Posts Tagged ‘3D’

What If They Gave A Party, But No One Came? – Pete Putman

In a recent AP news story, writer Ryan Nakashima details how, despite millions of dollars in advertising and promotion over the past 3+ years, American TV viewers have basically ignored 3D TV.

According to the story, “…fewer than 115,000 American TV homes are tuned in to 3D at any given time. That’s less than a hundredth of the 20.2 million-strong audience that watched television’s highest-rated show, NCIS, this week.”

The AP story details that The Nielsen Company can’t capture any significant data about the viewing preferences of this tiny group of viewers. It would also explain the complete lack of ‘buzz’ about Panasonic’s August 3D TV coverage of the 2012 Olympics.

Audience indifference to 3D TV is why DirecTV turned n3D, its barely two-year-old 24-hour 3D channel, into a part-time 3D network, carrying only the rare original 3D broadcast. And it also resulted in AT&T’s U-Verse system dropping ESPN 3D from its channel lineup, citing the high $10 monthly cost for the full ESPN package of channels.

Tom Morrod, an analyst with research firm HIS (formerly iSuppli), was quoted as saying, “There’s very little direct consumer demand for 3-D. They don’t see a value with it. Consumers associate value right now with screen size and very few other features.” That observation, along with consumer disdain for 3D TV, has been backed up by numerous consumer preference surveys. The demand for larger, cheaper TVs above all else is mirrored in Canada and the United Kingdom.

Last November, the Leichtman Research Group polled 1,300 viewers who had watched 3D TV. Of that group, 38 percent rated 3D TV ‘poor,’ as opposed to just 8 percent who rated it excellent. Those numbers have been pretty consistent in several polls since the first 3D TVs came to market in early 2009.

A story that appeared on the CIO Asia Web site earlier this week, offering preview coverage of the annual CEATEC trade show in Japan, stated that “…TV makers appear to be shifting away from years of emphasis on 3D, a technology that has failed to capture the imagination of consumers, even as an value-added offering.”

The emphasis was on the emerging crop of 4K TVs from Sony, LG, JVC, Toshiba, and others. In the story, analyst Keita Wakabayashi at Mito Securities stated that “TV makers weren’t able to use 3D to boost the prices of their sets, so it has just become a drag on their profits. 4K technologies have much more appeal, though at current prices just for the wealthy.”

This inability to capture any premium for 3D means that support for the format will just become a standard feature in most TVs that can be accessed through the user menu. What’s not clear is whether TV manufacturers will continue to supply active shutter or passive 3D eyewear with new TVs to take advantage of that function.

My thinking is that, in an era of squeezed profit margins and red ink, they won’t for much longer. 3D glasses will transition to an accessory item as manufacturers shift their focus to raising consumer awareness of 4K TV. Currently, the latter sets are quite expensive, hovering in the range of $20,000 right now. That’s about what a 50-inch plasma TV cost in the late 1990s.

But we know those prices will come down. NPD DisplaySearch analyst David Hsieh, in a September blog post, stated that 4K TVs will make it to market faster than large OLED TVs and at a more affordable price before long. The yield issues with large OLED panels that have stumped LG Display aren’t a problem with 4K LCDs, even with oxide TFT backplanes still waiting in the wings.

Hsieh states that both AUO and Chi Mei Innolux have shown they can manufacture 4K x 2K LCD panels using a conventional amorphous silicon process, and that a 50” 4K x 2K LCD panel with conventional backlighting is priced at $800, compared to $400 for a 2K 50” panel with slim (edge) LED backlight. He also cites a price of $5,000 for the 84” 4K IPS panel that LG, Sony, and Toshiba are currently using.

Your takeaway? Simply that 4K has a much better chance of stimulating consumer interest than 3D ever did. And I say this knowing full well that (a) there is no 4K content currently available for home viewing, (b) the infrastructure to deliver it over Internet connections doesn’t exist at present, and (c) the early crop of 4K TVs and projectors are just too expensive for the masses for now.

