Category: The Front Line

NAB 2010: A Show in Transition

Some of the big questions facing attendees as their flights landed in Las Vegas were these: Can NAB survive? Will it evolve into something different? Is it even that important to attend NAB anymore?

The answer to all three questions is “yes.” Even though attendance was still down from 2008 (NAB claimed 83,000 ‘officially;’ my guesstimate was more like 55,000 to 60,000), there were plenty of companies in attendance with lots of cool products to check out.

That said, the show is undergoing a rapid transformation away from a traditional ‘broadcasting’ show to a mix of InfoComm and CES – hot new products for professionals. Of course, 3D was all over the place. But so was networked video, which dominated the upper and lower South Hall exhibit areas.

Booths were smaller this year, and that’s not going to change any time soon…not when the typical booth is showing products that have price tags in the hundreds and low thousands. Contrast that with NAB shows 15 years ago, when most of the price tags had three and four zeros in them!

You know attendance was off when this was one of the largest booths in the Central Hall!

On the other hand, the alternative wasn’t too attractive…

The smaller booths and lower number of exhibitors resulted in wider aisles and less traffic – a plus. But it also resulted in NAB placing the main registration area smack in the middle of the Central Hall, something I’ve never seen before.  And there was plenty of wide-open space at the end of that hall, as well in the North and South Halls.

Can NAB be staged in three halls? Absolutely! And can you see everything you need to see in three days? Try two days. (Thursday has become ‘exhibitor bonding day,’ to quote a fellow editor.) I could have covered my beat in two days if necessary.

THE TRENDS

Not surprisingly, 3D was a big topic this year, although not to the same extent as it was at CES. The SMPTE/ETC/EBU Digital Cinema Summit focused entirely on 3D for both days, and I was fortunate enough to deliver one of the papers to a jammed room of 500+ attendees.

Sony, Panasonic, JVC, Canon, Grass Valley, AVID, Doremi, Harris, Evertz, and Ross Video were just some of the companies showing 3D products in Vegas. Those products ranged from 3D monitors and cameras to 3D workflow (acquisition, editing, post, effects, and playout) software and hardware.

Sony’s LM4251TD 42-inch LCD monitor uses micropolarizers for passive 3D viewing.

Other specialized 3D brands were in attendance, too. TD Vision, Miracube, Mistika, and HDlogix had nice exhibits in the South Hall, down the street from Grass Valley. Smaller companies like Cine-tal occupied the 3D Pavilion nearby, while Motorola and Ericsson showcased 3D transport and format recognition products upstairs.

Although the consumer TV market is seeing a big push towards active-shutter 3D TVs and monitors, the emphasis at NAB was on passive 3D viewing (cheaper glasses, more expensive displays). JVC, Hyundai, and LG all manufacture them, and there were plenty of folks standing around with RealD X-pol eyewear watching the demos.

The projector guys were on top of things, too. projectiondesign showed a stacked pair of 3-chip 1080p lightboxes in the Mistika booth, using linear polarized glasses. HDI showed a 100-inch, 1080p LCoS rear-projection TV in the HDlogix booth, also using X-pol glasses. Christie also had suitable 3D projection systems out for inspection.

There were also some demos that left me scratching my head, such as Canon’s dual-projection X-pol 3D demo, using a pair of REALiS WUXGA (1920×1200) LCoS projectors. While it worked well, it requires two separate projectors and outboard 3D filter holders – too klunky! (A Canon rep told me that was because of the 60 Hz frame rate limitation on the internal video processor.)

Well, it IS 3D, but I doubt Canon will sell very many of these rigs…

Broadband video and IPTV were also big this year. This market for MPEG-4 AVC over Ethernet, fiber, or private data networks is exploding, and encoder companies such as Adtec, Vbrick, Harmonic, Ericsson, Harris, Motorola, and Digital Rapids were showing a full range of compatible products.

Sezmi also occupied a booth at the show. This company has a unique selling proposition – a set-top box that receives both terrestrial (read: free) digital TV and selected cable channels carried on secondary terrestrial channels. It also accesses a video-on-demand server through broadband connections (SDTV only) and has a customizable program guide for each user.

