3 Ways Cord Cutters Can Catch NFL Action This Season

Traditionally, one of the biggest downsides of over-the-top and streaming TV (such as Roku, Playstation Vue, etc) has been the lack of live NFL coverage. Most of the NFL broadcasters – such as FOX, CBS and NBC – do have their own app you can install on Roku and the like, but they all require you login via your cable or satellite provider to access the feed. Well, with the On Demand tide slowly turning, you now have plenty of new options…

Sunday morning/afternoon games via a local antenna or Sling TV: NBC & FOX

1. Antenna – if you’ve already cut the cord, the easiest (and cheapest) way to get TV into your home is with an HD antenna. Nowadays, they come in crystal clear 1080 HDTV and can be smaller than the size of paperback. The main caveat here is reception. The closer you are to the broadcasting tower, the more channels you’re likely to get (use Mohu’s zip code tool to search your area). Obviously, the big upside here is 0 recurring cost; most HD antennas go for $40-$100…thereafter, it’s all gratis.

2. Sling TV – if an antenna doesn’t fit the bill or you’d rather have everything in your OTT box, Sling TV gives you access to NBC and FOX with their $25/mo Sling Blue package.

Monday night games via Sling TV or PlayStation VUE: ESPN

Usually featuring a pretty good pair of teams or a rivalry grudge match, MNF is the venerated staple of the NFL week. When it transitioned from ABC to ESPN in 2006, it nudged out folks that didn’t have basic cable or satellite. It was equally as frustrating for cord cutters as well. Well, thanks to Sling TV’s inclusion of ESPN (in their base plan, Sling Orange, for $20/mo), you’ll never be clueless at the water cooler come Tues morning.

Thursday night games via Sling TV or PlayStation VUE: NFL Network

The NFL just recently announced a licensing deal with Sling TV that adds the NFL Network to its lineup. Part of the $25/mo Sling Blue plan, the NFL Network broadcasts EVERY Thursday night game (the NBC and CBS co-broadcasts about half of those games). So, in addition to the solid new and analysis on the NFL Network, you’ll get your fill mid-week NFL action.

Conclusion

On demand and OTT TV have come a long way over the past few years. Sports and NFL coverage is just another way folks are filling in the previous programming gaps. Of course, if you’re a true NFL or fantasy football junky, you might need a bit more game coverage. That’s where DIRECTV NFL Sunday Ticket may fit it. Either way, enjoy all the hard-hittin’ action this year!

Alfred Poor on Video about HDTV

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of discussing HDTV and related topics with David Gewirtz of ZDNet, which he captured on video. We covered a wide range of topics, including OLED HDTVs, 3DTV, screen sizes, Smart TVs, and “direct LED” TVs. The video runs almost a full hour and was made during a Skype video call. (David has invested a lot of time and effort to develop a pretty sophisticated “Skype Studio” for recording interviews like this, and he gets some impressive results.)

So here’s the video if you want to hear more about my latest thoughts about buying HDTVs. If you or someone you know are thinking about getting a new set, you’ll probably find some helpful information here.

If you have any questions, you can email me at alfred@hdtvprofessor.com or send a Twitter message to @AlfredPoor.

OLED HDTVs Are Really Coming… Maybe

[Revised 6/12/12 after feedback from Ray Soneira] 

Okay, I have to start by waving the white flag of surrender. As many of you may have noticed, I went “dark” for an extended period last fall while I was working on some major projects. For the past month or so, I’ve been behind but I was struggling to catch up by back-dating my entries. Well, I was in Boston all last week for the Society for Information Display’s annual DisplayWeek conference. Not only did I not manage to catch up on my backlog of entries, I didn’t even post once about the show while I was there.

So I’m resetting the clock again. I’m accepting the gap in entries for the past month, and will strive to keep up going forward. It’s not that there’s not enough material to write about, it’s just that I’ve got a lot of demands on my time these days. So bear with me as I try my best to keep up.

Which brings us to the topic at hand: OLED TV. Samsung and LG both showed 55″ monsters at CES, but since I didn’t attend, I didn’t see them. I did get to see them last week, up close and personal. And I was certainly impressed. After discussing them with my friend and colleague Ray Soneira of Displaymate, I went back and looked at them even harder. Ray said that they had OLEDs in general have terrible color shift with off-axis viewing. I have great respect for Ray’s ability to see and identify quality issues in displays, but try as I might, I could not see any hint of color shift on either OLED TV. (As it turns out, neither could he.) Now, if I had been able to throw some good test images on the screens (like you get with Displaymate), I might have been able to spot some differences. But from what I saw, they looked awesome.

Okay, so much for the good news.

