Posts Tagged ‘Sony’

Lamp? What Lamp?

Lamp-free projection isn’t a new idea. After all, that term precisely describes cathode-ray tube (CRT) projectors, which were the only way to project electronic color images for almost two decades. (A CRT-engined light valve projector was demonstrated in England prior to World War II!)

With the advent of LCD and then DLP projectors in the early to mid-1990s, the writing was on the wall for CRTs. The microdisplay projector category grew explosively in just fifteen years from a handful of video-resolution boxes at InfoComm 1993 to total domination of the category at all resolutions and brightness levels by 2008.

Indeed; it seemed like the good times would just roll on forever. But we all know that’s not usually the case (composite video and VGA notwithstanding). And in 2011, the specter of super-sized, inexpensive LCD TVs and monitors suddenly loomed over what once was the most energetic, anarchaic, and exhilarating AV thrill ride ever.

Two years later, projector manufacturers are watching with increasing concern as the traditional “hang and bang” conference room and classroom market yields to the siren song of Big LCDs. “No need to change lamps!” they cry out. “No need to dim lights! No need for a screen! Instant on and off! Set it and forget it!” The message is seductive, and for the most part, true.

A change is coming. Some manufacturers, refusing to become paralyzed with inaction, are speeding up development of lamp-free projectors, turning to light-emitting diodes, lasers, and a combination of the two in an attempt to slow the tides of change. You’ve no doubt seen some of these projectors at earlier InfoComm, CES, and SID get-togethers. Well, you’re about to see a lot more.

At the January Integrated Systems Europe show, BenQ, Sony, Mitsubishi, NEC, and Casio all exhibited lamp-free projectors with brightness levels ranging from a few hundred lumens to 2,000 lumens. Sony’s demo attracted great interest, as it was the first 3LCD-based imaging system and uses lasers. BenQ’s offerings are also 100% laser-engined, with the rest of the crowd using various combinations of LEDs and lasers.

Going lamp-free is seen as a successful parry against Big LCDs. First off, the lamp replacement issue goes away, once and for all. Lamp-free projectors are also essentially maintenance-free, just like today’s LCD TVs: Simply turn them on and use them for 15,000 to 20,000 hours. And they also offer instant on/off operation, something that’s been a challenge for designers of conventional short-arc lamp designs.

At present, lamp-free projectors can span three levels of brightness. The 100%-LED designs are usually good for a maximum of 1100 lumens, with 500 lumens being the norm. Above 1100 lumens and up to 4,000 lumens, the laser/LED hybrids take over. A gap then follows from 4,000 to 10,000 lumens, at which point the high-power laser light engines rule the roost, soaring as high as 70,000 lumens for digital cinema and large venue projection.

Christie Digital (owners of NECSEL), Laser Light Engines, Kodak, and NEC are all active in the large venue laser space. LLE’s innovative remote laser light heads with armored fiber optic bundles may be the key to wider adoption of the technology. Christie, who recently sponsored a two-week showcase run of GI JOE:RETALIATION in Burbank CA, using their 60,000+ lumens laser DLP Cinema projector, is now pondering the technical and financial logistics of offering more laser cinema screenings to kick up interest.

Make no mistake about it; this is a crucial time for projector manufacturers, of which there are still too many in my opinion. Super-sized 4K LCD panels are coming, 2K LCD glass cuts are going to get bigger and cheaper (Sharp’s 90-inch behemoth can be purchased by dealers for nearly $2,000 below the stated SRP from InfoComm 2013), and the only realistic way for projectors to hold any ground is to drop the lamp, once and for all.

At InfoComm, we’ll see just how many manufacturers have gotten the message – and how many are still waiting to hop on the bandwagon…

ISE 2013: Oh, It’s ON!

ISE-Outdoor-Sign-WEB

ISE is a joint venture between InfoComm and CEDIA – and drew a sizable crowd, even with cold, wet weather.

Much has been made of the rapid price drops in the LCD TV market; specifically, LCD TVs that measure 65 inches and up. Ever since Sharp rolled out its 70-inch and 80-inch 1080p LCD TV products in 2011, consultants and systems integrators have been switching over to these projection screen-sized displays instead of traditional front projectors and separate screens.

