Posts Tagged ‘Home Theater’

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…

Product Review: Mitsubishi HC9000 Diamond 3D Projector

While 3D TVs have been available for over a year, the first crop of 3D front projectors are shipping now. The models I’m aware of use either digital light processing (DLP) or liquid crystal on silicon (LCoS) imaging technologies, and all of them are engineered to operate with active shutter glasses, with the exception of LG’s $15,000 CF3D, which works with passive eyewear.

Mitsubishi’s HC9000D has been in development for the better part of a year, and I had the chance to see it in the prototype stage a few times prior to this review. Those earlier versions were underpowered, making the 3D footage they projected unusually dark.

Now, Mitsubishi has started shipping a fully-powered chassis with some interesting bells and whistles inside. It comes with power zoom, focus, and lens shift, plus multi-step gamma correction and a two-position IR emitter for synchronizing its active shutter glasses.

Figure 1 – The HC9000D is definitely a ‘looker!’

OUT OF THE BOX

This is not a small projector, nor is it particularly light at 32 pounds. But it does have that cool gloss black finish that disappears into the darkness, plus an aerodynamic housing with all of the connectors along the left side, and not in the back.

The imaging engine for the HC9000D may be a surprise to you: It uses three .61” SXRD LCoS chips, just like the previously-mentioned LG CF3D and of course, both of Sony’s 3D front projector offerings. This is Mitsubishi’s first foray into reflective imaging, and LCoS offers a much lower cost than 3-chip DLP engines.

3D projectors need lots of light to overcome all of the polarization losses in active shutter glasses, so Mits has equipped the HC9000D with a 230-watt short-arc lamp. The supplied zoom lens has a ratio of 1.8:1, adequate for any home theater set-up as it easily lit up my Da-Lite Affinity 92” screen at a distance of 12 feet.

The input connectors include a pair of HDMI 1.4a inputs that also support ten different standard digital computer resolutions, and there’s also an analog VGA PC input connector for everything from 640×480 to 1080p/60. Mitsubishi has also provided a single component video (YPbPr) input, plus composite and S-video jacks. (Question: Why are manufacturers still supporting composite video on high-end 1080p projectors?)

The interface panel is rounded out by a pair of 12V triggers for powered screens and anamorphic lens adapters, an RS-232 jack for remote control, and another DIN jack that connects to the EY-3D-EMT1 IR emitter through a short (1 meter) or long (15 meter) cable. The emitter can be attached to the lower front panel of the projector, or positioned under your projection screen.

The supplied remote control is identical in function to all previous Mits remotes (I inadvertently turned on my Mits HC6000 a few times with it), except that it has a black housing. You can directly access any input, jump to preset picture modes, operate the powered lens functions, and step through the iris settings. The only exception is that the STANDBY button now toggles between 2D and 3D display modes.

MENUS AND ADJUSTMENTS

Mitsubishi 3LCD projectors are known for high image quality and part of the reason is the detailed menus provided for in-depth calibrations. That protocol continues with the LCoS-powered HC9000D. Four different picture preset modes (Cinema, Video, 3D, Dynamic) are provided for viewing, along with three USER memory slots.

Gamma correction is also possible through five presets (Cinema, 2.0, 2.1, 2.2, 3D, and USER), and the USER gamma adjustments offer detailed adjustments of white, red, green, and blue at 15 grayscale steps. That is a tremendous amount of tweaking at your fingertips, if you are that fanatical about precise gamma response.

Color temperature and white balance adjustments are also available for each USER mode, or you can select from one of six presets, including 5800K, 6000K, and 6500K. None of these are completely accurate, but will get you into the ballpark. There are also a set of color management controls for all six primaries that I suggest you avoid playing with, as they don’t exactly work as intended in their current implementation.

The menu complement is rounded out with three different levels of black set-up (0, 3.75, and 7.5 IRE), a ‘cinema filter,’ 3:2 frame rate conversion or ‘true’ (native) frame rate selections, and various adjustments for noise reduction and detail enhancement. The former will soften the image to hide digital noise artifacts, while the latter may enhance edge transitions too much. I’d leave ‘em both off if possible.

