Category: Trade Shows

InfoComm 2013 in the Rear View Mirror

Last week marked my 20th consecutive trip to InfoComm and it was a hectic time in Orlando. I got in Sunday night and spent most of Monday setting up equipment for my four classes and presentations at InfoComm, including two Super Tuesday sessions (Future Trends, Things You Never Thought About) while I was also co-teaching an all-day Super Tuesday session on RF and Wireless Trends.

Wednesday morning brought a 2-hour class on digital video, while my Thursday morning class covered and demonstrated a variety of wireless display and video connectivity systems (none of which used WiFi, by the way). That’s about ten hours’ worth of teaching, and it does take its toll on your voice!

As a result, I didn’t spend a lot of time on the show floor. Even so, I spotted a few trends that are impacting the pro AV industry and will dramatically re-shape it by the end of this decade.

First off, attendance at classes this year was strong, with more than a few sessions selling out. The transition from analog to digital AV is in full swing, and there’s plenty to be learned. More than half the attendees in my classes came from the higher education channel and were either in the process of upgrading to digital signal switching and distribution, or about to embark on that arduous task within the next six months.

Here's the wireless Nook HD+ in action. Even in a high-level RF environment (lots of WiFi activity), it worked flawlessly.

Here’s the wireless Nook HD+ in action. Even in a high-level RF environment (lots of WiFi activity), it worked flawlessly.

 

And here's what the Nook HD+ screen looked like. It's mirroring the PowerPoints showing on the main projection screens.

And here’s what the Nook HD+ screen looked like. It’s mirroring the PowerPoints showing on the main projection screens.

There was intense interest in my wireless AV class, which for the first time featured actual products that you can buy now. Clint Hoffman and his crew at Kramer Electronics worked hard to get me a production model of the company’s new KW-11 WHDI transceiver kit, which I promptly installed in my home-made wireless Nook HD+ tablet. This 6 GHz system was used to deliver PowerPoints and 1080p/60 clips from Skyfall as I walked around the 150+ attendees. It worked like a champ!

Peerless AV also provided me with their two-channel WHDI linking system, which we used to transmit 1080p signals to a Sharp 80-inch LCD TV in the corner of the classroom. That same TV was simultaneously receiving low-power ATSC signals on channel 23 from MELD Technologies’ Pico Broadcaster white space system.

On the other side of the room, DVDO’s 60 GHz WiHD Air product was sending clips from Men in Black III from a Panasonic Blu-ray player to the house projection system. And Jim Venable and Alan Ruberg from the Wireless Speaker and Audio Association were demonstrating 5.1-channel wireless surround audio playback of House of Flying Daggers. If anyone in the crowd had doubts about wireless high-bandwidth AV connectivity being real, they were quickly dispelled.

In my Future Trends talk on Tuesday, I identified inexpensive, large LCD displays as growing market disruptors. That was obvious when I walked the show floor, where booths were stuffed with big LCD screens, including some 4K models. Sharp had their big glass on display and also spotlighted their new 32-inch 4K LCD monitors, powered by IGZO backplanes. Samsung, LG, Sony, Panasonic, Planar, NEC, and others made “big LCD” the focal point of their booths.

Not surprisingly, most of the projector manufacturer booths were smaller this year than last. But those that had ‘em to show made sure their lamp-free projectors were located front and center. Lamp-free projection is a big deal now and takes on even more importance with the threat from large LCDs. Panasonic, Optoma, Casio, Sony, projectiondesign, Vivitek, and Mitsubishi all had impressive demos of LED, laser, and hybrid projectors. (Oddly, I walked through the BenQ booth a few times but couldn’t locate their laser DLP models.) Keep an eye on this battle – it’s only going to intensify as more end-users consider the move to “big LCD.”

As for 4K, there were lots of discussions about the pros and cons at the show. It has been pointed out on more than one occasion that we’ve yet to see a single 4K display interface; HDMI or DisplayPort. The trick now is to use several HDMI connections to get data to the screen, but that’s not practical in the long term.