While not technically broadband, the nascent MH broadcast format was in abundance at NAB. MH uses MPEG-4 AVC coding in multiple streams with IP headers to send low-resolution video to handheld receivers, such as mobile phones and combo PDA/receiver products. MH is catching on in popularity with broadcasters, who see it as a more sensible alternative to simple multicasting of secondary channels that very few people may be watching.

ATSC MH on an iPhone? Brilliant! (There’s an app for everything!)

MY PICKS

After three days of walking around, I came up with a list of “finds” that I’ll share here. These are all products that represented clever thinking, breakthrough technology, and/or new price points. Some were easy to spot; others required quite a bit of digging. But they all made the trip to Lost Wages worth it (and that’s saying a lot, considering how airlines jam you in like sardines these days!).

TV Logic: This manufacturer of LCD broadcast monitor showed the world’s first active-matrix OLED broadcast monitor (unless you think Sony’s press announcement hit first, which it didn’t.) The LM-150 ($6,200) uses a LG Display 15-inch OLED panel with 1366×768 pixel resolution and come equipped with all the expected niceties including markers, crop marks, caption displays, over/underscan, and HD/SDI, HDMI, and analog video jacks. There’s also a 3D version in the works (TDM-150) that will sell for about $7,700.

This was the coolest product at the show. But will it REALLY last 30,000 hours?

Ericsson: In addition to a host of MPEG-4 and IPTV encoders, the ‘big E’ also showcased an innovative, iPad-like LCD touchscreen remote control/video viewer. Dubbed the IPTV remote, this product can dial up video from broadband, cable, satellite, and even your home network. Not only that, it can monitor weather sensors and your home security system. (Sound much like a Crestron product?) The IPTV remote will not be offered for sale at retail. Rather, it’s intended to be a content provider offering.

Christie: Have you seen their MicroTiles yet on the Colbert Report? These innovative ‘mini’ DLP projection cubes use LED light engines to power 800×600 DMDs (the actual working resolution is 720×540) and measure about 12” x 16.” They can be configured in just about any format you wish, including floor and ceiling projection, and up to 1024 can be driven at one time. The LED light source is specified to last over 60,000 hours. Think of LED-powered LEGOÔ blocks, and you’ve got the concept.

And YOU thought iPads were all the rage…

SmallHD: It wasn’t easy finding these guys behind the Sony booth, but they’d come up with a focus assist monitor for video and still cameras that they claim is the world’s smallest HD video monitor. The actual size is about 5.6 inches and the glass is WXGA (1280×800) LCD. It comes in two flavors – one for digital SLRs ($899) and one with SDI input ($1199). The monitors are an inch thick, weigh 10 ounces, and mount to hot shoes.

Z3 Technology: I found this booth on my last pass through the South Hall, and it was worth the stop. They showed the Z3-MVE-01 MPEG encoder, a compact box that codes HD up to 1920×1080 resolution using H.64 High Profile (up to 30Hz), with Ethernet and ASI outputs. Input compatibility includes composite, component, HDMI, DVI, and HD-SDI video…all for $5,000.

JVC’s 46-inch X-pol monitor always drew a crowd.

Adtec: I didn’t expect to see an HDMI-to-QAM modulator at the show, but that’s exactly what Adtec pulled out for me. The HDMI2QAM is a dual-channel design that encodes anything from the HDMI inputs (yes, they are HDCP-compliant) to a pair of quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM) channels, using MPEG-2 encoding. The modulation format is selectable between 64-QAM (SD), 128-QAM (not widely use), and 256-QAM (HD). Bit rates are constant and optimized for each mode (i.e. 38.8 Mb/s for each HD channel).

 

Cydle: This new start-up demonstrated an app for iPods and iPhones that allows viewing of ATSC MH (A/153) video. Along with it comes the i30,  a battery-powered docking station with built-in antenna (UHF). This means that your ‘i-whatever’ has two batteries to draw from, so if you run low on talk power, simply switch to the i30 battery. Both can charge simultaneously. Cool!