The HC9000D also has image warping software (referred to in the owner’s manual as ‘Anyplace’ control) built-in. It lets you re-map the pixels on a projected image to correct for off-axis projection, such as a severe high and wide angle. While it works quite well, it does impact image resolution as it decimates pixels to correct for trapezoidal distortion. (It can also fix lens distortions like barreling and pincushioning.)

You are much better off mounting the projector as close to the optical centerline of the screen as possible, and using the lens shift controls to move the image into position. Try to avoid any adjustments that manipulate pixels to correct for geometry!

The HDMI inputs have their own sets of tweaks. You can manually select the HDMI color depth (4:2:2, 4:4:4, or RGB), or let the projector configure it for you. There are also four different HDMI inputs modes – Auto, Standard, Enhanced, and Super White.

It’s best to leave this setting in Auto, as it will pick the correct color bit depth for each connected input. Enhanced is usually selected for PC input connections, but I have no idea what ‘Super White’ is intended to do: The manual just says, “Select when solid white occurs.” Any guesses?

There are also a few useful 3D image adjustments. The only 3D mode that is detected automatically by the HC9000D is the Blu-ray 1080p/24 frame-packing format, so called because it packs both left eye and right eye video into a single BD frame with 45 pixels of blanking for a total of 1920×2205 pixels. On the other hand, the so-called ‘frame compatible’ 3D formats (also known as ‘half-resolution’ formats) must be selected manually in the 3D menu, and include top+bottom (720p) and side-by-side (1080i).

You can compensate for light attenuation through polarization losses by boosting projector brightness in five steps, with 5.0 being the default setting. The sync pulse for active shutter glasses can also be reversed if needed in this menu. Normally, you should not need to play with either control (and as you’ll find out, a brighter screen will do you more good than the 3D brightness compensation settings!).

The last control I should point out is the ever-present Iris adjustment. Dynamic iris controls are de rigueur for LCD and LCoS projectors to drop black levels and improve contrast on low-level video content. I have never liked these adjustments because of the non-linear effect they have on gamma curves, and prefer to leave them off and just work with whatever dynamic range the projector manufacturer brought to the table – which isn’t as bad as you might think most of the time.

If you must use the iris settings, you have four different presets (Open, 3, 2, and 1), plus 18 steps of irising in the User menu. My advice? Set your black levels correctly and adjust the contrast for best dynamic range, and just live with it. In 2D mode, the black levels may be a bit higher than you’d want, but in 3D mode, you won’t see them anyway with the glasses on.

ON THE TEST BENCH: 2D

For my tests, I used a combination of SpectraCal’s CalMan V4.4 software and ColorFacts 7.5 to take all readings through Spyder 2 and Eye One Pro sensors. All of my calibrations were done in 2D mode, as I was most interested to see what the projector did to these settings when switched into 3D mode.

All 2D test patterns were generated by an AccuPel HDG4000, while my 3D test patterns were custom-created in Photoshop and played back @ 1280×720 resolution from a Toshiba M645 laptop computer, using the top+bottom frame compatible format. Additional 3D content came from Samsung’s Blu-ray test disc and 3D Blu-ray movie clips from Avatar and How to Train Your Dragon, played back on a Samsung BD-C6900.

You will be surprised at how little tweaking you’ll need to do to get a stable grayscale out of the HC9000D. After minimal calibration, I measured 2D brightness at 635 lumens with a center color temperature of 6542 degrees. That color temperature reading varied by a maximum of just 230 degrees over nine points of measurement. So far, so good!

Brightness uniformity was lower than I expected at 69% to the average corner from center, and 55% to the worst corner. That’s bordering on hot-spot territory, as 50% is a drop of one full f-stop in brightness. Contrast measurements were much better than you’d expect with the iris off, coming in at 279:1 ANSI (average) and 538:1 peak. While those numbers aren’t as impressive as what JVC’s achieved with their wire grid dichroic design, they are still respectable for any other LCoS projector.

I mentioned earlier that Mitsubishi always does a superb job with grayscale and color temperature performance. Figure 2 shows an almost-perfect 2.3 gamma curve after calibration that’s as good as any I’ve ever seen on the best projectors. (And it was measured with the iris disabled.)

