Manufacturers of consumer electronics gathered at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week are exhaling.
To them it appears the worst of the crisis is over. Sales in the just-ended Christmas season were better than expected, and new technological developments have helped maintain the consumers’ mood to buy. There’s hardly a trace of the economic crisis noticeable at the trade show, the largest in the US for consumer electronics.
Putting two dreadful years behind them, visitors as well as exhibitors are reveling in optimism. Spurring it on are new products such as internet-ready television sets, new functions in home entertainment and most important, 3D television.
“There is now light at the end of the tunnel and it is the bright light of innovation,” said Gary Shapiro, president and chief executive of the Consumer Electronics Association, in a speech at the CES. “We are seeing more innovation at this show than at any show in our history.” The association puts the number of new developments featured at the show at 20,000.
The consumer electronics industry still feels the horrors of 2008 and 2009 deep in its bones. The television branch, spoiled by success, was also affected during the difficult years. Shapiro said, adding that “2009 was the most challenging year of our lives” and no one wants to see it repeated. The consumer electronics industry has come back from the brink, he said, and he predicted slight revenue growth in 2010.
Carrying the most hope to lead the rebound is 3D television. The television market is responsible for 60 per cent of revenue in the consumer electronic branch. While US broadcasters are in the starting blocks for the production of 3D content, it could take longer to arrive in other countries such as Germany. Television networks must invest in the equipment needed to film in 3D.
Nevertheless, industry officials such as Ralf Hansen, a spokesman for Panasonic, know that in order to maintain sales figures — 8 million televisions are sold annually in Germany alone - new technology and new experiences for the consumer have to come on line.
Some 3D titles will make it into the German market this year in Blu- ray.
Concern over consumer acceptance of the need to wear special glasses while watching television is gone. The first 3D blockbuster in cinemas - Avatar, which used a revolutionary new 3D technology - has diffused the doubt and cash registers are ringing. The Korean manufacturer Samsung determined after extensive market research that 80 per cent of theatre-goers that have seen a 3D movie were so excited that they wanted 3D at home.
Sony chief executive Howard Stringer said in addition to Hollywood productions, there will be major sporting events and festivals and concerts broadcast in 3D. One of the first could be the upcoming World Cup. Sony is cooperating with the US sports channel ESPN on the broadcast of the football championship to be held this year in South Africa.
Another development in 3D in the home is the availability of numerous new television sets that are able to convert two-dimensional films into 3D in real time. Toshiba’s top model, for example, is equipped with a high-performance processor. This should make the conversion to 3D as well as other multimedia applications such as internet telephony and video conferencing through a television set possible.
Toshiba, Sony and IBM have developed a processor - Cell ZX900 - that is especially designed for this task. It makes the television into a powerful machine with 10 times the computer performance of a PC. Josh Silverman, chief executive of Skype, a free internet telephone service, said 2010 will be the year when “the television moved from the centre of entertainment in the home to the centre of entertainment and communication in the home.” The rapid metamorphosis of the good old television set into a high performance computer has the television branch claiming success in holding on to TV’s place in the centre of the living room. This could mean the long-held ambitions of the IT industry to put the PC at the centre of home entertainment will be written into history.
Panasonic’s Hansen said the industry has too much experience at home entertainment to let itself be displaced. The only IT industry player that has had the stuff to pose a threat has been Apple.
Luckily, very late, Hansen said.