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.

Turn a Projector into 3D with SmartCrystal Pro

My good friend, colleague, and sometimes co-author M. David Stone alerted me to a product that he recently reviewed for PC Magazine: the SmartCrystal Pro from Volfoni. This is a device that can turn any 3D-capable front projector into one that uses passive glasses for $1,500 (street price). Inexpensive 3D projectors require you to use bulky shutter glasses, but the SmartCrystal Pro lets you wear the same inexpensive passive glasses that you wear at your local cinema.

So how does it perform this magic? It is actually a “polarizing modulator.” That’s fancy talk for a device that can change the polarization of the light coming out of the projector. You place the SmartCrystal Pro about one to two inches from the projector lens, so that the light fills the window in the device. To get the 3D sync signal, you can connect it either to a VESA port on the projector, or if it is a DLP model, you can use a separate power block to access the DLP-Link signal.

One drawback is that you’ll also have to upgrade to a silver screen, which preserves the polarization of the light from the projector better than a standard screen can. Figure on another $1,000 or so for a 92″ diagonal screen. However, if you want to avoid paying for the expensive active glasses (and eliminate the hassle of keeping them charged), then the SmartCrystal Pro could be just what you need.

Beam Me Up, Samsung!

The new Galaxy Beam from Samsung includes a built-in projector.

Samsung has announced the Galaxy Beam, a new Android smartphone with a difference. In addition to all the features you’d expect to find in a computerized phone for your pocket, it has one additional attraction. The phone includes a 15 lumen projector, built right in.

No, this isn’t a high-definition display, but the way things are progressing it may not take long to reach that. It’s only standard definition (not even widescreen), but the phone is still just half an inch thick. And the 15 lumen output would have been impressive for a pocket projector just a few years ago, yet here it is integrated into a smartphone handset. This is not bright enough to fill a wall with the lights on, but in controlled lighting, it’s enough to let a handful of people watch photos or videos instead of crowding around the phone’s tiny display panel.

Projectors in phones have not yet become a compelling feature for consumers; Jack Segal of Pacific Media Associates points out that in spite of Samsung’s pioneering efforts, the company’s projector phones have acheived “only moderate sales.” As the demand for mobile video grows, however, I expect that this feature could take hold before long. And Samsung has a head start on the pack in terms of technology.

Optoma Shatters 3D Home Projector Price

Have I got a deal for you! How would you like a 55″ 1080p high definition display for $1,500? Not so exciting? Okay, let’s make it 70″; does that make it more interesting? I’ll sweeten the pot and throw in 3D capability and support for radio frequency (RF) active glasses, still for $1,500. Do I have your attention yet? Okay, how about if I increase the size to 100″?

The Optoma HD33 is a 1080p projector with 3D support that sells for less than $1,500.

No, this is no “fell-off-the-truck” special. You now can buy the new Optoma HD33 projector for under $1,500. The manufacturer says that you can use it with up to a 300″ diagonal screen, but I suspect that you’ll be happier keeping it closer to about 100″ in order to get a brighter image. (That’s still the size of four 50″ flat panel HDTVs.) The projector is rated at 1800 lumens, and comes with two HDMI connectors as well as connections for VGA and component video. This is a big drop in price; most equivalent projectors cost more than twice as much.

So if you’ve dreamed of converting that basement room into a home theater but don’t have the price of a new car to invest in the project, you may find that Optoma has brought the cost within reach. You’re closer than you might think to enjoying a big screen viewing experience in your own home.

A 3D Apple for the Teacher

“There’s not enough 3D content available!” That’s the main complaint from consumers, and is one of the main reasons for the slow uptake on 3DTV-capable sets. (The other is price, but that difference is going away.) But lack of content is not just a problem for consumers; it also affects teachers.

XPAND is coming to the classroom’s rescue, however. The company that makes “universal” active-shutter 3D glasses is making an effort to support educational applications for 3D video. (And why wouldn’t they, when you need 20 to 30 pairs of glasses for each classroom that uses 3D video?) In addition to offering special packages for educators that include 3D plug-ins for PowerPoint, the company has announced the XPAND 3D Educational Network. When a school joins, teachers get access to public-domain 3D educational content that can be used for free. The company expects to offer additional content for sale from other sources through the network as well.

Does 3DTV have an impact on learning? According to the XPAND website, a study was done to determine the impact of the technology. A lesson that normally took several class periods to teach was taught in a single period using video. One group used standard 2D video and their scores were 9.7% higher over the normal scores. The scores for the group that used 3D video increased by 35%, however. (The site doesn’t provide details on the study; these are impressive results, but a significant portion of the gains could be simply the result of the novelty effect.)

It’s a tough time for most schools to find money for new technology like 3DTV educational content, so it’s a good thing that XPAND is helping make public domain content accessible to schools. I expect that adoption in the classroom will still be slow, but it’s good to see a company providing support like this to schools.

Mitsubishi Chooses the Big Picture

It’s tough to make money in the HDTV business these days. It’s even tougher if you’re trying to push the boulder of rear-projection HDTV up the mountain. Rear-projection DLP has been the focal point for Mitsubishi’s product line, and the company has finally decided not to try to compete with the $500 flat panel market. Instead, they will only make consumer televisions that are 65″ or larger, and will also pursue commercial applications for their sets. Both will be handled by a new company named Mitsubishi Electric Visual Solutions America Inc. (MEVSA), which has a new website of its own.

