Posts Tagged ‘JVC’

CES 2011: Applications? Plenty! Buzz? Ahhh, Not So Much…

How do you like THIS for a videowall?

If you still needed any convincing that the U.S. economy is on the rebound, the 30-minute-long cab line at McCarran Airport did the trick. Attendance at this year’s running of the world’s ultimate gadget expo was WAY up, probably hitting 2007 levels. (CES claimed 140,000 in attendance, but my guess is that the real number was more like 90,000 – 100,000, based on cab lines and traffic.)

But CES was a vastly different show than in recent years. True “wowza!” product demos were few and far between. Instead, what we saw were ‘apps’ – practical, real-world applications of technologies introduced in the past couple of years. (And of course, umpteen million tablet computers.)

Smart phones were huge this year, and they were doing everything from shooting videos to doubling as game controllers and even talking to ovens and refrigerators. The Android OS rules this space, with Windows coming up far behind. If there was a possible use for a smart phone, someone demonstrated it in a booth (including 3D).

Ever expect to see 3D on an MH receiver? Neither did I.

A wonderful moment, indeed.

Discussions of “the cloud” were heard in every hallway. For those readers who don’t know what “the cloud” is, it’s the concept of storing and accessing media files from remote servers, streaming or downloading it to view on portable and desktop displays. Netflix streaming is a good example of “the cloud,” and many industry analysts believe “cloud” delivery of content is where everything is headed – no more big hard drives or optical disc readers, just fast wireless and wired Ethernet connections.

Speaking or wireless, it’s all the rage. I lost track of all the wireless connectivity demos, ranging from wireless USB 3.0 docking stations to full-bandwidth 1080p video and multi-channel audio streaming to TVs from Blu-ray players, using the 6 GHz radio frequency band.

And those tablet computers…they were everywhere, so many that tablets suffered the ignonimous fate of moving from the most anticipated new product at the opening of the show to “so what?” products by its closing. I saw just as many off-brand and white label tablets in the lower regions of the South Hall as I did at the Blackberry, ViewSonic, Samsung, Sharp, Sony, and Panasonic booths. Can you say, “buzz kill?”

That's a complete nVidia workstation graphics card, connected through 6 GHz wireless links.

How does a Wireless USB 3.0 docking station grab ya? Samsung's got it.

3D TRENDS

Last year’s show was dominated by 3D. You couldn’t get away from it! This year, the 3D pickings weren’t quite as abundant, although a few companies (Sony and Panasonic) continued to place a heavy emphasis on stereoscopic TV viewing in their booths.

Toshiba did too, except they chose to emphasize glasses-free (autostereo) 3D exclusively in their booth. LG opted to show passive 3D products that use inexpensive circular-polarization glasses, along with a single autostereo LCD TV. Meanwhile, Sony had concept demos of a portable 3D Blu-ray player and a 24-inch autostereo organic light-emitting diode (OLED) TV.

The reduced emphasis on 3D might have something to do with the paltry sales of active-shutter 3D TVs in 2010. Sales numbers were nowhere near what anyone predicted, which could partly be blamed on the recession. But it could also be blamed on a perception that there is a format war brewing in the world of 3D TV (shades of the 1080i vs. 720p battles from ten years ago).

Toshiba's 15-inch prototype autostereo notebook display uses a built-in camera to adjust the 3D viewing angle to your position.

HELLO, 1958! Polaroid actually showed a blue-yellow anaglyph 3D demo at CES. (CAUTION: Don't watch Avatar this way...)

Toshiba’s recent announcements of glasses-free 3D TV certainly added to that perception, and that’s all they showed at CES. Meanwhile, LG and JVC seem to be leaning towards passive 3D (embedded polarizing filters) in their LCD TVs, and in fact LG had large baskets of passive 3D glasses available to both visitors.

The LG autostereo LCD TV worked about as well as the Toshiba models. As you change your viewing position, patterned film retarders (PFRs) built-in to the LCD surface create a new perspective and viewpoint, blocking some pixels and revealing others. It works, but you’ve seen the same effect before with static digital signage displays in retail stores and in airports. And it’s not easy to watch 3D video this way for very long.

There were plenty of autostereo handheld display demos. LG’s new Optimus smart phones were shown as game controllers for 3D gaming systems, but were also displaying mobile 3D content. Nearby, LG had a demonstration of autostereo 3D as broadcast from Las Vegas DTV station KLVX, using the MH mobile digital TV standard.

Sony showed an autostereo media player in its booth, along with the aforementioned portable Blu-ray player with autostereo screen. (Frankly, I think the market for portable BD players is pretty miniscule, but the autostereo images looked quite nice.)

Sony's 24.5-inch autostereo AM OLED was a show-stopper.

JVC's got some skin in the 3D game with this 65-inch passive 3D LED LCD TV.

Sharp, who last year missed the boat on 3D – and whose U.S. market share in TV sales continues to drop precipitously – rolled out the 3D bandwagon this year, with a full line of Quattron 3D TVs out for inspection, including a new 70-inch model. Hidden away in another part of their booth were demos of 3.8” and 10.6” autostereo LCD displays for handheld devices.

