3DTV Shipment Forecasts Increase

The market research firm DisplaySearch is now forecasting that about 3.4 million 3DTVs will be shipped in 20210, for about a 5% share of the total worldwide HDTV market. One of its competitors in the display market research business is iSupply, which now predicts that about 4.2 million 3DTVs will ship this year. DisplaySearch’s prediction for the year 2014 is 42.9 million, which is considerably more pessimistic than iSupply’s 60.5 million forecast.

Whichever number you choose, the big growth in this segment isn’t expected to start until 2012 at which point the premium for 3D capability will be reduced and there will be more content available to attract consumers.

The analysts at iSupply make an interesting point in their forecasts. They predict that the sales of NeTVs — HDTVs that can connect directly to a network to access the Internet — will significantly outsell 3DTVs over the same period. They predict 27.7 million worldwide units this year, growing to 148.3 million in 2014.

I suspect that they are probably right that the NeTVs will sell better. First, the technology has been out longer, and so the premium is getting smaller for the feature. 3D capability is still limited to the larger, premium models which do not sell in the same volumes as more affordable models. At the same time, the Internet connectivity is migrating down into smaller and less expensive models, so it makes good sense that they will sell more.

A New Approach to Cord-Cutting

Cutting the cord” is the term that analysts have given to the growing movement of consumers who have disconnected themselves from the traditional utilities. At first, it meant users who got rid of landline telephone service and rely instead solely on cell phones. Now it also applies to folks who are now watching so much television content from the Internet that they are turning off their expensive cable and satellite subscription television service.

But what does it mean for a broadcaster to “cut the cord”? In one case, it could mean severing the connection between the production facility and the broadcast transmitter. What’s that? How can you be a television station without transmitting?

Well, a new report entitled “A Future for Public Media in New Jersey” makes a radical solution for public television in New Jersey. Sandwiched between the giant Philadelphia and New York City markets, the New Jersey public television stations exist primarily to provide coverage of state news that does not always get in-depth coverage from stations in the adjacent states. The report suggests selling off the stations’ broadcast licenses (for a lot of money) and just relying on cable and satellite services to carry the programming. In cash-strapped New Jersey, this could create an endowment that could sustain the network for a long time without having to rely on state funds.

The idea is that a huge majority of the audience already subscribes to cable or satellite services already, and the broadcast systems are a reduntant and expensive luxury. One problem is that the local cable companies are not obligated to carry programming from stations that are not broadcast locally, so the New Jersey public television system would have to get some sort of assurance that their shows would be distributed. Still, it’s an intriguing concept, and raises questions about the future of terrestrial broadcasting of televsion program in general. If the content is available online or by subscription service, why bother taking up valuable broadcast spectrum?

I don’t expect terrestrial broadcast to end any time soon, this does open the way to some alternative futures.

Table Top 3D

At SID 2010 in Seattle, I saw a clever demonstration. Syndiant wanted to demonstrate how their pocket projector could be used to create a stereoscopic 3D image. So one of their engineers duct taped two of them together, put different polarizers across each lens, aligned the images, and voila! It was a very effective 3D projector that worked with passive glasses.

So that was a cool way to get 3D from a pocket projector. And then along came this:

This is a table top display that creates a 3D image that you can view without glasses. In theory, it can create an image that you can walk around. In this demonstration from NICT’s Keihanna Research Labs, it only can be viewed across a 120-degree range. In order to create the image, the display uses 96 individual pocket projector engines, each aimed at a specially-designed funnel-shaped device that creates an image that appears to float above the table.

Now consider this; a standard 3DTV simply has two images. One is for the left eye, and the other for the right. This table requires 96 separate images. Start showing a full motion image at 30 frames per second, and you’re talking about 2,880 images per second. If you expand this to the full 360-degree viewing range, it balloons to 8,640 images per second. At full HD resolution, that’s 18 billion pixels per second. Figure 24 bits of color per pixel, and you’re up to more than 140 gigabytes of data per second. So while this is a clever creation, we’ve got a ways to go before we can have a system that could support a full motion HD version of this concept.

The researchers envision a way to use this to simulate a sports field projected into a stadium so you could watch your home team play in 3D even when they are playing out of town. I’m not betting against the concept, but I don’t expect to see it any time soon. (You can read more about this in an article at DigInfo.tv.)

Metalorganic Gasses in Short Supply: Who Cares?

Yes, this is another supply chain story. Never heard of “metalorganic gases“? Don’t feel bad; few people outside of the semiconductor industry (and some Chemistry majors) know what they are. Apparently they are an essential component in the fabrication of certain types of semiconductors, and they are used to deposit thin films of different chemical compounds. And according to an article in DIGITIMES, the price for some of these has doubled recently.

Some companies have more efficient production than others, and thus less of these expensive resources are wasted. As a result, the cost of these materials is a smaller portion of their total cost for a finished product, and their costs won’t increase as much as for the less efficient companies.

Now, why should you care? Good question. Some of the semiconductors that are fabricated using metalorganic gases are LEDs. Demand is skyrocketing for LEDs, due to growth in their use as solid state lighting and as backlights for LCD panels. And the LED panels are used in just about every notebook computer, many desktop monitors, and a growing number of LCD HDTVs. If the cost of making LEDs goes up significantly, then the cost of these devices will also be impacted. According to the DIGITIMES report, those manufacturers who make the least expensive and low quality LEDs are likely to be hit the hardest. Fortunately, the LEDs used for most HDTVs are high quality devices, and may be affected less by the cost increase, but this could help slow the price decline of LCD HDTVs with LED backlights later this year.

And for Great Deals on HDTVs, Shop Dell?

