If the Consumer Electronics Show reveals future trends, then the world is poised for a massive television-buying spree. The show features computers, phones and stereos in all shapes...
LAS VEGAS — If the Consumer Electronics Show reveals future trends, then the world is poised for a massive television-buying spree.
The show features computers, phones and stereos in all shapes and sizes, but the 1.5 million square feet of exhibits are dominated by thousands of TVs, from tiny ones in cellphones to a 102-inch monster Samsung calls the world’s largest plasma television.
All the keynote speeches this week have focused heavily on TV.
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Tech companies like Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard are announcing new products and alliances with companies such as TiVo, MTV and Panasonic to raise their profile in the business.
While insiders jockey for position, retailers are seeing “explosive” sales of TVs, according to Ernest Speranza, chief marketing officer of Circuit City.
“TV will drive the business, not only ours but everybody in the consumer-electronics field,” he said, while examining the dozens of different models flashing away in Samsung’s booth at the show.
TV sales are outpacing computer sales as a massive shift takes place in the way TV content is delivered. By next year, U.S. broadcasters are supposed to send signals digitally and drop analog broadcasts, requiring consumers to either buy new sets or add converters to old ones.
The deadline, however, is likely to be extended if digital TVs aren’t in wide use by then. (In October, the FCC created a Web site at www.dtv.gov.)
Digital television also opens the delivery market beyond broadcasters and cable companies. Phone companies and other new players can deliver digital television over their lines, and several are making deals with Microsoft to produce jazzy services to help them lure customers from cable systems.
A highlight of Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates’ keynote Wednesday was a demonstration of its software that telecom giant SBC Communications is using to develop interactive-TV services.
Because the system allows multiple streams of data simultaneously, viewers could watch three or four baseball games simultaneously on a single screen, browse statistics with a remote and surf for highlights featuring their favorite players.
Meanwhile, electronics companies are racing to develop new digital-TV display technologies. Their arms race reaches its crescendo every January at CES, where they show new models for retailers and prototypes of what’s coming in the future.
Among the new features are models that incorporate DVD players and wireless systems for linking to PCs and home networks.
Panasonic also has a model that records shows to stamp-sized memory cards that fit into cellphones. People can record shows and watch them on the go.
Changes happen fast. A few years ago, flat-panel LCD displays were the latest breakthrough, but they’re rapidly becoming mainstream as prices fall and quality improves.
“These new technologies, as part of the overall transition to digital displays, have shifted the U.S. TV market into a clear upgrade cycle,” the Consumer Electronics Association said in a sales forecast released at the show.
It predicts $15 billion in TV sales this year, up from the record $12 billion in 2004. That’s approaching consumer PC sales, which the organization expects to reach $18.3 billion this year, up from $17.2 billion in 2004.
The distinction between TVs and home PCs is also becoming less important, at least if the PC industry is successful at selling its machines as entertainment storage and delivery hubs for the home.
“That’s the PC of the future — high-definition screen, entertainment PC in the background doing all of the work,” said Intel Chief Executive Craig Barrett in a keynote speech yesterday.
PC makers are also adding more TV features to their consumer machines, such as the Media Center PC developed by Microsoft that includes a program guide, TV tuner, video-recording capability and a remote control.
Some buyers of Media Center PCs are using them to replace a second TV in the home, such as in a den or study, said Carl Pinto, director of product development with Toshiba Digital Products Division.
Consumers are also buying more TVs for their home, especially since televisions are getting smaller and easier to accommodate.
With flat-panel LCD TV prices falling, smaller models “will be sold as second and third TVs in the home and around the world, not just the U.S.,” said Paul O’Donovan, a Gartner analyst who tracks the market.
The fastest-growing segment of the TV market in the U.S. is the large home-theater system, with screens larger than 50 inches in diameter and front or rear projection systems, O’Donovan said during a presentation yesterday.
Although plasma TVs are hot, O’Donovan expects they’ll be eclipsed by LCD and projection models by 2008, in part because of plasma’s cost and longevity questions.
Consumers still sorting out the differences between LCDs, plasmas and other technologies should be prepared: Manufacturers in South Korea and Japan are developing new formats that could emerge as standards within a decade.
Cutting-edge TV technology includes organic light-emitting diode displays, or OLED, now available in small screens used on cameras and car stereos.
Brier Dudley: 206-515-5687 or firstname.lastname@example.org