Posts Tagged ‘Toshiba’

3D At Home: No One’s Buying It??

Last week, the Hollywood Reporter reported (accurately) that a majority of the attendees at the 2011 Hollywood Post Alliance Technology Retreat believe that 3D in the home is ‘dead’ and will never catch on.

Yes, I know you’ve heard about and read several surveys taken in the past year that show little or no enthusiasm for 3D at home. However, when people who create and distribute movies and TV shows for a living give 3D at home the thumbs-down, that’s big news.

I’ve attended every HPA Tech Retreat since 2002 and presented at most of them. Last year, we had a 3D supersession where many attendees expressed skepticism that 3D at home was viable. This year, the number of naysayers was substantial, as evidenced by a show of hands during the Day 1 presentation recaps by HPA leaders Leon Silverman and Jerry Pierce.  (This year’s Retreat had 450 registrants, by the way.)

The annual broadcasters’ panel brought forth more skepticism, with Fox saying that until there was a workable, viable ATSC 3D standard, they would stay on the sidelines. Those sentiments were pretty much echoed by ABC, NBC, Sinclair, PBS, and CBS.

As I mention in another post, we had a great breakfast roundtable discussion on 3D in the home, and whether it was a flop, partially successful, or had any real future. We also discussed the relative scarcity of 3D movies, which led to a question about why Hollywood isn’t remastering more of their older 3D movie titles into the Blu-ray format. The reply was that the cost to do those remasters probably wouldn’t be justified by Blu-ray disc sales, let alone rentals.

Let’s face it; 3D TV stumbled badly out of the gate in 2010. TV manufacturers locked up the most desirable 3D Blu-ray discs as part of exclusive TV bundles, creating an instant shortage of compelling 3D content. Want to watch Avatar in 3D? Sorry, you’ll have to buy a Panasonic 3D TV. How about any of the Shrek movies? You’ll need to buy a new Samsung 3D TV. Despicable Me? You’re looking at a new Sharp Aquos, pal.

What’s that – you just dropped $2,000 on a new 55-inch 120 Hz LED LCD TV a year ago? Hmmm – that’s a problem.

How about the new 3D TV networks? Well, ESPN 3D is a barker channel during most of the day. The World Cup was fun, but half the shots didn’t benefit at all from 3D.

Last fall, DirecTV’s 3D pay-per-view channel was showing Journey to the Center of the Earth, followed by Journey to the Center of the Earth, followed by Journey to the Center of the Earth…well, you get it.

As far as 2011 goes, the outlook for 3D TV sales isn’t very sunny. Nielsen’s annual State of All Media survey, taken in Q4 of 2010, showed that “…76% of respondents ‘probably won’t or ‘definitely won’t’ buy a 3D TV in the next 12 months. 2% of respondents already own a 3D TV, while only 6% “definitely’ or ‘probably’ will buy one.”

The problem is compounded by VIZIO and Toshiba saying that consumers don’t need to buy expensive LCD glasses to watch 3D TV. VIZIO is leading a charge to passive (half-resolution) 3D TV, with the selling point being that you can use those same 50-cent RealD circular polarized glasses they gave you at the local multiplex cinema.

According to a news story in today’s TWICE magazine, LG showcased their new line of passive 3D LCD TVs – called Cinema 3D – at the Film Independent Spirit Awards last week. The TWICE story quoted LG Electronics USA president Wayne Park as saying, “We think we can take advantage of — at least in 3DTV — the leadership position for the whole industry…with our distinguishing 3D technology, we can bring a much more affordable and enjoyable experience to the consumer, so that our 3DTVs can leap ahead of the industry.” Also, “Park said he believes passive-glasses technologies will ultimately win out over active-shutter systems due to the many benefits that resonate with consumers.”

Toshiba’s claim that you can drop glasses altogether upsets the apple cart even more, and has apparently convinced the average Joe that there is a format war in 3D (shades of the 1080i vs. 720p battles ten years ago). Skipping past the technical details, what today’s consumers are hearing is that 3D is very much in the laboratory stage and that it is probably a smart idea to sit on the sidelines for a while until all of the details are worked out – and until 3D TVs without glasses are widely available.

