Las Vegas -- Digital technology dominated discussion at
last week's Consumer Electronics Show here, with major television manufacturers
restating their commitment to high-definition television.
Companies that showed HDTV sets and digital set-top boxes
embedded with DirecTV Inc.'s HDTV and standard-definition technology included Thomson
Consumer Electronics, Toshiba America Consumer Products, Philips Consumer Electronics Co.
and Hitachi Ltd.
Pricing on the set-top converter boxes is expected to vary
widely, from under $650 to $1,500 or more.
"We can't underestimate the importance of
satellite in bringing digital TV to market," said Steve Nickerson, Toshiba's
vice president of marketing.
EchoStar Communications Corp. also showed an HDTV feed at
the show, and it said it has committed to distributing Home Box Office's HDTV signal
sometime this year.
Thomson demonstrated an HDTV-quality DVD player that also
runs pay-per-view-style Divx discs. Expected to ship by the end of this year, the digital
set-top will give HDTV early adopters something else to watch while broadcasters and cable
networks beef up their HDTV-programming lineups.
Executives at top consumer-electronics companies reiterated
that digital copy-protection issues must be addressed before the HDTV market can really
take off. But the companies are not all on the same page when it comes to backing a
Jim Meyer, chief operating officer at Thomson, said the
company will not endorse the so-called 5C digital-transmission content-protection
technology developed by Toshiba, Sony Corp., Hitachi, Intel Corp. and Matsushita Consumer
Instead, Thomson and Zenith Electronics Corp. support a
copy-protection plan called XCA (for extended conditional access), which incorporates
smart cards for renewable security.
Philips said last week that it will offer a free consumer
booklet called "DTV for Dummies." The reference guide touches briefly on cable,
but it offers the misleading assurance that all digital broadcasts face government
Philips also announced that it will introduce a personal TV
set-top box later this year -- combining technologies from DirecTV and TiVo Inc. -- -that
will offer time-shifting, as well as e-commerce, targeted advertising and data services.
Early next year, the company will offer an HDTV-capable version of the product.
Philips executives said the company was in negotiations to
take an equity stake in TiVo, although nothing was official at press time.
A number of companies also promoted home-networking
technologies that will allow consumers to connect their televisions, telephones and
computers to each other.
Some industry executives said HDTV retail demonstrations
have helped to spur sales of large-screen analog-TV sets. Thomson plans to incorporate
enhanced-television features on many of its analog-TV models.
For example, consumers who buy RCA or ProScan analog
televisions with Gemstar International Group Inc.'s "Guide Plus+"
subscription-free electronic programming guide will also receive NewsGuide -- a free,
24-hour summary of major news events, provided by MSNBC.
Nickerson predicted that by 2006, the industry would not
show any new analog televisions at CES.