Posts Tagged ‘BD’

3D: Amazed, but Not Interested

A recent study by the NPD Group (3D 3600 Monitor) states that “…20 percent of consumers reported being “amazed” by the 3D demos in stores, versus only 15 percent who felt that way about their experience in the (3D movie) theater.”

Wow. Only twenty percent were ‘amazed?’? That’s not very impressive for a new technology that has been marketed like crazy for the past ten months, and on which most manufacturers are hanging their hopes for a robust holiday TV selling season.

The report goes on to state that “…42 percent of consumers surveyed were at least somewhat interested in watching 3D movies at home, but only 11 percent intend to purchase a 3D television.” More discouraging news, as you’d reasonably expect interest in 3D TV to be peaking now after ESPN’s 3D World Cup coverage and a slew of 3D theatrical releases that earned big bucks at the box office.

Oh, wait: I forgot – Blu-ray releases of most of 2010’s box office 3D movie hits are already tied up in exclusive TV manufacturer bundles for the foreseeable future. It’s that ‘availability of 3D content’ thing again – there’s just not enough of it out there for most consumers to justify the purchase of a new 3D TV right now.

Well, THAT gets old in a hurry!

NPD’s report also showed that consumers have objections about cost, the need to wear glasses, the relatively short time that 3D technology has been available, and whether or not all technical issues with 3D TV viewing have been addressed (whatever they are).

Of those intending to buy a 3D TV, “…more than half say that 3D enhances the viewing experience, and 42 percent agree with the statement that 3D is the future.” So, about 6% of all 1,100 respondents said that 3D enhances the viewing experience. That’s a VERY low number. (What puzzles me is that only about half of the people intending to buy a 3D TV agreed with that statement. Why buy a 3D TV in the first place, if you don’t think it is an enhancement?)

It’s becoming apparent to me that two things are really holding back 3D TV. The first is cost. There are simply too many great deals on conventional (2D) HDTVs out there, and plain vanilla HDTV (never thought I’d say that) programming is available in abundance. For folks that are upgrading older TVs, the jump to HD is big enough for now. 3D can wait. Prices need to drop and drop fast on 3D-ready sets, which can just replace existing 2D-only models.

The second problem is all of the exclusive Blu-ray bundle deals. Between the TV manufacturers who cooked up these schemes and studios who agreed to go along, they’ve managed to shoot themselves in both feet quite nicely. Marketing 101 teaches you that you don’t make a product hard to find or expensive if you expect to sell a lot of it. (Unless it’s an upscale brand with a solid reputation, like Ferrari or Tiffany.)

We’re closing in on Black Friday and a major selling season for TVs, and right now, it looks like most consumers will be ‘sitting it out’ this year with 3D.  (Hey, TV sales are tough all over. 6th Avenue Electronics can’t even get rid of Panasonic 2D 50-inch 720p plasma TVs for $397, and that deal has been running for almost a month!)

3D: Expect a Long Slog

3D: Expect a Long Slog

It took nearly seven years before HDTV really took off. So how can we expect 3D to launch in less time?

There’s been a lot of discussion lately in the trade and consumer press that 3D is at danger of falling back into a novelty entertainment category.

Several prominent movie directors (among them J. J. Abrams) have come out against the format. Christopher Nolan (Inception) said it was too dark. And sloppy 2D-to-3D conversions, such as Clash of the Titans, may scare some people away from the format.

There’s also anecdotal evidence that the initial fascination that movie audiences had with 3D is starting to wear off. The premium for a 3D ticket can be anywhere from $3 to $5, depending on the theater chain and location. And experiences like Titans will make consumers gun-shy about spending 25% to 40% more for a 3D presentation.

But that’s a movie theater issue. What CE manufacturers want is for 3D to take off like HDTV did, back in the late 1990s.

The only problem with that thinking is that HDTV did not take off in the late 1990s at all! As a matter of fact, it moved at a glacial pace for quite a few years.

I installed my first HDTV (Princeton Graphics AF3.0HD) in the fall of 1999, and connected it to a Panasonic TU-DST51W set-top box and antenna to watch a smattering of HD movies on Saturday nights (ABC) and a few sitcoms and hour-long dramas (CBS), along with Monday Night Football games (ABC again).