The secret? Very tight tracking of red, green, and blue levels at each luminance measurement. You can see just how tight those levels track in Figure 3, which is the RGB histogram for the target color temperature setting of 6500 Kelvin.

Figure 2 – The HC9000D produces a nearly-perfect 2.3 gamma curve after calibration.

Figure 3 – This RGB histogram shows tight tracking of red, green, and blue across the entire grayscale.

The HC9000D has a ‘ginormous’ color gamut, which (unfortunately) cannot be dialed back accurately. That means the colors you’ll see off Blu-ray discs and other HD content will be over-saturated. The color management controls will not help you here – de-saturating a color will result in incorrect display of other secondary colors.

The correct approach is to set the exact color coordinates at the factory for RGB and CMY, based on the standard used to master the content being viewed, something very few projector manufacturers bother to do. Figures 4a-b shows the full color gamut of the projector compared to the BT.709 HDTV gamut and P3 digital cinema gamut.

Figure 4a – The HC9000D’s mapped color gamut, compared to the BT.709 HDTV color space.

Figure 4b – And here’s how the HC9000D’s color gamut compares to the P3 digital cinema color space.

ON THE TEST BENCH: 3D

All well and good – the HC9000D is a top-notch 2D projector – but what happens in 3D mode? For starters, let’s see what happens when switching from 2D mode to 3D mode with glasses off and on.

To measure the changes in brightness, I placed a Minolta CL200 directly in front of my projection screen to take an incident light reading from the projector for this test. I started with a baseline (glassless) reading of 1124 lux and a measured color temperature of 6190K – a bit on the warm side. With 3D mode enabled on the projector, but no glasses in place, the readings changed to 1137 lux (3D brightness @ 5.0) and 6093K.

After positioning Mitsubishi’s active shutter glasses in front of the CL200’s sensor, brightness readings dropped to 419 lux with a color temperature of 6576K. Finally, I turned the glasses on, and saw brightness drop to 146 lux while the measured color temperature soared to 8529K. (Switching the lamp from its normal setting into HIGH mode increased brightness slightly to 66 lux.)

That’s quite a decrease! Comparing the final 3D reading with glasses to the calibrated 2D reading without glasses, the amount of light that finally makes it to your eyes has decreased by about 87%

So, what’s the solution? You will need a higher-gain screen to enjoy 3D images from the HC9000D, as it’s just not bright enough for viewing on low-gain screens with active shutter glasses – at least, not at the projection distance I use. I dusted off an older 82” Vutec SilverStar (6.0 gain) screen, and it made a world of difference with the HC9000D.

Here’s the conundrum: A high-gain screen doesn’t match up well to the projector’s 2D mode, as it will elevate black levels. Does that suggest you’ll need two screens? Maybe not, as Stewart Filmscreens just announced a combination 2D/3D screen that’s supposedly optimized for both modes. (They call it “5D” – I kid you not!)

IMAGE QUALITY

2D image quality is top-notch, as you’d expect with a projector using an HQV Reon processor. The adjustable frame rates are used to convert 24 fps filmed content to 96 Hz (quad refresh), while 60 Hz video is doubled to 120 Hz. Scaling of 720p content to 1080p is seamless and de-interlacing of 1080i channels showed absolutely no motion errors. The projector’s dynamic range is excellent (within the limits of its black levels) and my only complaint is that colors pop too much, for reasons I explained earlier.

You could be very happy just running this projector in 2D mode. In 3D mode, it’s a different story. Most of the content I looked at on my Affinity screen was too dark when viewed in 3D mode and exhibited desaturated colors with low contrast.

The Vutec gain screen helped considerably, but this projector needs to be cranking out at least 300 – 400 3D lumens after calibration to work with my screen type, size, and projection throw. If you reverse-engineer the numbers, that means almost 3000 lumens in calibrated 2D mode.

The best 3D scenes were observed with the daytime flying sequences in Dragon and the final attack sequences in Avatar. On the Vutec SilverStar screen, they punched up considerably with improved color saturation, and the viewing experience was quite enjoyable. The 24-96 fps frame rate conversion provides a smooth, bright image with absolutely zero flicker.

