Category: The Front Line
Digital In The Desert: The 2014 HPA Tech Retreat
- Published on Thursday, 20 February 2014 15:00
- Pete Putman
- 0 Comments
I’m writing this while sitting in the third day of the annual Hollywood Post Alliance Technology Retreat, which is one of the top technology conferences anywhere and which attracted well over 500 attendees this year to the Hyatt Indian Wells Resort in the Palm Springs area.
I’ve been attending the Retreat since 2002, and it has grown by leaps and bounds since then. In addition to a rich, 3 ½ -day program of technical presentations, there is a mammoth demo room where manufacturers can show off the latest in video compression, camera, editing, post, color correction, storage, display, and interfacing products. Some products that are introduced at the NAB Show actually have their “sneak previews” here!
Presenters and attendees come from all walks of life and from around the world. We’ve had representatives of U.S. Canadian, and British TV networks, IT companies like Cisco and Google, Hollywood studios (Paramount, Universal, Warner Brothers, Disney, Sony Pictures), and well-known hardware and software manufacturers including Sony, Canon, Dolby, Adobe, Miranda, Belden, and NVIDIA. NHK, IBC, the EBU, SMPTE, and a host of domestic and international technology and professional associations are all well represented here.
The informal, ad hoc approach of the Tech Retreat contrasts with more structured and traditional technology conferences, and there are numerous opportunities for sidebar conversations, meeting, and networking. If you have a question about technology, there’s a very good chance someone at the Retreat has the answer.
There were several hot topics this year. UHDTV (4K) was one of them; so was the next-generation of file distribution and storage systems (clouds) and the move to IP-based facility interconnects instead of traditional copper serial digital interfaces. This is a hot-button issue right now for post facilities and on Thursday morning, we heard about different ways to do it from Axon (AV Bridging), Evertz, Belden, and Cisco, along with the BBC. (Belden’s Steve Lampen pointed out in a humorous talk that coaxial cable is still faster than most people think and rumors of its demise are premature.)
A Tuesday panel focused exclusively on “second screen” trends and generational differences in how media is accessed and consumed – and how broadcasters and studios need to adapt their business models to satisfy the demand that Gen Ys have for anywhere & anytime content delivery. The “I want it when I want it, where I want it” paradigm was supported and contradicted by metrics from SAP, Nielsen, and (believe it or not) a representative from Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
Of course, the issue of video compression came up. A presentation on YouTube streaming proved a bit controversial when the presenters hinted that Google’s “free” VP9 codec might actually work as well if not better than the emerging HEVC H.265 platform, an assertion that was immediately challenged by Matt Goldman of Ericsson, an industry veteran who is well-versed in codec science and who later called for an independent, non-biased comparison test of both codecs.
I took the stage twice on Wednesday. First out of the gate was my annual review of the Consumer Electronics Show, which covers a lot of ground in 30 minutes including Ultra HD TVs, curved displays, curved phones, HDMI 2.0, DockPort, 4K streaming products, gesture control, wireless, body sensors, and near-to-eye displays. (Plus 4K washers and dryers, Bluetooth underwear, connected cars, and grumpy cats.)
I followed that with an in-depth look at the new generation of small, fast, and dense signal interfaces found on tablets, phones, cameras, and ultrabooks. Examples included Mini and Mobility DisplayPort, Mobile High-definition Link (MHL), Micro HDMI, SlimPort, and DockPort. I also discussed the HDBaseT standard for multiplexed signals over structured wire, and showed a few interesting applications for these connections including smartphone game controllers and smartphones that dock into notebook computers and provide CPU and video card functions.
Another unique feature of the Tech Retreat is the breakfast roundtables. These are held on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday mornings before the main program kicks off. Banquet roundtables are set up with a number that corresponds to a list of topics outside the room. Show up, grab some breakfast, and enjoy an ad hoc, moderated discussion about that topic – or change the topic.
The scope of topics will amaze you. Here are a few examples of the 34 breakfast roundtables that were conducted on Thursday:
On-Set Workflows: Faster, Better, Cheaper
4K = Four Times the Measurement Opportunities
Next-Generation Display Interfaces: the Conversation Continues
Cloud-Enabled Workflows: What Works, What Doesn’t
Should ITU-R Add 119.88 (Hz) as a Frame Rate to BT.2020?