JVC, who has been concentrating more on projection products lately, unveiled their first consumer passive 3D TV. It’s a 65-inch, edge-lit LED model with embedded micropolarizers that work with RealD theater glasses. Back in the Central hall, Hisense, Konka, and TCL all showed Chinese-made 3D sets with active shutter glass technology, while VIZIO threw its hat in with the passive 3D crowd, unveiling several models that use embedded polarizing filters and passive eyewear.

Hmmm…maybe there IS something to this 3D format war, after all…

NETWORKED TVS

It was hard to find a TV at CES that didn’t sport some sort of Internet connection. Panasonic (VieraCast), VIZIO (VIZIO Internet Apps), Sony (Google TV), LG (Smart TV), and Samsung (Samsung Apps) all had full plates of NeTVs out for inspection, along with numerous connected Blu-ray players. By the way, the ‘connected’ part of Blu-ray players is the big reason they are finally selling so well, as consumers apparently can’t get enough of YouTube and Netflix streaming.

There were also plenty of demos of smart phone control of TVs, using WiFi to stream back a lower-resolution version of the content being displayed on-screen. I’m not really sure why anyone would need that functionality, especially if they are already sitting in front of the TV watching whatever program or movie is playing out. Maybe it’s just in case you need to run to the bathroom?

Don't have Internet connectivity on your plasma or LCD TV? LG's got the fix.

You want a TV remote? I'll show you a TV remote!

LG went everyone better with their ST600 Smart TV adapter. Remember ATSC set-top boxes from the DTV transition? Well, the ST600 is an Internet TV adapter that works with any set through its HDMI port.  It costs about $150, and gives you a Web browser, plus one-button access to popular Internet TV sites like Netflix, CinemaNow, VUDU, Hulu Plus, YouTube, MLB TV, Pandora, and others.

Sony prominently featured their Sony Smart TV product line, based on Google TV. This product has really stumbled out of the gate, probably because of the incredibly complex keyboard remote control (remember Web TV, anyone?) and the fact that a majority of Web video surfing can be accessed with directed one-button Hulu Plus, Netflix, and YouTube apps. Maybe we’ll see a simplified version of the product from Sony in 2011.

Panasonic rolled out its own tablet computer, as previously mentioned. The Viera Tablet is part of a “cloud” focused content delivery strategy (there it is, again!) that will let consumers access on-demand and VIERA Connect content. The tablet will actually be available in several different sizes, ranging from 4” to 10,” and also functions as a TV remote control.

Sharp also featured connected Blu-ray players, with directed apps for VUDU taking center stage. Three new models use wireless connections to access Netflix, VUDU, Pandora and YouTube content via streaming connections. They also took the wraps off a 70-inch Quattron LCD TV with built-in WiFi and a support for CinemaNow, Netflix, VUDU, and DLNA video streaming.

Sharp's got a new 70-inch LCD glass cut, and wireless Internet connectivity to go with it.

Samsung didn’t have quite as many sexy NeTV announcements, but they did have the largest LCD TV at the show (75 inches) and prominently featured their Smart Hub technology. You can access the usual suspects through wired and wireless Ethernet connections, along with Blockbuster, MLB.TV, AccuWeather, Facebook, Hulu Plus, and History Channel content, among others.

PROJECTION TRENDS

There wasn’t a lot of projector news from CES. Texas Instruments used the event to launch a new line of DLP Pico HD chipsets. These are tiny WXGA-resolution (1280×800 pixels) digital micromirror devices (DMDs) that are used in picoprojectors and pocket projectors, and there were plenty on display in the TI suite. They had picos running in GE digital cameras, Sharp smart phones, and even a prototype tablet computer.

Sony even showed a DLP-based picoprojector in a new digital camera at Digital Experience, an interesting development considering that both companies parted ways back in 1996 after Sony built its first and only SVGA DLP high-brightness projector.

Yes, Pico DLP chips really are that small.

Even digital cameras are equipped with picoprojectors nowadays.

Other picoprojectors were shown from LG, ViewSonic, Acer, and Optoma. The Optoma iPod docking station with built-in picoprojector was a clever product, as was the GE digital camera. But most of these projectors cast small, dim images, and you have to wonder how the explosion of tablet computers will affect this market, considering that both picos and tablets would be used for very small group presentations.

Several 3D projectors took a bow in Las Vegas. Mitsubishi finally has a model number for its LCoS 3D projector (HC9000), while Sharp announced the XV-Z17000 DLP 3D chassis. Samsung’s also got a new 3D box, the SP-A8000, which also uses DLP technology. Over in the JVC booth, the previously-announced DLA-X9 and DLA-X7 D-ILA (LCoS) 3D front projectors now have THX 3D certification – apparently the only models to earn that appellation so far. The general consensus is that DLP produces better blacks and higher contrast than LCoS 3D projectors, but that will remain to be seen. (I expect to have a review sample of the Mits unit in mid-March.)

Mitsubishi’s big screen TV division continues to hang on in the rear-projection DLP marketplace and is actually doing quite well, thank you very much. (It’s easy to capture 100% market share when you are the only player!) They launched a 92-inch DLP set with 3D compatibility, and while it doesn’t have a model number yet, expect it to sell in the mid-$5000 range, with active shutter glasses an extra.

