Posts Tagged ‘Blu-ray’

A Tale Of Two Companies, Revisited

It’s annual meeting time in Japan, and the final reports for fiscal year 2014 are trickling in. (In Japan, the fiscal year starts on April 1 and runs through March 31.)

Given all of the financial misery that Japan Inc. has been enduring for the past four years, you’d probably cringe before opening the latest consolidated financial statements. Yet, there was a surprise this time.

Let’s look at two of the dominant CE brands in Japan – Panasonic and Sony. The former company grabbed some headlines last year when it announced an exit from the plasma display panel (PDP) business, effective 12/31/13. For years, plasma displays and televisions were synonymous with Panasonic – they dominated the market and provided most of the technological breakthroughs that led to the (still to this day, IMHO) “best in class” televisions on the market.

Sometimes “best’ doesn’t always win. Plasma TV shipments and sales had been in steady decline for the past seven years as more and more consumers chose LCD TVs, particularly after 1080p resolution became widespread and national discounters like Vizio forced prices down to bargain-basement levels.

2013’s final numbers from NPD DisplaySearch show that plasma TV shipments from all brands (Panasonic, Samsung, and LG) accounted for slightly more than 4% of the global TV market. You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, and Panasonic – who had been in the midst of a massive review of all 80+ of its business units – did the right thing and quickly cut its losses, however painful that may have been.

Now, it appears all of that aggressive restructuring and cost-cutting has paid off. For FY 2014, Panasonic posted a net profit of about ¥120.4 billion, or $1.18B USD. That represents a spectacular turnaround from a ¥754 billion loss in FY 2013, or about $7B USD.

In addition to the money-losing plasma operations, Panasonic also jettisoned its mobile phone business. (Didn’t know they made mobile phones? Neither did most people.) Along with slimming down underperforming business units, finishing the acquisition of Sanyo and all costs associated with it, and shifting their focus to everything from energy storage solutions to Lumix cameras, the company realized an operating profit of ¥305 billion ($2.3B) for the fiscal year.

Now, on to Sony, who has struggled to maintain profitability for several years, thanks in part to the never-ending red ink generated by its television business unit. Sony won’t post its final numbers until May 15, but an advisory went out on May 1 saying that they won’t be pretty – and in fact will be worse than previous guidance suggested.

The company now is forecasting an operating income of ¥26 billion ($255M USD) for FY 2014 when all is said and done. That number represents a steep drop of 67% from the company’s original forecast of ¥80 billion ($783M USD). Sony identified two primary reasons for the drop in income. I’ll quote from the company’s press release:

“Sony expects to record approximately 30 billion yen in additional expenses in the fiscal year ended March 31, 2014 related to exiting the PC business. Since Sony’s announcement on February 6, 2014 that it will exit the PC business, PC sales for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2014 and expected PC sales for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2015 are underperforming the February expectation. Consequently, Sony expects to record write-downs for excess components in inventory and accrual of expenses to compensate suppliers for unused components ordered for Sony’s spring PC lineup. In addition, certain restructuring charges are expected to be recorded ahead of schedule.”

Okay, so the computer operations weren’t pulling their weight, which is why Sony decided to exit stage right and reportedly sell their VAIO operations to Lenovo (as announced in February). But there’s more:

Sony expects to record approximately 25 billion yen in impairment charges mainly related to its overseas disc manufacturing business. Primarily due to demand for physical media contracting faster than anticipated, mainly in the European region, the future profitability of the disc manufacturing business has been revised. Consequently, Sony has determined that it does not expect to generate sufficient cash flow in the future to recover the carrying amount of long-lived assets, resulting in an expected impairment charge. Primarily due to the reason mentioned above, the fair value of the entire disc manufacturing business also has decreased, resulting in an expected impairment of goodwill.”

Translation: The Blu-ray and DVD business is in the tank, particularly in Europe. Clearly, consumers are turning more and more to cloud storage and streaming of movies and TV shows, and not purchasing or renting optical discs. That’s definitely not good news in Tokyo, but it’s not like this trend snuck up and blindsided the company: I’ve been writing about it for several years now in Display Daily.

