Posts Tagged ‘4K TV’
In The Wake of CES 2013: Thoughts and Afterthoughts
- Published on Thursday, 14 February 2013 18:39
- Pete Putman
- 0 Comments
It’s just over a month since the International CES, otherwise known as the world’s largest orgy of consumer electronics. Some folks are even jokingly calling it the “Chinese Electronics Show,” after the strong showing by mainland Chinese manufacturers.
I can tell you that, after sorting through over 1,200 photos and videos, I’m still discovering things I photographed in the Las Vegas Convention Center. And there have been plenty of product announcements since the show, not to mention some shifts in power among CE manufacturers.
Each year, I present on future trends in technology at InfoComm. I also travel around and offer a condensed version of this talk for dealer and distributor line shows, professional society meetings, and even for a local amateur radio club.
As you might imagine, the content of the talk is updated frequently. What I present in two weeks at the local chapter meeting of SCTE will look and sound quite a bit different by the time I get to Orlando in mid-June. But that’s the nature of the beast – there is nothing so constant in the world of electronics as change.
Even so, there are a few clear trends that aren’t likely to change in the near future. And the most important trend, one which underlies everything else, is this: Hardware is cheap, and anyone can make it.
Think about it – you can buy a 60-inch plasma TV for less than $1,000, and that’s an everyday price. Want a nice Android tablet? You can pick them up for under $300. Blu-ray players with WiFi connectivity are now available for $70. And Roku’s XD Internet video set-top box (HD playback) is also ticketed at the same price.
Heck, you can buy an 80-inch LCD TV for less than $4,000. And that size and price combination has put a good portion of the front projector market in jeopardy. I won’t rehash previous columns here; suffice it to say that consultants, dealers, and systems integrators are putting these big screens in everywhere, and tearing out a lot of perfectly-good projector/screen combinations along the way.
But the low prices on the 80-inch Sharp TV are due to (a) excess fab capacity at Sharp’s Gen 10 Sakai LCD plant in Japan, and (b) the fact that Sharp is teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. Hence; the company is pushing the daylights out of large LCD TV and monitor sales at unbelievably low prices (less than $50 per diagonal inch).
Sharp also has a 90-inch product in their line, and anecdotal evidence shows that dealers are buying them for about $8,000 a pop. The 80-inch and 90-inch products are quite popular in two-up, side-by-side installations for videoconferencing and graphics display. And now China is getting into the game, showing 110-inch glass cuts made in Shenzen and resold by (among other brands) Samsung and Westinghouse. No one could have forseen nor desired this rapid drop in prices for LCD displays, particularly when the worldwide market for TVs is in decline.
Hardware is cheap, and anyone can make it.
The other day, I was shopping in Best Buy and came across a special on USB flash drives (also known as “thumb” drives). SanDisk, celebrating its 25th year in business, was offering 8 gigabyte (GB) flash drives for $6 a pop – no coupons or rebates necessary. 16 GB models had a price tag of $10, and 32 GB drives could be scooped up for $20 apiece.
Believe it or now, flash drive capacity has blown past actual demand. With more and more people storing photos and documents “in the cloud,” there’s less of a need for portable flash memory.
Even so, it will take a long time to fill up a 32 GB flash drive. My 1,200+ photos and videos from CES needed about 3 GB of space on the 32 GB SD card installed in my Nikon CoolPix 8200 camera.
I bought a Barnes & Noble Nook HD+ tablet in December, and fitted it with a 32 GB Micro SD card. That is a LONG way from filling up – the only files that take up any sizable room are HD movies I download for rentals (about 6 – 7 GB per movie).
You can buy 64 GB and even 128 GB flash drives now at reasonable prices. For those crazy enough to want one, you can pick up a 500 GB thumb drive for about $300 now. Of course, you can also purchase a 1 TB Western Digital MyBook for backups at a cost of just $129.95, or a Toshiba 2 TB portable HDD for less than $200.
Hardware is cheap, and anyone can make it.
The trend towards multifunction CE devices has also put a few product categories on the endangered species list. Shipments of point-and-shoot and DSLR camera declined markedly in 2011 when compared to 2010, a trend that is expected to repeat when 2012’s numbers are tallied.
The culprit? Mobile phones and tablets. Sure, they don’t have optical zoom lenses. And their image resolution still isn’t on a par with the best DSLRs and point-and-shoots. But that makes no difference to the average consumer, who is often pleasantly surprised to see just how well his or her smart phone takes HD-resolution pictures.
Last year, Canon and Nikon even introduced several models of DSLRs and pocket cameras with built-in WiFi and the Android operating system, just so people could take photos and instantly share them with friends. As far as I can tell, these products aren’t doing much to stem the decline in camera sales. After all, you can’t make phone calls or send texts with these cameras.