Performance and System Requirements for a Reference Display
Deep Color Encoding: 12-bit Equivalent with Just 8 Bits
Conference organizer and industry veteran Mark Schubin likens the Tech Retreat to “drinking from a fire hose.” That’s how much information is available to attendees. You can absorb as much or as little as you want, and see some cool demos along the way.
There’s still a day left of the conference, but I’m writing this during the “Better Pixels: Best Bang for the Buck?” session, featuring speakers from Dolby, ETC, NHK, and the American Society of Cinematographers, along with Schubin. The question is this – do we really need more pixels on the screen (i.e. 4K or Ultra HD), or is a combination of high dynamic range and wider color gamuts a better approach to improving high-resolution displays and ultimately televisions?
Dolby, which bought Brightside Technologies’ high-dynamic range IP some years ago, is aggressively pushing for high dynamic range and the higher color saturation that comes along with it. Their argument is that HDR is a better fit to human visual systems, and a discussion has repeatedly come up about the interest of consumers in HDR TVs. (They’re talking about thousands of nits of brightness.)
I’d posit that the real challenge to selling HDR is the plummeting cost of large TVs. You can readily buy 55-inch LCD TVs with quite a few bells and whistles for less than $600, so just how much of a premium are consumers willing to pay to add high dynamic range? (Needless to say, such TVs would also be equipped with next-generation illumination systems, like quantum dots.)
My guess is that consumers would only tolerate a slight price increase to get HDR, as the benefit would be lost on most of them. Numerous studies have shown that consumers (at least, in the U.S.) prefer big, cheap televisions. They don’t care about 3D, and are ambivalent about “smart” TV functions for the most part. Both of these features have either become standard or seen a dramatic drop in price in the past four years.
If the Tech Retreat sounds intriguing, you should pencil it in on your calendar. Next year’s Retreat will be held from February 9 to February 13, and registration closes out very quickly – within a couple of weeks. For more information, go to http://hollywoodpostalliance.org/?page_id=5978.
QD Vision Co-Founder Predicts Death of OLED-TV
- Published on Wednesday, 19 February 2014 17:26
- Ken Werner
- 0 Comments
On February 8, in his presentation entitled “Are Quantum Dots Closing the Window of Opportunity for OLED-TV?” at the SID Los Angeles Chapter’s One-Day Conference on Technologies for Advanced Television, held in Costa Mesa, CA, Seth Coe-Sullivan, co-founder and CTO of QD Vision, made a well-argued case that OLED-TV would become irrelevant in five years. At that time, conventional LCD-TVs with white-LED backlights will still be going strong, and LCD-TVs with quantum-dot-enhanced backlights using blue LEDs will have become be a major force.
Coe-Sullivan based his argument on the ability of quantum-dot-enhanced LCDs to provide better color gamut than OLEDs and to reduce power consumption, all at a minimal increase in cost. He systematically countered all but one of the arguments made in OLED’s favor.
Argument 1: OLED has response spead 1000 times that of LCD.
Coe-Sullivan’s counter-argument: The combinatin of faster-switchng LC materials, new LC modes, and thinner cell gaps give LCDs speeds up o 240Hz. The factors limiting speed is jitter and other optical effects, not LC response. “OLEDs offer no benefit in response speed over LCDs.”
Argument 2: OLED has twice the viewing angle of LCD.
Counter-argument: The combination of new LC modes, thinner LC cell gaps, and new optical control films gives LCD-TVs viewing angles that are “good enough.” OLEDs offer little practical viewing angle benefit over LCDs.
Argument 3: OLEDs will have a thickness 1/25 that of LCDs.
Counter-argument: The LED-BLU edge-lit designs that became established in 2008/2009 result in OLEDs offering only a minimal thinness benefit over LCD TVs.
Argument 4: OLEDs will offer a 10x power efficiency increase.
