More on OLED TVs: Maybe Next Year?

I know that I just wrote about this, but here comes more information. MegaWhat.TV has posted a video report about a new Samsung 23″ OLED monitor (which is really just a TV without a tuner, and if you’re using a cable or satellite set top box, you don’t need a tuner in your TV). According to the report, this monitor will be in production in 2010. It’s only a bit more than half an inch thick, and looks great in the video.

CORRECTION: (5/3/09) As much as I’d love to have Samsung come out with a 23″ OLED monitor, it appears that MegaWhat got this wrong. It’s not an OLED monitor, it’s an LED monitor. In other words, it’s an LCD monitor using LED edge-lighting which is why it’s so thin. I apologize for the false alarm on this and for perpetuating the error. (If you should catch an error, please let me know by writing to me at alfred@hdtvprofessor.com.) The remainder about Panasonic is still correct, as far as I know.

In addition, word comes from Australia via a report by Smarthouse that quotes Panasonic executives as saying the company will introduce OLED TVs in 18 to 24 months. Now, that’s a long way out and by now we should realize that this is hardly a credible prediction, but it does indicate that Panasonic’s interest goes beyond just plasma.

Will we see new OLED TVs before the end of this year? Maybe. Will we see them next year? Probably. Will they be price competitive with plasma or LCD? It’s just about guaranteed that they will cost at least twice as much. But they are undeniably gorgeous and there’s sure to be a market for them at just about any price.

Radio Shack Survives on Converter Boxes

According to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal, Radio Shack recently announced its first quarter financial report. In a time when most companies see good news as a smaller loss than expected , Radio Shack posted an 11% increase in income over last year. According to the article, if you take out the cell phone and digital TV converter box sales, however, the company would have showed a loss.

Converter box sales accounted for about $70 million of the quarter’s revenues, compared with $200 million in sales for all of 2008. Total income for the quarter was $43.1 million, so it’s clear that these sales likely played a large role in the income.

The problem is that it’s not clear what Radio Shack will do after June 12 when the converter box sales will start to dry up. The cell phone companies are working aggressively to make sales on their own, without the help of third-party retailers like Radio Shack. And with the recession, consumers are less likely to buy the electronic geegaws that make up so much of the Radio Shack inventory. The company has already all but abandoned efforts to transform into an HDTV store (not that the profits on those products are great shakes in the first place). So I continue to be skeptical about the company’s future. If CompUSA and Circuit City couldn’t make it, I don’t see how Radio Shack is going to succeed. Unless they can pull another high-tech rabbit out of the hat, the future could be grim.

LG Supports DivX

LG Electronics has a history of supporting DivX video compression dating back to 2007, and last week, renewed that support in a big way. The company announced that its latest line of TVs supports the new DivX HD technology. This brings the total to more than 200 LG TV models that have been DivX certified. What is DivX? It is a compression technology that is more efficient than others used for digitial video. It is possible to fit 2 hours of 1080p movie content on a single 8 GB USB thumb drive or media card.

The new LG LH50 LCD HDTV supports DivX HD technology for 1080p video.

DivX has not received as much attention in the U.S. as it has in Europe, but that could change as more services shift to the Internet delivery of movie rentals and other video content. CinemaNow already supports DivX. The increased compression decreases download times and requires less local storage. So LG’s support of the technology puts it in a more flexible position to respond to changes in how video content gets distributed.

Comcast Cable TV on Your Computer

Netflix gets it. iTunes gets it. And now it appears that Comcast, the leading cable TV provider in the country gets it. Traditional content delivery is going the way of the buggy whip. Consumers don’t want to be tied to a disc of polycarbonate plastic or a coax wire coming through the wall in order to get their television, movie, or music entertainment content.

According to a report in PC World, Comcast has announced that it will soon let its subscribers view their content on the Internet. This apparently will include all the content that they could access through their home cable connection, and at no additional charge. This means that you will be able to access the content you subscribed to even when you’re away from home. Presumably this will be limited to simultaneous broadcast material; for on-demand content, you will probably be limited to what Comcast already offers on its Fancast.com Web site. (That content is available for free to anyone, whether you are a Comcast subscriber or not, and gives you on-demand access to full episodes of many major TV series.)

