Posts Tagged ‘LED’

The 3D Fire Sales have Begun

PriceSCAN has just released its latest 3D Blu-ray Player Index, and it’s a doozy.

The 3D BD Player Index is a composite of all models currently at retail, and the average price for those models has dropped by 26% in six months, with a 10.6% drop in just the past week.

PriceSCAN listed Sony’s BDP-S570 as a good example of aggressive discounting. This player, which required a firmware upgrade to support 3D playback, has fallen from a retail price of $250 to $170 since late February.

From my own experience, I was able to score Samsung’s BD-C6900 3D BD player for just $244 plus shipping from Amazon in early September. Its original list price was closer to $400 when unveiled shortly after CES.

These rapid drops in retail prices reflect the low level of enthusiasm for 3D TV that has been evidenced to date. In an earlier post, I referenced an NPD Group study that showed only 11% of respondents in a recent poll had any plans to buy a 3D TV in the near future, citing concerns about technology, cost issues, the lack of content, and the need to wear expensive, proprietary glasses.

Can prices on BD players and TVs drop low enough to overcome the other objections? Probably not, as the lack of content is still a big problem. There needs to be bucketloads of 3D content available to drive sales, and right now, we’re talking about glassfuls.

If you are thinking about taking the dive into 3D, you’d be best off sitting on your hands for a few more weeks. I have a feeling we’re going to see even deeper discounts on BD players and TVs, probably on the order of 30 – 40% by the time January rolls around.

Think I’m nuts? I just Googled retail prices for the BD-C6900, and it’s now down to $214 (plus shipping) at Amazon, Tiger Direct, PC Richard, Vann’s, and ABT.  (Buyer’s remorse alert – I bought one too soon!!)

Toshiba TVs: A Fade to Black? UPDATED

EDITOR’S UPDATE: Toshiba has indeed begun the process of moving its Wayne, NJ consumer products division to Irvine, California; integrating it with the company’s IT division. A press release detailing this move (which I missed, whoops!) came out on May 6, 2010.

Yes, Toshiba is following Samsung’s lead by consolidating the offices and operations of its consumer and professional divisions. But that’s only a sidebar to what is potentially a big (and perhaps insurmountable) problem facing the company, and that’s a slow and steady decline in market share among LCD TV brands.

According to an August 18th press release from industry analyst Riddhi Patel of iSuppli, Toshiba’s LCD TV market share in the United States has shrunken from 7.4% with 570,000 TVs shipped in the 2nd quarter of 2009 to 5.5% with 402,000 shipments in Q2 of 2010.

That’s not an insubstantial number. To put that into starker terms, Toshiba’s LCD TV shipments have dropped by almost 30% in one year, which should be sending up a huge red flag in the company’s executive offices…wherever they wind up next.

What is also alarming is that Toshiba’s market share has now fallen into Pioneer and Hitachi territory from 2007 and 2008. A few years ago, Pioneer had a 7% share among plasma TV shipments that dropped to about 5% within a two-year period (while the company was also hemorrhaging red ink). By late 2008, they had decided to throw in the towel and exited the plasma TV business in the spring of 2009.

Remember Hitachi? They once led the market in rear projection TVs and made some top-notch CRT sets, too. Hitachi was also a leader in plasma technology, building an enormous plasma fab on the island of Kyushu with partner Fujitsu in 1999.

Today, that plant is largely superfluous, as the company has withdrawn from selling plasma TVs. And you won’t find any Hitachi LCD TVs at Best Buy, or HH Gregg, or Wal-Mart, or Sears (they do have some nice Hitachi electric drills, though!).

Looking through the Amazon.com Web site, I found a handful of Hitachi sets that are either the last left in stock, or used models.  (And the company was conspicuous by its absence at CES 2010.)

The iSuppli report lists the current top five LCD TV brands as Samsung, Vizio, Sony, LG, and (surprise!) Sanyo, leaving Toshiba in the #6 slot. That’s quite a fall, as they were ranked #4 in Q2 of 2009. Panasonic showed up at #8 with a 3.1% market share, but their core business in plasma TVs.