4K TV has a big advantage over 3D, though. It provides an immersive, life-like viewing experience that you don’t need glasses to enjoy, even if you have an eye disorder like 20+% of the U.S. population does. 4K is scalable across a wide range of screen sizes, from 24” on up. All of the mainstream projector technologies (HTPS LCD, DLP, and LCoS) already support it, as do the mainstream direct-view platforms – LCD and plasma. And OLED will, too – when it gets out of the starting gate.

From the content side, there are demonstrable advantages to those who choose to shoot, edit, and finish productions in 4K; particularly with live sporting events and concerts. One 4K camera can cover a wider range of the field and stage, and downstream image processing is used to ‘extract’ multiple 2K segments of the captured images for replays and cutaway views – resulting in a savings in equipment and labor costs. (This approach has already been shown by NHK using 8K cameras).

Those advantages, coupled with more affordable pricing, will drive 4K acquisition and production. That, in turn, will stimulate solutions to home delivery of 4K content, which will consequently light the fire under consumers for 4K TV demand. And all of those underlined qualifiers I listed three paragraphs back will disappear.

This won’t happen overnight – HDTV took 6+ years to become a mainstream production and viewing format – but it will happen. DisplaySearch is currently forecasting that 4K will account for 2% of LCD TVs in 2017 – five years from now – and 22% of the 50”+ TV market.

Most importantly, 4K TVs don’t have to contend with nearly four years of active vs. passive vs. autostereo format wars, battery-operated shutter glasses, film-patterned retarders, critical viewing angles, and half-resolution frame-compatible content; issues that have haunted 3D TV and turned off consumers.

No wonder there are all those empty chairs, unused party favors, and stale slices of cake over at the 3D TV party…

 

This story originally appeared in Display Daily 10/15/12.

Ain’t No Cure for the Summertime (TV) Blues – Pete Putman

With the economy wobbling steadily towards a recovery and the digital TV transition well behind us, most consumers appear content to sit on their existing TVs, looking for a rock-bottom deal as an incentive to upgrade.

 

There are a host of reasons why TV sales remain sluggish. The most obvious is spiking interest in so-called ‘second screen’ TV viewing platforms, such as tablet computers, laptops, and mobile phones; all at the expense of conventional TV sets.

 

Another reason is the low rate of turnover on TVs purchased within the past 5 to 10 years. (Yes, I know people that are still using older Samsung, Sony, and Mitsubishi rear-projection TVs from the start of the last decade!) I’ve even run into a few folks lately that have massive flat-CRT TVs from 12+ years ago that are still humming along. ‘Yes,’ they want to replace them, but ‘no,’ they don’t have the cash right now.

 

You can’t fault TV manufacturers for trying. There was plenty of hoopla back in 2009 when 3D TVs made a splashy entrance. Today? 3D functionality is mostly an afterthought, and is built-in to more than half the models in any given line-up.

 

I’ll take a contrary position to many of my colleagues at Display Daily and state that 3D isn’t going to be a factor in driving TV sales for several years – that is, until a workable, quality glasses-free solution comes to market. And that will likely require 4K display glass to implement. Sales of 3D TVs have consistently been tepid in North America (stronger in China and Indonesia), and manufacturers aren’t talking much about them these days, as Chris Chinnock detailed in his CEDIA report last week.

 

What about demand for Internet-connected TVs? I figured Internet connectivity to be a big driver of future TV sales, but it looks like I guessed wrong – at least, in this part of the world.  A recent study by GfK Associates revealed that NeTVs were most popular in China, Brazil, and India, while the United States, Great Britain, and Germany lagged behind. GfK went so far as to say that viewers in the latter three countries “…are stuck in an ‘analog’ mindset, whereas viewers in emerging markets are more likely to exploit the digital capabilities of Connected TV.”

 

According to the GfK report, only 29% of United Kingdom and 29% of U.S. consumers indicated that they were specifically looking to buy an Internet-connected TV, as opposed to 61% of respondents in India and 64% in China.