So, what’s a TV manufacturer to do?

First off, it’s evident that consumers will NOT pay a premium for 3D functionality. There are simply too many 2D TV models available for less than $1,000, including a couple of 55-inch screens. Asking consumers to pony up an additional $500 – $1,000 just to watch a handful of movies and 3D networks is a waste of energy right now…particularly when you consider all of the people who bought new big-screen LCD and plasma TVs in the past five years.

Second, release the exclusively-bundled 3D Blu-ray discs immediately to the open market. If you want someone to buy a fancy new sports car, make sure there are plenty of gas stations where they can fill it up!

Third, drop the prices on 3D Blu-ray players to a level commensurate with networked Blu-ray players. Those are selling very well because consumers are using them as Internet TV set-top boxes to gain access to Netflix (20 million subscribers and counting).

Fourth, continue exploring marketing partnerships with content producers to create 3D channels that more people can watch. Currently, only the Sony-Discovery-IMAX 3Net channel and ESPN’s 3D channel are available to any viewer on any Pay TV system. 3D on DirecTV does nothing for a Comcast subscriber, or a Dish Network subscriber. Comcast’s new 3D channel is inaccessible to Verizon FiOS customers. Content drives TV viewership – HDTV started in 1998 but didn’t really take off until about 2004, when all of the major TV networks finally had a strong slate of HD programming to watch.

Unfortunately, the perceived format war between active shutter, passive, and autostereo (a really inferior way to watch 3D, if you ask me) is going to keep sales of 3D TVs down in 2011. Consumer enthusiasm is so low that most of the 3D demos at my nearby Best Buy appear to have been turned off for good. (Not that they could find any working active shutter glasses if they needed to…)

At this past Sunday’s Ambler Theater Oscars Party, I set up a Samsung PN50C8000 3D plasma TV with four pairs of glasses (fresh batteries in every one) and a 3D animated movie (Monsters vs. Aliens), smack in the middle of the concessions lobby. Plenty of people (young and old) came over to watch for a few minutes, were appropriately wowed, asked what the 3D set-up cost, said “that’s nice, but I can’t see having to wear glasses to watch TV” and then walked away to one of the three main theaters.

They’re just not buying it.

Such a Deal!

In an attempt to stimulate more sales of consumer electronics, Best Buy has announced a new “buy back” program whereby you can bring back older electronics to the store and Best Buy will buy them on the spot.

That is, for a greatly depreciated amount! And you’ll have to pay a yet-undisclosed amount for the privilege beforehand, which leads me to wonder if this program makes any sense at all.

A still frame from Best Buy's Super Bowl commercial.

The Buy Back program – which launched during the recent Super Bowl with a crazy ad featuring (of all people) Ozzy Osbourne and Justin Bieber trying to peddle successive generations of smart phones – works like this. When you pay for your new smart phone, notebook computer, netbook, tablet computer, or television, you buy what amounts to an extended warranty from a company called Chartis WarrantyGuard, Inc.

This ‘agreement,’ for which you pay extra (the Best Buy Web site doesn’t yet spell out much extra), says that you can return your purchase after at least 31 days to any BB store, and they will buy it back on the spot. The actual amount of money you will get depends on the condition of the product and how long you’ve had it.

Not surprisingly, two years is the maximum window for returning any laptops, phones, and tablets, while the return window for televisions is between two and four years. The condition of your device also determines how much you’ll get back, so if you return a notebook computer in good or fair condition (who determines that?) after 6 months, you can expect to recover 50% of your purchase price.  If however, you bring back a smart phone after two years of intense service (i.e. ‘poor’ condition); don’t expect to see more than 10% of what you originally paid.

Oh, and by the way, be sure you bring back ALL accessories with your product, including (from the Best Buy Web site) “…original software, power adapters, cables, pedestals (TV), remotes and batteries. Each Accessory is expected to be in good condition and in working order. Buy Back Amounts will be further reduced at the sole discretion of CWG by the replacement value of each such Accessory that is either not included with your Device or is not in good condition or in working order regardless of the Acceptance Testing Condition Grade that is ultimately assigned to your Device.”