Is a 92-inch 3D screen big enough for ya?

NO?? OK, then how about a 155-inch OLED screen?

WIRED VS. WIRELESS NETWORKING

I met with most of the major networking groups at CES. Two of them (HDBaseT and DiiVA) are very close in theory and practice, with structured wire being used to distribute video and audio between connected devices. Both systems also support USB connectivity for remote gaming control, and both systems can deliver power to connected devices (100 watts for HDBaseT and 24 watts for DiiVA).

Many commercial interface manufacturers are incorporating HDBaseT infrastructures into their AV switching products, the latest being Crestron (Digital Media) and Gefen. AMX already uses a version of HDBaseT in their AV switchers and distribution amplifiers.

DiiVA is apparently gaining popularity in China, where new apartment buildings and houses all have structured wire pulls. Most of the companies that have DiiVA-compatible products are also (not surprisingly) based in China.

Keep your eye on Diiva for both consumer and commercial applications.

A touch of the button is all it takes to get you in a surround-sound sweet spot, courtesy of Summit Semiconductor.

On the wireless side, Summit Semiconductor, Aeleron, and Amimon all showed system-on-chip solutions for high-bitrate video and audio distribution. Amimon is the founder of the Wireless High Definition Interface (WHDI) and showed wireless display connectivity to remote PCs, as well as Blu-ray 1080p playback to specially-equipped LG and Hisense wireless LCD TVs.

Aeleron featured Ultra WideBand (UWB) connectivity of 1080p streaming and docking systems that work with TVs, laptops, smart phones, and other media players. They also featured DLNA-compatible UWB adapters for in-room signal distribution (UWB can’t go between rooms) and driverless HDMI interfaces.

Summit’s demo was perhaps the most interesting. It featured uncompressed distribution of wireless multi-channel surround audio to randomly-placed powered speaker columns. A special remote activates a supersonic Doppler system that automatically adjusts the levels of all speakers so that you are sitting in t ‘sweet spot,’ no matter where you are in the room, or where the speakers happen to be placed. It takes all of ½ second for this adjustment to be made.

Back over in the Hilton, Sigma Designs has found a way to reduce line noise and broad spectrum interference in HomePlug systems. Turns out, all those battery chargers and AC adapters are pretty ‘dirty,’ which clips the available bit rate for moving video and audio through decoupled AC power lines. With the Sigma enhancements, the receive speed (to a media player or TV) is as much as 65% of the transmit speed (from the playout source). With normal HomePlug appliances, the receive speed can drop to as little as 20 – 25% of the transmit speed.

Who knew HomePlug systems were so noisy? (not to mention iPad AC power adapters...)

Guess what? Your smart phone can talk to your oven now. And your refrigerator, and washer, and dryer, and...WHAT??? No! Not the TOILET!!!

THE WRAP

There was so much more to report on from CES. Many of the new TVs and accessories will be featured in upcoming spring line shows, where I’ll take a closer look at each. You can also find news about specific model numbers and pricing at many other media outlets, along with each manufacturer’s specific Web sites.

If there was anything to take away from the show, it was that TVs were not the big news at CES this year. Instead, multi-function smart phones and connected media appliances generated all the buzz. We’re definitely in for a protracted battle between the “your TV should be the hub!” advocates and the “Connect outside the TV!” evangelists, not to mention the “go wireless!” and “use wired connections!” camps.

I tend to favor the “connect outside the TV” and “go wireless” arguments, although it is a tricky task to stream high-definition video in an uncompressed format between rooms in a house. (And no, the FCC taking away more UHF TV channels won’t help at all – there’s not enough spectrum space in the UHF band for 512 MHz channels!)

3D will continue to muddle along this year, as the economy slowly recovers and consumers sit on their hands. The confusing “glasses or no glasses” messages won’t help. Active-shutter 3D and passive 3d are clearly superior to autostereo 3D for viewing TV shows and movies, but you have to test-drive all three modes first to understand why. Look for the passive systems from LG, JVC, and VIZIO to pick up more market share as the year winds on and consumers realize they can use their freebie movie theater glasses at home.

LG's placing its bets on passive 3D TV.

Samsung's flexible OLED displays don't get bent out of shape.

NeTVs are here to stay and potentially a lot more popular than 3D. Sony’s Google TV approach may be too complicated for most consumers, who are likely to favor the simpler direct channel apps offered by everyone else. And if they can access Netflix, YouTube, and Hulu Plus, they may not need much else. Look for LG’s Internet converter box to be copied by other manufacturers so that older TVs can join in the fun.

It was nice to see a few OLED TV demos this year, but once again the technology just isn’t ready for prime time. Look for Samsung to show an OLED Galaxy tablet later this year, if for no other reason than to prove they can make one. But it will be a while before you can buy it. The rest of the tablet and smart phone crowd will stay with tried-and-true LCD technology for the time being.

Blu-ray disc and player prices will continue to plummet. I’ve predicted that major brands will stop making conventional DVD players altogether in 2011, moving to Blu-ray as their exclusive platform. While we didn’t see any BD players with internal hard drives like those sold in Japan, they’re not far off. Too many people are using Netflix streaming and would like to try a straight digital download for improved image quality. What better place to enable a DVR than in a BD multifunction media hub?

