Digital satellite service provider DirecTV came up on the losing end of two major decisions in December.
The Federal Trade Commission charged that DirecTV and the companies it hired violated the national Do Not Call Registry rules. According to reports attributed to DirecTV representatives, the violations were made by third-party marketing companies that had since been fired. Still, it will cost DirecTV more than $5 million to settle the charges.
DirecTV also agreed to pay more than $5 million to 22 states to settle a lawsuit over the company’s marketing and advertising practices. The states claimed that consumers were not adequately informed about details such as sports blackouts, missing local coverage, and signal quality problems. DirecTV felt that there had been sufficient disclosure, but would work to make it clearer to consumers, such as with larger type and more straight-forward language.
Certainly these settlements will have to sting a bit. I’m not convinced that the company was deliberately trying violate the rules or mislead consumers, but it does sound as though they’re taking responsibility for the problems and dealing with them. I can only hope that 2006 is more kind to the company than 2005.
Last week, I wrote about the two new initiatives to get HD displays and home entertainment equipment to work together. Now there’s word about a new display interface for computers that is intended to help them work better with consumer electronics displays such as HDTVs.
The interface is called the Unified Display Interface — UDI — and it is aimed at replacing the traditional VGA analog 15-pin connector. It will work with both the existing DVI and HDMI connections, and will support High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP) which is part of the HDMI interface. Some major players in the display industry are backing the new standard, including Apple, Intel, LG Electronics, Samsung Electronics, National Semiconductor, and Silicon Image. The final specification is expected to be complete before mid-2006.
This could turn out to be an important development, especially if the computer is to become the lynchpin in the home entertainment center of the 21st century. The UDI interface could make it easier to connect televisions and monitors to computers and other devices, simplifying the connectivity problems and eliminating the snarl of incompatible cables that are so common at this point.
It looks as though the race to be first to deliver a blue-laser, high-definition DVD player to the market may be won by the Blu-ray camp. Toshiba had announced that it was going to ship a drive based on the competing HD DVD standard before the end of 2005, but was unable to make good on the promise. Now Pioneer has announced that it will ship its Blu-ray drive in the first quarter of 2006, and it may beat the Toshiba drive to market.
The Pioneer drive will read and write Blu-ray media, as well as read and write standard DVD+/-R/RW media. This should make it a versatile cross-over product that will appeal to both consumer electronics and computer storage applications.
The big question, however, is whether or not Pioneer will actually be able to make good on the promise. Delayed shipments are more common in the optical storage industry than hitting target dates, so I won’t be holding my breath. And until we have seen the prices for the drives and the media, it’s going to be impossible to make any judgment about bang for the buck. In spite of all that, it does appear that we’re nearing the day when we can discuss high-definition DVDs based on something more substantial than just speculation.
I just ran across an ad for a 42″ plasma TV that has PC input and can double as a computer monitor. When I investigated further, I found that the 42″ screen has a resolution of 852 by 480 pixels. Wow! By comparison, a 19″ LCD monitor normally has 1,280 by 1,024. The pixels on the plasma TV must be the size of a dime. Is this a VGA input? Does it make sense to try to use it as a computer monitor?
Michael H., New York, NY
The ED plasma panels are on their way out, which is why you’ll see them advertised at some astonishing prices.
The problem with plasma is that it’s very difficult to make small pixels. This is one area where LCDs have a major advantage, as you note about the high resolution of the 19″ LCD monitor. 852 by 480 resolution is called WideVGA, which is what you need for EDTV (Enhanced Definition). It works great for DVDs and most TV programming, but really the only improvement over a SDTV (Standard Definition) is that it has a wide aspect ratio. It also does not work particulary well as a desktop PC display.
One application that this panel will be very good at is digital signage. You don’t need or even want a lot of content displayed on the screen at once, as the viewer will be at some considerable distance. And driving it with a computer is an excellent solution, as you can program the content much more effectively than recording it on some type of video playback system.
