Sony's gargantuan booth at CES 2007 covers a lot of real estate, and it's always packed full of onlookers soaking up the sights and sounds. But the flashy booth hides a dirty little secret: Aside from a handful of headline products, very few of the devices on display are actually new. Instead, the company waits until late February to announce a detailed product plan for the forthcoming year (at which time CNET will have in-depth coverage).
In the meantime, there are a few gems on display in the form of prototypes. Designed to showcase a technology or a proof of concept, these products often lack model numbers and specific details. They're hand-built (or simply plastic mock-ups), and they may or may not make it to your corner big box store in the next 18 to 24 months.
Case in point: Sony has three prototype TVs on display this year. The first was an 82-inch Bravia flat-panel LCD. Given the bank-breaking $33,000 price tag on the just announced 70-inch Bravia, we're guessing this one's absence from the TV aisle won't be missed--and with Sharp's 108-incher already taking the LCD size crown, why bother? Except for the bigger size, specs are otherwise identical to the 70-incher.
Next up was a 55-inch SXRD set. Sony's already got larger 60- and 70-inch models using its proprietary flavor of the LCoS rear-projection technology, but this one utilizes a laser light engine that allows for a wall-mountable 10-inch depth versus the 19-inch thickness a bulb-based light engine requires. (If that sounds familiar, it's because Sony showed a slimmed-down 55-inch SXRD prototype last year as well--sans laser, however.) Sounds intriguing, but we think rear-projection sets at any thickness are going to be a hard sell as the world's love affair with ever more affordable flat-panel TVs continues to grow.
The last--and most impressive--were the OLED samples on display. Small organic light-emitting diodes are already in use in some phones and music players, but manufacturers are constantly working to enlarge them in the hopes that they'll eventually be a viable alternative to LCD and plasma TVs. Sony's showing a decently sized 27-incher with a thickness measured not in inches but in millimeters. It may not yet be ready for prime time, but it's certainly a tantalizing view of what the flat-panel future may hold.