And get used to using your smart phone to do everything. Game console controls, TV remotes, autostereo displays, even diagnostic tools to use with connected major appliances – all of these smart phone applications were shown at CES.

So was a iPhone case with a built-in bottle opener, which might turn out to be one of the most useful smart phone “apps” of all…

No comment!

Shades of Crazy Eddie…

Tomorrow (Saturday, October 2), 6th Avenue Electronics will celebrate the opening of their new store in Deptford, NJ with a chain-wide blow-out sale on TVs.

And when I say blow-out, I mean BLOW-OUT!

Can’t beat that deal with a stick!

Here’s what caught my eye this morning: 350 Panasonic TCP42C2 42-inch 720p plasma TVs will be sold for $397.95, a discount of $200 from full retail. And if you want something bigger, 250 Panasonic TCP50C2 50-inch 720p plasma TVs will be tagged at $548.95 each – almost $250 off their normal retail price.

There are other goodies to be had. Want an LG 50PK250 1080p 50-inch plasma TV? Get there early enough, and it’s yours for $788. How does an LG 60PK250 60-inch 1080p plasma TV sound for $1188? Or a Panasonic TCP58S2 58-inch 1080p plasma for $1198?

If LCD’s your thing, you can scoop up a Samsung 46-inch 1080p LCD TV for $648, or a Toshiba 46G300 1080p LCD TV for $749. 6th Avenue’s also got a Toshiba upconverting DVD player for $29.95 and a Panasonic Blu-ray player for $100.  The flier in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer goes on to list all kinds of electronic goodies for rock-bottom prices, including a $80 netbook with 7″ LCD screen, an Olympus 10 megapixel digital camera for $65, and a JVC 8 MP pocket movie camera for $70.

Face it. All electronics are commodity products nowadays. No wonder so many TV manufacturers are struggling to make a buck!

Can’t wait to see how low prices go on Black Friday…

NAB 2010: A Show in Transition

Some of the big questions facing attendees as their flights landed in Las Vegas were these: Can NAB survive? Will it evolve into something different? Is it even that important to attend NAB anymore?

The answer to all three questions is “yes.” Even though attendance was still down from 2008 (NAB claimed 83,000 ‘officially;’ my guesstimate was more like 55,000 to 60,000), there were plenty of companies in attendance with lots of cool products to check out.

That said, the show is undergoing a rapid transformation away from a traditional ‘broadcasting’ show to a mix of InfoComm and CES – hot new products for professionals. Of course, 3D was all over the place. But so was networked video, which dominated the upper and lower South Hall exhibit areas.

Booths were smaller this year, and that’s not going to change any time soon…not when the typical booth is showing products that have price tags in the hundreds and low thousands. Contrast that with NAB shows 15 years ago, when most of the price tags had three and four zeros in them!

You know attendance was off when this was one of the largest booths in the Central Hall!

On the other hand, the alternative wasn’t too attractive…

The smaller booths and lower number of exhibitors resulted in wider aisles and less traffic – a plus. But it also resulted in NAB placing the main registration area smack in the middle of the Central Hall, something I’ve never seen before.  And there was plenty of wide-open space at the end of that hall, as well in the North and South Halls.

Can NAB be staged in three halls? Absolutely! And can you see everything you need to see in three days? Try two days. (Thursday has become ‘exhibitor bonding day,’ to quote a fellow editor.) I could have covered my beat in two days if necessary.

THE TRENDS

Not surprisingly, 3D was a big topic this year, although not to the same extent as it was at CES. The SMPTE/ETC/EBU Digital Cinema Summit focused entirely on 3D for both days, and I was fortunate enough to deliver one of the papers to a jammed room of 500+ attendees.

Sony, Panasonic, JVC, Canon, Grass Valley, AVID, Doremi, Harris, Evertz, and Ross Video were just some of the companies showing 3D products in Vegas. Those products ranged from 3D monitors and cameras to 3D workflow (acquisition, editing, post, effects, and playout) software and hardware.

Sony’s LM4251TD 42-inch LCD monitor uses micropolarizers for passive 3D viewing.

Other specialized 3D brands were in attendance, too. TD Vision, Miracube, Mistika, and HDlogix had nice exhibits in the South Hall, down the street from Grass Valley. Smaller companies like Cine-tal occupied the 3D Pavilion nearby, while Motorola and Ericsson showcased 3D transport and format recognition products upstairs.

Although the consumer TV market is seeing a big push towards active-shutter 3D TVs and monitors, the emphasis at NAB was on passive 3D viewing (cheaper glasses, more expensive displays). JVC, Hyundai, and LG all manufacture them, and there were plenty of folks standing around with RealD X-pol eyewear watching the demos.

The projector guys were on top of things, too. projectiondesign showed a stacked pair of 3-chip 1080p lightboxes in the Mistika booth, using linear polarized glasses. HDI showed a 100-inch, 1080p LCoS rear-projection TV in the HDlogix booth, also using X-pol glasses. Christie also had suitable 3D projection systems out for inspection.

