Posts Tagged ‘4K’
The Diverging Fortunes of Sony, Panasonic, and Sharp: Is There Life After Television?
- Published on Friday, 01 November 2013 15:24
- Pete Putman
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Last week; Sony, Panasonic, and Sharp announced their financial reports for Q2 2013. And it’s clear that all three would benefit from phasing out the production and sales of televisions.
Panasonic, who is on track to shut down production of plasma display panels by the end of the current fiscal year in March of 2014, turned in a strong performance and raised its operating profit forecast to $2.75B, according to a story on the Reuters Web site.
The company posted a net profit of $627M for the period from July through September, helped by strong sales of automotive and battery products. This number just exceeded an estimate of $621M by industry analysts.
The surge of black ink was helped by downsizing plasma TV operations, along with semiconductor and smartphone manufacturing. Panasonic also concluded a sale of 80% of its healthcare business unit to KKR for about $1.7B.
Not long after saying the company would increase shipments of lithium ion batteries to carmaker Tesla Motors by nearly 2 billion cells through 2017, Panasonic also announced it will exit plasma TV manufacturing, which along with its LCD TV operations lost $261M in the second quarter.
Down the road, Sharp (who operates the world’s largest LCD fab in Sakai, Japan) managed to pull a rabbit out of its hat and announced a profit of $138M for the same quarter, largely due to increased demand for solar cells and a weaker yen against the dollar. Just one year ago, Sharp had a $5.5B net operating loss and required transfusions of cash from Samsung (2012) and Qualcomm (2013) to stay open.
While both companies have seen a steady decline in their worldwide TV market share (Panasonic dropped 26% from a 7.8% share in 2011 to 6% in 2012, while Sharp plummeted 22% from 6.6% to 5.4%), they’ve obviously figured out that it’s time to re-focus their efforts on more profitable products and are making progress in that direction.
Not so Sony, who evidently never heard Einstein’s famous definition of insanity as “…repeating an experiment and expecting different results.” Sony’s latest financials showed a net operating loss of $197M for the 2nd quarter, largely attributable to its TV operations. The fact that Sony Pictures also had a disappointing quarter didn’t help.
The TV group lost $95M between July and September after recording a $53M profit during the previous quarter. Sales of cameras, camcorders, and Vaio computers were also weak, with only smartphones showing any strength. The company also has high hopes for its PlayStation 4 platform, which will debut later this month.
Still, analysts aren’t convinced that Sony’s strategy to maintain its traditional consumer electronics products presence will work anymore. In a related Reuters story, Makoto Kikuchi, CEO of Tokyo-based Myojo Asset Management, was quoted as saying, “I still cannot see any fundamental and believable strategy for the rebirth of Sony’s electronics business. On the other hand Panasonic, which is shifting its business away from consumer electronics, is reporting better-than-expected results. The contrast is like night and day.”
Let’s be clear: Neither Panasonic or Sharp is out of the woods yet – far from it. Panasonic’s TV operations took an even bigger hit than Sony (-$261M) in Q2 ‘13, and Sharp is still sitting on the edge of bankruptcy. But Sony’s insistence on maintaining a losing CE presence may cost it dearly: Moody’s is apparently considering dropping Sony’s credit rating to junk status.
The fact is; Japanese manufacturers can’t sell TVs and remain profitable anymore; not as long as Samsung and LG maintain aggressive pricing and newcomers like Hisense, Haier, and TCL crash the party (not to mention discount giant Vizio).
And the move to 4K won’t help. Although Sony, Sharp, and Panasonic all have 4K LCD TVs at retail for about $80/inch, the Chinese appear primed for a 4K TV price war that they will inevitably win. Consider that without China, the worldwide market for TV shipments actually declined in 2012 by 4%. Add China to the mix, and it’s an eight-point upward swing.
To sum up; Panasonic seems to have gotten religion, while Sharp is still sobering up. But Sony apparently needs an intervention. Will disgruntled shareholders and/or downgraded credit and a higher cost of borrowing force the issue? Stay tuned…
Who ARE Those Guys?
- Published on Monday, 30 September 2013 10:34
- Pete Putman
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A recent article on the Reuters Web site details how Chinese LCD TV manufacturers are quickly gaining ground on Korean TV heavyweights LG and Samsung – and they’ve used UHDTV, a barely-hatched technology, to do it.
