InfoComm 2013 in the Rear View Mirror
- Published on Monday, 17 June 2013 16:23
- Pete Putman
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Last week marked my 20th consecutive trip to InfoComm and it was a hectic time in Orlando. I got in Sunday night and spent most of Monday setting up equipment for my four classes and presentations at InfoComm, including two Super Tuesday sessions (Future Trends, Things You Never Thought About) while I was also co-teaching an all-day Super Tuesday session on RF and Wireless Trends.
Wednesday morning brought a 2-hour class on digital video, while my Thursday morning class covered and demonstrated a variety of wireless display and video connectivity systems (none of which used WiFi, by the way). That’s about ten hours’ worth of teaching, and it does take its toll on your voice!
As a result, I didn’t spend a lot of time on the show floor. Even so, I spotted a few trends that are impacting the pro AV industry and will dramatically re-shape it by the end of this decade.
First off, attendance at classes this year was strong, with more than a few sessions selling out. The transition from analog to digital AV is in full swing, and there’s plenty to be learned. More than half the attendees in my classes came from the higher education channel and were either in the process of upgrading to digital signal switching and distribution, or about to embark on that arduous task within the next six months.
There was intense interest in my wireless AV class, which for the first time featured actual products that you can buy now. Clint Hoffman and his crew at Kramer Electronics worked hard to get me a production model of the company’s new KW-11 WHDI transceiver kit, which I promptly installed in my home-made wireless Nook HD+ tablet. This 6 GHz system was used to deliver PowerPoints and 1080p/60 clips from Skyfall as I walked around the 150+ attendees. It worked like a champ!
Peerless AV also provided me with their two-channel WHDI linking system, which we used to transmit 1080p signals to a Sharp 80-inch LCD TV in the corner of the classroom. That same TV was simultaneously receiving low-power ATSC signals on channel 23 from MELD Technologies’ Pico Broadcaster white space system.
On the other side of the room, DVDO’s 60 GHz WiHD Air product was sending clips from Men in Black III from a Panasonic Blu-ray player to the house projection system. And Jim Venable and Alan Ruberg from the Wireless Speaker and Audio Association were demonstrating 5.1-channel wireless surround audio playback of House of Flying Daggers. If anyone in the crowd had doubts about wireless high-bandwidth AV connectivity being real, they were quickly dispelled.
In my Future Trends talk on Tuesday, I identified inexpensive, large LCD displays as growing market disruptors. That was obvious when I walked the show floor, where booths were stuffed with big LCD screens, including some 4K models. Sharp had their big glass on display and also spotlighted their new 32-inch 4K LCD monitors, powered by IGZO backplanes. Samsung, LG, Sony, Panasonic, Planar, NEC, and others made “big LCD” the focal point of their booths.
Not surprisingly, most of the projector manufacturer booths were smaller this year than last. But those that had ‘em to show made sure their lamp-free projectors were located front and center. Lamp-free projection is a big deal now and takes on even more importance with the threat from large LCDs. Panasonic, Optoma, Casio, Sony, projectiondesign, Vivitek, and Mitsubishi all had impressive demos of LED, laser, and hybrid projectors. (Oddly, I walked through the BenQ booth a few times but couldn’t locate their laser DLP models.) Keep an eye on this battle – it’s only going to intensify as more end-users consider the move to “big LCD.”
As for 4K, there were lots of discussions about the pros and cons at the show. It has been pointed out on more than one occasion that we’ve yet to see a single 4K display interface; HDMI or DisplayPort. The trick now is to use several HDMI connections to get data to the screen, but that’s not practical in the long term.
With the pending release of HDMI 2.0 standards and perhaps some more aggressive promotion by VESA of Display Stream (up to 25 Gb/s data rates), I expect all of that to change by next year’s InfoComm. There is considerable demand in the commercial AV space for higher display resolution, both in single screens and tiled displays. Think of process control, command and control, virtual reality, geophysical mapping, and military surveillance as logical candidates.
One of the more intriguing discussions came during Scott Sharer’s closing Super Tuesday session. Fellow panelist Bill Nattress, a principal at Shen Milsom Wilke in Chicago, talked about the pending demise of the conventional conference room and meeting room in favor of ad hoc, no-wall meeting spaces. How will people present there? Projectors aren’t a likely candidate. Perhaps tablets, which will certainly get bigger? Large LCD screens on roll-around stands?
