CES 2008: Sharp press conference: surprise, surprise – more massive tellies are on their way

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The Sharp CES press conference kicked off with the usual amount of backslapping and general optimism about the state of the HDTV market. And why not – according to Sharps figures and some really rather bland graphs the LCD market is skyrocketing. Sharp expects to have shipped over 74m units by the end of 2007 and 96m by the end of next year, which is probably a lot more than I can count on all my fingers and toes.

To ensure that the world is flooded with sleek, shiny HDTVs, Sharp is currently building the world’s first 10th generation LCD factory in Sakai City, which Sharp CEO and Chairman, Toshihiko Fujimoto, hinted would be capable of producing a 112” LCD TV sometime this year. That’s, like, a whole 4 inches on the 108” that’s on display at Sharp’s booth.

The prototype 65” model that Sharp actually had on display at the press conference was a good promise of things to come though and easily stood out from the range of other tellies littered across the stand. The brightness and contrast had obviously been turned up to levels that would be considered medically unsafe in a normal household, but the level of colour and depth of black (reportedly a 100,000:1 contrast ratio) were pretty astounding.

It reminded me of the new plasmas Pioneer was showing off last year, although this was made a bit more impressive for being on a brightly lit stage rather than a darkened closet at the back of a booth, so it was interesting that it was then announced that Sharp will be collaborating with Pioneer in a partnership (further details haven’t been announced yet) starting this year.

Michael Troetti, President of Sharp Electronics Marketing Company of America then took the stage to explain why Sharp is not even a little bit worried that upcoming rival OLED technologies will impinge on its LCD market as it believes that customers expectations for screen sizes is going to keep rising and that OLED is still struggling to attain those kind of sizes. Not to mention that they don’t last as long.

So far, so much marketing spiel. Mercifully we were then taken on to some actual products and product features. AQUOS Net is Sharp’s big news of the show. It’s basically a means of hooking up the TV to a form of internet access. It isn’t going as far as full blown web browsing, but it will give you access to the AQUOS.net website and a selection of Widgets that will offer a range of information services such as weather reports, NASDAQ updates, uclick comics and even live feeds from traffic cameras.

It’s all pretty geeky of course and I’m not convinced that such a service really will make potential HDTV buyers choose Sharp rather than another make of screen – price and picture quality really are going to be the main deciders. The lure for less geeky and less early adopting consumers, however, is the remote customer support system. This allows a customer service person to take command of the TV and remotely adjust settings, which could be good for getting the best picture quality out of the set, particularly if you aren’t well versed in videophile speak.

For this service to work, of course, the TV has to be hooked up to the internet. Sharp isn’t a very big fan of WiFi it seems and has thrown its lot in with the Power-line Communication (PLC) technology used for networking through mains sockets. To that end it will be selling its own branded HomePlug AV kits at some point soon. It’s a shame you won’t be getting a free set with your AQUOS TV, but not that surprising. I’d be interest to know why the technology couldn’t be built right into the TV itself rather than being chucked around as an extra afterwards.

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