Vizio Proves Me Wrong!

For quite a while, I’ve been saying that if you want 3DTV with a flat panel display, you’re going to be stuck with active “shutter glasses” for the foreseeable future. Why not use the inexpensive passive glasses like you wear at the local cinema? Because it costs too much to add the required extra polarizing layers to the display panel, and this would raise the price too much to be competitive.

Clearly, I was wrong.

Yesterday, Vizio announced the XVT3D650SV, a new 65″ LED LCD HDTV with 3DTV support. It also has Vizio’s VIA (Vizio Internet Apps) for Internet connectivity and access to Netflix, Amazon Video on Demand, Facebook, Rhapsody, Pandora, and much, much more. It has wired and dual-band 802.11n WiFi support and a Bluetooth universal remote with a QWERTY keypad. It has localized dimming with the edge-lit LED backlight for increased dynamic contrast. And it is compatible with a wide range of 3DTV signal formats – including Blu-ray — which helps futureproof the purchase. And it comes bundled with four pairs of passive 3D glasses which are just like the ones that you wear at the local cinema. In fact, the same glasses will work in both places.

Not only does it use passive glasses, but the price is not sky high. Packed with top-of-the-line features, it will sell at Costco and Sam’s Club (in store and online) for $3,500. That’s much less than the price for other 65″ LCD 3DTVs that use active glasses, and even less than the street price for Panasonic’s 65″ 3D plasma model that uses active glasses. So not only does this not cost more than the other approaches, Vizio is able to sell it for less!

In short, this new 3DTV is a game changer. While Vizio has rolled it out as a flagship model, presumably there is no reason why this technology can’t filter down to smaller models and sets without the premium bells and whistles found in this one. I still am holding to my prediction that 3D will be a standard feature in all flat panel HDTVs within two or three years, but now I’m not so sure that they will be using active shutter glasses.

I’ll get a chance to see this new set up close and personal at CES 2011 next month in Las Vegas, and you can be sure that you’ll hear more about it right here. Stay tuned!

Pssst! Wanna Free Google HDTV?

By now, you’ve probably worked your way through your holiday shopping list, but I have one question: what are you getting yourself this year? Sure, budgets are tight but wouldn’t you like to have a 46″ Sony Internet HDTV that runs on Google TV? How would you like to get one for free?

Google is running a promotion called “I Want My Google TV!” that runs through December 22, and they’re not just giving away one Sony HDTV; they’re giving away 100 of these suckers! Do I have your attention yet?

Okay, here’s what you have to do. All you have to do is create a video explaining why you’re excited about Google TV. (Hint: it’s probably a good idea to be excited in your video.) Then post it on YouTube with the tag “YTGTV” in the title. According to the YouTube blog entry, entries will be judged based on “originality, creativity, entertainment factor, technical execution, and how well you explain why you are excited “. (The blog entry also includes a link to the official rules.)

I figure that most drawings have one grand prize and millions of entries. (Yeah, I collect those little game pieces off the McDonalds cups, but I’ve never won anything but more food.) In this case, however, how many entries can you expect there will be? A few thousand maybe? Maybe low tens of thousands on the outside? And there are 100 grand prizes, not just one. Wow, I like those odds. And if you’ve got a digital camera, it probably can record video just fine. So put on your thinking cap and your excited face, and see if you can’t get a piece of that Google wealth for your very own. Wouldn’t that make for some happy holidays?

Netflix Fights Cabin Fever!

I often receive comments about some of my Almanac entries that say “That’s fine for you, but it’s not what we’ve got up here in Canada!” Well, things are looking up a little for the citizens of the Great White North, thanks to Netflix. According to a company press release, Canadian subscribers to the streaming service now have “hundreds of new titles” available. Some of the shows that are being added include Weeds, Merlin, Undercover Boss, and Saturday Night Live.

Why don’t our neighbors to the north get the same choices that we get? The answer lies in the licensing agreements. Netflix has the rights to stream content in this country, but that doesn’t mean they can stream it worldwide. So they have to go back and negotiate expanded rights. The good news is that Netflix is taking its new role as a streaming content company seriously, and is expanding its service for its Canadian customers. It’s a good sign that Netflix is feeling strong and is willing to work to keep growing this new business.