Given how aggressively Sony worked a few years ago to convince Warner Home Media and other studios to dump the nascent HD-DVD format in favor of Sony’s home-grown Blu-ray platform, this development must sting all the more. And talk about bad timing: The latest numbers from the Digital Entertainment Group (DEG) show that digital movie sales (streaming and downloads) during the first three months of 2014 totaled $330.25 million, while optical disc sales and revenue were down 13.7% to $1.82 billion from $2.1 billion in the first quarter of 2013, continuing a long-term steady decline that goes all the way back almost a decade.

We won’t have the final numbers from Sony for a few weeks. (Sharp and Toshiba also have yet to report their year-end results.) But you can clearly see what happens when one company faces reality and takes the bull by the horns, while another keeps stalling for time. I’ll check in again in two weeks with the rest of the numbers from Japan, Inc.

DEG: Here’s The Rest of the Story

The headlines sure look impressive: “Overall Consumer Spending on Home Entertainment Up 2 Percent in First Half of 2013!” “Blu-ray Disc Sales Up 15 Percent Over Mid-Year 2012!” “Electronic Sell-Through Surges 50 Percent!”

Yes, it’s the latest Home Entertainment Report from the Digital Entertainment Group, the industry association that promotes the Blu-ray disc format, and to a lesser degree digital downloads and Internet streaming of movies and TV shows.

The DEG’s original mission (and its predecessor’s, the Blu-ray Disc Association) was to push Blu-ray into every home as a replacement for the standard-definition red laser DVD. But a funny thing happened along the way while the Blu-ray and HD-DVD camps were slugging it out: Consumers discovered streaming, specifically from Netflix. And many of those same consumers decided they didn’t need an optical disc format anymore.

DVD sales began to tank in 2005, and DVD rentals starting falling off a few years later. The popularity of video-on-demand (streaming, downloads) grew so quickly that it surpassed the revenue from optical disc sales and rentals in 2011, and quite frankly, very few people saw that coming.

The problem with streaming and digital downloads is that they’re not as profitable as selling and renting optical discs, or “packaged media” as Hollywood calls them. Blockbuster found this out the hard way, as did Hollywood Video a few years earlier. And 3D did absolutely squat to boost the fortunes of the Blu-ray format after all of the hullaballoo died down.

It would appear that consumers who want to watch movies have decided they don’t need an actual physical copy sitting on their shelf. All they need is “anytime, anywhere” access to that movie. The net result is $4 and $5 rentals of Blu-ray quality movies through iTunes, Nook, Amazon, and other online stores…and not sales of $20 and $25 Blu-ray combo packs at Best Buy, Wal-Mart, and Target.

So what’s with the skepticism? you may ask, given the upbeat headlines from DEG. Hmmm…If you scan the press release in more detail, you’ll find these gems hidden within:

* Overall DVD and Blu-ray disc sales fell 4.7% Y-Y to nearly $3.6 billion in the first half of 2013.

* Overall rental revenue, including digital, fell more than 5.5% Y-Y to nearly $3.1 billion.

* DVD/BD rentals from physical stores like Blockbuster fell 12.6% Y-Y to $522 million.

* Subscription-based DVD/BD rental revenue declined nearly 21% Y-Y to $531 million.

* Revenue from DVD/BD kiosks fell nearly 4% Y-Y to $955 million.

Notice the underlined words “fell” and “declined.” And how they all apply to optical disc formats. These trends haven’t changed significantly in the past eight years for DVDs, and an uptick in revenue from the sale of Blu-ray movies (usually in combo packs with DVDs and a digital copy) to the tune of 15% so far this year hasn’t been enough to offset any of these trends.

DEG, who has been known in the past to cherry-pick the data but not fill in the blanks, also stated that “Consumers bought more than five million Blu-ray compatible devices during the first six months. There are now more than 61 million Blu-ray players in U.S. homes.”

