By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
A growing selection of compact shelf systems and home theater in a box (HTiB) systems unveiled at International CES connect to a new generation of music sources, including iPods, Bluetooth-equipped cellphones and USB flash-memory drives.
Dealers also found more HTiBs whose industrial designs complement flat-panel TVs and incorporate virtual-surround technologies, which eliminate aesthetic objections to cluttering a room with five to seven speakers.
iPod-docking HTiBs and compact systems, however, clearly made the most impact at the show as suppliers acknowledged the influence of the iPod on music-listening habits and eyed surging sales of dedicated iPod speaker systems.
Sales of iPod-docking speaker systems and clock radios rose an estimated 44.5 percent at the factory level to $867 million in 2007, according to the Consumer Electronics Association's (CEA) latest estimate. CEA's latest 2008 forecast called for a 27.7 percent rise to $1.11 billion, which almost matched CEA's $1.22 million forecast for combined 2008 sales of HTiBs and compact stereos.
HTiB sales popped in 2007, rising an estimated 14.2 percent to $901 million compared to a previous CEA forecast calling for a 7.6 percent drop. CEA estimated compact sales fell 20.4 percent in 2007 to $387 million, which is in line with the association's previous forecast issued in June. Compact sales will decline 16.8 percent to $322 million in 2008, CEA forecasted.
Besides plopping a dock onto their audio systems, suppliers also sought at CES to stimulate compact sales and maintain HTiB momentum by unveiling a greater selection of sound-bar-type HTiBs. These systems are built around a single-enclosure speaker system designed to complement flat-panel displays and deliver virtual five-channel sound.
The sound-bar-style HTiBs incorporate speakers and amplifiers, and most add 5.1-channel virtual-surround technologies. Some add embedded DVD players to deliver all of the components of a home theater system but the display.
In virtual-surround sound-bar systems, Philips expanded its selection (see p. 86), and Samsung launched its first. Polk showed its first powered surround-bar HTiB, joining a pair of passive models that lack amplification and video sources.
Audio-enhancing products for flat-panel TVs are needed, audio suppliers contend, because a greater percentage of the bill of materials (BOM) in a flat-panel TV is tied up in video-related components compared to the BOM percentage tied up in video components in a CRT TV. As a result, TV makers skimp on a flat-panel's audio performance.
Ever-thinner flat-panel displays are also thinning out the sound of the displays' speakers, further increasing the potential for add-on sound systems, suppliers added. (See stories on this page and on p. 84, 86 and 88 for details on specific products introduced at the show.)
This TWICE webinar, hosted by senior editor Alan Wolf, will take a look at what may be the hottest CE products at retail that will be sold during the all-important fourth quarter. Top technologies, market strategies and industry trends will be discussed with industry analysts and executives.