And how will we control AV playback in these spaces? Most likely with advanced gesture control and voice recognition. The two go hand-in-hand, in my opinion, and we are going to see plenty of finished products by 2020; perhaps even sooner. Look for the era of the “touchless” touch screen to start soon.
So, there you have it: 4K, large cheap LCDs, lamp-free projection, wireless high-bandwidth connectivity, faster multifunction interfaces, and gesture/voice control. Keep your eyes on those trends for the rest of the year and I’ll look forward to seeing you in one of my classes next June in Las Vegas!
Faster Broadband Means Abandoning the Pay TV Ship
- Published on Tuesday, 04 June 2013 10:10
- Pete Putman
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The concept of “watching television,” now over 70 years old, continues to evolve away from traditional, scheduled mass audience broadcasts through the ether to multi-channel delivery over wired connections. And the next stage in that evolutionary process is picking up steam.
That next stage would be cord-cutting, the practice of discontinuing linear pay TV program services in favor of Internet delivery of video in an “any time, any place, any viewing device” format. Pay TV service providers have long scoffed at the impact of cord-cutters, stating that as younger viewers mature and form families, they will return to traditional pay TV services with monthly subscription fees.
Well, the executives of pay TV service providers sound more and more like they’re whistling past the graveyard these days. In a recent story on the eMarketer Web site, 60% of U.S. respondents to a study conducted by market research firm AYTM stated that they still had a pay TV subscription to go along with their broadband service.
However, another 23% of Internet users said they had dropped their multi-channel video service, while 17% responded that they didn’t have any TV service at all. The combined 40% who either cut the cord or don’t watch pay TV is the highest number I’ve seen to date in surveys of cord-cutting trends.
A Leichtman Research Group study conducted back in March found that 27% of U.S. adults watched videos on non-TV devices every day and more than half of survey respondents did so on a weekly basis. AYTM’s study dug a bit further and discovered that found that 29% of respondents watched YouTube videos at least daily in May, and more than half of respondents did so more than once a week.
According to AYTM, over half of cable TV viewers said they watched less than half of the channels available via their subscription and 74% said they would prefer to choose individual channels rather than paying for a whole bundle. Until recently, there was no chance of a la carte channel pricing, but broadband video channels are now providing that option.
Not surprisingly, the most popular broadband video service is Netflix. Leichtman’s numbers showed that 22% of respondents stream Netflix content weekly, up from 4% in 2010. That is an incredible growth rate and the main reason why Netflix’ subscriber base is rapidly closing in on 30 million customers.
The controversial Aereo DTTB-to-Internet service, which recently launched in Boston, has plans to expand to several other cities this year. But the end game may not be broadcast TV redistribution after all.
According to a story on the Advanced Television Web site, Aereo boss Barry Diller’s game plan is to break up controlled, centralized video distribution systems (broadcast, cable, satellite, and fiber) and move all content to Internet delivery. Diller was quoted in the story as saying, “The more you can get all forms of video over Internet Protocol; the better off the world is going to be.”
Let’s ignore some of the logical and technical fallacies in that statement and see if this goal is even realistic. You may be surprised to learn that true high-speed broadband service is only available to a relatively small percentage of the population. An FCC study published last year said that less than 10% of U.S. households could count on sustained data rates of 2 – 3 megabits per second all day long.
Ironically, broadband speed enhancements are largely coming from pay TV system operators, who may be shooting themselves in the foot as they try to keep up with Verizon and Google Fiber: Speed up broadband service, and you speed up the exodus from pay TV subscriptions to Internet-only services as consumers try to cut their ever-escalating monthly bills.
Advanced codecs like H.265, which promises a 50% bit rate reduction over H.264 and which will start to roll out next year, will only hasten this process as consumers fully embrace “anytime, anywhere” Internet video. Abandon ship!
This article originally appeared on Display Daily.
Projector Manufacturers Are Going Lamp-Free. But Is It Too Late?
- Published on Friday, 24 May 2013 12:04
- Pete Putman
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Last Tuesday, I traveled to QVC Studios in West Chester, PA to check out some of Sony’s newest 2K and 4K projectors. In addition to a pair of high-brightness 4K models, Sony also had its new and yet-unnamed laser-powered 3LCD projector up and running, side-by-side with Panasonic’s PT-RZ470 laser/LED single-chip DLP projector.
