2006 In Review: Higher Definition

Obviously the consumer electronics industry is huge and quickly evolving, so there are numerous products, services, and trends to reflect upon for 2006. Sure we could talk about Apple adding movie downloads from iTunes, the various mergers and acquisitions, PDA phones for the masses, etc… But for me, the real momentum was in the realm of high definition. (And “You” are not the person of the year.)

The major development was the plummeting cost of large screen HDTVs. Plasmas, LCDs, and DLP rear-projection sets all dropped while we simultaneously grew more comfortable with higher price points. When non-geeks have larger, better units than I do (as observed in 2006), it’s safe to say this technology has gone mainstream. (Although, not everyone knows how to get HD programming.)

Also in 2006, the next generation of optical disc technology was released in the form of Blu-ray and HD-DVD. However, neither supplanted DVD last year and it isn’t likely they will in 2007 — due to high prices and a fragmented market. Perhaps hybrid disc technology, such as Warner’s Total HD or LG’s offering, will change the landscape… but not last year and probably not this year.

Two of the three gaming platforms are now high def, both audio and video. (Microsoft got a head start in 2005.) The Playstation 3 is still in short supply, but MS’s Xbox 360 is readily available. The PS3 comes with an integrated Blu-ray player and the 360 offers an HD-DVD accessory as both vie for a more prominent (HD) spot in our living rooms. The Xbox Marketplace already offers movie and television downloads (many in HD) and Sony is probably only a few months behind in adding similar functionality to the PS3.

Even TiVo finally made it into (stand-alone) high definition with the release of the Series3. A dual-tuning HD DVR (via CableCARD, no less) using the TiVo interface is quite nice… But only the fanatics truly motivated ponied up $800 retail (more than many HDTVs) plus subscription fees last year. (Yes, I’m guilty.) With street prices now as low as $600 after discounts and the TiVo rebate which must be coming, they should find more HD customers in 2007… along with more competition.