SID 2010: HDTV Take-Aways

It’s getaway day here in Seattle for me, but as always, it has been a packed week at the Society for Information Display (SID) annual conference. There were no earth-shaking developments for the HDTV market revealed here, but I want to recap the overall themes based on what I saw and heard here.

First, 3DTV is real and it’s here to stay. I didn’t see anything that changed my view that active glasses will be the only commercial solution for the living room. Passive glasses add too much cost to the TV set, and auto-stereoscopic just can’t work for multiple viewers in a living room setting. It’s great for single user situations — 3M’s clever portable 3D screen proves that — but until you have many more images than just the two used in stereoscopic 3DTV, the limited “sweet spots” are just too restrictive. (Now, when you get to the 200-camera system that has been demonstrated in Japan, that’s a different story.)

Next, the debate over “native 3D” versus “synthesized” content developed from 2D originals won’t end soon. Yes, the best content is made in 3D from the start when it is initially captured. (Note that some of the worst content is also native 3D, as content producers are still struggling to learn the basics about stereoscopic imagery.) And yes, you can get a good result (though some would not call it more than “acceptable”) if you carefully convert 2D to 3D using human graphic artists to make painstaking decisions about the details in each frame. This gets expensive, however, because it is similar to hand-drawn animation in terms of effort. And yes, the real-time conversion of 2D source content into 3D in a $2,000 home television set is not going to be as good as the best examples of the native or hand-c0nverted content. The key question is whether it’s “good enough”. I think it is for most viewers, and if I were buying a 3DTV today (which I’m not, by the way) I would definitely get one that could do the realtime conversion. I’d rather have the feature and decide to not use it than not have the feature and wish I did.

Finally, LED backlights will take over from fluorescent backlights for LCD HDTVs. They are friendlier to the environment in terms of manufacturing, energy consumption while in use, and ultimate disposal as waste or recycling material. They have better color. And they make it possible to create thinner displays that people appear to prefer. The increasing demand for LEDs for all sorts of applications, including HDTVs, is resulting in rapid growth of production capacity, which in turn should drive down costs. Between that and the fierce competition among manufacturers, I expect to see the price differential between LED and fluorescent models to continue to shrink.

So I don’t think we’re going to be buying holographic 3D HDTVs or quad-1080p super high definition sets next year. The story is that we can expect steady improvement in the technology (and perhaps a sprinkling of both useful and wacky features as manufacturers struggle to differentiate their products) along with some continued price erosion so by the holiday season, a big flat panel HDTV will be more affordable than ever.

And that’s enough good news to satisfy me.