There were also some demos that left me scratching my head, such as Canon’s dual-projection X-pol 3D demo, using a pair of REALiS WUXGA (1920×1200) LCoS projectors. While it worked well, it requires two separate projectors and outboard 3D filter holders – too klunky! (A Canon rep told me that was because of the 60 Hz frame rate limitation on the internal video processor.)

Well, it IS 3D, but I doubt Canon will sell very many of these rigs…

Broadband video and IPTV were also big this year. This market for MPEG-4 AVC over Ethernet, fiber, or private data networks is exploding, and encoder companies such as Adtec, Vbrick, Harmonic, Ericsson, Harris, Motorola, and Digital Rapids were showing a full range of compatible products.

Sezmi also occupied a booth at the show. This company has a unique selling proposition – a set-top box that receives both terrestrial (read: free) digital TV and selected cable channels carried on secondary terrestrial channels. It also accesses a video-on-demand server through broadband connections (SDTV only) and has a customizable program guide for each user.

While not technically broadband, the nascent MH broadcast format was in abundance at NAB. MH uses MPEG-4 AVC coding in multiple streams with IP headers to send low-resolution video to handheld receivers, such as mobile phones and combo PDA/receiver products. MH is catching on in popularity with broadcasters, who see it as a more sensible alternative to simple multicasting of secondary channels that very few people may be watching.

ATSC MH on an iPhone? Brilliant! (There’s an app for everything!)

MY PICKS

After three days of walking around, I came up with a list of “finds” that I’ll share here. These are all products that represented clever thinking, breakthrough technology, and/or new price points. Some were easy to spot; others required quite a bit of digging. But they all made the trip to Lost Wages worth it (and that’s saying a lot, considering how airlines jam you in like sardines these days!).

TV Logic: This manufacturer of LCD broadcast monitor showed the world’s first active-matrix OLED broadcast monitor (unless you think Sony’s press announcement hit first, which it didn’t.) The LM-150 ($6,200) uses a LG Display 15-inch OLED panel with 1366×768 pixel resolution and come equipped with all the expected niceties including markers, crop marks, caption displays, over/underscan, and HD/SDI, HDMI, and analog video jacks. There’s also a 3D version in the works (TDM-150) that will sell for about $7,700.

This was the coolest product at the show. But will it REALLY last 30,000 hours?

Ericsson: In addition to a host of MPEG-4 and IPTV encoders, the ‘big E’ also showcased an innovative, iPad-like LCD touchscreen remote control/video viewer. Dubbed the IPTV remote, this product can dial up video from broadband, cable, satellite, and even your home network. Not only that, it can monitor weather sensors and your home security system. (Sound much like a Crestron product?) The IPTV remote will not be offered for sale at retail. Rather, it’s intended to be a content provider offering.

Christie: Have you seen their MicroTiles yet on the Colbert Report? These innovative ‘mini’ DLP projection cubes use LED light engines to power 800×600 DMDs (the actual working resolution is 720×540) and measure about 12” x 16.” They can be configured in just about any format you wish, including floor and ceiling projection, and up to 1024 can be driven at one time. The LED light source is specified to last over 60,000 hours. Think of LED-powered LEGOÔ blocks, and you’ve got the concept.

And YOU thought iPads were all the rage…

SmallHD: It wasn’t easy finding these guys behind the Sony booth, but they’d come up with a focus assist monitor for video and still cameras that they claim is the world’s smallest HD video monitor. The actual size is about 5.6 inches and the glass is WXGA (1280×800) LCD. It comes in two flavors – one for digital SLRs ($899) and one with SDI input ($1199). The monitors are an inch thick, weigh 10 ounces, and mount to hot shoes.

Z3 Technology: I found this booth on my last pass through the South Hall, and it was worth the stop. They showed the Z3-MVE-01 MPEG encoder, a compact box that codes HD up to 1920×1080 resolution using H.64 High Profile (up to 30Hz), with Ethernet and ASI outputs. Input compatibility includes composite, component, HDMI, DVI, and HD-SDI video…all for $5,000.

JVC’s 46-inch X-pol monitor always drew a crowd.

Adtec: I didn’t expect to see an HDMI-to-QAM modulator at the show, but that’s exactly what Adtec pulled out for me. The HDMI2QAM is a dual-channel design that encodes anything from the HDMI inputs (yes, they are HDCP-compliant) to a pair of quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM) channels, using MPEG-2 encoding. The modulation format is selectable between 64-QAM (SD), 128-QAM (not widely use), and 256-QAM (HD). Bit rates are constant and optimized for each mode (i.e. 38.8 Mb/s for each HD channel).

 

Cydle: This new start-up demonstrated an app for iPods and iPhones that allows viewing of ATSC MH (A/153) video. Along with it comes the i30,  a battery-powered docking station with built-in antenna (UHF). This means that your ‘i-whatever’ has two batteries to draw from, so if you run low on talk power, simply switch to the i30 battery. Both can charge simultaneously. Cool!

Sezmi’s personal program guide rivals TiVo for user-friendliness.