One problem I noticed was crosstalk in each lens. This popped up when the glasses were tilted even slightly, with the effect more pronounced in high-contrast scenes. For 3D to present correctly; crosstalk in the glasses has to be kept to a minimum. Otherwise, you will begin to feel eyestrain and may develop a headache after sustained viewing.

For comparison, Sony’s 3D active shutter glasses suffer from crosstalk problems because only one polarizer is used, while Samsung and Panasonic glasses use two polarizers and are much better at suppressing crosstalk. The Mitsubishi glasses also use dual polarizers, but their ‘extinction ratio’ isn’t as good as I would have expected. Figures 5a – 5d show sample 3D images where crosstalk is strongly evident and not quite as evident.

Figure 5a – This 3D text chart shows crosstalk (ghost images) around the letters and vertical lines.

Figure 5b – A ghost image of the center circle can be seen clearly in this photo.

Figure 5c – Crosstalk isn’t as evident when watching 3D movies, although I noticed it in this scene from How to Train Your Dragon.  (Image © 2010 Dreamworks Animation)

 

Figure 5d – Subtle ghost images were seen along the edges of the mountains and the dragon’s wings.  (Image © 2010 Dreamworks Animation)

You will clearly see double images in the test patterns, but the ghosting isn’t quite as apparent with the stills from Dragon. But it is there, along the jagged rocky cliffs and other background objects. It all depends on the angle of your head – if you tilt your head to either side, the effect becomes more pronounced. Ghosting is readily apparent with credits and other high-contrast text and symbols.

CONCLUSIONS

Mitsubishi’s HC9000D is a top-notch 2D projector, but underpowered for 3D with low-gain screens. It calibrates quickly and performs nicely, but those calibrations will shift noticeably when viewing with 3D glasses. You’ll definitely need a gain screen with this projector for 3D content, and it might be a good idea to choose one that has a slightly warm color temperature that will offset the higher color temperature in 3D mode.

More horsepower under the hood would help. As I mentioned earlier, something in the neighborhood of 3000 lumens would be required to (a) perform a full 2D calibration and (b) provide enough illumination in 3D mode to low-gain (1.0 to 1.3) screens in the 82-inch to 102-inch range, assuming  a projection distance of 10 – 12 feet.

However, if you are sitting closer to a smaller screen, then you will be in better shape: The HC9000’s measured light output after calibration should be adequate for 3D viewing on a 72-inch screen at a distance of 6 to 8 feet, as you will wind up with 3x to 4x brighter images. And you DO want to sit closer to 3D screens to get the maximum impact: My recommended seating distance is 1x to 1.3x the screen diagonal measurement. That will make the 3D images fill 50% or more of your field of view, and give you that theater-like immersive experience!

DEG Cranks Up The 3D Hype Machine

Last Tuesday, the Digital Entertainment Group, an advocacy group comprised of CE manufacturers and Hollywood content producers, released a study conducted by research firm SmithGeiger that claims 3D TV owners are overwhelmingly happy with their purchases.

This is hardly earth-shaking news, considering the source. The DEG’s job is to promote things like 3D and the Blu-ray optical disc format. Both are key parts of the revenue stream for TV manufacturers and movie studios.

The survey, which you can read here, does reveal many interesting ‘a-has!’ if you read carefully between the lines. Let’s take them in order.

Quote: “Of those who view programming in 3D, an overwhelming 88 percent rated the 3D picture quality positively, compared to 91 percent for their 2D picture quality.” Really? Why didn’t 3D picture quality rate as high as or higher than 2D picture quality? Wasn’t that a key consideration in buying a 3D TV in the first place?

Quote: “And, 24 percent of those who view 3D at home reported watching more television – in 2D and 3D – since purchasing their new 3D TV.” OK, can we break that down a bit further? How much more TV were they watching, on average? 10% more? 50%? 75%? We don’t know. And what’s the breakdown between increased 3D and 2D viewing? Again, we don’t know.