An interesting data set, but the big follow-up question is; how exactly are those “Blu-ray compatible devices and players” being used? Keep in mind that iPads, Galaxys, Kindles, and Nooks are in one sense “Blu-ray compatible devices” in that they can play back 1080p movies with 8-bit color. As for those 61 million Blu-ray players – are they functioning more often than not (as my experience tells me) as low-cost streaming media boxes, with the occasional BD loaded up now and then? DEG doesn’t say, so the number hasn’t any real significance right now.

Well, what was the good news, if any? For starters, video-on-demand services were up 6.9% Y-Y, earning nearly $1.1B.  And subscription-based streaming (read: Netflix) saw a gain of 32% Y-Y, generating about $1.5B in cold hard cash for studios and media conglomerates. And total home entertainment spending in the USA hit $4.63B for the first six months of this year, up 3% Y-Y.

In other words; streaming and downloads are in, physical disc rentals are on the way out. And to some degree, so are physical disc purchases. And that’s a perfectly logical development: If you can access any movie any time you want on any device, why on earth would you buy a physical copy of it that you might watch only once or twice?

As has been pointed out to me on more than one occasion, streaming doesn’t provide anywhere near the quality of a blue laser optical disc. True, and you also don’t see “buffering” on-screen messages or suffer through locked-up I-frames when watching a Blu-ray disc, unless your BD player has a problem.

Lately, I’ve been renting movies in HD resolution (1080p/60) and downloading (not streaming) them to my Nook HD+. I can watch them on a plane, anywhere in my house, or even on my family room TV or through my home theater projection system simply by plugging in an HDMI cable.  That’s pretty doggone convenient, and easy to carry around.

New releases usually command a $4 to $6 rental fee at the Nook store and I have 30 days to watch any movie after paying for it. I downloaded two movies for a recent flight to Italy (Amelia and The Great and Powerful Oz; I passed on Flight for obvious reasons!) and while I enjoyed both of them, I have no desire to own either movie or rent them again. I suspect I’m not unlike many consumers in feeling that way.

Long story short; while the DEG headlines raised my eyebrows, the true story behind the numbers did not. DEG’s data clearly indicates that the trend away from physical media continues to accelerate, albeit slowly. What that means for the BD format in the near future is uncertain, particularly when MPEG4 H.265 (HEVC) is implemented in a couple of years and we will be able to stream 1080p/60 content at 2-3 Mb/s – slow enough for the average cable Internet connection.

And that’s the rest of the story…

TV, Over The Air and Everywhere!

In a Bloomberg story from May 3, Aereo chairman Chet Kanojia is calling the TV networks’ bluff. Aereo’s “streaming terrestrial broadcasts over the Internet, one antenna at a time” service, which is expanding to Boston, has stirred the ire of News Corporation (parent of Fox) and CBS.

Executives at both networks, having suffered two setbacks in court, have threatened to shut down their broadcasts completely and move to cable/satellite distribution exclusively if Aereo doesn’t relent and pay a retransmission fee to carry their New York City signals.

Kanojia was quoted in the article as saying, “The reality is, they want to get paid twice, and Aereo is just an excuse to articulate that business strategy. Good luck to them.” Practically speaking, CBS and Fox would face several logistical hurdles to pull this off, not the least of which would be answering to Congress if they did shut down their terrestrial transmitters, viewed by at least 15% of the American public.

Strangely enough, both network’s sugar daddy – the National Football League – has yet to be heard from in this kerfuffle. The NFL has repeatedly stated it does not want to sign rights deals that would restrict broadcasts of its games to pay TV channels, giving only Monday Night Football to ESPN. If CBS and Fox decided to pull their 8VSB power plugs, what would Roger Goodell say?

More importantly, how does Goodell feel about Aereo carrying NFL games for which they haven’t paid any rights? The NFL is scrupulous about enforcing so-called “public” performances of NFL games outside of bars, restaurants, and other places of public accommodation. They’ve even come after churches for hosting free Super Bowl parties in the past. So, where’s the indignation at Aereo?

