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Fast Forward by Rob Pegoraro

Waiting for a TV Technology to Inherit the Future

By Rob Pegoraro
The Washington Post
Sunday, January 9, 2005; Page F07

LAS VEGAS -- It seems like a long time since the days when we had only one kind of TV set to shop for (excepting those lucky folks rich enough to afford projection screens).

The trusty old cathode-ray tube, however, has been on the endangered-species list for some time. And its place in the electronic ecosystem is not about to be filled by any one successor.

Attendees look up at a display of Panasonic plasma TVs at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. (Photos Mike Blake -- Reuters)

_____Live Online_____
Transcript: Read the transcript of Rob's Jan. 10 Web chat, in which he discussed what he saw at CES 2005.
_____CES 2005_____
In Gadget Gab, The Post's Yuki Noguchi, Leslie Walker and Rob Pegoraro kept readers updated on the hot trends and gadgets on display at the Consumer Electronics Show.
In a reporter's notebook file, Rob Pegoraro wrote about his first impressions of this year's CES (Jan. 7, 2005)
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Instead, most of the companies exhibiting at the International CES (short for Consumer Electronics Show) are spreading their efforts across competing technologies, each with its own quirks for consumers to grasp. That's the bad news: The never-ending arguments over the virtues of plasma vs. LCD or digital light processing (DLP) vs. rear-projection LCD are still simmering.

But here's the good news: Even if the industry can't pick a channel and stay with it, it has learned to make some of these sets fit into ordinary budgets. You can pick up a big-screen high-definition set without paying more than a monthly mortgage bill -- before long, for less than the average rent check.

If you don't need a mammoth screen, things are better yet. At the low end of the scale, a 27-inch RCA set, digital tuner included, will sell for $300 late this spring. Although its screen is no sharper than a conventional analog set's, that digital tuner means it can pull in all the broadcasts that are supposed to replace analog TV in the next few years.

Meanwhile, the small, mostly obscure Asian firms that have been consistently dragging down the prices of name-brand products have continued to chisel away at costs. The $2,500 that bought a 17-inch LCD two years ago and a 30-inch display last summer may well buy a 37-inch display this summer.

Behind all these numbers lies a basic question: How close is digital TV to becoming, for lack of a better phrase, a normal product? How long until digital sets become like digital cameras -- what you buy when you go into the store, without making a conscious decision to spend a little more for the next big thing?

Opinions on this vary. Said Panasonic chief executive Yoshi Yamada: "To me, it's not an early adopter product anymore at all. It's consumers in general . . . next year market share is really going to skyrocket."

But John Taylor, LG Electronics vice president for public affairs, suggested that tipping point has not been reached yet. "We're about halfway down that curve," he said, adding that he expects by this time next year most sets sold in the United States will be digital. (I should note that we had this discussion just after inspecting a 71-inch plasma set that sells for $75,000.)

That transition must happen -- and not just because the government plans to auction off a chunk of the airwaves now used to broadcast analog TV. Every time the electronics business has given birth to a new type of product, from DVD players to cordless phones, it has eventually become a cheap, commodity item with tiny profit margins. Few people in the business relish that conclusion, but it must happen if the product will find a home in the mass market.

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