CES 2011 Press Conference Wrapup 
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Written by AVRev.com   
Wednesday, 05 January 2011

The consumer electronics show kicked off as it always does – with press conferences from the major players, announcing new products, new initiatives, and a little bit of bragging about the last year’s accomplishments.

It all started with LG, who had a very mixed event.  There were some cool announcements, but flops to go with each of them.  After the “we had a great 2010” part of the speech was over – that’s the way these things tend to begin – we got to hear a bit more about the massive 12 billion dollar investment that LG made in their research and development team.  It sounds like we can expect some big things in the near future. LG had a strong focus on “smart” products.  It’s a theme that they shared in common with Samsung.  Smart TVs, smart phones and even smart washers and dryers – LG’s got it all. And yes, you did read that right.  LG has washers that let you customize a wash cycle, dryers that can automatically optimize their own programming and even ovens that can text you to let you know they’re preheated.

Getting out of the kitchen and back into the family room, LG announced that rather than jump into the Google TV waters, they’ll be launching a new smart TV platform of their own.  The interface looks like a mix between a webpage and a cable box menu, with a little bit of Apple simplicity thrown in for good measure.  To operate it, LG is introducing a motion controller that allows those that prefer a simpler interface to get the same experience as tech-savvy folks. 3D was a big part of LG’s event, but they practically shunned active shutter glasses technology in favor of their cinema style passive 3D TV.  LG says it’s the best way to watch 3D movies but we’ll have to wait until we go eyes-on to make a judgment.

Sharp strayed away from talking about 3D too much and focused on their Aquos Quattron technology instead.  They are rolling out five series of 70-inch televisions with the high end being a 120 Hz LED that includes net connected apps such as Facebook, Netflix, Vudu and Pandora.  These were extremely large in person and absolutely gorgeous.  They are also release six new series of smaller sizes with higher Hz ratings as well as 3D capable.  Sharp is also releasing the Galapagos tablet in the States after success with the tablet in Japan.
Samsung was on the other side of the spectrum with their 3D offerings, boasting new and improved active shutter sets.  They’re especially focusing on large screens 55 inches and up.  We know Samsung loves slim devices and this year’s offerings are no different.  When the spokesman on stage unveiled the new 7000 and 8000 line of TVs, everything seemed normal.  Then he took off the fake bezel they had placed on the sets, revealing just 0.2 inches of bezel.  

It would be hard to overstate just how good these sets look, and the picture quality seems to match.  Even from the back of a mid-sized conference room they outshined the rest of the displays on stage.  Of course, we’ll still want to get up close for a better look. Plasmas didn’t get ultra-thin bezels like the LCDs, but they did get a size boost.  Thanks to some new tech, Samsung’s plasmas all got an inch boost in screen size while retaining the same total size.   They call it “Plasma Plus One.”

Samsung introduced some new features for their connected TVs, including one that will allow you to search across all of your content – including online sources – for the show or movie you want to watch.  They also showed off some apps, which completely failed to impress. The winner of the big Samsung App competition is essentially a game of Pictionary that requires a smart phone as a drawing tablet.  Runners up included a social TV viewing app and daily fitness lessons.  If Samsung really wants people to get on board with TV apps, they’ll have to do better than that.

Both Samsung and LG had good showings, but Panasonic didn’t really do anything to impress.  The company seems to be doing more of the same, and what new initiatives were shown just didn’t seem great. Let’s start with the good.  Panasonic has a new plant that’s going to be pumping out bigger TVs, all of which are getting kicked up a bit in size.  What would have been a 55 inch set in 2010 will be a 58 inch set in 2011. They’ll also be making some improvements to the already famous performance of their plasmas.  Higher-end models will boast THX certification and will introduce a filter to keep ambient light from your room from spoiling the rich blacks of your TV.

The bad is that Panasonic focused a fairly long segment on their relationship with Gameloft, who specializes in cell phone games.  The company will be turning to the TV and making games specifically for connected Panasonic TVs.  They showed off ‘Asphalt 5,’ an apparent port of an iPhone racing game that looked decent at best. It wouldn’t be a big deal if it were just a throwaway segment, but the amount of time spend on it – five or ten minutes of a 45 minute conference about all of Panasonics 2011 products – makes it seem like a pretty strong focus for the company.

The surprise press conference today actually came from a company that you wouldn’t think is making a leap into the home theater space in a big way, Netgear.  We were really surprised to see Netgear rolling out a HD media player (similar to Western Digital’s HD Live) as well as a media server to store and stream your digital media to televisions or mobile devices with Orb technology.   In addition to those players, they released a dual band gigabit router that has a capability to stream up to four 1080p HD streams at the same time.  They pitched this as a solution for families that are all watching something different most of the time.  Finally, they expanded their powerline and range extender products so you can be better fit to stream content into your media rooms if it lacks a hard wired Ethernet jack and has a poor signal strength.
The biggest event of the night was held by Sony, who brought drinks and entertainment with them which was a welcome change.  Things kicked off with a 3D video on the massive screen they had set up, but this wasn’t the last 3D video shown at the event. To introduce Seth Rogen and Jay Chou from ‘The Green Hornet’ Sony showed a lengthy 3D trailer.  They did the same for ‘Uncharted 3’ for the PlayStation 3 and showed off videos and pictures from their 3D cameras.

Seth Rogan

There’s one thing that’s clear from the press conference.  Sony loves 3D.  They’re banking on it in every aspect of their business and it’s a move that just might pay off. Sony has a 3D channel called 3D Net launching in the next few month that you’ll be able to watch on any of the new 3D capable TVs that Sony’s bringing to the table.  High-end models get a special bonus in Corning Gorilla Glass, which should help prevent injuries from Wii and Move controllers.

It doesn’t stop with TVs.  Sony is introducing a 3D Handicam with a glasses-free display for recording and playback, new 3D digital cameras and most interesting of all – a 3D Bloggie.  Confused?  It’s alright, we didn’t remember what the Bloggie was either. The Bloggie is a small camcorder much like the Flip and made for the same casual audience.  The 3D capable Bloggie will introduce plenty of people to 3D recording at the surprisingly low price of $220.  It won’t get you 1080p in 3D, but it’ll do 720 and it comes equipped with a glasses-free 3D display.

Of course, Sony hasn’t forgotten those that aren’t necessarily into the whole 3D thing.  They introduced the new flagship KDL-55HX929 LCD television and it looked incredibly impressive.  It’s not equipped with Google TV, but boasts Qriocity connectivity.  They also brought a pair of prototypes that seem very interesting indeed.  The first is a portable 3D Blu-ray player that lets you watch 3D without the need for glasses.  Pretty slick, but the Headman Personal 3D viewer seems so much cooler, and the design makes you look a bit like an old-school Cylon.

That wraps it up for the CES press conferences.  We will be roaming the show floor tomorrow as well as the suites up in the Venetian for all you audiophiles.  Keep checking back throughout the weekend for more CES coverage from us here at AVRev.  You can also see real-time updates (including pictures) of our coverage on Twitter.  

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