Sezmi’s personal program guide rivals TiVo for user-friendliness.

Panasonic: I’ve seen it before at CES, but it now has a model number. The company’s first production camcorder now goes by the moniker AG-3DA1 and is yours for the low, low price of just $21,000. (Well, all things are relative, I guess.) The camera weighs about 6 and a half pounds and uses a pair of 2.l07 MP sensors (full 1920×1080) to record 1080i and 720p HD content to SD memory cards. Convergence and horizontal and vertical displacement are fully adjustable.

Panasonic gets another mention for the AG-AF100, which they claim is the world’s first Micro 4/3-inch (1.33:1) HD camcorder. That’s a big deal because the 4/3” format matches the coverage area of 35mm film frames…which means you can use standard 35mm film camera lenses to get effects like shallow focus, soft focus, and vignettes. The camera records to SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards using the AVCHD format and supports 1080i/p and 720p formats, including 23.98/24/25 Hz.

Sony gets extra credit for announcing the world’s second (or first) AM-OLED professional video monitor. The PVM-750 ($3,850) is a bit smaller than TV Logic’s offering at 7.4 inches (16:9), and is not quite full HD resolution at 960×540 pixels. (Not that you’d notice on such  small screen!)  The PVM-750 has 3G HD-SDI, HDMI, and composite video inputs, the full range of adjustments from tally and markers to blue screen mode and AC/battery power operation. No word on lifespan of the display, but Sony uses small molecule (SM) OLED technology, as does LG Display.

LP Technologies rounds out my list with one of those ‘too good to be true’ products: An LCD-based 9 kHz to 3 GHz spectrum analyzer with USB 2.0 interface, built-in preamp, and Ethernet connectivity for remote monitoring. Sorry, no internal battery pack!) The USB hook-up can be used to save data in the Excel format, while the internal memory can tore 900 different waveforms. The display is a 6.4” 640×480 (VGA) LCD type. And the cost? Just $4,500…

Stick one of these on a Canon 5D MK II, and you can shoot an entire episode of ‘House!’ (No kidding!)

They’re Back…HDTVexpert.com Archives Update April 8, 2010

Still wondering where some of your favorite old HDTVexpert.com articles went?

Look no further. You’ll find ’em in the Archives, where I’ve been busy restoring some popular product reviews and tech articles from 2009. (The Archives tab is over in the right column.)

Looking through my back-up DVDs, I see there’s a TON of stuff from the old Web page, some of it going back almost ten years.

Obviously, not all of that material is useful anymore. But some of the tutorials and reviews are. And here’s where I need your help:

If there’s a review, tutorial, or other article you really, REALLY can’t live without, drop me an email at pete@hdtvexpert.com.

I’ll do my best to accommodate you and get it re-posted on the site…photos and all. The articles and tutorials that get the most requestses will be restored post-haste.

In the meantime, enjoy rummaging through the basement! (or attic, if you prefer…)

Classic Product Review: Eviant T7 Card Portable Digital TV (2009)

It’s finally over. The United States has transitioned away from analog (NTSC) TV broadcasting after 60+ years, and moved to an all-digital system (8VSB) for full-power TV stations. (Low power and translator stations are still analog for a few more years.)

The NTIA converter box program is slowly winding down, and the latest estimates from Nielsen (June 21) showed that about 2.1 million homes, or 1.8% of all over-the-air TV viewers, were still unable or unprepared to watch digital TV.

The upside? Over 62 million converter box coupons had been mailed as of June 24, with 32 million redeemed and 24 million expired. And of course, every new TV set that supports NTSC reception must also support the ATSC DTV standard. So, we’re out of the woods with DTV reception issues, right?

Not quite. Everyone that ever bought a portable TV, from Sony Watchman LCD sets to tiny tabletop CRTs, just saw their investment reduced to zero on June 12. None of these legacy sets can receive ATSC signals, and it’s impractical to connect an NTIA converter box as a “retro move,” since there’s only one model that can run off batteries.

