- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 10, 2008

LAS VEGAS — Flat-panel televisions rule the consumer-electronics industry, so it’s no surprise that TVs are ubiquitous here at the Consumer Electronics Show. Analysts say most of the new designs, with an ever-increasing emphasis on thin and sleek, are more evolutionary than revolutionary. But that doesn’t mean they don’t look great.

Measuring just .12 inches (3 millimeters) thick, Sony Corp.’s new XEL-1 high-definition, or HD, TV earned a lot of buzz here as manufacturers sought to outdo each other in terms of slimness. The XEL-1, soon to be on sale in the United States, is the company’s first model for U.S. buyers that uses organic light-emitting diode (OLED) technology.

OLED TVs can deliver high contrast ratios — the difference between darks and brights — but they are smaller than other TVs and costlier: The XEL-1 starts at $2,500 for an 11-inch screen.

At .35 inches (9 millimeters) thick, Pioneer’s Kuro brand of plasma TV is still fairly thin. Unlike Sony’s offering, the Kuro plasma prototype is 50 inches wide. The product won’t be for sale this year, but it’s significant because Pioneer claims it can produce an “absolute black,” meaning that, if true, it has an immeasurable contrast ratio.

In the widest-TV category, Panasonic’s 150-inch-wide “Life Screen” plasma display was met with much fanfare.

The mammoth screen is equivalent to about nine 50-inch TVs, said the company, which hasn’t yet named a price for the set.

Sharp Electronics showed off a 108-inch-wide flat panel, which the company said was the biggest LCD screen at the show. The super-wide model won’t be available until the spring, and the company didn’t have a price figure yet.

Running counter to the idea that bigger or thinner is always better, other manufacturers differentiated themselves with style.

Touting svelte, trendy new displays, LG Electronics unveiled a new line of flat panels designed to enhance a home’s appearance even when the TV is turned off. LG’s so-called “Bedroom TV,” the LG 40, is a 32-inch black flat-panel LCD with a red accent attached to the back of the set. Like the company’s other new LCD models, it’s equipped with an “invisible” audio system for a sleeker look without the grills of traditional speakers.

When it comes to color quality, the battle may no longer be limited to LCD, plasma and OLED formats. Mitsubishi Digital Electronics has developed a laser technology that claims to deliver up to twice as much color as other HD TVs. The purity of laser light allows a laser-powered TV to reveal a wider portion of the color spectrum, Mitsubishi said. The company displayed a 65-inch prototype but didn’t have details on pricing or availability other than it expects to begin selling laser TVs this year.

Not to be outdone, Samsung this week unveiled its Series 4 and 5 plasma TVs, which have three-dimensional capabilities, allowing users wearing special glasses to watch videos or play games in 3-D, with images popping out from the screen. Samsung did not specify a price for the TVs, which come out in March.

Virtually every TV showcased at the show was an HD TV. This year, the continued convergence of music, videos, photos, TV and the Internet have catalyzed widespread inclusions of HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) inputs, which allow consumers to connect their TV, PC, DVD player or gaming console. Toshiba, for example, equipped all of its 20 latest LCD models with an HDMI port.

When it comes to choosing a flat-panel TV, Catherine Schwartz, gadget and toy director for EBay, recommended that consumers contemplate what they want and do their research.

“The differences [in picture quality] at this point are pretty hard to distinguish,” she said. “Definitely read the reviews.”

Read Kara Rowland’s Tech Zoo blog from the Consumer Electronics Show at www3.washingtontimes.com/blogs.

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