Nonetheless, prices for cameras have dropped to all-time lows. A nice compact point-and-shoot can be yours for less than $100, while a 16 megapixel model with 14x optical zoom and the ability to shoot 1080p/30 videos will run about $200. (As a point of reference, Canon’s first 5D-series DSLRs could shoot 3 frames per second in 2005 and cost $3,300.)
Hardware is cheap, and anyone can make it.
Even though consumers haven’t swarmed to “smart” TV functions, they do like their streaming – and Netflix is now the largest pay TV system operator in the United States, with over 25 million subscribers (yes, more than Comcast). With an ever-increasing number of viewers watching video on tablets, notebooks, and through Internet connectivity boxes like Apple TV, Boxee, and Roku, we’re seeing the leading edge of a shift in how TV shows and movies are accessed.
The phenomenon of “cord-cutting” is not new – mainstream publications have been following it for some time. But there’s evidence that the trend is accelerating, driven by ever-higher costs for pay TV subscriptions that are running above the annual rate of inflation.
And it’s Generation Y that is taking the lead here, preferring to watch episodes of popular TV shows after they become available for download or streaming at Amazon, Hulu, Vudu, Netflix, and on network Web sites. That is carrying time-shifting to an extreme, but it’s all in the name of economy.
Now, the traditional pay TV systems will tell you that cord-cutting is an aberration; a short-lived phenomenon that will run its course once younger people get married, form households, have children, and change to more traditional cable or satellite service.
Except that doesn’t appear to be happening. Just as Generation X and Y have all but pushed traditional landline telephone service into oblivion in favor of 24/7 mobile phone use, so too will they force the Comcasts, Time Warners, and DirecTVs of the world to finally offer some type of a la carte programming at lower prices.
And Gen X and Y will succeed because they’re already watching a la carte, streaming or downloading selected shows and movies at $2 – $5 a pop when it suits them. Many are supplementing Internet TV viewing with free, over-the-air broadcast HDTV services to hold the line on their entertainment budgets.
Many people buy WiFi-enabled Blu-ray players solely for the purpose of streaming. Yes, they can pop in a BD or DVD now and then, but the majority of their viewing is through that streaming port. And that is one reason why Blu-ray player prices have dropped so far and so fast.
Hardware is cheap, and anyone can make it.
When you stop and think about it, the cost of consumer electronic devices compared to the power and functionality they offer is simply mind-boggling. With a $40 Bluetooth keyboard and $60 micro mouse, my Nook HD+ is transformed into a super-compact notebook computer. I can surf the Web, watch movies and TV shows, send and receive emails, and even make a PowerPoint presentation. And all of that cost me less than $400.
Televisions with screens smaller than 50 inches can often be purchased for less than $10 per diagonal inch. For that matter, I’ve seen 26-inch and 32-inch LCD TVs for about $8 per diagonal inch, a price point at which virtually no one is making any money. This means your next TV purchase is basically amortized in less than a year, and if it breaks, you simply recycle it and buy a new one.
The glut of LCD TVs in all sizes and the resulting TV price wars are claiming one casualty – plasma. Plasma TVs were once the Rolls-Royce of TVs and commanded comparable pricing. They still have the advantage in image quality all over LCDs, particularly at wide viewing angles. Maybe they aren’t quite as bright, but they do have excellent dynamic range and deep blacks.
So what? In the third quarter of 2012, 88% of all TV shipments worldwide were LCDs. 5.5% were plasma. In fact, more CRT TVs were shipped worldwide in Q3 2012 than plasma TVs! (You could look it up, as Casey Stengel used to say.)
Clearly, price and convenience are trumping quality, adding plasma to the endangered species list. Samsung, Panasonic, and LG will continue to manufacture plasma TVs as long as there is reasonable demand, but have been shuttering factories and fabs along the way as demand drops.
More importantly, they’re not investing any more capital in upgrading or enhancing plasma technology – not while TV prices are hovering in the range of $8 – $12 per diagonal inches, LCDs account for nearly 9 out of every 10 TVs sold currently, and the Chinese are breathing down the necks of Korean and Japanese TV brands with even lower-priced models.
Hardware is cheap, and anyone can make it.
I’ll close this essay with a look to the future of TV – specifically, 4K TV. You can shrug your shoulders, smirk, or make fun of 4K. But there’s no denying that it’s coming whether or not there is enough 4K content to watch.
4K went from being highly-anticipated at CES to “ho hum” in a single day. That’s because so many companies had 4K TVs on display, and many of those were located in China. Brands like Hisense, TCL, Skyworth, and Haier showed fully-loaded 4K TV products that were every bit as impressive as the latest “smart” TV offerings from Samsung, LG, Sony, Panasonic, and Sharp.