 

There was a hidden “ah-ha!” in the GfK report, though. 67% of all respondents are definitely interested in some form of touch and/or gesture control in a television, and 43% want to control their TV with something other than a traditional remote control. Perhaps TV manufacturers need to focus more on improving the user interface to drive future sales?

 

One of the problems with NeTVS is the diverse and non-compatible operating systems and GUIs used by different manufacturers. At the recent IFA show in Berlin, LG Electronics and Philips announced they would join forces to develop a common NeTV platform for listening to music, watching Internet videos, and playing games on line.

 

Both companies are founding members of the Smart TV Alliance (http://www.smarttv-alliance.org/) and are actively soliciting additional members. Their goal is to develop one common platform for apps and the OS so that consumers feel comfortable working with any TV brand.

 

However, CE giants like Panasonic and Samsung are deeply invested in their own platforms, like VIERA Cast and Smart TV, and have shown no enthusiasm for working with competitors. “Alliances may be possible, but we’re not at that stage yet,” Hyun-suk Kim, the head of Samsung’s TV business, said in a Bloomberg story. “Everybody is using their own platform right now, but the small companies find it very difficult to get content and services. Having a unified platform would be very helpful for the industry but I’m not sure it’s the right time for Samsung.”

 

Could Google’s Android platform be the answer? The first version of Google TV was met with a large yawn, and the second roll-out isn’t faring any better, according to Bloomberg. Both Sony and LG have built-in Google TV GUIs in their TV products – a huge improvement over the clunky, slow first version. But to date, consumers aren’t buying it.

 

Perhaps the answer is content delivery. TV manufacturers have tried for years to incorporate some sort of content pipeline interface and advanced program guide, with limited success. At one time, LG even built hard drives into several of their plasma TVs for time-shifting, and the number of ‘boxes’ available for Internet streaming is seemingly endless.

 

Today, most popular video and movie streaming sites are directly accessible from ‘apps’ and built-in channel buttons on late-model TVs; the best-known being Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube, which together account for better than 70% of all Internet video traffic.

 

Harnessing content and selling it is what Apple is all about, and it’s long been rumored that they will launch a TV this fall. Not so fast! says another story on Bloomberg.com. According to the story, Apple has run into a brick wall with cable companies such as RCN and Comcast, along with major networks like CBS.

 

The reason? Cable and media companies are concerned that a better-designed Apple product will undermine their business model, and fear that Apple will create a better user interface. As a result, analysts are predicting that we will definitely not see an Apple-designed television this year. “If I’m a cable company, do I really want to let Apple into my house?” said Jason Hirschhorn, the former chief digital officer at MTV.

 

The last consideration is 4K, which for 99% of all consumers is simply a pipe dream – too expensive, no content (yet), and little perceived value. Yet, that didn’t stop Sony and JVC from both announcing 84-inch 4K LCD TVs at IFA and CEDIA. (And yes, they are plenty expensive!)

 

There are two problems with these announcements. First off, Sony hasn’t made a profit for the past 8 years in televisions, and in fact has lost a considerable amount of money, dragging the company’s stock price down. So why bother with a $20,000 TV product that will sell in miniscule amounts? Probably to be cutting-edge and trendy, a mindset that has driven Sony’s marketing and sales efforts for many years now.

 

Second, JVC is a very minor player in the TV business. As a small Japanese electronics manufacturer working under tight budgets, they can’t hope to have significant sales in televisions, and may have just brought this product out to make a splash. They do much better with their industry-favorite D-ILA LCoS home theater projectors, of which there is now a 4K version.

 

Throw in LG’s recent announcement that they won’t be able to ship a 55-inch OLED TV to market in Q4 after all, and you can hear a loud, collective sigh of despair and frustration rolling eastward across the Pacific Ocean. We’re less than three months from Black Friday, and no one has the answer(s) yet…

 

This article originally appeared on Display Central 9/10/12.

 

http://www.display-central.com/home-entertainment/aint-no-cure-for-the-summertime-tv-blues/

Watching the Olympics in 3D: ‘DNF’

Earlier this year, Panasonic and NBC announced they would team up to produce over 200 hours of 3D programming from the 2012 London Olympics. Those 200+ hours would include gymnastics, track and field events, swimming, and the opening and closing ceremonies.

