On Display At CES 2007

In recent years, the one trade show that has, no pun intended, become the focus for commercial display products has been InfoComm. This is with good reason, as it dates back to the days when InfoComm presented its "Projection Shoot-Out" as a signature, if not iconic event, and even back before that when using a "projector" in the display world meant 16mm film, 35mm slides, "filmstrips" and overhead projectors. InfoComm still holds that position, but after this year's International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), held last month in Las Vegas, it is clear that the pace of change in the video display world is so fast that anyone looking for the latest products and trends in displays needs to broaden their horizon not only in terms of the products they use, but in the places they look for information about those displays.

This has not been a problem. The CES celebrated the fortieth anniversary of the event, and we've been there for 30 of those 40 years. At the same time, one of the constant themes here has been the application of products and technologies from the consumer electronics world where they are appropriate in the commercial systems environment. This year, however, CES took things even further as a number of brands took advantage of the power of CES's reach with the press and public to showcase products specifically designed for the commercial market along with those meant for residential applications.

One need look no further than a product that gained a tremendous amount of publicity as one of the top products of the show. No longer wanting to take a back seat to both plasma technology and its Korean based LCD market competitors, Sharp used this year's CES as a stage to announce what is now the world's largest flat panel display in any technology, its 108-inch (wide) LCD model. Though some might put this off as a publicity stunt, this is not the same as the "concept" cars you see at the auto shows.

To back that up, you had to look at a display well inside the Sharp booth, beyond the main aisle display of the 108-inch (wide) unit that you probably saw in show reports in the consumer press and popular media. On a back wall of the booth stood testament to Sharp's intentions, a wall-mounted version of the 108-inch set under a banner reading "World's Largest Professional LCD Monitor." This isn't the type of display you would see if this was simply a one-off prototype. They are clearly serious about this for both the consumer and professional markets.

Pricing and availability are still to be announced, but this set will clearly have specific and limited applications. Its sheer size, however, along with superb performance makes it something to consider in your system designs where a large screen is required and projection is not an option.

Previous winners in the "world's largest" categories, the 103-inch (wide) plasma from Panasonic, said to be shipping and appearing in a variety of commercial, broadcast, and consumer venues, as well as the 100-inch LCD from LG were also in appearance, but one piece of news in the "ultra large" flat panel display world was possibly overshadowed not only by the Sharp model, but by other news from the same brand. While the attention at LG's press conference and in its booth was centered on the introduction of the Blu-ray/HD-DVD compatible multi-player, one display related announcement during the pre-show press event was met with a very audible gasp in the crowed room. LG's 71-inch (wide) plasma display, aimed at both the consumer and commercial markets, was treated to a price cut all the way down to $14,999. That is quite amazing, when you consider that the unit's price on initial introduction was over $70,000. Looking to place large displays in an installation where you didn't think the budget could support them? This clearly gives you another option.

Still in the "ultra-large" category, it is also worth taking note of another commercial market product shown for the first time at CES. Display market upstart Westinghouse Digital, who has carved out considerable consumer market share in just a few years, clearly has its eyes set on the commercial systems world, as well. Evidence of this came from two LCD models on display in its CES booth. Customized for video signage applications for more than just its connectivity lack of a tuner, Westinghouse showed an 82-inch (wide), 1920x1080p LCD monitor in portrait, rather than the consumer-oriented landscape mode. Your clients will need a large wall to handle this-think of a flight announcement board that is almost floor-to-ceiling.

As a side note, the screen size dimensions of Sharp's 108-inch (wide) mega-monitor are 93.9 inches wide by 53.9 inches high. Add in something to accommodate the framing around the screen and you have a unit that is almost eight feet tall! It's possible that someone might want to try "the world's largest portrait LCD monitor," but it will be quite a challenge!
Back to reality, the importance of portrait monitors in the digital signage world is clearly in the minds of the engineers at the major brands, as Westinghouse wasn't the only one with a large "page oriented" LCD screen. Recognizing that, right next to the 108-inch (wide) commercial set, Sharp had a portrait version of its 65-inch (wide) LCD screen. Pointing to the importance of optimizing for this orientation, the unit is more than just a standard display mounted 90 degrees off. Inside the set the CCFL bulb system is also in a portrait orientation for even illumination.