Counter-argument: The combination of LED BLUs, light-control films, and that fact that OLEDs have not delivered the promised power savings, has resulted in OLED-TVs consuming more power than LCDs when displaying a white screen, and the situation is worse for higher resolutions and larger screens. In short, it is LCDs that have a significant power efficiency advantage over OLEDs — not the other way around.
Argument 5: OLEDs will offer a bill of materials (BoM) cost one half that of LCDs.
Counter-argument: The combination of reductions in the cost of LED BLUs, incremental improvements in LCDs,
and the persistance of low volumes in OLED manufacturing have resulted in OLED’s BoM being no less or greater than that of LCDs. And that is before the significantly lower yield of OLEDs compared to LCDs is taken into account.
Argument 6: New OLED manufacturing processes will further reduce costs.
Counter-argument: Fine metal masks waste material and generate dust. The anticipated new low-cost processes — such as ink-jet printing, laser transfer, nozzle jet, and OVJP — are harder than we thought, and roll-to-roll isn’t amenable to high-resolution displays. In short, “OLED manufacturing is a yield and cost negative compared to mature LCD fabs.”
Argument 7: New OLED display modes will further increase the attractiveness and utility of displays.
Counter-argument: Since this argument was first put forth, LCD technology has demonstrated transparent and curved displays. If these new display modes ever get past the gimmick phase, they are equally possible with
Argument 8: OLED color gamut can be 50% greater than LCD.
Counter-argument: Quantum-dot enhancement of LED backlights can produce a better color gamut than OLED-TVs.
The only argument for OLED-TVs that Coe-Sullivan acknowledged is their much greater contrast (in a dark room).
One of OLED’s problems is cost, which has kept market penetration low. Although not widely recognized by the general public, quantum dots appeared in major products in 2013: three models of Sony television (in the U.S.), which use QD Vision’s Color IQ rail, and, one of Amazon’s new Kindle Fire HDX models, which uses 3M’s quantum dot enhancement film (QDEF). Coe-Sullivan, 3M’s Erik Jostes, and Touch Display Research’s Jennifer Colegrove all predicted a rapid growth in design wins for quantum dots in 2014, with increasingly rapid growth coming in 2015 and following years.
That doesn’t mean that any of the other speakers at the conference — including 3M’s Jostes — echoed Coe-Sullivan’s position that OLED was fated for early extinction. The consensus is for a slow but steady increase in OLED-TV penetration. Market Intelligence company IHS has predicted a 3.9% penetration in panels for OLED-TV in 2018.
Ken Werner is the founder and principal of Nutmeg Consultants, and was the program chair and moderator for the one-day conference. You can reach him at email@example.com.
“Antenna” Digital TV: When All Else Fails…
- Published on Monday, 10 February 2014 16:24
- Pete Putman
- 0 Comments
Got free digital TV?
As I write this, it’s Saturday afternoon, and four days since a big ice storm hammered southeastern Pennsylvania, leaving hundreds of thousands of homes in the dark – no electricity, no cable, no Internet – and a real mess for PECO (our electric utility) to clean up.
We awoke last Tuesday morning to see a coating of ice over several inches of snow that fell two days before. Roads were largely impassable, snapped tree limbs were laying everywhere, and the sound of generators created a racket not unlike the crickets of late summer.
Our power went out for 18 hours, starting at noon Tuesday. (Some nearby tree finally gave up the good fight and toppled into the adjacent 34 kV power lines.) Fortunately, I had pre-wired selected circuits in the house with a transfer switch after Hurricane Sandy, and quickly fired up my 6,500 watt Honda generator. It ran out of a second tank of gas just as the power came back on Wednesday morning.
But that’s not the real story. Our cable and Internet service come from Comcast, and it was dead as a doornail when we arose Wednesday morning. Verizon’s mobile phone service wasn’t much better; it could pass calls and texts, but data wouldn’t move, nor could I load any Web pages.
As many readers know, I’m a big proponent of terrestrial digital TV. So my home system has three different TV antennas – one on a rotator atop the roof, one below it that is aimed permanently at Philadelphia, and one in my attic, also aimed at Phily. It’s a nice complement to our cable service, especially if I want to watch TV stations from New York City (about 65 miles away).
