Posts Tagged ‘3D’

Reflections On a ‘Super’ Bowl

It’s the day after the biggest football game of the year, and the New Orleans Saints pulled off a miracle, beating the odds and those ‘smart’ talking heads to upset favored Indianapolis, 31-17.

Unlike past years, I had a small group of friends over to watch the game in HD. And unlike past years, I didn’t stuff the house with HDTVs and projectors to create an immersive football environment.

And that was just fine by me.

Way back in 2000, when the Titans – Rams clash was televised in HD by ABC and Panasonic, the subject of HDTV was rocket science to my neighbors. You couldn’t get it on cable, or from DirecTV. The only place to find HD broadcasts was from your local TV station…and that took an outside antenna, an expensive set-top box, and a wing and a prayer.

For that game, I set up a Princeton AF3.0HD widescreen CRT monitor (an ugly and bulky cuss, if I ever saw one) in my family room, and Sony’s VPL-VW10HT 768p LCD projector in my basement, driving a Stewart 82-inch matte screen. A single Panasonic TU-DST51A set-top box pulled in the signals from a Radio Shack UHF yagi, mounted on my rear deck.

With each successive year, the number of TVs grew…and grew…and grew.  We had LCD HDTVs, plasma HDTVs, DLP projectors, CRT projectors, and 3LCD projectors. Antennas were mounted on the roof, in the attic, along inside walls, and on that same rear deck.

Coaxial and video cables snaked all over the house. TVs popped up atop the refrigerator, in the bathroom, in the front hall (viewed from inside a closet!), on the rear deck, and even outside the front door.

The record for attendees was 70, in 2009. The record for TVs was 14, set the year Indy won it’s first Super Bowl and equaled last year. After that game, I decided to pull the plug on an ‘official’ HDTV party and keep it simple. After all, there’s no real mystery in HDTV anymore – you can buy a 32-inch LCD HDTV at Kmart for $300 nowadays!

This year’s party, which came together at the last minute, featured six screens, two of which are permanently installed. Panasonic’s TH-42PZ80U 42-inch 1080p plasma entertained guests in my family room, while Mitsubishi’s HC6000 1080p LCD projector lit up a JKP Affinity 92-inch screen in my theater.

A couple of 50-inch plasma monitors were hooked up in the living room and main theater, while Eviant’s T7 portable DTV sat atop the refrigerator and functioned as an air check monitor. As has been the case every year, all of the RF feeds came from roof-top and indoor antennas – no cable or satellite feeds were used.

And that 6th TV? Turns out that we actually got enough snow on Saturday to cover the lawn for the first time in 11 years…and it didn’t melt. So, I took a Canon SX80 MKII LCoS projector and aimed out it a second-floor window at a very steep down angle. Then, I hooked up a spare Samsung DTB-H260F DTV tuner to my house RF system.

Voila! I was now projecting HDTV onto the front lawn, using snow as a screen. The projected image had some keystoning issues, to be sure. But it still looked cool. I figure the size of the projected images was about 15 feet diagonally. And having 3300 lumens from the projector really helped punch up the brightness!

Here’s how the Canon SX80 was mounted. Talk about steep angles!

(For any ISF guys reading this, I used the Cool color temperature setting…naturally!)

 

Surprisingly, there were no 3D broadcasts during the game. I was ready if there were, though – I still had a pile of anaglyph 3D glasses left over from 2009 (remember the Monsters vs. Aliens trailer and the Pepsi SoBe commercials?) Some of this year’s commercials were entertaining, many were forgettable.

But the real story was New Orleans’ dramatic, come-from-behind win, a real feel-good result for that beleaguered city. The HD slow-mo replays were awesome, in particular the one that conclusively proved the Saints had gotten a crucial two-point conversion in the 2nd half. And The Who’s halftime show was one of the best in memory – it rocked out!

Our house was loaded with Saints fans, some sporting ‘Who Dat?’ T-shirts and wearing strings of colorful beads. The eats included jambalaya and pork barbecue, with Hurricanes do drink on the side. And my hat’s off to one guest who managed to bring back the original Café Du Monde beignet mix and whip up a batch of those tasty treats for us.

