Posts Tagged ‘Sharp’
For Samsung, It’s Now Their Game With Their Rules
- Published on Tuesday, 12 March 2013 10:52
- Pete Putman
- 0 Comments
In less than twenty years, Samsung has risen from a “who’s that?” manufacturer of cheap electronics to the pre-eminent CE brand, dominating the worldwide market for smart phones and televisions, and leading the charge for adoption of organic light-emitting diodes through its subsidiary, Samsung Mobile Display.
The rise in Samsung’s fortunes has paralleled the decline of the Japanese CE industry. Samsung ships roughly 25% of all TVs worldwide and manufactures better than 90% of the OLEDs used in handheld displays. In contrast, the three largest Japanese TV brands combined (Sony, Panasonic, and Sharp) captured less than 20% of the worldwide TV business in 2012 and lost billions of dollars while doing so.
It was one of only two companies to be profitable in televisions for 2012 (LG was the other) and invented a new product category – the “phablet,” or phone with a large (>5”) screen – that has surprised veteran analysts with rapid consumer acceptance.
To give you an idea of Samsung’s clout, it spends a great deal of time in patent courts, suing and being sued by Apple, the second-most-powerful CE brand in the world. (In a Bizzaro twist, Samsung has also partnered with Apple to bid on Kodak patents related to digital imaging.)
And now Samsung is making history: The company announced last week that it will invest $111 million in struggling Sharp Corporation, taking a 3% ownership stake in the manufacturer that has been on the verge of bankruptcy for several months now.
Having a Korean company acquire such a strong position in a legendary Japanese brand is unprecedented, but this action may have staved off a possible majority acquisition by Taiwan-based Hon Hai Precision (Chi Mei, Foxconn Group). And that would have been unthinkable in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Why is Samsung taking this step? The answer was foreshadowed over a year ago, when the company reorganized its unprofitable LCD panel manufacturing business as part of SMD. This move showed the company was shifting its R&D resources away from LCDs to OLEDs, a technology that is scalable to displays large and small, and offers numerous image quality and power consumption advantages over LCDs. (That is, if and when OLED yields on larger screens can be increased to workable levels. )
When you control 25% of the global TV market and make money doing it, why throw money away manufacturing LCD panels, which are now unprofitable commodities? Especially when the world’s largest LCD panel fab lies just across the Sea of Japan (or Korea, depending on your version of history) and you can buy inexpensive access to the next-generation of LCD (and OLED) backplane technology, IGZO?
According to a story on the Bloomberg Web site, Sharp is looking at 200 billion yen of convertible bonds that will come due later this year. But cash is hard to come by these days in Osaka, and Apple cut back much-needed orders for smaller LCD glass when iPhone demand began to tail off. A $140M investment by Qualcomm last December helped, but only to keep the vultures at bay for a few months.
In the meantime, Sharp is anticipating a record 450 billion yen ($4.7B) loss for the current fiscal year, which ends this month. Their stock price has dropped 55 percent in the past year, partly because the talks with Foxconn Group have dragged on so long. Sharp has mortgaged its corporate headquarters in Osaka and continues to look for more investors as red ink cascades from their balance sheet.
Amir Anvarzadeh, a manager for Asia equity sales at BGC Partners Inc. (BGCP) was quoted in the Bloomberg story as saying, “Chances for Sharp to revive as a standalone company are zero unless becoming part of a big group like Samsung or Foxconn.”
Speaking of Hon Hai, they’re apparently still in the game. Even though Foxconn Groups’s Terry Gou announced he would buy a nearly 10% stake in Sharp one year ago, the deal still hasn’t been consummated. (The two companies are still in talks, meeting one day after the Samsung announcement.)
This is indeed a new game with new rules. And no one is quite sure how it will play out. One thing we do know is that Samsung, with market-leading positions and $34B in cash, has the strongest hand in the world of consumer electronics right now.