Thanks to those rigs, we were able to get uninterrupted TV service and catch up on the latest weather, traffic conditions, and power outage updates. All I had to do was switch over to the RF inputs on each TV, and I was in business. And apparently, I was the only one of my neighbors in this subdivision able to do so. (And I could keep using my TiVo HD DVR, as it also has a terrestrial DTV tuner.)
So – here we are on a beautiful but chilly Saturday morning with no Internet, no cable, and no VoIP telephone service. I can’t get any emails or data through my mobile phone. But I can watch as much TV as I want, on as many channels as I want (about 55 minor channels here in the metro Philly market).
Why is this important? The FCC has been planning a spectrum auction for some time to free up more UHF TV channels for mobile phone and Internet service. This auction, the rules of which are still being developed and vetted, will rely on broadcasters “willingly” giving up channels in exchange for cash, presumably to be paid by the likes of Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint.
But there are some flies in the ointment. So far, there hasn’t been much of a positive response to the idea from broadcasters, the majority of whom seem content to hang onto their licenses – licenses that they paid plenty of cash to get in the first place, in case you didn’t know.
The CTIA (aka The Wireless Association) and other broadband advocacy groups like to talk about how broadcasters got their spectrum “for free.” Hogwash. They had to pay millions of dollars for licenses, construction permits, and related costs to light up transmitters and keep them on the air 24/7. A recent analysis by analyst Jeffery Eisenach of Navigant Economics illustrated in detail that broadcasters had to pay their way – and plenty – to use the airwaves, just like anyone else.
In the meantime, Verizon and AT&T are sitting on chunks of unused spectrum that they’ve had for several years. Numerous studies over the past three years have illustrated that there is no “wireless broadband crisis,” as former FCC chairman Julius Genachowski insisted. (There have been plenty of new ideas for more efficient ways to use exiting wireless spectrum, though.) And locally, we’ve found out several times in the past two years that cellular networks are notoriously unreliable when there is a natural disaster, as they are easily overwhelmed with traffic.
Meanwhile, the terrestrial “one serving many” digital TV broadcast model continues to chug along reliably, providing timely news and weather updates and helping us feel like we’re not cut off from the rest of the world. Yes, I do miss my Internet connection, and shudder to think about how many emails I’ll have to plow through when it comes back.
But I don’t miss the telemarketing calls. And I’ve gained a new appreciation for just how dogged (and perhaps crazy) local reporters are from Philly TV stations KYW, WCAU, WPVI, and WTXF as they drive through dark neighborhoods, sliding on ice and dodging downed power lines to keep us updated on the progress of PECO crews. And what’s happening on the local roads . And which sections of which towns are still dark. And what to expect from the next storm system heading our way. (No, not more snow!)
When all else fails…
Samsung was King of the CES Hill
- Published on Tuesday, 28 January 2014 14:46
- Ken Werner
- 0 Comments
Let’s not talk about director Michael Bay’s meltdown at Samsung’s huge CES press event. Okay, let’s, but just for a moment. Bay, a featured guest (presumably because his explosion-filled action films look really good on Samsung large-screen TVs) came down with a severe case of stage fright when the teleprompter stopped showing him the words he was supposed to say. Bay attempted to soldier on, but couldn’t, and left the stage saying, “I’m sorry. I can’t do this.” If you must, you can access the video that appeared on You Tube within minutes of the event. By now, there may be more than one because the room was filled with cameras. This was, after all, a press event.
But the real point of this story is what happened next. Joe Stinziano, Executve VP of Samsung Electronics America, who was hosting the segment that included Bay, gracefully fielded the hot grounder hit to his corner. With complete professionalism, he quickly got the event back on track and continued delivering Samsung’s TV-related message. And that message was, “UHD will drive the next change in the television industry.”
Unlike Bay, Mark Cuban performed as intended during his celebrity walk-on by amplifying the message: “UHD is incredible. It will help turn the TV into a unique multimedia platform.”
The Bay espisode may have been embarrassing for Bay, but not really for Samsung. They hunkered down and got the job done, which is what they almost always do. They lead the world in TV sales, LCD panel sales, and smart phone sales. They popularized the phablet, a category that the allegedly creative Apple completely missed, and they kept their noses to the grindstone when small and medium OLED displays were an embarrassing failure and then made them a huge success.