Not only that, the Chinese brands had multiple models of 4K TVs. While Sony and LG got some “oohs!” and “aahs!” for their 84-inch LCD offerings, Hisense had 50-inch, 55-inch, 65-inch, 84-inch, and 100-inch models flickering away in the aisles. Westinghouse Digital showed a similar portfolio in their LVH suite. Skyworth’s small booth was dominated by an 84-inch 4K set, while TCL pulled off a sensational marketing and PR coup; getting the producers of the upcoming Iron Man 3 release (May) to showcase their 110-inch 4K set in the movie. (Guess Samsung and Sharp were asleep when that happened?)
The fact is, most TV manufacturing is inexorably moving to China. Some will remain in Korea, but it’s hard to see how the Japanese can hang on, seeing as they are getting clobbered by an unfavorable exchange rate on the yen and the emergence of large LCD fabs in Taiwan and China that can make big sheets of inexpensive, good-quality LCD glass – glass that can be used in everything from tablets and phones to televisions. It’s just not a fair fight.
Hardware is cheap, and anyone can make it…
4K: HDTV Redux?
- Published on Tuesday, 20 November 2012 12:18
- Pete Putman
- 0 Comments
4K acquisition and display was the topic of a panel discussion I participated in during last week’s CCW / SATCON show at the Javits Center in New York City. My fellow panelists were technology guru and veteran video engineer Mark Schubin, and Larry Thorpe, senior fellow at Canon’s Imaging Technologies Group, and we gave attendees some useful perspective on what may be the next “gold rush” for television manufacturers.
Schubin’s comments pertained to just how much detail the human eye can perceive, and how contrast is often more important than viewing distance and screen sizes. (Did you know the average viewer sits about nine feet away from a TV, which measures most often between 40 and 49 inches in diagonal screen size? So much for 42-inch 4K televisions…)
He went on to add that perhaps the greatest benefit of 4K digital film and video production would be higher quality 2K HDTV delivered to the home, as 4K imaging sensors can capture far more detail than native 2K sensors because they have 4x the number of photosites.
Thorpe talked about the challenges of designing lenses for 4K cameras and illustrated that there are no lenses for 4K cameras with equivalent zoom ratios to today’s 2K camera optics – not an insurmountable obstacle, but a challenge nonetheless for camera manufacturers.
He also provided details about a live 4K broadcast earlier this of a baseball game in Japan via satellite links, using a nominal data rate of 120 Mb/s, and discussed how Fox Sports has used a pair of 4K Sony F65 cameras this season to assist NFL referees when they review challenged plays.
My comments were focused on the availability of 4K projection and direct-view displays, the majority of which are very large screens that present logistical challenges in the average home. I also gave the audience an idea of the bit rates involved in moving 4K content at high frame rates from source to display (how does 6 Gb/s per color channel at 3840×2160/60Hz with 10-bit color grab you?) and why this will be a headache for current implementations of HDMI and DisplayPort.
At the 2012 SMPTE Fall Technical Conference last month in Hollywood, I chaired a session on UHDTV, and the three papers presented detailed an 8K camera/projection system developed by NHK; a compact, 25-megapixel 70mm (4K) Panavision camera with flash memory, and an update on SMPTE standards for transporting ever-greater amounts of data as we move to higher resolution imaging and workflows.
Interestingly, the last presentation, made by John Hudson of Semtech Corporation, showed quite clearly that copper isn’t quite dead yet when it comes to high data rates, and that reaching speed as high as 96 Gb/s is clearly possible over short lengths of coaxial cable. (To be sure; there’s still plenty of work for optical fiber interfaces in broadcast and film production environments.)
Hudson talked about the SMPTE 32NF40 Multi-Link 3G Ad Hoc Group that is currently working to standardize doubling and even quadrupling of 3G HD-SDI interfaces towards the goal of achieving 6 Gb/s and 12 Gb/s uncompressed data rates, suitable for 10-bit and 12-bit 4K production workflows. He also pointed out that telecom switches capable of handling 6, 12, and even 24 Gb/s data rates are readily accessible and not cost-prohibitive.
In the consumer world, Hisense made some news when it announced three new 4K (3840×2160) edge-lit LCD TVs would launch at CES 2013. This new line, known as the XT-880 series, will be available in 50-inch, 58-inch, and 65-inch screen sizes. All three models will support active shutter 3D, come with Internet access (built-in WiFi), and are equipped with an ARM dual-core microprocessor running on Android’s Ice Cream Sandwich OS. (They even support gesture recognition and voice control!) No retail prices have been announced yet.
At CES, we’re likely to see a larger 4K TV from Toshiba, who is apparently going to source the 84-inch IPS glass that LG Display is selling to LG and Sony. Not so JVC, who confirmed to me that they have no interest in selling their 84-inch version of the LGD glass (PS-840UD) to consumers, save for high-end home theater installations. It’s more of a general-purpose 4K monitor for professional work. And we know Samsung will put the spotlight on their 85-inch 4K PVA LCD TV, which was announced two weeks ago but has yet to make its appearance in any kind of an “official’ press release photo.