According to the Reuters story, LG and Samsung were so focused on one-upping each other in the still-gestating OLED TV business that mainland brands like BOE Technology and TCL and Taiwan-based Innolux and AU Optronics managed to sneak into the party and capture significant sales of 4K UHDTV sets using conventional LCD technology.
Until last year, a paltry 33,000 UHDTV sets had been sold worldwide (200M 2K and 720p LCD TVs were sold during the same time period). But shipments of 4K TVs have since multiplied by 20 times, based on data from IHS. And the Chinese are a big reason why.
In a rare moment of candor, LG Display’s CEO Han Sang-beom was quoted as saying, “…I have to admit that we hadn’t fully appreciated the potential of the UHD market. We assumed it’ll be too early for this type of display to take off, and thus didn’t think much of having diverse UHD product line-ups, especially in the low end. But I think we are not late just yet and we are working hard to lead the market here.”
In Q2 ‘13, BOE Technology reported an 8.9 percent operating profit margin, while China Star Optoelectronics Technology (CSOT), a unit of TCL Corp, achieved a 9.6 percent margin. LG Display, the world’s No.1 LCD maker, posted a 5.6 percent margin, while Samsung Display, a unit of Samsung Electronics, had a whopping margin of 13 percent. But take out the OLED business and Samsung’s LCD margin drops to somewhere between 3 and 7 percent.
To show you just how severely the winds have changed against Japanese TV manufacturers, Sharp Corporation – the company that basically invented the LCD TV – reported a 0.5 percent profit margin for Q2 ’13, after several quarters of red ink.
Can the Chinese do to Korea what the Koreans did to the Japanese? It’s entirely possible: During the same Q1 ’13, global TV shipments grew by 4% Y-Y, according to NPD DisplaySearch. But all of that growth was in mainland China, where TV shipments ramped up an astonishing 28% Y-Y. Take out those numbers from the overall worldwide shipments total, and LCD TV shipments actually declined almost 4% Y-Y.
In recent weeks, we’ve seen a flurry of 4K and UHDTV announcements from Panasonic, Sony, and now Sharp. The latter, which unveiled a 70-inch 4K set (LC-70UD1U) at CE Week back in June, is now shipping it and the SRP (so far) is $7,500. Keep in mind that Sony brought out its LGD-manufactured 84-inch 4K LCD TV for $25K a year ago; LG dropped that price by $5K not to long after, and JVC’s 4K monitor version (also using the same LGD panel) is available for $15K.
Samsung and Sony both have 4K LCD TVs in the 55″ – 65″ range that are retailing for about $90 – $100 per diagonal inch. That’s quite a drop from the nearly $300/diagonal inch that Sony started out with in 2012!
There’s no question that everyone is jumping the gun on pricing, and it’s most likely due to worries about the new crop of UHDTVs from from what is becoming the world’s fastest-growing market for consumer electronics devices.
It took over a decade for 2K HDTV to really get established in the market. Then, prices collapsed, and with them, operating margins. Will 4K follow that same timetable, or will it make even faster inroads?
Fans of the 1969 movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid will recall how those two fled the U.S. for supposedly safer quarters in South America. And yet, their pursuers stayed doggedly on their trail, following them all the way to Bolivia. “Who ARE those guys?” asked Robert Redford, over and over as they were flushed from yet another supposedly-secure hiding place.
Now, Samsung, LG, and Japan Inc. may very well be asking the same thing…
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!
4k In The Desert
- Published on Tuesday, 26 February 2013 12:12
- Pete Putman
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I’m writing this while sitting in the Day 2 session of the annual Hollywood Post Alliance Technology Retreat, which has become one of the leading cutting-edge technology conferences for those working in movie and TV production.
From its humble beginnings at the turn of the century, the Tech Retreat has outgrown two hotels and now attracts over 500 attendees each year. This year’s edition is being held at the Hyatt Resort in Indian Wells and featured a full-day super session on high frame rate / high dynamic range / high resolution imaging, followed by two and a half days of presentations on everything from file-based workflows to consumer TV viewing preferences, the next generation of ATSC (3.0), and a behind the scenes look at NHK’s operations center for their 8K coverage of the 2012 Olympics.
