15 More Minutes of Fame

Actually, it’s just under 8 minutes this time. The HDTV Almanac is syndicated through Newstex, a service that provides “authoritative content” from a variety of online sources. And I’m pleased that they chose the Almanac as one of their sources. The company has a new program of video interviews with some of their authors and publishers, and they chose to interview me about HDTV Almanac. Here’s the video.

If you have any reactions, you can post them on YouTube or email me at alfred@hdtvprofessor.com.

CES 2011: Are TV Makers Doing an “Osborne”?

The big buzz at CES 2011 was about the auto-stereoscopic 3DTV demonstrations that seemed to be everywhere. Toshiba, Sony, and LG all had demo screens available that worked without glasses. Some are designed for single viewers, which is okay. Some were designed for multiple viewers, which I don’t think will work in the typical American living room. I have decided to diagram the problem.

A no-glasses 3DTV sends out images for the left and right eyes. This set has three

In this schematic, the HDTV at the bottom is viewed from across the room. (We’re looking down from the ceiling in the room. The red sectors are for the right eye image, and the green sectors are for the left eye image. If your head is not in one of the three “sweet spots” you will not see a 3D image. In many cases, you’ll see a jumbled image that you cannot resolve into a coherent image.

A no-glasses 3DTV sends out images for the left and right eyes. This set has three

Here’s a real-world view of what this means. The man in the photo is seated in one of the sweet spots, and will see the 3D effect without glasses. The woman, on the other hand is not in a sweet spot. She may see just a 2D image — just the left eye’s image — or if she moves just a little to her left, her right eye will get the left image and her left eye will get the right image, and she will not see a watchable image.

This is what I call the “cuddle factor”, and I do not believe that Americans would rather rearrange the furniture to sit in precise locations in order to see 3DTV, just to avoid having to wear glasses. I think that they will prefer the glasses (provided that they are inexpensive and work well).

And this leads me to the larger point. I think that the television manufacturers are making a dreadful mistake by making these public “technology demonstrations.” There once was a company named Osborne that made one of the first portable computers. It announced that it was going to ship a second generation model, and everyone stopped buying the first model. The production date slipped, Kaypro and Compaq came to market with better models, and Osborne never recovered. I believe that something similar is happening with no-glasses 3DTVs. I’ve heard from lots of consumers that they do not want to wear 3D glasses of any sort. “They’re showing no-glasses 3DTVs; I’m just going to wait until they have that working.” I’ve heard this repeatedly.

I believe that by demonstrating no-glasses 3DTVs, the manufacturers are actually inhibiting the sales of the existing models, while consumers wait for a no-glasses solution that will either be unacceptable or unaffordable (or both!) If you’re waiting for a competitive no-glasses 3DTV for your living room, I believe that you’ve got a long wait ahead of you.

CES 2011: More Choices for Hurricane Kits

Back when the digital transition was pending, I raised the question of battery-powered portable televisions for use in emergencies. The old analog sets that people had stored in their hurricane kits no longer work with the digital signals. At first, there were few choices.

Now the market has responded and you’ve got more choices than in those early days of digital broadcasts. At CES 2011, however, I found some interesting products from RCA. These portable LCD sets not only receive the standard ATSC digital broadcast signals; they also can get the new Mobile DTV programming that is becoming available in cities around the country. This new free service from local broadcasters is designed to work better with portable devices, especially when they are moving. (ATSC signals apparently were not designed to work with devices that are moving, though I have seen examples where it seems to work just fine.)

It remains to be seen whether or not Mobile DTV takes off. It probably depends on how many devices support it, though the tuners are showing up in unusual places including the new Samsung Galaxy Tab tablet. It’s not clear how much consumer demand there is for the separate television broadcasts; it’s possible that the project is driven more by local broadcasters not wanting to relinquish some of the broadcast bandwidth that the FCC wants to get back for broadband wireless services. Given the uncertain future of Mobile DTV at this point, it would be smart to get a portable television like the RCA models that can receive both types of television signals, just in case.

CES 2011: Pico Projectors Coming

The Cinemin Slice from WowWee looks like a typical iProduct dock.

Take your iPod or iPad and plop it in a handy dock to recharge; that’s not unusual. The dock has speakers so you can listen to your music with room-filling sound. Also not so unusual. But look at this:

The Cinemin Slice includes a pico projector so you can view photos or videos.

The Cinemin Slice from WowWee is a docking station that includes a pico projector so you can view photos or videos from your iProduct device. Pretty cool, huh?

The fact is that you’re going to see pico projectors a lot more in the future. At CES 2011, there were pocket projectors that we’ve seen before, but they are also being integrated into digital cameras, docking stations, and more.

Texas Instruments continues to be one of the leading makers of the tiny imagers used for these devices. At CES 2011, the company announced their new DL P Pico HD chip that brings high definition images to these tiny projectors. The chip has Wide XGA resolution (1366 by 768 pixels) so it can handle 720p images without having to scale down. While early pico projector models had brightness ratings of 10 lumens or less, current generation models are rated at up to 300 lumens using solid state lighting sources (which means no expensive lamp to replace).