Here’s what I found much more interesting: 75% of the people in the DEG study who bought a new 3D TV did NOT report watching more 2D or 3D programming after their purchase, while 1% are actually watching less TV. Why? Because there wasn’t enough 3D programming to watch?

Does ‘watching more television’ include DVDs and Blu-ray movies? We just don’t have enough details here, so the ‘24% reported watching more TV’ claim is statistically meaningless without context. (And what about that 1% who are now watching less TV? Interesting…)

Quote: “Also, 85 percent of 3D TV owners surveyed would prefer to watch half, most, or all of their programs in 3D.” Looking at the tables actually provided by DEG, 14% said they’d watch most programs in 2D. But the group that said “it would be an even split” (using the report’s own wording) came to 23%, and a group that is stuck at 50-50 clearly does not favor either side – even though the DEG counted this group in the 85%.

I read the results this way: 62% of respondents clearly would watch everything or most programming in 3D, while 23% don’t lean either way and 14% prefer 2D. If you are trying to make a case that there is a clear preference for 3D, the numbers presented say that 37% of the sample group does not prefer to ‘watch most or all programming in 3D.’ While that still presents a 2:1 ratio favorable to 3D viewing, it is quite different from the 85% figure claimed by the DEG.

Quote: “Of the 3,100 3D TV owners surveyed, only a handful experienced any discomfort when using active shutter 3D glasses.” All right, I’m intrigued – what is “a handful?” Read further into the report and you will see that (a) 18% of respondents “never feel like I fully adjust to the glasses” while an additional 8% state that, “it takes several minutes for me to adjust to the glasses.” That is a total of 26% respondents who either have on-going problems with 3D glasses or take a long time to get used to 3D eyewear.

And the DEG survey numbers are in line with research done in human vision response by several universities and the American Optometrists Association. At the ADA/3D@Home conference in New York City a couple of months ago, the estimates I heard were that as much as 25% of the general population cannot see 3D correctly.

If the DEG thinks 26% is “a handful,” they are delusional.

Quote: “With an average of 2.38 pairs of glasses at home, it is clear that 3D TV owners are actively using their 3D TVs for viewing 3D.” If I had drawn that conclusion from the statistics presented in this survey, I would have gotten a big, fat “F” from my statistics professor at Syracuse University, not to mention my logic professor at Seton Hall!

Here’s what he would have said to me: Make sure you have all of the facts before you draw any conclusions! Facts such as: Anyone who bought a Samsung 3DTV in the past year got 2 pairs of glasses with it as part of a 3D starter kit. Did you buy an LG Infinia 3D TV bundle last fall? You got four pairs of glasses with it.

In fact, so many promotions bundled two or more pairs of glasses with the purchases of a 3D TV that the fact that the average home had 2.38 pairs doesn’t mean very much at all. Nor does it allow us to draw any definitive conclusions about how often viewers are using their TVs to watch 3D. All it means is that the average 3D TV owner has about 2 pairs of 3D glasses.

Quote: “More than 7 out of 10 of those surveyed use a Blu-ray 3D or 3D-capable player.” For what purpose, exactly? The survey question is incomplete, as it doesn’t ask specifically whether respondents “use a Blu-ray 3D or 3D-capable player” to watch 3D, a mix of 3D and 2D content, or mostly 2D content?

Here’s my question: How many of those Blu-ray players are mostly being used to watch Netflix streaming, and how often?

The accompanying chart shows that 87% use a cable or satellite set-top box, while 71% use a Blu-ray or other 3D-capable player (not a PlayStation 3), and 61% use a DVR or TiVo.

But the chart also says that 28% of respondents use a standard-definition DVD player. Why include that number, as it’s not relevant to 3D content playback? 34% of respondents have a Nintendo Wii (as I do), and it’s not a 3D delivery platform, either.

The survey goes on to mention that that “44 percent of 3D TV owners purchased their Blu-ray player bundle with their TV.” If these purchases really were 3D TV bundle deals, then 44% of 3D TV owners actually got a free Blu-ray player as part of their TV bundle. That was made quite clear in the advertising and marketing for various 3D TV bundle packages. Maybe the DEG isn’t quite clear on the meaning of the words “free” or “bundle?”

