Category: The Front Line
Projector Manufacturers Are Going Lamp-Free. But Is It Too Late?
- Published on Friday, 24 May 2013 12:04
- Pete Putman
- 0 Comments
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?
Zero-TV Households and the Second-Season Crunch
- Published on Wednesday, 15 May 2013 19:17
- Ken Werner
- 0 Comments
Network TV shows that are hits in their first season usually do well in the second, which is necessary if they are to become long-term cash cows for the networks that carry them. But not this year.
With very few exceptions the hits of the 2011-2012 season fizzled in 2012-2013. Fox’s New Girl fell from 8.4 to 6.16 million viewers; ABC’s Once Upon a Time fell from 11.84 to 10.4 million; and ABC’s Last Man Standing fell from 9.39 to 7.92 million. (The numbers are from “Sophomore Slump Afflicts Once-Promising TV Shows” by Bill Carter, New York Times, May 13, 2013.)
Carter quotes Warren Littlefield, who was responsible for putting Seinfeld and Friends on NBC when he was head of its entertainment division in the 1990s. “It’s something new for breakout hit shows to be down in their second year. And yes, it’s alarming.”
Peter Dinklage in “Game of Thrones” (HBO). One of several cable TV series that generates
Apart from the networks’ compulsion to self-inflict wounds both slight and serious, the problem is two-fold. For many viewers, the most exciting shows are on cable. Homeland (Showtime) and Game of Thrones (HBO), among others, generated audience passion and loyalty as few of today’s network shows can. Several executive interviewed by Carter cited this “excitement gap.”
Although numerically less important than the migration from broadcast to original cable programming, the number of people who are giving up both broadcast and cable/satellite is becoming significant. According to Nielsen’s Fourth-Quarter 2012 Cross-Platform Report, released in mid-March, more than 5 million households (slightly less than 5% of total viewers) – up from 2 million in 2007 – do not fit Nielsen’s traditional definition of a TV household. More than three quarters of these home still have at least one TV set, but they use it to watch DVDs, play games, surf the net, or watch streaming media. Of the entire 5 million Zero-TV households, 67% get their video content from other devices: PCs (37%), the Internet (16%), smart phones (8%), and tablets (6%), either exclusively or in addition to the TV set.
Depending on how you look at it, that 5% is either a lot or a little. I think it’s a lot, and it’s going to grow. As a percentage of the total number of Zero-TV homes, the distribution peaks at age 25-34, with 25.1% of the total. The TV Home distribution peaks at age 65 and over, with 24.2% of the total.
Who would you bet on? NBC or Netflix? If you did not say Netflix, this is the time to remind you that House of Cards was the service’s most-watched show ever, and all of the episodes were released at the same time to encourage binging. It worked. More original programming from Netflix is on the way.
Now, let’s ask this. What if HBO or Showtime, whose programs are only available through cable and satellite services, decided to take advantage of the changing wind and make its programming available on Netflix or Amazon? A portion of the cable service’s viewers would lose an important reasons for subscribing to cable/satellite to begin with. It’s just a matter of time.
How much of a problem is this likely to be for cable/satellite? Back to the Nielsen report: Only 5% of video-watching households are Zero-TV households, but 23% percent of Netflix subscribers had cancelled their cable or satellite subscriptions. Ouch.
And none of this takes into account the tremendously improved smart TVs introduced this year by the likes of Samsung and Panasonic; or the much-needed improvements in speed, responsiveness, and reliability of program streaming that are sure to come. The times they are a-changin’.
Ken Werner is Principal of Nutmeg Consultants, specializing in the display industry, display manufacturing, display technology, and display applications. You can reach him at email@example.com.
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…)
The Wacky World of OLEDs
- Published on Friday, 03 May 2013 11:24
- Ken Werner
- 0 Comments
A classic line from vaudeville was “Dying is easy; comedy is hard.” Compared to bringing large OLED displays into the mainstream, it now seems that comedy is a piece of cake.
If we ever get large OLEDs right — that is, if we learn how to print the front plane; use IGZO or graphene or carbon nanotubes for the backplane; develop flexible, reliable, and inexpensive moisture and oxygen barriers; and fabricate reliable displays via roll-to-roll processing with high manufacturing yield — there will no longer be much reason to bother with either LCDs or plasma display panels. That goal continues to inspire investment, but it also continues to be very, very elusive.
On the other hand, through excellent science and engineering, patience, and hard work, Samsung has made small OLEDs for cell phones a significant success. When we look at the absolutely beautiful OLED display in Samsung’s Galaxy S4, there is a great temptation to say, “Now all we have to do is make it a little bit bigger.” But that way, scaly (or, at least, scale-up) monsters lie.
There has been a flood of reports and announcements about OLED technologies and products over the last week. Some are comedic. Some are surprising. Some may even be accurate. Let’s sample.
As has been widely and appropriately reported, our friend Ray Soneira — who has been something of an OLED apostate — did an exhaustive analysis of the OLED display in the Samsung S4 and gave it a rave review. Ray says the Full HD, 440 ppi, 5-inch display in the S4 is far superior to the one in the now two- (or maybe three-) generation-old Galaxy Nexus.
Displaybank issued the Q4 ’12 edition of its “OLED Displays Market Tracker,” which reports that in Q4 ’12, 65.1% of OLED displays sold were between 4 and 5 inches on the diagonal, and that 22.8% were 5 inches or more. That leaves only 11.6% at less than 4 inches. That’s a significant change from Q4 ’11, when, Displaybank reports, 59.9% were 4.x-inch, 45.2% were 3.x-inch, and only 4.4% were 5.x-inch.
Okay. The point has been made: OLED displays for cell phones are real products with a real market and real profits. But things get wackier when we get to large displays for TV. At CES, both LG and Samsung showed curved 55-inch OLED-TVs, asserting that having the screen curve “around” the viewer would provide a more immersive, even IMAX-like, experience. That assertion remains to be proved, and many observers chalked up the curved OLED-TVs to the need to keep the buzz going while panel-makers figured out a way to produce flat OLED dsiplays with reasonable manufacturing yields and less-than-stratospheric prices. So, it was something of a surprise when LG announced it will soon launch the curved sets in Korea at a price in excess of $13,000. Pre-orders are being taken at over a thousand Korean retail locations.
Meanwhile, production of flat 55-inch OLED-TVs totals in the low 3 figures.
With the great OLED hope for large-screen TV stalled, TV manufacturers are looking to 4Kx2K LCD-TV to bring buyers into the showrooms. Ultra-HD LCD-TV also started out at stratospheric prices, but the very mature LCD panel industry has the the technology and manufacturing depth to bring those prices down much faster than many of us anticipated.
OLED TV isn’t dead. It’s just harder than comedy.
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…