Posts Tagged ‘LG’

Product Review: A Tale of Two (3D) Televisions

The great 3D TV debates continue as 2011 winds down. “Active 3D is best!” cries one group. “No, passive 3D is better!” replies another. “Don’t jump in yet, wait for autostereo TVs!” warns yet another group.

 

Here are the facts. At present, there are a handful of manufacturers of active 3D TVs, including market leaders Samsung, Panasonic, and Sony. On the other side of the street, we have passive 3D TVs available from LG, Toshiba, and Vizio.

 

There are other companies playing in the 3D space to a lesser degree, including Sharp (active 3D) and JVC (passive 3D). And Toshiba is trying to be all things to all people, supporting a few active models and also announcing that they will bring a 55-inch autostereo TV to the Japanese market this fall.

 

All of this back-and-forth volleying is accomplishing one thing, if nothing else: It’s confusing the heck out of potential buyers. No one wants to sink a few thousand dollars into a 3D TV system and realize belatedly that they picked the wrong horse in the race.

 

Problem is; no one can say for certain which horse will win that race. Active 3D has its detractors for using expensive, battery-operated glasses that can create eye fatigue in certain individuals from flicker. However, an active 3D TV delivers all 1920×1080 pixels for every video frame in both 2D and 3D mode. And there are no patterned barriers attached to the screen surface to affect 2D viewing.

 

Passive 3D has simplicity and lower cost going for it – you can use the same circularly-polarized glasses you brought home from the local Cineplex – but presents a visible artifact in the form of horizontal patterned film retarder lines when watching 3D content and sitting closer than 2x the screen diagonal. And passive 3D TVs have very narrow ‘usable’ viewing angles, compared to active 3D TVs.

 

As for autostereo, let’s just say right now that it’s not really ready for prime time yet, based on what I saw at CES 2011 in the Toshiba booth. The appeal of glassless 3D is easy to understand, but it makes the design of the TV much more complex. Plus, there’s a tradeoff: The more ‘views’ you have on an autostereo TV, the lower the overall resolution of each view.

 

SEEING DOUBLE

 

In my tests of 3D TVs, both active and passive, I look very carefully for evidence of ghosting, or double images. Ghosting is caused by insufficient suppression of opposite-eye images, and results in double vision (and often, headaches).

 

The ability of a 3D TV design and its associated eyewear to suppress ghosting is called its extinction ratio.  The laws of physics say that active LCD TVs will have a harder time suppressing ghosts than plasma TVs, and that’s because of all the polarizers used in a typical LCD TV: They interact with the polarizers used in 3D eyewear and can cancel each other out.

 

There is even an inconsistency among active 3D TVs. Samsung and Panasonic use dual polarizers in their active eyewear. Sony, however, opted to go with a single polarizer for two reasons. First, the resulting images are brighter. And second, it helps to minimize flicker and eyestrain. But there’s a trade-off, and that is a lower extinction ratio and lots of ghost images with small head tilt.

 

Passive 3D TVs don’t get a free pass here. One set of polarizers is mounted on the TV screen surface (those afore-mentioned film patterned retarders) to work with the other set in the ‘el cheapo’ passive glasses. At certain narrow viewing angles, their extinction ratio is quite high. But at comparatively small offset viewing angles, the double images are apparent, as I’ll demonstrate shortly.

 

TWO FOR THE MONEY

 

I decided to see what the fuss was all about with passive 3D TVs and lined up a pair of 47-inch models to see what they could do. LG’s 47LW6500 ($1,399) is at the top of their 3D TV line and comes with four pairs of passive glasses. It’s a 240 Hz LED-backlit LCD TV with four HDMI inputs (1.4a compatible, of course), plus a host of network functions (Smart TV) and other bells and whistles.

Figure 1. LG's 47LW6500 3D LCD TV

Figure 2. Toshiba's 47TL515U 3D LCD TV

Toshiba’s 47TL515U ($1,299 SRP) just came to market and offers much the same goodies as the LG Set. (I’ve been told it even uses LG Display panels.) This is also a 240 Hz LED-backlit LCD TV with 4 HDMI inputs, Net TV, and one leg up on the LG set: It’s equipped with the new InstaPort HDMI connector. That means fast switching between HDMI sources.

