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Viewing HD

The manufacturers' optimism over HDTV in 2001 has given way to the realities of 2002. According to Ed Wolff, general manager of Panasonic's Display Group, “nothing significant is going to happen in 2002.” That pretty much sums up the projections of most of the major TV manufacturers at the annual Consumer Electronics Show held in early January. But don't take that to mean “nothing is happening” in the digital marketplace.

HD-capable sets with 16:9 screens are fast becoming the rear projection standard-bearers. Several manufacturers, such as Sanyo and Panasonic, will no longer make analog rear projection units. Last year Philips offered two HD-ready models. This year they will offer five.

In 2001 the industry sold two million projection TVs, one million of them HD, and research indicates sales of 2.3 million in 2002 with 1.7 million of them HD and 80 percent 16:9 according to Scott Ramirez, vice president of marketing for Toshiba. However, that's 2.3 million compared to the more than 18 million analog units likely to be sold. Major analog TV set makers such as Sanyo, Panasonic and Philips report no timetable for the elimination of analog units, at least for direct view.

For the moment, HD content is confined to CBS prime-time, a slowly increasing number of shows on ABC, a handful of shows on NBC and major events such as the Super Bowl, the Olympics and the Academy Awards. Wolff pointed out HDTV sales are strong in markets where the local stations broadcast in HD, but said DVD players are really what has spurred the HD-ready, 16:9 growth.

If the number of displays is any indication, the 2002 CES signified a growing move of the TV industry towards LCD and plasma displays. Direct view and rear projection TVs were much less prominent than wall-hung flat screens.

While plasma is unlikely to become the home standard, the Stanford Research Forecast predicts that by 2005 more plasma units will be in homes than in business.

Mark Holt, vice president of sales for Sanyo's Presentation Product Group, sees a future where LCD panels will rule the small-screen market; CRTs will handle 19-30 inch screens; plasma will be in the 32-64 inch range; and projection will drive the 64 inch-plus market.

Dr. Max Utsler is an associate professor of journalism at the University of Kansas.