Posts Tagged ‘Panasonic’

Ain’t No Cure for the Summertime (TV) Blues – Pete Putman

With the economy wobbling steadily towards a recovery and the digital TV transition well behind us, most consumers appear content to sit on their existing TVs, looking for a rock-bottom deal as an incentive to upgrade.

 

There are a host of reasons why TV sales remain sluggish. The most obvious is spiking interest in so-called ‘second screen’ TV viewing platforms, such as tablet computers, laptops, and mobile phones; all at the expense of conventional TV sets.

 

Another reason is the low rate of turnover on TVs purchased within the past 5 to 10 years. (Yes, I know people that are still using older Samsung, Sony, and Mitsubishi rear-projection TVs from the start of the last decade!) I’ve even run into a few folks lately that have massive flat-CRT TVs from 12+ years ago that are still humming along. ‘Yes,’ they want to replace them, but ‘no,’ they don’t have the cash right now.

 

You can’t fault TV manufacturers for trying. There was plenty of hoopla back in 2009 when 3D TVs made a splashy entrance. Today? 3D functionality is mostly an afterthought, and is built-in to more than half the models in any given line-up.

 

I’ll take a contrary position to many of my colleagues at Display Daily and state that 3D isn’t going to be a factor in driving TV sales for several years – that is, until a workable, quality glasses-free solution comes to market. And that will likely require 4K display glass to implement. Sales of 3D TVs have consistently been tepid in North America (stronger in China and Indonesia), and manufacturers aren’t talking much about them these days, as Chris Chinnock detailed in his CEDIA report last week.

 

What about demand for Internet-connected TVs? I figured Internet connectivity to be a big driver of future TV sales, but it looks like I guessed wrong – at least, in this part of the world.  A recent study by GfK Associates revealed that NeTVs were most popular in China, Brazil, and India, while the United States, Great Britain, and Germany lagged behind. GfK went so far as to say that viewers in the latter three countries “…are stuck in an ‘analog’ mindset, whereas viewers in emerging markets are more likely to exploit the digital capabilities of Connected TV.”

 

According to the GfK report, only 29% of United Kingdom and 29% of U.S. consumers indicated that they were specifically looking to buy an Internet-connected TV, as opposed to 61% of respondents in India and 64% in China.

 

There was a hidden “ah-ha!” in the GfK report, though. 67% of all respondents are definitely interested in some form of touch and/or gesture control in a television, and 43% want to control their TV with something other than a traditional remote control. Perhaps TV manufacturers need to focus more on improving the user interface to drive future sales?

 

One of the problems with NeTVS is the diverse and non-compatible operating systems and GUIs used by different manufacturers. At the recent IFA show in Berlin, LG Electronics and Philips announced they would join forces to develop a common NeTV platform for listening to music, watching Internet videos, and playing games on line.

 

Both companies are founding members of the Smart TV Alliance (http://www.smarttv-alliance.org/) and are actively soliciting additional members. Their goal is to develop one common platform for apps and the OS so that consumers feel comfortable working with any TV brand.

 

However, CE giants like Panasonic and Samsung are deeply invested in their own platforms, like VIERA Cast and Smart TV, and have shown no enthusiasm for working with competitors. “Alliances may be possible, but we’re not at that stage yet,” Hyun-suk Kim, the head of Samsung’s TV business, said in a Bloomberg story. “Everybody is using their own platform right now, but the small companies find it very difficult to get content and services. Having a unified platform would be very helpful for the industry but I’m not sure it’s the right time for Samsung.”

 

Could Google’s Android platform be the answer? The first version of Google TV was met with a large yawn, and the second roll-out isn’t faring any better, according to Bloomberg. Both Sony and LG have built-in Google TV GUIs in their TV products – a huge improvement over the clunky, slow first version. But to date, consumers aren’t buying it.

 

Perhaps the answer is content delivery. TV manufacturers have tried for years to incorporate some sort of content pipeline interface and advanced program guide, with limited success. At one time, LG even built hard drives into several of their plasma TVs for time-shifting, and the number of ‘boxes’ available for Internet streaming is seemingly endless.

 

Today, most popular video and movie streaming sites are directly accessible from ‘apps’ and built-in channel buttons on late-model TVs; the best-known being Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube, which together account for better than 70% of all Internet video traffic.

 

Harnessing content and selling it is what Apple is all about, and it’s long been rumored that they will launch a TV this fall. Not so fast! says another story on Bloomberg.com. According to the story, Apple has run into a brick wall with cable companies such as RCN and Comcast, along with major networks like CBS.

 

The reason? Cable and media companies are concerned that a better-designed Apple product will undermine their business model, and fear that Apple will create a better user interface. As a result, analysts are predicting that we will definitely not see an Apple-designed television this year. “If I’m a cable company, do I really want to let Apple into my house?” said Jason Hirschhorn, the former chief digital officer at MTV.

 

The last consideration is 4K, which for 99% of all consumers is simply a pipe dream – too expensive, no content (yet), and little perceived value. Yet, that didn’t stop Sony and JVC from both announcing 84-inch 4K LCD TVs at IFA and CEDIA. (And yes, they are plenty expensive!)

 

There are two problems with these announcements. First off, Sony hasn’t made a profit for the past 8 years in televisions, and in fact has lost a considerable amount of money, dragging the company’s stock price down. So why bother with a $20,000 TV product that will sell in miniscule amounts? Probably to be cutting-edge and trendy, a mindset that has driven Sony’s marketing and sales efforts for many years now.

 

Second, JVC is a very minor player in the TV business. As a small Japanese electronics manufacturer working under tight budgets, they can’t hope to have significant sales in televisions, and may have just brought this product out to make a splash. They do much better with their industry-favorite D-ILA LCoS home theater projectors, of which there is now a 4K version.