There are many reasons for this trend, not the least of which is the low prices on the 70-inch, 80-inch, and 90-inch Sharp products – about $2,000, $3700, and $8000, respectively. When compared to a ceiling-mounted projector and motorized screen, it’s just not a fair fight. Add in the additional labor and wiring of power and class 2 control and video signals, and the big LCDs come out clearly ahead.

There are other reasons why investment banks and universities are making the switch away from projection. One in particular is the need to replace lamps every few thousand hours (if they last that long). Another is the need with certain projectors to clean dust out and replace air filters. Neither of these maintenance issues are factors with large LCD TVs, which also come with extended warranties if installed by an authorized dealer/integrator.

And of course, there’s the ambient lighting issue. Clients can legitimately ask, “What is the point of a nice conference room with plenty of windows if you have to keep closing them every time you make a presentation?” With LCD displays, you don’t need to, unless you have a glare problem.

From my perspective, the market for 2000- to 3000-lumens projectors that are ceiling-mounted in classrooms and meeting rooms has turned irreversibly towards self-contained flat screen displays. This trend will only accelerate as these screens continue to drop in price and more competitors jostle for a share of the pie.

But projector manufacturers aren’t ready to fold up shop and cry, “uncle!” At ISE 2013, more than a few “lampless” projectors made their debut, and they’re aimed at stemming the tide of mongo LCDs.

sony laser

I can’t tell what’s more amazing: That Sony harnessed a laser light engine to a 3LCD projector, or that they started with 4000 lumens and 1920×1200 resolution.

Perhaps the most intriguing product was found in the Sony booth, where an installation-sized 3LCD chassis was up and running. This product, which doesn’t have a model number or price yet, uses a 100% laser light illumination engine to project Wide UXGA (1920×1200) images.

It wasn’t a static demo, either. The projector was sequencing through a series of full-color graphics and photos (no video, though) and the color was impressive. What was even more impressive was the use of WUXGA 3LCD panels (not LCoS or DLP). This is the first publicly-shown 3LCD projector to use lasers – even Epson, who is the dominant player in HTPS LCD fabrication and one of the top brands of LCD projectors – hasn’t shown one yet.

Sony’s prototype, which will be officially launched at InfoComm this coming June, is rated at 4000 lumens of brightness, both in white and color light output. It has interchangeable lenses and supports image warping and soft-edge blending.

When it came to discuss the workings of the laser light engine, “mum” was the word. I suspect the laser light engine is being used to stimulate phosphors to get red, green, and blue light. The only thing that has me wondering is the light output, which is on the high side for a laser/phosphor system. Well, all will be revealed in about five months…

mitsubishi

Mitsubishi’s also mixing it up with three models of LaserVue projectors.

Not far away, Mitsubishi took the wraps off a new line of LaserVue DLP projectors. These “hybrid” models build on the same projection technology that Mits developed for its erstwhile LaserVUE rear projection TV sets; employing a red LED, numerous blue laser diodes, and a single-segment green phosphor color wheel.

Unlike Sony, Mits opted to go with three different models for its coming-out party. The NW31U-EST WXGA (1280 x 800 resolution, 2500 lumens) extreme short throw model will arrive in April, followed shortly by two standard throw models: the NW30U WXGA (1280 x 800, 3000 lumens) and the NF32U (1920×1080, 3000 lumens).

The Mits projectors are also notable in that they are part of the new “cloud” lineup – these projectors can connect quickly and easily to the Internet to download and stream files. (We’ve come a long way from those slow, tedious and unreliable “wireless projector” demos of the late 1990s!) And they can mirror any Android or iOS tablet that would be used to control that remote computer or server.

So – how long are the lasers supposed to last in these new projectors? The stock response is 20,000 to 30,000 hours. In reality, it’s the power supply that often craps out before the lasers, a problem that popped up more than a few times with the LaserVUE TVs. I’d assume that both Sony and Mitsubishi have since gathered much useful data on power supply lifetimes and de-rating to ensure reliable service.

benq

BenQ expanded their line of laser DLP projectors…

panasonic hybird

…while Panasonic made their hybrids the centerpiece of a nice energy conservation demo.

BenQ also showed laser-engined DLP projectors at the show, while nearby, Casio had a full line of LED/laser hybrids. The color on most models I saw was considerably better than the first crop that came out in 2010 and 2011 – obviously, engineers are taming the excessively-saturated shades of red and blue that LEDs and lasers create. (BenQ uses lasers exclusively; Casio uses both lasers and LEDs.)

