2008 Consumer Electronics Show Review

The 2008 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was a veritable treasure trove of display innovations in all shapes, sizes, and technologies. Part 1 of this review, which appears here, touches on displays designed for TV and/or monitor applications. Visit www.informationdisplay.org for Part 2 of this article, which will cover embedded touch systems, wireless trends, and personal eye wear.

by Steve Sechrist

OVER THE PAST FEW YEARS, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) has taken on great importance to the display community. This is where the display technologies first unveiled at meetings such as SID's Display Week make their commercial debuts, while some new display concepts are also introduced. This makes CES a must-attend event each year, and the 2008 edition did not disappoint. Between the emergence of nearly immersive displays, much thinner flat-panel displays, gorgeous OLED and PDP displays, and 3-D TVs that are moving into mainstream markets, display products seemed to be around every corner in Las Vegas in January.

Each year at CES and other trade shows, Insight Media gives out the Best Buzz awards to the products that create a "buzz" at the show because of their uniqueness, innovation, styling, boldness, or just plain "coolness." The products featured in this article all received Best Buzz awards for 2008. Let's look at some of the top display products that got people talking at this year's CES.

Nearly Immersive Displays

The prospect of nearly completely immersing a viewer within a display seemed to be one of the themes that manufacturers were exploring with their introductions at CES. The new display product that garnered the most attention and buzz at CES – the Alienware curved-screen display prototype – clearly fits this description (Fig. 1). This is actually a product from a new start-up company, Ostendo, that OEMs its 42.4-in. curved-screen technology to both Dell's Alienware group and NEC. The LED-based DLP engine couples the light from four XGA-resolution microdisplays onto the screen. Each engine is oriented in an unusual 3:4 aspect ratio and projected onto the curved screen with blending in the overlaped regions. The result is an image with 2880 x 900 pixels, which was chosen because it is twice the WXGA resolution (1440 x 900). According to J. B. Daines, Ostendo's Vice-President of Sales and Marketing, this will be the mainstream PC resolution in 2008.


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Fig. 1: This 42.4-in. curved display from Ostendo was the display products that garnered the most buzz at this year's CES.


"We have hooked up this display to new PCs with Vista and the standard graphics card, to older PCs with XP and fairly new graphics cards, and to a new Macbook Pro, and in all cases the PC connected easily to the curved display using a single output from the graphics card," Daines explained.

The result is an immersive-display experience that can be achieved on a desktop. We have already seen multi-panel displays demonstrated, but creating a continuous image has tremendous advantages. At the show, the display was connected to a racecar-driving platform, creating huge interest and lots of buzz. This is cutting-edge technology innovation that hits the mark with the gaming segment.

The extremely strong and favorable response to the display at CES took Alienware a bit by surprise, but it helped the company establish that there is strong demand for such a product. However, the company recognizes there may also be some "tweaks" needed before bringing the product to market. These include some improvements in the illumination stage to eliminate some visible bands of light where the images are blended.

"The geometry of the blending is solid and stable over temperature, but the uniformity of the brightness and color is what was causing the blending problems," Daines stated. "This will be corrected with our new optics."

Alienware worked with Ostendo to help mold the features and size of the basic technology to fit the needs of its market – PC-based gaming. NEC highlighted the curved display at Macworld 2008, and the company hopes to release it commercially by Q4 '08. NEC is strong in areas such as corporate enterprise, satellite imaging, financial markets, 3-D CAD/CAM, broadcast, and medical imaging – markets where a curved-screen display will offer a value proposition. But at Macworld, additional interest was generated for the curved screen for use in digital-image editing, digital photography, and Web development. The fast speed of the system and wide color gamut were appealing to attendees.


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Fig. 2: Panasonic unveiled the world's largest unitary flat-screen display, a 150-in. PDP that features 4000 x 2000 pixels, about four times the amount of a full-HD display.


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Fig. 3: Samsung's 14-in. AMOLED display showed off the best image quality of any display at CES.


For these and some of the other markets NEC is targeting, the display must be able to show crisp text over the blend region. Currently, the display offers an on-screen resolution of 71 dpi – nearly identical to most common PC displays at 72 dpi.