 

Throw in LG’s recent announcement that they won’t be able to ship a 55-inch OLED TV to market in Q4 after all, and you can hear a loud, collective sigh of despair and frustration rolling eastward across the Pacific Ocean. We’re less than three months from Black Friday, and no one has the answer(s) yet…

 

This article originally appeared on Display Central 9/10/12.

 

http://www.display-central.com/home-entertainment/aint-no-cure-for-the-summertime-tv-blues/

InfoComm 2012: Growth and Re-Invention, by Pete Putman

As InfoComm 2012 recedes into the rear-view mirror (along with Las Vegas, thankfully), I’ve had a chance to think about some of the more significant trends I spotted at the show. Some have been picking up speed for almost a year, while the others are still moving in fits and starts.

 

Amazingly, the show has managed to glide smoothly over every potential speed bump it has hit in the past 15 years (the demise of the Projection Shoot-Out, the 2007-2009 recession, collapsing retail prices and dealer margins on hardware, consolidation of brand names, and infiltration of consumer electronics into the professional space).

Prysm's laser-phosphor displays didn't generate quite as much 'buzz' this year. Maybe the large LCDs lurking nearby had something to do with it?

 

InfoComm absorbed its nearest competitor (the National Systems Contractor Association’s trade show) a few years back. It has expanded to Asia and Europe. Its education and certification program is second to none, with over 8,000 holders of Certified Technology Specialist (CTS) certificates out there – I’m one of ‘em – and ISO certification of their education process.

 

I started attending InfoComm in 1994 as a journalist. Over the years, I’ve become more intimate with the education side of things, and now about 60% – 70% of my time at the show is taken up with teaching classes. This year alone, I had nine hours of individual instruction to offer to a total of over 750 students during a three-day period. (And I once swore I would never be a teacher. Ha!)

 

In fact, class attendance this year was the highest I’ve ever seen it, and the attendees were predominantly end-users – colleges, hospitals, institutions, corporations, non-profits, churches, and government agencies. The transition from analog to digital has swept everyone up in its wake, and InfoComm attendees don’t want to be left behind.

 

As a result, I didn’t have a lot of time to walk the trade show floor. But the significant products were out there, if you knew where to look. I even managed to feature a few of them in my classes – I’m VERY big on ‘show and tell,’ rather than ‘death by Powerpoint’ – so that attendees could get more information on the hardware and software than they’d find in the average booth tour.

Sorry - there's just no way to fit this thing into a horizontal photo, it's just too darn big!

 

The first trend is ever-larger and cheaper LCD displays. You may have heard that Sharp unveiled a 90-inch professional LCD monitor in Las Vegas (1920×1080, no price yet, but probably under $10K) and followed that up with the announcement of the TV version (LC-90LE745U, $10,999) on June 19.

 

Don’t underestimate the significance of this product. Since its introduction last fall, Sharp’s $5K 80-inch LCD TV product has proven to wildly successful, but not necessarily in the home: No, AV dealers are installing them by the truckload in commercial AV projects, with a special emphasis on financial institutions and corporations who don’t want a two-piece projector/screen ‘solution’ that requires frequent lamp changes, filter maintenance, and ambient light control.

Samsung is ready to play as well with their 75-inch edge-lit LCD monitor.

And for those of you who like watching TV underwater, Panasonic's got the solution!

 

If the 80-inch is a projector ‘threat,’ then the 90-inch is a projector ‘killer.’ Maybe not at $10K, but you know that price will come down quickly as market demand rises – and it will rise – so expect it to be selling for $7,000 – $8,000 before very long.

 

You’ll know this trend has really picked up speed when Sharp’s nearest competitors (Samsung and LG) start pushing their big LCD screens aggressively. Samsung showed a 75-inch edge-lit LCD display at the show with the ominous caption: “Time to Replace Projector in Your Conference Room.”

 

Another trend is ‘ergonomic’ control systems. At CES, there were numerous demonstrations of gesture and voice control, and Samsung has already brought a TV to market (ES7500 series) that combines both with facial recognition. I didn’t see too many demos of either in Las Vegas, but Panasonic had an interesting demo that combined body recognition with gesture control to navigate a series of maps and locate yourself on a virtual campus.

Look, Ma - both hands!

 

The challenges to design such systems are clearly outweighed by the advantages. A conference room or classroom that can recognize a user, power itself up, and load and operate any preferences in hardware and software operation is a very attractive proposition. No doubt we’ll see some more stabs at this built around the Leap platform in the near future (Leap can detect hand motion as slight as .1 millimeters).

 

Wireless connectivity goes hand-in-hand with gesture and voice commands, and I’m not talking about WiFi-based solutions – they are generally the most unreliable choice, although abundant. No, I’m referring to a slew of proprietary technologies that run on separate but parallel highways to WiFi, free of bandwidth-hogging TCP/IP traffic.

Here's a plug for getting un-plugged...from Hitachi.

 

Right now, the most promising of these is the Wireless High-Definition Interface (WHDI), which operates at 5.8 GHz, has a range of several hundred feet, and can support dozens of discrete channels that carry 1920x1080p/60 video, multichannel audio, and data. Hitachi showed a six-port (two HDMI & two VGA) wireless projector switch at InfoComm, along with a super-tiny document camera that also has WHDI built-in.

 

During my Wireless AV class, we treated attendees to the first public demonstration of WiSA – a multi-channel (7.2) wireless audio system that requires nothing more than AC power for each speaker. The room size was 50’ wide, and the technology is scalable to larger rooms. Combined with a WHDI connection to the Blu-ray player and my Toshiba computer, we were able to cut just about every cord (except for power).