Although Epson didn’t show a laser 3LCD product, I’m quite sure one is in the works at the Matsumoto labs. And you can be sure that other projector manufacturers will have lampless models of their own to show in Orlando later this year.

laser led

Samsung’s got a 95-inch LCD (and a 75-inch version, too) to make the projector guys uncomfortable.

Is the use of a laser, LED, or hybrid light engine enough to stem the tide to big LCDs? Only a handful of projector marketing guys I spoke to at the show were optimistic that the onrush of LCDs could be stopped or delayed.

While lasers and LEDs make replacement lamps go away, the issues with ambient light and the costs of installing a separate screen and projector mount remain. And the soon-to-be-available crop of 4K LCD displays in sizes from 50 to 100 inches will just raise the stakes even higher.

Still; it’s good to see that projector manufacturers are fighting back and innovating some cool designs along the way. (And if they still need motivation, all they had to do was check out the 75-inch and 95-inch edge-lit LCD displays in the Samsung booth…)

CES 2013: From Hype to Ho-Hum in Minutes

Here we go again ! (Sigh…)

Here we go again ! (Sigh…)

Things are booming in the world of consumer electronics, regardless of the state of the world’s economy. You needed no additional proof beyond the enormous turnout at last week’s International CES, which was in excess of 150,000, according to official press releases. Even if you apply the Kell factor, that’s still a huge turnout – at least 120,000.

I’ve used an easy rule to determine attendance: How long it takes to catch a cab at the end of the first two days of the show. 10 minutes? Light turnout. 20 minutes? Respectable turnout. 40 minutes or more? Now, that’s a crowd!

I spent the equivalent of three full days at the show, scrambling back and forth between strip hotels and the convention center, capturing over 1200 videos and photos along the way. After a while, it all started to blur together. I mean; how many 110-inch TVs do you have to see before the “awe” wears off? How many tablets will you run across before you swear never to touch another one?

This year’s edition of show was characterized by a level playing field across many technologies. No longer do the Japanese and Koreans have an exclusive right to “first to market.” Their neighbors across the sea are now just as technically competent, if not more so.

hisense

Hisense’s “Big Bertha” uses the same glass as TVs shown by TCL, Samsung, and Westinghouse Digital.

syyworth

Everybody (and their brother) had an 84-inch 4K TV at the show. (Yawn…)

Case in point: The 110-inch 4K LCD TVs shown at CES (I counted four of them, including one in the Samsung booth) all use glass from a Chinese LCD fab known as China Star Optoelectronics Technology, which is a three-year old joint venture between TCL, Samsung, and the local government of Shenzen.

Never heard of them? You will. What’s even more amazing is that their Gen 8.5 LCD fab is (according to an industry insider I spoke to) more efficiently used when cutting two 98-inch LCD panels at the same time. Those are huge cuts, and given China’s predilection for market dominance, we may see rapid price drops in 4K TVs across all sizes by the end of 2013.

Speaking of 4K (UHDTV); everyone had it. And I mean everyone! Sony, Panasonic, LG, Samsung, Toshiba, Sharp, Westinghouse, Skyworth, TCL, Hisense, Haier – wait! You never heard of those last four companies? The last three had enormous booths at the show, and Hisense showed five different models of 4K TVs – 50, 58, 65, 84, and 100 inches. That’s more than anyone else had.

In a significant marketing and PR coup, TCL managed to get their 110-inch 4K TV featured in Iron Man III, which debuts in May. That’s the sort of promotional genius that Sony and Panasonic used to pull off. But there are new guys on the block now, and they’re playing for keeps. The steady decline of the Japanese TV industry and continuing financial woes of its major players are all the proof you need.

4koled tv

So – who was REALLY “first” to show a 4K 56-inch OLED TV? Sony, or…

panasonic

…Panasonic, who also claimed they were the “first?” (Maybe it was a matter of minutes?)

Interestingly, Sony’s booth signs identified this display as the “world’s first and largest OLED TV.” Puzzling, as it clearly wasn’t the first OLED TV ever shown, and just down the hall, Panasonic was showing its 56-inch OLED TV, the “world’s largest 4K OLED created by printing technology.” Both companies need to get out of their booths more often!

