Syntax-Brillian, the company behind the Olevia brand of HDTVs, has fallen deeper into hard times. After delaying and revising last quarter’s financials, the company made a shake-up of top management and a changed their business model. Part of those changes included abandoning their LCoS rear projection television business. Now they are late again with their financials for this quarter, and reports indicate that the NASDAQ is threatening to delist their stock if they don’t release their numbers by next Tuesday.
This also comes on top of a civil suit for stock fraud by some shareholders against the company and certain top management officers. All this bad news has left the company’s stock price severely battered; after hitting $8.78 last spring, it fell to $0.70 this week.
It’s never a good time for bad news, but this could be especially bad for Syntax-Brillian. Across the industry, inventories are piling up after holiday sales failed to hit projected levels, which will push prices down and delay new orders. It will become even more difficult for brands like Olevia to find a competitive space between the lowest-priced brands and the top names like Sony and Samsung. It’s too early to bury Syntax-Brillian, but signs indicate that it may not last much longer.
A news story in the Wall Street Journal last week reported that Verizon was having problems with a shortage of HD set top boxes for its FiOS television service. FiOS is the company’s service that provides telephone, high speeed broadband Internet, and television to homes over .
The problem appears to be that Motorola has not been able to keep up with the demand for the FiOS HD set top boxes. The story reports a Motorola representative as saying that demand has “exceeded expectations“. Apparently, Motorola is not having any difficulties in supplying set top boxes to cable services such as Comcast and Cox.
In this age of immediate gratification, we expect to have our email or music or movies or television or phone service instantly available to us wherever we are at that moment. While the software required for this is pretty remarkable, it’s situations such as this supply hitch with Motorola that reminds us that hardware still plays an essential role. And when it comes to manufacturing stuff, it’s hard to turn production on or off on a dime, and it takes time to make adjustments and get the physical objects from there to here.
The bottom line is that some new FiOS customers may have to wait a week or so for their new service. According to the article, that doesn’t seem to deter new subscribers. So Verizon is having to deal with a little too much success, which is the sort of problem that I’m sure that they welcome.
Blu-ray has won. HD DVD has been vanquished. But did you expect the prices to fall this fast? Check out the Microsoft Xbox 360 Web site: http://www.xbox.com/en-US/hardware/x/xbox360hddvdplayer/default.htm. Microsoft is offering the the Xbox 360 HD DVD player for $49.99. And that apparently still includes five free HD DVD titles.
Microsoft has put a tidy disclaimer on the page:
Microsoft has discontinued production of HD DVD players. From this time forward, availability of HD DVD content will be limited and subject to studio availability; for more information consumers may contact those 3rd party content providers directly.
But if you already have an Xbox 360 (or are thinking about getting one), this could be an attractive deal. First, getting five new-release DVDs for $10 apiece is pretty good, even if they are just standard DVDs. But these are high definition. Yes, you need a special player to view them, but it’s free with the movies. Next, it’s true that there won’t be a lot of new HD DVD titles released going forward, but there already are hundreds of them available now. And they’re going to sell at clearance prices now that the HD DVD camp has folded its tents. On eBay today, there are 68 HD DVDs listed, many of which don’t even have a bid even with a $0.99 starting bid.
So if you want to see some of these movies in high definition, and you have an Xbox, this could be an inexpensive way to get them.
As many readers are aware, I’m a big fan of IPTV which some people call “Next Generation Television”. I’m convinced that it will reshape how we watch video. In fact, it already has; consider YouTube. But some people wonder if it’s a practical solution.
Well, consider this. According to a recent issue of The Bridge, the Diffusion Group has released a study that predicts 162 million households worldwide will be watching broadband television by 2011. An analyst from the company points to TiVo’s deal accessing Amazon’s Unbox service as a bellwether for where broadband TV is headed. Once we can make accessing Internet video as easy as changing channels on cable, people will use it more. And that’s what TiVo is starting to do for movie purchases and rentals.
But what about all that free stuff on the Web? There should be some easy way to access all of that, too. I just found a new service that does just that; it’s like a TiVo for online video. You can use it to search the Web for content that interests you, and flag the items you want to watch. It searches all over the Internet, including YouTube, and brings back the relevant video segments.