 

Projector manufacturers are well aware of the challenges posed by ever-larger and cheaper LCD displays. One way to fight back is to move away from traditional short-arc mercury vapor lamps to lampless projection engines employing LEDs, lasers, or both.

At BenQ, it's all done with lasers.

And at Casio, some of it is done with lasers.

 

Casio took a substantial lead in this market a few years back with its laser/LED hybrids, and finally plugged a hole in its line with the XJ-H2650, a wide XGA (1280×800) design with 3500 ANSI lumens brightness that made its debut at InfoComm. Now, BenQ has joined the fray with a pair of laser-only single-chip DLP projectors, both rated at 2,000 lumens (LX60ST, XGA, and LW61ST, WXGA).

 

But the bigger news came from Panasonic, who not only embraced hybrid technology but jumped all the way to 1920×1080 resolution while doing it. They’re rolling out two different versions – one for education, and one for commercial applications – and the PT-RZ470 is claimed to develop in excess of 3,000 lumens. There is a wide XGA version as well, known as the PT-RW430, and it’s also rated over 3,000 lumens. Both BenQ and Panasonic claim you’ll see about 20,000 hours of operation from the laser/LED light engine before it poops out.

 

Other companies showed ‘lampless’ projection technology at the show, including Optoma. But most of these demos were small, pocket-sized projectors that are good for a few hundred lumens at most. Digital Projection and projectiondesign also showcased LED-only offerings that can hit the 1,000 lumens barrier, but we still haven’t seen a ‘pure’ LED design that can beat the 2,000 lumens benchmark…for now.

 

Haptic control technology – i.e. touchscreen LCDs – was in abundance at the show. Samsung showed a demonstration of a large LCD touchscreen table that can be used to display images of retail merchandise. These images can then be ‘dragged’ onto a Windows 8-equipped smart phone and create a shopping cart, or even a checklist. Whatever is dragged into the smart phone is automatically mirrored to a nearby sales associate tablet, supposedly simplifying the shopping process for both parties.

 

There's probably a cool table hockey demo lurking somewhere in here...

136 60-inch monitors in five walls. You can count 'em.

And here's the videowall in action during the musical.

 

One of the more impressive demonstrations took place at Planet Hollywood, where a new musical was finishing up rehearsals. Based on songs by the Beach Boys (who are celebrating their 50th year with a nationwide tour) , ‘Surf: The Musical’ uses five walls of 60-inch Sharp LCD monitors for all of its scenic backdrops. The walls were designed and built by Adaptive Technologies and can slide in and out and raise/lower during the performance as needed to accommodate some real 3D constructed sets.

 

Each wall weighs about 8,000 pounds and it took some experimentation to figure out an adequate damping system to raise and lower the walls without any bouncing. Dynamic video processing keeps the displayed images static as the walls move up and down, creating the illusion of a curtain. If you get a chance to see the show, you will be impressed with the Ferris Wheel sequence – it felt real to me.

 

I can’t wrap up this piece without mentioning the absence of one of InfoComm’s largest members and long-time exhibitors, Extron Electronics. You’ve probably heard numerous reasons why they opted to skip the show (none of which made any sense to me, particularly since Extron did participate at NAB in April). Extron is a nearly 30-year-old bellweather interfacing company and without them, the Projection Shoot-Out wouldn’t have been possible.  (Neither would the annual Extron Bash party, now R.I.P.)

Kramer erected a new booth to showcase their CORE digital products.

 

Suffice it to say that there was plenty of chatter and speculation in my classes about Extron’s absence, along with more than a few delighted competitors who ‘stayed the course’ and reported strong booth attendance on the show floor. The enormous turnout for any classes that had the words “EDID,” “HDCP,” “HDMI,” or “digital video” in their titles and/or descriptions apparently also meant a tide of visitors to booths showing those products, such as Kramer Electronics.

 

So, there you have it – a quick fly-by of InfoComm. Next year, I’m going to try more ambitious wireless demos (including some products I just found out about at the show) and will expand my digital video curriculum with Web-connected TVs, if everything works out. Try and make it, we’ll be in Orlando a year from now. Should be fun!

 

See you there?

 

 

NAB 2012: The Show It Is A-Changin’…

This was my 17th trip to Las Vegas to see what once was one of the world’s largest trade shows. Back in 1995, NAB was clearly focused on broadcasting, mostly the digital kind. The ATSC Grand Alliance had a major presence back in ’95 as the United States began its tentative steps towards an all-digital broadcasting system, and there was no question that terrestrial (over-the-air) television was the king of the hill.

 

Today, that’s all changed. The digital transition has come and gone. Cable TV has supplanted traditional broadcasting on the throne, with Internet-delivered ‘over the top’ video sitting next in line. Broadcasters are under fire from (of all people) the FCC, who wants to take back more UHF TV spectrum to solve a mostly imaginary wireless broadband crisis.

Canon's enormous booth was at the center of all the Central Hall action.

 

Gone for the most part are the NAB ‘megabooths’ once erected and staffed by Sony, Panasonic, JVC, Ikegami, Hitachi, and Toshiba. Back in 1995, Sony had exhibits both in the Las Vegas Convention Center and Bally’s Hotel and a multi-million dollar budget to support them. Most of these companies have more modest representation these days as the center of gravity in the electronics world shifts to Korea and China.

 

The profound influence of the consumer electronics world can clearly be seen as you walk the aisles at NAB. Smaller, compact, and higher-resolution camcorders have replaced the $50,000 – $100,000 behemoths of 17 years ago. iPads abound, both in individual booths and attendees’ backpacks. Videotape recorders (VTRs) have all but vanished, replaced by solid-state media recorders and ultraportable hard drives.