Never fear; Eviant is here! The company recently introduced two new LCD portable TV sets that are fully ATSC-complaint. Both sets are being featured as “hurricane TVs,” or sets you should keep around in case of a weather emergency.  But they’re also good-looking and small enough to use for everyday viewing on the go.

The T7 “Card” is the larger of the two models and the one that’s currently shipping to retail. According to the press release, “…The Eviant “Card” series 7-inch digital portable TV is available now in leading retail outlets including Kohls, JC Penny, Walmart.com, Target.com, Belks, Aafes, Bon Ton, D&H, HSN, Amazon.com, Shopko, Marsan and more with a MSRP of $169.99.”

Figure 1. Eviant’s T7 “Card” portable digital TV, shown in a white finish.

OUT OF THE BOX

Eviant’s T7 is about the size of a thick paperback book, and not all that heavy. It measures 7.3 inches wide by 5.7 inches high and is 1.1 inches deep. With the included lithium ion battery, it tips the scales at just over a half-pound. The supplied lithium ion battery charges up quickly (less than one hour), and is supposed to provide 2.5 hours of viewing time between charges.

Eviant has shown this TV with different color finishes. The official press photo shows a white housing, but my review sample was black and I also saw a red version at the CES summer line show. The shipping box shows pink, blue, and green as additional “skin” options, so you can knock yourself out with color coordination options!

The T7 isn’t just a TV. Eviant has also included a composite video input and mini audio connection to go along with it, plus a matching cable. If you have a portable media player with these connections, you can at least watch your videos on a larger screen. There’s also a mini-stereo headphone connection for private listening.

The whip antenna is actually a slide-on whip, which means you can pull it off and hook up other types of antennas to the threaded F connector. (Bravo, Eviant!) Eviant’s also included a little vertical UHF antenna with a magnetic base that you can stick just about anywhere.

The TV has a swing-out support stand for tabletop use. There’s even a credit card-sized remote control that has extremely limited functionality — basically, you can adjust volume and channel, plus access the menu. There isn’t even a power button on the remote (strange!), but there is a “channel +10” button for moving around faster.

The LCD display measures 7” and has a working resolution of 480 x 234 pixels, so don’t go crazy expecting to see HDTV on this product. Remember — it’s a portable TV, first and foremost. Besides, trying to put a 7” HD display in a product like this would be overkill.

Figure 2. The T7 (and its “coming in the 3rd quarter” 4.3” companion) grabbed more than a few eyeballs at the CES NY Line Shows in early June.

MENUS AND OPERATION

Eviant has included a surprising detailed menu. There are five sections you can diddle around with — Picture, where you can select the AV input or regular TV mode, plus choose between Personal, Dynamic, Standard, and Soft image presets, and fine-tune contrast, brightness, and color.

The Audio menu is where you can adjust balance, plus select the preferred language when more than one audio track is available. The Clock menu lets you set the OSD duration in 15-second increments, plus toggle to your time zone and switch Daylight Savings Time on and off.

The Tools menu is where you can set the OSD transparency (on or off), color temperature (Warm, Normal, Cool), and the picture Zoom mode for when 4:3 content is displayed on the screen. The default (factory) setting for this control is Wide, but you can switch everything (including HD broadcasts) to 4:3. Or, you can just select Auto, and let the T7 provide the correct screen size, based on the video format being transmitted.

The last menu, Channel, is where you’ll scan for ATSC and NTSC channels. Believe it or not, the T7 will also scan for and receive NTSC and QAM digital cable channels (handy for when there’s a cable TV feed near your campsite, I guess?). The NTSC support means you’ll still be able to pick up local community TV stations, which converter boxes won’t receive.

You can initiate a general channel scan in this menu, and also an overlay scan to pick up any channels you may have missed the first time around. This secondary scan is also handy if you rotate antennas or travel, and don’t want to lose digital TV channels you captured previously.

PERFORMANCE

I first tested the T7 by connecting it to my attic antenna system, which feeds my home office. It takes a while to scan — about two and a half minutes to saunter through channels 2 through 69 — but once done, works as well as any PC-based digital TV tuner I’ve tested. As you step through channels, you’ll see a blue display in the upper right corner of the screen showing you each station’s virtual channel number and call sign.

