Again, Sony was particularly impressive. Last year, I raved about the $13,000 70-inch Qualia 006 rear-projection monitor, which used a new technology called SXRD. * (For more on SXRD and other rear-projection tech, click
I found myself wandering back into the Sony booth several times a day to get another look at that R50, wondering if the price—amazingly low for what it is—might tumble a bit more by the holidays. (Given the plunging prices everywhere, I have a feeling it might.) The colors, contrasts, and level of detail beat every other TV at the show, except perhaps the Qualia 005. In fact, Sony's 50-inch and 60-inch models are better than the 70-inch original; you can watch them from way off to the side with very little harm to the picture. (However, as with all rear-projection TVs, the light diminishes greatly from below; if you like to watch television while lying on the floor, plasma—or the conventional cathode-ray tube—is the way to go.)
Nearly as fine were JVC's 1080p D-ILA televisions—a 56-inch model for $4,000, a 61-inch for $4,500, and a 70-inch for $6,000. These are $500 to $1,000 cheaper than last year's comparably sized 720p models!
One thing to note: Rear-projection televisions are not flat. Their light comes from a projector implanted in the back of the TV, which of course requires space. These sets range from 12 to 18 inches deep, though this bulk protrudes only from the rear center. They have streamlined designs, so from straight-on as well as from well to the sides, the sets look flat. Unless you want to hang your television on the wall, don't dismiss rear projection. (They also weigh a lot less than plasmas and are nearly indestructible; replace the projector lamp every few years, and they last forever, at least in theory.)
Front projectors: If you want a big, big picture and have a bank account to match, consider a projector that can beam a bright light on a screen 8 to 12 feet wide. 1080p has entered this realm as well. Last year, Sony introduced a $30,000 SXRD front projector. * This year, they stunned everybody with the almost-as-good 1080p VPL-VW100 for $10,000.
Yamaha went one better with the $12,500 DPX-1300 DLP projector, which uses a Silicon Optix chip that greatly enhances picture quality. Unless you're willing to spend $30,000 or higher—at which point DVDs and HDTV start to look very much like cinema—you needn't look elsewhere.
Remnants of the past: Last year, I noted that if you didn't need a screen larger than 34 inches, there was no better set than Sony's $2,200 XBR910, a high-definition TV utilizing a cathode-ray tube (aka "picture tube"). I saw no CRT televisions at this year's expo—the first time that's been the case. It's nonetheless worth noting that Sony has upgraded the 910 to the XBR960. I've seen it on the Internet for as little as $1,600, and the picture is still terrific. It's HDTV's best bargain.
The future: The week after the CEDIA expo, Toshiba and Canon showed off a 50-inch monitor utilizing a new technology called SED—surface-conduction electron-emitter display. The screen's as flat as plasma and the picture has the colors and contrasts of CRT. By all accounts, it looks amazing—better than any plasma or rear-projection TV at CEDIA. According to industry insiders, SED TVs will hit the market sometime next year. Initially, they'll cost a few thousand dollars more than comparably sized plasmas, but by 2007 or 2008 the price will plummet.
And so, there is still solace for the late adopter. If you won't buy a new television till the tube on your 20-year-old Trinitron burns out, impress your high-tech friends by telling them that you're waiting for SED.
* Correction, September 27, 2005: This piece originally understated the price of a year-old Sony television and overstated the price of a year-old Sony projector. The Qualia 006 rear-projection television sold for $13,000, not $10,000. Sony's SXRD front projector sold for $30,000, not $40,000. Click here to return to the first corrected sentence.