 

The south hall of the Las Vegas Convention center, which didn’t exist except on a blueprint in 1995, now dominates the action at the show. Hundreds of small, ‘who dat?’ companies are set up in small stands and hawk their storage area network products, cloud workflows, MPEG encoders, fiber optic connectivity systems, and umpteen-million Mac-based edit, color correction, and audio mixing products.

For some odd reason, RED's 4K LCoS projector was behind wired, breakproof glass.

 

The old names are still there, though. Some have even beefed up their presence, like Canon. Panasonic once occupied the entire mezzanine level of the central hall, but has ceded half that space to other companies. Sony still occupies a big chunk of the rear central; hall, but is also slowly retrenching over time.

 

Here’s why: Back in the middle of the ‘90s, the typical broadcast/production camcorder shot standard definition to tape and cost anywhere from $10K to $50K, depending on bells and whistles. A good reference CRT video monitor would set you back at least $25,000, and tripods, fluid heads, gyroscopic mounts, robotic platforms, and teleprompter heads were all priced accordingly.

 

Today? I have a Nikon CoolPix 8200 that can shoot 1080p/30 movies, 16 megapixel stills, offers multi-zone focus and image stabilization, comes with a 10x optical zoom lens, and records everything to a 32 GB flash drive. The price? All of $220.

Yes, Black Magic Design is in the camera business now. What's next - an Ikegami MPEG4 encoder?

 

And there you have it. Products that once cost in the tens of thousands of dollars now are available with far greater performance for hundreds of dollars, or at least a couple thousand. Want to buy a 4K JVC camera? It will set you back about $5,000. How about a reference plasma monitor? Try $4,000.

 

You can do teleprompting on an iPad now, and pick up a remote-controlled helicopter rig for your Canon digital SLR (which also shoots 1080p video) for about $500 – $700. Or grab a compact cinema camera with 13 steps of dynamic range and 2.5K image resolution for $3,000.

 

Of course, most of this stuff is available on the Internet. There barely was an Internet back in 1995 (remember the dial-up days?), and you had to go to a dealer to buy any of this gear. B&H wasn’t the national powerhouse it is now (yes, they had a big, long booth at NAB, right behind Sony) and production companies often had to take out loans to get the newest, latest goodies.

 

Nowadays, your gear can pay for itself in a few productions. And the barriers to creating and distributing content have largely disappeared, limited only by the speed of Internet connections. ‘Content management’ was a popular expression this year, as was ‘cross-platform delivery.’ Conventional TV broadcasting is still around and trying to re-invent itself, but there are clearly many ways to package and deliver video content that don’t involve traditional media distribution.

Yes, you can actually edit 4K content on the go now. But first, you've gotta go out and shoot it...

 

Will NAB survive? Sure, because it has a sweet spot on the trade show calendar and has successfully changed with the times. Those incredible shrinking booths have been replaced by the likes of Ericsson, Avid, Black Magic, Grass Valley, Harris, Evertz, Ross Video, and a host of other manufacturers whose offerings are platform-agnostic. (Can’t say that about the TV and radio transmitter folks, though…)

 

After wandering the floors for three days and delivering a presentation on the management and distribution of HDMI signals (wait – you can actually manage HDMI?) at the Broadcast Engineering Conference, I managed to find a few interesting products here and there. To the list!

3D TV at home is a piece of cake! That is, as long as you have a broadband connection, and a TV antenna...

 

RED, the makers of those cool video production cameras, apparently had some extra time and money on their hands and decided to roll out a laser-powered digital cinema projector. The design is based on a 4K LCoS light engine developed by HDI (High Definition Integration) back in 2009. Apparently RED acquired the company a year or so ago, and now wants to get into the projection space. No brightness specification was given, but the signage indicated it could light up a 15’ screen and would retail for less than $10,000. The demo showed some promise, but there are lots of things that still need attention (high black levels, low contrast, color accuracy, etc).

 

It sems Black Magic Design has gotten bored with developing interface boxes. That’s the only explanation I can come up with for their new digital cinema camera, which offers 13 stops of dynamic range, a 2.5K pixel sensor, SSD recording, and support for EF lenses. It’s also compatible with the Thunderbolt display/data interface, and the suggested retail price is $3,000. Quite a crowd gathered around this demo!

Be careful where you walk when wearing Epson's MOVERIO AR glasses!

 

You had to crawl all the way to the back of the south hall lower to find them, but Epson made the trip worthwhile with a demonstration of their Moverio augmented realty (AR) eyewear. These glasses contain two small full-color LCD panels in the middle of semi-transparent goggles, allowing you to see normally and watch projected images at the same time. (Kind of a ‘Watchman’ effect.) I’ll be curious to see if these take off, given the adverse physiological reactions that have occurred with earlier attempts at AR (Google Sony’s Glasstron spectacles).

 

Tired of running heavy-duty HD-SDI cables to your otherwise-lightweight 1080p camcorder? Amimon showed a better way to hook up with their demo of a wireless 5.8 GHz HD-SDI transmission system, based on their clever wireless HDMI chipsets. The latter can already move 1080p/60 video and multi-channel audio over a 40 MHz bandwidth, so adapting it to 3G HD-SDI was a piece of cake. Their tests in the South Hall pushed a signal out to at least 300 feet before dropout.

 

Around the corner, Intel made up for their lack of Thunderbolt products at CES by unveiling a suite of Thunderbolt connectivity ‘solutions,’ including a 4K mobile editing package that used a Lenovo notebook PC, a pair of Samsung and Apple LCD monitors, two compact Promise four-bay RAID drives, and an AJA iOXT interface box that breaks out USB, HD-SDI, and HDMI ports.