And don’t forget your original receipt! Otherwise, you’re dead in the water.

The sad fact is that most consumer electronic devices have little or no depreciated value after two years (excepting TVs). They are, in a word, ‘consumable’ items. And frankly, you’d be better off trying to sell a two-year-old notebook PC privately on eBay or through the classifieds – or perhaps even donating it (assuming it still works) to a charitable organization for a tax deduction, or an underprivileged family.

Best Buy knows this. They also know that lots of people who buy extended coverages never use them, just as many people never use gift cards they receive at the holidays or on birthdays. So they get some extra up-front cash from you and other customers for taking this plan, then if you are lucky, they’ll pay you back about 30 cents on the dollar after a year.

The Best Buy plan excludes TVs that cost more than $5,000. (Really? Where do you even find TVs that expensive in Best Buy these days? Let’s see…OK, there are 3 models out of 319 TVs listed that top the $5K figure. No worries there.)

Also excluded are desktop computers. And if you don’t like the valuation that Best Buy places on your returned product, there is apparently little you can do. Read this excerpt from the Buy Back program FAQs:

What if I feel that I should receive more back for my product? Will there be room for negotiation and feedback?

You’ll know how much your product in good condition is worth upfront, as soon as you buy your product, without guessing or haggling about the price. We do always welcome and value feedback from our customers — just talk to any Best Buy employee for additional information.

Well, THAT was helpful. Now, as to where your old electronics will wind up:

What is Best Buy going to do with all of the products you buy back? Will they just end up in a landfill somewhere?

There are actually multiple channels for reclaimed product:

* Dealtree/Best Buy Outlet (resale)

* Geek Squad® Service Centers (for parts and refurbs sold via the Best Buy Outline Center online)

* Recycling

For those items we cannot repurpose, Best Buy ensures the products will be responsibly recycled. Best Buy makes sure that the recyclers we work with adhere to the highest guidelines and standards so that these products don’t end up in landfills and that all hazardous materials are disposed of properly.

Yes, some of those “bought back” products will wind up refurbished and resold through Best Buy’s outlets or Dealtree. So if you realize six months in that you really wanted a MacBook instead of an Toshiba Windows 7 notebook, you will get something back for it with little hassle (and don’t forget those accessories!). And Best Buy will ‘pretty it up’ and re-sell it for at least what they paid you for it – and maybe more.

Otherwise, you should probably just skip the Buy Back option altogether and figure that your brand-new $500 Toshiba Satellite notebook computer will cost you $20.80 per month to operate, or about 70 cents a day, and that it won’t owe you anything after two years, when (if you are lucky) Best Buy will give you $100 for it – a figure you could probably match on eBay, or even at a garage sale.

Oh, and did I mention that you will be paid for your Buy Back item with a Best Buy gift card, and not cash? (Read the boilerplate on the Best Buy Web site.) Such a deal!

NOTE: The Buy Back program is free through February 12. After that, you will have to pay to enroll in the program.

CES 2011: Applications? Plenty! Buzz? Ahhh, Not So Much…

How do you like THIS for a videowall?

If you still needed any convincing that the U.S. economy is on the rebound, the 30-minute-long cab line at McCarran Airport did the trick. Attendance at this year’s running of the world’s ultimate gadget expo was WAY up, probably hitting 2007 levels. (CES claimed 140,000 in attendance, but my guess is that the real number was more like 90,000 – 100,000, based on cab lines and traffic.)

But CES was a vastly different show than in recent years. True “wowza!” product demos were few and far between. Instead, what we saw were ‘apps’ – practical, real-world applications of technologies introduced in the past couple of years. (And of course, umpteen million tablet computers.)

Smart phones were huge this year, and they were doing everything from shooting videos to doubling as game controllers and even talking to ovens and refrigerators. The Android OS rules this space, with Windows coming up far behind. If there was a possible use for a smart phone, someone demonstrated it in a booth (including 3D).

Ever expect to see 3D on an MH receiver? Neither did I.

A wonderful moment, indeed.