This is the cable equivalent of where Netflix is headed with its Internet delivery of rental movies. You’ve already paid your subscription fee; now you get to access the benefits in either the traditional (cable or plastic disc) methods, or over the Internet. Expect others to try and follow suit, though the trailblazers are likely to develop a significant lead.

TiVo Downloads from Amazon

In an announcement on Tuesday, TiVo announced that their customers can now download video and movie HD content from Amazon directly to their TiVo recorders. The supported models are the Series3, TiVo HD, and TiVo HD XL digital video recorders (DVRs). High definition TV episodes can be purchased for about $3, and HD movies can be rented for $4 to $5. The content will be included in results using TiVo Search, or users can browse the Amazon content right on their TV screens.

TiVo has more than 3.3 million subscribers, many of whom are loyal users of the service. This new deal with Amazon will accelerate consumer’s acceptance of video and movie content obtained over the Internet, by making it easy and bundling it into the hardware and service that is already familiar. The fact that these devices can record the content so that you can watch it when you want makes it that much more convenient and appealing.

More OLED TVs This Year?

After lots of backpedaling on promises to ship OLED TVs — especially by Samsung — some companies are starting to sing a different tune. A story from the Hindu Business Line this week has been widely quoted and has stirred up a bit of excitement. In the report, an executive from LG is quoted as saying that “OLED should be here by end of 2009.” He also predicted that prices would be at least 2.1 times that of a standard LCD HDTV. That’s a hefty increase, but nothing like the 10 times (or more) price premium for Sony’s little OLED TV (that isn’t even HD).

And there are new rumors about Sony as well. The company has been showing a 21″ WXGA (720p) OLED HDTV in some Asian trade shows recently, fueling speculation that it may be released as a commercial product as early as this fall. No pricing has been mentioned, but don’t expect it to cost less than a 50″ LCD HDTV.

LCD TV Production on the Rise

According to a press release from DisplaySearch yesterday, March 2009 shipments of LCD TV panels rose 30% over February’s number to total 9.9 million units. Even better is the news that this represents a 14% increase over the March 2008 numbers, which was before we ran headfirst into the brick wall of global recession and massive oversupply of LCD TVs.

These strong indications are backed by other news from the LCD industry. Most notably, Sharp has announced that its Kameyama Plant No. 2 is operating at full capacity, and the company plans to put its new Gen 10 production plant in Sakai into operation in October this year. The Gen 10 glass substrates are so large that they cannot be shipped, so the glass plants will have to be co-located with the new LCD factory. The larger substrates mean that more large panels can be made out of a single sheet of glass, resulting in higher production efficiency and thus lower costs for the end products.

In the long run, this is good news for consumers. It means that prices will be held down through lower cost production, rather than the industry-damaging oversupply that led to stagnant inventories and huge losses for the manufacturers and retailers. As a result, the current low prices for LCD TVs may begin to rise soon, but they will not rise as high as they would without this new, more efficient production.

Hulu Growing

According to a report by comScore, the Internet video site Hulu saw a 42% increase in viewership in February, serving up about 330 million videos. This was enough to push the service up to fourth place overall among Internet Video sites. (Google with its YouTube remains solidly in the top spot with more than 5.3 billion videos served up in February.) Hulu had nearly 35 million viewers for the month.

One interesting comparison between YouTube and Hulu is that Hulu appears to have a solid financial model, relying on commercials embedded in its videos for revenues. With full-length episodes of current hit broadcast TV shows — including the new Southland series — Hulu delivers a lot of content that people want to watch. And if you have high-speed broadband, you can watch in full screen high-definition.

