TVs of the future: Flat and huge

SAN FRANCISCO (01/28/2004) - Bigger, brighter, and unwired--that's what the new crop of flat-panel TVs from LG Electronics Inc., Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., and Sharp Corp. promises for consumers in 2004. But don't rush out to the store just yet: Many of the most exciting models are at least a few months away, and still others may not make it to showroom floors for a couple of years.

Vendors are sparring over bragging rights as producer of the largest display. Many of the biggest new entries were unveiled at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Blue ribbon in the plasma size category goes to Samsung, which is preparing an 80-inch plasma display. Though lovely--and heavy at well over 200 pounds--the 4.5-inch-thick unit won't be available for as long as two years. When it does arrive, the HPP8071 should cost over US$30,000, according to company representatives, and will likely first go to commercial buyers such as casinos and military installations.

Like most plasma screens from Samsung, the 80-inch plasma TV will have a built-in HDTV tuner. A 70-inch plasma model may be available by the end of this year, however, with pricing in the same ballpark as the forthcoming 80-inch model's. Samsung is also readying 42- and 50-inch models for release in April, ranging in price from $4300 to $9000.

LG Electronics will beat that 70-inch Samsung with its own 76-inch plasma, also due by year's end, when pricing will be revealed. The unit should feature 2.07 million pixels and 1920 by 1080 progressive-scan high-definition resolution, say LG representatives. At less than 3.3-inches thick, it will also have one of the slimmest profiles around. Also coming from LG: a 71-inch model that should be out midsummer; it will not have an HD TV tuner built-in, though it should offer HDMI connectors; the company isn't releasing pricing information yet, either.

Smaller, With Options

Rounding out offerings from LG are new, (relatively) smaller plasma screens ranging in size from 42 to 60 inches. The models will come out beginning in the first quarter of this year, with another crop due in the third quarter. Some have built-in HDTV tuners, but others don't, so check carefully if this is a must for you. Most should boast a dazzling 1000:1 contrast ratio. LG isn't releasing price information yet.

Also preparing new plasma and LCD TVs are Panasonic and Philips, which both showed their new entries at CES.

Panasonic's $8500 50-inch model, the TH-50PX25U/P, is scheduled to ship in April. Philips is readying 50-inch plasma FlatTVs that are expected to become available in the second quarter priced at $10,000.

LCDs Get Bigger Too

Samsung and LG also duked it out for the crown of showing the largest LCD TV at the 2004 CES. Once again, Samsung demonstrated the largest model at an impressive 57 inches, but doesn't expect to ship the TV until year. A 46-inch version, however, should hit stores in June of this year; pricing is not yet determined for either model. All larger and newer LCD models should have 1920 by 1080 resolution.

LG was closer to market with its only slightly smaller 55-inch flat screen: It should be out in the third quarter of this year, though pricing has not yet been announced. LG also plans to introduce new models ranging in size from 30 to 42 inches to round out its LCD TV line. All are likely to ship by midsummer, and all are expected to offer a 176-degree viewing angle and to integrate an ATSC VSB/QAM tuner as well as an NTSC tuner.

Sharp will have its own sizable LCD displays this summer, including a brilliant 45-inch model, the LC45G1U, less than 3 inches thick. It should feature 1920 by 1080 resolution, a built-in HDTV tuner, and DVI and HDMI ports. Also look for new 26- inch to 37-inch models from Sharp in the same time frame. Sharp is not yet releasing pricing information.

Unwired Television

All of these flat-panel displays look great, and most are designed to hang on a wall. Only one thing mars the beautiful pictures: cables--to your VCR, DVD recorder, TiVo or Replay box, satellite or cable, speakers...the list goes on. Unless you're also willing to remodel your living room, cable clutter can be a real problem. This quandary heralds the entry of devices that do away with most of those cables, save for the actual electrical plug.

Sharp's 15-inch Aquos LC-15L1U-S LCD will be first to make it to market, with its release in February. The unit should cost $1800, and it boasts 802.11b connectivity that will let you stream all your video and audio to your LCD while you connect the messy cables to a separate SmartLink base station that comes with the unit and can be hidden away. The Aquos also has a lithium ion battery, so you can tote it around and even lose the power cable, if you want.

Sony also demonstrated its version of a cable-less TV, which it calls a Location-Free TV. Still in prototype, the unit had a 12.1-inch SVGA touch screen and supports 802.11a, .11b, and .11g. The unit is expected to ship later this year.

If you'd like something larger but still wireless, Samsung may offer a better choice. Its 50-inch plasma model, the HPP5091 HD Integrated-Wireless Plasma TV, is scheduled for release this summer priced at about $13,000. It boasts 802.11a connectivity, DVI and HDMI connectors, and built-in ATSC and NTSC tuners. The unit has a 3000:1 contrast ratio and Samsung's Digital Natural Image engine (DNIe), which enhances image quality.

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