With the pending release of HDMI 2.0 standards and perhaps some more aggressive promotion by VESA of Display Stream (up to 25 Gb/s data rates), I expect all of that to change by next year’s InfoComm. There is considerable demand in the commercial AV space for higher display resolution, both in single screens and tiled displays. Think of process control, command and control, virtual reality, geophysical mapping, and military surveillance as logical candidates.

One of the more intriguing discussions came during Scott Sharer’s closing Super Tuesday session. Fellow panelist Bill Nattress, a principal at Shen Milsom Wilke in Chicago, talked about the pending demise of the conventional conference room and meeting room in favor of ad hoc, no-wall meeting spaces. How will people present there? Projectors aren’t a likely candidate. Perhaps tablets, which will certainly get bigger? Large LCD screens on roll-around stands?

And how will we control AV playback in these spaces? Most likely with advanced gesture control and voice recognition. The two go hand-in-hand, in my opinion, and we are going to see plenty of finished products by 2020; perhaps even sooner. Look for the era of the “touchless” touch screen to start soon.

So, there you have it: 4K, large cheap LCDs, lamp-free projection, wireless high-bandwidth connectivity, faster multifunction interfaces, and gesture/voice control. Keep your eyes on those trends for the rest of the year and I’ll look forward to seeing you in one of my classes next June in Las Vegas!

LCD Always Wins

LCD always wins — well, almost always.

With its incredible depth of technical development, sophisticated and frighteningly efficient manufacturing, octopussian supply chain, multiple applications, huge volume, and effective distribution, LCD has held off all serious competitors for computer and television displays. Indeed, LCDs for consumer applications such as TV are so inexpensive than panel-makers make little or no money manufacturing them. That’s another story, but it makes LCDs even harder to compete with.

And LCD remains a moving target. The industry is mature but it is not stagnant. Many a would-be competitor has seen its chosen technology (FED, for example) as having a competitive opportunity against the LCDs of the time, but under-estimated the time it would take to bring the technology to market. By the time they were ready for market, LCD had evolved and closed the competitive gap the new technologies were designed to fill. (Note: Everybody, including the very sophisticated Samsung, underestimates the time it takes to bring a new display technology to market.)

LCDs power of survival can be frustrating. Today’s plasma is a better display for television than today’s LCD, as a recent shoot-out has once again confirmed, but plasma’s market share is in the single digits and even its greatest fans realize its future is limited.

DSC_1311_01

Sony Triluminous TV with Color IQ quantum-dot element (left) shows richer and more varied colors than a conventional LCD-TV (right). (Photo: Ken Werner)

And that brings us to OLED and SID Display Week 2013, which was held last week in Vancouver, British Columbia (which is a beautiful and entertaining city). One of the few cases in which an alternative technology has eaten away a significant piece of LCD market share has been OLED displays for smart phones. These displays took much, much longer to get to market than Samsung anticipated, but Samsung stuck with it and, this time, the window of opportunity did not close. OLEDs are successful and profitable in this application.

But television is a different story. Despite its best efforts, LG Display has failed to produce large OLED screens with anything approaching acceptable manufacturing yields, and Samsung always felt it would take longer for OLED-TV to become technically and commercially viable. So both companies are trying to find their ways forward. Meanwhile, Panasonic and Sony have shown technology demonstrators with printed front planes, which is the technology that could make OLED front planes economically viable. But it is still in a developmental stage.

So what would happen if a new LCD-TV technology arose that would substantially narrow the difference in image quality between LCD and OLED, and do so at a cost that is much, much less than the cost of an OLED-TV? History could repeat itself, and OLED-TV’s window of opportunity could close.

Such a technology exists, is currently available at consumer electronics retailers, and was shown by two separate vendors at SID. The technology is quantum-dot-enhanced backlights, which I, and many others, have described extensively. (If you would like a refresher, see http://www.hdtvexpert.com/?p=2741)

QD Vision was showing a commercially available Sony Triluminous TV set, which is Sony’s designation for its extended-gamut sets that use QD Vision’s quantum-dot optical element, which QD Vision calls Color IQ. There are two 4Kx2K Triluminous models, with no comparable models that are not Triluminous. However, there is an FHD Triluminous model that has a roughly comparable non-Triluminous counterpart. From this, we can estimate that Sony is charging roughly $300 for the quantum-dot enhancement. This is a good deal for Sony because adding the quantum-dot enhancement is close to cost neutral. It’s also a very good deal for consumers, who get OLED-like color for a very affordable price premium.