And when you run the game, you get to make the rules…
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…
CES 2013: From Hype to Ho-Hum in Minutes
- Published on Monday, 14 January 2013 10:20
- Pete Putman
- 0 Comments
Here we go again ! (Sigh…)
Things are booming in the world of consumer electronics, regardless of the state of the world’s economy. You needed no additional proof beyond the enormous turnout at last week’s International CES, which was in excess of 150,000, according to official press releases. Even if you apply the Kell factor, that’s still a huge turnout – at least 120,000.
I’ve used an easy rule to determine attendance: How long it takes to catch a cab at the end of the first two days of the show. 10 minutes? Light turnout. 20 minutes? Respectable turnout. 40 minutes or more? Now, that’s a crowd!
I spent the equivalent of three full days at the show, scrambling back and forth between strip hotels and the convention center, capturing over 1200 videos and photos along the way. After a while, it all started to blur together. I mean; how many 110-inch TVs do you have to see before the “awe” wears off? How many tablets will you run across before you swear never to touch another one?
This year’s edition of show was characterized by a level playing field across many technologies. No longer do the Japanese and Koreans have an exclusive right to “first to market.” Their neighbors across the sea are now just as technically competent, if not more so.
Hisense’s “Big Bertha” uses the same glass as TVs shown by TCL, Samsung, and Westinghouse Digital.
Everybody (and their brother) had an 84-inch 4K TV at the show. (Yawn…)
Case in point: The 110-inch 4K LCD TVs shown at CES (I counted four of them, including one in the Samsung booth) all use glass from a Chinese LCD fab known as China Star Optoelectronics Technology, which is a three-year old joint venture between TCL, Samsung, and the local government of Shenzen.
Never heard of them? You will. What’s even more amazing is that their Gen 8.5 LCD fab is (according to an industry insider I spoke to) more efficiently used when cutting two 98-inch LCD panels at the same time. Those are huge cuts, and given China’s predilection for market dominance, we may see rapid price drops in 4K TVs across all sizes by the end of 2013.
Speaking of 4K (UHDTV); everyone had it. And I mean everyone! Sony, Panasonic, LG, Samsung, Toshiba, Sharp, Westinghouse, Skyworth, TCL, Hisense, Haier – wait! You never heard of those last four companies? The last three had enormous booths at the show, and Hisense showed five different models of 4K TVs – 50, 58, 65, 84, and 100 inches. That’s more than anyone else had.
In a significant marketing and PR coup, TCL managed to get their 110-inch 4K TV featured in Iron Man III, which debuts in May. That’s the sort of promotional genius that Sony and Panasonic used to pull off. But there are new guys on the block now, and they’re playing for keeps. The steady decline of the Japanese TV industry and continuing financial woes of its major players are all the proof you need.
So – who was REALLY “first” to show a 4K 56-inch OLED TV? Sony, or…
…Panasonic, who also claimed they were the “first?” (Maybe it was a matter of minutes?)
Interestingly, Sony’s booth signs identified this display as the “world’s first and largest OLED TV.” Puzzling, as it clearly wasn’t the first OLED TV ever shown, and just down the hall, Panasonic was showing its 56-inch OLED TV, the “world’s largest 4K OLED created by printing technology.” Both companies need to get out of their booths more often!
Panasonic, who emphatically renewed their commitment to plasma at CES (despite a continued decline in plasma TV sales worldwide), clearly wanted to show they had a second act ready when plasma eventually bites the bullet. The company is also a major player in IPS LCD, manufacturing LCD TVs in sizes to 65 inches that are every bit as good anything LG cranks out.
Speaking of LG…the heavy emphasis on 3D found in last year’s booth was all but gone this year. Yes, the enormous passive 3DTV wall that greeted visitors at the entrance was still there. And there were a few passive 3D demos scattered throughout the booth. But the more impressive exhibit featured a wall of curved 55-inch OLED TVs. (Why would anyone need a curved TV? You’re probably asking. Well, why would anyone need most of the stuff you see at CES?)