 

To be honest, there’s not a whole lot of difference between the two TVs. The LG scans TV channels faster; the Toshiba changes inputs faster. Both TVs have multifunction remotes, but the Toshiba remote is far more complicated and difficult to use. There are just too many small buttons, and the navigation mousedisk is mounted coaxially inside a second navigation ring, which also has four pushbuttons on it. You can’t use this remote easily even with the lights on.

 

The LG remote is FAR more user-friendly, with big, white buttons, large blue volume and channel controls, and a simpler mousedisk for navigating through menus. In addition, the LG’s 3D on/off button is nestled between the volume and channel rocker switches and clearly marker “3D” in bright red. In contrast, it took me a while to find the 3D mode button on the Toshiba – it’s part of a row of four tiny black buttons near the bottom of the remote.

Figure 3. Which remote would you rather use? And can you find the 3D buttons?

Figure 4. Here they are!

MENUS AND ADJUSTMENTS

 

The menus on both TVs leave a bit to be desired. Toshiba’s menus appear as rotary icons near the bottom of the screen. You scroll (spin, rotate) left or right to bring up the desired menu, then hit select and start making your choices or adjustments. It’s a bit different than the usual horizontal bar menus, but you’ll get used to it quickly enough.

 

On the LG set, pressing the Home button brings up a master screen that shows Smart TV icons, a settings icon, and an input icon. Whatever you’re watching on screen is reduced to a small window. You then have to navigate to the ‘Settings’ button and select it to get into any menus. It’s slightly annoying, but you shouldn’t have to adjust it very much.

 

I usually go into more detail about menu settings here. Suffice it to say that both TVs give you a full range of adjustments over images, with the exception of 3D. The 47LW6500 has two ISF Expert modes in addition to Intelligent (ambient light sensing), Vivid, Standard and Cinema presets, and you can get the TV’s white balance very close to the BT.709 target of 6500 degrees pretty easily. Ditto the 47TL515U, which also has an ‘expert’ mode for calibration, and offers two Movie modes, Sports, and Autoview (ambient light sensing) presets.

 

As mentioned earlier, both TVs offer 240 Hz scanning and de-judder circuits that can convert a film look to live video, along with automatic contrast, adjustable gamma, and black level settings. All routine stuff and all things you should shut off if you want to calibrate either TV to work at its best. The digital noise reduction circuits are handy if you are viewing video content that has been over-compressed. That shouldn’t be much of a problem with HDTV programs, but is quite common with standard-definition programming.

 

TUNING THEM UP

 

What I was interested in seeing was how well each TV worked in 2D mode after calibration, and what happened to image quality when 3D mode was selected. Here’s where the biggest difference was found between the two TVs – the 47LW6500 will not let you make ANY adjustments or access any menus in 3D mode, while the 47TL515U will. And if you think that’s not such a big deal, have I got some histograms for you…

Figure 5a. Here's the gamma curve for the 47LW6500 after calibration - a beautiful 2.31 arc.

Figure 5b. And here's the corresponding after-calibration 2.44 curve on the 47TL515U.

Figure 5a shows the final gamma curve for the Toshiba, while 5b shows the LG gamma after calibration. Both curves are consistent coming out of black and mimic the performance of a CRT. Where things get dicey is when 3D mode is switched on. The LG TV switches to a much brighter image with higher black levels and an S-curve gamma, which measures approximately 1.5 – and there not a thing you can do to fix it.

 

On the other hand, the Toshiba set exhibited a remarkably consistent gamma after its 3D mode was turned on, with a curve similar to 2D mode that measured 2.36. AND you can go back into the menu and tweak it if you want to.

Figure 6a. Yikes! What happened to the LG's gamma performance?

Figure 6b. Toshiba maintains its gamma settings even in 3D mode.

How about color temperature? Figures 7a and b show grayscale tracks for both sets in 2D mode, and they’re looking pretty good, eh? But switch to 3D mode, and as you can see in figures 8a and b, the 47LW6500 jumps way above 9300 degrees, while the 47LT515U doesn’t move nearly that high (about 6800 degrees) – and again, you can fix it.

 

This is what you don’t hear about 3D TVs: Their 2D calibrations usually go out the window when 3D mode is selected, and most of the time, you can’t do a darn thing about it. Fortunately, Toshiba does preserve your ability to compensate for any shifts caused in 3D mode.