Discussions of “the cloud” were heard in every hallway. For those readers who don’t know what “the cloud” is, it’s the concept of storing and accessing media files from remote servers, streaming or downloading it to view on portable and desktop displays. Netflix streaming is a good example of “the cloud,” and many industry analysts believe “cloud” delivery of content is where everything is headed – no more big hard drives or optical disc readers, just fast wireless and wired Ethernet connections.

Speaking or wireless, it’s all the rage. I lost track of all the wireless connectivity demos, ranging from wireless USB 3.0 docking stations to full-bandwidth 1080p video and multi-channel audio streaming to TVs from Blu-ray players, using the 6 GHz radio frequency band.

And those tablet computers…they were everywhere, so many that tablets suffered the ignonimous fate of moving from the most anticipated new product at the opening of the show to “so what?” products by its closing. I saw just as many off-brand and white label tablets in the lower regions of the South Hall as I did at the Blackberry, ViewSonic, Samsung, Sharp, Sony, and Panasonic booths. Can you say, “buzz kill?”

That's a complete nVidia workstation graphics card, connected through 6 GHz wireless links.

How does a Wireless USB 3.0 docking station grab ya? Samsung's got it.

3D TRENDS

Last year’s show was dominated by 3D. You couldn’t get away from it! This year, the 3D pickings weren’t quite as abundant, although a few companies (Sony and Panasonic) continued to place a heavy emphasis on stereoscopic TV viewing in their booths.

Toshiba did too, except they chose to emphasize glasses-free (autostereo) 3D exclusively in their booth. LG opted to show passive 3D products that use inexpensive circular-polarization glasses, along with a single autostereo LCD TV. Meanwhile, Sony had concept demos of a portable 3D Blu-ray player and a 24-inch autostereo organic light-emitting diode (OLED) TV.

The reduced emphasis on 3D might have something to do with the paltry sales of active-shutter 3D TVs in 2010. Sales numbers were nowhere near what anyone predicted, which could partly be blamed on the recession. But it could also be blamed on a perception that there is a format war brewing in the world of 3D TV (shades of the 1080i vs. 720p battles from ten years ago).

Toshiba's 15-inch prototype autostereo notebook display uses a built-in camera to adjust the 3D viewing angle to your position.

HELLO, 1958! Polaroid actually showed a blue-yellow anaglyph 3D demo at CES. (CAUTION: Don't watch Avatar this way...)

Toshiba’s recent announcements of glasses-free 3D TV certainly added to that perception, and that’s all they showed at CES. Meanwhile, LG and JVC seem to be leaning towards passive 3D (embedded polarizing filters) in their LCD TVs, and in fact LG had large baskets of passive 3D glasses available to both visitors.

The LG autostereo LCD TV worked about as well as the Toshiba models. As you change your viewing position, patterned film retarders (PFRs) built-in to the LCD surface create a new perspective and viewpoint, blocking some pixels and revealing others. It works, but you’ve seen the same effect before with static digital signage displays in retail stores and in airports. And it’s not easy to watch 3D video this way for very long.

There were plenty of autostereo handheld display demos. LG’s new Optimus smart phones were shown as game controllers for 3D gaming systems, but were also displaying mobile 3D content. Nearby, LG had a demonstration of autostereo 3D as broadcast from Las Vegas DTV station KLVX, using the MH mobile digital TV standard.

Sony showed an autostereo media player in its booth, along with the aforementioned portable Blu-ray player with autostereo screen. (Frankly, I think the market for portable BD players is pretty miniscule, but the autostereo images looked quite nice.)

Sony's 24.5-inch autostereo AM OLED was a show-stopper.

JVC's got some skin in the 3D game with this 65-inch passive 3D LED LCD TV.

Sharp, who last year missed the boat on 3D – and whose U.S. market share in TV sales continues to drop precipitously – rolled out the 3D bandwagon this year, with a full line of Quattron 3D TVs out for inspection, including a new 70-inch model. Hidden away in another part of their booth were demos of 3.8” and 10.6” autostereo LCD displays for handheld devices.