Panasonic, who emphatically renewed their commitment to plasma at CES (despite a continued decline in plasma TV sales worldwide), clearly wanted to show they had a second act ready when plasma eventually bites the bullet. The company is also a major player in IPS LCD, manufacturing LCD TVs in sizes to 65 inches that are every bit as good anything LG cranks out.

Speaking of LG…the heavy emphasis on 3D found in last year’s booth was all but gone this year. Yes, the enormous passive 3DTV wall that greeted visitors at the entrance was still there. And there were a few passive 3D demos scattered throughout the booth. But the more impressive exhibit featured a wall of curved 55-inch OLED TVs. (Why would anyone need a curved TV? You’re probably asking. Well, why would anyone need most of the stuff you see at CES?)

LG also showcased a unique product – a 100” projector screen illuminated by an ultra-short-throw laser projector. LG billed it as the world’s largest wall-mount TV (for now) and it’s known as “Hecto.” The projector uses laser diodes (presumably with DLP technology; that wasn’t mentioned) to illuminate that screen at a distance of just 22 inches.

lg oled tv

It’s bad enough that LG shows 55-inch OLED TVs we can’t buy yet. Now, they have curved OLED TVs we can’t buy yet. (Drool…)

3d tv

Got two people who want to watch two different 3D TV programs at the same time? No problem for Samsung!

Back down the hall, LG’s neighbor Samsung also showed a 55-inch curved OLED TV (just one) and a couple of company representatives were surprised to hear that LG had a bevy of them. (I repeat my observation about booth personnel who need to get out more.) Samsung did have a clever demo of an OLED TV showing simultaneous 2K programming – simply change a setting on the 3D glasses and you could watch one or the other show. (TI showed this same trick years ago with DLP RPTVs by switching left eye and right information.)

Samsung did have an 85-inch 4K LCD TV that wasn’t duplicated anywhere else on the show floor, and as far as I can tell, it’s a home-grown product. But given the company’s investment in China Star and its shifting emphasis on AM OLED production, I would not be surprised to see Samsung sourcing more of its LCD glass from China in the near future.

Sharp’s booth intrigued me. Here’s a company on the verge of bankruptcy that was showing a full line of new Quattron LCD TVs, along with “Moth Eye” anti-glare first surface glass. Moth Eye glass preserves high contrast and color saturation, but minimizes reflections in a similar way to a moth’s eye; hence the name. Sharp also had impressive demos of flexible OLEDs and a gorgeous 32-inch 4K LCD monitor.

IGZO was also heralded all around the booth. Indium Gallium Zinc Oxide is a new type of semiconductor layer for switching LCD pixels that consumes less power, passes more light, and switches at faster speeds. Many LCD manufacturers (and OLED manufacturers, too) are working on IGZO, but Sharp is closer to the finish line than anyone else – and that may be the salvation of the company, along with an almost-inevitable orderly bankruptcy.

IGZO is why Terry Gou, the chairman of Hon Hai Precision Industries, wants to buy a piece of Sharp – about 10%, to be exact. He’s looking for a source of VA glass for Apple’s tablets and phones (Hon Hai owns Foxconn, who manufactures these products.) And if Sharp can’t get its financial house in order, he might wind up making a bid for the entire company. (“Never happen!” you say. “The Japanese government wouldn’t allow it.” Well, these are different times we live in, so never say “never!”)

igzo

Sharp may not be able to balance their books, but they still know how to manufacture some beautiful displays.

tlc

It goes without saying that Tony Stark would have a 110-inch TV, right?

On to the Chinese. They showed 4K, 84-inch and 110-inch LCD glass cuts, gesture recognition, clever LED illumination systems, 3D, smart TVs – basically, everything the Japanese and Koreans were showing. Hisense had a spectacular demo of a transparent 3D LCD TV, along with something called U-LED TV. The explanation of this by the booth representative was so ambiguous that I’ll leave it at an enhanced method of controlling the backlight for improved contrast.

I had heard from an industry colleague that Hisense’s XT880-series 4K TV would have rock-bottom retail prices, but couldn’t confirm this from booth personnel. (Think of $2,000 for a 50-inch 4K TV.) The company’s gesture recognition demo wasn’t nearly as impressive – it’s powered by Israel-based EyeSight – but clearly shows that Hisense is just as far along in refining this feature as anyone else.

