Wal-Mart is one of the most successful brick-and-morter retailers out there. Still, it’s a bit surprising when the company is in the vanguard for electronic retailing. They recently announced that they will be offering download versions of DVD movies. The interesting wrinkle is that you have to buy the physical DVD as well; only then can you download the movie for your portable video device or PC/laptop. The downloads will cost about $2 to $4, depending on the format. According to a Wal-Mart press release, the company also plans to start testing a beta version of a download service for movie and television content, separate from buying a physical DVD.
This hybrid deal from Wal-Mart is interesting, but I’m not sure how much traction it will have. Most laptops and PCs already have DVD drives, and could play the physical DVD that you purchase in order to get the download. I suppose that there are some folks who would want to download a movie to their cell phone or video MP3 player, but early results indicate that these U.S. consumers are not likely to watch video content on these devices. (The percentages are higher in Asia, by the way.) I expect that the straight download without the DVD will be a more attractive deal, especially if it costs less than the physical DVD.
Just two days ago, I wrote about how the newest LCD plants were making it possible to product large numbers of enormous LCD HDTVs. One of the questions is whether or not there is a market for all those panels. Apparently, some Taiwanese LCD manufacturers think that there may not be, at least in the short term. AU Optronics and Chungwa Picture Tubes have announced plans to cut back production by 10% in December, according to a report in DigiTimes.
This is not a total surprise. December production is intended for next spring’s shipments, which will be after the holiday buying frenzy and it is reasonable to expect demand to drop off some. There are also reports that indicate that retailer inventories may end up being higher than desired, in spite of the holiday sales, which could help reduce the size of product orders for the spring.
Okay, this headline speaks volumes about the biggest problem with the whole field of HDTV: all those acronyms. Here’s another one that describes why it’s a problem: MEGO. (That stands for My Eyes Glaze Over.) But this alphabet soup is news of interest. AT&T has been testing its Internet-based television system called U-Verse, and has just started offering up to 30 HDTV channels to subscribing households in its San Antonio test market.
This is significant, because AT&T is relying on old-fashioned copper wire to deliver the data to the subscriber’s homes. Unlike Verizon which has set out to cover the world with fiber optic to your door (well, at least large parts of the U.S.), AT&T is trying to use the existing infrastructure to carry the data and to rely on DSL technology for the high bandwidth. Even so, subscribers are limited to one HDTV channel at a time per household. Early reports are that the image quality is good, but until we get someone like Peter Putman to visit San Antonio to take some measurements, we won’t know how much AT&T is compressing the signal.
While I find the AT&T approach to be a clever idea, I’m not sure that it will win. It’s relatively easy to implement right away, which may buy AT&T some mindshare that can be converted to other types of subscriptions as the company builds out other options. For example, it would be fairly easy to convert customers to a WiMax wireless broadband service down the road, and this could cost much less than Verizon’s expensive fiber optic build out. Still, the current approach has some significant limitations, and competing options from fiber, cable, and satellite may make it difficult for AT&T’s approach to get much traction.
Samsung announced last week that it intends to produce 70″ 1080p LCD HDTVs starting in February. This is made possible by the fact that they have their second Gen 7 plant running, which is capable of producing 1 million 70″ panels per year. We could see these new models on the market as early as March.
This announcement is just another volley in LCD’s continued attack on larger screen sizes. They have already displaced plasma from the 42″ and smaller sizes, and are making progress in sizes up to 50″ by having competitive prices even at those sizes. The demand for larger sizes is increasing, and I believe that this is a factor of both the lower prices and the realization by consumers that you really need to have a much larger screen than you might initially think when you want to watch 1080p images. This move to larger panels does eat up lots of production resources; that same Gen 7 line that produces a million 70″ panels could be used to produce 4 million 35″ panels. So the LCD manufacturers have the capacity to flood the world with displays. The question now is how many of these displays and at what sizes will the market be able to absorb. And the key to that answer is tied directly to how much the manufacturers need to charge for them.
Recent reports have highlighted Motorola’s ability to create carbon nanotubes as emitters for a field-emitter display (FED). Motorola was very active in FED research in the early 90s, but withdrew when it appeared that semiconductor emitters could not be manufactured at competitive prices. FEDs remain enticing, as they are thinner and lighter than an LCD or plasma panel, but have the excellent image characteristics of a classic vacuum picture tube CRT. The SED panels developed jointly by Canon and Toshiba are a variation on the FED theme.
So reports about Motorola’s ability to use carbon nanotubes are intriguing, but I would not put off your HDTV purchase until they come to market. As the SED development has demonstrated, it can be difficult to get from a gorgeous prototype to a full-speed production line. And the existing technologies — in spite of their flaws — have an enormous advantage. By starting earlier, they are achieving economies that make it difficult for competing technologies to get a foothold. When a 42″ plasma HDTV cost $10,000, there was plenty of room for competitors, but with 42″ LCD HDTVs selling for under $1,000, it has become far more difficult to build a device at a competitive price.