Apparently what they didn’t mention was that half of the 200+ hours would include annoying pop-up commercials for the 3D Blu-ray release of “The Lorax.” (OK, I’m exaggerating there, but it certainly seems that way!)

My wife and I chose to tune in from time to time on local Comcast channel 981, which is carrying the side-by-side (frame-compatible) 3D coverage. We’ve been watching on a Samsung UN46ES7500 46-inch LCD TV, which uses active shutter glasses that you actually snap together yourself, and are very light.

The 2012 3D coverage brought back a feeling of déjà vu. Ten years ago, NBC took its first stab at HD Olympics coverage with a ‘Scotch tape and paper clips’ broadcast of the 2002 Salt Lake City winter Olympics, in partnership with Mark Cuban’s HDNet TV network.

Those broadcasts were notable for their lack of annoying announcers who felt a constant need to fill dead air with vacuous analysis and predictions, along with an endless parade of ‘up close and personal’ back stories that NBC has become noted for.

Instead, we got the ‘B’ team of announcers, who more often than not didn’t say much of anything – they just let the hockey, ice skating, ski jumping, and other events unfold as they would in the arena. The pictures were spectacular (including the fly-overs of the Wasatch Range) and the coverage made for an enjoyable time – even if the events were delayed by 24 hours or more.

This year’s 3D broadcast has the same feel. During the synchronized and individual diving events, the unnamed announcers were content to just remain silent and occasionally provide commentary on a specific dive. No back stories, no ‘feel good’ pieces – just basic coverage.

Ditto the gymnastics events we’ve watched so far.  The 2D finals coverage of the women’s vault were full of mindless chatter as the broadcast team tried to build up a false tension (“Will McKayla Maroney make her last vault and hold off the Romanians?”). Too bad we already knew the outcome from browsing the Web.

But the 3D coverage was more understated. No foreboding commentary, no close-up shots of the young girls on the point of tears, no excessive ‘homering’ for the United States team. Just documentary-style coverage with short, concise observations and analyses of each contestant’s vault attempt.

I have almost thrown my remote control at the TV on more than one occasion. The aforementioned “Lorax” ad runs as often as every 3 minutes and 50 seconds. (Yes, I timed the intervals with a stopwatch!) To be fair, there is no outside advertising on the 3D channel, other than for (a) upcoming fall NBC TV shows like Revolution, (b) upcoming Universal 3D movies like “Frankenweenie,” and (c) releases of older Universal movies like “Jaws” on Blu-ray.

Panasonic also runs a ‘house’ ad promoting their 3D coverage, which is pretty clever the first time you see it, but begins to get tiresome after the fourth or fifth viewing. And there is a nice 3D opening with shots of London and a mintage of older Olympics coverage from Beijing that runs before each switch back to 3D event coverage. But you eventually get bored with that, too.

I understand the need for the house ads. After all, Comcast owns NBC and Universal. But the “Lorax” pop-up ad has actually obscured my view of Olympics competitors at times, particularly during the diving competition. The ad takes about 10 seconds to run and blocks the bottom 15% of the screen. What’s worse; the pop-up “Lorax” ad was followed on several occasions by a full-length commercial for the same movie on Blu-ray! Ka-ka!

The net effect of all this is to induce viewing fatigue in short order. Diving was OK in 3D, but gymnastics was much better as the cameras can get very close to the pommel horse, vault, high bars, and tumbling mat. It’s pretty cool to see these young women hurtling at you with a look of absolute determination on their faces, and you expect them to literally spring right out of the TV.

Still, after about 30 minutes to an hour of stereoscopic viewing, we’re ready to ditch the glasses and switch back to the normal 2D coverage. If nothing else, we’ll see more of a variety of commercials between events, even if we have to listen to NBC’s annoying announcers. (Memo to Rowdy Gaines: Put a cork in it, please!)