Panasonic: I’ve seen it before at CES, but it now has a model number. The company’s first production camcorder now goes by the moniker AG-3DA1 and is yours for the low, low price of just $21,000. (Well, all things are relative, I guess.) The camera weighs about 6 and a half pounds and uses a pair of 2.l07 MP sensors (full 1920×1080) to record 1080i and 720p HD content to SD memory cards. Convergence and horizontal and vertical displacement are fully adjustable.

Panasonic gets another mention for the AG-AF100, which they claim is the world’s first Micro 4/3-inch (1.33:1) HD camcorder. That’s a big deal because the 4/3” format matches the coverage area of 35mm film frames…which means you can use standard 35mm film camera lenses to get effects like shallow focus, soft focus, and vignettes. The camera records to SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards using the AVCHD format and supports 1080i/p and 720p formats, including 23.98/24/25 Hz.

Sony gets extra credit for announcing the world’s second (or first) AM-OLED professional video monitor. The PVM-750 ($3,850) is a bit smaller than TV Logic’s offering at 7.4 inches (16:9), and is not quite full HD resolution at 960×540 pixels. (Not that you’d notice on such  small screen!)  The PVM-750 has 3G HD-SDI, HDMI, and composite video inputs, the full range of adjustments from tally and markers to blue screen mode and AC/battery power operation. No word on lifespan of the display, but Sony uses small molecule (SM) OLED technology, as does LG Display.

LP Technologies rounds out my list with one of those ‘too good to be true’ products: An LCD-based 9 kHz to 3 GHz spectrum analyzer with USB 2.0 interface, built-in preamp, and Ethernet connectivity for remote monitoring. Sorry, no internal battery pack!) The USB hook-up can be used to save data in the Excel format, while the internal memory can tore 900 different waveforms. The display is a 6.4” 640×480 (VGA) LCD type. And the cost? Just $4,500…

Stick one of these on a Canon 5D MK II, and you can shoot an entire episode of ‘House!’ (No kidding!)

Product Review: JVC DLA-HD350 Home Theater Projector (March 2009)

For those readers who’ve been following the DLP vs. 3LCD projector controversies over the years, it’s easy to overlook JVC. They don’t have the market clout of Epson, or the strong brand identity of Texas Instruments’ Digital Light Processing. You won’t see their projectors hanging in an enormous booth at InfoComm or Cedia Expo.

Yet, JVC D-ILA projectors consistently produce some of the best-looking video and cinema images anywhere, and you won’t have to pay an arm and a leg to get that kind of image quality in your own home theater.

JVC’s “secret sauce” is simply an emphasis on photorealistic images with accurate color, tight grayscale tracking, and good visual dynamic range. Toss in an attractive form factor, super-quiet fans, and a minimalist design approach to connectors, remote controls, and bells and whistles, and what you wind up with is a projector that truly “walks the talk.”

JVC’s DLA-HD350 is one of a suite of D-ILA (Digital Image Light Amplifier) projectors that was announced at Cedia Expo 2008, two of which (DLA-HD750 and DLA-RS20) offer THX-certified operating modes. While the lower-priced DLA-HD350 lacks the THX imprimatur found on its more expensive sibling, that’s almost irrelevant – it provides so much control over image parameters that you won’t even notice.

Figure 1. This projector looks good even when it’s not doing anything.

OUT OF THE BOX

Once again, JVC’s put together a sleek, piano-black projector housing with a theme that can best be described as “stealth.” Unlike its predecessors, the DLA-HD350 features an offset motorized 2:1 ratio zoom lens, complete with +/-80% vertical and +/-34% horizontal power lens shift.

In general, longer focal-length lenses provide the best image geometry; free of pincushioning and lens barreling with sharp, square corners. Of course, you’ll need more horsepower from the projection lamp to compensate, depending on the effective lens aperture.

JVC has armed the DLA-HD350 with a 200-watt UHP lamp, and that’s more than sufficient to light up a 92-inch, zero-gain screen with a projection throw of 12 feet. The imaging panels are three .7” 1920×1080 D-ILA devices harnessed to JVC’s unique wire-grid dichroic filter system and a polarizing beam splitter.

Figure 2. There aren’t many video inputs, but with outboard switching, you’ll be covered for any signal source.

The connector complement is, as usual, sparse. Two HDMI 1.3 connectors are accompanied by a single analog component (YPbPr) input, along with the inevitable composite and S-video jacks. There’s also an RS232 port for remote control, and that’s all she wrote – no screen trigger, Ethernet port, etc.

If you want to use your desktop or notebook computer with the DLA-HD350, it will need a DVI-D or an HDMI port, plus the appropriate adapter cable. Compatible PC resolutions include VGA (640×480), SVGA (800×600), XGA (1024×768), WXGA (1280×768), WXGA+ (1440×900), SXGA (1280×1024), WSXGA+ (1680×1050), and WUXGA (1920×1200 with some pixel decimation).

REMOTE AND MENUS

Some people ask why I make such a big deal of the ergonomics of projector remote controls. Well, when you’ve tried as many remotes as I have over the past two decades, you realize just how difficult they can be to use in rooms with low or no light. And that’s a real PITA when trying to make a quick image adjustment or changing inputs. (Hey, not everyone uses RS232 control!)