LG also showcased a unique product – a 100” projector screen illuminated by an ultra-short-throw laser projector. LG billed it as the world’s largest wall-mount TV (for now) and it’s known as “Hecto.” The projector uses laser diodes (presumably with DLP technology; that wasn’t mentioned) to illuminate that screen at a distance of just 22 inches.
It’s bad enough that LG shows 55-inch OLED TVs we can’t buy yet. Now, they have curved OLED TVs we can’t buy yet. (Drool…)
Got two people who want to watch two different 3D TV programs at the same time? No problem for Samsung!
Back down the hall, LG’s neighbor Samsung also showed a 55-inch curved OLED TV (just one) and a couple of company representatives were surprised to hear that LG had a bevy of them. (I repeat my observation about booth personnel who need to get out more.) Samsung did have a clever demo of an OLED TV showing simultaneous 2K programming – simply change a setting on the 3D glasses and you could watch one or the other show. (TI showed this same trick years ago with DLP RPTVs by switching left eye and right information.)
Samsung did have an 85-inch 4K LCD TV that wasn’t duplicated anywhere else on the show floor, and as far as I can tell, it’s a home-grown product. But given the company’s investment in China Star and its shifting emphasis on AM OLED production, I would not be surprised to see Samsung sourcing more of its LCD glass from China in the near future.
Sharp’s booth intrigued me. Here’s a company on the verge of bankruptcy that was showing a full line of new Quattron LCD TVs, along with “Moth Eye” anti-glare first surface glass. Moth Eye glass preserves high contrast and color saturation, but minimizes reflections in a similar way to a moth’s eye; hence the name. Sharp also had impressive demos of flexible OLEDs and a gorgeous 32-inch 4K LCD monitor.
IGZO was also heralded all around the booth. Indium Gallium Zinc Oxide is a new type of semiconductor layer for switching LCD pixels that consumes less power, passes more light, and switches at faster speeds. Many LCD manufacturers (and OLED manufacturers, too) are working on IGZO, but Sharp is closer to the finish line than anyone else – and that may be the salvation of the company, along with an almost-inevitable orderly bankruptcy.
IGZO is why Terry Gou, the chairman of Hon Hai Precision Industries, wants to buy a piece of Sharp – about 10%, to be exact. He’s looking for a source of VA glass for Apple’s tablets and phones (Hon Hai owns Foxconn, who manufactures these products.) And if Sharp can’t get its financial house in order, he might wind up making a bid for the entire company. (“Never happen!” you say. “The Japanese government wouldn’t allow it.” Well, these are different times we live in, so never say “never!”)
Sharp may not be able to balance their books, but they still know how to manufacture some beautiful displays.
It goes without saying that Tony Stark would have a 110-inch TV, right?
On to the Chinese. They showed 4K, 84-inch and 110-inch LCD glass cuts, gesture recognition, clever LED illumination systems, 3D, smart TVs – basically, everything the Japanese and Koreans were showing. Hisense had a spectacular demo of a transparent 3D LCD TV, along with something called U-LED TV. The explanation of this by the booth representative was so ambiguous that I’ll leave it at an enhanced method of controlling the backlight for improved contrast.
I had heard from an industry colleague that Hisense’s XT880-series 4K TV would have rock-bottom retail prices, but couldn’t confirm this from booth personnel. (Think of $2,000 for a 50-inch 4K TV.) The company’s gesture recognition demo wasn’t nearly as impressive – it’s powered by Israel-based EyeSight – but clearly shows that Hisense is just as far along in refining this feature as anyone else.
TCL had demonstrations of high-contrast 4K TVs with amazingly deep blacks; as good as anything I’ve seen from LG and Samsung. They also had a demonstration of autostereo 3D at the back of their booth, very close to Toshiba (who was showing the same thing). Haier had that now-ubiquitous 4K LCD TV prominently featured in their booth, along with smart TVs and what must have been several dozen tablets. Meanwhile, Skyworth’s booth in the lower south hall showcased yet another 84-inch 4K TV.
