers have the option to receive real-time information or stream movies whenever they like. Camera and camcorder enthusiasts on the hunt for the latest features weren’t disappointed either.
Alas, a lot of what is shown at CES won’t be available until later in the year. That’s why a reality check is in order on technology that is promised versus what you can get now or at least in the next few months.
If last year’s bragging rights were about who had the largest display, this year it was who had the thinnest. Panasonic announced its Viera Z1 plasma TV, a 54-inch screen measuring just 1-inch thick. “It’s so thin that the connectors are on a separate box,” said a spokesman, who added that the box “attached” to the screen wirelessly.
Still, an inch isn’t what it used to be. Sony is already offering the KLV-40ZX1M Bravia TV with a 40-inch LCD screen that is less than half-an-inch deep. Viewed from the side, it almost disappears.
Sony, Samsung, LG, and Toshiba announced plans to incorporate widgets on some of their television sets. Connect the TV to the Internet, and you’ll be able to get news, weather, stocks, photos, and more on demand without a computer. Sony's new Z-series features an Ethernet port for connecting up to your home network right on the TV.
Some of Sony’s forthcoming TVs will let you view photos from flickr and stream information from the Internet.
But you can already do a lot of that with the Sony Bravia Internet Video Link attached to Sony Bravia HDTVs that feature the Xross Media Bar feature. The main difference with the forthcoming TVs is that the Internet Video Link is built in.
Sony Bravia Internet Video Link
LG, meanwhile, announced TVs that will enable subscribers to Netflix, the DVDs by mail service, to stream some titles directly to the screen. But the Netflix instant viewing feature is available in several components you can already connect to any TV including the Samsung BD-P2500 Blu-ray Disc Player and all TiVo HD models.
Samsung BD-P2500 Blu-ray Disc Player TiVo DVR HD Digital Video Recorder
As for LED-backlit TVs or ones with a 240MHz refresh rate, look for them this spring from B&H, Keep in mind that such models will be more expensive than the current generation of LCD TVs which mainly use cold cathode fluorescent lamp (CCFL) backlighting or incorporate 120MHz refresh rates. (Up until CES, 120MHz was deemed state of the art.)
With the ascension of the Blu-ray Disc format, manufacturers showed a variety of models. Panasonic introduced the first portable Blu-ray player; Sharp the first TV, an Aquos, with built-in Blu-ray; and Samsung, the first player that can be mounted vertically on a wall. B&H expects to have them all available this spring or summer. If you want to step up to the successor to the DVD without delay (and yes, these devices play your DVDs, too), check out these Blu-ray Disc players now. Or, if you want to add Blu-ray and a 5.1 sound system in one swoop, consider the Panasonic SC-BT100 Blu-ray Home Theater System.
Panasonic SC-BT100 Blu-ray Home Theater System
iPod docks are proliferating in new A/V components with abandon, so if you don’t want to get caught with equipment that lacks this destination port, here are two ends of the device spectrum that will protect your back: the Philips DCP851/37 Docking Entertainment System (a portable DVD player) and the JVC LT-42P789 42" 1080p LCD HDTV with Teledock for iPod (a TV set).
Philips DCP851/37 Docking Entertainment System JVC LT-42P789 42" 1080p LCD HDTV with Teledock for iPod
Meanwhile, a bunch of sound bars were announced that can fit neatly below a flat screen TV and project distinct audio channels toward viewers without requiring satellite speakers, though you’ll probably still want a separate subwoofer. Such products are already available including the YSP-4000BL Digital Sound Projector and YSP-3000SL both from Yamaha, the Audio SDA SurroundBar Speaker from Polk Audio, and the TSS 3-In-1CH Three-Channel, Single-Enclosure Loudspeaker from Infinity.
YamahaYSP-4000BL Digital Sound Projector
HD Radio technology is showing up in more receivers, clock radios, and car audio systems, but the gadget that caught my eye was a pint-size prototype of a portable receiver you’ll be able to take on a run through the park. Unfortunately, despite the working Samsung chip in the unit, no manufacturer has announced an actual product.
Prototype of a pocket-size HD Radio
Hey, at least there is a real portable HD radio available that uses a rechargeable battery and takes earphones. The Coby HDR-700 Portable HD Radio System may be a little too big to take on a run, but I sure wouldn’t mind taking it to a picnic.
Coby HDR-700 Portable HD Radio System
I was also impressed by a trio of high-def camcorders with built-in GPS and a still camera with a built-in browser for uploading pictures to popular Internet sharing sites wherever there’s Wi-Fi access. The camcorders, all from Sony and all with hard drives, are the HDR-XR200V, HDR-XR520V, and HDR-XR500V. The camera is the Sony DSC-G3 Cyber-shot Digital Camera.
Sony HDR-XR200V Camcorder Sony DSC-G3 Cyber-shot
Of course, by next CES, everything that’s considered hot now will be deemed so last year. Maybe it’s better not to know what’s coming next. Otherwise, you’ll never be content.