Finally, I was asked by a friend in the TV industry regarding rumors that we’d hear about an updated version of HDMI, to be announced in Las Vegas. This version, which will allegedly be v1.5, will supposedly address the data transfer speed limitations of HDMI (currently capped at 8 Gb/s with overhead and 10.2 Gb/s with all overhead removed). Presently, HDMI is hard-pressed to show 4K content at frame rates higher than 30 Hz, which requires about 2.5 Gb/s per color channel for a 3840×2160 video stream).
If you hadn’t heard, there is a group of manufacturers working with Silicon Image on a specification for HDMI 2.0, which is intended to address a whole host of problems with the currently interface – not the least of which is its speed limit. One motivator for the upgrade to 2.0 is clearly DisplayPort, a competitive digital display interface targeted at notebooks and ultrabooks and which, at 17.2 Gb/s, is clearly fast enough to carry a 4K signal at 60 Hz with 10-bit color (about 6 Gb/s per channel). So a short-term ‘jump’ to HDMI 1.5 seems more like a Band-Aid right now, but you never know what the marketing guys at the big TV brands are yelling for.
And speaking of DisplayPort, the Wireless Gigabit (WiGig) Alliance announced last Friday that it is now collaborating with the Video Electronics Standards Association (VESA) to define and refine a specification for 60 GHz wireless DisplayPort, using 2.6 GHz-wide channels available in many countries. So it’s entirely possible that we’ll be able to connect 4K displays without any cables at all by the time 4K content becomes widely available.
If you’ve spotted parallels between these developments and the early days of the transition to HDTV, you’re not alone. At present, there are (a) questions about what a “true” 4K resolution specification should be, (b) scarcities in cameras and production equipment, (c) bandwidth challenges to overcome, (d) high-priced displays that we know will become affordable quickly enough, and € competing interface standards.
The only thing missing is an optical disc format war, but with the Blu-ray format currently limited to 8-bit color, don’t be surprised if that conflagration breaks once again. Just like the good old days of HDTV…
What If They Gave A Party, But No One Came? – Pete Putman
- Published on Thursday, 11 October 2012 09:12
- Pete Putman
- 0 Comments
In a recent AP news story, writer Ryan Nakashima details how, despite millions of dollars in advertising and promotion over the past 3+ years, American TV viewers have basically ignored 3D TV.
According to the story, “…fewer than 115,000 American TV homes are tuned in to 3D at any given time. That’s less than a hundredth of the 20.2 million-strong audience that watched television’s highest-rated show, NCIS, this week.”
The AP story details that The Nielsen Company can’t capture any significant data about the viewing preferences of this tiny group of viewers. It would also explain the complete lack of ‘buzz’ about Panasonic’s August 3D TV coverage of the 2012 Olympics.
Audience indifference to 3D TV is why DirecTV turned n3D, its barely two-year-old 24-hour 3D channel, into a part-time 3D network, carrying only the rare original 3D broadcast. And it also resulted in AT&T’s U-Verse system dropping ESPN 3D from its channel lineup, citing the high $10 monthly cost for the full ESPN package of channels.
Tom Morrod, an analyst with research firm HIS (formerly iSuppli), was quoted as saying, “There’s very little direct consumer demand for 3-D. They don’t see a value with it. Consumers associate value right now with screen size and very few other features.” That observation, along with consumer disdain for 3D TV, has been backed up by numerous consumer preference surveys. The demand for larger, cheaper TVs above all else is mirrored in Canada and the United Kingdom.
Last November, the Leichtman Research Group polled 1,300 viewers who had watched 3D TV. Of that group, 38 percent rated 3D TV ‘poor,’ as opposed to just 8 percent who rated it excellent. Those numbers have been pretty consistent in several polls since the first 3D TVs came to market in early 2009.
A story that appeared on the CIO Asia Web site earlier this week, offering preview coverage of the annual CEATEC trade show in Japan, stated that “…TV makers appear to be shifting away from years of emphasis on 3D, a technology that has failed to capture the imagination of consumers, even as an value-added offering.”
The emphasis was on the emerging crop of 4K TVs from Sony, LG, JVC, Toshiba, and others. In the story, analyst Keita Wakabayashi at Mito Securities stated that “TV makers weren’t able to use 3D to boost the prices of their sets, so it has just become a drag on their profits. 4K technologies have much more appeal, though at current prices just for the wealthy.”
This inability to capture any premium for 3D means that support for the format will just become a standard feature in most TVs that can be accessed through the user menu. What’s not clear is whether TV manufacturers will continue to supply active shutter or passive 3D eyewear with new TVs to take advantage of that function.
My thinking is that, in an era of squeezed profit margins and red ink, they won’t for much longer. 3D glasses will transition to an accessory item as manufacturers shift their focus to raising consumer awareness of 4K TV. Currently, the latter sets are quite expensive, hovering in the range of $20,000 right now. That’s about what a 50-inch plasma TV cost in the late 1990s.