RCA’s got the first tablet with an integrated ATSC/MH tuner, and it runs Windows 8.
TV antennas are passe? NOT!
Celluon’s laser-powered virtual keyboard works on any surface. TI had a pair connected to picoprojectors in their suite.
Vizio’s suite at the Wynn featured 80-inch, 70-inch, and 60-inch LCD TVs using the Sharp Gen 10 glass, and they looked impressive. One version of the 70-inch set is already selling below $2,000, and the 80-incher will come in (for now) at just under $4,500. Vizio also had three new 4K TVs in 55-inch, 65-inch, and 70-inch sizes, but no pricing was announced yet. (Everyone is sitting on their hands waiting for the other guy to price his 4K TVs!)
There was obviously a lot more to CES than televisions. Vizio has a new 11.6” tablet with 1920×1080 resolution that runs Windows 8 with a AMD Z-60 processor. Panasonic showed a prototype 20-inch 4K (3840×2560) tablet using IPS-alpha glass. It also runs Windows 8 with an Intel Corei5 CPU and has multi-touch and stylus input. And RCA had a cool 8-inch tablet (Win 8 OS) that incorporates an ATSC receiver and small antenna. It can play back both conventional 8VSB and MH broadcasts.
Silicon Image had a kit-bashed 7” Kindle tablet running their new UltraGig 6400 60 GHz transmitter, delivering 2K video to a bevy of LCD TVs. They also showed a new image scaling chip to convert 2K to 4K, along with the latest version of InstaPrevue. The latter technology lets you see what’s on any connected HDMI input with I-frame thumbnails of video and still images.
Silicon Image’s new UltraGig 6400 TX chip connects this full HD Kindle tablet to an HDTV at 60 GHz.
Conexant’s powerful speech processing chips can filter out any background noise while you “command” your smart TV.
Omek’s gesture control demo was easily the most impressive at the show.
Over in the LV Hotel, Conexant dazzled with a demonstration of adaptive background noise filtering to improve the reliability of voice control systems for televisions. The demo consisted of a nearby loudspeaker playing back an art lecture while commands for TV operation were spoken. A graphical representation showed how effectively the background noise was filtered out completely. The second demo had a Skype conversation running with a TV on in the background and the remote caller walking around the room. I never heard one peep from the TV, and the remote caller was always intelligible.
A few floors down, Omek (yet another Israel-based gesture recognition startup) had perhaps the best demo of gesture control at the show. Their system captures 22 points of reference along your hands, allowing complex gesture control using simple, intuitive finger and wrist movement. (No flailing of arms was necessary). I watched as an operator at a small computer monitor pulled a virtual book from a shelf and flipped through its pages, and also selected a record album, removed the record from its sleeve, and placed it on a virtual turntable. I was even treated to a small marionette show!
At the Renaissance, Prime Sense had numerous exhibits that all revolved around their new, ultra-compact 3D camera design. One demo by Shopperception involved boxes of cereal on a shelf. As you picked one up, the sensors would flash a coupon offer for that cereal to your tablet or phone, or suggest you buy a larger, more economical size instead of two boxes.
Nearby, Covii had one of those “You Are Here” shopping mall locator maps that operated with touchless sensing to expand and provide more detail about any store you were interested in, including sales and promotions. And Matterport had a nifty 3D 360-degree camera that could scan and provide a 3D representation of any room in about one minute. You could then rotate and turn the views in any direction.
Do not – repeat, DO NOT try this at home with your tablet!
A hybrid low rider? With a 500-watt sound system? Who’d a thunk it?
Wear this Garmin GPS watch and nobody can ever tell you to “get lost!”