Right off the bat, I am slapping LG’s wrist for claiming “infinite contrast” on their OLED TV sets. Yes, the screen probably puts out no light when displaying an all-black image, but that’s a pointless way to measure contrast. If you have a dark area next to a light area, I guarantee that some of that light will leak from the light area to the dark area. I’ll grant that these OLED screens will look terrific and have great contrast under these conditions, but the contrast ratio will definitely be something less than infinite. The bottom line is that “contrast ratio” as a meaningful specification for flat panel televisions is officially dead and LG holds the smoking gun. So from now on, ignore contrast ratio specifications and just trust your eyes.

And as good as the sets appeared, don’t start moving your LCD to the guest room just yet. Both LG and Samsung seem to be on track to ship an OLED TV model this year, but it may depend on your definition of “ship.” It is not clear that either company will be able to produce the OLED panels in large quantity this year. LG is relying on new and relatively untested “metal oxide” semiconductor technology to take the place of amorphous silicon. Even the OLED Association’s own forecasts show large panel production capacity to be just over 500 square meters per year for this year (but nearly tripling by next year). At a bit less than a square meter per 55″ OLED panel, that means that there’s only capacity to make 600,000 panels. And that’s IF they started in January, which they didn’t, and IF they were running around the clock, which they aren’t, and IF they are getting 100% yield, which would be a miracle. The consensus seems to be that the manufacturers will be lucky to build 100,000 OLED TV panels this year. Just putting one demo unit in every store that will want to carry them will eat up most of that production.

But you’ll probably want to wait in any case. The initial price projections are at about $7,500 to $8,500 per set. That’s a hefty premium over LCD. In his SID keynote speech, Dr. James Lee from LG projected that the price will drop to 1.5 times the LCD price by 2015, and will reach price parity by 2017. The way that LCD prices continue to tumble, however, those are aggressive forecasts and I will be amazed if the company can hit those goals.

So let’s sum up: gorgeous image, crazy expensive, unproven technologies, aggressive manufacturing expansion, and possibly overly optimistic about future pricing. As much as I’d love to have an OLED screen in my living room, I’m accepting the fact that it will probably be on a cell phone or tablet, and not on my television.

Alone Together: Is Split Screen TV a Good Idea?

Conventional wisdom has it that television remains a group activity. We are rapidly being assimilated by our personal mobile devices, and I often see two people together who are both busy texting or Facebooking or whatever on their smartphones. Then I read a blog entry by some DisplaySearch analysts that describe a new “smart dual view” technology from Samsung.

All this does is take a standard stereoscopic 3DTV, and set the shutter glasses so that both eyes see one frame at a time. This lets you have two people in the same room watching two different programs at the same time. The article doesn’t mention that each person would also need to be wearing headphones so that they only hear the soundtrack for their program.

This isn’t all that new. It’s really just a variation of the scheme that let video gamers see their player’s view in a full screen, without being able to “peek” at what their opponent is seeing. But I’m concerned about the idea of using it to “duplex” video content in the living room. Why bother with the big screen at all? For less money, you can each buy your own screen and then retire to your own personal corner or cave to watch whatever you want. No more fighting over the remote. No more negotiating about how we’ll watch one of “your” shows and then watch one of “my” shows. And no more having to talk to each other while you skip over the commercials.

I get it. Samsung is grasping at straws to find new ways to market the 3DTV technology until we get enough 3D content to make consumers want it for its original purpose. But I really don’t think that isolating people even more is the right solution.

What do you think? Send me an email at alfred@hdtvprofessor.com or a tweet to @AlfredPoor, and let me know if this is a good idea.

Mobile DTV Stuck in the Mud?

I’ve gone on the record with my pessimism about Mobile DTV, and recent events have done nothing to change my view of the situation. TV Technology recently published an article about a discussion of Mobile TV at the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) in Washington that confirms my suspicions. Jay Adrick is Vice President for Broadcast Technology at Harris Broadcast, and he was involved in the development of the standard. According to the article, he warned the others at the meeting that “if we drag this out another two or three years, it will definitely be too late.” He went on to point out that details such as a viable business model need to be resolved.

I still believe that Mobile DTV is a solution in search of a problem. Consumers no longer want to access linear programming on their mobile devices. They are already streaming content on demand on their smartphones and tablets and computers, using both WiFi and wireless broadband connections. None of their devices have the tuners required to access Mobile DTV, and I don’t think they see any compelling reason to get a device that does.

The best explanation is that television broadcasters see Mobile DTV as a way to hold onto precious radio spectrum that they are not using. They may also see it as a way to try to keep linear broadcast television relevant, though that would appear to be an uphill battle. With as little as 10% of the U.S. population dependent on over-the-air broadcasts as their sole television source, it hardly seems that adding a little mobile content to the mix is going to make any difference. We’re way past the days when a transistor radio could transform the listening habits of consumers. Today, our phones and tablets and computers deliver far more content with far more focus than radio possibly can, and television content is really no different.