JVC, who has been concentrating more on projection products lately, unveiled their first consumer passive 3D TV. It’s a 65-inch, edge-lit LED model with embedded micropolarizers that work with RealD theater glasses. Back in the Central hall, Hisense, Konka, and TCL all showed Chinese-made 3D sets with active shutter glass technology, while VIZIO threw its hat in with the passive 3D crowd, unveiling several models that use embedded polarizing filters and passive eyewear.

Hmmm…maybe there IS something to this 3D format war, after all…

NETWORKED TVS

It was hard to find a TV at CES that didn’t sport some sort of Internet connection. Panasonic (VieraCast), VIZIO (VIZIO Internet Apps), Sony (Google TV), LG (Smart TV), and Samsung (Samsung Apps) all had full plates of NeTVs out for inspection, along with numerous connected Blu-ray players. By the way, the ‘connected’ part of Blu-ray players is the big reason they are finally selling so well, as consumers apparently can’t get enough of YouTube and Netflix streaming.

There were also plenty of demos of smart phone control of TVs, using WiFi to stream back a lower-resolution version of the content being displayed on-screen. I’m not really sure why anyone would need that functionality, especially if they are already sitting in front of the TV watching whatever program or movie is playing out. Maybe it’s just in case you need to run to the bathroom?

Don't have Internet connectivity on your plasma or LCD TV? LG's got the fix.

You want a TV remote? I'll show you a TV remote!

LG went everyone better with their ST600 Smart TV adapter. Remember ATSC set-top boxes from the DTV transition? Well, the ST600 is an Internet TV adapter that works with any set through its HDMI port.  It costs about $150, and gives you a Web browser, plus one-button access to popular Internet TV sites like Netflix, CinemaNow, VUDU, Hulu Plus, YouTube, MLB TV, Pandora, and others.

Sony prominently featured their Sony Smart TV product line, based on Google TV. This product has really stumbled out of the gate, probably because of the incredibly complex keyboard remote control (remember Web TV, anyone?) and the fact that a majority of Web video surfing can be accessed with directed one-button Hulu Plus, Netflix, and YouTube apps. Maybe we’ll see a simplified version of the product from Sony in 2011.

Panasonic rolled out its own tablet computer, as previously mentioned. The Viera Tablet is part of a “cloud” focused content delivery strategy (there it is, again!) that will let consumers access on-demand and VIERA Connect content. The tablet will actually be available in several different sizes, ranging from 4” to 10,” and also functions as a TV remote control.

Sharp also featured connected Blu-ray players, with directed apps for VUDU taking center stage. Three new models use wireless connections to access Netflix, VUDU, Pandora and YouTube content via streaming connections. They also took the wraps off a 70-inch Quattron LCD TV with built-in WiFi and a support for CinemaNow, Netflix, VUDU, and DLNA video streaming.

Sharp's got a new 70-inch LCD glass cut, and wireless Internet connectivity to go with it.

Samsung didn’t have quite as many sexy NeTV announcements, but they did have the largest LCD TV at the show (75 inches) and prominently featured their Smart Hub technology. You can access the usual suspects through wired and wireless Ethernet connections, along with Blockbuster, MLB.TV, AccuWeather, Facebook, Hulu Plus, and History Channel content, among others.

PROJECTION TRENDS

There wasn’t a lot of projector news from CES. Texas Instruments used the event to launch a new line of DLP Pico HD chipsets. These are tiny WXGA-resolution (1280×800 pixels) digital micromirror devices (DMDs) that are used in picoprojectors and pocket projectors, and there were plenty on display in the TI suite. They had picos running in GE digital cameras, Sharp smart phones, and even a prototype tablet computer.

Sony even showed a DLP-based picoprojector in a new digital camera at Digital Experience, an interesting development considering that both companies parted ways back in 1996 after Sony built its first and only SVGA DLP high-brightness projector.

Yes, Pico DLP chips really are that small.

Even digital cameras are equipped with picoprojectors nowadays.

Other picoprojectors were shown from LG, ViewSonic, Acer, and Optoma. The Optoma iPod docking station with built-in picoprojector was a clever product, as was the GE digital camera. But most of these projectors cast small, dim images, and you have to wonder how the explosion of tablet computers will affect this market, considering that both picos and tablets would be used for very small group presentations.