The purpose of this demo was to compare color quality between both projectors, and with the express caveat that I have no idea what (if any) adjustments were made to the Sony projector; it certainly appeared to have an edge in color saturation over the Panasonic unit. (The latter projector still created some good-looking images.)
This 4,000-lumen laser 3LCD chassis is the same as Sony’s FH31-series projectors and has the same level of functionality – interchangeable lenses, edge blending, Ethernet control, etc. The only difference is that a laser provides the illumination, and Sony claims it will last to 20,000 hours, presumably hitting half-brightness at that point.
I expect to see plenty of lamp-free projector demos in Orlando. Mitsubishi, BenQ, Optoma, Vivitek, Panasonic, Digital Projection, projectiondesign, LG, and NEC are all selling or getting ready to launch laser-powered and laser/LED hybrid projectors this year. And if Sony’s ready to christen a laser-powered 3LCD product, you can be sure that Epson and Hitachi will be close on their heels.
With the European Union turning up the screws on hazardous substances, the days of short-arc projection lamps are numbered. But the bigger problem is the “big LCD” runaway train – one that will eventually wipe out the “hang and bang” projector market.
From time to time, I run LinkedIn discussions about selected AV topics, and just started a new one on lamp-free projectors. And the early responses indicate that sentiment has swung in favor of replacing projectors with large LCD screens across a broad range of markets.
One respondent commented, “We currently have one building with about 30 classrooms that only use LED (LCD) monitors, and the faculty enjoys them immensely. They no longer have a bright light staring them in the face, and the students can see all the images displayed extremely well with much better clarity than with ‘standard’ classroom projectors. “
Here’s another comment. “I have been moving to LED (LCD) displays whenever I have input in a design — aside from spaces that require displays in excess of 120″ because of size. They’re always brighter, they’re more compact, and the maintenance on them is soooo much easier. Plus, let’s be truthful here, users view a 150″ (projected image) as ho-hum, but a 90″ monitor seems to IMPRESS.”
Not surprisingly, the issue of lamp replacements (cost, time involved, and inconvenience) came up more than once as a reason to switch to flat screens. “I would say that lamps took up close to 50% of our supply budget. Plus; maintenance, calls for immediate response, and filling out service ticket documentation, (replacing) a single lamp could take 45 minutes of a technician’s time (+/- 9% of the technician’s day for one response).”
From another responder: “Both financially and logistically, lamp changes are a BIG nuisance. Even with multi-lamp redundancy, critical spare stock is always advisable due to the uncertain stock and delivery issues. Even if one puts this cost aside, lamps can blow out at the worst times and any change that requires any combination of ladders, climbing, dismounting, disassembly, reassembly, and counter resetting is never a desirable situation. Flat panels are less of a hassle.”
Now the million-dollar question: Does lamp-free projection level the playing field with large LCDs at all? “As nice as laser/hybrid projectors are, I think they’re not quite ready for widespread use, especially in a classroom setting. And since we are in the process of moving away from projection as a whole, where they have been installed the 70″/80″ LED monitors, and even the 90″ monitors now, are getting rave reviews from faculty and staff alike on image quality, brightness, and ease of use.”
How about image quality? “I have looked at the Casio and Panasonic lampless projectors. I have purchased some Casio(s) for the portability, but until the image quality improves I will not be installing them for general-use classrooms. The colors are very drab when compared to LCD.”
And one last comment: “The emergence of more practical, brighter, and more affordable lamp-free projectors will definitely take some market-share away from traditional projectors, but I don’t think that it will have as much impact on the large direct-view display market. We’ve specified these large displays instead of projectors when there are ambient lighting issues, in situations where the colors and contrast of a projector just aren’t sufficient, and in spaces where projection isn’t physically practical…”
From my perspective, it’s a good thing that interest and activity in the lamp-free projection space are both picking up this year. The projector industry needs to show it can still innovate and remain relevant; lamp-free projection is a great way to do that and provide facility managers much-needed relief from the “burnt-out lamp shuffle.”
Even so, the once-safe market of small to mid-sized classroom and conference room projection continues to cede ground to large LCD displays with each passing month. With lamp-free technology, projector manufacturers have shown they’ve finally seen the light. But is it too late?