I suppose if CBS and Fox went ahead with their threat, we could always fire up that ol’ Blu-ray player or smart TV function many of us don’t use. In a Home Media story also published on May 3, the Nielsen Company announced that Blu-ray Disc and transactional video-on-demand (VOD) “made significant gains as the primary means for consumers to acquire home entertainment movies and TV shows in 2012.”

According to Nielsen, 83.6% of consumers used a DVD or Blu-ray player to watch video at home, while 45.1% of the sample audience used video game console and 44.1% favored digital video recorders. The number of respondents who preferred streaming rental movies increased by 32% in the past six months of 2012 compared with the same time period in2011.

During the same interval, 29% more opted for transactional VOD to watch TV shows, 12% more preferred using Netflix to watch movies, and 24% more jumped on board subscription video-on-demand services to watch TV programs.

Intriguingly, 14% more survey respondents said they bought a Blu-ray movie over 2011, while 25% said they preferred Blu-ray for TV shows. (I assume that meant mostly boxed sets?)  And you may be surprised to learn that adult female respondents who use the Internet are more likely to buy movies or TV shows on optical disc than adult male respondents.

The rise in popularity of streaming and transactional VOD may be due to the fact that of 56% of all households with broadband Internet access now have at least one TV set connected to the Internet. So says The Diffusion Group in a recent report. Streaming media players lead in the connected category for accessing streaming services, followed by video game consoles like the Xbox and PlayStation platforms. Connected Blu-ray players came in third, followed by smart TVs.

The NPD Group sees that pecking order changing soon, stating that by next year, connections through dedicated streaming boxes (Apple TV, Roku) and smart TVs will eclipse connections via Blu-ray players — another sign of people moving away from movies on discs. They also found that 40% of households with Internet-connected TVs watch videos from Netflix, 17% watch YouTube videos, and 11% watch movies and TV shows via Hulu.

So, is streaming the hot ticket? Not necessarily, unless you have the patience of a saint, says a story on the Streaming Media Blog Web site. Conviva, a company heavily involved in research and development of more effective and reliable streaming solutions, analyzed over 22 billion (yes, BILLION) video streams in 2012 with an eye toward reliability. These streams included Netflix, ESPN, HBO, Viacom, VEVO, MLB, USA, NBC, and others, said the story.

The result? 60% of all streams experienced quality degradation. Re-buffering affected 20.6% of streams interrupting programs, while 19.5% of the streams were impacted by slow video startup and 40% were plagued by grainy or low-resolution picture quality caused by low bit rates. (Check your home broadband speed sometime between 9 and 10 PM, using CNET’s Broadband Speed test. You may be shocked by the results!)

Drilling down, 60% of views were impacted by stalls, low resolution or buffering. 39.3% of streams were impacted by buffering and 4% (900 million streams) never started at all. And while many consumers are watching on a screen capable of displaying high-quality (HQ) video, 63% are viewing below HQ resolution anyway. Hate waiting in line? Conviva said that in 2012, a staggering 124.8 billion minutes were spent in buffering.

You know what? I think I’ll just go read a book. (No, make that an e-book. Wait, I have to download it first! Bufferingbufferingbuffering…)

‘Black Friday’ takes on a whole new meaning

A story posted on the Home Media Web site states that overall consumer electronics retail sales for Black Friday declined by 5.6% from last year.

According to research firm NPD, many categories of electronics underperformed on the day after Thanksgiving. The flat screen (LCD, plasma) TV segment was one of them, with sales revenue dropping by 6%. NPD attributed this to lower average retail prices for TVs ($333 vs. $367 last year). 40% of all TVs sold had 32-inch screens, but for an average price of $194.

Interestingly, sales of TVs with screens larger than 50 inches increased by 65% Y-Y, with the 65-inch and larger category accounting for 6% of all TV sales, compared to 1% a year ago. It wasn’t hard to find 60-inch plasma and LCD sets for well under $1,000, and Sharp has discounted its 70-inch Aquos model below $2,000 on more than one occasion this year.