So…no more extravagant Super Bowl parties from now on. Just some good food and a couple of TVs (OK, maybe three, or five, or six) on which to enjoy the action.

And if Fox decides to carry the game in 3D next year, I still have those glasses…

The New (TV) World Order

Could Amazon.com and YouTube become more powerful than Disney, Fox, and Warner Brothers? Will TV manufacturers partner with studios to release movies directly to selected models of TVs? Is the traditional model of cable TV channel tiers finally on life support?

It’s all possible, thanks to the explosive growth of Internet-connected Tvs (NeTVs). While the experts are debating the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ of 3D in the home, I have yet to hear one dissenting voice about NeTVs. People seem to love the idea that they can surf Web videos just like TV channels. And Netflix’ video streaming service also appears to be catching on in popularity.

It’s easy to see why TV manufacturers are jumping on this bandwagon. The interfaces add little manufacturing costs – a good thing in this age of downward pricing pressure and low margins on TV sales – and there are a log  list of partner content providers ready to link into your living room.

While most video streaming is limited to SD resolution, HD programs can be downloaded with some latency. In tests I’ve conducted using Amazon’s Unbox Web site, it took about 45 minutes to an hour to download 50-minute episodes of TV shows mastered in the 1920×1080 format, using MPEG4 AVC compression. If you’re not in a hurry, that’s a small price to pay to watch HDTV programs and movie. And the picture quality of these HD downloads, as seen on on my 42-inch Panasonic plasma, is close to what I’ve experienced with Blu-ray discs.

LG’s BD950 downloads HD content from VUDU to an internal 250GB hard drive.

OK, let’s assume that demand for streaming digital downloads continue to grow rapidly. According to Nielsen Online, 137.4 million Americans watched Web video in December of 2009, an increase of 10.3 percent over December 2008. 10.7 billion videos were streamed during the month, representing an increase of 11.8 percent versus the same time period a year earlier. The majority of those were from YouTube (no surprise there), with Hulu taking up the #2 spot.

Thanks to the Internet, it’s now possible for an independent production company to shoot, edit, and post a movie online, and reach several million viewers in short order. What’s to stop them from working out a distribution deal with Amazon, and let customers buy downloads (SD or HD) from the Amazon servers?

Throw in the TV shows and movies that Amazon already provides as downloads, and you can see where I’m going with this.  Control the server farms, and you control the marketplace. With DVD sales slowly but steadily declining about 3% to 5% a year for the past five years, the digital download marketplace takes on greater importance. And that puts Netflix and Amazon in the driver’s seat. (Possibly Blockbuster, Best Bu, and Wal-Mart as well.)

The Digital Entertainment Group insists that the Blu-ray format will carry the day, and that we’ll see a turnaround in disc sales about 2010 as we climb out of this recession. Trouble is, two years is an eternity in the world of consumer electronics. What will the market penetration figures look like then for digital downloads and streaming? I’ll bet DVD sales (red laser and Blu-ray) will be in even steeper decline as viewers eschew trips to the video store and even to the mailbox in favor of a few clicks on their remotes. So what does that do to the bottom line at major studios?

NeTVs will also create headaches for cable MSOs. There’s plenty of statistical evidence that cable subscriptions are plateauing and in many cases, declining. Where are those viewers going? Why, to the Internet, of course. These viewers value their broadband connections more than cable channel packages, of which most channels are unwatched. In contrast, NeTVs allow the holy grail of connected TV viewing – a la carte channel packages.

Combine broadband through a NeTV, Amazon, Netflix, and maybe even an outdoor or indoor antenna for free HDTV broadcasts, and you can see there’s trouble in River City for the traditional media distribution companies. Those companies may not admit it, but they’re scrambling to figure out ways to get on this bandwagon and replace that evaporating revenue from DVD sales. Look for TV manufacturers to form exclusive content partnerships with major studios and media companies (a strategy that Sony is already implementing on its 2010 models). And I’m not talking just about widgets!

