CES 2008: Four Themes

From what I’ve seen, 2008 is going to be a very good year for HDTV. The industry is not sitting still, and you can expect to see many interesting developments. I’ve found that there are four major themes that cover many of these changes: thin, wireless, the Internet, and green pitches. I’ll cover them quickly.

Thin: The flat panel makers know that the U.S. consumer wants to get a flat panel HDTV. One of the ways they are looking to differentiate their products from those of their competitors is to make the panels even thinner. Everyone is amazed at how thin Sony’s (otherwise unremarkable) tiny OLED TVs are; one Sony representative characterized it as the thickness of three credit cards. LCD and plasma can’t get nearly that thin, but they’re making progress. Sharp has shown thin LCD prototypes, but one shocker at CES was Pioneer’s announcement that they can now make a 50″ plasma HDTV that is just 9 mm thin. For those of you who may not have done metrics in school, that’s slightly more than one-third of an inch. As a bonus, this set weighs only about 41 pounds, which is far less than a traditional 50″ LCD or plasma HDTV.

Wireless: The problem of getting the signal from your settop box or DVD player to your television is that you have to run wires between them. You either get a messy tangle or have to deal with potentially expensive in-wall or other cable management solutions. The best solution may be to have no wires at all. Many manufacturers are announcing new models that will have wireless support — either through radio frequency connections such as Wireless HD or through powerline connections — built into the sets. And other companies are providing aftermarket solutions for sets that don’t have this feature. Expect this to become a standard feature for many home installations; not only does it eliminate the wires, but it also lets you put the signal components where you want, and not be forced to stack them under the television.

The Internet: The Internet is becoming an indispensible part of the television landscape. Dozens of companies are offering ways to stream content from your home network or the Internet to your television screen, and they’re making it a lot easier than it has been in the past. Companies are also letting you add little bits of content — as you might have on your computer display — to your television screen. One good example of this are “widgets” that use an Internet connection to feed you information about weather, stock prices, or traffic conditions. Movie rentals may soon be done completely over the Internet. Look to see more and more content from the Internet appearing on a big screen in your home soon.

Green pitches: Almost every company at CES has a “green” sales pitch of some sort. Consortiums are creating electronics recycling programs around the U.S. and worldwide to safely dispose of unwanted consumer electronics. Others are focusing on how the production of solar cells have helped offset the “carbon footprint” of their flat panel manufacturing. Others point to the energy savings offered by their new models. (Dynamic dimming of LCD backlights are a prime example of this type of savings.) It’s not clear how much of an impact these efforts will have on the environment, nor how much more the average consumer is willing to pay for a “greener” HDTV. One fact is clear, however; you have to have an environmentally-friendly story to tell about your products this year.

We’ll see how these four themes play out in the coming months, and which manufacturers are able to use them to best advantage in their new models. Taken together, they are likely to result in some interesting products that offer clear advantages over their predecessors.