The future of digital TV at CES
January 8, 1999
LAS VEGAS (CNN) -- Digital television (DTV) has taken center stage at the Consumer Electronics Show. The digital imagery on display at virtually every major manufacturer's booth is remarkably clear, but an understanding of exactly what DTV is and what it means to consumers and manufacturers is not.
There appears to be no common definition of DTV and exhibitors are unsure of the long-term implications of the technology or how to educate the public about it.
Can consumers justify spending a lot of money on what at this point still amounts to only a high-quality TV?
Manufacturers say that DTV will become the backbone of the digital household of the future, merging television, telephone, computer, stereo and environmental controls in one unit.
In his keynote speech Thursday, chairman and CEO of Sony America Howard Stringer implored manufacturers to focus on simplicity as DTV moves toward integration.
"I think if we're going to sell these new goods and services to the public, we first have the obligation not to mention the bottom-line imperative but to explain them clearly," Stringer said. "That's the first step toward simplification. Something that's genuinely easy to use is also genuinely easy to talk about using."
A digital TV screen looks like a small movie screen, so the orientation has a more natural feel than a standard analog television.
And the definition is so precise, said one exhibitor, that you can see the pores on human skin in a closeup shot.
Stringer said a smooth move toward integration depends on cooperation among manufacturers.
"Convergence is not, as some thought, a winner-take-all proposition," he said. "The question of whether the TV or the PC would emerge victorious turned out to be the wrong question."
Another big draw on the showroom floor was WebTV's introduction of a satellite update to its WebTV Plus. WebTV, a trademark of Microsoft, is an alternate platform vendor, itself a form of integration that allows users to watch TV and browse the Internet at the same time.
One feature, called "TV Crossover Links," allows users to link to a Web site when an icon appears on a related TV program.
A home theater and computer systems installer from Pasadena, California, described WebTV as "great concept, a nice piece of equipment," but thought he would have a hard time selling the concept to customers who are just now becoming accustomed to the Internet alone.
In addition to more channels, WebTV Plus for Satellites comes with a feature that allows for pausing a program for up to 30 minutes and replay it later because the information is stored digitally from the satellite. WebTV Plus for Satellites, with an expanded 8.6 gig hard drive, also comes with two games, "Doom" and "You Don't Know Jack."
Among the other debuts at CES was a voice-activated version of Microsoft and General Magic's Automotive PC product.
A simple voice command instructs the CD player, accesses directions through the Internet, locates area businesses, activates and dials the car's phone (through a USB connection) and accesses a personal address book.
Sharp introduced its new MD-MS722 MiniDisc player/recorder, with a cable for digital recording and a jog dial for titling and editing that makes it look more like a watch than a portable music device.
Cobra has added another band to its top line of radar detectors. The new 7-band detector can alert a driver that an emergency vehicle is approaching if the vehicle is using a strobe transmitter to control traffic lights.
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