TCL had demonstrations of high-contrast 4K TVs with amazingly deep blacks; as good as anything I’ve seen from LG and Samsung. They also had a demonstration of autostereo 3D at the back of their booth, very close to Toshiba (who was showing the same thing). Haier had that now-ubiquitous 4K LCD TV prominently featured in their booth, along with smart TVs and what must have been several dozen tablets. Meanwhile, Skyworth’s booth in the lower south hall showcased yet another 84-inch 4K TV.

rca

RCA’s got the first tablet with an integrated ATSC/MH tuner, and it runs Windows 8.

tv antennas

TV antennas are passe? NOT!

celluons

Celluon’s laser-powered virtual keyboard works on any surface. TI had a pair connected to picoprojectors in their suite.

Vizio’s suite at the Wynn featured 80-inch, 70-inch, and 60-inch LCD TVs using the Sharp Gen 10 glass, and they looked impressive. One version of the 70-inch set is already selling below $2,000, and the 80-incher will come in (for now) at just under $4,500. Vizio also had three new 4K TVs in 55-inch, 65-inch, and 70-inch sizes, but no pricing was announced yet. (Everyone is sitting on their hands waiting for the other guy to price his 4K TVs!)

There was obviously a lot more to CES than televisions. Vizio has a new 11.6” tablet with 1920×1080 resolution that runs Windows 8 with a AMD Z-60 processor. Panasonic showed a prototype 20-inch 4K (3840×2560) tablet using IPS-alpha glass. It also runs Windows 8 with an Intel Corei5 CPU and has multi-touch and stylus input. And RCA had a cool 8-inch tablet (Win 8 OS) that incorporates an ATSC receiver and small antenna. It can play back both conventional 8VSB and MH broadcasts.

Silicon Image had a kit-bashed 7” Kindle tablet running their new UltraGig 6400 60 GHz transmitter, delivering 2K video to a bevy of LCD TVs. They also showed a new image scaling chip to convert 2K to 4K, along with the latest version of InstaPrevue. The latter technology lets you see what’s on any connected HDMI input with I-frame thumbnails of video and still images.

sillcon

Silicon Image’s new UltraGig 6400 TX chip connects this full HD Kindle tablet to an HDTV at 60 GHz.

speech

Conexant’s powerful speech processing chips can filter out any background noise while you “command” your smart TV.

omeks

Omek’s gesture control demo was easily the most impressive at the show.

Over in the LV Hotel, Conexant dazzled with a demonstration of adaptive background noise filtering to improve the reliability of voice control systems for televisions. The demo consisted of a nearby loudspeaker playing back an art lecture while commands for TV operation were spoken. A graphical representation showed how effectively the background noise was filtered out completely. The second demo had a Skype conversation running with a TV on in the background and the remote caller walking around the room. I never heard one peep from the TV, and the remote caller was always intelligible.

A few floors down, Omek (yet another Israel-based gesture recognition startup) had perhaps the best demo of gesture control at the show. Their system captures 22 points of reference along your hands, allowing complex gesture control using simple, intuitive finger and wrist movement. (No flailing of arms was necessary). I watched as an operator at a small computer monitor pulled a virtual book from a shelf and flipped through its pages, and also selected a record album, removed the record from its sleeve, and placed it on a virtual turntable. I was even treated to a small marionette show!

At the Renaissance, Prime Sense had numerous exhibits that all revolved around their new, ultra-compact 3D camera design. One demo by Shopperception involved boxes of cereal on a shelf. As you picked one up, the sensors would flash a coupon offer for that cereal to your tablet or phone, or suggest you buy a larger, more economical size instead of two boxes.

Nearby, Covii had one of those “You Are Here” shopping mall locator maps that operated with touchless sensing to expand and provide more detail about any store you were interested in, including sales and promotions. And Matterport had a nifty 3D 360-degree camera that could scan and provide a 3D representation of any room in about one minute. You could then rotate and turn the views in any direction.

hzo

Do not – repeat, DO NOT try this at home with your tablet!

hybird

A hybrid low rider? With a 500-watt sound system? Who’d a thunk it?

gps

Wear this Garmin GPS watch and nobody can ever tell you to “get lost!”

