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HD Streaming Comes on Strong at CES 2007

At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show 2007 (CES), held this week in Las Vegas, a natural progression followed this holiday’s significant uptick in consumer spending on high-definition flat panels. The progression is a conscious shift from standard definition-capable consumer electronics to CE devices optimized for high-definition acquisition, delivery, and display.

Nowhere was this better demonstrated than in a series of product releases that Sony’s Consumer Electronics division made this week. Sony’s four-pronged consumer high definition strategy starts with the release of new flat panel displays capable of "True HD" or 1080p resolutions (1920x1080 progressive scan). But Sony had several of those display devices already, as part of its BRAVIA line. So the real story lies in three other product types that Sony announces.

A new device mentioned in Monday’s article, the poorly named "BRAVIA Internet Video Link" is leading one side of Sony’s three-pronged consumer high-definition delivery strategy. The device, which has a wireless link and plugs directly into a select number of BRAVIA flat-panel display models, is designed from inception to receive streams of high definition content. It joins products such as SlingMedia’s SlingCatcher and Apple’s new Apple TV in streaming high-definition content to the living room, but so far the Sony device is the most tightly integrated of the bunch, primarily due to Sony’s ability to tie its own displays to the Internet Video Link device.

The other prong of the Sony delivery strategy comes in the form of Sony’s Blu-ray disc player and a group of cameras released at the end of 2006 and during CES 2007. On the Blu-ray disc side, a Blu-ray player is built into every PlayStation 3 unit. As noted during Sony’s CES press conference, its PS3 game console sold more than a million units at launch, with the anticipation of selling over 6 million units by March 2007. The PS3 alone, then, has guaranteed that the number of Blu-ray devices on the market grows rapidly, while Samsung and other manufacturers announced updated and lower-cost Blu-ray disk players at CES sure to drive adoption even faster. On the other side of the high-definition DVD successor war, Microsoft noted that the external HD DVD drive for Xbox 360 has been selling out as quickly as it is being manufactured.

The third prong of Sony’s consumer HD strategy stretches back into the acquisition phase, with the announcement of second-generation AVC-HD cameras. These four new cameras, which come with double the first-generation’s 30GB hard drive capacity, will also sport the same HDMI output. The AVC-HD cameras will leverage lessons learned in the tape-based HDV format, which used an MPEG-2 Long GOP format acquiring content at 25Mbps, but will use H.264 (also known as AVC), allowing an equivalent picture quality to HDV at about 2/3 the bit rate. Expect this format to be supported within the next two months by every major video editing software tool. The cameras, while not containing the standard professional 3 CCD configuration, do incorporate a CMOS chip. This newer chip type captures red, green, and blue information separately and does double duty as a 2 or 3 megapixel still camera, typically twice the resolution of standard CCD HD camcorders, while allowing the physical camera size to be significantly smaller than its 3 CCD predecessors.

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