 

Let’s talk about color accuracy. HDTV content for television and released on Blu-ray disc is supposed to conform to the ITU BT.709 color space, which produces colors that are somewhat less saturated than the full color gamut of LCD and plasma TVs. So to be ‘precise,’ any TV ought to match that color encoding as closely as possible.

 

Guess what? Both TVs do just that, as seen in figures 9a and 9b. LG gets the blue ribbon for coming closest to the desired RGB and CMY coordinates and both sets provide color management software (CMS) to fine-tune the x,y locus of each coordinate. Note that the coordinates shift on both TVs when in 3D mode (why is that???) and the shift is more noticeable on the LG TV, as evidenced by the green, cyan, magenta, and yellow targets.

Figure 7a. The 47LW6500 tracks a stable grayscale in 2D mode...

Figure 7b. And so does the 47TL515U.

 

Figure 8a. Switch to 3D mode on the LG, and all bets are off with respect to color temperature.

Figure 8b. Meanwhile, everything is rock-steady in 3D on the Toshiba.

Figure 9a. Here's the 47LW6500's color gamut. The dark outline is the BT.709 color space.

Figure 9b. And here's the 47TL515U's color gamut, mapped against the BT.709 color space.

VIEWING 3D

 

For my viewing tests, I used a Blu-ray copy of Avatar, played out from a Samsung C6900 3D BD player. Since both TVs use circular polarization in their eyewear, I was able to watch with many different pairs of glasses and saw no difference in the results.

 

First off, 3D images seemed to have more depth on the Toshiba. Can’t tell you why that was, but I definitely noticed it. Not to say that the LG set didn’t do a good job  – it did, but the Toshiba 3D images seemed to be more realistic, especially in the scenes with people gathered around the sacred trees, campfires, in the lab, and in the war room.

 

Color quality was better on the Toshiba for the reasons enumerated in the previous section. It doesn’t jump that far out of calibration in 3D mode. The LG TV does get considerably brighter and colder in color temperature, and the overall picture quality isn’t as pleasing to the eye.

 

Both TVs seem to switch on their motion de-juddering circuits in 3D mode, so you need to make sure that function is disabled completely if you want a true ‘film’ look when watching 3D Blu-ray discs. Look for a menu function that shuts down 240 Hz mode. (And make sure you’ve shut off ALL other picture enhancements like dynamic contrast, auto black levels, etc.)

 

Now for my viewing distance suggestions. I generally counsel people to shoot for a seating distance equal to 1.3 – 1.5x of the screen diagonal, in order to get a more immersive 3D effect. That rule of thumb works great with active shutter TVs, and also holds true for 3D front projectors, but it doesn‘t hold up with passive 3D TVs.

 

The reason? You’ll see the FPR lines, which appear as thin, horizontal black bands. Close one eye or the other, and there they are! In fact, you’ll see them with both eyes open, and it’s like the old ‘screen door’ effect with low-resolution LCD projectors from the mid-1990s. Kinda distracting, in my opinion.

 

So it forces you to sit farther away from the 3D TV, which is exactly the opposite of what you want to do! The best 3D experiences come when the screen fills 50% or more of your field of view, and you’ve removed as many distracting 3D artifacts from outside that field. That’s one reason why 3D works so much better in movie theaters than at home – there is practically zero ambient light and the screens are big, so your brain locks onto the 3D illusion much more quickly.

 

Practically speaking, you need to sit about 2x the screen diagonal (94”, or about eight feet) to minimize the FPR lines. I’ve tested this viewing distance with a variety of viewers, young and old, and it holds up. And that, in my mind, is the big strike against passive 3D: You want to sit closer, but you can’t because of this picture artifact.

 

The other artifact you’ll notice from time to time is crosstalk. It depends on your viewing angle and the type of content, but it is most often seen with titles, high contrast fine detail, and angular objects on light backgrounds. I created a few test patterns to check for crosstalk and you can see the actual results in figure 10a. Both TVs suffer from this problem – it’s a direct consequence of using FPRs.

Figure 10a. Here's what crosstalk looks like on a passive 3D set.

Figure 10b. Here's the view through one eye of a passive 3D image. You can see the FPR lines running horizontally along the walkway in the foreground and across the railroad tracks.

Figure 10c. Here's a close-up view of the FPR artifact.