At this point, Mobile DTV looks all dressed up with no place to go.

Death Spiral for Broadcast TV?

Did you ever hear the squeal of feedback in a public address system? It occurs because a sound coming from the amplified speakers finds its way into a microphone, where it travels to an amplifier that makes it louder. This louder sound comes out of the speaker and goes back into the microphone louder than before, where it gets amplified again. And the cycle repeats until someone turns down the amplifier or the equipment reaches its limits. Or it breaks.

This is called a positive feedback loop, because each time the sound passes through the system, it gets louder. A negative feedback loop does the opposite; it causes the sound (or signal or whatever you’re measuring) to decrease with each cycle, until it finally disappears. We also call this a “death spiral”.

A story in the Washington Post reports that by the third quarter of 2011, we were down to just 5.8 million U.S. homes that rely solely on free, over-the-air broadcasts for their television content. That’s a decline of more than 7% from the 6.25 million of just one year earlier. Many of these viewers are elderly, poor, living in sparsely-populated rural areas, or some combination of those three factors. And from a marketing perspective, these are not demographics that appeal to major advertisers.

It is the advertisers that drive the “free” broadcasts, but smaller television stations have found it increasingly difficult to attract advertising dollars. Companies are already dealing with constraints on their revenues as a result of the down economy, and at the same time, their marketing budget is being stretched to cover new media channels such as the Internet.

Larger stations have been able to replace some lost revenues by demanding larger retransmission licensing fees from subscription television services — though this is coming under increasing scrutiny from Washington D.C. and other quarters — but smaller stations often don’t have this luxury. In fact, many have to forego any retransmission fees at all, trading them instead for a guaranteed slot on the local cable system’s channels which increases their reach and helps improve their appeal to advertisers.

Should we allow the free broadcasts to simply spiral down into oblivion? This is a national question, and one of many similar thorny issues such as preserving the US Postal Service or subsidizing rural air transportation. What would be the impact of a national broadband plan? Is it time to replace the 1930s mandate for free television with a 21st Century mandate for free access to broadband? Six out of 10 U.S. consumers now get their news online in one form or another, according Nielsen. Would free broadband service be enough to provide access to streaming audio and video, replacing current over-the-air radio and television broadcasts?

These are not easy questions, but it’s clear that change is going to come whether we plan for it as a society or not. And we certainly won’t have a plan if we don’t start discussing it.

TV Connect Rates Still Growing

According to a report by Leichtman Research Group, Inc. (LRG), 24% of U.S. households had a television connected to the Internet in 2010. By last year, this rose to 30%. LRG’s latest research shows that this share has jumped to 38% this year.

The survey includes video game consoles, Blu-ray players, network media players (such as the Roku and Western Digital boxes), and Internet TVs. One of the most interesting results of the survey is that 28% of all households use a video game console to connect the TV to the Internet. That’s nearly three out of every four. While this may signal the video game console’s move from the teenager’s bedroom to the living room, I suspect that it is more likely a measure of young adults in college and living on their own who have chosen to include the video game console in their living room entertainment system.

Whatever the cause, online viewing of long-form content is clearly catching on. The survey indicates that 16% of all adults now watch full-length TV episodes and movies at least weekly, up from 12% last year and 10% three years ago.

According to LRG, traditional linear television services including cable, satellite, and broadcast still dominate the average viewer’s time. The total time spent watching TV has remained fairly constant, and the online services are slowly getting a growing share of that total. So far, however, it appears that few households are “cutting the cord” and dropping the traditional services entirely in favor of streaming video. That is not to say that it won’t happen in the future, and it would appear that the video game console may be the gateway device to that transition.

My HDTV Buying Advice [a Slashdot video]

Do you ever wonder what I tell people when they come up to me at a party and ask “What should I buy as my new television?” The website Slashdot wondered, and they commissioned a video interview of me that they call “HDTV Expert Alfred Poor Tells You What to Buy and What Not to Buy“. (The interview was conducted, recorded, and edited by my friend and colleague Robin Miller.)

I won’t recap the whole conversation here, but at the end, you’ll find out the specs for the television that I would buy today if I were replacing our current television.

The big news, though, is about what happens when a story about your site ends up on the home page of Slashdot, like mine did yesterday. Because there was a link to the HDTV Almanac in the piece, curious visitors flocked to this site. Perhaps I should say “flooded” the site, sort of like a digital tsunami. Within an hour of the video being posted, my site was down because the monthly bandwidth allocation had been exhausted. (Needless to say, that has never happened before.) Thanks to the great folks at our hosting service, Advanced Network Hosts, the site was back up and running in just minutes. By the end of the day, more than 12,000 visitors dropped by to check out the HDTV Almanac yesterday.