So if you’re looking for a little LCD screen for the guest room, you can cross Mitsubishi off the list. If you need a projector or a 3D-capable set with a 95″ diagonal screen, however, they’re still looking for your business.

XPAND 3D to Tame Chaos

XPAND 3D is leading the charge to bring some sense to the active-glasses stereoscopic 3DTV market. Yesterday, the company joined with Panasonic to announce the M-3DI standard for 3DTVs, computers, and home projectors, as well as digital cinemas that rely on active shutter glasses technology. This new standard provides a communication protocol for the signals between the display and the glasses. This means that one pair of glasses will work with all frame-sequential stereioscopic displays that conform to M-3DI.

This broad standard eliminates the need to get different glasses for every different manufacturer. As a result, third-party glasses makers should be able to focus on M-3DI compatible models, which could drive down costs by increasing manufacturing volumes.

The new standard has been endorsed by a long list of major players in addition to XPAND 3D and Panasonic: Changhong Electric Co., Ltd., FUNAI Electric Co., Ltd., H isense Electric Co., Ltd., Hitachi Consumer Electronics Co., Ltd., Mitsubishi Electric Corporation, Seiko Epson Corporation, SIM2 Multimedia S.p.A., and ViewSonic Corporation. There are some big names missing from this list, but these should have enough clout to make this new standard stick. We may see the others sign on before long.

CEA Offers Individual Memberships

The Consumer Electronics Association hosts a little event in Las Vegas every January called the “Consumer Electronics Show,” better known by its initials: CES. The original intent was to hold a trade show for electronics dealers, such as home stereos and televisions. Then the corporate side of the computer market got boring and Comdex went away, so the slack was picked up by CES and it became the biggest personal computer show in this country as well. And now it includes car electronics and mobile phones and digital cameras. If it has digital chips and is intended for consumer markets, chances are that it’s represented at CES.

The problem is that the CEA exists for the dealers and the manufacturers. It’s not really for the consumers (who figure so prominently in the organization’s name). If you are part of an eligible company, it is still an expensive proposition to join the organization. At least that was the case until now.

Last week, the CEA announced a new “Tech Enthusiast” membership. For $29 a year (discounted from $49), you can now get an individual membership. The organization is setting up a special website for these members where you’ll find news on the latest trends, discounts and give-aways, and more. You can find out more at www.CEAtechenthusiast.com for more information; enter the promotional code “CES2012” to get the discounted rate.

What does this mean for the CEA and the CES? In the short term, it’s probably a good move, but I’m not so sure about the long term. I went to Comdex (once; nobody ever said I had to go again). I also went to PC Expo in New York City many times; it was one of the top trade shows in the personal computer market for many years. PC Expo declined rather rapidly from its peak. The show floor got incredibly crowded. The show organizers seemed more interested in collecting admission fees than screening for the dealers who were the intended audience. As a result, an increasing portion of the crowd was made up of individual consumers, not dealers and corporate buyers. The aisles were clogged with people who were not prospects for large sales. This held little appeal for the exhibitors, and many of them moved to private display spaces in area hotels so that they could meet with their key prospects. As major exhibitors abandoned the show floor, the crowds thinned and other exhibitors dropped out, and the return on the investment shrank. And before long, the show blew away like dust over the Hudson River.

If the CEA encourages more consumers to attend CES (which is plenty crowded already), what implications will this have for the exhibitors who are trying to fill their order books? I have already seen more and more major brands move off-site, often into spaces that are not part of the official CES which means a loss of revenue for the CEA.

I can see how this new membership category will likely create new revenue for the CEA, I wonder if the gains might not be offset by decreased revenues from exhibitors who flee the exhibit halls and set up their own parallel event. I don’t expect CES to disappear any time soon — there isn’t any real alternative available in this country — but it will be worth watching to see the exhibitors’ reaction if the crowds increase.

Japanese Disaster Has Worldwide Impact on CE

Words fail. Disaster, devastation, catastrophe; nothing seems adequate to describe the situation in northern Japan. The triple whammy of earthquake, tsunami, and electrical power plant failures has resulted in the loss of tens of thousands of lives and untold billions in damages. No doubt, it will be weeks or months or even years before the magnitude of the losses can be tallied.

But already the consumer electronics industry is marking the impact of the events, which may have far-reaching impacts on all companies involved. For example, Sony reportedly has six manufacturing plants in the stricken area, all of which have been shut down. Factories in the region make everything from lasers used in Blu-ray players to Flash memory chips. Production will be disrupted, which in turn will have an effect on products farther down the supply chain. Component shortages could easily lead to higher prices for the finished products, even for companies that were not directly affected by the disaster. And if Japan’s electrical grid remains crippled for an extended period of time, the disruption of the supply chains could be lengthy and significant.

It’s too soon to tell where the greatest impact will be felt, but you may not want to wait until next fall if you’re thinking about buying electronics products. If you see a deal on a consumer electronics product that you want at a price that is right for you, know that we no longer can be certain that prices will continue to fall as they have in recent years.

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.