THE WRAP-UP

 

Did I mention that both TVs make some beautiful pictures in 2D mode? No FPR artifacts are seen here; just full-resolution 1080p images with good contrast and color saturation. In fact, the 47LW6500 is one of the better 2D LCD TVs I’ve tested recently, and the 47TL515U is right up there with it.

 

The devil is in the details, and in 3D mode, the 47TL515U is clearly the better performer. Just the fact that it lets you fine-tune image settings while in 3D mode is a BIG plus in my book. It is nice to know that all of your hard work in 2D mode won’t be lost, and you’ll see some really good-looking 3D as a result.

 

With the 47LW6500, you are out of luck. 3D pictures will be a lot brighter, black levels will elevate, and white crush will be present… and you’ll just have to live with whatever the TV shows you. If there’s any consolation, you’ll get into 3D mode a lot faster with the LG TV ( that big fat 3D button is a great idea) and the Toshiba isn’t as user-friendly when it comes to the remote control.

 

By the way, both sets support all standard 3D formats, including side-by-side and top + bottom frame compatible, and the frame-sequential Blu-ray format is recognized automatically by both TVs. (You can also horse around with converting 2D to 3D, if you have nothing better to do…)

 

 

Wishing Won’t Make It So

These Elite sets may look great, but you can't get by on looks anymore in the TV game.

Last Thursday in New York City, Pioneer and Sharp took the wraps off a new line of high-end LCD TVs that will carry the familiar Elite brand. These products are intended to fill a hole in the high-end television retail channel; one that was created when Pioneer pulled the plug on their Kuro plasma sets a couple of years ago.

 

For readers who didn’t know, Sharp owns a 14% stake in Pioneer, and the two companies have collaborated on products in the past. You may not remember, but Sharp once carried 42-inch and 50-inch Pioneer plasma TVs in their line. That was back in the day when large LCD panels were difficult to manufacture and very expensive.

 

It’s instructive here to remember why Pioneer pulled out of the plasma TV business. First off, Pioneer had the smallest fabrication capacity of any of the big plasma brands, cranking out a fraction of the monthly yields of Panasonic and Samsung.

 

Second, Pioneer made the mistake of continuing to focus only on high-end retail channels for their plasma TVs long after it was clear that the plasma market was being commoditized. Panasonic’s best plasma TV sets were widely available through numerous brick-and-mortar stores for much lower prices and offered comparable performance to Pioneer’s offerings.

 

Even the vaunted Kuro sets couldn’t compete. Sure, they had super-deep black levels. But the additional first surface polarizers used to pull off that trick also dropped brightness levels to the point where the Kuro sets had to be viewed in dark or near-dark rooms. Panasonic, Samsung, and LG suffered from no such limitations.

 

In the end, the math is what did Pioneer in. You can’t make money these days selling a mass-produced flat screen display product in limited quantities at a price premium. It simply will not work. That is one reason why Hitachi exited the plasma TV business and ultimately the LCD TV business in the United States.

 

It appears that Pioneer didn’t learn that lesson. Neither did Sharp, who has a seen a precipitous drop in LCD TV market share since 2006. The Aquos brand, which once commanded better than 20% of the U.S. TV market, now struggles to hold onto 3% of it. Even the new Quattron four-color LCD TVs have met largely with yawns, and it doesn’t help that TVs are a tough sell in general these days. (Notice how even market giant Vizio has been pushing tablets and phones lately?)

 

According to a story in TWICE, the motivation for the new Elite LCD TVs came from Cedia dealers who said there was a definite hole in the market after the Kuro sets were discontinued and Runco shut down its Vidikron brand. (Runco/Planar’s misadventures in the home theater channel are another story altogether.)

 

Hence, Sharp and Pioneer created an Elite sales and marketing channel, with Sharp providing the TVs and Pioneer supplying Blu-ray players and AV receivers. The Elite TVs will be sold exclusively in North America, limited at first to about 750 dealers with the possibility of expansion into a larger base.

 

Elite dealers can either order TVs directly from Sharp or through a one-step distribution process. That last sentence should give pause; moving products to distribution guarantees that prices will drop over time and more retail outlets will be found to increase the volume of sales, thereby removing the ‘elite’ part of the equation. That’s what distributors do, unless they’re not serious about making money.