JVC’s remotes have usually gotten it right, with a limited number of buttons that are spaced sufficiently far apart and are large enough so you can operate most of them by feel. What’s more, many of the functions you use the most frequently are accessible directly from the remote, including basic image adjustments, gamma, color temperature, and aspect ratios.

Figure 3. The supplied remote loses the “silver” look and goes back to basic black.

You can also directly access any of the five factory image presets (Cinema 1 and 2, Natural, Stage, and Dynamic), plus three user-programmable memory slots. The motorized lens functions are accessed by toggling the “Lens” button to go from Focus to Zoom and then to Lens Shift. As you do, different crosshatch patterns will appear on the screen to aid in sizing, positioning, and focusing the image.

Aspect ratio options include 4:3, 16:9, and Zoom. That’s it! The effect varies by signal input, but you’ll be able to show SD (4:3) and HD content correctly sized, stretch anamorphic DVDs, zoom into letterboxed 16:9 and 2.35:1 movies, expand 4:3 to fill the 16:9 image, and show 480i/p, 576i/p, and 720p content mapped 1:1 (window-boxed).

JVC has included variable edge masking in two steps (2.5% and 5%) for HD signal sources, and overscan (2.5% and 5%) for SD video inputs. 1920×1080 content from Blu-ray and other sources is shown with a 1:1 pixel map – if you want to crop it, you’ll have to us the masking control and zoom the image accordingly.

The DLA-HD350 is also equipped for CinemaScope anamorphic lens adapters, using a menu setting called “V-Stretch.” When a ‘Scope film is being shown, switching this feature “on” expands the letterboxed image to fill the frame, top to bottom. Your accessory anamorphic lens adapter then expands the image to restore the correct 2.35:1 image ratio.

Beyond the usual Big 5 image settings, JVC has provided a toolbox full of image tweaks for more advanced calibrations. Those include four factory-preset color temperatures (5800K, 6500, 7500k, and 9300k) that can be saved to three Custom memories. (But wait, there’s more!)

For those of us who are real nitpickers, JVC has also included multi-level gamma correction, using both preset gamma curves (1.8, 2.2, etc.) and user-adjustable red, green, and blue gamma tweaks at 13 different luminance levels, five of which range from black to 20% white.

In order to use this feature correctly, you’ll need a color analyzer that can provide continuous RGB histograms at the desired level of adjustment. I’ve charged ColorFacts 7.5 with this task, and I let it update me on color temperature and RGB levels in real time as I try to keep the mix of RGB consistent at each luminance level. The result, when done correctly, is a steady grayscale track with consistent color temperature from black to white.

If you’re not quite so brave (or crazy) as to try a major gamma overhaul, JVC also gives you three preset gamma calibrations (A, B, and C), but no information on what they correlate to. Based on my measurements, Gamma A is roughly 1.8, Gamma B is 2.0, and Gamma C is 2.2. (Sorry, no 2.4 or deeper film gamma is available.)

Additional tweaks include Sharpness and Detail Enhancement (leave ‘em off with HD sources), analog, mosquito, and MPEG block noise reduction, and three levels of color transient improvement. You can also set the range of HDMI signals (16-235 or 0-255 gray levels), select the correct color space (4:4:4, 4:2:2, or RGB), and enable/disable HDMI CEC (control projector operation through the HDMI port).

Last but not least, JVC has a three-step lens iris, identified as Dark, Medium, and Bright. It’s not a dynamic iris that tracks changes with input level – just a preset iris. My suggestion is to leave it off – the DLA-HD350’s black levels are pretty good, as you’ll see shortly.

ON THE TEST BENCH

I gave the DLA-HD350 a pretty vigorous workout, using an AccuPel HDG4000 to generate all the calibration test patterns in the 1080p/60 format. Additional content came from a pair of Blu-ray players – Samsung’s BD-P1500, and LG’s new BD300. I also watched live broadcast HD feeds from the NCAA men’s basketball tournament (CBS 1080i HD) and a few NBC HD programs (The Office and 30 Rock).

After calibration for the best grayscale images and widest dynamic range, I measured projector brightness at 413 ANSI lumens in Cinema 1 mode, with the iris set to position 3 (Bright). That was the low reading, and brightness ranged as high as 5 lumens in Dynamic mode. Additional readings included 445 lumens in Cinema 2 and 483 lumens in Natural mode. Brightness uniformity was very good at 78% to the average corner and 66.5% to the worst corner.

Contrast measurements were also impressive. ANSI (average) contrast clocked in at 350:1 in Cinema 1 mode, with peak contrast measured from the same checkerboard pattern at 707:1. I should repeat that I had the projector’s iris set to Bright mode for all of these tests, resulting in an average black level reading of 3.14 lumens. That’s about the best black level performance I’ve seen from any D-ILA projector, and it’s certainly as good as any current 3LCD model.

Figure 4. Maybe I spent too much time fiddling with the Gamma correction circuit. But look at that beautiful response!

Figure 5. The DLA-HD350 tracks a given color temperature very closely.

White balance uniformity was outstanding, with a maximum shift of 168 Kelvin across a full white test pattern. Not surprisingly, color temperature tracking from 20 to 100 IRE was very tight, with a maximum shift of 237 Kelvin as shown in Figure 4. (Any display that can keep that shift to 250 Kelvin or lower is doing very well in my book!)