 

Other companies featured in the Thunderbolt ‘goodies’ showcase included Black Magic Design (UltraStudio video I/O box, Thunderbolt to bi-directional HD-SDI and HDMI), MOTU (analog and digital video recorder with Thunderbolt interface), LaCie (compact portable hard drives), Rocstor (KROC 2M desktop RAID storage with Thunderbolt), Seagate (GoFlex portable Thunderbolt adapter), and Sumimoto (optical fiber Thunderbolt cables). Think Thunderbolt is catching on? (Duhhhh!)

Cables? We don't need no stinking HD-SDI cables!

 

Samsung KBS figured out a clever way to transmit 3D content over ATSC digital TV channels: Send the left eye images as usual, and transmit the right eye images over a standard broadband connection, encoded as MPEG4. All that’s needed is a constant data rate of 6 Mb/s to make it work, something that may be a piece of cake in Asia but is still uncertain even with normal broadband connections on this side of the pond. But the concept does work nicely.

 

Panasonic has swallowed up Sanyo and their enormous projector line (now, that will give anyone indigestion), but their big news at the show – besides a 4k camera system – was a 20,000 lumens projector that weighs all of 95 pounds. By way of comparison, my old Sony 7” CRT projector could barely crank out 200 lumens and tipped the scales at 140 pounds. The PT-DZ21K uses a three-chip DLP engine and its native resolution is 1920×1200 pixels (WUXGA).

 

Around the corner, Canon showed its REALiS WUX5000 5000-lumens LCoS projector. This is the brightest Canon projector yet and offers WUXGA (1920×1200) resolution. No 4K version is in the immediate future, but just around the corner, Canon showed a prototype 4K 30-inch LCD monitor using IPS technology. It certainly had lots of image detail, but needed some help with black levels. Given the company’s strong commitment to full-frame CMOS video sensors and 4K cameras, neither product was surprising.

Believe it or not, he's actually 'popping' a virtual balloon. (Seriously!)

 

It wasn’t a shipping product, but the National Institute of Communications and Technology (NICT) in Japan showed a prototype 200-inch autostereo rear-projection display. This demonstration used 200 individual JVC D-ILA projection engines, each with full 2K resolution, to light up 200 different 2K resolution views in narrow vertical bands. A special Fresnel lens integrated the views and the barrier crossings weren’t as apparent as I would have expected.

 

Next door was a demonstration by NICT of a ‘virtual’ balloon to show the possibilities of haptic (touchscreen) technology. Using a special stylus, you tapped an image of a balloon to enlarge it, and then stroked the balloon to make it squeak and feel the rubbery texture through the stylus. You could even pop the balloon and smell a perfume contained inside. Way cool!

 

ATTO was one of many companies supporting the Thunderbolt interface with SAS/SATA RAID drives, not to mention Fibre Channel and 10 Gigabit Ethernet connections. Their Desklink products are compact and provide plenty of storage capacity. The company’s ThunderStream interface can even supported embedded storage.

 

Adtec rolled out a few new MPEG encoders. The EN-91P is a 1080p AVC (H.264 MPEG4) encoder that can be used for 3D and has an optical fiber input, while the EN-20 is a dual-input MPEG2 encoder with Dolby AC3 encode, DD5.1 passthrough, ASI output, and an up-converted QAM output for RF-modulated transmission systems.

3D Glasses? We don't need no stinkin' 3D glasses!

 

Dolby showed an autostereo 3D LCD monitor that uses lenticular parallax barrier and was developed jointly with Philips. This monitor was used to show clips from Hugo and the 3D effect was clearly visible, although not as intense for off-axis viewers and not as punchy as active shutter or even passive shutter 3D. No word on pricing or delivery.

 

JVC’s 4K camcorder ($5,500) may be one of the best deals out there. The GY-HMQ10 uses a ½-inch CMOS sensor with 8.3 million pixels (3840×2160) at 24, 50, or 60 frames per second. It comes with a 10x zoom lens and optical image stabilization.  Believe it or not, the GY-HMQ10 comes with four HDMI output terminals, which can also be used to drive four discrete monitors at 1920x1080p resolution.

 

Last but not least, goHDR demonstrated high dynamic range video on a SIM2 HDR47E LCD monitor, similarly equipped for HDR signals. (The technology is owned and licensed by Dolby Labs.) goHDR is a spin-off of the University of Warwick in England and has produced a few HDR short films using a camera manufactured by SpheronVR, a competitor to ARRI who is also shipping HDR cameras.

Panasonic's PT-DZ21K projector is so bright, you can light a match just by holding it in front of the lens. (I'm KIDDING!)

 

High dynamic range video, also demonstrated by Dolby with its PRM4200 42-inch reference monitor, is quite something to see after watching garden-variety BT.709 video on a steady basis. The range of tonal values from deep black to pure white approaches what we see in everyday life, particularly in deep shadows where detail usually vanishes on a video screen.

 

It’s not practical yet to broadcast HDR – the data rates would require enormous bandwidth – but you may soon see it in movie theaters, along with high frame rate (48 Hz and up) content. Eventually, there will be a way to get it into the home, assuming HDR technology gains any traction in a world that seems otherwise obsessed with watching video on laptops, iPads, and even phones.

 

Hmmm….a high dynamic range iPad. Now, there’s a concept! Listening, Apple?

Panasonic’s 2012 Home Entertainment Media Briefing – Pete Putman

Senior product manager Jason Gastman walks us through the 2012 TV lineup.

Panasonic’s 2012 TV and home entertainment line show took on extra importance this year, what with the company closing in on a $9.7 B (as in “billion”) loss for the fiscal year that will end on Friday, March 30. To be accurate, a substantial portion of that red ink is due to a goodwill accounting write-down on the 2009 acquisition of Sanyo, which will cease to exist as a corporate entity after Friday.