Several 3D projectors took a bow in Las Vegas. Mitsubishi finally has a model number for its LCoS 3D projector (HC9000), while Sharp announced the XV-Z17000 DLP 3D chassis. Samsung’s also got a new 3D box, the SP-A8000, which also uses DLP technology. Over in the JVC booth, the previously-announced DLA-X9 and DLA-X7 D-ILA (LCoS) 3D front projectors now have THX 3D certification – apparently the only models to earn that appellation so far. The general consensus is that DLP produces better blacks and higher contrast than LCoS 3D projectors, but that will remain to be seen. (I expect to have a review sample of the Mits unit in mid-March.)

Mitsubishi’s big screen TV division continues to hang on in the rear-projection DLP marketplace and is actually doing quite well, thank you very much. (It’s easy to capture 100% market share when you are the only player!) They launched a 92-inch DLP set with 3D compatibility, and while it doesn’t have a model number yet, expect it to sell in the mid-$5000 range, with active shutter glasses an extra.

Is a 92-inch 3D screen big enough for ya?

NO?? OK, then how about a 155-inch OLED screen?

WIRED VS. WIRELESS NETWORKING

I met with most of the major networking groups at CES. Two of them (HDBaseT and DiiVA) are very close in theory and practice, with structured wire being used to distribute video and audio between connected devices. Both systems also support USB connectivity for remote gaming control, and both systems can deliver power to connected devices (100 watts for HDBaseT and 24 watts for DiiVA).

Many commercial interface manufacturers are incorporating HDBaseT infrastructures into their AV switching products, the latest being Crestron (Digital Media) and Gefen. AMX already uses a version of HDBaseT in their AV switchers and distribution amplifiers.

DiiVA is apparently gaining popularity in China, where new apartment buildings and houses all have structured wire pulls. Most of the companies that have DiiVA-compatible products are also (not surprisingly) based in China.

Keep your eye on Diiva for both consumer and commercial applications.

A touch of the button is all it takes to get you in a surround-sound sweet spot, courtesy of Summit Semiconductor.

On the wireless side, Summit Semiconductor, Aeleron, and Amimon all showed system-on-chip solutions for high-bitrate video and audio distribution. Amimon is the founder of the Wireless High Definition Interface (WHDI) and showed wireless display connectivity to remote PCs, as well as Blu-ray 1080p playback to specially-equipped LG and Hisense wireless LCD TVs.

Aeleron featured Ultra WideBand (UWB) connectivity of 1080p streaming and docking systems that work with TVs, laptops, smart phones, and other media players. They also featured DLNA-compatible UWB adapters for in-room signal distribution (UWB can’t go between rooms) and driverless HDMI interfaces.

Summit’s demo was perhaps the most interesting. It featured uncompressed distribution of wireless multi-channel surround audio to randomly-placed powered speaker columns. A special remote activates a supersonic Doppler system that automatically adjusts the levels of all speakers so that you are sitting in t ‘sweet spot,’ no matter where you are in the room, or where the speakers happen to be placed. It takes all of ½ second for this adjustment to be made.

Back over in the Hilton, Sigma Designs has found a way to reduce line noise and broad spectrum interference in HomePlug systems. Turns out, all those battery chargers and AC adapters are pretty ‘dirty,’ which clips the available bit rate for moving video and audio through decoupled AC power lines. With the Sigma enhancements, the receive speed (to a media player or TV) is as much as 65% of the transmit speed (from the playout source). With normal HomePlug appliances, the receive speed can drop to as little as 20 – 25% of the transmit speed.

Who knew HomePlug systems were so noisy? (not to mention iPad AC power adapters...)

Guess what? Your smart phone can talk to your oven now. And your refrigerator, and washer, and dryer, and...WHAT??? No! Not the TOILET!!!

THE WRAP

There was so much more to report on from CES. Many of the new TVs and accessories will be featured in upcoming spring line shows, where I’ll take a closer look at each. You can also find news about specific model numbers and pricing at many other media outlets, along with each manufacturer’s specific Web sites.