But we know those prices will come down. NPD DisplaySearch analyst David Hsieh, in a September blog post, stated that 4K TVs will make it to market faster than large OLED TVs and at a more affordable price before long. The yield issues with large OLED panels that have stumped LG Display aren’t a problem with 4K LCDs, even with oxide TFT backplanes still waiting in the wings.
Hsieh states that both AUO and Chi Mei Innolux have shown they can manufacture 4K x 2K LCD panels using a conventional amorphous silicon process, and that a 50” 4K x 2K LCD panel with conventional backlighting is priced at $800, compared to $400 for a 2K 50” panel with slim (edge) LED backlight. He also cites a price of $5,000 for the 84” 4K IPS panel that LG, Sony, and Toshiba are currently using.
Your takeaway? Simply that 4K has a much better chance of stimulating consumer interest than 3D ever did. And I say this knowing full well that (a) there is no 4K content currently available for home viewing, (b) the infrastructure to deliver it over Internet connections doesn’t exist at present, and (c) the early crop of 4K TVs and projectors are just too expensive for the masses for now.
4K TV has a big advantage over 3D, though. It provides an immersive, life-like viewing experience that you don’t need glasses to enjoy, even if you have an eye disorder like 20+% of the U.S. population does. 4K is scalable across a wide range of screen sizes, from 24” on up. All of the mainstream projector technologies (HTPS LCD, DLP, and LCoS) already support it, as do the mainstream direct-view platforms – LCD and plasma. And OLED will, too – when it gets out of the starting gate.
From the content side, there are demonstrable advantages to those who choose to shoot, edit, and finish productions in 4K; particularly with live sporting events and concerts. One 4K camera can cover a wider range of the field and stage, and downstream image processing is used to ‘extract’ multiple 2K segments of the captured images for replays and cutaway views – resulting in a savings in equipment and labor costs. (This approach has already been shown by NHK using 8K cameras).
Those advantages, coupled with more affordable pricing, will drive 4K acquisition and production. That, in turn, will stimulate solutions to home delivery of 4K content, which will consequently light the fire under consumers for 4K TV demand. And all of those underlined qualifiers I listed three paragraphs back will disappear.
This won’t happen overnight – HDTV took 6+ years to become a mainstream production and viewing format – but it will happen. DisplaySearch is currently forecasting that 4K will account for 2% of LCD TVs in 2017 – five years from now – and 22% of the 50”+ TV market.
Most importantly, 4K TVs don’t have to contend with nearly four years of active vs. passive vs. autostereo format wars, battery-operated shutter glasses, film-patterned retarders, critical viewing angles, and half-resolution frame-compatible content; issues that have haunted 3D TV and turned off consumers.
No wonder there are all those empty chairs, unused party favors, and stale slices of cake over at the 3D TV party…
Notes From The Desert: The 2012 HPA Tech Retreat – Pete Putman
- Published on Thursday, 16 February 2012 18:48
- Pete Putman
- 0 Comments
As I write this, the second day of the annual Hollywood Post Alliance Technology Retreat (or simply, the “Tech Retreat”) is drawing to a close. And once again, the Retreat has delivered a cornucopia of content to the 450+ attendees.
Consider that since yesterday morning, we’ve learned about 4K video cameras and workflows, heard the NAB’s view of ‘connected TVs,’ seen an actual demo of laser/LED hybrid projectors and gotten a first look at the details of Barco’s laser-power cinema projector, watched a live coast-to-coast videoconference on digital commercial workflows, and learned that, although NBC plans to cover the 2012 London Summer Olympics in 3D, they aren’t quite sure yet how they’ll get that 3D signal to the home. (Hmmmm…)
We’ve also gotten an update on the latest Washington, DC legislation, court actions, and legal opinions pertaining to the media industries; gained insight into file-based workflows at Fox, heard panel discussions of cloud-based content delivery systems and digital image preservation, been provided with an explanation of the differences between stereo vs. surround-sound loudness levels, and discovered a multi-lensed ‘ball’ camera that can be thrown into the air to capture a unique perspective.
The technology demos have also been impressive and feature a 4K LCD display (Panasonic) and 3D and 4K home theater projectors (JVC and Sony), a 2K reference-grade LCD monitor (Dolby), reference OLED monitors (Sony again), critical display calibration (Spectracal), and numerous exhibits of image processing, file management, color correction, format conversion, and cloud-based workflows (do you know what ‘snowflakes’ are? If not, you should…)
As usual, I presented my annual CES review and roundup, ripping through 80+ slides and numerous video clips in 30 minutes (Tech Retreat chair Mark Schubin is a stickler for starting and ending on time), and also co-moderated the Next-Generation (lampless) Projection panel with HPA vice-president and multi-panel moderator Jerry Pierce.