 

But the remainder is largely attributable to consumer electronics operations; specifically, the television business. Think about it: Just five years ago, a 42-inch plasma TV with 1080p resolution retailed for over $2,000. Now, the price is about 1/3 of that, meaning the cost per diagonal inch for that TV has dropped from about $47 to $15. (Real-world example: I paid $1,100 for a TH-42PX80U 42-inch 1080p Panasonic plasma in September of 2008.)

 

Frankly, Japanese TV manufacturers can’t be profitable at that price point, which is why Panasonic (along with Sony, Sharp, and other TV brands) are having such a miserable year financially.

 

But Panasonic was ‘different’ from the other guys in that it promoted plasma display technology as a differentiator. And Panasonic did (and still does) plasma better than anyone else, now that the late, lamented Pioneer plasma lineup has faded into history.

 

The focus on plasma meant that for years, there was a ‘green line’ between plasma screen sizes and LCD TV sizes that Panasonic simply would not cross. That line – 42 inches – was breached slightly in 2011 with the introduction of a couple of LCD TVs that used the company’s IPS-Alpha LCD alignment layer. (IPS stands for ‘in-plane switching’ and was originally developed by Hitachi. LG also uses a variant of IPS extensively in their LCD TV product line.)

The VIERA CONNECT menu is different for 2012, and adds some exclusive content partnerships.

 

This year, all bets were off as Panasonic blew by the ‘green line’ with 42-inch, 47-inch, and even 55-inch LCD TVs. And except for a couple of bargain-basement 42-inch 720p models and one 3D iteration, smaller Panasonic plasma TVs are now becoming history. The TC-P42X5 (720p) is tagged at $429.99 (meaning it will be the first 42-inch plasma to sell for less than $400 at an everyday price), while the TC-P42XT50 will retail at $650. The 50-inch XT50 also supports 3D playback.

 

The LCD usurpers all fall into the VIERA E50 series, which includes the TC-L42E50 ($900), TC-L47E50 ($1,100), and TC-L55E50 (price TBA). All three models use LED backlights and have 1080p resolution; VIERA Connect; social networking TV function; DLNA; a PC input; four HDMI terminals and two USB ports. And all models are ‘WiFi-ready’ (you have to buy a separate USB dongle and plug it in).

 

Back to plasma: The ‘top of the line’ models for 2012 are in the ST50 series, and include (quoting from the press release) “…Infinite Black Pro Panel; Full HD 3D; VIERA Connect™ with a web browser and built-in WiFi; 1080p Full HD resolution; 2500 FFD (Focused Field Drive); fast switching phosphors; 2D ? 3D conversion; Social Networking TV which allows the user to simultaneously view a program on the TV and connect with their Twitter and/or Facebook account on the same screen ; 3D Real Sound with 8-train speakers –eight dome type micro speakers with reflectors that deliver wide ranging, high quality sound; a new louver filter; Media Player;  Bluetooth; DLNA; VIERA Link™; three HDMI connections and two USB ports.” (Wow, let me catch my breath for a moment…)

The TC-P50ST50 plasma line is loaded for bear. So why does it offer only three HDMI inputs?

 

Does that sound like the feature set of a TV, or of a computer? The ST50 plasma sets actually have a dual-core processor, and with all of the listed input and output ports – plus all of the apps, streaming capabilities, WiFi, and other features – they basically ARE computers, albeit fitted with very large plasma monitors. You can get ‘em in sizes ranging from 50 inches (TC-P50ST50, $1,400) to 65 inches (TC-P65ST50, price TBA).

 

For ‘Full HD 3D’ plasma viewing (their wording), Panasonic offers the UT50 series, which starts at 42 inches (TC-P42UT50, $800) and goes all the way to 60 inches (TC-P60UT50, ($1800 – and no, I don’t know why there isn’t a 65-inch SKU in this lineup.) UT50 plasma TVs are all 1080p resolution, with VIERA Connect (you need to buy the WiFi dongle separately), media player, faster switching phosphors, Bluetooth connectivity, DLNA operation, two HDMI connections (Why only two? There are three on the ST50 series!), and dual USB ports.

 

Now, here’s the weird part. Panasonic, along with Samsung and Sony, launched the Full HD 3D initiative (read the press release here) in 2011, and at CES 2012, demonstrated interoperability between different models of active shutter 3D glasses. The goal was to educate and inform consumers that active shutter 3D TV is a very different (and better) animal than the passive 3D TVs that employ circularly-polarized eyewear and deliver half the vertical picture resolution. (LG is the biggest proponent of passive 3D, which is similar to the process used in 3D movie theaters.)

 

So – you’d think Panasonic would be firmly behind active shutter? Guess again. The new line of ET5-series LCD TVs uses film-patterned retarder (FPR) LCD panels and have most of the bells and whistles of the VIERA line, including built-in Wifi, 2D to 3D conversion, the internal media player, DLNA compatibility, and the social networking TV functions.

Full HD 3D is the only way to go! (Except when it isn't.)

 

Oddly enough, the ET5 TVs come with four HDMI inputs, which is more than any other model range. And of course, you get four pairs of passive 3D glasses with each TV, starting with the TC-L42ET5 ($$1,100) and continuing with the TC-L47ET5 ($1,300) and TC-L55ET5 ($1,900).

 

When I asked Panasonic representatives why they continue to support both plasma and LCD in the same screen size, even though plasma TV sales accounted for only 13.5% of the worldwide market last year, they replied that there was still enough demand for the product through ‘niche’ dealers, especially in the larger sizes. That’s probably true for the high-end VXT products, but I don’t see how any 42-inch plasma will be in the line next year – and 50-inch sizes may also be heading towards the endangered species list if those market share numbers keep dropping.

