In the battle for which satellite service is more HD-friendly, DISH Network has stepped up with a new advantage; LCD HDTVs cost less if you are a DISH subscriber. Through January 31, 2008, you can get up to $800 of a Sharp Aquos LCD HDTV if you are a qualifying existing or new customer and you purchase through SharpDirect. And they’ll even deliver it free in certain parts of the U.S. The discount applies to certain models from 26″ to 65″, while supplies last. New customers can also try DishHD for free for six months, and may also get a free upgrade to the company’s HD DVR boxes.
It’s clear the the competition to deliver television signals to your home is getting hotter by the day. Cable stopped being the only game in town a long time ago, and now the phone companies and broadband access to television over the Internet promise to make new customers even harder to find. Most subscription-based businesses from magazines to cell phones are willing to do just about anything to get you to sign up initially, knowing that inertia makes it unlikely that you’ll switch to a competitor any time soon. So don’t be surprised if this isn’t the last bargain that satellite provides will dangle in front of you in the coming months.
Is satellite service best for you? Compare for yourself at http://hdtvprofessor.com/SatelliteTVService/satellite-comparison.html.
Westinghouse Digital issued an interesting press release last week, reporting the results of a poll that asked “If you could design a TV yourself, what would you add?”
The top answer was speech recognition. (Actually, the press release said “voice recognition” but that is really a security feature, like fingerprint recognition. If you want something that takes verbal commands, you want “speech recognition”. But now I’m just being picky.) This is an interesting idea, but I wonder if it would be difficult to implement. For example, how would the TV differentiate between an instruction from a viewer, and dialog from whatever is showing on the TV at the time? I’m also tempted to make a comment about people too lazy to press a button on a remote control, but since I’m as addicted to the remote as the next guy, I’m not going to throw stones. When was the last time you crossed the room to change a channel?
The next most popular item surprised me: touch screen. Maybe it’s just the gimmies for the iPhone talking, but I have to wonder if people really want a touch screen HDTV. Maybe if it were a personal-sized model – say 19″ or so — where you’re sitting close enough to touch it, but what’s the benefit for a room-sized model? Are you going to get up and cross the room to change the channel? (See previous paragraph.) And while we do not currently have any in residence, I’m familiar enough to wonder if you really want rug rats smearing their PBJ over the big screen when they want to watch Bob the Builder?
The rest of the list was interesting, mainly because they are features already available in HDTVs. These include 120 Hz refresh rate to reduce motion blur on LCDs, wireless communication with signal sources, energy conservation, and built-in digital video recorder (DVR) functions. I’ll be watching to see if the desire for these features translates into higher sales for models with these features.
Most of all, I was surprised to see that “integrated beer cooler” wasn’t included on the list. Maybe football fans were not well represented in the sample.
What features would you add to your HDTV? Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me your idea.
The only thing that seems to be as confusing as HDTF is the whole issue about the end of analog television broadcasts on February 17, 2009. Here’s the straight scoop; on that day, local television stations will cease their analog broadcasts of television content. They will continue the free digital broadcasts that are already available. You will need a television with a digital (ATSC) tuner to receive these signals, or a converter box that will translate them so that an analog set can display the content. This changeover does not affect people already using settop boxes from cable or satellite TV services; those will continue to work just as they do now.
Well, at least that’s what I thought. Then I ran across the Community Broadcasters Association (CBA). This organization includes “low power” television broadcasters. Here’s how the FCC describes low power stations:
“The Low Power Television Service (LPTV) was established by the Federal Communication Commission in 1982. It was primarily intended to provide opportunities for locally-oriented television service in small communities, both rural communities and individual communities within larger urban areas. LPTV presents a less expensive and very flexible means of delivering programming tailored to the interests of viewers in small localized areas, providing a means of local self-expression. In addition, LPTV has created abundant opportunities for new entry into television broadcasting, and it has permitted fuller use of the broadcast spectrum. LPTV branch is also responsible for processing application for Television Translator stations. TV Translator stations are stations in the broadcast service operated for the purpose of retransmitting the programs and signals of a TV broadcast station.”