Notebook computers didn’t fare well, either. Sales of Windows-OS models were off by 10%, and some of that might be attributable to consumer resistance to the new Windows 8 operating system. (According to NPD, Windows-OS notebooks account for 89% of all notebook sales.) Apple-OS notebook sales were essentially flat.

The most interesting part of the story was about Blu-ray players, which saw a spike in sales of 20% Y-Y. However, revenue from BD player sales declined by 9%, no doubt due to some “bargain” door-buster pricing such as Wal-Mart’s $39 Blu-ray player offering.

The Home Media story quoted NPD VP and analyst Stephen Baker as saying that the spike in sales of BD players was due more to their ability to stream content from Netflix and other online movie services. “This speaks to people trying to get content [from the Internet] onto their televisions and not necessarily getting a single device that doesn’t give them flexibility [between physical and digital media],”he stated.

Baker also said that sales of Roku, Apple TV, NetGear, and other streaming devices were also up significantly on Black Friday. Earlier reports of Blu-ray disc sales ramping up during the same time period apparently had more to do with bargain-basement pricing on these discs, including some specials for less than $10.

From the sound of it, Black Friday wasn’t all that swell for retailers, who traditionally peg that day on the calendar when their balance sheets turn positive for the year.  That means you are likely to see even better deals on televisions as we get closer to Christmas and move into the January football playoff season.

Ho-ho-ho!

 

Frequently Asked Questions

I haven’t run a Letters column on HDTVexpert.com in several years. And there’s a good reason for that: With everything else on my plate these days, I keep forgetting to do it. (That was Steve Martin’s favorite excuse, as I recall: “I forgot!”)

Even so, I find that there are certain questions that keep popping up after my classes and presentations, not to mention after some of my more controversial articles. And there’s no better time to address some of them with the holiday shopping season now upon us.

So let’s get started!

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Q. What (kind of) (brand) (size) TV should I buy?

A. Not surprisingly, I get this question a lot. But you may be surprised at my answer: Whatever you like.

The fact is; TV prices have never been lower. I spotted numerous Black Friday specials where TVs were selling for less than $10 per diagonal inch. Imagine that! You can pick up major brand 42-inch LCD TVs for less than $400 now. $900 will buy you a major brand 60-inch plasma TV (that price was $1000 a year ago). Heck, you can score a 70-inch LCD TV for $2,000!

Frankly, it’s hard to go wrong these days. Prices are so low that even if you grow disenchanted with your purchase after a year or two, you can just recycle it and buy a new one. To put things into perspective, add up what you pay for mobile phone service annually, plus the cost of a smart phone that you’ll get rid of in two years.

Is that number on the high side of $1,200? For about the same amount of money, you could buy a pair of 47-inch LED-backlit LCD TVs. Or a fully-loaded “smart” 3D LED LCD TV with Web browser. For what my 42-inch Panasonic TH-42PZ80U cost me in September 2008 ($1,099), I can now buy two 42-inch 1080p plasma TVs and get more HDMI inputs with reduced power consumption. Amazing!

Here’s a tip: No need to rush out and grab a TV before Christmas. The best deals are typically in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, so if you can wait that long, you’ll see some huge savings. But even if you just gotta watch your favorite college or pro team on a new TV, you’ll still find some great prices through the next four weeks.

 

Q. You’ve always been a big advocate for plasma. Now you’re telling me that plasma is going away. How can that happen? Don’t people care about picture quality?

A. It’s simply a matter of economics. The TV-buying public has voted and voted overwhelmingly for LCD technology. One of the major consumer preference studies commissioned earlier in 2012 revealed that residents of the United States generally prefer big, cheap TVs, and don’t care much about the display technology, or Web browsers and 3D. They just want more screen for the buck – and they’re getting it, judging by current retail prices.

Does plasma still have an edge over LCD in terms of picture quality? Well, if you prefer deeper blacks, wider viewing angles without color shifts, and colors similar to what the best CRT TVs and projectors could produce back in the day, then plasma is the way to go.