My TV market (Philadelphia) didn’t have a full slate of HD content available on the top four networks until 2003, five years after the first HDTV stations lit up. Remember NBC’s experimental HD coverage of the Winter Olympics in February of 2002? Remember the Fox network’s 480i ‘high-resolution digital TV?’ in 2000 and 2001?

The fact is; HDTV set sales didn’t hit their stride until the third and fourth quarters of 2005. That’s when the price wars began in earnest and the HD DVD – Blu-ray war was just starting up.  (Coincidentally or not, 2005 was also the high-water mark for DVD sales.)

Consider that HDTV turned the idea of TV viewing upside down. Gone was analog TV, replaced by digital bits and bytes. Gone too were big, bulky cathode-ray tubes, replaced by matrices of tiny pixels actuated by LCD and plasma technology.

Good-bye, VHS tapes – DVDs were well on their way to killing off this format by the start of 2005. And of course we were no longer limited to just 480 lines of picture resolution, but could enjoy programs with 1280×720 and 1920×1080 pixels of picture detail…win widescreen, no less!

Think about it. TV was literally re-invented from 1998 to 2005. And in 2009, we pulled the plug completely and analog TV broadcasts, completing the switch. But that was 11 years after the process started.

For most viewers, 3D is still an expensive novelty

So…manufacturers want people to buy into 3D. Currently, there are a limited number of 3DTV sets for sale, and they’re not as cheap as 2D sets. And there’s not much 3D content available on Blu-ray to watch right now. You can count the number of 3D TV networks on the fingers of one hand.

And the glasses! Depending on which model 3DTV you watch, you may see ghost images. Or, the picture may get darker as you tilt your head. (You may even get a headache after a few minutes.) And the glasses are expensive, and you need a separate pair for every viewer.

Did I mention that most 3D glasses will not work with other brands of 3D TVs? Hey, you could make anyone’s HDTV set-top box work with anyone’s DTV set. Ditto DVD players and Blu-ray players, and set-top boxes. But not 3D glasses.

It also doesn’t help that we’re in a nasty recession. People are reluctant to spend money now, especially with close to 10% unemployment.  So 3DTV winds up being an exotic luxury for now.

I return to my main point, and that is the long adoption curve I anticipate for 3D. The price premium is one drawback, and the other is the fact that millions of U.S. homes just bought one or more new HDTVs within the past three years.

Depending on whose numbers you believe, we are at or around 50% penetration for HDTV, meaning 50% of all homes have at least one HDTV set. I can guarantee that more than half of those sets were purchased after Q3 of 2005. So, where’s the impetus to buy a new 3DTV?

The good thing about a long adoption curve: Within two years, all models of HDTV sets 50 inches and larger will have the capability to play back 3D programming. (They’ll all have network connections too, but that’s another story.) So it won’t matter which set you buy – you’ll have the 3D playback built-in.

The same thing will happen with Blu-ray players and set-top boxes. They’ll be able to process 3D content as easily as 2D content. So you won’t have to buy an expensive special model just to watch 3D Blu-ray discs.

How long a curve are we looking at? I’d say about five years. By then, broadband speeds will have picked up considerably and we’ll be able to access 3D content through Internet TV channels, as well as from optical disc and video-on-demand.

Content drives demand, and there just isn’t enough of it in 3D right now. By 2015, the situation will have changed dramatically and we’ll have 3D movies, games, and TV programs coming out the wazoo.

Until then, expect 3D to penetrate the TV market slowly, in fits and starts…just like HDTV did.

Redbox: A “Blu-race” to the bottom?

Don’t look now, but Blu-ray is coming to your local Acme. Or Walgreens.

Redbox, the “buck-a-night” DVD rental company, will soon be stocking Blu-ray movies at the end of the checkout counter. And you can rent ’em for $1.50 a night.

Redbox stated in a recent press release that it would initially offer Blu-ray discs in 13,300 of its kiosks, expanding across its entire network of 23,000 kiosks by the fall. Each Redbox kiosk holds 630 discs , or about 200 movie titles.