During my CES Review, I used a wireless HDMI connection from my Toshiba Satellite notebook to the house projection system (stacked Panasonic 10,000 lumens 1080p DLP projectors on 16-foot screens). That’s a distance of 75 feet from lectern to receiver, and the signal never dropped through any of my slides or video clips. (A tip of the hat to Les Chard of the WHDI Consortium, who graciously overnighted me a replacement WHDI receiver – mine was left at home!)
Another feature of the Retreat is the informal breakfast roundtables. You propose a topic and if it is accepted, you get to “chair” a group of fellow attendees and are free to hold court on your topic. So far, I’ve hosted two roundtables on digital display interfaces and wireless display interfaces, and both tables were ‘sold out!’ In fact, I got to my first roundtable on Wednesday a bit late and there were no seats left – that is, until I subsequently informed the seated attendees that they wouldn’t have a moderator, after which a space was hastily freed up for my chair.
The Tech Retreat has been around for a little more than a decade, and during that time has almost doubled in size. This year’s edition moved to the Hyatt Grand Champions Resort in Indian Wells, CA because the old venue was just too small. The pictures show why – Wednesday’s crowd was standing room only!
Several companies have chosen the Retreat to do pre-NAB product introductions. Sony’s 2011 launch of its new TriMaster OLED reference monitors is a good example. The Tech Retreat is also where I saw my first 3D NFL footage and my first multi-random-projector image tiling system, heard detailed explanations of human visual response and how it affects 3D viewing, experienced the visual quality of high dynamic range cameras, and witness how MPEG program splicing actually works.
It all makes for a stimulating and worthwhile program. Many technical innovations are first shown at the Retreat, as are fascinating programs on film restoration and archiving. And it’s all very informal – come as you are, no need for speaker bios or power suits. To paraphrase Shakespeare, ‘the information’s the thing,’ and you’ll be challenged and baffled by Mark’s multiple technology history quizzes. (Example: What significant invention that we use every day was first unveiled at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia? Come on, you know!)
Here’s the best part about the Retreat: Anyone can attend, and the program draws from a wide range of industries and disciplines. You’re just as likely to find yourself sitting at a general session table or sharing dinner with a studio executive, TV network engineer, or colorist for a post-production facility as you would with a creative services manager from a major insurance company, a media services supervisor at a large university, or a director of one or more state or federal government agencies.
TIP: If you plan to attend in 2013, better register early as the event usually sells out a month in advance. (So do the hotel rooms!)
See you next year!
CES 2012: ANOTHER OPENING, ANOTHER SHOW
- Published on Wednesday, 18 January 2012 12:54
- Pete Putman
- 0 Comments
There’s still a debate about whether the U.S. economy has turned the corner and is on the rebound. As far as CES 2012 attendees were concerned, that ‘corner’ is way back in the rear-view mirror! According to official CES reports, over 140,000 people flocked to the Las Vegas Convention Center for the world’s second-largest annual gadget orgy (and at least 100,000 of them were constantly waiting on the South Hall cab lines).
The show was notable for several things. First, the expanding presence of Chinese CE brands, like TCL, Changhong, Haier, and Hisense. (Never heard of them? You’re not alone.) Second, this show was Microsoft’s curtain call, as they’ve decided to go the route of Apple and stage their own product intros in the future.
Third, there was a decided pull-back on 3D (aside from LG, who made it the focus of their booth) and a renewed emphasis on ‘connected’ TVs in all shapes and flavors. And fourth, gesture recognition made a well-deserved comeback this year after being mostly an afterthought in 2011.
Overall, the show had less of a “let’s build it because we can” feel, and more of a “let’s actually make a practical gadget that people will want to buy” buzz. Still, there were the usual surprises – some were telegraphed in advance, while others showed up quite unexpectedly.
Here’s an example. Both LG and Samsung showed 55-inch organic light-emitting diode (OLED) TVs at the show. LG’s unveiling had been common knowledge, while Samsung’s was only revealed to members of the press under embargo. But both showings attracted constant crowds, as OLEDs in this size are a rare sighting!
LG’s 55-incher is supposedly a production model and will come from a new Gen 8 fab in Korea. It uses Kodak’s white OLED technology (purchased by LG a couple of years ago), with discrete red, green, blue, and white filters applied. Samsung’s approach is a bit trickier and employs discrete red, green, and blue OLEDs. Both panels looked terrific, and thank goodness for LG Display’s separate, quieter and far less chaotic suite at the Bellagio, where I could examine the OLED TV more closely.
It’s hard to upstage a demo like that, but Sony almost pulled it off by showing 46-inch and 55-inch inorganic LED TVs. What’s an inorganic LED? It’s the same technology that powers those outdoor LED signs you see alongside highway and inside stadiums and arenas. Only Sony figured out a way to stuff 6.2 million small-pitch RGB LEDs into a TV, using an expensive and time-consuming wire bonding process that ensures (for now) that these products won’t come to market any time soon. But these TVs still looked spectacular and livened up what was otherwise a rather sedate Sony booth, compared to 2011 (remember that 92-foot passive 3D screen and the astronaut DJ?)