If there was anything to take away from the show, it was that TVs were not the big news at CES this year. Instead, multi-function smart phones and connected media appliances generated all the buzz. We’re definitely in for a protracted battle between the “your TV should be the hub!” advocates and the “Connect outside the TV!” evangelists, not to mention the “go wireless!” and “use wired connections!” camps.

I tend to favor the “connect outside the TV” and “go wireless” arguments, although it is a tricky task to stream high-definition video in an uncompressed format between rooms in a house. (And no, the FCC taking away more UHF TV channels won’t help at all – there’s not enough spectrum space in the UHF band for 512 MHz channels!)

3D will continue to muddle along this year, as the economy slowly recovers and consumers sit on their hands. The confusing “glasses or no glasses” messages won’t help. Active-shutter 3D and passive 3d are clearly superior to autostereo 3D for viewing TV shows and movies, but you have to test-drive all three modes first to understand why. Look for the passive systems from LG, JVC, and VIZIO to pick up more market share as the year winds on and consumers realize they can use their freebie movie theater glasses at home.

LG's placing its bets on passive 3D TV.

Samsung's flexible OLED displays don't get bent out of shape.

NeTVs are here to stay and potentially a lot more popular than 3D. Sony’s Google TV approach may be too complicated for most consumers, who are likely to favor the simpler direct channel apps offered by everyone else. And if they can access Netflix, YouTube, and Hulu Plus, they may not need much else. Look for LG’s Internet converter box to be copied by other manufacturers so that older TVs can join in the fun.

It was nice to see a few OLED TV demos this year, but once again the technology just isn’t ready for prime time. Look for Samsung to show an OLED Galaxy tablet later this year, if for no other reason than to prove they can make one. But it will be a while before you can buy it. The rest of the tablet and smart phone crowd will stay with tried-and-true LCD technology for the time being.

Blu-ray disc and player prices will continue to plummet. I’ve predicted that major brands will stop making conventional DVD players altogether in 2011, moving to Blu-ray as their exclusive platform. While we didn’t see any BD players with internal hard drives like those sold in Japan, they’re not far off. Too many people are using Netflix streaming and would like to try a straight digital download for improved image quality. What better place to enable a DVR than in a BD multifunction media hub?

And get used to using your smart phone to do everything. Game console controls, TV remotes, autostereo displays, even diagnostic tools to use with connected major appliances – all of these smart phone applications were shown at CES.

So was a iPhone case with a built-in bottle opener, which might turn out to be one of the most useful smart phone “apps” of all…

No comment!

Google TV: Oops! Never Mind…

In a story reported by the New York Times, Google has asked TV manufacturing partners Toshiba, Sharp, and LG to hold off on introducing any new Google TV products at next month’s Consumer Electronics Show.

The official reason is that Google needs more time to refine the software. The real reason may be the lackluster reception that Google TV has gotten so far from consumers. The first sets to launch with Google TV were Sony Bravia TVs, back in October.

If any readers walked the aisles of Best Buy recently, you probably noticed the Google TV kiosk that featured an incredibly complex remote control – one that outdid Rubik’s Cube in complexity. The Sony Google TV remote featured two mouse disks and dozens of tiny alphanumeric keys, and was a sure turn-off for those viewers used to one-button navigation to Netflix and YouTube.

It's just like a smart phone keyboard...only vastly more complex...

In fact, the question now is whether there is any real interest in using a video engine as part of a NeTV – or if consumers are happy with icons or apps that take them directly to Hulu, Netflix, or other content sources.

To make matters worse, major TV networks including CBS, NBC, and ABC are blocking their online programming from Google TV, as is Hulu. Given that the top-rated TV shows are carried by these “old school” networks – as is the current #1 time-shifted show, The Office – that’s not good news for early adopters.

Logitech’s Google TV set-top box has also met with indifference and disdain. According to the Times story, 38% of reviewers on Amazon.com gave the Logitech Google TV receiver three stars or less, and 19% gave it just a solitary star. Not good!

Does this mean consumers don’t like the idea of NeTVs? Not at all. What they DO seem to prefer is a limited number of directed channel apps for the most popular content providers, and not another Web TV-approach to merging computer and TV viewing…something that is akin to mixing oil and water.