 

If this is such a good idea, why haven’t Sony and Samsung taken a similar approach? Sony’s woes with TV profitability are well-documented, while Samsung (and LG, and even Panasonic) recognized that mass-produced products can’t be sold in onesies and twosies for very long. But with Sharp’s inability to reverse its six-year slide in TV market share and Pioneer’s apparent jonesing to get back into the TV business, it appears both companies will give any idea a try these days.

 

For the record, the two Elite models that were launched were the 60-inch PRO-60X5FD, shipping this week for $5,999, and the 70-inch PRO-70X5FD, shipping later this month for $8,499. Those same screen sizes in the Aquos LCD TV line can be had for about $3,300 and $4,800, respectively.

 

The usual hype accompanied the press event, with Pioneer claiming these sets have the best black levels in the LCD TV business (that’s not saying much) and no competitors can come close. Sound familiar?

 

Here’s something else to think about. According to HIS iSuppli research, the “sweet spot” for U.S. TV sales is in the range of 40 to 49 inches. In the first quarter of 2011, that bracket accounted for 40% of all TV sales. The #2 position was occupied by the 30 – 39 inch group with 25% of all TV sales. In short. these two categories combined accounted for two out of every three TVs sold in this country from January through March.

 

Screens measuring 50 inches and larger represented 23% of all TV sales in that same time period. Although iSuppli didn’t drill down, I’d bet that 60 to 70 percent of the TVs sold within that category measured between 50 and 55 inches. That doesn’t leave a lot of market share to play with, if you want to sell 60-inch and larger screens.

 

The question here – as was the case with the Kuro plasma TVs – is how many units would have to be sold to turn a profit, and how many units the pro AV and Cedia channels could absorb at the listed prices. I would suspect that the answers are (a) a lot more than Sharp and Pioneer think, and (b) a lot less than Sharp and Pioneer think.Again, it’s all about the numbers these days – competitive prices and volume of sales.

 

Sharp has additional pressure on it to perform, given that it built the world’s only Gen 10 LCD fab a couple of years ago in Sakai, Japan. Sony was supposed to hold a 34% stake in the fab, but has capped its investment below 10% and is instead looking to China for lower-cost LCD TV panels. What will Sharp do with all of that capacity? And the fact that their finished panels are too expensive when compared to Korean and Chinese glass?

 

You can’t exist on high-end TV sales alone. Mitsubishi was the latest company to figure this out and underwent a massive re-organization this past spring to try and salvage what’s left of their rear-projection TV operations. Sony has lost so much money in the television business that it may have to walk away from manufacturing altogether and just private-label Chinese-made products in the future.

 

Wishing won’t make it so.

Sony: “Make. Believe” Isn’t Making It Anymore

An August 2nd Reuters news story said that Sony is preparing to overhaul its LCD television business to reduce costs and attempt to remain competitive against the likes of Samsung and LG. That means selling off TV factories to Chinese companies such as Foxconn Technology (manufacturers of the iPad) and moving more and more to a Vizio-style rebranding model.

 

Sony’s TV business has lost money for eight consecutive years, which about as long as Sony has been selling Bravia LCD TVs. The company cut its sales forecast for the current fiscal year by 19% to 22 million units, and now there is talk among analysts of the possibility that Sony might exit the TV business altogether – something that is almost inconceivable, given Sony’s long involvement with television.

Three words: Wake. Up. Call.

But the facts are hard to argue with. Ever since Sir Howard Stringer took over at the helm six years ago, Sony Corporation has lost 50% of its market value. According to the Reuters story, Sony is currently valued at just $25 billion, less than 25% of the market valuation of Samsung.

 

Over the years, pursuing profitability in the TV business has led Sony to form an alliance with Samsung (S-LCD), announce plans to take a 34% investment stake in Sharp’s Gen 10 LCD fab (later pruned back to less than 10%), and search high and wide throughout Taiwan and Hong Kong to find a competitive source for the smaller LCD panel TV sizes that still dominate the market.

 

Sony’s initial TV strategy was to position themselves as an Apple-like brand, getting people to pony up a premium for a perceived advantage in Sony product quality and engineering smarts. Trouble was; it was all too easy to surf the Internet and discover that smaller Sony LCD TVs were being sourced from many of the same manufacturers as 2nd-tier LCD TV brands.