In summary; while it is impressive to watch Usain Bolt run a 9.63 100-meter dash in 3D, it’s no less impressive to see him accomplish the same thing in 2D – and less of a chore to watch. (Best of all, there’s no annoying Lorax!)

Life (and Death) Go On In The Projector World

Three news items in the past few days are all focused on front projectors (pardon the pun). And each of these news items has a decided air of uncertainty around it, which of course reflects the sluggish economy and a looming paradigm shift away from projected images to self-contained, larger-than-life display technologies.

 

The first item is courtesy of Engadget, who reports that Sony is getting ready to bring a $28,000 4K-resolution projector to the home cinema market. They won’t be the first (Meridian previously offered the JVC 4K D-ILA platform for about $200K), but they will be the cheapest.

 

This announcement, which will no doubt be one of Sony’s big PR blasts at CES 2012, raises a few questions. First, who needs 4K resolution? That represents four times the detail on a full 1920×1080 image, and there isn’t any content available to consumers (yet) that is authored at that resolution.

 

Sure, HDMI v1.4 supports 4K. And you could certainly master a 4K Blu-ray disc, although at current disc capacities, you’d be limited to about 30 – 45 minutes of content with aggressive MPEG4 compression. But for now, 2K (or, more accurately, 2,073,600) pixels represents the upper limit for home viewing.

 

That gives rise to the second question: How will Sony scale 2K content to fit the 4K imaging devices, which are almost certain to be SXRD LCoS chips? It’s not just a line-doubling job. No, scaling 2K to 4K is akin to scaling standard definition video to the 720p HDTV format. And what will 720p broadcasts look like on this projector?

 

Third, how big a screen would you need to actually see the difference between 4K and 2K source material? I’m thinking that the typical 92-inch 16:9 screen at 12 feet isn’t going to cut it.

 

The second news item comes from Quixel Research, who reports that USA sales of 3D projectors for home use increased by 121% between Q2 and Q3 of 2011. That number represents 16% of all home theater projector sales, which sounds pretty impressive.

 

Ahh, but the devil is in the details, as usual. Sales revenue for 3D home projectors grew by only 14% in the same time period, a trend Quixel attributes to a “recent onslaught of low-cost 3D models” in the channel. Not so impressive, and even less so when you learn that the overall home theater projector market saw a 7% decrease in volume from Q2 to Q3 2011, even though the category saw a 2% increase year-to-year.

 

The culprit? Look no further than plummeting prices on bigger and bigger TV screens. For less than $3,000, you can buy a Sharp Aquos 70-inch LED LCD TV with all the trimmings. And their newest model measures 80 inches diagonally, and will retail for less than $5,000. Who needs a projector when you’ve got a self-contained TV screen that large? (Betcha Sharp shows a 90-inch+ LCD TV at CES!)

 

My belief is that 3D front projection make a whole lot more sense at home than small 3D TVs (less than 55 inches). Most people sit too far away from 3D TVs to get the full effect, and they rarely pay attention to controlling ambient light spilling on the screen.

 

But 3D front projection turns that equation around. It’s easy to get a big 3D image and not spend a ton of money to do it, and screens tend to be placed in rooms where lights can be lowered or shut off altogether, just like in a movie theater.

 

The problem is that projector manufacturers have slashed prices too low, too quickly. Got $2,000 in your pocket? You have quite a selection of stereoscopic DLP and 3LCD front projectors to choose from; of which a few models are tagged around $1,500. That’s a lot less than a 70-inch LED LCD TV costs – for now. But margins are very thin on such products.

 

The last item comes by way of AV Interactive, the top pro AV publication in the United Kingdom. According to their Web site, Sanyo will cease to exist as a brand name by the end of the 1st quarter of 2012 (also the end of the fiscal year for Japanese companies).

 

How the AVI staff found this out is interesting: They got hold of a letter circulated by Panasonic to ‘business partners’ informing them of the decision. (I assume ‘business partners’ means dealers and distributors.)