Instead of streaming the video to your computer, it downloads it and places it in a library. You can then watch the segments whenever you want. If you don’t watch them within five days, they delete themselves. You can delete a show after watching it, or you can save it to watch again in the future. And you can even set up “channels” that will collect video based on your selection criteria.
Best of all, you can even search for HD content on the Web. And since the clip is downloaded and not streamed, you don’t have to worry about choppy or broken images on playback.
So what is this service and how much does it cost? It’s called Miro, and it’s an open source project which means that it’s absolutely free. You can download the software and find out more about the service at www.getmiro.com. Let me warn you, however, that it’s addictive.
I try to explain to people that you need to sit close enough to an HDTV that you get a cinematic experience; a small screen across the room won’t give you the benefit of the fine detail available in the HD image. If you use the screen size calculations in my book, Professor Poor’s Guide to Buying HDTV, you’ll find that the optimum distance to sit from a 32″ 1080p set is less than four feet! So why would Samsung announce earlier this month that they will introduce a 32″ 1080p LCD HDTV?
The Korea Times reports that a Samsung spokesperson said “We have finally decided to release the mid-sized full HD television set as sales of video sources and contents including games made for Sony’s PlayStation 3 console have been increasing at a solid pace.” And that makes the mission of this set crystal clear; it’s intended to be a display for the video gaming platforms including the PS3 and the Xbox 360, which can produce 1080p images.
I have long contended that the ardent video game players are a market unto themselves for HDTVs, as many of them are young adults with the disposable income (or credit) and the desire to “trick out” their gaming platforms for maximum enjoyment. So using a 32″ HDTV as a personal display while playing video games makes a lot of sense. I think that this new model is too small to be a top seller in the broader market, but I do expect gamers to have a strong interest in this and similar models that provide support for the highest resolution in more compact (and affordable) display than one that is 40″ or larger.
Well, once again I get to publicly proclaim that I was wrong. In an earlier entry in the HDTV Almanac about digital TV converters, I wrote “wait until the end of 2008 to buy one. By then, competition will likley drive the price down to below $50, so you will practically get the converter for free.”
Who knew that the “end of 2008″ would come so quickly? Wal-Mart already carries not one but two different digital TV converter boxes for under $50: the Thomson RCA DTA800 and the Magnavox Digital-to-Analog TV Converter Box. And the NTIA has only just started sending out rebate coupons!
I still believe that a lot of companies saw the digital TV converter box market as a pot of gold, and competition has already worked to drive the price way down. That’s not to say that they won’t cost a lot less by the end of 2008 when the prospects of selling remaining stock will start to grow dim. But this means that today, with a rebate coupon, these boxes will cost you less than $10. So there’s no reason to wait to get one if you need it.
If you’ve been in any consumer electronics store in the United States within the past year, you may find this next item surprising, but here goes. According a industry-watcher DisplaySearch, LCD TV shipments surpassed CRT TV shipments for the first time in 2007, accounting for 56% of the 28.5 million units. CRT stands for “cathode ray tube” and refers to what many consider a “traditional” television that relies on a vaccum picture tube.
It’s getting very difficult to find CRT TVs for sale in the U.S. Consumers want larger screens and HD resolution, both of which result in sets that are too big, too heavy, and too expensive to compete with LCDs and plasmas. The fact remains, however, that for smaller screens in standard definition resolution, the CRT remains a cost competitive product. As a result, it has continued to be a mainstay on the world market, especially for emerging markets. Profitability has declined rapidly for CRTs, however, and many manufacturers are shutting down plants around the world. This will speed the takover by LCDs, aided by the fact that LCD prices continue to fall.
The next generation won’t understand references to the “Boob Tube“, having grown up in a solid state world. The days of the picture tube television are numbered.
We’re now less than a year away from the end of analog broadcasts for local television stations, and we keep finding out little tidbits of information that indicate that the transition may not be as smooth as we might like.
Last week, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin testified before Congress that as many as 5% of users who get converter boxes will find that they will still lose television service. It turns out that the existing analog broadcasts often reach beyond their expected coverage area, and it is likely that the digital signals will not be received in many of those areas. According to Martin, these people shouldn’t have been getting reception in the first place, so it’s not the FCC’s fault if they can’t get the digital signals.
