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Is CES all just show?

Scorecard: what came true, what didn't in 2007

With more than 2,000 consumer electronics companies fighting for the attention of 140,000 attendees at International CES, the competition to get noticed is fierce. Companies will parade their newest and hottest products and promise starry-eyed consumers and journalists imminent release dates for their gadgets, while the more daring keynote speakers give their predictions for the year ahead. Sometimes they're spot-on - but other times they're way off the mark, as this look back at the class of 2007 shows.

The show kicked off in a big way with the unveiling by Sharp of its monster 108-inch LCD (liquid crystal display) TV. The set represented the biggest flat-panel TV developed - a title it still holds today - and came without a price but with the promise of availability during 2007. But wealthy consumers are still waiting. Sharp said recently that it is still working on plans for a commercial launch for the TV set.

There was a lot of noise at the show about both Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD. The battling high-definition video disc camps both claimed an advantage over the other and asserted that 2007 would be break-out year when their respective format left the rival in the dust. A year on and not much has changed. Consumer indifference and confusion over the formats has led many to stay away, while prices have collapsed leaving some wondering if any of the participants will ever be able to make money on either technology.

One man who called the status quo was H.G. Lee, president of LG Electronics. Speaking at a news conference where he unveiled a dual-format machine from LG he predicted that both formats would be around for a good while longer and observed, "The growth of this exciting new technology and industry is slower than it could be." So top marks to Lee, but that's perhaps not much consolation. While he was right about the immediate future of both formats, his company's relatively expensive dual-format player wasn't the hit he hoped.

LG wasn't the only company trying to solve the format battle. Warner Bros. introduced its Total Hi Def disc that has a Blu-ray Disc layer on one side and an HD DVD layer on the other. The disc generated a lot of excitement because it would insulate consumers from the risks of backing the wrong format - so it was a disappointment when Warner threw in the towel on the format before the year was out.

CES often serves as a launch pad for new technologies. The results were mixed for two of those shown at CES 2007.

Samsung came to CES 2007 with A-VSB, a mobile digital TV broadcasting system that offers a robust signal and fewer drop-outs to receivers on the move, and comes with a low installation price tag of a few tens of thousands of dollars per TV station. A-VSB also came with an aggressive roll-out schedule that would have put it on-air by the end of 2007 - but as the year turns there's still no sign of commercial service.

Things weren't so bad for Sony. It wowed visitors with prototype TVs based on new OLED (organic light emitting diode) screens. With a bright, rich and dynamic picture they were among the highlights of the show. Sony made good on its commercialization plans and put the set on sale in Japan on December 1, where it sold out almost immediately despite the ¥200,000 price tag. Sony is expected to unveil US launch plans at CES 2008.

With CES 2008 only days away now, the class of 2008 are putting the finishing touches to their announcements, predictions and promises. The show is continuing to grow, so companies will need to make a bigger splash to catch the attention of attendees and media: In a year from now we'll know who stuck their necks out too far in the race to claim the CES headlines.


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