HzO was back with another amazing demo of their WaterBlock waterproofing system. They had a tablet computer sitting in a continuous shower, and also dunked it in a fish tank. Additional demos included dropping smart phones in a bowl of beer and other mysterious liquids. The water infiltrates all spaces but has no effect on operation – you just drip-dry the device once extracted from water. (How do you get rid of the beer smell, though?)

There was an HDMI pavilion at the show, but I was more interested in the goings-on at the DisplayPort exhibit. VESA representatives showed me a single-channel DP connection from a smart phone to a TV for gaming and playing back video, all over a super-thin connecting cable. The powers that be at VESA are also talking about upping the data rates for DisplayPort (currently about 18 Gb/s) to accommodate higher-resolution TVs.

Right now, DP uses an uncompressed data coding method. But there is now discussion of applying a light compression algorithm (tentatively called DisplayStream) that would enable data rates to go much higher – more like 25 Gb/s. (DisplayPort can currently handle 3840×2160 pixels with 10-bit color and a 60-Hz refresh rate.)

I was surprised at the number of devices at the show that support HDMI, and expected more support for DP given its ability to handle higher data rates and its Thunderbolt data layer overlay. It may still be early in the game – the venerable VGA connector is on its way out starting this year, and manufacturers of laptops, tablets, and phones are still debating which digital interface to hitch their horses to.

ces

No, this is not a typical CES attendee. But it’s how all of us feel after three days at the show.

panasonic

Panasonic’s 20-inch 4K offering is the Rolls-Royce of tablets. (So who needs a notebook!)

inada

Suffice it to say that this was a VERY popular booth at CES…

mattress

…as was this one. Sealy lets you control your mattress settings from your iPad. (Hey, it’s CES!)

Let’s wrap things up with a discussion of ultrabooks. Intel’s booth prominently featured a full line of these next-gen notebooks, although several of the models on display weren’t nearly as thin as I’d expect an ultrabook to be. Shipments of “ultras” in 2012 were only about half of what was forecast.

The reason? Tablets. Vizio’s new tablet is one of the larger models at nearly 12 inches, but Panasonic showed you can go even larger and make it work. At that point, why would you need a notebook? I left mine at home this time and used a Nook HD+ instead. Fitted with a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, and loaded with Office-compatible programs, it did everything I needed it to do while in Vegas.

Needless to say, the Intel booth representative wasn’t too happy when I pointed this out to him. But that’s the thing about CES: There’s always some other guy at the show that has the same or better product than you. There’s always a better mousetrap or waffle-maker lurking in the South Hall. Very few companies have much of an edge in technology these days (the Chinese brands proved that in spades), and so many of these “wow, gotta have it!” items become commodities in rapid order.

The plethora of 4K and ultra-large LCD TVs found at CES proved this conclusively, as they went from hype to ho-hum in a matter of minutes. So did tablets, smart phones, and other connectivity gadgets. What CES 2013 was really about was the shift in manufacturing prowess and power to China from Japan and Korea; a shift that will only accelerate with time. And that is definitely NOT ho-hum!

Editor’s note: Many thanks and a tip of the hat to Nikon booth personnel, who were apparently charging and swapping out batteries for journalists who (like me) inadvertently ran out of power during the show. They saved me more than once!

marilyn

Marilyn says, “Gentlemen prefer 4K 3D curved wireless multi-touch OLED IGZO cloud-based voice controlled tablets!” (See you next year…)

Goodbye, 2012. Don’t Let the Door Hit You on the Way Out

This will be my last post for 2012. And what a year it’s been.

We were dazzled by 55-inch OLEDS at CES nearly a year ago that will not make it to market. We’ve seen record financial losses at some of the most venerated names in consumer electronics (Sony, Panasonic) and one long-time Japanese brand on the verge of bankruptcy (Sharp.)

TV sales continued their decline from last year, as did TV prices. It’s now possible to buy 42-inch LCD TVs for quite a bit less than $400. The obituary is being written for plasma, according to most analysts. (I agree.) Many LCD TV manufacturers and retail brands are now branching into (get this) LED lighting.