Did you know the adaptive dynamic range of the human eye is 1014, or about 46 stops of light? (I learned this on Day 1.) I also discovered that the fire department in Paris played an integral role in the Lumiere demonstration of 60mm projected images on a 30 meter-wide screen in 1898. (More on that later!)
And I also heard about viewer preferences for high dynamic range displays, along with the trials, tribulations, successes, and failures of the UltraViolet online “locker” system for viewing movies and TV shows across a wide range of devices.
As might be expected, there is a lot of interest among attendees in the emerging crop of 4K TVs and displays. 4K has already made significant inroads to the post-production industry, but the end game remains uncertain: Is the best use of 4K to make better 2K digital files for movies, and improved 2K video for broadcasts? Do 4K displays beg for greater color bit depths, as opposed to the barely-adequate 8-bit system used for Blu-ray and digital TV? What are the challenges in building an end-to-end 4K production ecosystem?
How about displays that can harness the wide dynamic range that the newest high-end 4K cameras can reproduce? And what display technology shows the most promise for reference-grade 4K monitoring in post-production and color grading facilities? It’s clear that plasma is on the way out, based on sales trends for the past three years. Yet, LCDs still face major challenges in assuming the “reference” mantle. And OLEDs remain tantalizingly out of reach, due to continued yield issues.
And then there’s the “gotcha!” – delivering 4K content to the consumer. The MPEG4 H.264 codec can work miracles, but isn’t able to pack down 4K files small enough for existing terrestrial, satellite, and cable “pipes.” However, the emerging H.265 codec promises a further bit rate reduction of 50% over H.264. Will H.265 make 4K delivery feasible?
And what will we play 4K content from? Blu-ray discs? There’s certainly enough capacity in dual-layer blue laser discs, but there’s that 8-bit color limitation. How about hard drive or solid-state memory solutions, such as RED’s $1,500 4K media player? Streaming 4K seems out of the question for now, and digital downloads of 4K movies would certainly tax even the fastest broadband service providers.
In an informal poll of attendees after Day 1, a majority (at least 80%) indicated they believed that 4K TV was just another attempt by CE manufacturers to sell TVs, while a much smaller group (perhaps 20%) thought that 4K was a legitimate next step in the progression of content production. (HPA attendees also largely agree that 3D TV is dead and that “smart TVs” are yet another misfire on the part of Japan, Korea, and China.)
In my morning breakfast roundtable that focused on the struggles of the consumer TV industry, one comment was made that perhaps Apple’s long-rumored television product might use a 4K display (along with advanced gesture and voice control.) We also talked about the rapid decline in LCD panel and TV prices, and observed that some Taiwanese and Chinese manufacturers (Westinghouse, Hisense, and TCL) are already floating aggressive prices on 4K TVs; about $50 – $60 per diagonal inch in sizes up to 65 inches.
Clearly, 4K is coming. Just how fast and in what forms isn’t immediately obvious. There is talk of a need for standardization beyond what is happening in SMPTE and EBU groups, specifically focusing on high dynamic range 4K video with a wide color gamut that will display consistently both on cinema-grade projectors and across multiple brands of 4K consumer TVs.
In other words, it’s past time to stop worrying about being “backwards compatible” with legacy format and imaging standards developed for CRT displays, and blaze new trails for acquisition, post-production, distribution, and delivery of HDR UHD visual content.
Only then will the transition to 4K TV be worthwhile. And you can be certain that Tech Retreat presenters and attendees will be on the cutting edge as it happens…
(I almost forgot: The Paris fire department sprayed water on the Lumiere screen to make it translucent so that it could be viewed on both sides.)
Goodbye, 2012. Don’t Let the Door Hit You on the Way Out
- Published on Friday, 21 December 2012 18:38
- Pete Putman
- 0 Comments
This will be my last post for 2012. And what a year it’s been.
We were dazzled by 55-inch OLEDS at CES nearly a year ago that will not make it to market. We’ve seen record financial losses at some of the most venerated names in consumer electronics (Sony, Panasonic) and one long-time Japanese brand on the verge of bankruptcy (Sharp.)
