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On the Floor at the Consumer Electronics Show

Panasonic Pushes For 3D HD Standards

Sony garnered much of the buzz over 3D HD production heading into CES, where it sponsored the 3D HD broadcast of the BCS college football championship game on Jan. 8. But its competitor Panasonic, not to be outdone, made 3D HD its CES centerpiece, proposing a standard for the technology.

Panasonic is pushing a 3D HD standard for 1080-line-progressive (1080p) pictures working with the Blu-ray, HDMI and MPEG standards organizations. The company wants to nail down a standard this year, and start building 3D-capable plasma sets in 2010.

Yoshi Yamada, chairman and CEO of Panasonic Corp. of North America, said he believes the move to 3D could be as important as the industry's prior leap from standard-def to HD. “We're at the start of another phase change that will have a major impact on Panasonic's future business, from 2D to 3D,” Yamada said.

On Feb. 1, the company will officially open its authoring facility in Los Angeles to create 3D HD Blu-ray discs. It's also collaborating with heavyweight Hollywood director and 3D pioneer James Cameron to help develop a 3D HD standard. The authoring facility is designed to jump-start the creation of 3D content.

“Panasonic doesn't think 3D HD for the home is far away at all,” Yamada said.

Toshiba Taps DolbyVolume for HD Sets

Toshiba said it will be the first TV set manufacturer to employ Dolby Volume, a technology from Dolby Laboratories aimed at solving loudness problems when switching from one DTV channel to another.

Toshiba will roll out Dolby Volume in its new high-end Regza LCD TVs, which also include the manufacturer's Resolution Plus video upconversion technology and a USB slot for viewing digital media such as photos or downloaded movies on the TV screen.

Scott Ramirez, Toshiba VP of marketing, wouldn't disclose how much cost licensing the Dolby Volume technology would add to Regza sets, but said the investment in Dolby Volume makes sense. “It's a worthwhile expense that solves a real-world problem, as opposed to putting $500 worth of speakers in there that people won't use,” Ramirez said.

Dolby first unveiled Dolby Volume at CES two years ago as a way to eliminate loudness, the volume spikes that occur on a TV set during commercials or when switching channels. Loudness has plagued television for years, and has become even more of an issue with DTV broadcasts that use powerful 5.1-channel Dolby Digital audio.

Dolby Volume manages loudness issues in TV programming, whether analog or digital broadcasts, with audio-normalization software in the set itself. It ensures that a consistent volume level is delivered to the TV speakers or external home-theater audio system, and normalizes volume when video inputs on a television set are switched, such as from a digital cable box to a DVD player.

Ramirez joked, “This really works, and I think it's going to save my marriage.”

LG Touts Streaming, Wireless HD, Mobile DTV

LG Electronics focused on new ways to get pictures to HDTV sets in the living room and some breakthrough mobile tech at its CES press conference.

LG plans to roll out three broadband-enabled HDTV sets (two LCD and one plasma) this year that will deliver streaming content from Netflix and YouTube. These follow broadband-enabled Blu-ray disc players, released by LG last spring, that can stream Netflix movies. (Competitor Vizio also plans to integrate Netflix into its HD sets, said Netflix VP Steve Swasey.)

LG says it will support movies from on-demand service CinemaNow as well as content “widgets” from Yahoo, showing its emphasis on “giving consumers even more options for content delivery,” said Michael Ahn, president and CEO of LG Electronics North America.

LG introduced 36 new HDTV sets at CES in all (nine series of LCD TV and three series of plasma sets), including LCD sets that use the company's new TruMotion 240Hz technology, which is designed to eliminate motion blurring during fast-paced scenes. LG will also be supporting the new Wireless HD home networking technology on some of its new sets, said Woo Paik, president and CTO of LG Electronics, by using a 60-gigahertz radio to transmit uncompressed 1080p HD video around the home.

“We're getting rid of these ugly-looking wires; we know people don't like them,” Paik said. “I don't mind them too much, but my wife does.”

LG will also be developing a new 3D HD chipset to integrate 3D HD video capability into its plasma and LCD displays. “I believe 3D is the next big wave coming to the television industry,” Paik said.

Sony's New Bravia HDTV Makes Web Video Easy

Sony Electronics has taken the integration of Internet video technology into its high-definition TV sets one step further at this year's CES, unveiling high-end Bravia LCD sets that can hook up to a broadband connection and deliver Internet content from select partners.

The new XBR 9 Bravia HD sets, which also include Sony's version of the 240-hertz motion-control technology, will be available this spring.

“They set a new reference standard for picture quality while providing seamless access to Internet content,” said Sony Electronics President and COO Stan Glasgow. “We've created a line of televisions that takes the medium from being passive to intuitive and interactive, where you can control what you want to watch when you want to watch it, no matter where it comes from.”

A demonstration of the new XBR 9 sets showed the ability to quickly find content on YouTube through an alphanumeric search function driven by the remote, with usability similar to a YouTube application launched by Vudu last month.

Sony first brought Internet video to its Bravia line two years ago with the Bravia Internet Video Link.

MediaFLO Hits the Road With Audiovox Deal

Mobile TV service MediaFLO made good on its plans to expand its service beyond cellphones to new devices by announcing at CES a deal with Audiovox to create in-car video displays that receive the live MediaFLO broadcast service.

The deal, announced by Audiovox Electronics president Tom Malone and MediaFLO USA president Gina Lombardi, will first result in a MediaFLO receiver aimed at existing aftermarket in-car video displays, then evolve to in-car displays installed in new automobiles.

The aftermarket FLO system will provide a “seamless installation” with existing displays and will sell for less than $500, with “very affordable monthly service fees,” Malone said. The current MediaFLO service, which is marketed by Verizon Wireless and AT&T to cellphone subscribers, costs $15 monthly for a base service of 10-15 channels with programming from major networks. That lineup will grow when the digital transition occurs and MediaFLO can use more spectrum. Depending when that happens, MediaFLO should be able to offer 25 channels and will expand its coverage from 65 markets today to 107 by the end of 2009.

Audiovox, which in addition to in-car displays is the biggest manufacturer of indoor TV antennas through its RCA and Terk brands, also announced that it is expanding its “flat antenna” technology into new indoor and outdoor models. Following up on the success of the $60 RCA 1500 Flat Omnidirectional indoor antenna, Audivox is coming out with new flat antenna models in high-black gloss to complement high-end flat-panel HDTVs. It is also introducing an $89 RCA flat outdoor model, the ANT 800, as well as a flat Terk unit that will sell for $119.

While the upcoming Feb. 17 analog turnoff is obviously driving antenna sales, Audiovox is emphasizing that using an over-the-air antenna also delivers the highest-quality picture for local HDTV broadcasts because the user gets full HD before it is compressed by a pay TV operator.