So consider this monitor as a reasonable choice for home entertainment even though it’s not HD resolution, or for digital signage, but don’t plan to use it as your computer monitor.
Curious about what a 42″ plasma EDTV costs this week? Get the inside story with the latest advertised prices in Professor Poor’s Weekly Price Intelligence Report. A new issue is available today, and every Tuesday!
Digital television promises to bring crystal clear images to your screen. HDTV promises incredible detail. And IPTV holds out the promise of all sorts of new forms of video entertainment streamed across the Internet. And what’s wrong with this picture?
All this content is delivered to a single location in most homes: a cable box, or a computer, or an antenna feed. So long as your TV-watching takes place in central location, it’s no problem. If you want to have personal choice and private viewing (or listening) experience options in the other parts of the house, it gets trickier. You have to string wires all over the place, and different solutions require different wires. Some construction makes wiring difficult, and if you rent your home, rewiring may not even be an option.
Ruckus Wireless plans to demonstrate a solution next week at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) next week in Las Vegas. According to the company, their product can “transmit multiple HDTV, DTV and IPTV streams over a standard in-home 802.11g Wi-Fi network.” If it works as advertised and is affordable, this could be an important way to easily distribute entertainment content throughout your home.
I’ll be at CES and will try to check out the Ruckus Wireless demonstration, and will let you know what I think of it. So stay tuned.
When you consider that a display company – Panasonic — paid for the study, you need to take the results with a grain of salt, but the conclusions are plausible. One of four USA households either owns or plans to buy an HD display in 2006.
Pretty impressive numbers, to be sure. But it leaves me asking, how many of these homes will be able to view HD content on these displays? Unless they have digital cable, satellite, or digital terrestrial broadcast service, they can’t get an HD signal. (And existing DVDs aren’t HD, either.) So I hope that one in four USA households understand the difference between standard definition and high definition content.
And that they are the same one in four who have the HD displays.
Confused about HDTV technologies? Learn all about display technologies and resolutions in Professor Poor’s Guide to Buying HDTV.
Okay, it has finally been decided. At least until Congress changes its mind. Yesterday, the Senate approved a spending bill that contained a provision for the date that analog TV broadcasts will cease in the US: February 18, 2009. The government apparently won’t wait until then to collect on the windfall of the radio frequencies that will be freed up by the changeover to digital broadcasts. The spectrum will be auctioned off starting by January 2008, and is expected to bring in $10 billion for the federal coffers.
There is no need to panic over this news. If you are like the majority of television viewers in the United States, you get your video signals from a cable or satellite connection, and the change from analog to digital broadcasting doesn’t affect you at all. It’s only if you use an antenna to get “free” broadcast programming that you’ll be affected. You will either need to get a new television – one with a digital tuner — or a converter that will accept the digital signal from the antenna and convert it to something that you can show on your existing old-fashioned analog set. Expect competition to be stiff in this converter market, and there will also be some sort of subsidy program from the federal government to help cover the cost of converters. By the time the changeover is made, it shouldn’t cost you much to switch to digital signals.
If you do buy a new television between now and 2009, however, and you rely on over-the-air broadcasts (also called “terrestrial broadcasts” to distinguish them from satellites), then seriously consider getting a set with a digital tuner, also known as an “ATSC tuner”. You may need to get a new antenna as well, depending on your location, but you’ll be able to enjoy digital television which can give you more channels, and even high-definition content if your display can support the higher resolution.
Or you could just simply plan to get cable or satellite service, and not worry about the problem at all.
As I write in Professor Poor’s Guide to Buying HDTV, you need three parts in order to get a true HDTV experience: Display + Signal + Content = HDTV. If you don’t have all three, you will get nothing better than your old-fashioned Standard Definition television experience, or maybe even worse.
One of the big problems, however, is knowing whether all the pieces you assemble will work together. Two new initiatives are working to help consumers by certifying that different components are compatible.