One thing you won’t see on the T7 is PSIP. For whatever reason (and it may be that cost is the reason), there is no way to display electronic program guide information on the T7. It will, of course, display closed captions. But the only way you’ll know what you’re watching is to change the channel up and down to get the virtual channel display to appear briefly onscreen again.

The next step was to connect the T7 to my rooftop antenna via a splitter, with the other leg feeding a Zenith DTT901 DTV converter box. My goal here was to see how the two compared in terms of sensitivity and ability to handle multipath.

The answer? They were equivalent in performance on both close-in and distant DTV channels. I installed a 20 dB step attenuator in line to both sets and began cranking back signals 1 dB at a time until they started to break up or drop out. That point was exactly the same for every channel on both the T7 and the DTT901( the latter is effectively running Generation 6 8VSB receiver technology).

An inquiry to Eviant’s PR firm came back with the response that the receiver’s chipset is made by MStar Semiconductor of Taiwan, and is the MSD110. From my tests, it appeared functionally the equivalent of the LG 8VSB front end used in the DTT901.

The next test took place during my Super Tuesday session at InfoComm. The session, attended by 180+ people, was held in Room 303 of the Orlando Convention Center. I scanned for channels and picked up over 25 different NTSC and ATSC programs, most of which played just fine without any dropouts, no matter where I placed the TV in the room. (This location is over 20 miles distant from the Orlando TV transmitters.)

Figure 3. Yep, I was able to watch snippets of “Wipeout” on WABC-DT, while zipping along in a double-decker train through the Jersey Meadows!

Figure 3. Yep, I was able to watch snippets of “Wipeout” on WABC-DT, while zipping along in a double-decker train through the Jersey Meadows!

The final test was to take the T7 into New York City for some press meetings. One was uptown at the Hilton Times Square, and the others were at the Metropolitan Pavilion on 18th Street. Reception was perfect on 42nd Street by Times Square on all channels, including high-band VHF channels 7 (WABC), 11 (WPIX), and 13 (WNET). Reception deep in the Hilton was spotty in places, but still better than I expected.

Later on that afternoon, I plunked the T7 on the wooden bar of an Irish pub on 18th Street, as our group tossed down a quick round of Harp lagers before Pepcomm’s Digital Experience opened. Once again, I experienced flawless reception of all NYC DTV channels with the whip first extended halfway, and then fully extended. (The T7’s whip is actually more resonant at UHF frequencies when somewhat collapsed).

Just for laughs, I pulled the T7 out seconds after my westbound, double-decker NJ Transit Midtown Direct train exited the New Jersey side of the Hudson River tunnel. I flipped it on and was able to watch quite a bit of programming on WABC-7 and WPIX-11, even with the train moving at a pretty good clip — 50+ miles per hour. I could see the Empire State Building through the opposite train windows for a good part of the trip, so I figured it was worth a try.

Of course, signals were lost completely when we went through the Secaucus train station and also when we crossed lift bridges and went under other tracks. But the video and audio were there about 70% of the time. And once the train pulled to a complete stop in Newark to take on and pick up passengers, VHF and UHF DTV reception was rock steady.

CONCLUSION

Eviant’s T7 delivers the goods. It has an excellent DTV receiver front end and worked very well indoors in what are difficulty high-multipath environments (Times Square, 18th Street, and the Orlando Convention Center). Audio is surprisingly loud for such a small TV, although frequency response is limited. Images were very clear and crisp, even at low resolution.

What I didn’t like: Even with a +10 channel jump button, it takes a while to move from one channel to another. There should also be a power switch on the remote control. And I’d like to see at least a “mini program guide” button included, so you at least find out what the heck program you’re watching.

The time (broadcast by every digital TV station) isn’t even displayed, unless you go into the menu. Oops! That info would be very helpful on a “hurricane TV.” Oh, and by the way, Eviant — how about a car charger adapter for this TV, in case of a power failure that lasts more than 2.5 hours?

