CES UPDATE: Panasonic intros massive 103-inch plasma

Usually exhibitors at a trade show are simply looking to make big news but Panasonic actually made huge news at CES with the unveiling of a prototype 103-inch plasma screen.

The massive screen (which is equivalent in size to four 50-inch screens) doesn t have a ship date or pricing but it s a new option for stadium or arena facilities looking for new display technologies. It also, no doubt, will hold allure to professional athletes and owners who have tons of extra cash and the need for a new home theater.

My guess is that if you can build a house that is big enough to fit the screen my guess is the price won t be the objection, laughs Andy Nelkin, Panasonic VP, display group.

The set with 1920x108p resolution is the largest in the world and is an engineering feat that is almost as impressive as its size. More than 21 patents related to the set are on file in Japan and five more in other countries. For example, one trick was making sure that the image is discharged across the entire screen simultaneously to ensure that brightness and image accuracy stretches to all corners of the set.

The company also introduced new HD plays across its plasma, LCD panel, LCD rear projection and DLP sets. Topping the list are six new HD plasma TVs, including a 65-inch 1080p set.

Blu-ray is going to be 1080p so there will be movies available in 1080p, says Nelkin. And 720p content will also look better on the 1080p set in the same way we used to take 480p and upgrade it to 720p. Material that was originally shot in 1920x1080p will also look sharper on the set as it will be displayed in its native resolution.

As for trends in display technology trends in 2006 Nelkin sees three: flat, large and higher resolution. My hope is that the price erosion that has occurred in the last few years will slow down but it s still a competitive market, he says.

Panasonic also signed a multi-million dollar deal with Comcast for the delivery of 250,000 HD-DVR set-top boxes to the MSO. The boxes, dubbed “Real Next Generatio” or RGN are based on Panasonic s flavor of the OCAP middleware software that enables interactive services. For example, Panasonic s version includes HDAVI Control capability, making it possible to control home theater devices through one remote control.

Other features of the box include a 250 GB hard drive and the ability to decode both MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 AVC h.264. The latter could provide Comcast an easy option to add more HD sports or sports-related digital channels. Panasonic will deliver 250,000 boxes later this year and Comcast has an option to receive up to a million during the first year.