Sure, anyone who works with computers is familar with Dell, the company that built an empire based on online shopping for desktops and notebooks. (They even managed to make us forget Gateway, with their spotted-cow shipping boxes, which is now part of Acer.) But would you think of Dell for your next HDTV?

You might consider it. Over this past weekend, Dell ran a one-day special deal on the Sharp LC-42SB48UT for $549 including free shipping. The price today is back up to $599, but this is still lower than the price charged by many other online retailers for this entry level 42″ LCD HDTV.

Clearly, Dell is making an effort to diversify into consumer electronics, as it carries a variety of digital cameras, MP3 players, and gaming consoles, in addition to a wide selection of televisions. They’re not just computers anymore.

MLB Goes 3D

Only a handful of early adopters got to see it, but Major League Baseball broadcast some experimental 3DTV early this month around the All-Star Game in Anaheim, California. Earlier in the week, Fox Sports shot two games in 3D from Seattle as the Mariners took on the Yankees. These were sponsored by Panasonic and DirecTV, and were broadcast by DirecTV, Verizon, and major cable operators.

The big game was the All-Star Game, however, which Fox Sports shot using 13 3D cameras, including some Panasonic camcorders. The stereoscopic images apparently enhanced the viewing experience for many viewers, giving a better sense of the distance from pitcher to batter, and making it easier to judge the ball’s position and movement.

While no additional games are scheduled to be televised in 3D for this season at this point, the experiments were deemed a success. The challenge will be to find a way to fund the significantly-greater expense of 3D coverage, especially if it has to be provided in parallel with the existing 2D high definition production. Fortunately, the installed base of 3DTVs won’t represent a significant portion of the viewing public in the U.S. for a couple of years, so the MLB and the networks still have time to work it out.

Samsung’s 50″ 3DTV for $1K

How can an analyst predict the future if the manufacturers accelerate time so much that the future is here before we can even finish our speculation?

That’s about what has happened in the 3D segment of the flat panel HDTV market. I’ve been saying that making a current set “3D capable” really does not add much cost in materials or assembly, and that eventually all but the lowest-priced entry models will be ready for 3D. But for now, the feature is only available in the premium models with the higher prices (and higher margins for the manufacturerers).

Well, not so fast. Engadget has a report that ABC Warehouse is taking orders for a new 50″ Samsung plasma HDTV that is 3D-ready. And the pre-shipment price is $989: under $1,000. Now, one way that Samsung got the price down was to make this a 720p resolution model, but chances are good that you’ll be sitting so far from it that you wouldn’t be able to see the extra detail of a 1080p set from that distance anyway. So you really aren’t giving up a whole lot by going with a 720p set.

To paraphrase Dark Helmet’s minion in Spaceballs, “then” won’t be “now” soon, it’s “now” already. Expect other lower-priced models to start offering 3D ready features in times for the holiday buying season. (At least I can count on Black Friday not arriving until November.)

The Rest of the Story: Best buy vs. Ultimate

Back in April, I wrote about a lawsuit between Best Buy and Ultimate. Ultimate was advertising that it comparison shops at Best Buy and Walmart every day, and that its prices were lower. Best Buy complained that this was not true, and that the Best Buy prices were sometimes lower than those advertised by Ultimate. Arbitration failed to resolve the disagreement, and so Best Buy sued.

Now here’s the rest of the story. Best Buy has dropped the suit because Ultimate is no longer using the price comparison claims in its marketing, For its part, Ultimate does not admit that it did anything wrong. And each side will pay its own lawyers.

As I said back in April, don’t expect this to be the last tiff between electronics retailers over their advertising practices. This going to get a lot worse before it gets better.

Get Ready for Black Friday!

Can’t you just hear that holiday mall music playing already? Be glad that you’re not running a consumer electronics retailer business, because those folks are already holed up in their war rooms, mapping out strategies for Black Friday sales for this year.

According to a report in TWICE, “manufacturers, retailers and buying groups are already planning aggressive Black Friday promotions that may begin earlier, and last longer, than last year’s extended event period.” It appears that the recession continues to keep household purse strings knotted tightly, and high-end products such as 3DTVs are already piling up in inventory.

Slow sales across the board this summer will set up some aggressive promotions, perhaps starting even before the end of the third quarter. Absent a major turn-around in the unemployment and other economic measures, it looks as though we’re looking at some great bargains by the time we’ve tucked away this year’s turkey.

Remember, there are only 157 days left until Christmas!

Willing to Pay for Internet TV

As I wrote at the end of last month, the new Hulu Plus service for $9.95 a month stands to disrupt television viewing habits. It provides more content that does not expire, and it’s all offered in 720p high definition.

As it turns out, more and more people view this sort of offering as appealing. Some people have the attitude that everything on the Internet should be accessible for free, but that attitude appears to be changing. A new study by The Diffusion Group (TDG) polled broadband users about the new TV Everywhere initiatives from subscription television services such as cable and satellite. The concept is that existing customers will be able to access the same programming that they receive at home, but can get it as streaming video over the Internet. The TDG survey found out that 60% of the users are enthusiastic about the idea, and a total of 34% would be willing to pay at least $5 a month extra for the privilege.

On the one hand, TV Everwhere could be an important new source of revenue for these services, which are faced with increasing costs of maintaining their physical infrastructure. On the other hand, this sort of Internet streaming service could train their subscribers to get video content online. This could have the unintended consequence of users discovering that they can get enough of what they want from other sources that cost a fraction of their cable or satellite subscription fee. With those fees routinely running $100 a month or more just for television, a lot of households might be willing to chop that to $10 a month, and settle for what they can get from Hulu Plus or Netflix.