Also at SID 2013, 3M announced it would soon be going into volume production with its Quantum Dot Enhancement Film (QDEF). Without going into detail (see the article referenced above for that), there is reason to believe that the QD Vision approach is more appropriate for large screens and the 3M QDEF approach is more appropriate for small to medium-size screens, at least for now. In any case, 3M is saying its initial applications will be small and medum-size screens, while QD Vision is only talking television and promising additional customers in the reasonably near future.

This still leaves 3M with a lot of opportunities. Remember, the only place where OLED is successful, thus far, is in cell phones. Picture a 5-inch, 1920×1080, LCD smart phone display with QDEF. That would give Samsung Display something to think about.

Ken Werner is Principal of Nutmeg Consultants, specializing in the display industry, display manufacturing, display technology, and display applications. You can reach him at ken@hdtvexpert.com.

 

Digital Signage Expo Grows in Size and Energy

Digital Signage Expo (DSE), running from February 26 to 28 this year in Las Vegas, had 22% more exhibitors this year than last, but the growth felt larger than that and the high energy level was palpable. Exhibitors I questioned were pleased with their booth traffic, with some “complaining” of being too busy. One exhibitor said he didn’t have enough staff to handle the flow. He had six people.

Gorilla cropped lorres

Corning was promoting its Gorilla Glass in large sizes to protect signs located in demanding environments. The displays are Christie 55-inch LCDs with Gorilla Glass directly bonded to the display. (Photo: Ken Werner)

Peter Bocko of Corning Glass was promoting the benefits of Gorilla Glass in large sizes for digital signs. Bocko said that the signage community has the imagination, energy and resources to try new applications and new approaches, while makers of displays for monitors and TVs are too strapped for cash to boldly go where no display has gone before. (Note: I am freely paraphrasing Bocko’s remarks.)

Conventional display people have trouble getting used to the idea that successful digital signage installations are not primarily about the displays. Media creation and delivery, and distribution networks receive more attention. Network software must allow managers to schedule and conveniently reschedule what ads and other media appear on which sign at what time, and must verify that the ads actually appear on the screens they are scheduled to appear on.

Interactive signage, which senses that a person is actually viewing the sign when an ad appears, is already technically well developed, although not yet widely deployed. More advanced versions sense the age and gender of the viewer, opening the possibility of the network operator only getting paid for an exposure when the viewer fits the advertiser’s target demographic. Intel is a major technology developer in this area. There are also digital signs that are interactive in the more conventional sense of touch and gesture interaction.

Still, there is no digital signage without the sign, and the signage divisions of most of the major panel makers had major presences on the show floor. These included Samsung, LG, Sharp, and Panasonic. Significant players who do not make their own panels include NEC, Sony, Viewsonic, DynaScan, Planar, Mitsubishi, BrightSign, StrataCache, 3M, Philips, and Christie. Yes, that Christie. The projection Christie.

Although Christie was not at all bashful about promoting its DLP/LED rear-projection MicroTiles, the bulk of the booth was devoted to flat-panel solutions. Christie is espousing the approach that they are here to serve their customers with whatever technology is most appropriate, and they are stressing a vertical approach that includes sign manufacturing, installation, and network operation, as is appropriate for each  customer. Somebody at Christie has been listening to Corning’s Peter Bocko. A 55-inch Christie LCD sign was prominently identified as being protected with directly bonded Gorilla Glass, and Gorilla-ized Christie LCDs were prominently displayed in Corning’s booth.

Nanolumen's right-angle LED sign was an attention-getter.  (Photo:  Ken Werner)

Nanolumen’s right-angle LED sign was an attention-getter. (Photo: Ken Werner)

Although LCD signs dominated, there was a significant scattering of LED signs on the floor. Nanolumens had a large booth to show off various signs using the company’s flexible LED technology, but the most striking of their signs consisted of two vertical surfaces intersecting at 90 degrees, like the corner of a square post. The images of models wrapping around the corner were strange, and therefore attention-getting.