The High Definition Audio Video Network Alliance — HANA – was launched a week ago with a roster that includes heavyweights such as Mitsubishi, JVC, Samsung, and Sun Microsystems. The goal is to make it easy to view and control HD content across a home network, using just a single cable to make the connection. A single set-top box will be able to provide content throughout the house, and connect easily to displays, storage devices, and sound systems.
Intel also has created its Viiv Technology, which is the company’s effort to create PCs that work with other home entertainment devices to share content and distribute it across home networks. Intel will test and certify products and applications that will work together with the Intel-based systems. In November, the company announced that more than 40 other companies were working on products and content services that would be tested and verified for Viiv Technology compatibility, and that they would start to appear in the first quarter of 2006.
Both of these efforts can only be good news for consumers. Whether we need both, and whether the broader industry approach of HANA or the Intel-driven Viiv initiative will be more useful remain to be seen. I expect that both will be making a lot of noise in two weeks at CES, so expect to hear more from me about it after that.
Chi Mei Optoelectronics (CMO) is one of the major Taiwanese producers of LCD panels. The company announced recently that it had created a 56″ diagonal LCD-TV panel with “quad full high-definition” — QFHD — with 3,840 by 2,160 pixels. Yes, that’s the equivalent of four 28″ 1080p panels tiled together. CMO says that it intends to produce the panel in volume by the third quarter of 2006.
It’s clever, and it shows how LCD technology can be used to create large displays with higher resolutions than plasma, but I’m still left scratching my head and wondering what the application is for this new giant display.
With 78 pixels to the inch, that’s coarser than your average 19″ computer monitor. Still, if you put it a little further from your computer keyboard, you could end up with a giant data screen equivalent to four or five desktop monitors. Lay it flat on your desk, and your Windows Desktop could really be a “desktop” (assuming you can find a graphics card that can drive this thing). Digital signage turns out to work just fine at ED resolutions, so there’s no compelling need for 1080p, let alone this high resolution.
Could you use it for entertainment? You could put four 1080p signals on the screen at one time (if there were any 1080p content to display), but it would be cheaper to get four smaller 1080p displays. There isn’t any QFHD content except in some custom and experimental applications.
So I’m left wondering why CMO is putting this into production, and how many they actually expect to sell. Any ideas?
The competition to become the standard format for high-definition content on DVD discs just got more confused, if that’s possible. HP has been a part of the Blu-ray development effort that is led by Sony. Earlier this fall, HP asked the Blu-ray camp to incorporate two features that were part of the competing HD DVD specification, but the group only decided to add one of the two.
HP has now announced that it is also joining the HD DVD group. “By joining the HD-DVD Promotions Group and continuing work with the Blu-ray Disc Association, HP will be in a better position to assess true development costs and, ultimately, provide the best and most affordable solution for consumers,” according to Maureen Weber, general manager of HP’s Personal Storage Business.
This is not good news for Blu-ray, but it’s not clear how bad the news is. Microsoft has already thrown its support behind the two features in HD DVD that HP wanted added to Blu-ray. These are reportedly going to be part of the new Vista Windows operating system, and are designed to help consumers distribute content to various devices around the home over wired and wireless networks. HP is making a strong play in consumer electronics, but remains an IT company at heart, so it’s no surprise that they’re buying into Microsoft’s model where the computer becomes the center of entertainment activity in the home, and not the television set.
It’s still too close to call, folks. HD DVD media should be cheaper to produce, but Blu-ray media has greater capacity. HD DVD may come to market first, but Blu-ray drives are expected to ship in every one of Sony’s new Playstation 3 consoles, which could result in an overnight installed base. And traditional red-laser DVDs are using DiVX and MPEG-4 to compress HD content to fit on existing DVDs. It’s at least a three-horse race at this point, and I’m not ready to handicap the results at this point.