NEC said the curved display is likely to be offered for around $5000 or a bit higher, and it will likely target financial markets and graphic designers to start, with medical imaging to follow. But adoption will depend on how much more users are willing to pay for the immersive, fast, wide dynamic range, and wide color gamut the display offers.

While the Ostendo display creates a nearly immersive environment with a curved display, Panasonic's approach to immersion is raw size. At CES, Panasonic blew away all previous "World's Largest Size" claims with its whopping 150-in. PDP (Fig. 2), which is now the largest unitary (no tiling) flat-screen display in the world, taking the title from Sharp's 108-in. LCD TV.

The image quality of Panasonic's PDP, as well as size, was impressive. Full HD on a screen this size would not have been quite good enough, so Panasonic built a panel with 4000 x 2000 pixels – that's 8 million pixels instead of the approximately 2 million pixels in a full-HD display.

The 150-in. PDP is made on a full sheet of glass from Panasonic's current fab, the same size glass that Panasonic normally uses to make eight 50-in. PDPs. The company said volume production is scheduled for 2009 from its new Amagasaki manufacturing line.

OLED Displays

The best image quality at the show did not come in such a large package. Rather, that distinction belonged to Samsung's 14-in. full-HD (1920 x 1080) AMOLED display (Fig. 3), which was a full order of magnitude in size smaller than the 150-in. PDP. Packing 1920 x 1080 pixels in a super-slim 14-in. OLED display rendered images in a photographic-like quality that as yet is unmatched by any other display.

Pixels were virtually non-existent on the super-thin (2 cm) screen, and the emissive pedigree of this OLED image gives the soft subtle hues and crisp bright tones that rival a mirror image of reality. With the question of image quality resolved, all Samsung has to do now is find a way to replicate it in mass quantities at an affordable price.

Samsung did a wonderful job of showcasing both the 14-in. as well as its 31-in. OLED TV, the latter of which stole most of the thunder from Sony's recent shipping of the XEL-1 11-in. OLED TV. The crowds came to the Samsung booth in droves to see the future ofemissive TV with a bright, colorful image that rivals any currently shipping flat-screen TV.

Both panels were supplied to the Samsung Electronics America group by Samsung SDI based in Gyeonggi-do, Korea. The panels are currently made at the Tong Nang factory, said Samsung Senior Manager Tae Ill Yoon. Other specs the company was willing to divulge include a contrast ratio of 1,000,000:1, a color gamut of 107% of the NTSC standard, and brightness of 550 nits. Most impressive was its thinness and weight – 40% lighter than com-parably sized displays (current-generation LCDs).

PDP Displays

As amazing as the OLED displays were, the best technology demo at CES was not an OLED display, but rather Pioneer's Super Black and Super Thin PDP demos. The company showed there is plenty of life in the PDP segment with an amazing demo of low black levels on a next-generation KURO plasma monitor. The demo began in a darkened room with the faint glow of two plasma monitors – when the video came on, one realized there were three monitors in the room.

As Insight Media's Pete Putman said, "The blacks on this new KURO were so good that objects on the screen appeared to be floating in mid-air, while the colors had plenty of pop. If surface-conduction electron-emitter-display (SED) technology wasn't officially buried yet, this demo did the trick."


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Fig. 4: Pioneer demonstrated a 9-mm-thick 50-in. 1080p plasma monitor with image quality matching any of its current KURO HD line.


Outside the booth, Pioneer also showed a 9-mm-thick 50-in. 1080p plasma monitor (Fig. 4). That's about 1/3 of an inch, and the image quality was as good as any current-model KURO display! It was so thin we had trouble getting a clean photo of it.

3-D Displays

At CES, we also saw a new awareness building in terms of the possibilities for 3-D TV. Long thought to be many years off, the possibility of creating a real 3-D TV market sooner rather than later has dawned on many players. 3-D TVs using projection, PDP, and LCD technology all generated quite a bit of excitement at the show.