HzO was back with another amazing demo of their WaterBlock waterproofing system. They had a tablet computer sitting in a continuous shower, and also dunked it in a fish tank. Additional demos included dropping smart phones in a bowl of beer and other mysterious liquids. The water infiltrates all spaces but has no effect on operation – you just drip-dry the device once extracted from water. (How do you get rid of the beer smell, though?)
There was an HDMI pavilion at the show, but I was more interested in the goings-on at the DisplayPort exhibit. VESA representatives showed me a single-channel DP connection from a smart phone to a TV for gaming and playing back video, all over a super-thin connecting cable. The powers that be at VESA are also talking about upping the data rates for DisplayPort (currently about 18 Gb/s) to accommodate higher-resolution TVs.
Right now, DP uses an uncompressed data coding method. But there is now discussion of applying a light compression algorithm (tentatively called DisplayStream) that would enable data rates to go much higher – more like 25 Gb/s. (DisplayPort can currently handle 3840×2160 pixels with 10-bit color and a 60-Hz refresh rate.)
I was surprised at the number of devices at the show that support HDMI, and expected more support for DP given its ability to handle higher data rates and its Thunderbolt data layer overlay. It may still be early in the game – the venerable VGA connector is on its way out starting this year, and manufacturers of laptops, tablets, and phones are still debating which digital interface to hitch their horses to.
No, this is not a typical CES attendee. But it’s how all of us feel after three days at the show.
Panasonic’s 20-inch 4K offering is the Rolls-Royce of tablets. (So who needs a notebook!)
Suffice it to say that this was a VERY popular booth at CES…
…as was this one. Sealy lets you control your mattress settings from your iPad. (Hey, it’s CES!)
Let’s wrap things up with a discussion of ultrabooks. Intel’s booth prominently featured a full line of these next-gen notebooks, although several of the models on display weren’t nearly as thin as I’d expect an ultrabook to be. Shipments of “ultras” in 2012 were only about half of what was forecast.
The reason? Tablets. Vizio’s new tablet is one of the larger models at nearly 12 inches, but Panasonic showed you can go even larger and make it work. At that point, why would you need a notebook? I left mine at home this time and used a Nook HD+ instead. Fitted with a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, and loaded with Office-compatible programs, it did everything I needed it to do while in Vegas.
Needless to say, the Intel booth representative wasn’t too happy when I pointed this out to him. But that’s the thing about CES: There’s always some other guy at the show that has the same or better product than you. There’s always a better mousetrap or waffle-maker lurking in the South Hall. Very few companies have much of an edge in technology these days (the Chinese brands proved that in spades), and so many of these “wow, gotta have it!” items become commodities in rapid order.
The plethora of 4K and ultra-large LCD TVs found at CES proved this conclusively, as they went from hype to ho-hum in a matter of minutes. So did tablets, smart phones, and other connectivity gadgets. What CES 2013 was really about was the shift in manufacturing prowess and power to China from Japan and Korea; a shift that will only accelerate with time. And that is definitely NOT ho-hum!
Editor’s note: Many thanks and a tip of the hat to Nikon booth personnel, who were apparently charging and swapping out batteries for journalists who (like me) inadvertently ran out of power during the show. They saved me more than once!
Marilyn says, “Gentlemen prefer 4K 3D curved wireless multi-touch OLED IGZO cloud-based voice controlled tablets!” (See you next year…)
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…
4K Presto Change-O!
- Published on Wednesday, 05 December 2012 10:24
- Pete Putman
- 0 Comments
Sony is headed for an unprecedented ninth straight year of financial losses in its television business, but pay no attention to that – look at this nice shiny thing over here instead! Yesterday, Sony announced they would begin shipping the 4K Ultra HD Video Player, a hard disk drive (HDD) media player that connects to Sony’s XBR-84X900 84-inch 4K LCD TV. The player will be pre-loaded with several full-length movies and a gallery of 4K video, according to the company’s press release.