Another shocker: Sharp, once the leader in LCD TV sales, brought up the rear with a 2.4% share, a decline from 4.7% in Q2 of 2009 and a drop in Y-Y shipments of 49%. Yikes! (Is Sharp on the LCD TV endangered species list, too? That’s another story for another time…)

Given all of the LCD fab capacity in Asia and indications of LCD TV oversupply in the channel, the logical result is another round of price wars. That’s a game that Toshiba can’t compete in, because they don’t manufacture LCD panels, and would have to do some serious shopping in Taiwan and China to keep manufacturing costs down.

However, three of the five brands ahead of them do make LCD panels  (Yep, Sanyo does make LCD panels, although they also buy glass on the open market), the exceptions being Vizio and Sony. But Sony is still sitting pretty because they are major investors in both the Korean S-LCD Gen 7 joint venture fab with Samsung and Sharp’s new Gen 10 LCD fab in Kameyama, Japan. (Sony owns about 34% of the Kameyama factory and a corresponding amount of the LCD panel output.)

Toshiba was one of the first companies to introduce LED backlights in their TVs. In fact, they were one of the first companies to use the term ‘LED TV,’ thereby creating instant consumer confusion about perceived differences between LCD and LED TVs.

The past decade hasn’t been kind to Toshiba. Their prized HD-DVD technology was vanquished by Sony’s Blu-ray format (supposedly with the help of a $400 million dollar payoff to Warner Home Media), and the crown jewel – the DVD format – is showing its age and in decline.

Toshiba was one of the few companies to show working 3D TV sets with active shutter technology at CES 2010. And their Cell TV architecture (co-developed with Sony) is a powerful platform on which to build next-gen TV designs that can stream multiple channels of HDTV programs and incorporate hand gesture recognition for operation and control.

But all of that may be for naught, if this negative market share trend continues.  It doesn’t help that Toshiba is perceived as a ‘mid range’ TV brand now, according to what an industry colleague heard when he recently visited several Best Buy stores in southern California and could find only two models of Toshiba LCD TVs for sale.

The marketplace is indeed a harsh mistress…

3D: Expect a Long Slog

3D: Expect a Long Slog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For most viewers, 3D is still an expensive novelty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3D TV at Best Buy: An afterthought?

To complete the 3D off-axis viewing tests described in my previous post, I drove to a local Best Buy store on Sunday, June 27. The actual store will remain anonymous, but is located near a major shopping mall and down the street from other big box retailers.

I figured they’d have at least one Samsung and one Panasonic 3D TV demo set up and running. However, what I found when I got there just left me shaking my head in disgust.

The Samsung 3D TV demo was set up at the edge of the Magnolia sub-store, and featured their top-of-the-line UN55C9000 LED-backlight 3D LCD TV. Best Buy had it on sale for $6,299 and the demo was running a clip from Monsters vs. Aliens from Samsung’s BD-C6900 3D Blu-ray player. A comfy couch rounded out the picture.

The demo was running nicely, except that only one pair of Samsung 3D glasses was available for viewing, and it was tethered via a long cable to a stand behind the couch. That didn’t work out so well for the four people standing there when I arrived – we were all jockeying for the same pair of glasses.

Over in the Best Buy TV aisles, I found Panasonic’s TC-P50VT20 50-inch 3D plasma on an end-of-aisle shelf with not much room around it to watch the 3D demo, and no place to sit. It was on sale for $2,199. Next to the TV was a locked plexiglass box with two pairs of Panasonic active shutter glasses, and I had to hunt down a sales associate to open the box so I could squat on my knees (not too comfortable) and watch a 3D travelogue of Rome.