Just down the hall, Sharp left no doubts about its product marketing strategy for the next few years by showcasing a new 80-inch professional video display with touchscreen overlay. The Aquos Touch is adapted from Sharp’s 80-inch Aquos TV that launched in the fall of 2011, and complements the 70-inch product already in the line. Given that Sharp’s market share in TVs has inexplicably dwindled to the mid-single figures, this is an interesting approach – but the playing field is wide open. And the pro AV channel is very interested in large, self-contained displays that could replace traditional two-piece projector installations.
Sharp also tickled our fancy with several Freestyle “portable” LCD TVs, including models as large as 60 inches. These TVs have been designed to be as light as possible and use a WiFi-based solution to stream HD content, so you can pretty much pick ‘em up and move ‘em wherever there’s an AC outlet. (I guess that includes the garage if you want to watch a football game with your best buds and keep the noise level down…)
3D was around, but clearly took a back seat to other demos. Still, Toshiba showed several examples of 1080p and 4K autostereo 3D TVs in their booth. These demos once again required the viewer to stand in specific locations to receive the full autostereo effect, and Toshiba thoughtfully provided small green circles with arrows in them as visual cues – when both were seen, you were positioned in a ‘sweet spot.’ Toshiba has clearly walked away from active 3D and has a few passive 3D sets in their line, but it appears autostereo is their game plan for the near future. (And yes, the 4K TV looked spectacular.)
Next door, Panasonic anted up big time by showing a new line of LED-backlit LCD TVs that will be available in sizes to 55 inches, immediately casting doubts as to the company’s future plans for plasma TVs. These ET-series sets employ Panasonic’s IPS-Alpha LCD panels and I have to admit, they looked doggone good, particularly at wide viewing angles. Still, the company had plenty of plasma announcements, including faster subfield drive for improved motion rendering and even lower power consumption from the 2011 plasma lineup. For my money, plasma is still the way to go – that is, until OLED prices drop low enough.
LG is head over heels in love with 3D. That’s the only conclusion anyone could make after cruising through their booth, which featured an enormous panoramic Cinema 3D videowall (passive, of course) at the Central Hall entrance. Inside, LG’s 55-inch OLED was shown with 3D and 2D content, and a nearby exhibit showcased an 84-inch 4K 3D LCD monitor. (Sorry, it’s not for sale – yet…) 3D popped up on so many LG products that I expected the ‘smart’ washer and dryers also located in the massive exhibit to be labeled ‘Cinema 3D’ as well. (Technically speaking, you could apply film patterned retarders to the front port of the washer – oh, never mind.)
As mentioned earlier, the overwhelming presence of numerous Chinese brands at the show clearly shows which way the wind’s blowing these days. Haier brought back their clever wireless LCD TV demo from two years ago, and this version builds the inductive coupling system into the pedestal. Yes, it is completely wireless, power and all. (Amazing what you can do with a big transformer!) Elsewhere in the Haier booth, you could find a “brain wave TV” demo that was supposed to allow you to “think” of changing channels and raising/lowering volume. (It kinda worked.)
Changhong and TCL both exhibited some really sharp-looking LCD TV designs, proving that Japan and Korea don’t have any special magic in this area. All of the companies had 3D sets out for inspection with the majority using passive 3D technology, while several of the models were ‘smart’ TVs with built-in WiFi Internet connections for streaming video. No content partnerships were announced or seen, however. It’s telling that the size of these booths is getting larger with each year, while some of the Japanese TV manufacturers are slowly shrinking.
Speaking of ‘smart’ TVs, everybody had them – Sharp, LG, Samsung, Sony, Toshiba, Panasonic, Haier, TCL, Hisense, you name it. That included connected Blu-ray players. Samsung’s Apps for TV seems to be growing by leaps and bounds, and Panasonic’s Viera Connect has also added content partners. LG’s ‘smart’ TV featured a demo of the new Google TV interface, which certainly looked a lot more user-friendly that the last implementation and presented a much more logical process for searching and finding video content on the Web.
Many of the companies exhibiting at CES used Rovi’s Total Guide EPG (or variations of it) to search out and find Web video content, as well as more traditional sources like cable, satellite, and even broadcast TV. Rovi has ported their guide to every possible platform and in their suite at Caesar’s Palace, showed implementations on set-top boxes, tablets, and a variety of TVs. The company is also into ad insertion and content delivery management systems. In short, they find it, stream it, and monetize it.
How about connecting all of this stuff together? Rainbow Fish had a small booth in the rear of the South Hall, but it was worth hunting down. They are selling direct HDMI-to-fiber optic connectivity kits that use multimode fiber and require only a separate USB connection at the TV to supply 5 volt phantom power to the lasers. Everything is built into the plugs, so there’s no need for separate converter boxes.