In the 3-D Enabled Laser TV space, we liked Mitsubishi's demonstration of a Laser TV that can operate in 3-D mode. The TV is based on DLP technology using active shutter glasses. The product was demonstrated for the media in a special event unveiling the Laser TV. Image quality was superb – offering one of the best 3-D images we have seen, with great colors, high contrast, and virtually no ghosting (crosstalk between left- and right-eye images) or other visual artifacts to mar the illusion of 3-D.

Mitsubishi has not only created a very compelling 3-D TV, but it is also trying to create a new TV category – Laser TV. We think this summer the company will come to market with a 65-in. model. For the 3-D mode, it uses the same "SmoothPicture" technology as Mitsubishi's other DLP TVs, which can be easily adapted to display stereoscopic images – once the content is properly formatted over an HDMI input.

In its effort to differentiate its PDP-TV products from those offered by other companies, Samsung has turned to stereoscopic 3-D. Most of Samsung's DLP RPTVs are already 3-D enabled, but now it has extended 3-D to PDPs. This is the first time a major CE company has said it would commercialize a glasses-based stereoscopic PDP TV.

To produce the 3-D effect, Samsung borrows the same checkerboard sampling methodology it uses on DLP TVs and runs the PDP at 120 frames/sec. For the left-eye image, a checkerboard-sampled version of the image is displayed on the PDP. This is synchronized withthe shutter glasses to allow this image to be seen by the user. The same is done for the right-eye image in the second half of the frame. Samsung undoubtedly modified the phosphorssomewhat to speed up their response, especially in the green, so as to lower crosstalk or ghosting between the two images. This crosstalk is more visible than that for RPTV sets, but it is acceptable. Users can buy a $150 3-D kit when the sets go on sale in March.

Lots of buzz surrounded the SpectronIQ 3-D demonstration of its 3-D LCD-TV product – a 46-in. model that will ship this summer. This is a big deal because it is the first time we expect to see a 3-D LCD-TV sold in the U.S. through major big box stores. In addition, it is the first set to include a decoding chip that will allow the display of 3-D content from an ordinary DVD or Blu-ray player. The only rub is that studios will need to press special disks with this encoded 3-D version, but it is a big step in creating an easy-to-use consumer 3-D TV market.

Spectron IQ will use a 3-D technology called Xpol or micro-pol. It is a line-interlaced technique whereby alternate lines contain the left- and right-eye images that can be seen in each eye using passive polarized glasses (cheaper than active glasses). Sensio Technologies, Inc., of Montreal, Canada, will provide the 3-D codec.


CES demonstrated that much thinner LCD TVs will be coming from many players. But Hitachi stood out for marshalling the skills of several Hitachi companies to produce what will probably be the first commercially available LCD TV in North America with a cabinet that is 1.5 in. thick or less (Fig. 5). The acrylic front panel came from the automotive division and the fanless convective cooling system was designed by the mainframe computer group. The thin power supply is a custom Hitachi creation.

But these technologies were put to much more startling use in a technology demonstrator Hitachi had tucked away in a sheltered area to one side of the exhibit area. They showed a 32-in. LCD TV only 0.75 in. thick – a stunning achievement not yet matched by any other manufacturer, and one that was highly appreciated by the relatively few people who found their way to this corner of Hitachi's booth.


There were many more interesting display developments at CES, but there is not enough room to detail them all here, including small-embedded touch systems, wireless trends, and even personal-eye-wear products that stole the show. To get the full details of these and other products, log on to the Information Display Web site at www.information display.org.


Special thanks to our Best Buzz contributors that included Ken Werner, Pete Putman, Chris Chinnock, Matt Brennesholtz, Dave Wares, Art Berman, Aldo Cugnini, Robert Brown, Mike Kalmanash, and Paul Beatty. •


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Fig. 5: Hitachi brought together several of its companies to produce what will probably be the first commercially available LCD TV in North America with a cabinet that is 1.5 in. thick or less.


Steve Sechrist is a Senior Analyst at Insight Media, 3 Morgan Ave., Norwalk, CT 06851-5018; telephone 503/419-6239, e-mail: steve@ insightmedia.info.