 

I got a similar answer when I asked Panasonic to reconcile its emphatic support for active shutter 3D with the launch of several passive 3D TV models. The reply was something to the extent that these models didn’t have all of the goodies of the UT50 series (but they do have more HDMI inputs!) and that the company was simply responding to consumer demand.

Jonesing for connected Blu-ray players? Panasonic's got six of 'em.

 

OK, let’s take a closer look at what’s really happening. First, Panasonic sells a lot of LCD TVs. (In fact, they sold more of them back in 2010 than Sharp did!) But for all of 2011, the market leader in combined LCD and plasma TV sales was Samsung, capturing 26% of the business in the fourth quarter. Panasonic was way back in fourth place with 6.9% of the market. According to NPD DisplaySearch, this was the first time that someone other than Panasonic led in worldwide plasma TV shipments.

 

Remember about six years ago when Panasonic announced it was building new plasma fabs that would ultimately give it the capacity to roll out 11 million plasma TVs a year? The ENTIRE plasma TV market for 2011 was 5.2 million units, a decline year-to-year of 8%. Overall, plasma TV shipments accounted for just 13.5% of the worldwide total.

 

As a result, Panasonic has idled a good portion of its plasma manufacturing capacity, along with a lot of its LCD capacity. Across the board, Panasonic’s TV revenue share declined 19% from 2010, which is a big contributor to all the red ink I mentioned at the start of this article. So the company’s 2012 TV marketing strategy may be more along the lines of “Let’s throw everything at the wall and see if anything sticks!”

 

Truth be told, we are probably looking at the demise of plasma as a consumer TV display technology in the not-too-distant future. Panasonic will eventually run into the same buzz saw that sliced up Pioneer – too much fab capacity and not enough market demand. It’s a great idea on paper to say you’ll continue to support plasma in the high-end and niche markets, but there comes a point where it just doesn’t make sense economically to stay in the business – and Panasonic is already staring at unprecedented losses for the year.

 

As for 3D, the DisplaySearch numbers show that TV purchases that were specifically tied to 3D capability amounted to about 7% of all TVs sold in North America in the third quarter of 2011 (the latest quarter for which I could find numbers). Active shutter or not, 3D TV just isn’t selling well on this part of the planet, but Panasonic’s support for passive 3D makes no sense at all – it’s not like the numbers are going to change as a result.

Now, there's a remote control you don't see every day. (Notice the button dedicated to Netflix streaming?)

 

In another portion of the demo room, Panasonic showed just how good its black levels are on 2012 plasma TV models, compared to 2011. Excuse me, but I recall seeing this same demo for the past six years, and the black levels on my 2008 model are already excellent – measuring below .1 nits on average. The 2011 VIERA ‘before’ plasma I observed had black levels resembling a 2006-vintage LCD TV, and didn’t look right to me. It’s time to retire this demonstration!

 

Oh, I almost forgot: There will be six new Blu-ray players in the line this year, three more than are really necessary. Four of them fall into the Smart Network 3D Blu-ray category, starting with the top-line DMP-BDT500 ($350) and stepping down through the DMP-BDT320 ($200) to the DMP-BDT220 ($150). There’s also the very compact and stylish DMP-BBT01 ($270), which can operate horizontally and vertically.

 

All four models offer (and I quote from the press release again) “…an improved UniPhier chip processor, 24p output for VOD, an expanded VIERA Connect functionality, and FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec),192Hz/32bit Audio DAC (not available on the DMP-BBT01), Smartphone remote control capability, a new touchpad remote control (available on DMP-BBT01, DMP-BDT500, DMP-BDT320),  2D-to-3D up-conversion2, which can convert 2D images from VIERA Connect1,  DVDs and Blu-ray discs into 3D with natural depth perception, a new slim design and a unique slot-in drive that is found in two of the models (the DMP-BBT01 and DMP-BDT320).”

 

Two non-3D players also make their debut. The DMP-BD87 will retail for $120, while the DMP-BD77 is the entry-level model, priced at $90. The difference? Built-in WiFi on the DMP-BD87, while you’ll need the accessory USB dongle for the DMP-BD77. Both models (and the four 3D versions) are also ‘Smart VIERA’ enabled and support the most popular Internet TV sources, including Netflix, YouTube, CinemaNow, Vudu, and Hulu Plus.

 

The reality of most Blu-ray player purchases is that people are buying them primarily to get inexpensive access to Netflix, YouTube, and Hulu. These three services account for something like 80% of all video streaming these days, and a connected Blu-ray player is a great way to add streaming to an older (but not THAT old) LCD or plasma TV – like mine.

 

Panasonic also has some new, more ergonomic remote controls for its TVs and Blu-ray players. One of them has just a few buttons and a touch pad, similar to those found on notebook computers. (Oh wait, I forgot – TVs are basically computers nowadays…)

 

So there you have it – plasma TVs to 65 inches, LCD TVs with LED backlights to 55 inches (and very likely to 60 inches in short order), and both active and passive 3D TVs. Something for everybody in 2012!

 

Come to think about it, this roster reads a lot like the LG TV lineup from 2009, and we all know what eventually happened to their active 3D TV line…

 

The Rout Is On – by Pete Putman

As things go, the flat screen TV business is relatively young. Until ten years ago, large LCD TVs weren’t even viable products. And plasma dominated the large screen (42” and up) flat screen TV business.

 

But neither technology held any substantial market share. Instead, CRT televisions (and rear-projection CRT sets) were ‘kings of the hill.’

 

Going back through some of my archives, I found that in the fourth quarter of 2005, CRT TVs held a 78.9% worldwide market share. That represented a decline of 15% from Q4 of 2004, no doubt due to the 137% increase in LCD TV market share in the same time period (yes, you read that right, 137%!).

