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CES Readies Digital TV Finish Line

LAS VEGAS — As the countdown moves into its final year before the Feb. 17, 2009 completion of the digital television transition, International CES will become the launch pad for a host of new digital television products and technologies.

It is also expected to bring a cross section of government and consumer advocacy leaders, who will seek show’s spotlight to U.S. residents aware that they have to prepare now for the cutoff of analog TV broadcasting, or risk having their TV screens go dark next winter.

The government DTV converter box coupon program will be a hot topic, as will the assortment of qualifying digital-to-analog TV tuners that are intended as the salvation of income restricted residents or otherwise uncaring analog TV holdouts.

Internet TV will make its return to the halls of the International CES next month, as several manufacturers plan to follow Sony and HP’s lead in delivering sets designed to connect directly to the Internet to access a range of new content offerings.

The feature, which some manufacturers are pairing with movie download service providers such as CinemaNow, offer a new dimension to the ill-fated PC/TV convergence attempts of the Nineties. The difference, some manufacturers said, is wide spread availability of broadband access and entertainment-oriented applications that don’t rely merely on turning the TV set into a surrogate PC for email and Web browsing.

TVs won’t be the only devices tied to the Internet umbilical cord at this year’s show. Expect to see the high-definition video disc format war advance to a new front as the HD DVD camp boasts about the capabilities of new high-def movie titles with interactive Web-enabled extras that can be downloaded via an Ethernet port in part through that format’s HDi system.

Having had to sit back and listen to the boasts of their Web-enabled competition for the past several months, the Blu-ray Disc camp is also expected to get into the act with the introduction of new players supporting version 1.1 Blu-ray specs (for picture in picture running commentaries) and that format’s BD Live Web access capability. 

Other video trends to look for at this year’s show will be a major expansion in the assortment of high-definition TV sets supporting Full HD 1080p resolution, driving prices lower. Plasma makers in particular will be embracing 1080p in a big way this year, as they attempt to rebuff LCD advances into big screen sizes.

Meanwhile, in LCD TV thin will be in as some manufacturers are expected to show new super thin panels that can shave several inches off the already thin depth of flat-panel screens, while many first and second tier manufacturers expand the trend of offering new narrow bezel styling designs. 

Rear-projection HDTV, which continues to struggle in the flat-panel onslaught, will be showing new techniques to keep the technology going — including more models using alternate lighting systems such as LED and laser arrays, while demonstrating the latest spin on an old attempt at 3-D vision (expect some plasma makers to go with 3-D as “Beowulf” drives audiences bug-eyed in specially equipped movie theaters). 

Also expected at this year’s show are the first fruits in next generation video display technologies such as OLED TVs that promise virtually paper thin panels with very high brightness and contrast levels. Though small at first, these new displays are expected to grow in size and popularity, and could eventually yield the first flexible screens promising a host of new applications.