In any event, the T7’s faults aren’t deal breakers. From what I’ve been told, pricing is very competitive on this product — a quick check online shows Target pricing them at $149.95, and Amazon had the black version listed as low as $119. For that kind of money, you can’t go wrong.

SPECIFICATIONS

Eviant T7 Portable Digital TV
MSRP: $169.99

Specifications:
Dimensions: 7.3” W x 5.7” H x 1.1” D
Weight: .55 pounds*
RF Input: “F” connector with fitted collapsible whip
TV Systems: NTSC, ATSC, QAM
Video inputs: (1) Mini-plug
Audio inputs: (1) stereo mini-plug
Audio output: 8-ohm stereo mini plug
* Owner’s manual says .55 pounds, press release says 1.39 pounds

Available from:

Eviant
1661 Fairplex drive
La Verne, CA 91750

www.eviant.com
(866) 935-4396

Will 3D make actors redundant?

A story in the April 6 Los Angeles Times says that 3D movies do so well on their own without big name actors that they are already having an undue influence on budgeting for future projects. Columnist Patrick Goldstein points out that Clash of the Titans, originally shot and finished in 2D, was hastily re-finished in 3D – and wound up earning 52% o the movies first-weekend $62M box office revenues.

3D movies in general tend to be all about effects, although it helps to have a good story line as Avatar did. And effects-laden blockbuster movies have a force all their own, exclusive of the actors that populate them.

Take the Transformers franchise. Both movies did enormous box office with relatively unknown lead actors. They were noisy, full of action, and were ridden with corny dialogue, continuity lapses, bad acting, and plenty of helicopters (Michael Bay’s signature props!) and explosions.

No matter. Both films raked it in at the ticket window. Imagine how much better both could have done, had they been mastered in 3D? Tickets for 3D screenings command about a 25% premium at my local theaters – and customers willingly fork it over.

Need more proof? According to Box Office Mojo, How To Train Your Dragon has earned $97M to date (against a reported $165M production budget), while Alice In Wonderland has made an astounding $310M so far – putting it behind Avatar as the #2 grossing 3D movie of all time. (Dragon currently ranks #15). Both movies are doing a good part of their business in 3D.

Does this mean we’ll see a premium for 3D Blu-ray releases, just as BD commanded a premium over conventional DVDs? If so, will customers pay that premium? And just how important will A-list actors be to future 3D movie releases?

Game On! Early tests of 3D plasma vs. 3D LCD

Consumer Reports has posted a short video clip that shows their preliminary tests of Panasonic 3D plasma and Samsung 3D LCD TVs. You can find it here.

http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/video-hub/electronics/televisions/16935238001/

During the clip, they point out that while both technologies exhibit high contrast 3D images, the Samsung images essentially go black if the viewer lays down while watching TV with 3D glasses. (This puts the polarization axis of the glasses at 90 degrees to the screen, and is not recommended in any case!)

Performing the same test with the Panasonic plasma resulted in a slightly dimmer image, and nothing more.

There’s an easy explanation as to why this happens with LCD TVs. Liquid crystals can only shutter light that is already polarized, which is why each LC pixel element has two polarizers – one mounted at the rear of the pixel wall, and one at the front. Rotating a pair of active shutter glasses 90 degrees in front of the screen in effect acts as a third light shutter and cancels out whatever light remains after the LC imaging process.

Ever hold two pairs of polarized sunglasses at right angles to each other? Then you’ve seen the same effect.

Now, let me state that lying down on your side while watching 3D is a pretty dumb idea all around. The images are oriented in the wrong axis with respect to your vision, and it’s also got to be uncomfortable!(Come on, how lazy can one get?)

Even so, this video demonstrates clearly that moderate changes in polarization angles make images from 3D LCD TVs noticeably darker, so if you tilt your head to one side or the other while wearing glasses and watching a 3D LCD TV, you will experience this effect.

Why doesn’t this happen with plasma? Because it doesn’t use polarized light, just a burst of light from color phosphors. OLED 3D TVs (if and when they ever get here) are also free from this cross-polarization problem.

This is another example of why 3D TV needs to be thoroughly explained to potential buyers so that they don’t run into any unpleasant surprises after the sale.