Some of the coolest new products on display were Epson's newest additions, the PowerLite 730c and 720c. Both of these projectors are XGA resolution units making 2000 lumens and 1500 lumens, respectively, with and without the use of microlenses on each little pixel. The 720c does not use microlenses and, therefore, it is offered at a lower, "estimated street price" of $3,499 versus the 2000-lumen 730c's $3,999.
"So what?" you say. There's lots of little 2000-lumen projectors these days. But how many of them are three-panel LCD projectors with full-color saturation that weigh only 4.3 pounds? None, and that's even below one-chip DLP territory for 2000 lumens! Today, Epson is making the smallest, lightest, and brightest projectors on the planet. Epson's 4.3 pounds is a full half-pound below the previous champion lightweight from NEC and 1.5 pounds below their 710/713 lightweight models. Plus, Epson's newest makes more light for less money. Seems like everything's going in the projector user's direction: more stuff in a smaller package for less money.
Another cool projector at the other end of the cost-performance spectrum was JVC's QXGA (that's four times XGA or 2048x1536 RGB pixels) resolution projector, the DLA-QX1G—$250,000 or so, depending upon the lens options. JVC demo'd their unit in a darkened large-screen theater-like room using a variety of telecined clips and HD video footage with impressive results. I liked the HD video footage the best since that digitally processed information has not gone through a contrast and resolution-limiting telecine filter. The HD footage contained clips from Jay Leno's show, and you could clearly see Jay's blue eyes twinkling out through way too much makeup. The TV types are not going to like HDTV and projectors like JVC's—they reveal too many wrinkles and visible underwear lines—gasp! But the highly detailed, uncompromising images looked "live," and that's what you want to see live. Too bad it costs so much.
NEC announced their latest 42-inch plasma, the $9,999 Plasmasync 42MP4, a new XGA model with rectangular pixels. Unlike some manufacturers who make wide-format XGA with 1280 or so "square" pixels across a 16:9 aspect ratio, 720-line screen, NEC has only 1024x768 pixels on their 16:9 screen. That resolution is a PC standard, but the rectangular pixels are not. This choice sets them up to disappoint PC and TV viewers alike. NEC does some "resizing" to make both PC and HD video images look "correct." Overall, the images looked great, brighter with better contrast and color than NEC's previous models. But I'll reserve judgement until I can test one myself.
NEC also showed off the latest version of their tri-digital electronic cinema projector, the $55,000 HD4K. The 4000-lumen HD4K joins NEC's HD6K and HD10K projectors offering similar performance at a lower price point with less light. NEC also demo'd their new digital film server technology using Sarnoff Labs' discreet cosine transform (DCT) compression technology, which puts more digital film bits on smaller disks. The DCT server demo looked fine, producing realistic images from telecine sources, however, the demo that I liked the best was of something different. Standard digital video is sometimes called 4:2:2 video, which means that the red and blue image components of the Y,Pb,Pr video signal are sampled are half the rate of the green (Y) signal. This means that while the overall image can look fine, the blue or red portions loose information and can look "washed out." However, a part of the NEC HD4K's tri-digital processing fixes that problem by turning 4:2:2 video signals into 4:4:4 RGB signals. NEC does that by using grayscale and sampling information contained in the green channel's information to re-interpret the red and blue channels' data. The results are realistic and impressive: grayscales and details appear where they were washed out before. Bravo NEC.
Another industry powerhouse also showed off neat algorithms. Microsoft demo'd Corona, a new proprietary method of compressing and decompressing video (and audio) for both Web broadcast and for physical media. Would you buy a DVD encoded by Microsoft? What if you got twice the information on a single disc, leaving room for more interactive DVD features and additional footage?
But it doesn't stop there. The server side of Corona and its Web-based steaming video provides you with more enjoyable channel surfing. I'm sure that anyone who's ever clicked on a streaming video (or audio) source has been annoyed by the long wait while the signal is being "buffered" or by the occasional dropout. If you're annoyed enough, think about becoming a Corona fan since those problems will be eliminated. Corona allows for "instant on"—no noticeable buffering unless you're using old phone lines—plus it even lives through having your Internet connection completely cut for a few seconds. That's very cool, as was their demo of "High Definition" Corona with 1280x720 pixel resolution of streaming video along with 5.1-channel, 96kHz surround sound.
Home theater over the Internet is still a ways away, since Corona is not even in beta yet. But if this kind of technology comes together, along with commensurate Internet bandwidth, then Blockbuster is definitely going to be looking for something else to rent.