But LCD TVs are often sold on form factors – how thin they are, how light they are, and how cool they look when turned off and sitting in your living room or family room. Some folks like ‘em because they’re so bright and are largely unaffected by high ambient light levels. And you can’t buy smaller plasma TVs (<40 inches) these days. Last time I looked, the 2nd-largest screen size category in terms of TV sales was 30 to 39 inches. That’s 100% LCD territory.

Plasma TVs are only made by a handful of companies (Panasonic, Samsung, and LG). Plasma TV shipments have been steadily declining over the past five years, aside from a little bump a couple of years ago. Plasma’s share of all TV shipments in Q2 2012 was about 5.5%, which means that more CRT TVs were shipped worldwide than plasma models. (You could look it up.) Simply put; people just aren’t buying it.

Pioneer got out of the plasma TV business almost 5 years ago because they could not compete on price and volume. Panasonic once predicted it would be shipping 11 million plasma TVs a year – that number is now less than half, and Panasonic has been forced to idle a good portion of its plasma fabs as a result of declining demand. (That’s also why Panasonic is now pushing 42-inch, 47-inch, 55-inch, and eventually 60-inch LCD TV screen sizes.)

It’s hard to argue with the numbers.

 

Q. Now that TV prices are so low, should I still have my TV calibrated?

A. Not really. Just about every TV I’ve tested has at least one preset picture mode called “cinema” or “movie” or something like that. If you switch your TV into that mode (or one of the ISF Day or Night modes if present), your TV will be “close enough for government work” when all done.

To be sure, go into your picture menu and check to see that (a) brightness is around 45-50, (b) contrast is about 75-80, (c) sharpness is set to zero, (d) color temperature is set to “mid” or “warm,” (d) and any “auto” gamma, black level, contrast, or brightness modes are disabled or also set to zero.

I’ll wager that you’d be quite happy with your TV’s picture quality after all that. And you will have saved yourself quite a few dollars that can be put to better use, like your monthly pay TV subscription. Or a sound bar to overcome the acoustical limitations of super-thin TVs.

I should add that I still see some value in calibrating home theater projectors, even though some of them also come with “cinema” and “movie” picture presets. Getting the best projected image quality in a darkened room is a very different and more complex process than getting acceptable TV image quality in a fully-lit room.

 

Q. You seem to have it in for Blu-ray and 3D sometimes. Why?

A. I don’t have any particular bias against the Blu-ray format. I own five Blu-ray players and have a sizable stack of movies (as well as a Toshiba HD-DVD player and a stack of HD-DVD discs. Any takers?). And there’s really nothing else out there that compares in image quality to movies on Blu-ray.

What I have taken other analysts, reporters, and public relations companies to task for is ignoring the shifting sands of public opinion, which now clearly favor electronic delivery of movies and TV shows via streaming (Amazon, Netflix, Vudu, and Hulu) over physical discs; the sales and rentals of which are in a steady decline.

I have long maintained that the average consumer doesn’t really care if they own a physical copy of a movie – they just want to be able to watch on their schedule. And for better or worse, streaming services satisfy that desire. Never mind that the picture quality isn’t always that great, or that the stream locks up from time to time. People value convenience and price over quality most every time (it’s an old axiom of economics), and Netflix and Amazon give it to them.

If and when Internet speeds get fast enough on a consistent basis, I’d bet that most consumers would be happy to stream HD movies from a ‘cloud’ server and drop the discs altogether. Or load them onto flash memory for viewing on multiple platforms, like tablets. Why do you think so many WiFi-enabled Blu-ray players have been sold in the past couple of years? It’s for the access to Netflix, YouTube, and Hulu.

Be honest now. How many movies do you have sitting unwatched on shelves in your house, still in their original shrink wrap? Birthday presents? Holiday gifts? Impulse purchases? Who knows from where they came. Unfortunately, it’s hard to get rid of used DVDs these days – even the local libraries don’t want them. Times are changing.

As for 3D, which seems to come along every other sunspot cycle, it was just too expensive and too confusing to the average consumer, who (as I stated earlier) just wants a big, cheap television. The early lack of 3D movie content (caused by exclusive Blu-ray “bundles”), competing presentation formats (active vs. passive vs. autostereo), and scarcity of 3D TV channels (DirecTV’s 3D channel has all but been shut down) just added to the problem.