A few booths away, 3M was hawking a new ‘unbreakable’ HDMI cable design. Its super-flat and you can fold it, bend it, twist it – in short, pretty much abuse it any way you want. But you won’t screw up the signal, as 3M’s presentation showed. There are two types of cables – one for consumer applications, and one for computers (notebooks, I guess) and 3M offers plenty of options for color-coding the cable ends. They won’t be sold directly, but through OEM partners. Marry these with the drop-forged HDMI plugs I saw at a nearby booth, and you’ve got a ‘super’ HDMI connection.
Don’t want to plug anything in? Silicon Image has rejuvenated the Wireless HD standard with its acquisition of SiBeam, and was demonstrating 60 GHz wireless HDMI connectivity from tablets and notebook computers to large TVs. Wireless HD is a close range HDMI connectivity standard that is not WiFi based, and the chipsets and associated connections can now be manufactured in sizes small enough to build into a tablet. So, who will be the first to add it to their tablet? (My vote is for the next-generation iPad.)
Over in the Hilton, the WHDI Consortium had their demos of 5 GHz wireless HDMI interfaces running on professional camcorders, tablets, notebooks (including wireless DisplayPort and wireless VGA, for some unknown reason), and TVs. Asus showed a production notebook computer with WHDI connectivity built-in, and HP is now selling a WHDI connectivity kit for computers and TVs. Atlona won a Best of CES award for its WHDI-based LinkCast wireless HDMI package. Can WHDI compete with Wireless HD? We’ll see as 2012 unfolds.
Have you ever dropped your cell phone in a pool, or in the toilet? HzO had a demonstration of their proprietary waterproofing system for handheld CE devices that showcased an iPhone merrily playing away a selection of iTunes while dunked in a fish tank for several hours. Other phones that had been ‘treated’ also took a dive. Waterproofing was a big thing at CES, as I spotted several tanks full of phones, camcorders, and still cameras.
I mentioned gesture recognition earlier. PrimeSense, the company behind Microsoft’s Kinect Xbox motion recognition system, had an impressive demo of gesture recognition in the South Hall, and has licensed an add-on MS package to Asus called Xtion. A dancer in the booth kept things hopping with a ‘60s psychedelic imaging sequence that triggered all kinds of ‘trippy’ graphics and was fun to watch for a few minutes.
Over in the Samsung booth, crowds lined up for the most impressive MS demo. Samsung’s implementation also incorporates voice and facial recognition, taking and storing a picture of each user with a top-mounted camera. The command “Hi, TV!” activates a menu bar along the bottom of the screen, and the user can then command channel and volume changes on the TV as well as navigate menus and delve into Samsung’s ‘smart’ TV system. Hand gestures are also used to raise and lower volume and navigate up/down through channels.
Variations of gesture recognition were also seen in the LG and Haier booths, as well as by specialty manufacturers. Some systems require the use of a wand to control the TV; others simply rely on broad gestures – Haier’s demo had a fellow actually boxing in sync with the video game, and I was afraid he was going to deck himself at some point!
Other cool products at the show included Sharp’s 8K-resolution LCD TV, Victorinox’ 16 GB USB Swiss Army Knife (I kid you not), Belkin’s four-port ScreenCast wireless HDMI transmitter/receiver, Duracell’s cordless smart phone charging system (yes, it really works), Ford’s cloud-connected EVO concept car with personal health sensor monitoring, LG Display’s Art TV concept design, JVC’s new 4K camcorder for $4,000, BenQ’s new LCD monitors for gamers with instant picture setting changes, and Silicon Images’ demo of 3D mobile high-definition link (MHL) connectivity that resulted in the first TV screen I’ve ever seen with “airplane mode” on it.
I’d be remiss by not commenting on one legendary company’s presence at the show. As many readers know, Kodak has been in a death spiral for the past decade as its core film business fades away and digital imaging takes over. The company recently received a warning from the New York Stock Exchange that it might be delisted (last time I checked, shares were selling at about 61 cents) and it is about to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in order to auction off its patents in digital imaging.
So what the heck was the Great Yellow Father showing in that enormous booth in the upper South Hall? Why, its line of color inkjet printers, of course! Supposedly, color inkjets will be the salvation of Kodak, or at least that’s what the current management (ex-HP) tells us. Only problem is, Kodak’s market share in inkjet printers for 2011 was less than 5%, and they’re fast running out of cash for day-to-day operations.
Somehow, Kodak’s long-time competitor Fuji managed to support both film-based and digital imaging and not drive over a cliff. At CES, they showed a new 16-megapixel digital camera system with interchangeable lenses, upgraded their line of point-and-shoots, expanded the FinePix digital camera offerings, and continue to market a clever 3D digital camera. (Maybe Kodak ought to hire some of the Fuji guys…)
I’ll have more coverage of CES 2012 during my annual Super Tuesday Technology Trends presentation at InfoComm 2012 this coming June in Las Vegas. See you there!