CEATEC : Many companies show flat screens, digital video

With the entire video industry now centred around digital video, Japan’s top consumer electronics manufacturers had plenty of prototypes and new products to promote to visitors to the Ceatec 2002 exhibition, which finished here on Saturday.

There were plenty of new LCD (liquid crystal display) and PDP (plasma display panel) monitors for both computers and televisions and this year, more than previous years, their promotion was more of a serious sales pitch than a glimpse into the future.

As prices slowly fall, Japanese consumers are increasingly eyeing flat-panel televisions not just for their good looks but also as a way to save electricity and space. Shipments of LCD TVs this year has already passed 600,000 units and are up 41 per cent on the same period last year while shipments of PDPs, which are more expensive, totalled 92,000 at the end of August, a jump of more than 300 per cent on last year.

Several companies had introduced new line-ups of TVs just before Ceatec and prototype displays were also on display, such as a 15-inch monitor with OLED (organic light emitting display) monitor from Sanyo Electric Co. Ltd. and Eastman Kodak Co. and a monitor that gives the illusion of three dimensions from Sharp.

Alongside the displays, many booths had prototype next-generation optical disc recorders on show. Most were based on the Blu-ray system that is currently under development by a consortium of nine companies however Toshiba Corp. was showing a prototype of its competing Advanced Optical Disc (AOD) system.

They have the capacity to hold between 20G bytes and 27G bytes and so are aimed at recording of high-definition broadcasts., a market which is still in its infancy in Japan and the U.S. and virtually nonexistent elsewhere in the world. Until a market exists, and the technology is perfected, the recorders are not expected to become commercial products.

A related area in which commercial products are appearing much faster is that of DVD and hard disk drive based video recorders. Many companies had their latest commercial products on display including Sony Corp., which was showing its recently announced Cocoon Channel Server CSV-E77, a Linux-based hard disk drive recorder with 160G-byte drive and also had on show mock-ups of future video disk and audio disk players.

The company also launched a second hard disk recorder, the Channel Server CSV-S57, at the show. It has an 80G-byte disk and slightly less features than the Cocoon device although has a lower price.

Sharp Corp. was also demonstrating its latest machine and a hard disk drive based recorder for high definition broadcasts. With a 160G-byte hard disk, the prototype has enough space to record several hours of broadcasts but is expected to be considerably more expensive than current hard disk recorders, a Sharp representative said.

Should consumers buy into the flat panel and digital recorder visions being presented by the companies, they’ll need some way to get the signal between the two devices and what couldn’t be better than unsightly cables running across the living room?

Wireless LAN technology, now taking the PC industry by storm, was the base for a couple of demonstrations on the booths of Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd. The company was employing 802.11a technology, which has a maximum speed of 54M bps (bits per second), to send multiple video streams between a DVD Video player and satellite receiver and two television sets.

Victor Co. of Japan Ltd. was demonstrating a prototype that uses light rather than radio to send a high definition video signal between a tuner and monitor. The system is designed to connect to a flat panel monitor in a living room and sends the raw video data stream, not a compressed signal, which means the monitor needs a receiver and simple circuitry to catch the signal and display it.