Like SEDs, FEDs with carbon nanotubes may someday be a factor in the HDTV market, but don’t hold your breath.
No news today. Just a simple wish of happiness to you and yours, and all others fans and supporters of the HDTV Almanac. May your day be filled with high-definition food and friendship. And be sure to rest up, if you’re planning to go for some of those incredible Black Friday deals tomorrow!
A vice president from ESPN spoke at a Samsung conference last week, and reportedly gave some interesting statistics about the viewing habits of HDTV owners. He said that 22% of sports fans with HDTVs said that they watched events that they probably would not have watched if they didn’t have HDTV. And of the HDTV viewers polled who did not identify themselves as sports fans, it was still 22% who said that they watched games that they would not have watched without HDTV. 32% of all HDTV viewers said that whether or not a program is in HD would affect what they choose to watch.
Everyone has been talking about how much better the HDTV viewing experience is, but here are some concrete results that clearly show that people’s viewing habits are impacted by the finer detail and cinematic view. With tomorrow’s annual football marathon scheduled for the post-turkey feast, wouldn’t you rather sleep off your carbo-coma in front of a widescreen? If you don’t have an HDTV of your own, there’s still time to get yourself invited to a neighbor’s or friend’s home who has one!
Q: I have a 24″ diagonal analog tv in my den. I want to buy a LCD HDTV widescreen to replace it. What size 16:9 aspect ratio widescreen HDTV will equal the screen size of my standard TV? I sit about 6 feet away from my TV. What is the largest screen size I should consider?
A: The 24″ SDTV has an image height of about 14″. A 28″ or 29″ wide format screen will have about the same screen height.
The pixels will be smaller on an HDTV, however, and you should plan to sit closer that you would to an SDTV of the same vertical height. In my book, I have a simple system that lets you multiply the viewing distance in inches by a single number to find the optimum screen size. The number you use depends on the resolution of the HDTV — something that few people seem to take into account — but for a 720p set viewed from 6 feet, the optimum size is 44 inches. This will have a vertical screen height of about 22 inches, which is considerably larger than what you have now.
What’s the right size HDTV for your room? Find out in Professor Poor’s Guide to Buying HDTV.
New research sponsored by CEA and Yahoo reveals that most people research their consumer electronics purchases online before buy anything. 71% of purchases were not made online, yet nearly three-quarters of those were researched online first. The average amount of online research was 12 hours per purchase. The average time for television purchases was even higher, at 15 hours. Over the six month period covered by the study, online research influenced more than $25 billion in sales.
I find it interesting that the study showed that three of the top sources used to research purchases were Web search engines, manufacturer Web sites, and retailer Web sites. The CEA press release does not detail what people looked for using the search engines, but they do not mention reviews at all. This might imply that shoppers are looking more for facts and comparison pricing than for evaluations, which could support my position that it is difficult — if not impossible – to provide effective review information for the HDTV market.
If you want to know why HDTV product reviews are all but useless, sign up for my free series of reports on the “8 Essential Keys to Buying HDTV” which you can find on the left column at http://HDTVProfessor.com.
One of the big myths of HDTV is that your new set will arrive from the factory with all the image adjustments at their optimal points. In general, this is not the case. And you can get in big trouble if you set about trying to adjust them on the fly, trying to judge “what looks good” as you go. You can end up with awful image quality, and because the different settings interact with each other, it can be extremely difficult to unwind your changes and get back to a good configuration.
You can hire a certified calibration technician to make the adjustments for you, but this can be an expensive proposition, and is typically used for home theater installations that are well into the five figure price range. There are a number of products intended for the do-it-yourself market, and one offers you the chance to do some good at the same time that you make your HDTV look good.
Monster Cable has partnered with the ISF (Imaging Science Foundation) to create the Monster/ISF HDTV Calibration Wizard DVD. (Note that they have “HDTV” in the product name, but there’s nothing inherently HD about the it, as it comes on a standard DVD and thus does not create HD images.) The DVD gives you step by step instructions on how to adjust the contrast, brightness, and color accuracy. There is no extra hardware involved, so the results will only be as accurate as your observations and adjustments, but you’re still likely to get a better image as a result. It only costs $30, so you’re not risking a lot of money in the process.
And as an added incentive, Monster and ISF will donate $10 from every Calibration Wizard DVD sale to the Elf Foundation’s “Room of Magic” program, which builds custom theaters in children’s hospitals and other treatment centers. So your HDTV will look good, you’ll look good, Monster and ISF will look good, and a bunch of kids with health problems will enjoy some distracting entertainment. Sounds like a good deal.