Interestingly, the release also stated that the player is “…Available as a bonus loaned exclusively to U.S. customers purchasing the Sony 4K LED TV…” Apparently, you can’t buy one; you can only “borrow” it. Let’s read a bit more from the press release:
“Sony is a company of firsts, and this introduction of the first 4K technology platform continues that pioneering, innovative spirit,” said Phil Molyneux, president and chief operating officer of Sony Electronics. “We were the first to introduce 4K projectors to cinemas in 2005, the first to introduce a 4K projector designed for the home in 2011, and the first to offer a 4K upscaling Blu-ray Disc player earlier this year. Now, we’re the first to begin closing the content loop, offering native 4K content for the home and delivering the most immersive, awe-inspiring entertainment experience yet.”
And just how “awe-inspiring” will that experience be? The 4K movie offerings include the recent remake of Total Recall, a movie that was universally panned by critics (30% rating on the Rotten Tomatoes Web site) and didn’t even make back half of its production budget.
You’ll also receive Adam Sandler’s That’s My Boy!; another box office bomb that scored even lower among critics and made a brief appearance in theaters. Want more? How about Battle: Los Angeles, of which one RT critic said, “…… this humorless film (is) as unimaginative — and as exhausting — as you can get.”
The 4K bundle also includes Salt, The Karate Kid (2010), The Amazing Spider-Man, The Other Guys, Taxi Driver, and The Bridge on the River Kwai. I enjoyed the first three Spider-Man movies, but skipped this year’s re-boot. The rest of the movies gathered decent reviews, but from my perspective, there are only two true classics on the list – Taxi Driver and River Kwai.
Sadly, they can’t even stock their media player with movies worthy of 4K transfers, like their recently-restored Dr. Strangelove, which looks gorgeous in 4K. (Hey Sony, how about offering some Academy Award nominees and winners instead, like The Last Emperor, or A Few Good Men? Moneyball? The Social Network? Remember those?)
Sharp is also practicing misdirection. Thursday’s business newswires were buzzing with rumors that Sharp is in talks to sell shares of the company to Dell, Intel, and Qualcomm to bolster its balance sheet in return for a stable supply of breakthrough display technology.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Sharp wants an investment of about $240M from both Dell and Intel, and a smaller investment from Qualcomm. The prize? Sharp’s IGZO (indium-gallium-zinc oxide) backplane technology, which makes displays lighter and thinner, increases pixel density, and improves energy efficiency. Any deal these companies would make with Sharp would guarantee them a corresponding percentage of the Sakai IGZO panel output.
Sharp’s negotiations with Hon Hai stalled a few months ago, and the latter company sees no point rushing to close a deal while Sharp’s market valuation is falling off a cliff. Ironically, Hon Hai’s reluctance is a contributory factor in Sharp’s share price dropping to bargain-basement numbers – trading last Friday for about 172 yen, a decline from well over 2,000 yen in 2008.
According to the WSJ story, Sharp President Takashi Okuda was quoted as saying that “Sharp is counting on IGZO to save the company.” However, Sharp’s struggles with low IGZO production yields are well-known, and the company’s cash reserves are rapidly dwindling.
So what do you say to the press? Pay no attention to that; look at this shiny new thing over here instead! Sharp’s “shiny new thing” is a 32-inch 4K (3840×2160) LCD monitor that will go on sale in February for ¥450,000 in Japan (about $5,500 in USD). It uses the IGZO backplane, weighs about 17 pounds, and will include a pair of HDMI connectors and internal speakers, according to IDG’s News Service.
Note that this is not a 4K TV; just a ‘dumb’ monitor. But its price per diagonal inch is far below that of the 84-inch 4K TVs announced by Sony, LG, and Toshiba. Unfortunately, the screen size is too small to be of much value to the consumer market, which is why the company stated that they expect more interest from computer graphics professionals, the medical industry, and architects.
Both 4K announcements show that while both companies may be losing their shirts, they haven’t lost their technical mojo. Now, the question is how long before analysts, investors, and the press refocus on the elephant in the room: Profitability.