Posts Tagged ‘Sony’

Red Ink at Morning; Investors Take Warning! – Pete Putman

November 1 was the quarterly earnings reporting day for Sharp, Panasonic, and Sony. And the news wasn‘t very good.

On Thursday, Sharp warned investors that it could lose $5.6B for the current fiscal year, and watched helplessly as its stock price plummeted to 25% of its value since the start of the year. According to a Reuters story, Sharp’s commercial credit rating fell by six notches, making it all the more difficult for Sharp to borrow additional funds to stay afloat.

Sharp’s incredible plunge in share price and net valuation adds considerable pressure to close a proposed deal with Hon Hai Precision, wherein the latter company would become Sharp’s largest institutional shareholder. But there have also been rumors that Sharp is trying to negotiate financial support from Intel and Apple, who uses Sharp panels in its iPad and iPhone products.

Things aren’t much better down the street at Panasonic, where the company ambushed analysts by forecasting a $9.6B loss for fiscal 2012. That number is about 30 times what the market expected, and Panasonic paid the price as its shares dropped by 20%, hitting a low in valuation not seen in 30 years.

Analysts have called for Panasonic to shed more personnel, but so far, the company plans to stand pat. According to Reuters, the company is likely to change direction and move away from money-losing television and other consumer electronics business units. The company’s stock price has dropped by more than 35 percent as it continues to restructure after closing the acquisition of Sanyo.

Panasonic’s earnings announcement was a surprise as the company had eked out a modest profit in the 2nd quarter of this year. But once again, the culprit appears to be televisions, an area where Panasonic has lost money for four consecutive years.

Sony, the poster boy for mismanaging a flat panel television business strategy, fared slightly better than its competitors. The company managed to squeeze out a $379M operating profit for the 2nd quarter, compared to a $20M loss a year ago during the same time period. But analysts attributed a good portion of that profit to the sale of a chemicals business, according to yet another Reuters story.

Even so, Sony is sticking to its original forecast of a $1.63B profit for fiscal 2012, which ends in March of 2013. But analysts still expect the company to lose money for the ninth consecutive year in its television operations, and Sony did announce it expects to sell fewer televisions this year (14.5M) than in 2011.

How much longer can this go on? The answer (at least in Sharp’s case) is until 2014, thanks to an additional $4.5B in bank loans obtained from Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ and Mizuho Corporate Bank. (Betcha the Japanese government was involved in that decision!)

How all of these companies got into this mess is a long story, but the main culprit is the near-commoditization of the television business. Worldwide television shipments are dominated by Samsung and LG, who control nearly 45% of the market between them.

In comparison; Sony, Sharp, and Panasonic together account for about 20% of worldwide TV shipments. It wasn’t that many years ago that Sharp had 21% of the LCD business to itself. Now, it struggles to maintain a 5% market share, and Sony is barely attaining 9%.

The decline of the Japanese TV industry has been well-documented by this and other publications. The trend is so clear and irreversible that we analysts often wonder just how far these companies will go to deny the truth and continue struggling to right what is obviously a sunken (not sinking) ship.

The fact is; all three companies have other business units that have plenty of upside. Assuming Sony comes to its senses and gives up on television manufacturing, it can do well in cameras, computers, and imaging – and may even see some gains from its PlayStation operations. Sony is doubling its efforts in cell phones and tablets, too.

Panasonic, thanks to its acquisition of Sanyo, is well-positioned to be a leader in both solar energy and battery technology, even though worldwide demand for solar cells is weak right now. The company has expanded its IPS-alpha LCD manufacturing capacity at its Gen 8 Himeji plant, showing 20-inch, 32-inch, and even 47-inch 4K panels. And it appears Panasonic is pushing ahead with OLED R&D, anticipating the eventual sunset of plasma technology.

That leaves Sharp, whose decision to build the Gen 10 Sakai LCD fab may or may not have been a smart idea in retrospect. But what’s done is done, and now Sharp has to find a way to push plant utilization back to full capacity.

Given that Sharp appears to be closer to implementing IGZO (oxide) backplane technology than anyone else, and that Hon Hai is in the driver’s seat with Apple for now, the storm clouds over Osaka should be parting in the next year if the Hon Hai deal closes and if Sharp does the sensible thing and exits the TV business in an orderly fashion.

Otherwise, we may witness an enormous corporate bankruptcy, created by financial winds so strong that no one on earth can possible control them…

This article originally appeared on the Display Daily Web site on November 5, 2012.