Redbox is on a roll financially, according to a story in Media and Entertainment Daily. The company’s revenue stream grew by almost 44% Y-Y for the second quarter. And they’re getting most of that revenue at the expense of traditional brick-and-mortar video rental stores (read: Blockbuster).

NCR, another player in the DVD kiosk business with the Blockbuster Express brand, hasn’t announced yet when they will be adding Blu-ray discs to their lineup.

At $1.50 per night, it really doesn’t make sense to buy a Blu-ray disc of any movie. The typical BD release is priced around $25 retail, or 16 times the Redbox rental cost. Not that there will be a huge demand for BD movies out of the gate – while the best estimates from The Digital Entertainment Group (DEG) have market penetration of Blu-ray players, Blu-ray drives in PCs, and Blu-ray equipped consoles (like PlayStation 3) at 19.4 million homes so far, there’s simply no reliable way to know how many of those PS3 consoles are being used to watch Blu-ray movies.

To put things in perspective, Netflix has over 14 million customers now. Comcast has slightly more, as does DirecTV. And any subscribers to those services can access video on demand (VOD) or streaming, if their TV and/or set-top box is so equipped. (PlayStation 3 is, and can even stream from Netflix!)

Given that some BD players are now available for less than $100, this could be an incentive for families to finally try out the BD format. Or maybe they will put that PS3 console to work to watch recent releases like The Bounty Hunter or The Book of Eli in full1080p HD…that is, if they have a HDTV screen large enough, and of the correct resolution.

Of course, if the BD movie title they want isn’t available, they’ll probably just rent the red laser version for a buck and be done with it. Redbox is a convenience service, based on a low-cost impulse purchase decision. If the movie is for a kid’s party or to keep the children otherwise entertained, it makes no difference whether it is a conventional DVD or a blue laser disc.

The question is how many videophiles will make use of the Redbox service. My theater at home is set up for HD, with a 92-inch Da-Lite projection screen and Mitsubishi HC6000 projector. So I’m definitely interested in $1.50 BD rentals!

The only problem is, I’ve been watching so many time-shifted TV shows on my 42-inch 1080p plasma in my family room (plus the occasional red laser DVD-by-mail) that the theater hasn’t been used much lately. Picture quality from an OPPO DV983 upscaling DVD player is so good that it isn’t worth bothering with Blu-ray playback on that plasma screen. I should know better, you might say…but I do, and you can’t see much of a difference between the two formats. At least, nothing to nit-pick about. That’s how good the OPPO scaler is.

In a nutshell, this move by Redbox promises to deliver additional revenue to studios, but probably not as much as they would have liked. No one in Hollywood is happy about the bottom falling out of the DVD rental market, but what other choice do they have?

The question is whether enough customers will prefer the improved quality of a BD movie over red laser DVDs and Netflix streaming to justify Redbox’ additional costs in stocking Blu-ray movies. If this doesn’t help the format take off, then nothing will.

3D: All revved up, but nowhere to go!

How much fun would it be to buy a new sports car if there wasn’t any gas available to power it, or roads to drive it on?

That’s exactly the situation that today’s consumers are facing with 3D TVs: There just isn’t enough content to watch on them. And it’s even more of a problem with 3D movies, as manufacturers have inked several deals giving them exclusive rights to bundle specific 3D movie releases with their 3D TVs and Blu-ray players.

Remember when HDTV first got off the ground, back in 1998? There wasn’t a whole lot of HD content to watch, aside from a few prime time shows on CBS and the occasional movie on ABC.

Consequently, retail demand for HDTVs didn’t really take off until HD programming picked up with movies on HBO, an expanded slate of shows and sports on major TV networks, and the introduction of HD program services by Dish Network. The 2000 Super Bowl, the first to be broadcast in HD, helped generate more interest in HDTV sets.

Even so, it took a few more years before the ball really got rolling and events such as the 2004 Olympics, the Stanley Cup, NBA Playoffs, and World Series were all broadcast in HD formats.

While it’s true that 3D programming choices will expand considerably this month as ESPN launches its World Cup 3D coverage and DirecTV begins 24/7 3D broadcasts, the pickings are slim when it comes to 3D movies.