For example, there was a show last fall that conflicted with another of our favorites, so we decided not to record it on our DVR. Instead, I figured I could catch up by watching the episodes on Hulu. (Okay, if you must know, it’s the Fox show “Terminator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles“.) Now that most of our favorites are in reruns, I’m using a computer connected to our big screen to watch the shows. I’ve got a high-speed broadband Internet service, but I still get frames dropping occasionally which makes some scenes a little jerky, but in general, it’s very watchable and much better than a snowy analog broadcast or noisy VCR recording. There are some very short commercials sprinkled throughout the show, but far fewer than you’d see on a broadcast version of the show. The only adjustment you have to make is to turn off any power saving features that would turn off the display when the computer is idle. With this arrangement, there’s always something good to watch.

I can see why Hulu is a hit, and this only strengthens my confidence that the Internet will ultimately be the delivery method for broadcast television and movies. If you haven’t tried the Internet on your main television, I encourage you to give it a try. If you have any questions about how to do it, just email me at alfred@hdtvprofessor.com and I’ll try to help.

FFC Sets Rules For DTV Help Centers

Earlier this month, the FCC published the rules for DTV help centers. Most TVbroadcasters are required by the “DTV Delay Act” to create walk-in help centers for their markets. These new rules require that the centers be open at least from 4 to 8 PM (local) on Fridays, and 10 AM to 4 PM on Saturdays and Sundays. For the two weeks before the June 12 cut-off date for analog broadcasts, as well as an additional week following the cut-off, the centers must be open every day from 12 PM to 8 PM.

In addition the centers are required to have an analog television, a converter box, an antenna, and a VCR, as well as someone available to demonstrate how to connect these devices correctly. There must also be handouts available that explain the digital transition and related issues such as possible reception problems with digital signals. The centers must also have DVD players with a screen that can be used to play educational videos about the digital transition.

The centers must also have a high-speed Internet connection and a computer available to consumers so that they can apply online for converter box rebate coupons.

These are all great ideas, and probably it makes sense that they should be required by law to make sure that they happen (though it does appear to be yet another unfunded federal mandate). What doesn’t make sense to me is that the FCC waited to publish these requirements until two months after the original cut-off date, and just two months before the delayed cut-off. The requirement for help centers should have been part of the original transition planning, and these requirements should have been developed a year ago at the latest.

By the way, the latest numbers from Nielsen from the second week of April indicate that some 3.8 million U.S. households still are totally unprepared for the transition. That is a significant improvement over the 6.5 million unprepared in January of this year, but is still a large number. But the transition is not going smoothly, even for some of those that Nielsen would count as at least partially prepared. Three of Denver’s TV stations switched over on April 16, and according to a report by the Denver Post, the digital TV regional outreach coordinator for the FCC was quoted as saying “We’ve gotten a lot more calls than we expected.” And the Americorps voice message mailbox was full by noon on the day of the change-over.

June 12 is not looking too good at this point.

The Norwegian Blue of HDTV

Last week, Mitsubishi announced its lineup of premium TV models for 2009. In addition to a range of flat panel LCD HDTVs, the company also announced seven new rear projection DLP models which makes them the last major company to still emphasize DLP HDTVs. (It is interesting to note that the company’s press release did not mention the term “rear projection” at all, and only mentioned “DLP” in the footnotes.) Mitsubishi will also continue to market its LaserVue DLP HDTV.

Rear projection HDTVs like the new Mitsubishi models look pretty slim.

The 737 series comes in 60″, 65″, 73″, and 82″ models. The 60″ unit has a retail price of $1,499, making it an attractive alternative to the smaller flat panels. The high end 837 series comes in 65″, 73″, and 82″ models, with the largest model priced at $4,999. All the sets come ready to support 3D images, which is something that few flat panel TVs can claim. They are EnergyStar 3.0 rated, have multiple HDMI connectors, support for USB storage devices, and a range of advanced image processing features.

It is interesting that Mitsubishi continues to promote rear projection HDTVs, given that U.S. consumers clearly prefer flat panel models. These DLP HDTVs offer a tremendous bargain compared with flat panels of equivalent size. So if you thought you might have missed out on the opportunity to buy a rear projection HDTV, Mitsubishi will give you another chance, at least for one more year.