As of September 2006, there were 2,189 licensed low power stations, 568 Class A stations, and another 4,717 repeater stations. These far outnumber the 1,754 full power commercial and educational stations. The analog cut-off only applies to the full power stations; the remainder can and likely will continue their analog broadcasts, according to comments submitted by the CBA to the FCC. The CBA points out that Class A and low power TV stations often serve minority, ethnic, and other niche audiences that may be underserved by the full power TV, cable, and satellite broadcasters.
So in spite of my best efforts to spread accurate information about the digital television broadcast transition, it looks as though I didn’t have the whole story. There will be use for those analog tuners after February 17, 2009 after all, and I apologize to all the low power and Class A broadcasters and their audiences for adding to the confusion.
Boy, I was going to write about an incredible deal today that I found while preparing “Professor Poor’s Weekly Price Intelligence Report“. In Sunday’s circular, Best Buy advertised the Panasonic TH-50PZ77U for $1,709 after instant savings. That’s a 50″ plasma with 1080p resolution, and that’s a killer price that matches well against the second and third tier 1080p LCD offerings. And it’s an unbelievable deal.
Of course, that’s the operative word: unbelievable. The company goofed, and meant to advertise the 42″ TH-42PZ77U model instead. It’s still a 1080p resolution model, and this is still an impressive price. All is not lost, however; Best Buy hopes to make amends for its gaffe by offering an extra $100 off all plasma HDTVs; the in-store prices will reflect this discount beyond the regular sale prices.
So we’ll just have to wait another two months to see the heart-stopping, breath-taking prices, if you can stand to wait that long.
On Friday, the DVD Copy Control Association reported that they had finalized an agreement with Hollywood studios that will let consumers download movies from the Internet, and save them to a DVD that can be played on other DVD players. This new digital rights management (DRM) technology — also known as “copy protection” — will prevent the DVD from being copied. Apparently, the approach hinges on using special DVD blanks that have a serial code recorded on it, presumably to help track pirates who infringe on the copyrights of the downloaded content.
This approach has a familiar ring, which leads me to expect that it won’t fly. Does anyone remember the CD-R blanks with the special encoding (and a higher price) that were required to make CDs that would play on some CD audio players? They didn’t last long in the marketplace. I don’t see why consumers would be any more willing to go that route for movies. Especially when it appears that the downloaded DVDs will not play on computers or other devices that did not have the required copy protection circuitry.
Downloading movies from the Internet is likely to have as big an impact on the DVD disc market as downloading music has had on CDs, but it won’t be until the selection is as broad and the portability is as complete as it is now for music. This doesn’t mean no copy protection at all, but it does mean that the system will have to be more transparent to the end user.
(One of these days, I’m going to come up with an entry headline that is all acronyms!) On Wednesday, ReplayTV announced its “Personal HD” product, which they offer as an “all-in-one solution for the PC with HDTV, multi-tuner, and iPod support.” The package includes an analog/digital tuner that plugs into a USB port on your computer, a remote control, an antenna, and software on a CD. It also includes a one year subscription to the ReplayTV Electronic Program Guide, which costs $19.95 a year after the first year.
The package supports multiple tuners, so you can record more than one show at the same time, and it works with tuners from Hauppauge, ATI, and Pinnacle. The playback feature lets you view recorded shows by when they were recorded, or grouped by title. And the suggested retail price is $99.95, which certainly is affordable provided that you have a computer you can assign to the task.
I’m still looking for a high definition DVR that works as well as our Panasonic SD model. The ideal system will record both analog and digital broadcasts, have a good on-screen program guide to make recording easy, and have easy access to the recorded content. I don’t want to pay any subscription fee – though $20 a year for ReplayTV would be acceptable — and I don’t want to have to rely on an Internet or telephone connection for the DVR because we don’t have either where our TV is located now. ReplayTV fails on this score, but the rest of the package is enticing enough that this could be the tipping point for getting a network connection in the living room.