What caught my eye below the Panasonic plasma was an advertised special for Samsung’s BD-C6900 Blu-ray player, even though Panasonic’s BDT-350 was clearly running the show. No one seemed to be paying any attention to this discrepancy until I pointed it out to the sales associate who procured my glasses. He then quickly yanked the sign, but didn’t replace it with another. Nor was there any mention of the specially-priced Panasonic  3D TV, glasses, and Blu-ray player ‘bundle’ to be found.

Well, that doesn’t look right…

Around the corner, there was another small theater set up, this time showcasing a Samsung 46-inch 3D LCD TV (I didn’t check to see which model). It, too, was running clips from Monsters vs. Aliens in 3D…except that the clips weren’t in 3D, they were 2D.

The fellow sitting on the leather couch behind me, watching through a pair of Samsung 3D glasses, seemed blissfully unaware of this fact until I mentioned it. I watched him fidget with the glasses for almost five minutes until I finally tipped him off, after which he tossed them on the couch and walked away in disgust, muttering “…I wondered why it didn’t look like 3D.”

I wandered back over to the Magnolia section, where a Panasonic 65-inch plasma was running a variety of HD video clips and advertising (of all things) Mitsubishi’s Laser VUE rear-projection TVs. (Wonder how Panasonic feels about that?) I was searching for the last 3D demo in the store – a Panasonic  TC-P50VT25 plasma set hanging on the wall.

Well, I found it, except that there were no 3D glasses available for viewing. But that didn’t matter as it turned out, because the TV was only showing 2D coverage of the World Cup. The irony of this was the empty Panasonic stand positioned in front of the TV with a placard that said, “You have to experience TV in 3D!” and exhorted me to try on a pair of 3D glasses to get the full Panasonic 3D experience. OK, so where were the glasses, exactly? And where was ESPN’s 3D World Cup video feed? Who dropped the ball here? (Sorry, bad pun…)

All in all, it was a pretty lame exhibition of 3D by Best Buy. Demo #1 had but a single pair of glasses available, while demo #2 was set up in a crowded area where no one could watch and you needed to pick a lock to get at the glasses. Demo #3 wasn’t even showing 3D content in the first place, and demo #4 was completely missing in action.

So…tell me, how is a consumer supposed to make an educated 3D TV buying decision under these circumstances?

Game On! Early tests of 3D plasma vs. 3D LCD

Consumer Reports has posted a short video clip that shows their preliminary tests of Panasonic 3D plasma and Samsung 3D LCD TVs. You can find it here.

http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/video-hub/electronics/televisions/16935238001/

During the clip, they point out that while both technologies exhibit high contrast 3D images, the Samsung images essentially go black if the viewer lays down while watching TV with 3D glasses. (This puts the polarization axis of the glasses at 90 degrees to the screen, and is not recommended in any case!)

Performing the same test with the Panasonic plasma resulted in a slightly dimmer image, and nothing more.

There’s an easy explanation as to why this happens with LCD TVs. Liquid crystals can only shutter light that is already polarized, which is why each LC pixel element has two polarizers – one mounted at the rear of the pixel wall, and one at the front. Rotating a pair of active shutter glasses 90 degrees in front of the screen in effect acts as a third light shutter and cancels out whatever light remains after the LC imaging process.

Ever hold two pairs of polarized sunglasses at right angles to each other? Then you’ve seen the same effect.

Now, let me state that lying down on your side while watching 3D is a pretty dumb idea all around. The images are oriented in the wrong axis with respect to your vision, and it’s also got to be uncomfortable!(Come on, how lazy can one get?)

Even so, this video demonstrates clearly that moderate changes in polarization angles make images from 3D LCD TVs noticeably darker, so if you tilt your head to one side or the other while wearing glasses and watching a 3D LCD TV, you will experience this effect.

Why doesn’t this happen with plasma? Because it doesn’t use polarized light, just a burst of light from color phosphors. OLED 3D TVs (if and when they ever get here) are also free from this cross-polarization problem.

This is another example of why 3D TV needs to be thoroughly explained to potential buyers so that they don’t run into any unpleasant surprises after the sale.