 

Sony’s “own the manufacturing chain” business model was blown out of the water by Vizio, the ultimate OEM TV partner, who spent millions of dollars in advertising and went for the jugular with aggressive pricing in wholesale clubs and discount outlets. And of course, Samsung is responsible for much of Sony’s misery, given how aggressively the Korean TV giant followed its ten-year blueprint to become “the next Sony.”

 

It doesn’t help that 3D and Google TV have done little to stem the losses. 3D TV is still struggling to gain widespread acceptance and will likely become just another option built-in to all future TVs; one that cannot command a premium.

 

Google TV is even more of a bust. If you’ve ever had a chance to use the remote control for Sony Internet TVs, you’ll know why: It’s complicated and intimidating to use. People like the idea of watching Internet-delivered video, but they don’t want to search for it with a computer-like interface.

Seriously - Who thought THIS was a good way to watch TV?

To make matters worse, the Sony name doesn’t command respect like it used to.  Interbrands’ annual survey of global brands places Samsung 15 places above Sony. That is mind-boggling, given the strong brand equity Sony used to have.

 

The Reuters story states that Sony could lose close to a billion dollars this year in its TV operations, and that would push total losses to almost $5 billion since 2004. So the question is – how long will Sony continue to spill red ink?

 

One obvious solution to the problem is for Sony to wash its hands of TV manufacturing completely and instead license the Sony name to a line of OEM TVs, much like Kodak is doing these days with digital cameras and photo frames.

 

There is a precedent: Earlier this year, CE manufacturing giant Philips threw in the towel on its TV business, citing increasing losses and an inability to remain competitive even on its home turf in Europe. Going forward, Philips has licensed its brand to Funai for all future Philips LCD TV manufacturing.

 

By following this model, Sony could finally achieve profitability in the TV game. Ironic, isn’t it?

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.

NAB 2011: It’s All About Streaming, Displays, and Connectivity

With each passing year, NAB looks less and less like a broadcaster’s show and more like a cross between CES and InfoComm. It’s a three-ring circus of product demos, panel discussions, conferences, and media events that all points to the future of ‘broadcasting’ as being very different than what it was at the end of the 20th century.

 

Officially, slightly less than 90,000 folks showed up to walk the floors of the Las Vegas Convention Center, and it was elbow-to-elbow in some exhibits. But there was another trend of smaller booths for the ‘big name’ exhibitors like Panasonic and JVC.

 

That reflects the reality of selling products that have mostly three and four zeros in their price tags. At my first NAB in 1995, it wasn’t unusual to see $50,000 cameras and $80,000 recorders. Now, you can buy some pretty impressive production cameras for about $5,000.

 

Streaming and over-the-top video was big this year. Ironically, NAB featured an enormous streaming media pavilion back in 1999, but it vanished the next year. The reason? A lack of broadband services across the country that could support streaming at reasonable bit rates.

 

Obviously, that’s all changed now, what with Netflix at 21 million subscribers and climbing, and MSOs deploying multi-platform delivery of video and audio to a plethora of handheld devices. Concurrently, the broadcast world is trying to roll out a new mobile handheld (MH) digital TV service to stand-along portable receivers and specially-equipped phones.

 

And behind all of this, the FCC continues to make noise that it wants to grab an additional 100 – 120 MHz of UHF TV spectrum to be repurposed for wireless broadband, a service you’ll have to pay for. Attendees had mixed thoughts on whether the Commission will actually be able to pull this off – there is some opposition in Congress – but there appeared to be a high level of opposition to the plan, considering there is plenty of other spectrum available for repurposing, much of it already used exclusively for government and military purposes.

 

Like last year, there were lots of 3D demos, but the buzz wasn’t really there. 3D still has a ways to go with its roll-out and it simply can’t compete with the interest in content delivery to smart phones, tablets, and other media players. Still, there were some cool 3D products to be found here and there.

 

Here are some of the highlights from the show.

Is that an MH receiver in your pocket, or are you just glad to watch DTV?

ATSC MH Pavilion – several companies exhibited a range of receivers for the MH services being transmitted during the show from Las Vegas TV stations and low-power rigs in the convention center. LG and RCA both showed some snazzy portable MH receivers, with LG’s exhibit putting the spotlight on autostereo 3D MH (as seen at CES) and a service call ‘Tweet TV’ which would allow viewers to comment on shows they’re watching and have those tweets appear on their MH receiver.