Content partnerships and controlled content distribution has been the magic formula for Apple’s iPod, iPhone, and the new iPad tablet. There’s no reason those strategies won’t also work for TV manufacturers…

CES 2010 – Part I: Big crowds, smaller booths, 3D, MIAs…

CES 2010 rebounded nicely from last year’s lightly-attended show. But there weren’t as many surprises this year.

First off, 3D was everywhere. You couldn’t hide from it. I estimate I saw at least 20 demos of 3D over two days, and toards the end I simply declined the active or passive glasses and just took notes on the manufacturer and the projector or TV on display. 3D is like the wild west right now – everyone’s advancing their own “solution” and there aren’t any standards for home delivery just yet. (Where’s a sheriff when you need one?) Some of the more ballyhooed demos were actually disappointing, like JVC’s 4K 3D demo that used passive glasses. Yes, the images had lots of detail. Yes, they were larger than life. But they also exhibited too much crosstalk for my liking. (Crosstalk in 3D appears as unwanted ghost images in your glasses and is actually left or right eye information showing up in the wrong eye.) My preference was for the active shutter demos – they were cleaner and a better representation of 3D.

Secondly, more and more companies are jumping on the NeTV bandwagon. In addition to new Widget alliances and an entire App Store that Samsung announced, I saw numerous demonstrations of image processing for cleaning up Internet video to be shown on large screens. IDT’s suite at the Wynn had some particularly effective processing for not only YouTube videos, but movies downloaded to iPods as well. Those of you who own large LCD and plasma TVs know exactly how bad Internet video looks on a 1080p screen. These processors don’t make it look substantially better, but they do clean it up enough to be tolerable. This movement towards broadband delivery of video content is exactly why CE companies are asking the FCC why it is that digital TV stations really need all of the channels currently allocated to broadcasters.

One good answer is mobile handheld digital TV, or MH. There was an entire MH pavilion this year in the Central Hall, loaded with exhibits of integrated MH cell phones, MH receivers inside portable DVD players, and USB plug-in MH receiver sticks.  Participants included LG, Samsung, Movee, and the Open Mobile Video Coalition (OMVC),  among others. Combined with a primary HD program stream, MH could be a real game-changer for broadcast television. Add in custom widgets from local TV stations to appear on NeTVs, and voila – broadcasting has re-invented itself.

Yet another trend was green displays, from pocket LED projectors to LED-backlit LCD TVs. Even Panasonic got into the game with a demonstration of 25% to 30% reductions in energy usage on their latest line of plasma TVs. LED baklights are rapidly replacing cold-cathode fluorescent lamps (CCFLs) commonly used in LCD TVs. My prediction is that LEDs will be the dominant backlight technology within two years across all sizes of LCD TVs – they contain no mercury (although they do contain gallium, a rare metal) and enable much better color control and local area dimming. In the projector world, Samsung showed an LED-powered 3LCD model that was rated at over 1000 lumens, while Casio featured a hybrid red diode – blue laser – green phosphor color wheel design in an ultra-slim $800 XGA DLP chassis!

I was quite impressed with the size of the booths staged by Chinese TV manufacturers TCL, Haier, and HiSense. TCL manufactures the RCA line of LCD TVs, while HiSense is planning to launcha full line of TVs and related products this year, under its own name. That includes 240Hz Tvs, 3D models, and Blu-ray players.These are major players, and wil give the Japanese and Korean manufacturers a run for their money.

Missing in action? Pioneer’s AV receivers and BD players (they opted to skip the show to “conserve resources”), Hitachi’s LCD TVs and camcorders (no public explanation why), and Sanyo’s line of camcorders, cameras, and projectors (again, no official word on why they passed up the show).  Those are three substantial, heavyweight players in the CE marketplace!

Well, back to work. Look for more detailed coverage next week, this time with photos. (Boy, it takes a LONG time to download and edit 750 images…)