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Weekly AUDIO NEWS for Jan. 16, 2002

CES Report 1 - Video Components

The 2002 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas - the second biggest annual convention in the U.S. (after Comdex) - was blessed with pleasant warm weather for a change, about the same number of attendees as a year ago, and over 2000 exhibitors. Look for a CES photo gallery as part of our February AUDIOPHILE AUDITION, but for now here's a quick summary of the video area introductions, which will continue with other sections in coming weeks:

DLP (Digital Light Projection) was featured in most of the leading video manufacturers' booths as well as that of the inventor of the process, Texas Instruments. DLP uses an array of micro-mirrors instead of the normal three CRT picture tubes. Unlike CRTs it can have a completely white pixel adjacent to a completely black pixel to achieve a much more high-res screen image which is also much brighter. The need to totally darken rooms for front projection is reduced. Due to only a single projector lens there is no convergence to adjust as with CRT front and rear-screen projectors, and due to more compact optics RPTVs can be much shallower than before.

Large, flat and thin video screens proliferated everywhere at CES - often LCDs in the smaller screen sizes and plasma in the larger 16:9 wide screens. Impressive walls of screens could be part of more exhibits now and light levels didn't have to be reduced. Just as HDCD and upsampling DACs have become an option in the audio world to squeeze the maximum resolution out of 44.1K CDs in the face of the new hi-res disc formats, various enhancements have been introduced to improve standard NTSC video in the face of High Definition TV. Most impressive at the show was Philips' Pixel Plus, which is designed for use on any standard video source - videotape, DVD, analog or satellite broadcasts. One of its major contributions is that it upsamples and optimizes not just the vertical resolution but also the horizontal. It also steepens the luminance slope and processes both still and moving video for greater smoothness and clarity. The sharpness and realism of the image is greatly enhanced and three levels of adjustment are selectable - in case on certain sources the edge enhancement is too noticeable, for example. A Philips innovation is that all consumer sets come with a built-in selectable split-screen demo to show the before/after comparison to anyone. So far Pixel Plus is only offered on a couple direct-view sets, with the largest being 34 inches, but more are promised soon.

Many more actual HDTV-receiving sets were shown, vs. the popular HDTV Ready sets which require a special tuner to be purchased. Consumers who have it love their HDTV but clamor for more content from the broadcasters. The absence of any HDTV available via cable systems is being slowly corrected, and the two satellite services are adding to their so-far meager offerings. It is suggested that should DirecTV and DISH Systems merge as they hope to, the new company would be able to offer a major increase in HDTV channels. One commentator brought up a problem many of us had considered: The industry made a major goof by not including at the development of DVD an ability to contain (and later also record) HDTV programming! The lack of HDTV availability on any published media is making it impossible to expose it to millions of prospective customers who live in areas not covered by terrestrial or cable DTV broadcasts, or covered by telecasts that are very infrequent. (Plus setting up a proper antenna for broadcast DTV is much more difficult than it ever was back in the days of antennas for standard TV - see current issue of the Boston Audio Society newsletter described in this month's Survey of the Audio Press.)

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