Mercedes-Benz World in Weybridge was the venue for Toshiba's 2009 product launch, where the company unveiled a whole host of new LCD TVs, DVD players and digital recorders, as well as giving the assembled journalists a glimpse of its forthcoming Net Player and Cell TV technologies.
Despite the recession and the company's withdrawal from the high-definition disc player market, Toshiba remained upbeat at the launch and announced a 13 per cent rise in UK revenues over the last year. The company is also standing by its decision to shun Blu-ray, with DVD product manager Fiona Patterson pointing out that 253m DVDs were sold in December 2008 compared with 1.5m Blu-ray discs - though how long Tosh can maintain this stance as Blu-ray grows in popularity is anyone's guess.
Toshiba casts its Net
The obvious highlight at the launch was the Toshiba Net Player, a prototype of which was unveiled for the first time in the UK, but ironically it was the one thing we weren't allowed to take pictures of because the design may change before its official launch at IFA later this year.
The Net Player is a set-top box with built-in Ethernet and Wi-Fi web connectivity that supports the Intel Widget TV platform, which delivers a variety of web applications direct to your TV screen. The exact widgets that will be available at launch are yet to be decided, but it's likely to include news and weather updates, photo sharing applications like Flickr and Google Picasa, as well as YouTube video streaming - much like Panasonic's Viera Cast application that we recently tested on the DMP-BD60 Blu-ray player.
The Net Player runs the Intel Media Processor CE3100 chip unveiled last year, which not only seamlessly merges TV and Internet functionality, but also ensures the best possible picture quality from any source thanks to its built-in display-processing engine. The Net Player is also DLNA and Windows Media Extender compliant, which means you can stream content from networked PCs, and it also features a built-in DVD player.
The hard Cell
Toshiba also demonstrated its Cell TV technology (as seen at this year's CES), although what we saw was far from a finished product - the demo was conducted using a makeshift control unit plugged into the screen. But even in this embryonic stage it looks like a formidable proposition, with the Toshiba, IBM and Sony-developed Cell chip making it possible to record or stream up to eight high-definition channels simultaneously, or up to 48 standard definition channels.
Impressive though it is, there's a big question mark over how the technology would fit into the UK's high-definition broadcasting landscape. With Freesat offering just two HD channels and a Toshiba/Sky HD hook-up not even a remote possibility, TV product manager Andrew Line suggested that it would most likely incorporate Freeview HD tuners, turning Cell TV into the most advanced terrestrial digital PVR ever seen - but we dread to think how much a product like this will cost when it finally comes to the UK.
At this stage, the Cell TV functionality is likely to be fitted into a separate set-top box like the Net Player, as opposed to being incorporated into the TV itself. But with both Cell and CE3100 on Toshiba's books, it does make us wonder how the company will accommodate and differentiate these two powerful processing chips within its future products - only time will tell.