The Gamma correction menu has a lot to do with this, although I did find its response a bit erratic at times. More than once, I’d select a given luminance value and color, only to see the value of that color jump by two to six points before I even entered a new value. JVC needs to fix this glitch, which makes back-and-forth tuning across red, green, and blue more of a chore than it should be.

After an hour of playing “ping pong” with the gamma menu, I came up with the track shown in Figure 5. This gamma calculated out to 2.24 and provided the best results for viewing everything from live HD sports to The Dark Night, my current favorite Blu-ray disc for checking out shadow detail and low-level grayscale tracking.

Figure 6. Now, that’s what I call a WIDE color gamut…

As for color reproduction, the DLA-HD350 excels in this area. The projector’s available color gamut, shown in Figure 6, is very wide – wide enough, in fact, to show the digital cinema P3 (minimum) gamut. You’ve got lots of real estate to work with here; enough to handle all standard digital TV color spaces and perhaps even some that haven’t been invented yet.

More importantly, the projector’s RGB and CMY coordinates are very close to ideal for the REC.709 HDTV standard. All that’s needed is a way to dial back color saturation to precisely hit those targets when viewing DTV content, something JVC ought to add as a switchable menu option.

IMAGE QUALITY

I’ve noticed that, out of all the available imaging technologies; images created with liquid crystal on silicon (LCoS) panels most closely resemble those of motion picture film. The pixel structure of 1920×1080 LCoS panels is fine and indistinct, thanks to a very high fill factor. But image sharpness isn’t compromised. And I prefer real-time RGB color mixing to sequential (scanning) color with its rainbow artifacts.

The DLA-HD350 has a Silicon Optix Reon-VX image processor tucked inside, and it handled every interlaced SD and HD source from the red and blue laser versions of the HQV Realta tests with equal aplomb. Both the Video Resolution and Film Resolution tests from the Blu-ray disc were smooth as silk, with no judder and flicker. The rotating bars were also smooth, with just the tiniest suggestion of aliasing.

To appreciate just how good this projector can look, spin up The Dark Knight on Blu-ray in the 1080p/24 format, and give close scrutiny to pastel shades and flesh tones, particularly in nighttime scenes or under fluorescent lighting.  The Joker’s first encounter with the Gotham City mob is an excellent place to start, as the assembled gang has a wide range of skin tones from light to dark – contrasting, of course, with Heath Ledger’s white pancake makeup, purple suit, and cherry-red lipstick.

For a test drive of dynamic range, watch the IMAX high-speed chase sequence underneath Gotham, and you’ll see that deep shadows hold up quite well, even with bright headlights and brilliant explosions dominating the frame. Finish things off with the climatic ferry scene and the final confrontation between Batman and The Joker, high atop the unfinished skyscraper. You’ll still see plenty of detail, even with the intentionally poor lighting.

Another great test of dynamic range is the BBC’s Planet Earth series, also on Blu-ray. Check out From Pole to Pole and you’ll be surprised just how many shades of subtle color and gray you can see in icebergs and snow packs. The footage in this series comes from a variety of sources, including 35mm film and 1080p/24 HD camcorders. No matter, it all looks amazing, in particular the views from outer space.

With this projector, you’ll clearly see the difference in exposure and gamma/color correction for TV sitcoms and dramas when compared to feature films. I noticed a much wider range of exposures during The Office and 30 Rock, and while both shows were certainly enjoyable on my 92-inch Da-Lite JKP Affinity screen, they didn’t quite have the contrast punch of the Blu-ray material.

CONCLUSIONS

I’ll make it short and sweet. For $5,999, you get one heckuva home theater projector that’s absolutely up to the challenge of showing BD and other HD content to its full potential. Excellent color, stable gamma and grayscale tracks, wide dynamic range with plenty of contrast – it’s all here.

For that matter, the DLA-HD350 is good enough in my opinion to use as an evaluation monitor in a color correction and exposure-timing post-production suite. All JVC needs to do is fix that cranky gamma correction circuit and allow even deeper gamma correction, down to 2.6. Toss in advanced color management and an optional HD-SDI input, and they’d REALLY have something!

JVC DLA-HD350 Home Theater Projector

MSRP: $5,999

Specifications:

Dimensions: 14.4W” x 6.6H” x 18.9D”
Weight: 24.3 lbs
Imaging device: 3x .7” 1920×1080 D-ILA (LCOS)
Lamp: 200W UHP
Resolution: 1920×1080
Lens: 21.3 – 42.6 mm (2:1) power zoom/focus with motorized H/V lens shift
Inputs: 1 composite, 1 S-video, 1 component YPbPr, 2x HDMI 1.3, RS232C
Analog compatibility: 480i/p, 576i/p, 720p 60/50, 1080i 60/50

PC compatibility (through HDMI): VGA-SXGA, WXGA, WXGA+, WUXGA
Digital compatibility: 480i/p, 576i/p, 720p 60/50, 1080i 60/50, 1080 24p/60p/50p, Speakers: None

JVC America / Professional
1700 Valley Road
Wayne, NJ 07470
(800) 582-5825

http://tinyurl.com/cq9l37

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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