 

Another demo had CBS affiliate KLAS-DT transmitting electronic coupons for local retailers and restaurants during the show. These showed up on a prototype full-touch CDMA smart phone with a 3.2” HVGA screen.

 

In a nearby booth, RCA unveiled a lineup of hybrid portable DTV receivers. There are two 3.5” models (DMT335R, $119, and DMT336R, $159), a 7” version (DMT270R, $179), and a pocket car tuner/receiver that connects to an existing car entertainment center. It will sell for $129.

Believe it or not, this was a commercial for Coca-Cola.

Motorola had two intriguing demonstrations. The first showed full-bandwidth 3D content distribution, using the full 38.8 Mb/s bandwidth of a 256 QAM channel to transport frame-packed 1080p video with full 1920×1080 left eye and right eye images, encoded in the MPEG4 H.264 format and sequenced through active shutter glasses.

 

Nearby, an HD video stream was encoded for four different displays, with all four signals carried simultaneously in the same bit stream. First up was a 1080p/60 broadcast; next to that a 720p/60 version, followed by a standard definition version (480i) and a version sized for a laptop computer or tablet. Both MPEG2 and MPEG4 codecs were used.

 

Red Rover attracted quite a crowd with their 28″ 4K (3840×2160) 3D video monitor which uses two 4K LCD panels arranged at 90-degree angles to each other (one on top, facing down). A half-mirror with linear polarization is used to combine the left and right eye images for passive viewing. Both LCD panels are Samsung vertically-aligned models, and the whole works will sell for (ready for this?) $120,000.

Only $120K? That's a steal!

Volfoni showed dual-purpose 3D glasses at NAB. When powered on, they function as active shutter eyewear. Powered off, they are usable as passive 3D glasses. The whole shebang is controlled by an external power pack the size of an iPod nano that clips to your pocket or shirt, and this ‘pod’ can ‘learn’ any IR code from active shutter TVs.

 

The pod controller can step through several neutral density filters and there are several levels of color correction possible from the remote power pack. (Electronic sunglasses – imagine that!) The glasses use 2.4 GHz RF signaling technology to synchronize with any active shutter monitor or TV. And despite all of the bells and whistles, they weigh just over an ounce.

 

Sony’s 17″ and 25″ BVM-series OLED monitors that were first shown at the 2011 HPA Technology Retreat now have siblings. The PVM-E250 Trimaster OLED display is structurally the same as its more-costly BVM cousin, but has fewer adjustments and operating features. And it’s going to sell for quite a discount over the BVM version – just $6,100. There’s also a 17-inch version which wasn’t operating at the show, and it is expected to retail for $4,100.

 

Up at the front of the Central Hall, Panasonic was showing the TH-42BT300U, their first plasma reference-grade monitor. It’s not all that different from the exiting 20-series industrial plasma monitors in appearance, but there’s a big difference in operating features. Black levels have dropped and low-level noise has been minimized with a half-luminance PWM step. This results in more shades of gray and a smoother transition out of black.

 

In addition, the TH-42BT300U supports 3D playback for side-by-side and top + bottom color and exposure correction. Panasonic has also added automatic ’snap-to’ color space menu options, along with a user-definable color gamut option. When calibrated, it was an eye-catcher. There’s a 50-inch version also in the works, and both monitors will go on sale this fall.

Sony knows OLEDs. Make. Believe. (Nah, it was real...)

Panasonic's TH-42BT300U (left) maps color accurately to the BT.709 color space, unlike its sibling the TH-42PF20U (right).

Hyundai unveiled the B240X, a new 24″ passive stereo LCD monitor. It sports a 1920×1200 display with circularly-polarized film-patterned retarders and supports 3D side-by-side and top + bottom viewing formats. The pixel pitch is about .27 mm and brightness is rated at 300 nits. Hyundai also created an eye-catching 138″ (diagonal) 3×3 3D video wall for NAB, using its flagship S465D 46″ LCD monitor.

 

Sisivel has come up with a unique way to deliver higher-resolution 3D TV in the frame-compatible format. Instead of throwing away half the horizontal resolution for 1080i side-by-side 3D transmissions, Sisivel breaks the left eye and right eye images into two 1280×720 frames. The left eye frame is carried intact in a 1920×1080 transmission, while the right eye is broken up into three pieces – the top 50% of the frame, and two half-frames that make up the bottom.