Syndiant is another company that makes a pocket projector imager, and has a number of design wins including 3M. The company currently has a Wide SVGA chip — 854 by 600 pixels – but plans to sample a 720p panel later this year that will be just 0.37 inches diagonal. One of their partners is developing a projection TV box for developing markets such as India and China, where a low-powered pico projector could make an efficient display where electrical service is limited.

The whole pico projector market is developing rapidly, and is likely to result in massive growth for the components and the end products which will help drive down costs. Expect to see a lot more products with pico projectors embedded in them by next year’s CES.

CES 2011: Yahoo! Connected TVs

Consumers are discovering that there’s a lot of good content available on the Internet. Netflix is getting a lot of the attention, especially with the statistic that at peak times, it accounts for 20% of all Internet traffic in the U.S. That’s astounding.

Television manufacturers are going to make that proportion increase, it appears, as many are adding network connectivity to their sets. Yahoo! Connected TV is perhaps the leading solution, as it is already included in sets from seven of the top 10 manufacturers. The company estimates that it already has an installed base of about 6 million sets worldwide, and that is expected to grow to about 8 million by March of this year. Yahoo! Connected TV also will be in non-TV devices, starting with a D-Link network media player that is scheduled to ship in the second quarter of this year.

The new development with Yahoo! Connected TV is that the company is going let the viewer interact with broadcast content. The broadcaster will be able to encode the programming to provide on-screen prompts to links about additional information. The program window will shrink down but remain active while you browse the other content on the screen. This feature could be used to provide access to statistics or fantasy league data during sports events. I also can envision it being a way to make product placements more effective; being offered more information about a hot sports car featured in some show would not be intrusive if you’re interested in the car. (And if you’re not, you just ignore it and keep watching the show.) This sort of interactivity could end up being a key part to finding new ways to fund the creation and distribution of television programming.

The Yahoo! Connected TV platform is just one of many approaches designed to make it easier and more powerful to access Internet content on your HDTV. It’s too soon to tell which one will eventually win out, but Yahoo! has clearly established a strong position in this market.

CES 2011: Now THAT’S an LED TV!

CORRECTION: My thanks for friend and colleague Peter Putman for pointing out my error. Please see below.

Wandering around the LVCC Central Hall, I rounded a corner and saw this at the Mitsubishi pavillion:

The image of this 155-inch LED TV is actually made by individual LEDs.

That screen is 155″ diagonal. Yes, that’s equivalent to more than nine 50″ panels. It’s big. (Look at the person standing beside the lower left corner to get a sense of the scale.)

There are two interesting things about this display. First, it’s a true LED TV. Unlike “LED TVs” that some manufacturers advertise, the image here is actually created by millions of individual LEDs. (The other “LED TVs” are simply LCD TVs that have LEDs as a backlight instead of the usual fluorescent tubes. They’re still LCD TVs.)

The other interesting detail is that in spite of its enormous size, it’s not even high definition. This panel has 1152 by 640 pixels, which is essentially a Wide VGA resolution. Fortunately, the design is modular (intended for large signage displays) so you can add enough modules to get up to the desired resolution. Now all you need is a wall big enough for it. Anybody got a stadium in their backyard?

Folks, I got it wrong. This Mitsubishi video wall is not an LED dislpay, it’s an OLED display. (Yes, I could try to argue that OLEDs are just a type of LED, but I’d still be wrong. “LED” implies the inorganic little points of light that are used everywhere, and OLEDs are planar devices with totally different materials.)

In some ways, this makes the story even cooler, even if Mitsubishi did first show this display in 2009 though I believe that this is the first time it has been shown in this country. I should have realized that something was different about it because the image was so much dimmer than the LED billboards we see by the road or in sports stadiums. But apparently this is now a commercial product, which is interesting. It would appear that OLED is going to make its inroads at the very large and very small displays.

CES 2011: What’s That Show?

My wife was watching Glee the other night, and I thought I recognized one actress as someone who has starred in movies. In a typical senior moment, however, I could not come up with her name or any of the movies, which left me with the stammering conversation, “That’s whats-her-name, right? The one who has been in all those movies like ummm, whatever?” Not too helpful.

If I had an iPhone and the new Videosurf Mobile app, I could have just pointed my phone at the TV screen, recorded about five seconds of the show. The program would analyze the content using facial recognition and other technology, query the system’s database in the cloud, and then come back with the answer. Not only would it have identified Gwyneth Paltrow in the Glee episode, but it would have brought back lists of her movies and other appearances and links to more information. It will even find video clips of her on YouTube and other sites, and provide the links.

I can think of lots of ways that this app would be helpful. I saw it demonstrated last night here at CES, and it’s scheduled to be available for free soon. So if you struggle to idenitify stars or TV shows, check out this program… if you can remember to do it.

I’ve only got one more day at CES 2011 left, but I’ve got a lot of great information that I’ll be writing about next week, so stay tuned….

CES 2011: 3D Glasses Improve Rapidly

“Those goofy glasses.” It’s one of the biggest stumbling blocks for 3DTV with many consumers, and I can’t blame them. Many of the active shutter glasses look like something out of a 50s science fiction B movie. And the passive glasses that you get in the movie theaters make Buddy Holly and Elvis Costello’s eyewear look stylish.

