Posts Tagged ‘Panasonic’

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.

Product Review: Mitsubishi HC9000 Diamond 3D Projector

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

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

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

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

OUT OF THE BOX

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

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

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

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

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

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

MENUS AND ADJUSTMENTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ON THE TEST BENCH: 2D

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ON THE TEST BENCH: 3D

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMAGE QUALITY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

CONCLUSIONS

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

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

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

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!

One Size Fits All

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

It’s Deal Time!

Have you been checking TV prices lately? There are some amazingly good deals to be had on big screen TVs and they have nothing to do with Christmas carols, turkeys, and football games.

 

Right now, retailers are moving out older TV models to make room for the 2011 lines. And that means some big time discounts. Here are a few examples from last Friday’s (March 11) Philadelphia Inquirer.

 

P. C. Richard, a New York City-based retailer with stores in New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania, ran a half-page ad advertising some ‘incredible deals’ on TV and other goodies. Want a 42-inch Panasonic WiFi-ready plasma TV with 720p resolution? It’s yours for $387.63 (TCP-42X3).

 

How about a 50-inch 3D-ready 1080p plasma TV? Take it home for $796.84 (TCP50GT25). By the way, the 50GT25 was one of the first Panasonic 3D TVs launched a year ago, and it was bundled with a Blu-ray player and a pair of glasses for about $2,800 at Best Buy.

 

Want a good deal on an LED LCD TV? Sharp’s LC40LE820UN (yes, it is a Quattron model) has been cut to $698.74. This is a 40-inch 1080p set with 120 Hz motion correction.

 

Speaking of Blu-ray players, P.C. Richard is pushing Samsung’s BD-C5500 out the door at $111.97. It supports Netflix and Pandora, but is NOT a WiFi player. You’ll need a conventional network connection (RJ45) to set it up.

 

There are plenty of other TV deals to be had, and not just at P. C. Richard. I’d take a closer look at those Sunday fliers and cruise the Best Buy – Target – Wal-Mart – hhgregg Web sites to see what other deals you can score. (Don’t forget Sears and the regional department store chains, either.)