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/

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?

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…

CES 2012: ANOTHER OPENING, ANOTHER SHOW

Over the top? Nahhh, it's CES!

 

There’s still a debate about whether the U.S. economy has turned the corner and is on the rebound. As far as CES 2012 attendees were concerned, that ‘corner’ is way back in the rear-view mirror! According to official CES reports, over 140,000 people flocked to the Las Vegas Convention Center for the world’s second-largest annual gadget orgy (and at least 100,000 of them were constantly waiting on the South Hall cab lines).

 

The show was notable for several things. First, the expanding presence of Chinese CE brands, like TCL, Changhong, Haier, and Hisense. (Never heard of them? You’re not alone.) Second, this show was Microsoft’s curtain call, as they’ve decided to go the route of Apple and stage their own product intros in the future.

 

Third, there was a decided pull-back on 3D (aside from LG, who made it the focus of their booth) and a renewed emphasis on ‘connected’ TVs in all shapes and flavors. And fourth, gesture recognition made a well-deserved comeback this year after being mostly an afterthought in 2011.

 

Overall, the show had less of a “let’s build it because we can” feel, and more of a “let’s actually make a practical gadget that people will want to buy” buzz. Still, there were the usual surprises – some were telegraphed in advance, while others showed up quite unexpectedly.

LG's 55-inch OLED was a thing of beauty.

And Samsung's 55-inch OLED wasn't too shabby, either.

 

Here’s an example. Both LG and Samsung showed 55-inch organic light-emitting diode (OLED) TVs at the show. LG’s unveiling had been common knowledge, while Samsung’s was only revealed to members of the press under embargo. But both showings attracted constant crowds, as OLEDs in this size are a rare sighting!

 

LG’s 55-incher is supposedly a production model and will come from a new Gen 8 fab in Korea. It uses Kodak’s white OLED technology (purchased by LG a couple of years ago), with discrete red, green, blue, and white filters applied. Samsung’s approach is a bit trickier and employs discrete red, green, and blue OLEDs. Both panels looked terrific, and thank goodness for LG Display’s separate, quieter and far less chaotic suite at the Bellagio, where I could examine the OLED TV more closely.

 

It’s hard to upstage a demo like that, but Sony almost pulled it off by showing 46-inch and 55-inch inorganic LED TVs. What’s an inorganic LED? It’s the same technology that powers those outdoor LED signs you see alongside highway and inside stadiums and arenas. Only Sony figured out a way to stuff 6.2 million small-pitch RGB LEDs into a TV, using an expensive and time-consuming wire bonding process that ensures (for now) that these products won’t come to market any time soon. But these TVs still looked spectacular and livened up what was otherwise a rather sedate Sony booth, compared to 2011 (remember that 92-foot passive 3D screen and the astronaut DJ?)

Sony's 46-inch Crystal LED (left) and a 46-inch Bravia LCD TV (right).

 

Just down the hall, Sharp left no doubts about its product marketing strategy for the next few years by showcasing a new 80-inch professional video display with touchscreen overlay. The Aquos Touch is adapted from Sharp’s 80-inch Aquos TV that launched in the fall of 2011, and complements the 70-inch product already in the line. Given that Sharp’s market share in TVs has inexplicably dwindled to the mid-single figures, this is an interesting approach – but the playing field is wide open. And the pro AV channel is very interested in large, self-contained displays that could replace traditional two-piece projector installations.

 

Sharp also tickled our fancy with several Freestyle “portable” LCD TVs, including models as large as 60 inches. These TVs have been designed to be as light as possible and use a WiFi-based solution to stream HD content, so you can pretty much pick ‘em up and move ‘em wherever there’s an AC outlet. (I guess that includes the garage if you want to watch a football game with your best buds and keep the noise level down…)

 

3D was around, but clearly took a back seat to other demos. Still, Toshiba showed several examples of 1080p and 4K autostereo 3D TVs in their booth. These demos once again required the viewer to stand in specific locations to receive the full autostereo effect, and Toshiba thoughtfully provided small green circles with arrows in them as visual cues – when both were seen, you were positioned in a ‘sweet spot.’ Toshiba has clearly walked away from active 3D and has a few passive 3D sets in their line, but it appears autostereo is their game plan for the near future. (And yes, the 4K TV looked spectacular.)