But CES 2011 is full of new ideas for glasses. (No, the show doesn’t open until today, but after two days of press events, I’ve seen a lot of new approaches.) On the shutter glass front, it’s clear that some manufacturers still don’t get it. Sony offers a range of sizes and colors, but they all look like they could double as snorkeling goggles. In contrast, XPAND has improved its line of “universal” shutter glasses that work with all 3DTVs and projectors on the market today. The newest XPAND YOUNIVERSAL models are programmable, so that you can tune them to your individual preferences, such as changing the settings for “dark time” and “transition time”. You can make adjustments for viewing distance, your age, and other factors. And they come in different sizes and with different nose pieces to accomodate different facial features.

Perhaps the most impressive demonstration of new shutter glasses was by Samsung, which showed a sleek, stylish model that weighs only one ounce.

On the passive glasses side, Marchon 3D announced a new patent for curved lenses, which gets away from that flat-lens bug-eyed look that you get with the typical cinema glasses. They have various models starting at $35 a pair, but also have designer lines including some by Calvin Klein. They even offer photochromatic lenses that get darker in the sunlight, so that you can use the same 3D glasses as your sunglasses. And you will even be able to get them with prescription lenses so you’ll only have to wear one pair when watching 3D.

I believe that all these improvements are slowly going to wear away at the average consumer’s resistance. Price and appearance are improving rapidly, and that’s after only selling about a million sets in this country in 2010. As the numbers climb — and they will climb — the competition to sell the glasses will result in more improvements and even lower costs.

CES 2011: 3Takes on 3DTV

CES 2011 Day -1: No, the show doesn’t open until tomorrow, but I arrived in Las Vegas yesterday because it starts two days early for the press. So I had a bunch of events to deal with yesterday. There are a lot of interesting themes emerging already, but I was particularly interested by three different views on 3DTVs that I encountered at last night’s events.

First, I got my first look at the new Vizio 65″ LCD 3DTV that uses passive glasses instead of active ones. I have not yet spoken with the folks from Vizio, but the set looked very good to me. I think that with its low price, it stands to be a real game changer. It uses a panel from LG Electronics, so I expect that we’ll see a similar set from them before long.

I also came across a new DLP rear-projection 3DTV from Mitsubishi. It was hard to miss; it has a 92″ diagonal screen. That’s the equivalent of four 46″ sets tiled together. It’s really big. It relies on active glasses, and the image looked good.

Then I went to a Toshiba press event, and discovered that they intend to sell three different types of 3DTVs: active glasses, passive glasses, and no glasses. I know that people are anxious to get a no-glasses solution (see my Monday comments), so I’ll focus on that. The company had two autostereoscopic screens on display at the event. The Toshiba representatives were very clear that these were simply engineering prototypes and that they did not have any information about when they might become commercial products. One was a notebook computer with a head-tracking feature so that you could see 3D without having to keep your head in one spot. As I’ve been saying, this is fine for a single-viewer application, but won’t play in the living room. The other was an LCD HDTV that only had three “sweet spots”, and all three were close together directly in front of the screen. The resolution looked great, because the screen had 4K resolution (about twice a regular 1080p set) to make up for the resolution lost to the autostereoscopic feature. It looked okay, but you really had to be in just the right spot or else the 3D effect would not work correctly.

From all this, my take-away so far is that 3DTV continues to be an important topic, that passive glasses solutions are likely to gain market share rapidly, and that we’re no closer to a multi-viewer autostereoscopic solution.

Tomorrow, I’ll have some highlights from the Press Day press conferences, and on Friday, I’ll report on the first day of the actual show. Stay tuned….

2010 A Good Year for LCD HDTV

According to a new report from DisplaySearch, 2010 was a good year for LCD television shipments worldwide. Total shipments are expected to top 190 million units, which is a whopping 31% increase over the 2009 figures. This is a bit of a surprise, given the worldwide recession, but apparently the demand increased in response to the prices that continued to plummet.

Shipments for North America only showed a 0.4% increase over 2009, indicating that the recession had a much bigger impact on sales in these markets.

Displaysearch predicts slower growth for next year with worldwide LCD TV shipments increasing to 215 million units; that’s only about a 13% increase. Prices will continue to fall rapidly for another year, however, so the projected sales revenues for 2011 will actually be less than for 2010 in spite of the unit increase. Another interesting prediction is that LED backlights will be found in the majority of LCD TVs in 2011. This makes sense, as LED backlights have already taken over in notebooks, and falling LED prices will make the costs more competitive with fluorescent models. Displaysearch expects that the price premium for LED backlights will fall from about 100% in early 2010 to as low as 20% for some sizes in 2011.

The bottom line here is that LCD technology continues to dominate the flat screen TV market. Plasma shipments kept pace with LCDs on a unit growth bases for 2010, but the technology still accounts for less than 10% of the total flat screen market. LCDs offer a bright image and a good value, and apparently are what most consumers want in a flat screen television.