Those exclusive ‘bundling’ deals are part of the reason. Samsung has locked up 3D Blu-ray distribution of the Shrek franchise (four movies in all) for the rest of 2010, and had a recent exclusive deal for 3D BD copies of Monsters vs. Aliens.

Panasonic has a similar deal to ship 3D BD copies of Coraline and Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs in 3D with their 3D TVs, and apparently will have first dibs on Avatar when it’s released in 3D this fall, according to the Web site www.hollywoodinhighdef.com.

What’s more, Sony is apparently negotiating a deal with Disney to have exclusive rights to the 3D BD release of Alice in Wonderland this fall, bundling it with Sony 3D Bravia TVs and BD players. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is supposed to be the first ‘open’ 3D BD release later this month, but even it will be part of a Sony 3D TV bundle (no surprise there, Cloudy was released by Sony Pictures!).

They jury’s still out on whether 3D in the home will be a success. But limiting the pipeline of 3D movies to a trickle at this critical juncture simply isn’t good business. If TV manufacturers really wanted to drive sales, they should pick up the costs of 3D BD mastering for popular movies and let distributors flood the market with these movies.

Frankly, I’m surprised the Blu-ray Marketing Association and Digital Entertainment Group aren’t lobbying more vigorously for this approach. The Blu-ray format hasn’t exactly been an overwhelming success, and 3D is a way for it to ‘niche’ its way forward as the replacement for red laser DVDs. (Incorporating DVRs and BD-R capacity into BD players is another, equally important way to drive adoption of the BD format.)

The DVD format wasn’t hamstrung like this, when it launched in 1997. Players were expensive at the time, but within months, consumers had plenty of DVD movies to choose from at retail, and it didn’t take long for rental stores to start offering them, either.

Reverting back to my analogy: For now, consumers can enjoy their shiny new sports car while it sits in the garage, or zips around the neighborhood. But until those fast roads get built and there is an ample supply of fuel, consumers will continue to drive around in their older sedans and SUVs.

Supply drives demand these days in the HDTV business. Come on, Hollywood – when will the floodgates open on 3D Blu-ray movies?

Aside to Netflix: What’s YOUR timetable for 3D movie streaming? Hmmm?

Product Review: Pioneer Elite BDP-09FD Blu-Ray Player (May 2009)

Back at CES, Pioneer unveiled their latest optical disc player masterpiece, the BDP-09FD. This player has all the bells and whistles a home theater buff could hope for, from dual HDMI outputs to 7.1 discrete analog audio connections, 4 GB of internal flash memory, and 16-bit video processing, not to mention eight Wolfson digital-to-analog (DAC) converters to drive the audio outputs.

Of course, that all comes at a cost – about $2,200 at full retail. And the BDP-09FD isn’t for everyone. The question is, does the player’s performance justify the price tag?

Figure 1. Pioneer’s BDP-09FD is a solid, no-nonsense Blu-ray player with stealth design.

OUT OF THE BOX

This is not everyman’s BD player. It’s quite large, measuring 16.5” W x 14.4” D x 5.7” H, and tips the scales at 31.5 lbs. (You read that last part correctly, almost 32 pounds!) What you gain is a rock-steady chassis with a more precise drive mechanism – a slight bump against the player won’t cause the optical reader to skip tracks.

The exterior housing is finished in a glass black – very high-tech – while the alphanumeric display uses orange-yellow LEDs. Directly below the display (and separated by a blue power-on LED) is the disc drawer. An oversized power button on the lower left is complemented by an equally oversized “play” button on the lower right front of the player.

There aren’t a lot of controls besides those, aside from two small buttons marker “Pure Audio” and “Resolution” to the left of the display, and the drawer open/close, chapter advance/reverse, pause, and stop buttons to the right. Two small red indicators show when the Pure Audio mode is switched on, and when the HDMI output is active.

The rear panel is loaded with connectors. In addition to a standard HDMI 1.3 output, there’s a second HDMI connection, plus YPbPr BNC jacks for analog HD playback. You’ll also find optical and coaxial SPDIF audio connectors for 5.1 channel playback.