So if you encountered a strange error message yesterday, or perhaps the site loaded a little slower than usual, that’s what was going on. And if you’re one of the new visitors who cam here by way of Slashdot, thanks for dropping by! I hope you’ll keep checking back for the latest independent news and commentary on HDTV and related home entertainment topics.

I write about lots of different technology stuff that I find interesting; please consider following me on Twitter — @AlfredPoor — or Google+ — Alfred Poor — to hear about some of my latest articles.

Bed-Sized 3DTV in China

How much is too much? If it’s possible to go too far with a television set’s specfications, this could be it. China Star Optoelectronics Technology Co Ltd is a subsidiary of the electronics giant, TCL Corporation, and earlier this month, the company announced a monster of a 3DTV.

(Credit: TCL Corporation)

This behemoth measures 110″ diagonal. It also has 4K by 2K resolution, or 4,096 by 2,160 pixels. That’s the same as if you had glued four 55″ 1080p screens together. And it is an active 3DTV display, using shutter glasses for the stereoscopic view. And if that’s not enough, it also has multi-touch touchscreen input.

The company’s press release is silent on plans to make this a commercial product, but does indicate that two units were donated to the Great Hall of the People in Beijing for public display. This points to what is likely the true motivation for the technology demonstration. It shows that China is able to hold its own in terms of innovation in the display industry. TCL quotes an expert from Fudan University; “China will replace Japan and South Korea as the world leader in TV display screens in terms of manufacturing and R&D in three to five years, and will provide a higher level of quality and more cost-effective products to the global community.”

Clearly, this is a very large stake to drive in the ground, but China is marking its territory. Given the current state of the flat panel industry, however, China could end up like the dog who chases a cat, and then has to figure out what it wants to do with it once it catches it. There could be a lot of corporate blood and fur strewn about before this is all over.

Samsung’s New TVs Point to the Future

Last week, Samsung announced that its 2012 HDTVs will start shipping this month. While their “fifth generation” Smart TVs have more processing power than ever, what caught my eye were four interface features. If you’ve followed my writing elsewhere (including this GigaOM Pro report), you may have noticed that I’m very interested in how we will merge the worlds of traditional linear programming, video-on-demand offerings by subscription television services, and the “over-the-top” streaming content available on the Internet. Clearly, the five-button remote is not going to get the job done.

So I find it interesting that Samsung has decided to be ready for anything. In addition to building a highly-capable computer inside a flat screen HDTV, they have added speech recognition, gesture control, a remote keyboard, and facial recognition to the set’s features. Each offers broader control than the traditional remote control, and combined they could be used in some innovative and potentially useful ways.

Speech recognition allows the set to convert spoken commands into instructions that the controller can act on. (Note that this is not the same as “voice recognition” which instead refers to recognizing individual voices, and is used for applications such as biometric security.) I think that this has potential, but it does not seem to be a naturaly fit with a group viewing experience. Who wants to be interrupted by someone speaking to the remote control? And will this lead to shouting matches in the living room? “No, television, listen to ME! Turn to Channel 426 NOW!”

I’m a little clearer about gesture control; I don’t think that it’s going to work “bare-handed”. I suspect that the gestures will have to be broad enough to separate them from inadvertant movements, and people will tire of doing calisthetics in front of their HDTV when they just want to channel surf. Instead, I expect that we’ll end up relying on some sort of visible or wireless “token” that the computer can identify more precisely when watching for gesture commands. (Think along the lines of the conch shell in “Lord of the Flies”.)

I’m particularly impressed that Samsung is offering a full wireless keyboard with these new sets, albeit as an extra cost option. It is a concession to the same conclusion that I have come to; there simply are some tasks that are best handled with a keyboard. It’s archaic and in the wrong direction from our “Minority Report” dream interface, but I suspect that we’ll be stuck with keyboards for a while longer.

The last feature is profoundly interesting: facial recognition. At this point, it is just baby step, designed to let different family members log onto their favorite social networks just by sitting in front of the television. However, I see this as an essential element going forward if we are to have successful recommendation engines for video content. The preferences in a household will vary with who is watching. What the husband alone prefers is different from the wife alone, and those are different yet again from what they want to watch when they are together. The combinations expand rapidly as you add children of different ages to the mix. So I don’t see this as being particularly useful yet, but we’ll be glad to have it before too long.

As our televisions get smarter, we will expect more from them. New features like those in these new Samsung sets will help them meet some of those expectations.