TV sales continued their decline from last year, as did TV prices. It’s now possible to buy 42-inch LCD TVs for quite a bit less than $400. The obituary is being written for plasma, according to most analysts. (I agree.) Many LCD TV manufacturers and retail brands are now branching into (get this) LED lighting.
Viewing of traditional broadcast TV channels fell off the cliff this year, except at NBC. AMC is the hot channel now, and ironically, they used to just run old movies with innumerable commercial interruptions. There is evidence that cord-cutting is gaining in popularity (it’s the economy, stupid!) and video streaming has supplanted sales and rentals of DVDs and Blu-ray discs. My gosh, Disney and Netflix are now partners in streaming!
The hot products this season aren’t TVs, although really big screens are dirt cheap and have seen a spike in sales. Digital cameras are threatened by smart phones, with 2012 shipments off by as much as 40% from last year. Now, we have DSLRs and point-and-shoots with built-in Web browsers, quickie image editors, and the Android OS. (I think that’s called a phone now?)
No, the hot product this year is the tablet. iPad, Surface, Nook, Galaxy, Kindle, take your pick – they’re all popular, and the Consumer Electronics Association predicts that 50% of American homes could own at least one tablet by the end of the holiday selling season.
Interest in 3D has largely waned among the general public and TV manufacturers, contrary to what you may read on some die-hard 3D enthusiast Web sites. From all accounts, the 3D Olympics broadcasts found their biggest audience in the production trucks adjacent to the events in London.
So what’s the next big thing? Why, it’s 4K, otherwise known as Ultra HD (except at Sony, who always marches to the beat of a different drum). Never mind that there’s no content to watch; you can buy in for a mealy twenty grand. Or, you can wait until after CES and pick up one of the new Chinese 4K TVs for a lot less.
Prices for flash memory are dirt cheap, further depressing optical disc sales. You can buy 32 GB SD and Micro SD cards for all of twenty bucks now. That’s enough space to hold almost six two-hour 1080p movies, using MPEG4 H.264 compression.
We’re seeing a major shift away from value in hardware to value in software – content, apps, whatever you want to call them. Face it; “electronics is cheap!” And more and more of our gadgets are coming from China, which is evolving into the largest market for consumer electronics in the world.
Front projectors came under heavy fire in the commercial AV space, threatened by super-cheap and big LCD TVs. But they’re firing back by adopting lamp-less projection engines, using LEDs, lasers, or combinations of the two. The rear-projection TV category is officially RIP now, after Mitsubishi threw in the towel in late November. If it ain’t flat, consumers don’t want it.
You know things are nutty when Samsung and Apple seem to spend most of their time in court suing each other (and Google, and vice-versa), yet all three companies paired up to make a $500M bid for Kodak’s digital imaging patents. You remember Kodak, right? They once made photographic film, and cameras, and processing chemicals, etc. (Don’t remember them? You must be a Millennial.)
The industry is obsessed with the “second screen,” although they can’t quite define how it is used and how often. We’re obsessed with the idea that we can stream any movie or TV show we want, at any time and in any place, but continue to be surprised when the monthly bill comes in from Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner, and so on. And why is it that broadband speeds are so much faster abroad, in countries where the government often maintains the telecommunications infrastructure?
Despite claims that more airwaves are needed for wireless broadband (at the expense of UHF TV broadcasters), we found out the hard way during Hurricane Sandy and other extreme weather that, more often than not, broadcast TV was the only reliable way to get news updates when the power went out, trees fell down, and buildings flooded. (Some lessons are just hard to learn!)
It’s been quite a year, and Ken and I have enjoyed trying to explain the significance of many of the developments that you’ve heard and read about. We’ll continue to do so in 2013 on an all-new Web site (same name) that should be somewhat easier on the eyes and faster to navigate.
Look for a launch of the new site sometime in mid-January, right after that annual exercise in electronic insanity that takes place in Las Vegas every year. Both Ken and I will have our usual coverage and analysis, and maybe we can even find a couple of gems amongst all of the electronic detritus that lines the aisles of the Las Vegas Convention Center.
That’s it for now. Have a safe and happy holiday season and a safe New Year. And in the wake of the Newtown, CT tragedy, remember to keep all the gadgets we lust after and “can’t live without” in perspective: It’s just a bunch of dumb wires and components when all is said and done.
There are more important things in life…