At the May 24 Connected TV and 3D event in New York City, DEG president Ron Sanders (also president of Warner Home Video) stated,  “The results of this landmark study clearly show that 3D TV owners are overwhelmingly happy with their 3D experience…this bodes well for the future of the Home 3D category.”

Really? My statistics professor would have been ROFL at hearing that. Here’s what my conclusions are.

(1) 75% of the survey respondents who bought a new 3D TV aren’t watching any more TV as a result of that purchase. That could mean they aren’t that enthusiastic about 3D, or that they just bought the TV as an upgrade and made sure it had 3D capability in it that they may or may not use. We don’t know enough to say – SmithGeiger didn’t ask.

(2) About two-thirds of the respondents want to watch most if not all of their programming in 3D. That is an interesting number and one which should be re-sampled a year from now.

(3) 26% of the respondents either cannot use 3D glasses at all or have measurable difficulty in adapting to 3D eyewear. That’s right in line with educated estimates and is a substantial impediment to widespread 3D TV adoption.

(4) The average number of pairs of 3D glasses in survey households is not substantially higher than the number of free glasses given away in 3D TV bundles. And we have NO idea how often they are being used, as SmithGeiger never bothered to ask.

(5) We know that 7 out of 10 respondents have Blu-ray players. We also know that many respondents have cable and satellite boxes. There are more of the latter than of the former. (Stop the presses!) What we DON’T know is how often those Blu-ray players and set-top boxes are being used to watch 3D content.

In fact, it’s mind-boggling that SmithGeiger didn’t ask any questions respondents about the number of hours per day, week, and month they actually spend watching 3D content!

Other fun tidbits:

(6) 78% of PlayStation 3 owners have upgraded their consoles for viewing 3D Blu-ray movies, and 76% of PS3 owners upgraded to play 3D games. Yet the following chart in the DEG study shows that only 7% of PS3 owners play 75 to 100% of their games in 3D, while 59% (by far the largest group) said that 25% or less of their game-playing is in 3D. There’s a disconnect here.

(7) 55% of 3D TV owners “would definitely” buy a 3D TV again. What – only half? I thought 88% of them loved their 3D TV picture quality! 25% of respondents said they “would probably” buy another 3D TV, while 14% said they “might or might not.” 7% said they “probably would not or definitely would not” buy a 3D TV again.

I interpret those numbers to mean that roughly half of the survey respondents are either (a) lukewarm about, (b) indifferent to, or (c) opposed to buying a 3D TV again.

That hardly constitutes a ringing endorsement for 3D TV, so it’s surprising that SmithGeiger didn’t ask the logical follow-up question: “Please list the reasons why you would buy or not buy a 3D TV again?”

Given the DEG’s position as industry cheerleader for 3D and Blu-ray, I’m not at all surprised in the way the survey results were stated. There is clearly a need for objective, in-depth analysis of why people have purchased 3D TVs, how they use them, and what their like and dislikes about 3D TV are.

But this survey and report doesn’t do the job. It’s clearly presented as more ‘spin’ that fact. There are too many holes in its methodology and flaws in its results  to be taken seriously as an objective analysis of the trends in 3D TV adoption rates and the factors that drive them.

This TV business is a killer!

In a recent Wall Street Journal story, Blockbuster announced it will let leases on 186 stores expire at the end of this month as it struggles to climb back out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Double-digit store closings were predicted for California and Texas.

 

By the time this latest round of closings takes place, Blockbuster will have shuttered 1,145 ‘brick and mortar’ DVD/Blu-ray rental and sales outlets, or more than a third of the stores it had when bankruptcy proceedings started last fall.

Blockbuster is struggling with a prolonged decline in DVD rentals, caused primarily by the popularity of Netflix’ Watch It Now streaming service. DVD and Blu-ray sales have also slipped in the past two years as more consumers have decided they don’t need to own physical copies of movies, but are content to watch them through video-on-demand (VOD), digital downloads, or streaming.