 

All of this gets packed in a rather unusual manner (see photo), but some simple video processing and tiling software re-assembles the right eye fragments into one image after decoding. Then, it’s a simple matter to sequence the lefty eye, right eye images as is normally done. The advantage of this format is that it has higher resolution than ESPN’s top+bottom 3D standard (two 1280×360 frames).

So THAT's how you pack two 1280x720 3D frames into a 1920x1080 broadcast. Clever, eh?

 

JVC announced two LCD production monitors at NAB. The DT-V24G11Z is a 24-inch broadcast and production LCD monitor that uses 10-bit processing and has a native resolution of 920×1200 pixels. The extra resolution provides area above and below a 1080p image for metering, embedded captions, and signal status. The incoming signal can also be enlarged slightly to fill the entire screen.

 

The DT-3D24G1Z is a 24-inch passive 3D monitor with circular polarization patterned films. It has 1920×1080 pixel resolution, 3G HD-SDI and dual-link inputs, a built-in dual waveform monitor and vectorscope, left eye and right eye measurement markers, and side-by-side split-screen display for post production work including gamma, exposure, and color/white balance correction.

 

Nearby, crowds gathered to see two new 4K cameras that use a custom LSI for high bitrate HD signal processing. The demo used a Sharp 4K LCD monitor, and the cameras were running at 3840×2160 resolution. They have no model numbers or price tags yet.

 

Ikegami’s field emission display (FED) monitor that attracted so much attention a few NABs ago, but was written off when Sony pulled out its investment from the manufacturer, is now back. Its image quality compared favorably with Sony’s E-series BVM OLED monitors, and the images displayed with a wide H&V viewing angle and plenty of contrast pop. It was being used to show images from a Vinten robotic camera mount at NAB, and no pricing has been announced.

Forget the Canon SED, Ikegami's got an FED! (A 'what?')

Dolby showed their PRM-4200 42-inch HDR LCD reference monitor at NAB. While this product is not new, there was a substantial price cut announced at the show to $39,000.  Initial comments from the post production community have indicated the price is too high for today’s economic environment. As a result, Dolby has apparently sold a few to video equipment rental houses for location and studio production work.

 

Digital SLRs are being used to shoot TV productions such as “House” and independent films, and they could use a couple of good monitors with hot shoe mounts. Nebtek had a 5.6” model at the show, as did TV Logic. Both models sport 1280×800 (WXGA) resolution, compatibility with HD-SDI and HDMI inputs, and have on-screen display of waveform/vectorscope details, focus assist, and chroma/luma signal warnings. Embedded audio from the cameras’ HDMI output can be displayed on screen, and there are several scan and pixel mapping modes.

 

One of the more significant announcements at the show – at least, at first reading – was Verizon’s Digital Media Services. The idea is to serve as an electronic warehouse for everyone from content producers to digital media retailers – in effect, an Amazon e-commerce model, except that Verizon wouldn’t sell anything; merely ‘warehouse’ the assets and distribute them as need to whomever needs them.

 

Numerous companies showed real-time MPEG encoders, among them Z3 Technology, Visionary Systems, Haivision, Vbrick, Adtec, Black Magic Designs, and (of all people) Rovi, otherwise known for their electronic program guide software. Many of these encoder boxes can accept analog video (composite and component) as well as HDMI and DVI inputs. The general idea appears to be ‘plug-and-play’ encoding for IPTV streaming across a broad range of markets. The Black Magic encoder was the cheapest I’ve seen to date at $500, while price ranges on other models ranged as high as $9,000.

A Tektronix monitor for color anaglyph 3D? REALLY?

Do NOT let your children get any ideas from this photo...

Tektronix had one of the funnier (unintentionally) demonstrations of test and monitoring gear. A new combination monitor, the WFM300, has a color anaglyph mode where you can see the interocular distance for red and cyan color anaglyph program material. Never mind the fact that color anaglyph isn’t being used for much of anything except printed 3D these days, so what were the folks at ‘Tek’ thinking?

 

Finally, Sony showed they can be all wet but still on top of things with their demonstration of an HXR-NX70U 1080p camcorder operating normally while getting a pretty good hosing. The camera is completely water-sealed and dust-sealed for use in hostile environments, and records to internal hard disc drives and memory cards. The shower ran continuously during the show and the camera never even hiccupped. Fun stuff!