Viewing of traditional broadcast TV channels fell off the cliff this year, except at NBC. AMC is the hot channel now, and ironically,  they used to just run old movies with innumerable commercial interruptions. There is evidence that cord-cutting is gaining in popularity (it’s the economy, stupid!) and video streaming has supplanted sales and rentals of DVDs and Blu-ray discs. My gosh, Disney and Netflix are now partners in streaming!

The hot products this season aren’t TVs, although really big screens are dirt cheap and have seen a spike in sales. Digital cameras are threatened by smart phones, with 2012 shipments off by as much as 40% from last year. Now, we have DSLRs and point-and-shoots with built-in Web browsers, quickie image editors, and the Android OS. (I think that’s called a phone now?)

No, the hot product this year is the tablet. iPad, Surface, Nook, Galaxy, Kindle, take your pick – they’re all popular, and the Consumer Electronics Association predicts that 50% of American homes could own at least one tablet by the end of the holiday selling season.

Interest in 3D has largely waned among the general public and TV manufacturers, contrary to what you may read on some die-hard 3D enthusiast Web sites. From all accounts, the 3D Olympics broadcasts found their biggest audience in the production trucks adjacent to the events in London.

So what’s the next big thing? Why, it’s 4K, otherwise known as Ultra HD (except at Sony, who always marches to the beat of a different drum). Never mind that there’s no content to watch; you can buy in for a mealy twenty grand. Or, you can wait until after CES and pick up one of the new Chinese 4K TVs for a lot less.

Prices for flash memory are dirt cheap, further depressing optical disc sales. You can buy 32 GB SD and Micro SD cards for all of twenty bucks now. That’s enough space to hold almost six two-hour 1080p movies, using MPEG4 H.264 compression.

We’re seeing a major shift away from value in hardware to value in software – content, apps, whatever you want to call them. Face it; “electronics is cheap!” And more and more of our gadgets are coming from China, which is evolving into the largest market for consumer electronics in the world.

Front projectors came under heavy fire in the commercial AV space, threatened by super-cheap and big LCD TVs. But they’re firing back by adopting lamp-less projection engines, using LEDs, lasers, or combinations of the two. The rear-projection TV category is officially RIP now, after Mitsubishi threw in the towel in late November. If it ain’t flat, consumers don’t want it.

You know things are nutty when Samsung and Apple seem to spend most of their time in court suing each other (and Google, and vice-versa), yet all three companies paired up to make a $500M bid for Kodak’s digital imaging patents. You remember Kodak, right? They once made photographic film, and cameras, and processing chemicals, etc. (Don’t remember them? You must be a Millennial.)

The industry is obsessed with the “second screen,” although they can’t quite define how it is used and how often. We’re obsessed with the idea that we can stream any movie or TV show we want, at any time and in any place, but continue to be surprised when the monthly bill comes in from Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner, and so on. And why is it that broadband speeds are so much faster abroad, in countries where the government often maintains the telecommunications infrastructure?

Despite claims that more airwaves are needed for wireless broadband (at the expense of UHF TV broadcasters), we found out the hard way during Hurricane Sandy and other extreme weather that, more often than not, broadcast TV was the only reliable way to get news updates when the power went out, trees fell down, and buildings flooded. (Some lessons are just hard to learn!)

It’s been quite a year, and Ken and I have enjoyed trying to explain the significance of many of the developments that you’ve heard and read about. We’ll continue to do so in 2013 on an all-new Web site (same name) that should be somewhat easier on the eyes and faster to navigate.

Look for a launch of the new site sometime in mid-January, right after that annual exercise in electronic insanity that takes place in Las Vegas every year. Both Ken and I will have our usual coverage and analysis, and maybe we can even find a couple of gems amongst all of the electronic detritus that lines the aisles of the Las Vegas Convention Center.

That’s it for now. Have a safe and happy holiday season and a safe New Year. And in the wake of the Newtown, CT tragedy, remember to keep all the gadgets we lust after and “can’t live without” in perspective: It’s just a bunch of dumb wires and components when all is said and done.

There are more important things in life…

4K Presto Change-O!

Sony is headed for an unprecedented ninth straight year of financial losses in its television business, but pay no attention to that – look at this nice shiny thing over here instead! Yesterday, Sony announced they would begin shipping the 4K Ultra HD Video Player, a hard disk drive (HDD) media player that connects to Sony’s XBR-84X900 84-inch 4K LCD TV. The player will be pre-loaded with several full-length movies and a gallery of 4K video, according to the company’s press release.