Stinziano said Samsung is leader in UHD-TV, and that the company expects to sell 60 million UHD sets in 2017. “UHD,” he said, “will drive TV growth for Samsung.” Samsung’s UHD sets for 2014 will have screen sizes ranging from 50 to 110 inches, will feature a technology call PurColor that extends color gamut and purity (but was not described in more detail than that), and will embody UHD upscaling that provides near-native-4K image quality. The sets will accommodate Samsung’s “Evolution Kit,” which will allow UHD sets to receive electronic and firmware upgrades without replacing the set.
Although high-quality upscaling really is good enough to provide enjoyable UHD viewing without native 4K media, Samsung isn’t stopping there. Some native-4K movies will be pre-loaded in their UHD sets, and a 4K streaming service is being developed with Amazon. The sets also contain a faster quad-core processor.
Since Samsung does not have a dedicated game platform, as does another leading consumer electronics company whose name also begins with S, Samsung is including the intelligence so the TV set can serve as a sophisticated game platform.
At the Technicolor Press Breakfast two days later, Samsung and M-Go announced it is an M-Go core embedded in the Samsung chip that will deliver 4K native and up-scaled content. The Samsung sets will presumably earn Technicolor certification. At the press breakfast, M-Go and Technicolor provided a side-by-side demonstration of up-converted vs. native-4K video. Experienced viewers were largely unable to tell the difference between the two at distances much less than typical living-room viewing distances. John Batter of M-Go noted that native-4K programming requires a bandwidth of 15Mb/sec, while upscaled programming optimized for streaming requires as little as 3Mb/sec. Streaming service providers will have some interesting choices to make as time goes on.
At the press event, Samsung described its new 105-inch as “the world’s largest curved UHD TV” and also showed “the world’s first curved UHD TV.” Of course, LG Display also showed “The World’s First 105 inch Ultra HD Curved TV,” which had an aspect ratio of 21:9. For now, let’s agree that both of these Korean competitors make very impressive large curved UHD displays.
The claim made by both Samsung and LG that 55- and 65-inch TVs with screens having a radius of curvature in the vicinity of 15 feet provide “a more immersive experience” for viewers is not supported either by geometry or personal experience. However, when the screen has a 105-inch diagonal and a 21:9 aspect ratio, the claim for curvature offering a more immersive viewing experience has more credibility. Samsung also increased the “immersiveness” of moderately sized curved displays by tiling a bunch of them side to side. The result was impressive, and this approach should have significant appeal for digital signage.
Both at the press event and in its large booth on the show floor, Samsung showed a moderately sized OLED display that could be bent from flat to gently curved by small motors whirring away inside the case. Since I’m not convinced that moderately sized curved displays make any sense, I’m even less convinced that it makes sense to bend such a display from flat to curved and back again. But the gadget drew lots of attention, and that was probably its main function. Besides, we all need an extra button on our remote controls.
Market share produces industry influence, along with resources for R&D, product design, marketing, elaborate exhibits at CES, and huge press events. Samsung has that, and has made the most of it with steady, professional management; talented engineering; good product management; and the patience to allow long-term projects to come to fruition. And they can also indulge in the whimsy of whirring motors bending OLED displays. Samsung is truly king of the TV hill, which doesn’t mean that aggressive competitors aren’t trying their best to scramble up it.
Ken Werner is Principal of Nutmeg Consultants, specializing in the display industry, manufacturing, technology, and applications. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Consumer Television: It’s Business As Usual (Or Maybe Not)
- Published on Friday, 24 January 2014 19:49
- Pete Putman
- 0 Comments
The official numbers haven’t been released yet, but a report in The Korea Herald, dated January 22 says that the final data will show Samsung dominated the global television business in 2013.
According to the story, Samsung was estimated to have sold 49 million units of flat-panel TVs last year. DisplaySearch had the totals at 32 million from January through September (the final DisplaySearch numbers for 2013 haven’t been compiled yet) and Yoon Boo-keun, Samsung’s consumer electronics division chief, stated at CES earlier this month that the company sold around 15 million TVs in Q4.