 

Readers from the pro AV industry will of course recognize Sanyo as one of the top projector brands, fronting an amazingly-large lineup that ranges from ultraportables to 10,000-lumens behemoths for auditoriums and theaters. They’ve also done pioneering work with short-throw projection as well as LED-powered light engines.

 

For those readers who missed the headlines, Panasonic acquired Sanyo in December of 2008 for about $4.6 billon, primarily to scoop up the latter’s industry-leading battery and renewable energy technologies. Solar cell technologies were also in the mix. I found out about the acquisition while having dinner with several Sanyo executives in Osaka that night, which of course made for some very interesting conversations.

 

At the time, I assumed that the Sanyo and Panasonic projector business units could co-exist nicely. Panasonic does very well in high-brightness DLP projectors, while Sanyo projectors are ubiquitous in hotels, classrooms, conference rooms, and even home theaters. But it appears that’s not going to be the case, as Panasonic will instead pull a ‘borg’ move and completely assimilate its prized acquisition.

 

Ironically, the two companies have family ties that go all the way back to the period just after World War II. Sanyo was born when Toshio Iue, a former Matsushita employee and the brother-in-law of Konosuke Matsushita (the founder of Panasonic), began manufacturing bicycle generator lamps in an unused Matsushita plant in 1947.

 

What will happen to all of the Sanyo and Panasonic projector business unit employees is uncertain at this writing; although it’s likely there will be substantial staff reductions. No word yet on whether Panasonic will continue to offer Sanyo-designed appliances (possibly), LCD TVs (unlikely), and cameras and camcorders (also unlikely).

 

What we will see from Panasonic is a wider portfolio of rechargeable batteries and energy-efficient devices. That may be the only legacy of Sanyo to survive after April 1 of next year. Too bad, because I love my Sanyo Xacti 1080p pistol camera and my brother loves his Sanyo 32-inch LCD TV. And I’m sure many readers love their PLV-series Sanyo home theater projectors, too.

 

Tempus fugit…

Hey, This Is Really Hard!

A story in the October 27 edition of the Wall Street Journal states that television may no longer be the ‘king of the hill’ when it comes to watching programming.

 

Food for thought: Apple’s high-end 10.1” iPad costs more than a 42-inch LCD or plasma TV (even a 42-inch LED-backlit LCD TV). And based on a presentation in my Display Technologies session at the just-concluded SMPTE Fall Technology Conference, more and more sales of ‘displays’ are going to switch to smaller, portable devices like the iPad, and away from conventional TVs.

 

Neither Internet-connected TVs nor 3D have helped revive TV sales, which slowed considerably after the 2008 recession. According to DisplaySearch, more than half of all new TVs shipped by 2015 will have Internet connections, just as more and more TVs will include 3D as a feature and not a premium upgrade.

 

The WSJ article quotes TV industry executives as speculating Apple, Google, and Amazon might enter the TV arena with products of their own. Apple’s TV prototype is already circulating through factories in China, according to several published reports. And Amazon already has experience in mass distribution of content over its Kindle platform.

 

Profits are hard to come by in the TV business. Three of the top four Japanese TV manufacturers said they lost money on TV operations during Q2 ’11, with Sharp being the exception – although Sharp’s LCD fabrication business was its biggest loss leader in the same time period. I have previously documented Sharp’s rapidly-diminishing market share in U.S. TV sales, which has been accompanied by a worldwide decline to about 8% of the market for the latest reporting period.

 

Over in Korea, similar red ink was seen at Samsung and LG’s LCD fabs, according to the article. In contrast, the TV marketing and sales operations were profitable. The challenge that all manufacturers face is continually declining values even with larger and larger shipment volumes, and the fear that TVs will soon fall into the low-priced commodity trap of computer monitors.

 

Sony’s continuing struggle to make a profit in LCD TVs for the past eight years shows that even a strong brand can’t carry the day anymore. The real threat is between smaller, portable wireless tablets that can do an amazing job with video playback.

 

On my flight home last night from SMPTE, I counted two dozen iPads in use playing back cached video or DVDs, plus numerous notebook computers. Each and every one of those products is now climbing the hill, ready to topple the king…