At Sharp, I spoke with Gary Bailer, the director of product planning and marketing for Pro AV products, which includes both flat-panel signage and projection. He said there is no doubt that larger flat panels are making serious inroads on the projector business in the broad mid-range of image sizes. Inexpensive projectors for elementary education are holding their own, as are powerful projectors for very large images, but the value proposition posed by ever-less-expensive large flat panels is proving impossible for competing projectors to resist.

Panasonic showed an impressive 85-inch plasma touch screen with sophisticated communication capabilities for distance collaboration. A line or signature drawn on the screen tracked the stylus precisely and without lag.

Panasonic lo-res

Panasonic’s 85-inch plasma “white” board with sophisticated communications capabilities and SLOT2.0 for convenient embedding of PC functions. (Photo: Ken Werner)

E Ink lores

E Ink was energetically promoting passive electrophoretic displays for sunlight-readable, very-low-power signage applications. And the company really was serving coffee to DSE attendees. (Photo: Ken Werner)

Also among the exhibitors showing non-LCD signs was E Ink, with a variety of tiled, very-low-power, monochrome examples. E Ink customer Toppan was presented with a Product of the Year Award from Signage Solutions Magazine for an updated version of its Machikomi (“city communication”) E Ink signs in the Sendai subway system that survived the March 2011 tsunami, and provided one of the few ways that emergency information could be communicated to the population following the disaster.

Several companies were applying 4K panels to the demanding signage environment. LG showed a 4K 84-inch touch sign, which it labeled the world’s first. ViewSonic also showed a 4K 84-inch interactive sign based on AUO, not LG, glass. ViewSonic’s Gene Ornstead said the company is receiving interest from the DoD for interactive mapping apps in command and control centers.

Sharp90 lores

Sharp’s Gen 10 fab, once an albatross around the company’s neck, now gives the company a big advantage in big LCDs for signage and television. This is the 90-inch, and Sharp wasn’t being modest about its size. (Photo: Ken Werner)

Sharp showed the impressive 4K 32-inch with IGZO backplane it has been showing at least since last year’s SID show. Sharp also featured its very large LCD panels — up to 90 inches — engineered into displays for the signage market.

BSI curved resized

BSI’s 21.5-inch resized and curved LCD. The LCD starts out as a standard panel from LG Display, and is then cut down to a custom size, heated, and curved by Tovis of Incheon, Korea. BSI makes the curved panel into a complete sign. (Photo: Ken Werner)

Resized or bar-type displays – displays that are cut down to a custom size from standard-size panels –  were scattered over the show floor, including at the booths of Viewsonic, NEC, and G-Vision, among others.

The most interesting, though,  was from Bi-Search International (BSI), which showed a 26-inch LCD that was not only resized to 1366×384 pixels, but was also curved!  Lots of interest from beverage companies, said BSI Account Sales Manager Jason Lee.  The LCD panel came from LG Display, and was then resized by Tovis (Korea) under the Tannas patent.  (Tannas Electronic Displays, which was also exhibiting, distributed a press release announcing that Tannas’s lawyers had filed a new complaint against Luxell Technologies for breach of a previous agreement that had settled a patent infringement suit.)  After resizing the LGD display, Tovis heated the LCD prior to bending it and placing it in its curved bezel, said Tovis’s In Ho Cho.  BSI also showed a 47-inch half-cut and curved display with 1920×480 pixels.  (Disclosure:  Tannas Electronic Displays is one of the author’s clients.)

Finally (at least as far as this column is concerned), transparent displays are very much alive. Planar showed the very intelligently designed refrigerator door it introduced last year, but it is not yet on the market. MRI was promoting its large transparent refrigerator doors with resized displays that fill the entire door, but — unlike last year — did not have a unit on display. Stratacache did have its transparent-display refrigerator door on display. Smaller retail-window and showcase solutions could also be seen over the show floor.  

Perhaps most interesting in this segment was a Best Buy kiosk/vending machine for electronic gadgets. The kiosk uses a large, transparent LG panel that showed subjectively good color gamut. Bill Beaton, Senior Director of Product Marketing for ZoomSystems, which manages Best Buy’s 200-kiosk network, said the first of the Kiosks with transparent displays would be deployed in the next couple of months. If the new kiosk shows sufficiently increased sell-through compared to the conventional kiosk it replaces, Beaton is hopeful that more of the transparent-display units will follow.