 

Next door, Panasonic anted up big time by showing a new line of LED-backlit LCD TVs that will be available in sizes to 55 inches, immediately casting doubts as to the company’s future plans for plasma TVs.  These ET-series sets employ Panasonic’s IPS-Alpha LCD panels and I have to admit, they looked doggone good, particularly at wide viewing angles. Still, the company had plenty of plasma announcements, including faster subfield drive for improved motion rendering and even lower power consumption from the 2011 plasma lineup. For my money, plasma is still the way to go – that is, until OLED prices drop low enough.

4K is a lotta pixels! Wonder where the content will come from...

Are Panasonic's new ET-series LCD TVs the 'writing on the wall' for plasma?

 

LG is head over heels in love with 3D. That’s the only conclusion anyone could make after cruising through their booth, which featured an enormous panoramic Cinema 3D videowall (passive, of course) at the Central Hall entrance. Inside, LG’s 55-inch OLED was shown with 3D and 2D content, and a nearby exhibit showcased an 84-inch 4K 3D LCD monitor. (Sorry, it’s not for sale – yet…) 3D popped up on so many LG products that I expected the ‘smart’ washer and dryers also located in the massive exhibit to be labeled ‘Cinema 3D’ as well. (Technically speaking, you could apply film patterned retarders to the front port of the washer – oh, never mind.)

 

As mentioned earlier, the overwhelming presence of numerous Chinese brands at the show clearly shows which way the wind’s blowing these days. Haier brought back their clever wireless LCD TV demo from two years ago, and this version builds the inductive coupling system into the pedestal. Yes, it is completely wireless, power and all. (Amazing what you can do with a big transformer!) Elsewhere in the Haier booth, you could find a “brain wave TV” demo that was supposed to allow you to “think” of changing channels and raising/lowering volume. (It kinda worked.)

 

Changhong and TCL both exhibited some really sharp-looking LCD TV designs, proving that Japan and Korea don’t have any special magic in this area. All of the companies had 3D sets out for inspection with the majority using passive 3D technology, while several of the models were ‘smart’ TVs with built-in WiFi Internet connections for streaming video. No content partnerships were announced or seen, however. It’s telling that the size of these booths is getting larger with each year, while some of the Japanese TV manufacturers are slowly shrinking.

Look Ma - no HDMI cables, no power cables, no USB cables, no cables period!

I don't know what it means, but the thought is intriguing...

 

Speaking of ‘smart’ TVs, everybody had them – Sharp, LG, Samsung, Sony, Toshiba, Panasonic, Haier, TCL, Hisense, you name it. That included connected Blu-ray players. Samsung’s Apps for TV seems to be growing by leaps and bounds, and Panasonic’s Viera Connect has also added content partners. LG’s ‘smart’ TV featured a demo of the new Google TV interface, which certainly looked a lot more user-friendly that the last implementation and presented a much more logical process for searching and finding video content on the Web.

 

Many of the companies exhibiting at CES used Rovi’s Total Guide EPG (or variations of it) to search out and find Web video content, as well as more traditional sources like cable, satellite, and even broadcast TV. Rovi has ported their guide to every possible platform and in their suite at Caesar’s Palace, showed implementations on set-top boxes, tablets, and a variety of TVs. The company is also into ad insertion and content delivery management systems. In short, they find it, stream it, and monetize it.

 

How about connecting all of this stuff together? Rainbow Fish had a small booth in the rear of the South Hall, but it was worth hunting down. They are selling direct HDMI-to-fiber optic connectivity kits that use multimode fiber and require only a separate USB connection at the TV to supply 5 volt phantom power to the lasers. Everything is built into the plugs, so there’s no need for separate converter boxes.

HDMI to fiber is here. Need a 300-foot extension? No problem!

DO try this at home. At least, 3M says so.

 

A few booths away, 3M was hawking a new ‘unbreakable’ HDMI cable design. Its super-flat and you can fold it, bend it, twist it – in short, pretty much abuse it any way you want. But you won’t screw up the signal, as 3M’s presentation showed. There are two types of cables – one for consumer applications, and one for computers (notebooks, I guess) and 3M offers plenty of options for color-coding the cable ends. They won’t be sold directly, but through OEM partners. Marry these with the drop-forged HDMI plugs I saw at a nearby booth, and you’ve got a ‘super’ HDMI connection.

 

Don’t want to plug anything in? Silicon Image has rejuvenated the Wireless HD standard with its acquisition of SiBeam, and was demonstrating 60 GHz wireless HDMI connectivity from tablets and notebook computers to large TVs. Wireless HD is a close range HDMI connectivity standard that is not WiFi based, and the chipsets and associated connections can now be manufactured in sizes small enough to build into a tablet. So, who will be the first to add it to their tablet? (My vote is for the next-generation iPad.)