Fortunately, many of these people may be able to solve the problem without resorting to a cable or satellite subscription. It may be that upgrading their antenna system may do the trick. Going from rabbit ears to a better antenna, or adding a signal amplifier may be sufficient to pull in the signal.
The key is to find out now what your reception will be, before you lose the analog signals. If you want to find out about what your antenna requirements are likely to be for digital signals in your area, check out the Consumer Electonics Association’s www.antennaweb.org site. It lets you enter your address, and it will tell you what type of antenna you will need for digital signal reception. And if you need a uni-directional antenna, it will give you the compass headings for the stations in your area.
If you rely on the free, over-the-air broadcast television signals, it’s better to find out now if you whether or not you might have a problem pulling in the digital signals. This will give you time to make any changes before the analog signals go dark next year.
The NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship tournament starts in just one month. Also known as “March Madness“, this marks the 18 days of the year when normal people who have no interest at all in basketball the other 347 days of the year become rabid fans of some little-known Cinderella school. Office pools, heated discussions about the chances of the Sweet Sixteen teams, and sleep deprivation become familiar features of the season.
The problem facing the true enthusiast is how to watch the games. Many do get broadcast on the CBS network, but you’re at the mercy of the producers as to which one you get to see when more than one is underway. And it’s quite possible that you don’t get a CBS affiliate station on the computer screen in your cubicle. What is a fan to do?
Fret not. For the first time ever, you will be able to watch all of the games live on your computer… for FREE! NCAA March Madness on Demand will make all 63 games available on your computer via a broadband Internet connection, from the opening round to the championship match. The games will be shown in 640 by 360 widescreen; it’s not HD, but it’s close to a wide standard definition image so you should be able to follow the action just fine. And if you miss a game, it will be archived so that you can watch it after it has ended.
So how do you get in on the action? You go to http://ncaasports.com/mmod?source=mktg_mmod08_vip1_mbcb&refcode=mmod08_vip1_mbcb to sign up. And if you sign up early enough, you’ll get a VIP Pass that will shorten the wait when you’re trying to watch a specific game. Capacity is limited, so some users may encounter a delay when trying to connect. Just because there are limits to the service doesn’t mean that it doesn’t deliver a lot of content, however. Last year, the March Madness on Demand site streamed games to more than 1.3 million unique views, totalling more than 2.6 million hours of programming.
Boy, if the productivity hit from March Madness doesn’t drive this economy into a recession, nothing will.
I was probably one of the first to pick HD DVD as the winning format in the high definition video disc contest. It had the backing of enough of the Hollywood studios to be competitive. Warner Brothers had a clever multilayer design that would play in both DVD and HD DVD players. The Blu-ray camp did its best to drive the porn industry to HD DVD. Movies that were “exclusively” Blu-ray were available as HD DVD through European distributors. But the biggest reason of all was value; the HD DVD players cost about half as much as an equivalent Blu-ray player.
And I was wrong. Reports from various sources including Reuters indicate that the Japanese broadcaster NHK has announced that Toshiba plans to cease production of its HD DVD products. If this turns out to be accurate, it comes as no surprise after the barrage of recent bad news about retailers pulling their support for the format.
So what happened? Was it technological superiority? It certainly was not that Blu-ray is a better value. And it’s not just the studio support, because hardly anyone has been buying high definition discs of either format. (Both camps resorted to giving movies away by the handful in an effort to boost sales figures.) I conclude that it was a combination of deep pockets and marketing accumen. I have not read anything official, but I have to believe that were were financial incentives involved somewhere in convincing Warner Brothers to switch allegience. And the timing of the announcement – right before CES — was a brilliant piece of strategy. Then last week saw the bludgeoning series of announcements from Netflix, Best Buy, and Wal-mart, all shifting in favor of Blu-ray. Sure, the timing could have been coincidental, but I easily could be convinced that these announcements were orchestrated for maximum impact.
The bottom line here is that I expect the folks at Sony decided that they did not want a repeat of the Betamax failure, where the company apparently believed that technological superiority was sufficient to carry the day. This time around, I think they applied some pressure in the right places at the right times, guided by a savvy strategy. And now Blu-ray has won.