CES: More Dots, More Colors, and Faster

Okay, CES 2007 hasn’t started yet officially, and I’ve already picked one of the “buzz themes” for the show. The press gets to shuffle from one massive press conference to another the day before show starts. If you think nobody will show up for an LG Electronics press conference at 8 AM on a Sunday morning in Las Vegas, think again; it was standing room only.

So what’s the theme? For LCD HDTVs, the future is clear; we’re rapidly moving to sets with 1080p resolution, a wider color gamut, and a doubled 120 Hz refresh rate.

The move to 1080p makes a lot of sense. It doesn’t cost a lot more to make a 1080p (1920 b y 1080 pixels) panel than it does to make a Wide XGA (1280 by 768 pixels) one of the same size. According to one source I spoke with, the increase is about 10%, which translates to about $100 more if the Wide XGA version costs $1,000. And the fact that Sony and others now call 1080p “Fully HD” (as if 720p is somehow “less” than HD, which it is not) only helps shove buyers to the higher resolution. In general, a 1080p panel should look better than a 720p panel, assuming you have the right size screen for your viewing distance. So expect to see the 720p and Wide XGA LCD TVs start to go away, and be replaced with 1080p.

The wider color gamut means that colors look more realistic. You can get more “pop” from the primary colors, especially red. Two developments have made this possible. LED backlights cost a bit more than the standard CCFL (cold cathode fluorescent lamps) used as backlights in most LCD panels, but the color response is noticeably better. And the new HDMI 1.3 interface is designed to help transmit signals with a better color response. So look for better color.

And the 120 Hz refresh rate seems to be the accepted solution for motion blurring on LCD panels. By repainting the image twice as often, it does reduce blurring by a great deal. Some companies add additional tricks — such as turning off the backlight between frames — which reduce blur even further. Now that LCD HDTV prices match or beat plasma HDTVs in the 42″ size, reducing the blurring will further can only enhance the LCD competitive advantage.

So the watch words for LCD HDTV in 2007 are 1080p, wider color gamut, and 120 Hz refresh rate. Expect to see these specs cropping up everywhere.