3D has its place, and right now it’s better suited to larger screens in controlled viewing environments, such as movie theaters and theme parks. TV manufacturers don’t spend much time promoting 3D anymore – they’re just trying to figure out how to get you to buy a new TV these days; any TV.

So 3D will just become a another bell and whistle that you can embrace or ignore on your $800, 55-inch super-thin LED “smart TV” next January.

 

Q. Is there really that much difference between indoor TV antennas? You’ve tested a bunch of them – isn’t it more about marketing hype than anything else?

A. There are many folks out there that are trying to “huckster” people out of their hard-earned cash with “enhanced” or “high-performance” indoor antennas that are little more than a variation on the 60+-year-old bow tie design.

A good example would be the Clear Cast X1, which is little more than a bow tie in a solid plastic housing, connected through a l-o-n-g piece of small diameter, lossy coaxial cable.  This antenna doesn’t work substantially different than a $5 bow tie that Radio Shack used to sell.

Yet, Clear Cast got quite a few people to shell out $70 for it (including me, but that was for testing purposes, not because of a condition of temporary insanity in my part!).

I’ve seen expensive antennas made out of old satellite dishes and UHF yagis. I’ve seen loop antennas, “placemat” antennas, and cylindrical antennas. (Remember the $400 Terk “tanning lamp” HDTV antenna from the late 1990s?)

The physics of TV antennas haven’t changed much since the 1940s and 1950s. Most antenna designs you see now are similar to patented designs from back then, only with some tweaks or enhancements. That said; there are some clever “placemat” antennas available for sale now, and the best models I’ve tested so far are made by Mohu. (The Walltenna isn’t too shabby, either, and Winegard’s FlatWave is a decent performer.)

I’ve gotten a few more models in recently for reviews and will probably just re-test the entire batch soon to establish a new baseline. From experience, I’d say that you don’t need to spend much more than $50 for a good performer, unless you want an amplified version. That will run you another $20 – $30.

But you should be cautious about indoor antennas that sell for three figures – you may be buying more marketing hype than anything else. Caveat emptor!

 

Q. You’ve been predicting recently that projectors are on the way out, and that large LCD screens are going to replace them. Yet, I continue to see market forecasts that projector sales will increase substantially each year. How do you explain that discrepancy?

A. What I’ve stated on more than one occasion is that the availability of large and inexpensive LCD screens (TVs and monitors) will have an impact on projector sales for small to mid-size rooms. That would be conference rooms, meeting rooms, boardrooms, and classrooms that seat anywhere from half a dozen to 50 people.

And I am not making this up. As I travel across the country teaching classes for clients, presenting at major trade shows, and just informally talking to AV consultants, designers, dealers, and systems integrators; I hear again and again that this is actually happening, and not on a small scale.

Apparently, the major push for dumping projectors and moving to a one-piece high-resolution display that doesn’t care about ambient lighting is coming from clients, who see Sharp’s 80-inch LCD TV for $3,999 at Costco and Best Buy and wonder why they can’t put one (or two) in their company offices.

From what I’ve heard, this is a strong trend at financial institutions. Based on early responses to threads I’m running on several LinkedIn groups, it’s also happening in classrooms. Shipments of large LCD and plasma monitor supports are running far ahead of rear-projection frame and supports.

The math behind it is easy to figure out. A two-piece projection screen (usually motorized) and ceiling-mounted projector wind up costing far more than the 80-inch TV (yes, dealers are installing those and getting a multi-year warranty on them). And there are no lights to dim, and no lamps to replace. I don’t have any empirical data on mean time between failures (MTBF) for these large TVs. But so far, people seem very happy with them.

Keep in mind this old saw: A one-piece display solution is always preferable to a two-piece display solution. That’s what’s driving this trend.

 

Enough! Time to close up the mail bag and enjoy the rest of the month before CES hits. Happy holidays!