Pioneer has also provided eight discrete RCA jacks for multi-channel analog audio output directly to your 5.1 or 7.1 AV receiver. This is handy if your receiver doesn’t decode the latest HDMI audio formats, such as Dolby True HD, DTS Master Audio, and DTS High Resolution Audio.

Now, I have to pause here and point out one absurdity of Pioneer’s thinking. Packed within the shipping carton of this $2,200 Blu-ray player are two cables. One is an Ethernet cable for connecting the BDP-09FD BD-Live function, along with getting firmware updates for the player. It’s a nice thought, but too short at six feet – my house has a wireless router in the basement, and I’d need at least a 50-footer to hook things up.

As for the other cable, take a guess. How about a six-foot HDMI cable? (Nope.) A three-foot HDMI cable? (Wrong!) OK, how about a six-foot component video cable? (Not even close.)

No, the extra cable that Pioneer has so graciously included with your $2,200 Blu-ray player is a composite video cable with analog stereo audio…the old, familiar “AV” cable, colored red, white, and yellow.

YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!!! Who the heck is going to use a composite video connection with a Blu-ray player? Would it kill Pioneer to toss in a nice HDMI cable? (6’ is OK; 12’ is better) Or, just leave out the composite video cable altogether – it’s almost a slap in the face. Someone really dropped the ball on this at the factory.

Figure 2. The rear panel has every AV connection you’ll need, and then some!

MENUS AND FEATURES

This player is loaded for bear. You name it; the function is in there someplace.  The latest firmware version is 2.46, which lets the player convert the DTS-HD format to linear PCM output through the HDMI connector, or to 7.1 channels of analog audio. In addition, the player supports Dolby TrueHD, Digital and Digital Plus, DTS Master Audio, MPEG2 AAC, and Linear PCM formats.

As far as video is concerned, the BDP-09FD is compliant with HDMI v1.3 and can play back Deep Color content at 1080p/60 frame rates. According to the owner’s manual, you should use a High Speed HDMI cable when outputting video in this mode.

Presumably, High Speed HDMI cables have lower tilt or waveform distortion than regular cables, but I don’t see that you’d have much of a problem either way if your cable runs are short – say, less than six to eight feet. Both the Main and Sub HDMI jacks can be enabled for high-speed operation.

Initial setup goes quickly with this player. The HDMI connection automatically communicates with your TV, monitor, or projector’s EDID (Electronic Display Interface Data) to determine the optimum output resolution and frame rate, which will usually be 1080p/60 or 1080p/24.

You can also manually set the resolution and frame rate. Just make sure you use the main HDMI output – the “sub” HDMI jack only carries 2-channel linear PCM audio. I should also mention that the KURO Link function for control of all devices through HDMI interconnects only works through the Main jack.

If your AV receiver is not quite up-to-date, you’ll want to have the BDP-09FD do the Dolby/DTS decoding and pass the audio as analog signals to the rear panel. This can be selected quickly in the Setup menu. Note that digital audio output through the HDMI and SPDIF connectors is disabled in this mode.

Other selections you’ll need to make are the output resolution and aspect ratio (default setting is 16:9). The player can output video at 480i, 4880p, 720p, 1080i, and 1080p resolutions, but only Blu-ray discs will work with all of them. Red laser DVDs will most likely limit your choices to 480i or 480p output, thanks to copy protection bits encoded on the DVD.

The Ethernet interface is conventional, with an option to have your wireless router or hub assign an IP address using Dynamic Host Control Protocol (DHCP). I suggest using this option unless you are fairly IP-savvy and can assign all of the required addresses, including the DNS addresses of your Internet service provider.

If you are facing a cable connection logistics problem (as I did), you may want to investigate using a wireless bridge – these gadgets emulate an Ethernet port tied to a wireless adapter, and are popular for hooking up printers to wireless networks. You’ll need to connect the bridge directly to your router or hub to configure it. Once that’s done, the BDP-09FD can sit anywhere in your house and still remain connected to the Internet.

IN OPERATION

I took the BDP-09FD for a test drive using both my Mitsubishi HC6000 3LCD 1080p front projector and a Pioneer PRO-111FD 50-inch Kuro plasma TV. Test DVDs included Iron Man, The Dark Knight, and BBC’s Planet Earth.