Same Day Movies at Home?

Tired of standing in line to see the latest blockbuster? Not so thrilled about paying a fortune for a giant tub of buttery popcorn? Wishing for a way that you could enjoy the latest movies without having to endure the loud conversations and ringing cell phones at your local cinema?

Well, you may be able to solve your problems, if Prima Cinema is successful. According to a Wall Street Journal article, the new company hopes to have a system that will stream first-run movies to your home screen. Now, before you go out and order new slippers to wear for opening night, understand that there is a cost involved. The home system is expected to cost about $20,000. Oh, and each movie screening will cost an additional $500. That’s a lot of popcorn!

The company has financial backing from Best Buy and Universal Pictures, and hopes to start installations later next year. Clearly, this is not the solution for the average movie fan, but it could find its niche among the very wealthy who are looking for new, exclusive technologies.

3DTV Broadcasts Work on 2D HDTVs

According to an article in TV Technology, a consortium of Italian broadcasters and technology companies has come up with a way to broadcast 3D video content over a television channel in such a way that a standard 2D HDTV could still show a high definition image.

The key to the technique is that two 720p images (left and right) can be combined and sent in a single 1080p frame. This can be done in a way that the 2D set would only recognize one of the two images, and display just that content. A 3D compatible set would find the other image, and display both. The advantage of this approach over some other encoding methods is that it does not require that half the image be deleted and then recreated through interpolation. That approach would mean that the 2D image would only have half the image data of a high definition image.

The backward-compatible technique is being reviewed by standards agencies, but it could be a long time before such an approach will be implemented by broadcasters, either in Europe or elsewhere.

Could HBO Drop Cable and Satellite?

The Wall Street Journal quoted Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes as follows:

Mr. Bewkes said that if HBO becomes ‘overly hindered by having it only available to you in $60, $80 or $100 packages,’ it could be sold separately through the channel’s existing distributors, like cable and satellite companies, or new distributors.”

The operative term in that quote is “new distributors“. An article at GigaOM provides an interesting analysis of this development, which appears to open the door to an Internet streaming version of HBO. And as the author Liz Shannon Miller points out, the clear implication is that Time Warner would be looking to partner with another service to deliver their content.

How about Netflix? The GigaOM article takes the position that this is not going to happen, as Bewkes has spoken out against Netflix in the past, indicating that such a deal wouldn’t be in the best interest of the studio.

That’s a plausible position, to be sure, but along with death and taxes, the other sure thing is change. And times are changing. HBO and Cinemax have lost 1.5 million subscribers in the past year. That’s a lot of revenue going missing. And Netflix is collecting plenty of money already, even without HBO and Cinemax. According to the latest financials, the company is on track to earn more than $2 billion in 2010. I’m just guessing here, but it may be that the old distribution models may be giving way to new models, and what didn’t make sense in the past could seem like a more attractive choice now or in the near future.

So I wouldn’t be too harsh on Bewkes if he reverses his position on Netflix at some point. There certainly are other services getting ready to take to the track in this horse race, but with Netflix already out of the gate and on the back stretch, the others may find it difficult to catch up.

Sony Integrates HDTV with PS2

Looking for the ideal holiday gift for a college student or someone living in a small flat? Note that I say “flat” instead of “apartment” because this new set is only available in the United Kingdom at this point. Sony has rolled out the new KDL-22PX300, a 22″ LCD HDTV with a built-in PS2 video game console. This one device will let you watch television, watch Blu-ray high definition movies, play video games, and thanks to the Ethernet network port, get content streamed from the Internet. And there are even ports that let you use it as a monitor for a personal computer.

One problem with integrated devices such as this is that if one component fails, you have to take the whole thing in for servicing. On the other hand, it saves space and costs less than separate parts. This has been the crux of the argument over compact versus component stereo systems for years, and it applies just as well to integrated HDTVs. In my opinion, these devices have become incredibly reliable and I would not hesitate to buy an integrated device if I had a setting that would benefit from one.