TV, Over The Air and Everywhere!
- Published on Friday, 10 May 2013 14:35
- Pete Putman
- 0 Comments
In a Bloomberg story from May 3, Aereo chairman Chet Kanojia is calling the TV networks’ bluff. Aereo’s “streaming terrestrial broadcasts over the Internet, one antenna at a time” service, which is expanding to Boston, has stirred the ire of News Corporation (parent of Fox) and CBS.
Executives at both networks, having suffered two setbacks in court, have threatened to shut down their broadcasts completely and move to cable/satellite distribution exclusively if Aereo doesn’t relent and pay a retransmission fee to carry their New York City signals.
Kanojia was quoted in the article as saying, “The reality is, they want to get paid twice, and Aereo is just an excuse to articulate that business strategy. Good luck to them.” Practically speaking, CBS and Fox would face several logistical hurdles to pull this off, not the least of which would be answering to Congress if they did shut down their terrestrial transmitters, viewed by at least 15% of the American public.
Strangely enough, both network’s sugar daddy – the National Football League – has yet to be heard from in this kerfuffle. The NFL has repeatedly stated it does not want to sign rights deals that would restrict broadcasts of its games to pay TV channels, giving only Monday Night Football to ESPN. If CBS and Fox decided to pull their 8VSB power plugs, what would Roger Goodell say?
More importantly, how does Goodell feel about Aereo carrying NFL games for which they haven’t paid any rights? The NFL is scrupulous about enforcing so-called “public” performances of NFL games outside of bars, restaurants, and other places of public accommodation. They’ve even come after churches for hosting free Super Bowl parties in the past. So, where’s the indignation at Aereo?
I suppose if CBS and Fox went ahead with their threat, we could always fire up that ol’ Blu-ray player or smart TV function many of us don’t use. In a Home Media story also published on May 3, the Nielsen Company announced that Blu-ray Disc and transactional video-on-demand (VOD) “made significant gains as the primary means for consumers to acquire home entertainment movies and TV shows in 2012.”
According to Nielsen, 83.6% of consumers used a DVD or Blu-ray player to watch video at home, while 45.1% of the sample audience used video game console and 44.1% favored digital video recorders. The number of respondents who preferred streaming rental movies increased by 32% in the past six months of 2012 compared with the same time period in2011.
During the same interval, 29% more opted for transactional VOD to watch TV shows, 12% more preferred using Netflix to watch movies, and 24% more jumped on board subscription video-on-demand services to watch TV programs.
Intriguingly, 14% more survey respondents said they bought a Blu-ray movie over 2011, while 25% said they preferred Blu-ray for TV shows. (I assume that meant mostly boxed sets?) And you may be surprised to learn that adult female respondents who use the Internet are more likely to buy movies or TV shows on optical disc than adult male respondents.
The rise in popularity of streaming and transactional VOD may be due to the fact that of 56% of all households with broadband Internet access now have at least one TV set connected to the Internet. So says The Diffusion Group in a recent report. Streaming media players lead in the connected category for accessing streaming services, followed by video game consoles like the Xbox and PlayStation platforms. Connected Blu-ray players came in third, followed by smart TVs.
The NPD Group sees that pecking order changing soon, stating that by next year, connections through dedicated streaming boxes (Apple TV, Roku) and smart TVs will eclipse connections via Blu-ray players — another sign of people moving away from movies on discs. They also found that 40% of households with Internet-connected TVs watch videos from Netflix, 17% watch YouTube videos, and 11% watch movies and TV shows via Hulu.
So, is streaming the hot ticket? Not necessarily, unless you have the patience of a saint, says a story on the Streaming Media Blog Web site. Conviva, a company heavily involved in research and development of more effective and reliable streaming solutions, analyzed over 22 billion (yes, BILLION) video streams in 2012 with an eye toward reliability. These streams included Netflix, ESPN, HBO, Viacom, VEVO, MLB, USA, NBC, and others, said the story.
The result? 60% of all streams experienced quality degradation. Re-buffering affected 20.6% of streams interrupting programs, while 19.5% of the streams were impacted by slow video startup and 40% were plagued by grainy or low-resolution picture quality caused by low bit rates. (Check your home broadband speed sometime between 9 and 10 PM, using CNET’s Broadband Speed test. You may be shocked by the results!)