Interestingly, the release also stated that the player is “…Available as a bonus loaned exclusively to U.S. customers purchasing the Sony 4K LED TV…” Apparently, you can’t buy one; you can only “borrow” it. Let’s read a bit more from the press release:

“Sony is a company of firsts, and this introduction of the first 4K technology platform continues that pioneering, innovative spirit,” said Phil Molyneux, president and chief operating officer of Sony Electronics. “We were the first to introduce 4K projectors to cinemas in 2005, the first to introduce a 4K projector designed for the home in 2011, and the first to offer a 4K upscaling Blu-ray Disc player earlier this year. Now, we’re the first to begin closing the content loop, offering native 4K content for the home and delivering the most immersive, awe-inspiring entertainment experience yet.”

And just how “awe-inspiring” will that experience be? The 4K movie offerings include the recent remake of Total Recall, a movie that was universally panned by critics (30% rating on the Rotten Tomatoes Web site) and didn’t even make back half of its production budget.

You’ll also receive Adam Sandler’s That’s My Boy!; another box office bomb that scored even lower among critics and made a brief appearance in theaters. Want more? How about Battle: Los Angeles, of which one RT critic said, “…… this humorless film (is) as unimaginative — and as exhausting — as you can get.”

The 4K bundle also includes Salt, The Karate Kid (2010), The Amazing Spider-Man, The Other Guys, Taxi Driver, and The Bridge on the River Kwai. I enjoyed the first three Spider-Man movies, but skipped this year’s re-boot. The rest of the movies gathered decent reviews, but from my perspective, there are only two true classics on the list – Taxi Driver and River Kwai.

Sadly, they can’t even stock their media player with movies worthy of 4K transfers, like their recently-restored Dr. Strangelove, which looks gorgeous in 4K. (Hey Sony, how about offering some Academy Award nominees and winners instead, like The Last Emperor, or A Few Good Men? Moneyball? The Social Network? Remember those?)

Sharp is also practicing misdirection. Thursday’s business newswires were buzzing with rumors that Sharp is in talks to sell shares of the company to Dell, Intel, and Qualcomm to bolster its balance sheet in return for a stable supply of breakthrough display technology.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Sharp wants an investment of about $240M from both Dell and Intel, and a smaller investment from Qualcomm. The prize? Sharp’s IGZO (indium-gallium-zinc oxide) backplane technology, which makes displays lighter and thinner, increases pixel density, and improves energy efficiency. Any deal these companies would make with Sharp would guarantee them a corresponding percentage of the Sakai IGZO panel output.

Sharp’s negotiations with Hon Hai stalled a few months ago, and the latter company sees no point rushing to close a deal while Sharp’s market valuation is falling off a cliff. Ironically, Hon Hai’s reluctance is a contributory factor in Sharp’s share price dropping to bargain-basement numbers – trading last Friday for about 172 yen, a decline from well over 2,000 yen in 2008.

According to the WSJ story, Sharp President Takashi Okuda was quoted as saying that “Sharp is counting on IGZO to save the company.” However, Sharp’s struggles with low IGZO production yields are well-known, and the company’s cash reserves are rapidly dwindling.

It’s 4K or bust for Sharp!

So what do you say to the press?  Pay no attention to that; look at this shiny new thing over here instead! Sharp’s “shiny new thing” is a 32-inch 4K (3840×2160) LCD monitor that will go on sale in February for ¥450,000 in Japan (about $5,500 in USD). It uses the IGZO backplane, weighs about 17 pounds, and will include a pair of HDMI connectors and internal speakers, according to IDG’s News Service.

Note that this is not a 4K TV; just a ‘dumb’ monitor. But its price per diagonal inch is far below that of the 84-inch 4K TVs announced by Sony, LG, and Toshiba. Unfortunately, the screen size is too small to be of much value to the consumer market, which is why the company stated that they expect more interest from computer graphics professionals, the medical industry, and architects.

Both 4K announcements show that while both companies may be losing their shirts, they haven’t lost their technical mojo. Now, the question is how long before analysts, investors, and the press refocus on the elephant in the room: Profitability.

This article originally appeared on Display Central.