For those jobs where high resolution is essential, CES was the launching pad for numerous LCD and PDP panels with 1920x1080p resolution in a variety of screen sizes. Many of these will be consumer market sets, so if you need them be prepared to pay the cost of the tuner modules they will have. This is one area where we may have to wait for InfoComm to see if the 1080p requirement that is now so essential for home sets carries over to models specifically aimed at the Systems world.

With all the talk about flat panel panels here and elsewhere, rear projection remains a viable option not only for residential installations, but also for commercial jobs where it is often overlooked as an option. One new product from CES has significant potential outside of the home as it not only answers the call for thinner cabinets, but it incorporates a fairly distinct industrial design touch. In particular, JVC showed two ultra-thin RTPV sets, a 10.7-inch (deep), 58-inch (wide) model at $3,300 and a 65-inch (wide) model that is 11.6 inches deep and carries a retail price around $4,200. In addition to their thin depth, both models have a "flat back" design that further masks the already shallow cabinet size by permitting the units to be placed flush against a wall, or even wall mounted. As mentioned here in the past, when gauging the full depth of a display, regardless of the technology or configuration, you need to take into account the depth added by the unit's mount or the footprint implication of stands.

Speaking of large sizes, JVC used its HD D-ILA version of LCoS technology to create a prototype set that, while still not quite ready for production, shows up Sharp's LCD by offering a 110-inch (wide) screen size. This was only one of the many prototype products on display at CES, those advance looks at products and technologies that may, or may not make it into production that are not often seen at shows such as InfoComm and NSCA.

Among the interesting proof-of-concept display related systems at this year's CES was a 27-inch (wide) OLED set from Sony, shown in a veritable garden of 11-inch (wide) OLED prototypes. Currently limited to small sized "cell phone displays" at the moment, OLED has long been touted as a potential competitor for PDP and LCD. Seeing it in full 27-inch (wide) size with stunning pictures due to full 1080p resolution and a "one million to one" contrast ratio re-affirmed the notion that this is one technology to wait for.
One technology that the display world has been waiting for during the past few years is the Surface Conduction Emissive Display, or SED, promoted by Canon and Toshiba. However, it is worth noting that legal and contractual issues are reported to have been responsible for SED being absent from either company's CES booth, though each has shown it in the past two winter events. Post-show changes in the various arrangements between the companies may have cleared things up to the point where SED may still make it to market, but it seems doubtful that a North American product introduction is possible this year.

Among the other technologies shown in prototype form at CES included a very impressive laser illuminated SXRD rear projector from Sony that also featured a very narrow cabinet depth. On the DLP side of the projection universe, Mitsubishi has promised a laser driven DLP set to be shipped to dealers before the end of this year, so if nothing else the appearance of another laser projector at least validates the concept. Offering a slim cabinet depth, but using LED illumination rather than laser technology to bounce off the DLP chip's mirrors, Samsung showed a 65-inch (wide) RPTV claiming a 100,000:1 contrast ratio using this technology at CES, with the promise of more to come during 2007.

LED illumination of LCD panels for direct view, rather than the application of the solid-state lighting source in front projection is another technology that has been brewing for some time, and at CES there were once again indications that it is coming closer to a wider application in production products. Samsung, JVC, and Sony were among those showcasing the technology, and one can expect to see more of it, albeit still at higher pricing, during the course of the year.

One of the most impressive of the technology demonstrations in the display world at CES was a "mega-contrast" LCD from Sharp with a million to one contrast ratio. The 37-inch (wide) screen is said to be intended for the broadcast and motion picture industries, so this is one we'll watch for at April's NAB convention, as well as at InfoComm.

Digital TV Mandate
In closing, a bit of departure is in order as a follow-up to last month's treatise on the impact of the last step of the FCC's tuner mandate on video recording devices. A tour of the CES exhibitors shows that, as one might expect, they are reacting with products in two implementations. Some brands, such as Panasonic and RCA are offering DVD recorders, paired with VCRs in some cases, that include built-in ATSC as well as NTSC tuners.