Although digital signs seem ubiquitous, penetration is still quite low and the current double-digit annual growth can be sustained for years to come. That energy and optimism was reflected in this year’s DSE.

Ken Werner is Principal of Nutmeg Consultants, specializing in the display industry, display manufacturing, display technology, and display applications. You can reach him at ken@hdtvexpert.com.

 

 

Best Buy lores

Best Buy will field-test this kiosk/vending machine with transparent LCD in the door to see if it produces better sell-through than its 200 conventional kiosks. (Photo: Ken Werner)

ISE 2013: Oh, It’s ON!

ISE-Outdoor-Sign-WEB

ISE is a joint venture between InfoComm and CEDIA – and drew a sizable crowd, even with cold, wet weather.

Much has been made of the rapid price drops in the LCD TV market; specifically, LCD TVs that measure 65 inches and up. Ever since Sharp rolled out its 70-inch and 80-inch 1080p LCD TV products in 2011, consultants and systems integrators have been switching over to these projection screen-sized displays instead of traditional front projectors and separate screens.

There are many reasons for this trend, not the least of which is the low prices on the 70-inch, 80-inch, and 90-inch Sharp products – about $2,000, $3700, and $8000, respectively. When compared to a ceiling-mounted projector and motorized screen, it’s just not a fair fight. Add in the additional labor and wiring of power and class 2 control and video signals, and the big LCDs come out clearly ahead.

There are other reasons why investment banks and universities are making the switch away from projection. One in particular is the need to replace lamps every few thousand hours (if they last that long). Another is the need with certain projectors to clean dust out and replace air filters. Neither of these maintenance issues are factors with large LCD TVs, which also come with extended warranties if installed by an authorized dealer/integrator.

And of course, there’s the ambient lighting issue. Clients can legitimately ask, “What is the point of a nice conference room with plenty of windows if you have to keep closing them every time you make a presentation?” With LCD displays, you don’t need to, unless you have a glare problem.

From my perspective, the market for 2000- to 3000-lumens projectors that are ceiling-mounted in classrooms and meeting rooms has turned irreversibly towards self-contained flat screen displays. This trend will only accelerate as these screens continue to drop in price and more competitors jostle for a share of the pie.

But projector manufacturers aren’t ready to fold up shop and cry, “uncle!” At ISE 2013, more than a few “lampless” projectors made their debut, and they’re aimed at stemming the tide of mongo LCDs.

sony laser

I can’t tell what’s more amazing: That Sony harnessed a laser light engine to a 3LCD projector, or that they started with 4000 lumens and 1920×1200 resolution.

Perhaps the most intriguing product was found in the Sony booth, where an installation-sized 3LCD chassis was up and running. This product, which doesn’t have a model number or price yet, uses a 100% laser light illumination engine to project Wide UXGA (1920×1200) images.

It wasn’t a static demo, either. The projector was sequencing through a series of full-color graphics and photos (no video, though) and the color was impressive. What was even more impressive was the use of WUXGA 3LCD panels (not LCoS or DLP). This is the first publicly-shown 3LCD projector to use lasers – even Epson, who is the dominant player in HTPS LCD fabrication and one of the top brands of LCD projectors – hasn’t shown one yet.

Sony’s prototype, which will be officially launched at InfoComm this coming June, is rated at 4000 lumens of brightness, both in white and color light output. It has interchangeable lenses and supports image warping and soft-edge blending.

When it came to discuss the workings of the laser light engine, “mum” was the word. I suspect the laser light engine is being used to stimulate phosphors to get red, green, and blue light. The only thing that has me wondering is the light output, which is on the high side for a laser/phosphor system. Well, all will be revealed in about five months…

mitsubishi

Mitsubishi’s also mixing it up with three models of LaserVue projectors.

Not far away, Mitsubishi took the wraps off a new line of LaserVue DLP projectors. These “hybrid” models build on the same projection technology that Mits developed for its erstwhile LaserVUE rear projection TV sets; employing a red LED, numerous blue laser diodes, and a single-segment green phosphor color wheel.

