CES Day 1- Monday, January 7, 2008 HD DVD and Blu-ray, South Hall tour

Without question the big story of this CES is Warner’s dumping of HD DVD for Blu-ray exclusivity and the way the deal went down.   I have inside information and will be writing in greater detail about it in the near future, but suffice it to say Warner Bros. wanted to end the format war and had to take action that would effectively kill a side.   So, one of these formats was going to get whacked, but which one was going to get driven to the toll booth wasn’t decided until the last possible moment.   I’m using some The Godfather/Mafia terminology because in essense, “it’s nothing personal- only business” is the reason Warner did what they did, as the format war was hurting not only their hi-def sales across both formats but their regular DVD sales as well.   This was clearly an untenable situation for them and if ultimately the only way to stop the bleeding was to take out their former partner Toshiba, they were willing to do it.   Believe it or not, though disappointed I actually have no problem with them and what they did, business IS business and they have to do what is best for them.   Still, one can’t help but think Toshiba deserved better from their former partner.   It’s one thing to try and take them out; it’s another to do it in the way designed to cause the most damage and humilation you can possibly imagine.   It’s actually far worse than I could have imagined before I came here- reminders are everywhere.


First, you have the ever-present press bags I mentioned in my first report…


Then, their are the taxicabs with magnetic tents promoting HD DVD, “THE ULTIMATE HD MOVIE MACHINE.”   There are a LOT of them.


Then you have the huge banners flying all over  the North, South, and Central halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center.   It’s a constant reminder of HD DVD and what has transpired recently.   Given the big HD DVD Promotional Group shindig at The Wynn that was cancelled last moment, and the over-the-top promotional efforts at work here, it is clear that HD DVD thought they were bringing Warner over, or at least were going to keep them a while longer.  

It’s all pretty distasteful.   I have  read that in China, condemned prisoners are sometimes marched naked around a filled soccer stadium before they are taken out to the countryside and shot.   I can’t imagine anything more humiliating, it isn’t something I would wish on my worst enemy… and what we are seeing here is the corporate equivalent of it.   This is the absolute worst way events could have transpired and the amount of pain and humiliation Toshiba is feeling right now must be unimaginable.   Given the Japanese cultural importance of saving face, I suspect that this humilation  could soon turn to rage and we could see a response of some kind.   Surprisingly, most of the press and many businesspeople I have been socializing with haven’t written Toshiba or HD DVD yet as it isn’t truly over until 100% of the studios belong to one side or the other, or they officially throw in the towel.  A few people I spoke with mentioned the cultural importance of saving face and that a reaction may be provoked out of spite.

Another wild card is Microsoft; no one knows how truly important  HD DVD is for them.   With all their cash, they could pay Universal an ungodly sum to stay HD DVD exclusive for  two  years, with Toshiba could make combo players for a while and hoping Blu-ray can’t sort out their manufacturing issues.   Toshiba could try paying off Universal out of spite, for them to stay HD DVD exclusive and to release all new movies as HD DVD/combo discs.   I am not suggesting they do this or that is a good idea; I am simply saying they do have options if they want to try and stay alive.   Whether it makes business sense or if corporate pride demands it, only they know.   A variation of HD DVD, CH DVD, is the official, universally mandated high-def disc format of China, and what the government says, goes in that country.   Toshiba will always have that in their pocket as a great accomplishment, and they could use that as a source of cheap players and make every DVD player they sell in the USA HD DVD-capable.  


Sir Howard Stringer, CEO, Sony Corporation of America

 Image Credit: Sony

My personal guess is Sir Howard Stringer, Sony CEO, is going to find a way to end this peacefully before the ante gets raised, allowing Toshiba to save some face and putting this messy format war  all in the past.   He has already offered the HD side an olive branch, to work together to promote adotion of HD media.   I have to tell you, I really like this guy and his honest, very genuine manner.   In an interview published in early December he called the format war a “stalemate,” which was quickly picked up by the media as the first bit of humility coming from the Blu-ray group and uncharacteristic of a Sony executive.   In that same interview, he commented he wished he was around earlier so he could have worked to avoid a format war.   It has become obvious to me that he didn’t say that because he was afraid of losing a battle… he said it because he wanted to avoid the messiness and do what is best for all.   When asked about a Warner Bros. payoff ($500 million, though Warner said that was not why they made the move, I am sure it was a nice side effect) Sir Howard gave  a response that amounted to a wink and a nod… I will try to find the question and his reply and post it later.   Anyway, it looks like he is about to pull off a HUGE victory for Sony and if he does, he has forever exorcised the Betamax ghost that has haunted them all these years and if he keeps doing what he is doing, then great things lie in store for them.