 

Believe it or not, New York-based hedge fund Monarch Alternative Capital has bid $290 million for Blockbuster, and there are likely to be alternate bidders next month at auction. What these companies would be bidding for isn’t exactly clear; no one in their right mind would want to keep Blockbuster’s old business model going when it’s clear that streaming and downloads are the wave of the future.

 

Nevertheless, Hollywood continues to ship DVDs and Blu-ray discs to Blockbuster, and the auction should generate enough proceeds to pay off numerous creditors including the studios.

 

Across the pond, the news is just as bad for Royal Philips Electronics NV, a consumer electronics giant that sells everything from TVs and Blu-ray players to refrigerators and toasters. (I’m still waiting for them to combine a toaster with a TV.)

According to Bloomberg News, Philips expects to lose as much money in Q1 ’11 in the television business as it did in all of last year! The predicted loss is at least $155 million and maybe more. The culprit? Continued downward pricing pressure on all types of TVs as manufacturers and retailers attempt to stimulate sales.

 

This means Philips will suffer its fifth consecutive annual loss in the TV biz, which makes you wonder why they don’t just get out of it altogether as Hitachi has already done in the United States (and may soon be followed by Mitsubishi and JVC, if present economic trends continue).

 

To show you what impact this pile of red ink has, TV sales amounted to almost one-third of all the revenue earned by Philips’ consumer lifestyle division. If one-third of your business activity is losing money, you’d be reorganizing fast. Indeed, the company will get a new CEO this week, but it’s not clear how he can stem the tide.

 

My guess is that Philips will pull the plug on TVs in 2012 if they don’t see a substantial turnaround in profitability through Q4 of 2011. In 2008, they sold the Philips name to Funai for TVs retailed in the United States, a move that is paying off nicely for the Japanese manufacturer. It also generates some royalties for Philips, which is perhaps the best approach to take with what’s left of their European and other remaining markets: Cut bait, and stay with lighting and health care products, two businesses that actually make money.

One Size Fits All

Yesterday, Panasonic and XPand announced that they have developed M-3DI, which is intended to be a new interoperability standard for active shutter 3D glasses.

 

M-3DI is actually a communications protocol used to signal and sequence the glasses in step with the rapid flashing of left eye and right eye 3D images. Until now, you couldn’t use one manufacturer’s brand of active shutter glasses to view another manufacturer’s TV, due to different signaling codes. Panasonic AS glasses do work with 2010-vintage Samsung 3D TVs, but that was the exception.

 

This incompatibility problem was one of the reasons consumers cited for holding off on 3D TV purchases last year. It will still be an issue for Samsung TVs in 2011, as the new line employs the Bluetooth communications protocol instead of infrared linking.

XPand announced last year that they would come out with so-called “universal” active shutter glasses that could learn IR signaling codes, just like a universal TV remote control does. But this announcement takes things a step further by ensuring greater support among multiple manufacturers, including Changhong Electric Co., Ltd., FUNAI Electric Co., Ltd., Hisense Electric Co., Ltd., Hitachi Consumer Electronics Co., Ltd., Mitsubishi Electric Corporation, Seiko Epson Corporation, SIM2 Multimedia S.p.A. and ViewSonic Corporation.

 

What really caught my eye in the press release was this statement: “The technology will let consumers enjoy the immersive 3D experience across all types of compatible 3D displays as well as at movie theaters, with a single pair of 3D active-shutter eyewear.”

 

Currently, movie theaters do not use active shutter viewing systems as the cost of glasses would be prohibitive – and they’d break down pretty quickly. Apparently, Panasonic has plans to expand into that arena, possibly with their line of high-brightness digital cinema DLP projectors, but we’ve not heard any details previously.

 

The M-3DI standard will also cover active shutter eyewear for computer monitors and front projectors for home theater and commercial AV applications.  But the big question remains: Will the other major players in active shutter 3D (Samsung and Sony) come aboard?

 

Rumors have abounded that Sony may add passive 3D TVs to their product line in the near future, something that will no doubt be influenced by LG’s success – or lack of it – with their new passive Cinema 3D TV line.

 

Regardless, this announcement is long overdue. And Samsung and Sony really ought to join the parade if only to help 3D TV sales pick up some momentum.