 

While LCD TVs held a 14.7% market share, plasma TV share grew from 1.8% of all TVs sold to 3.9%, a growth rate of 109%. CRT rear-projection TVs held .9% of the market, a drop of 60% from Q4 ’04, while microdisplay RPTVs grew to 1.6% of the pie, an increase of 52% over the same time period. (All numbers compiled from DisplaySearch reports.)

 

How about the major TV brands? From Q3 ’05 to Q4 ’05, it might surprise you to learn that Sony had the top TV brand revenue share and growth, with 14% of all TV sales revenue (a quarterly growth rate of 130%)! Samsung was right behind with 11% revenue share and 36% Q-Q growth, followed by Philips (9.1% revenue share, 31% Q-Q growth), Panasonic (8.3% revenue share, 13% Q-Q growth), and LG (7.8% revenue share, 28% Q-Q growth).

 

These five companies accounted for 50% of all TV revenue in Q4 of 2005. And there was only about a 6-point spread between #1 and #5, so the pie was being divvied up pretty equally.

 

In terms of TV brand unit share, the order was changed somewhat. LG captured the number one spot with 9.8% unit share in Q4 ‘05, followed by Samsung (9.2%), TTE (7.5%), Philips (7.1%), and Sony (6.9%). The remaining 60% was chopped up among a host of brands.

 

The eye-opener here was when I went back to the beginning of 2005. For the first quarter of the year, Sharp topped the branded TV market share with an amazing 21% (a year-to-year growth of 82%). Philips was number 2 with 14.7% share, followed by Samsung (10.8%), Sony (10%), and LG (7.3%). The five brands accounted for 60% of all TV sales back then.

 

So – in a little less than a year, Sony added 7% to its brand share, while Samsung marched in place, LG picked up about 2 points, Sharp fell off the map completely, and Philips lost half its brand share. (TTE didn’t show up in the 2005 listings at all.)

 

Now, let’s jump ahead to Q4 2011. NPD DisplaySearch’s latest numbers show that LCD flatscreen TVs now account for 86.5% of all TVs sold worldwide. Plasma continues to decline as it pushes into a larger screen ‘niche,’ grabbing a miniscule 6.9% market share. Amazingly, CRT TVs still held a 6.4% share, while RPTVs managed to eke out a .0004% market share – look for this category to be killed off completely in 2012.

 

And the tables have turned completely from 2005 in terms of worldwide market share. Samsung managed the amazing feat of increasing its market share to 26.3% from Q4 ’10 to Q4 ’11, an all-time record and an amazing growth rate of 18% in an otherwise-flat (no pun intended) industry. LG was far behind Samsung with a 13.4% market share, essentially unchanged since Q4 ’10.

 

As for Sony, they also held steady at 9.8%, basically the same as a year before, while Panasonic saw a decline of 2% to 6.9%. Sharp – who continues to sell fewer LCD TVs than Panasonic, incredibly – experienced a decline of 7% from Q4 ’10 to a 5.9% market share in Q4 ’11. These five brands accounted for 62.3% of the 74,236,000 TVs sold.

 

So what does this all mean? First, Samsung has clearly blown away everyone else in the TV industry, opening up a double-digit lead over their nearest competitor (LG) in market share. And those two guys waste time arguing about whether passive or active is better for 3D viewing?

 

Second, we’re seeing the slow, inexorable end of the Japanese television industry, just as we saw it happen in the United States in the late 1970s to the late 1980s. Sharp, Sony, and Panasonic are all hemorrhaging money for the current fiscal year that ends on March 31, and the consumer TV business is the primary reason.

 

When TVs sold for $50 per diagonal inch and up, there was plenty of money on the table for everyone. But now that mainstream TVs screen sizes (up to 55 inches) are selling for $10 – $15 per diagonal inch, the Japanese simply can’t compete anymore. And it will only get worse with Chinese TV brands Haier, Hisense, TCL, and others establishing beachheads on all continents.

 

Third, it’s over. The fat lady has sung. Samsung has won. They set out in the mid-1990s to beat Sony at their own game, and by any reasonable account, have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. Samsung will make a nice profit on 2011 TV sales, and LG will at least get their LCD TV business back into the black.

 

But the story isn’t so pretty for Sharp, Sony, and Panasonic. Sharp still has no explanation for their continual slide in market share, which apparently began in 2005 and continued uninterrupted, and which has now idled (by some accounts) 50% of their LCD fab capacity. As for Panasonic, they’d already shut down one LCD and one plasma factory in 2011, because demand just isn’t there. And no one in Osaka knows how to fix the problem.

 

Sony is being pressured by financial analysts in Japan to get out of the TV business altogether, a decision which, as painful as it might be to management given Sony’s long and rich history with TV manufacturing, is probably the most sensible thing to do. The company’s TV business has lost money for eight straight years – never mind the strong market share numbers that popped up early on.

 

And it’s not going to get better any time soon, as DisplaySearch stated that 2011 worldwide TV shipments actually declined .3% in 2011, reversing six consecutive years of growth. Only the LCD TV category showed any increase with a bare-bones 1% uptick. Everything else was on a downhill slide, with plasma declining 7%, CRTs falling 43%, and RPTVs in a 51% tailspin.

 

Hitachi has already pulled the plug on their TV business. Toshiba and Mitsubishi will no doubt follow suit in the next 12-24 months. And that will leave us with the Hatfields & McCoys in Korea, plus a host of Chinese brands you may want to get familiar with. (The running joke at CES 2012 is that it was the “Chinese” Electronics Show, and that’s not far from the truth!)

 

The rout is on…