That’s an impressive number by anyone’s standards and reflects the complete dominance Samsung has in the television business. Think back 20 years to when Samsung was an afterthought; perceived as a 3rd-tier “bargain” brand for electronics.
Now, they’re on top of the heap, and have been so for eight consecutive years. In the meantime, LG looks to maintain its grip on 2nd place, with a varying market share number in the low to mid-teens throughout 2013. Between the two companies, they control over 40% of the worldwide television business.
The Japanese, on the other hand, will no doubt be disappointed by the final numbers for ’13. In the third quarter; Sony, Panasonic, and Sharp were hovering around 8%, 6%, and 5% market share respectively – and those numbers are expected to drop when the final tally comes in.
As I noted in my last DD, Panasonic seems to be charting a course away from televisions, based on what they didn’t show at CES (a full line-up of 2014 models) and their emphasis on commercial sales of everything from cameras and storage devices to digital signs and batteries. And of course, Panasonic pulled the plug on plasma panel and TV manufacturing at the end of December.
The other remaining player in televisions – Toshiba – took a similar approach to their CES booth, choosing to show a wide variety of 4K (Ultra HD) display applications for home and office and skipping the TV line-up. Toshiba has already shut down two manufacturing plants and laid off over 3,000 employees because of continued losses in television and computer manufacturing.
That leaves Sony and Sharp. The former continues to stay the course in sales and marketing of consumer TVs, but I’d be surprised if they don’t turn in yet another year of red ink – the ninth in a row. Sharp, meanwhile, has chosen to emphasize their super-sized lineup of TVs, plus clever engineering tricks like the Quattron+ line and their ability to manufacture IGZO TFTs with decent yields.
The problem for both companies is their uninterrupted slide in television market share that has been going on for eight years. With a 5% share worldwide and 3% in the United States as of Q3 2013, Sharp can’t afford to stay in this game for much longer. Neither can Sony, if they are serious about returning a profit to shareholders.
It doesn’t help matters that television sales are expected to have declined worldwide by 2.2% from 2012 when the accountants are done. The double-digit boom in TV sales in China kept that number from being a lot worse.
Amid the flurry of post-CES news stories about curved, super-sized UHDTVs was another item that went almost unnoticed, except for the sharp eyes of analyst Paul Gagnon of NPD DisplaySearch. In his blog post of January 17, Gagnon revealed how three retailers in the United Kingdom are already discounting LG’s “first to market” 55-inch curved OLED TV (55EA980W) by £3,000 ($4,910).
This product, which launched on these shores in July of 2013 for nearly $15,000, saw its price drop in the U.S by nearly $6,000 one month later when Samsung rolled out their own curved 55-inch model for about $9,000. And now – just seven months later – the LG model is selling in the U.K. for £4,999 ($8,178), almost one-half of its original sticker price. (Perhaps they overestimated demand?)
And the cannibalizing of TV prices continues unabated. On the last day of CES, Vizio announced its prices for a line of full-array LED 4K (UHDTV) “smart” LCD models – and they aren’t much higher than conventional LED “smart” TVs from LG and Samsung.
Case in point: The 50-inch P502ui-B1 will retail for $1,000, while the 55-inch version will have a sticker price of $1,400. The P602ui-B3 is set at $1,800, and the 65-inch model will command $2,199. Finally, a 70-inch skew (P702ui-B3) will be offered at $2,600. Consider that Samsung and Sony are trying to peddle 55-inch 4K LCD smart TVs for about $2,900 right now and you can clearly see the train wreck coming.
Summing up: Samsung dominates the consumer television world – business as usual. Panasonic and Toshiba de-emphasize TVs at CES – maybe not. Sony and Sharp keep pouring money into consumer television manufacturing and marketing, even though they are incurring substantial losses – business as usual. LG and Vizio slashing prices on OLEDs and 4K TVs – definitely not!
EDITOR’S NOTE: The original version of this article mistakenly quoted the discount applied to the LG 55EA980W as the actual selling price. The article has been updated on January 29 to reflect the correct selling price and discount of this TV.