NBC has announced that it will offer free downloads of prime time and late night programming episodes on its new NBC Direct service. Anyone with a PC running Windows will be able to download and watch these episodes up to seven days after the initial broadcast airing. Mac support will follow soon, as will the ability to transfer the file to a portable viewing device. Eventually, the network intends to make HD versions of the show available, using a peer-to-peer distribution system.
This new service will be in addition to the episodes offered for sale (which can be viewed indefinitely) and free streaming episodes that are available now. NBC has announced that it will no longer sell its programming through iTunes, in a dispute with Apple over pricing.
These files will be copy protected, which is less attractive but understandable, given that they don’t cost anything. The files will contain commercial advertising that apparently cannot be skipped , so that’s how NBC plans to fund the project. The project will start with beta testing in October, according to a company press release.
Q: Can you tell me anything about the Samsung LN-T5271F LCD TV? It has a “shiny” screen. Is that a good feature?
A: That’s a great question, Ralph. The specification sheet for the LN-T5271F describes it as having a “Super Clear Panel”. According to Samsung materials, this is designed to deliver “higher picture clarity and lower reflection”.
This is a feature that has been popular in notebook and computer monitor LCD screens for a few years. The typical LCD panel has a top diffuser layer. This serves to redirect some of the light from the panel in different directions, which can aid viewing angle performance. This also has the benefit of scattering ambient light from your room so that you don’t get harsh reflections on the screen. The downside of this is that light from brighter parts of an image and reflected ambient light appear in in other parts of the screen. This can cause the black level to increase, appearing more gray than black.
The “clear coat” screens use a much less powerful diffusing layer, and relies more on the LCD cell structure for viewing angle performance. On the downside, you may see more reflections in the screen, especially if you have a bright point source of light behind you such as a lightbulb or sunny window. On the plus side, however, the blacks will look deeper and darker. This is one of the keys to great color, as a low black level increases contrast, which in turn makes colors appear to “pop” from the screen.
The bottom line here is that if you can control the room lighting, these “clear coat” LCD panels will probably look better than a traditional panel design.
It was just over a year ago that Radio Shack started its focus on HDTV. You may recall that I was skeptical at the time. So now would be a good point to ask “How’s that working for you?” Well, by some simple indicators, the answer doesn’t look too positive.
“Professor Poor’s Weekly Price Intelligence Report” tracks the newspaper sales circulars for the major electronics retailers. Stores like Circuit City and Best Buy advertise dozens of HDTVs each week. The Radio Shack circular that came in my paper last week did not advertise a single HDTV. In fact, over the past six months, I’ve logged listings for a grand total of three HDTVs in Radio Shack flyers.
If you look at the company’s Web site, you will find listings for 15 HDTVs in the 31″ to 40″ range (and nothing larger). Of these, four are available only online. So this means there are fewer than a dozen models that you’ll find in a Radio Shack store, and I’m guessing that you won’t even find all of them in your local store.
The company’s second quarter financials showed a profit compared to a loss for the same period last year, but sales were down significantly. The profit came from controlling costs and selling items with better profit margins. The company statements don’t single out HDTV, but from looking at their sales circulars, these higher profit items seem to be iPod accessories and GPS systems.
Retail can be a tough way to make a living, especially in consumer electronics. And HDTVs are probably the most difficult segment of that market. It doesn’t look as though HDTV has been the winning strategy that Radio Shack had hoped for, and the big retailers are going to make it increastingly difficult for the smaller chains and independent stores to make HDTV work for them.
Something new and different happened at the Emmy Awards last night. Al Gore won the first “interactive television services” Emmy for the cable network, Current TV. The the tie to Internet TV is that the content includes a mix of professionally produced and user-submitted content. You can watch the viewer-contributed content and vote on which pieces should air on the network at the Current TV Web site.
The IPTV camel’s nose is well under the tent at this point, but it’s interesting that the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences have finally taken a step to recognize it, even if the first winner still uses traditional cable to distribute the content. I’m still looking forward to the day when an Emmy is awarded to a show that exists only on the Internet.