More TV Content for Netflix

Several sources including the LA Times have reported that Netflix has struck a new deal with Disney to gain access to more of its television content. This includes episodes from prior seasons of popular ABC shows such as “Lost” and “Grey’s Anatomy”. According to the LA Times article, episodes from the current season still will be only available on Hulu. Some of shows from other Disney networks — ABC Family and the Disney Channel — will be available as early as 15 days after the initial broadcast date.

There are two interesting aspects to this story. First, the Netflix camel’s nose is nudging insitently under the tent. No longer are they just streaming content that’s avaiable on DVDs; they are getting into television episodes in a big way. Sure, it’s not every episode of every show, but at the end of that sentence, you have to put a great big “YET”. The company is in the right place at the right time to capitalize on the studios’ worries about revenues and retransmission rights and plummeting DVD sales. So expect to see more deals that will expand the scope of the content, and compress the delay between initial release and streaming availability.

The other part of the LA Times story that I found interesting is how much Netflix is willing to spend. According to the newspaper’s unnamed sources, the company will pay Disney-ABC between $50,000 and $150,000 per episode for the major shows. That may seem like a lot of money, until you find out that some networks pay $1.4 million per episode for reruns of popular shows. Now, the initial conclusion might be that Netflix can’t afford to increase their offer by 10-fold to compete with these cable networks. I think that’s looking at the wrong end of the telescope. What happens to the studio revenues if cable and satellite services offer more stripped-down packages, or even shift to a la carte pricing? Many of these networks that have these rerun deals may see their subscriber count drop, which reduces ad revenues, which limits what they can pay for the programming. If this happens, it’s likely that Netflix could pick up much of the slack, as subscribers would not be paying extra to gain access to these shows. Netflix revenues increase, and is able to pay the studios more. As they become the major outlet, their bargaining position also gets stronger. It will be interesting to see how the money side of episodic television programming develops.

Why I Love Networked Devices

I’ve got a couple Internet-connected devices here, including network media player boxes from Roku and Western Digital. They have individual strengths and weaknessess, but both share two features that I really like.

First, they let me access content on the Internet or on my other computers on the network. This gives me a nearly-endless supply of music and video content that I can enjoy without having to boot up a full-blown computer. This saves me time and money, and makes it easy for me to explore new content that I might not know about, such as genres of music that are not familiar to me. (I’m a big bluegrass fan, but I like to have a change of pace sometimes with a little jazz guitar, or perhaps a ska/reggae mix.)

The other fetaure that I love is the no-hassle upgrade process. In the early days of computers, you’d have to get updated programs on a disk, and then find the time to install and configure the updates. Now, the Internet delivers these upgrades to computers automatically if you want. The cool thing about network-attached entertainment devices is that they too can be updated automatically over the Internet. If the manufacturer makes a deal with a new content source, an automatic update of the network media player’s update means that the new choice will show up on your home menu. No muss, no fuss; I love it.

The fact is that the cost of processing power and its associated memory keeps dropping, which means that these network media players and other boxes are just going to get smarter and smarter. If you’ve been thinking about hooking up a personal computer to your HDTV, you might want to investigate a network-capable Blu-ray player, network media player, or other Internet-connected device and just see what they can do for you.

Sony Outsources More HDTV Production

HDTV may be in Sony’s DNA, according to the company’s marketing campaign, but it appears that they are turning more and more to surrogate parents to produce their offspring. A recent report in DigiTimes indicates that Sony will increase its use of LCD panels made by other companies from 30% to 50%, relying primarily on the Taiwanese companies such as CMI. This means that half of Sony’s HDTVs won’t have Sony LCD panels inside.

This is just one more sign that the once-dominant Japanese electronic industry continues to lose ground in the worldwide markets. Sony also recently disclosed that it would not increase its share of the new Sharp Gen 10 plant from 7% to 34% as originally planned. Electronics production has moved to Korea and Taiwan, and now there are signs that mainland China could take over the top production role before too long.