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Panasonic's monster display redefines the big-screen TV

Its 150-inch plasma set is among the products and services exhibited at the Consumer Electronics Show.

January 08, 2008|Alex Pham and Joseph Menn and Jessica Guynn and Dawn C. Chmielewski | Times Staff Writers

LAS VEGAS — Television manufacturers showed off their biggest and brightest models at the Consumer Electronics Show on Monday. And wow, were they big and bright.

Panasonic lugged in the world's largest plasma TV set, at 150 inches, or 12 1/2 feet, measured diagonally. It's 11 feet tall, for those already measuring space in their living rooms.

"The only plane that could carry it was the Boeing 747 jumbo jet," Panasonic President Toshihiro Sakamoto said.

Don't start planning your Super Bowl parties around the sets. Panasonic doesn't expect to sell them until next year at the earliest, and it hasn't yet set a price.

Sony Corp., on the other hand, thinks small is beautiful. It showed off an 11-inch TV that uses a technology called organic light-emitting diode, or OLED. Its contrast ratio -- a measure of the screen's brilliance -- is an eye-popping 10 times the current state of the art. Buying one will set you back $2,500.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday, January 11, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction
Panasonic: An article in Business on Tuesday about the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas said Panasonic's new 150-inch TV was 11 feet tall. It is 11 feet wide and 6 1/4 feet tall.

"It's a stunning device," Sony Chief Executive Howard Stringer said.

Sony and Panasonic were among the dozens of companies showing off new high-tech gear and services at CES, the top electronics industry convention that takes place here every January. An estimated 140,000 convention goers came for a sneak peek at the products that will hit store shelves this year and beyond.

Although much of the focus at CES is on the devices themselves, many of the announcements involved partnerships with entertainment and content companies.

Sony said it struck a deal to let owners of its Internet-connected Bravia TVs pipe in some CBS shows and sports footage on demand. Panasonic made a similar deal with Google Inc. to stream YouTube videos to high-definition Viera TVs. And LG Electronics Inc. talked up its new deal with online movie rental service Netflix Inc. to build a set-top box that would download movies.

"Working closely with content providers is very, very important to us," Sakamoto of Panasonic said. "Without these things, you cannot make good TV."

Here's a roundup of other news and observations from CES:

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Surprise omission in Gates' keynote

At companies as large as Microsoft Corp., few events elicit as much careful preparation as a keynote speech by the top executives. The speech writing and much-rehearsed demonstrations are just the visible part of what approximates a State of the Union address.

Last-minute changes are strongly discouraged. So an omission during Bill Gates' keynote came as a surprise.

One of the deals Microsoft explained in advance to the press Friday -- an agreement by Sony to manufacture TVs capable of displaying a Windows-powered computer's content without extra gear -- was excised. Similar TV deals were announced with Hewlett-Packard Co. and Samsung Corp.

What else happened Friday? Blu-Ray, the next-generation DVD format backed furiously by Sony, converted Warner Bros. to its cause. In doing so it won what several analysts predicted would be the decisive blow against the HD DVD format, which happens to be championed by Microsoft.

Microsoft said the change in Gates' speech was a coincidence but declined to explain further. A Sony spokesman also discouraged any link to the format war, saying that negotiations over the new TVs probably hadn't gotten close enough to completion for an announcement.

Microsoft did give some demonstrations during Gates' keynote on Sony Vaio laptops.

-- Joseph Menn

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Yahoo tries to get yodeling again

In his first major speech since taking over as chief executive, a casually dressed Jerry Yang (polo shirt and khakis) set the tone for the new Yahoo Inc.

It sounded a lot like the Yahoo of old, which Yang co-founded, but pretty different from the Hollywood approach that former CEO Terry Semel had taken at CES the last few years. Semel, a former studio chief, had enlisted help from the likes of Tom Cruise and Ellen DeGeneres.

Yang walked onto the stage Monday and emphasized the similarity of his mission to the one that Yahoo was launched with 13 years ago. His conclusion: "It is time to get Yahoo yodeling again."

Yahoo wants to become the starting point for consumers' Internet experience. To do so, Yang said, Yahoo plans to take the complexity out of people's lives and make the Web simpler through technology.

To show what he meant, Yang gave a concept demonstration of future software that taps into users' social connections to make their Internet experience more personal and relevant.

It revolved around new technology that can determine someone's relevant personal connections, then prioritize messages based on frequency and volume. He showed how the "smarter" Yahoo in box, which displays e-mail, instant messages and voice mail, would be able to interact with services such as online maps and invitations.

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