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CEDIA 2008 Kicks Off With New BD Players, Upconverters

3 Sep, 2008 By: Chris Tribbey

Netflix spokesman Steve Swasey, left, and Allan Jason, VP of sales and marketing for LG Electronics digital media and new produc

DENVER — LG Electronics and Netflix unveiled their movie-streaming Blu-ray Disc player, Toshiba sidestepped the topic of HD DVD, and Sony made sure everyone knew what high-def format rules as part of the first day of the CEDIA Expo on Sept. 3.

Even without a format war, the annual Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association (CEDIA) event didn’t lose any of its luster, with almost every major electronics manufacturer debuting new Blu-ray players, HDTVs and other home entertainment equipment.

“Make no mistake: Sony is very serious about CEDIA,” said Randy Waynick, SVP of Sony’s home products division.

The first day of the trade show featured exclusive press events from Sony, Toshiba, LG and Netflix, Sharp and Panasonic.

What’s HD DVD?

Losing the format war and hundreds of millions of dollars on HD DVD didn’t keep representatives of Toshiba from having a good time during their event.

While last year they dressed in “Star Trek” garb, Toshiba communications director Maria Repole and Scott Ramirez, Toshiba’s TV marketing VP, came out dressed as rock stars to the appropriate music.

During their presentations, neither said the words HD DVD or Blu-ray, and no question-and-answer session was held for the media. Instead the pair used the theme of innovation to describe the company’s current direction.

“Rolling with the changes isn’t what it’s all about,” Ramirez said. “It’s about innovation. We have to roll ahead of the changes. … Companies can find themselves irrelevant if they don’t change.”

The change Toshiba has in mind isn’t Blu-ray, however. The company is sticking to its guns with its upconverting XDE DVD players, which upconvert standard-definition content to high-def.

XDE, or eXtended Detail Enhancement, offers three different mode selections. The first model, the XD-E500, ships this month behind an aggressive marketing and advertising campaign, and retails for $149.99.

“Consumers can take home entertainment to a new level … and maximize their current DVD collection,” Repole said. “This offers a bridge between standard-definition and high-definition.”

Behind Samsung and Sony, Toshiba holds the third-largest market share in the LCD HDTV market, and the company showed off a dozen new models from four new series of HDTVs. All feature the company’s new Super Resolution Technology, which upconverts standard-definition content to high-definition.

A Very Blu Year

The hints were subtle, but those paying attention at Sony’s event saw and heard a couple jabs at high-def format war loser, HD DVD.

A slide comparing Blu-ray’s growth this year to last year included a note at the bottom indicating a 100% drop in high-def competition. Sony’s Waynick noted that Sony’s entire high-def product is really high-definition.

“I’m not talking about upscaling,” he deadpanned, earning laughter from the crowd.

Not surprisingly, Sony made a very large Blu-ray splash, showing off two new Blu-ray home theater systems, a new standalone player and three Blu-ray desktop PCs.

“Years ago we knew that HD was far more than TVs,” Waynick said. “We’ve experienced a significant lift in all our HD [products].”

Sony executives also talked about the company’s Bravia line of HDTVs and its Internet video link, which will give users access to the summer blockbuster Hancock ahead of its release on DVD and Blu-ray. Sony also announced that soon more than 40,000 Amazon.com video-on-demand movies and TV shows would be on the Bravia system.

“This is an industry first,” said Jeff Goldstein, VP of TV marketing for Sony.

Chris Fawcett, VP of home video for Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, added that Sony believes that one-quarter of all HDTV households in America will have Blu-ray players by the end of the year. Sony officials also shared that more than 300,000 people have accessed BD Live features, many downloading new content.

Sony is also launching a Blu-ray club this fall, rewarding those who buy SPHE Blu-rays.

Lastly, Fawcett said that in 2009 Sony will street a 400-disc Blu-ray mega-changer.

“We’re not entirely ready to take the wrapping off it yet,” he said.

12,000 Movies at Your Fingertips

Announced at the Consumer Electronics Show this year, LG and Netflix finally showed off the Netflix movie-streaming Blu-ray player at CEDIA, offering up details on how it works, and fielding a slew of questions from intrigued members of the media.

“We like to do a lot of homework before we bring any product to market, and that’s especially true here,” said Allan Jason, VP of sales and marketing for LG’s digital media and new products division. “It’s not a matter of if Blu-ray takes over at some point, it’s a matter of when.”

The BD300, which will be available this month with a price tag of $399, will stream 12,000 Netflix movies with more being added every week, according to Netflix spokesman Steve Swasey. Those who don’t yet have a Netflix account will be offered two weeks free if they buy the new Blu-ray player.

The player streams as fast as 2.2MB per second, depending on the connection, and titles are not streamed in high-def, but only in near-DVD quality, according to Jason. Both widescreen and fullscreen videos will be available.

“At LG we considered what, when and how consumers want to watch movies and television episodes. The result is the ultimate convergence of home theater entertainment and functionality,” Jason said. “With intelligent features and access to an ever-growing library of movie and television titles, the BD300 is the next step in a truly personalized entertainment experience.”

The player only streams Netflix movies and does not have the internal memory necessary to store them.

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