 

Some signs just can't be explained. Your guess is as good as mine...

Over in the Hilton, the WHDI Consortium had their demos of 5 GHz wireless HDMI interfaces running on professional camcorders, tablets, notebooks (including wireless DisplayPort and wireless VGA, for some unknown reason), and TVs. Asus showed a production notebook computer with WHDI connectivity built-in, and HP is now selling a WHDI connectivity kit for computers and TVs. Atlona won a Best of CES award for its WHDI-based LinkCast wireless HDMI package. Can WHDI compete with Wireless HD? We’ll see as 2012 unfolds.

Fish need camcorders?

 

Have you ever dropped your cell phone in a pool, or in the toilet? HzO had a demonstration of their proprietary waterproofing system for handheld CE devices that showcased an iPhone merrily playing away a selection of iTunes while dunked in a fish tank for several hours. Other phones that had been ‘treated’ also took a dive. Waterproofing was a big thing at CES, as I spotted several tanks full of phones, camcorders, and still cameras.

 

I mentioned gesture recognition earlier. PrimeSense, the company behind Microsoft’s Kinect Xbox motion recognition system, had an impressive demo of gesture recognition in the South Hall, and has licensed an add-on MS package to Asus called Xtion. A dancer in the booth kept things hopping with a ‘60s psychedelic imaging sequence that triggered all kinds of ‘trippy’ graphics and was fun to watch for a few minutes.

 

Over in the Samsung booth, crowds lined up for the most impressive MS demo. Samsung’s implementation also incorporates voice and facial recognition, taking and storing a picture of each user with a top-mounted camera. The command “Hi, TV!” activates a menu bar along the bottom of the screen, and the user can then command channel and volume changes on the TV as well as navigate menus and delve into Samsung’s ‘smart’ TV system. Hand gestures are also used to raise and lower volume and navigate up/down through channels.

 

Variations of gesture recognition were also seen in the LG and Haier booths, as well as by specialty manufacturers. Some systems require the use of a wand to control the TV; others simply rely on broad gestures – Haier’s demo had a fellow actually boxing in sync with the video game, and I was afraid he was going to deck himself at some point!

Seriously? A USB emergency in the field? Victorinox' has 16GB to go.

 

Impressive car. Now, how exactly do you drive it? From the cloud? (Don't laugh...)

Other cool products at the show included Sharp’s 8K-resolution LCD TV, Victorinox’ 16 GB USB Swiss Army Knife (I kid you not), Belkin’s four-port ScreenCast wireless HDMI transmitter/receiver, Duracell’s cordless smart phone charging system (yes, it really works), Ford’s cloud-connected EVO concept car with personal health sensor monitoring, LG Display’s Art TV concept design, JVC’s new 4K camcorder for $4,000, BenQ’s new LCD monitors for gamers with instant picture setting changes, and Silicon Images’ demo of 3D mobile high-definition link (MHL) connectivity that resulted in the first TV screen I’ve ever seen with “airplane mode” on it.

 

I’d be remiss by not commenting on one legendary company’s presence at the show. As many readers know, Kodak has been in a death spiral for the past decade as its core film business fades away and digital imaging takes over. The company recently received a warning from the New York Stock Exchange that it might be delisted (last time I checked, shares were selling at about 61 cents) and it is about to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in order to auction off its patents in digital imaging.

 

So what the heck was the Great Yellow Father showing in that enormous booth in the upper South Hall? Why, its line of color inkjet printers, of course! Supposedly, color inkjets will be the salvation of Kodak, or at least that’s what the current management (ex-HP) tells us. Only problem is, Kodak’s market share in inkjet printers for 2011 was less than 5%, and they’re fast running out of cash for day-to-day operations.

OK, what's wrong with THIS picture?

 

Somehow, Kodak’s long-time competitor Fuji managed to support both film-based and digital imaging and not drive over a cliff. At CES, they showed a new 16-megapixel digital camera system with interchangeable lenses, upgraded their line of point-and-shoots, expanded the FinePix digital camera offerings, and continue to market a clever 3D digital camera. (Maybe Kodak ought to hire some of the Fuji guys…)

 

I’ll have more coverage of CES 2012 during my annual Super Tuesday Technology Trends presentation at InfoComm 2012 this coming June in Las Vegas. See you there!