Drilling down, 60% of views were impacted by stalls, low resolution or buffering. 39.3% of streams were impacted by buffering and 4% (900 million streams) never started at all. And while many consumers are watching on a screen capable of displaying high-quality (HQ) video, 63% are viewing below HQ resolution anyway. Hate waiting in line? Conviva said that in 2012, a staggering 124.8 billion minutes were spent in buffering.
You know what? I think I’ll just go read a book. (No, make that an e-book. Wait, I have to download it first! Buffering…buffering…buffering…)
Lamp? What Lamp?
- Published on Wednesday, 01 May 2013 16:46
- Pete Putman
- 0 Comments
Lamp-free projection isn’t a new idea. After all, that term precisely describes cathode-ray tube (CRT) projectors, which were the only way to project electronic color images for almost two decades. (A CRT-engined light valve projector was demonstrated in England prior to World War II!)
With the advent of LCD and then DLP projectors in the early to mid-1990s, the writing was on the wall for CRTs. The microdisplay projector category grew explosively in just fifteen years from a handful of video-resolution boxes at InfoComm 1993 to total domination of the category at all resolutions and brightness levels by 2008.
Indeed; it seemed like the good times would just roll on forever. But we all know that’s not usually the case (composite video and VGA notwithstanding). And in 2011, the specter of super-sized, inexpensive LCD TVs and monitors suddenly loomed over what once was the most energetic, anarchaic, and exhilarating AV thrill ride ever.
Two years later, projector manufacturers are watching with increasing concern as the traditional “hang and bang” conference room and classroom market yields to the siren song of Big LCDs. “No need to change lamps!” they cry out. “No need to dim lights! No need for a screen! Instant on and off! Set it and forget it!” The message is seductive, and for the most part, true.
A change is coming. Some manufacturers, refusing to become paralyzed with inaction, are speeding up development of lamp-free projectors, turning to light-emitting diodes, lasers, and a combination of the two in an attempt to slow the tides of change. You’ve no doubt seen some of these projectors at earlier InfoComm, CES, and SID get-togethers. Well, you’re about to see a lot more.
At the January Integrated Systems Europe show, BenQ, Sony, Mitsubishi, NEC, and Casio all exhibited lamp-free projectors with brightness levels ranging from a few hundred lumens to 2,000 lumens. Sony’s demo attracted great interest, as it was the first 3LCD-based imaging system and uses lasers. BenQ’s offerings are also 100% laser-engined, with the rest of the crowd using various combinations of LEDs and lasers.
Going lamp-free is seen as a successful parry against Big LCDs. First off, the lamp replacement issue goes away, once and for all. Lamp-free projectors are also essentially maintenance-free, just like today’s LCD TVs: Simply turn them on and use them for 15,000 to 20,000 hours. And they also offer instant on/off operation, something that’s been a challenge for designers of conventional short-arc lamp designs.
At present, lamp-free projectors can span three levels of brightness. The 100%-LED designs are usually good for a maximum of 1100 lumens, with 500 lumens being the norm. Above 1100 lumens and up to 4,000 lumens, the laser/LED hybrids take over. A gap then follows from 4,000 to 10,000 lumens, at which point the high-power laser light engines rule the roost, soaring as high as 70,000 lumens for digital cinema and large venue projection.
Christie Digital (owners of NECSEL), Laser Light Engines, Kodak, and NEC are all active in the large venue laser space. LLE’s innovative remote laser light heads with armored fiber optic bundles may be the key to wider adoption of the technology. Christie, who recently sponsored a two-week showcase run of GI JOE:RETALIATION in Burbank CA, using their 60,000+ lumens laser DLP Cinema projector, is now pondering the technical and financial logistics of offering more laser cinema screenings to kick up interest.
Make no mistake about it; this is a crucial time for projector manufacturers, of which there are still too many in my opinion. Super-sized 4K LCD panels are coming, 2K LCD glass cuts are going to get bigger and cheaper (Sharp’s 90-inch behemoth can be purchased by dealers for nearly $2,000 below the stated SRP from InfoComm 2013), and the only realistic way for projectors to hold any ground is to drop the lamp, once and for all.
At InfoComm, we’ll see just how many manufacturers have gotten the message – and how many are still waiting to hop on the bandwagon…