Unlike Sony, Mits opted to go with three different models for its coming-out party. The NW31U-EST WXGA (1280 x 800 resolution, 2500 lumens) extreme short throw model will arrive in April, followed shortly by two standard throw models: the NW30U WXGA (1280 x 800, 3000 lumens) and the NF32U (1920×1080, 3000 lumens).

The Mits projectors are also notable in that they are part of the new “cloud” lineup – these projectors can connect quickly and easily to the Internet to download and stream files. (We’ve come a long way from those slow, tedious and unreliable “wireless projector” demos of the late 1990s!) And they can mirror any Android or iOS tablet that would be used to control that remote computer or server.

So – how long are the lasers supposed to last in these new projectors? The stock response is 20,000 to 30,000 hours. In reality, it’s the power supply that often craps out before the lasers, a problem that popped up more than a few times with the LaserVUE TVs. I’d assume that both Sony and Mitsubishi have since gathered much useful data on power supply lifetimes and de-rating to ensure reliable service.

benq

BenQ expanded their line of laser DLP projectors…

panasonic hybird

…while Panasonic made their hybrids the centerpiece of a nice energy conservation demo.

BenQ also showed laser-engined DLP projectors at the show, while nearby, Casio had a full line of LED/laser hybrids. The color on most models I saw was considerably better than the first crop that came out in 2010 and 2011 – obviously, engineers are taming the excessively-saturated shades of red and blue that LEDs and lasers create. (BenQ uses lasers exclusively; Casio uses both lasers and LEDs.)

Although Epson didn’t show a laser 3LCD product, I’m quite sure one is in the works at the Matsumoto labs. And you can be sure that other projector manufacturers will have lampless models of their own to show in Orlando later this year.

laser led

Samsung’s got a 95-inch LCD (and a 75-inch version, too) to make the projector guys uncomfortable.

Is the use of a laser, LED, or hybrid light engine enough to stem the tide to big LCDs? Only a handful of projector marketing guys I spoke to at the show were optimistic that the onrush of LCDs could be stopped or delayed.

While lasers and LEDs make replacement lamps go away, the issues with ambient light and the costs of installing a separate screen and projector mount remain. And the soon-to-be-available crop of 4K LCD displays in sizes from 50 to 100 inches will just raise the stakes even higher.

Still; it’s good to see that projector manufacturers are fighting back and innovating some cool designs along the way. (And if they still need motivation, all they had to do was check out the 75-inch and 95-inch edge-lit LCD displays in the Samsung booth…)

CES 2013: From Hype to Ho-Hum in Minutes

Here we go again ! (Sigh…)

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

Hisense’s “Big Bertha” uses the same glass as TVs shown by TCL, Samsung, and Westinghouse Digital.

syyworth

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.

4koled tv

So – who was REALLY “first” to show a 4K 56-inch OLED TV? Sony, or…

panasonic

…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.

lg oled tv

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…)

3d tv

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!”)

igzo

Sharp may not be able to balance their books, but they still know how to manufacture some beautiful displays.

tlc

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

RCA’s got the first tablet with an integrated ATSC/MH tuner, and it runs Windows 8.

tv antennas

TV antennas are passe? NOT!

celluons

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.

sillcon

Silicon Image’s new UltraGig 6400 TX chip connects this full HD Kindle tablet to an HDTV at 60 GHz.

speech

Conexant’s powerful speech processing chips can filter out any background noise while you “command” your smart TV.

omeks

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.

hzo

Do not – repeat, DO NOT try this at home with your tablet!

hybird

A hybrid low rider? With a 500-watt sound system? Who’d a thunk it?

gps

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.

ces

No, this is not a typical CES attendee. But it’s how all of us feel after three days at the show.

panasonic

Panasonic’s 20-inch 4K offering is the Rolls-Royce of tablets. (So who needs a notebook!)

inada

Suffice it to say that this was a VERY popular booth at CES…

mattress

…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

Marilyn says, “Gentlemen prefer 4K 3D curved wireless multi-touch OLED IGZO cloud-based voice controlled tablets!” (See you next year…)