Monday, January 12, 2004

CES Followup Questions

In the comment section in the post below, Jim Carson asks some good followup questions about consumer electronics.

1. Why do HDTVs typically NOT have a tuner built in? (I'm just looking at the armada of personal electronics in my entertainment center, and the last thing I need is another frickin thing to plug in.)

For the record, Samsung and others did announce and have on display HDTVs with built-in tuners, but the main reason for the separate box strategy is the fact that HDTV and flat panel TV buyers are overwhelmingly cable and satellite users.

The hope from the TV manufacturers was that the "set top box" provided by the satellite and cable companies would provide the HDTV decoding and output to your TV, essentially turning your TV into a "dumb display" that would require fewer electronics, thus making it cheaper. This is happening slower than expected from the HDTV manufacturers, so you need a "tuner" that takes your cable or satellite signal and then decodes it (over-the-air reception is a separate can of worms I won't go into here).

Of course the satellite and cable guys will EVENTUALLY provide HDTV ready signals, at which point you can ditch your tuner. Or if you spend extra for the set with the built-in tuner, and when you get a HDTV set-top box, you can figure out how to bypass the internal decoder (I assume a bypass is included with these sets, but am not sure).

I think this brings up the whole HDTV transition issue. Besides cable/satellite decoding, I would need to have an HDTV Tivo before I upgraded to HDTV. Then I would have to upgrade my DVD player to HDTV (or have a bimodal one so I can keep my current DVD library). Like every other format conversion, making the switch will mean a significant investment (which is why I alluded below to this being a strategy of the consumer electronics market in general).

2. Will the blue light DVDs have a coherent standard, e.g., none of this +R, -R, -RAM nonsense?

Hey, this is the consumer electronic industry, so there MUST be two competing standards for companies to fight for domination. It's just the VHS/Beta battle being fought over and over again. The two standards coming out of the lab are:

AOD - Advanced Optical Disk - This is the Samsung/Toshiba entry for the battle

BD - BlueRay Disk - This is the Sony/Phillips side of the battle

Keep in mind that - at this time - blue laser readers are NOT backward compatible with your current red laser DVDs, so you would have to replace your whole library (more upgrading!). I assume, however, that one or more of the companies above is working on a "bimodal" player that will have two lasers in it so that it is backward and forward compatible.

3. Are there any interesting advances in read-write storage (e.g,. hard drives)?

I didn't notice this at the show, but I wasn't looking for it. Like the semiconductor industry, however, the diskdrive industry has followed its own "Moore's Law" of increasing integration at smaller formats, but at a MUCH faster rate than computer chips. The multimedia players below were 80G, and I assume they were with 1.5" or 2" drives, so I would assume that the integration curve for hard drives hasn't flattened yet.

Update: I have confirmed that at least two companies are working on "red/blue" DVD players that will have both a blue laser for new DVDs and a red one for legacy DVDs. They will, however, use a single lens, so a the blue laser will simply be added to the existing optical pick-up.

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