As for me, I am buying a PS3 and a bunch of Blu-ray discs when I get back home.   Though I have tested Blu-ray I have yet to buy into it, as I really didn’t want a game machine as my player and I won’t buy a Blu-ray player that isn’t profile 2.0, no gimped machines for me!   It’s one of the reasons I’ve never been able to bring myself to recommend Blu-ray up until now.   I’ll continue to buy HD DVDs when I can and enjoy both formats indefinitely.   Anyway, I am looking forward to seeing those Pixar movies!   As for my readers, if you have been wanting to try Blu-ray I say go for it with  a Playstation  3 as it is by  far the best player and updatable to future profiles.   If you are one of those people who don’t want a game machine as your player  because of form factor, lack of display, etc. just get a PS3 until profile 2.0 players come down to a price you can stomach.   And now, off to the show!   CES is quite a spectacle, I hope you enjoy getting a closer look at it.


Las Vegas Convention Center

The Consumer Electronics Show, or simply CES, is the biggest trade show in the world.   It fills up the entire (huge)  Las Vegas Convention Center, large tents in front of it, and many suites in the strip hotels.   A colleague brought a pedometer and found she walked six miles per day, just in the Convention Center.   That sounds about right.


I spent most of my day in the South Hall, where I found a few surprises.   First of all, there was Radiient Technologies, demonstration their Roomcaster wireless speaker system.


Those speaker cabinets may look somewhat familiar to a lot of you…


That’s because they are  clearly woodgrain-finished clones of the $87.98 Insignia NS-B2111 I have been recommending for over a year.   They certainly sound great at any price, I just hope they are not planning to charge a lot for them by changing the finish and the name on the grille!


Some impressive speakers from Swans.   Swans speakers are distributed in the USA by The Audio Insider, who also distributes the outstanding Acculine speakers I have written about recently.


Westinghouse had their wide line of   value-pricced LCD products on display, as well as one not-so-value-priced.


These TVs were designed to be used in a kitchen, with white or stainless steel finish  to match appliances.   They can be mounted under a cabinet and adjust for optimum viewing position.


This is Westinghouse’s QuadHD (4 x 1080p) LCD display, fed by two dual-link DVI cables.   Designed for commercial use, it costs $50,000.   I can’t tell you how good this thing looks in person.   It looks more like a backlit, extremely high resolution transparency than a digital display.   Colors are beautiful and even from a foot away you can’t see any pixels.  


As usual, Kodak had a large, extremely impressive booth with a nice press lounge for us to rest our feet and enjoy some complimentary refreshments.


Of note was their new kiosk software, designed to be even more intuitive and easy to use…


…as well as this very nice ultrazoom camera, the Kodak Z812 IS.   For only $279 you get a 12x Schneider zoom lens, optical image stabiliztion, and component HD outputs for viewing your pictures natively on an HDTV at full resolution.   Nice! It’s compact for an ultrazoom and if the image quality is good, it will be an easy recommend.


Gracenote booth.   If you have an iPod and an internet connection, you’ve been a Gracenote client and probably didn’t even know it.   Gracenote supplies the track and artist information when you rip a CD using iTunes.


Blu-ray had quite an impressive booth featuring a mock-up of a wrecked pirate ship…


…and Simpsons characters.   Also note the Silver Surfer above the WB logo on the right.


A 105 inch Panasonic plasma ($70,000) was used for an impressive demonstration.   Obviously, the Blu-ray folks were over the moon given the events of late and there was a lot of excitement here.


Which brings us to their competitor, ironically located directly next to the Blu-ray booth.   I expected it to be a ghost town and morale to be very low   here.


Surprisingly, that wasn’t the case.   A lot of people were prowling around the booth and when I got there, someone was giving a demonstration of HD DVD web interactivity using The Bourne Ultimatum, as the presenter boasted that this interactivity was available with any HD DVD player ever made… due to HD DVD’s set standards from the start.  


The audience was in perfect attention and listened to everything he had to say, and watched the show from start to finish before leaving.   A standing-room only crowd… who’da ever guessed?   Hardly what I expected for a format that many have written off for dead.

I spoke with the people manning the booth and they were surpisingly upbeat.   They said they were cringing before the show opened, expecting the worse and a lot of negativity thrown their way.   Turns out the traffic and commentary had been about 95% positive, and many people had come up to them and expressed how much they liked the product and how it made HD movies affordable and hoped that it would go on.  


Dolby  booth, featuring a life-size model of the Transformer Bumblebee.


DXG had this 720p HD camcorder with a 5x optical zoom.   It records to an SD card and will retail for $199, coming out by Q2 2008.   I created and reviewed some sample footage with it and reviewed it on a 37″ LCD DTV.   While it wasn’t nearly as good as an AVC or HDV camcorder, it looked better than HTSC MiniDV would have since it is feeding it a native signal.   This one should be fun for anyone wanting to get a taste of HD movie recording without the huge investment usually required.


Booth babes!   They’re all over CES.

That’s it for today…  been a long  couple of days.  I have lots more to share with you from Monday as well as Tuesday, so be sure to stop back!   I’m a bit behind but I assure you it will be worth the wait.   I have a lot more to share from day one and today was pretty amazing, too.

Comments are closed.