Let me mention once again the silky-smooth operation of the disc tray. It glides in and out effortlessly with no wobble, which would indicate the presence of quite a few ball bearings in its tracks. It takes the player about 30 seconds to boot up before it’s ready for a disc, and another 15 to 17 seconds before that disc is ready to play. (This holds true even for red laser DVDs.)

Since my AV receiver (Denon’s AVR-788) wouldn’t support the advanced Dolby and DTS BD audio formats, I opted to use the player’s analog audio outputs and let Pioneer do the decoding. It’s a great way to go, although my home system only supports 5.1-channel playback at present.

Picture quality from all three discs was as good as anything I’ve seen from my Reon-equipped Samsung BD-P1200 (the HC6000 also has Reon processing onboard) – excellent detail and dynamic range, with no evidence of false contouring. Unfortunately, the BD standard only calls for 8-bit video, and you can see the result in scenes that show deep blue skies – visible contour lines.

The BDP-09FD took care of that nicely, particularly in Iron Man where Tony Stark first attacks the terrorists in what’s supposed to be Afghanistan. Watch as he sails through the skies, pursued by a pair of F-22 Raptors. The blue sky gradient changes frequently from scene to scene, but you shouldn’t see any contouring along the way.

The Dark Knight shows off the player’s ability to pull out shadow detail in dark scenes, of which there are plenty in this film. I looked carefully for low-level noise and didn’t see much of it, especially around objects with green and blue coloring.

To top things off, I spun up Ice Worlds from Planet Earth. If you don’t own this boxed set on Blu-ray, go out right now and buy a copy – these are reference-grade HD discs. Ice Worlds has lots of high-contrast subject matter, along with the aforementioned deep blue sky gradients and underwater photography. All of it showed up beautifully, free of noise and other digital artifacts that I’ve seen on lower-cost players.

As for the audio, it came through with plenty of dynamic range, and no audible sampling artifacts. (Both Iron Man and The Dark Knight have plenty of explosions that task even the best audio systems.) The sound playback was as good as I’ve experienced in the best movie theaters, with great presence and spatial separation in the surround channels. (Dang, now I have to go find two more speakers and upgrade to 7.1 playback!)

CONCLUSION

If you really want a superlative Blu-ray player, the BDP-09FD is for you. It oozes high quality all around and delivers excellent image and audio quality. My guess is, it will hold up for a long time, probably longer than your flatscreen TV. The video quality wasn’t substantially better than lower-cost players with high-end video processing, but the build quality is.

Where you’ll really notice the difference is in the internal audio processing, particularly if you opt to go analog to your existing receiver. The improvement in dynamic range over conventional SPDIF connections, even with 5.1 movies, is one you can hear – there’s just more audio to play with, from the subtlest sounds to swelling music and explosive special effects.

Pioneer Elite BDP-09FD Blu-ray Player
MSRP: $2,199

Specifications:
Dimensions: 16.5” (W) x 5.6” (H) x 14.2” (D)
Weight: 31 pounds

Analog video output formats: composite, S-video, BNC YPbPr (480i/29.97, 480p/59.94, 720p/59.94, 1080i/29.97)
Digital video output formats: 2x HDMI 1.3 (480p/59.94, 720p/59.94, 1080i/29.97, 1080p/59.94, 1080p/23.97)
Analog audio output: 1x RCA (Stereo)
Digital audio output: Toslink, HDMI (bitstream or PCM), Optical/Coaxial SPDIF
Supported playback formats: BD-ROM, BD-RE, BD-R, DVD VIDEO, AUDIO CD, DVD-RW, DVD-R, DVD-R DL, DVD+R/RW, CD-R, CD-RW, CD ROM

Supported audio formats: Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Digital/Plus, DTS-HD Master Audio, DTS-HD HR Audio, DTS Digital Surround, MPEG, MPEG2 AAC, Linear PCM

LAN Interface: 100BaseT Ethernet

Pioneer Electronics USA
2265 E. 220th Street
Long Beach, CA 90810
(213) 746-6337

 

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