Don’t bet against Google, though. They’ll eventually figure out what consumers want and don’t want. The question is; can they compete against the amazingly user-friendly TiVo interface and the ‘directed apps’ approach of companies like Samsung (also a Google TV partner)?

And is Google TV destined for success, or will it go the way of Web TV? (Challenge: Do any readers even know what happened to Web TV? It’s still around, although under a vastly different name…)

Toshiba TVs: A Fade to Black? UPDATED

EDITOR’S UPDATE: Toshiba has indeed begun the process of moving its Wayne, NJ consumer products division to Irvine, California; integrating it with the company’s IT division. A press release detailing this move (which I missed, whoops!) came out on May 6, 2010.

Yes, Toshiba is following Samsung’s lead by consolidating the offices and operations of its consumer and professional divisions. But that’s only a sidebar to what is potentially a big (and perhaps insurmountable) problem facing the company, and that’s a slow and steady decline in market share among LCD TV brands.

According to an August 18th press release from industry analyst Riddhi Patel of iSuppli, Toshiba’s LCD TV market share in the United States has shrunken from 7.4% with 570,000 TVs shipped in the 2nd quarter of 2009 to 5.5% with 402,000 shipments in Q2 of 2010.

That’s not an insubstantial number. To put that into starker terms, Toshiba’s LCD TV shipments have dropped by almost 30% in one year, which should be sending up a huge red flag in the company’s executive offices…wherever they wind up next.

What is also alarming is that Toshiba’s market share has now fallen into Pioneer and Hitachi territory from 2007 and 2008. A few years ago, Pioneer had a 7% share among plasma TV shipments that dropped to about 5% within a two-year period (while the company was also hemorrhaging red ink). By late 2008, they had decided to throw in the towel and exited the plasma TV business in the spring of 2009.

Remember Hitachi? They once led the market in rear projection TVs and made some top-notch CRT sets, too. Hitachi was also a leader in plasma technology, building an enormous plasma fab on the island of Kyushu with partner Fujitsu in 1999.

Today, that plant is largely superfluous, as the company has withdrawn from selling plasma TVs. And you won’t find any Hitachi LCD TVs at Best Buy, or HH Gregg, or Wal-Mart, or Sears (they do have some nice Hitachi electric drills, though!).

Looking through the Amazon.com Web site, I found a handful of Hitachi sets that are either the last left in stock, or used models.  (And the company was conspicuous by its absence at CES 2010.)

The iSuppli report lists the current top five LCD TV brands as Samsung, Vizio, Sony, LG, and (surprise!) Sanyo, leaving Toshiba in the #6 slot. That’s quite a fall, as they were ranked #4 in Q2 of 2009. Panasonic showed up at #8 with a 3.1% market share, but their core business in plasma TVs.

Another shocker: Sharp, once the leader in LCD TV sales, brought up the rear with a 2.4% share, a decline from 4.7% in Q2 of 2009 and a drop in Y-Y shipments of 49%. Yikes! (Is Sharp on the LCD TV endangered species list, too? That’s another story for another time…)

Given all of the LCD fab capacity in Asia and indications of LCD TV oversupply in the channel, the logical result is another round of price wars. That’s a game that Toshiba can’t compete in, because they don’t manufacture LCD panels, and would have to do some serious shopping in Taiwan and China to keep manufacturing costs down.

However, three of the five brands ahead of them do make LCD panels  (Yep, Sanyo does make LCD panels, although they also buy glass on the open market), the exceptions being Vizio and Sony. But Sony is still sitting pretty because they are major investors in both the Korean S-LCD Gen 7 joint venture fab with Samsung and Sharp’s new Gen 10 LCD fab in Kameyama, Japan. (Sony owns about 34% of the Kameyama factory and a corresponding amount of the LCD panel output.)

Toshiba was one of the first companies to introduce LED backlights in their TVs. In fact, they were one of the first companies to use the term ‘LED TV,’ thereby creating instant consumer confusion about perceived differences between LCD and LED TVs.

The past decade hasn’t been kind to Toshiba. Their prized HD-DVD technology was vanquished by Sony’s Blu-ray format (supposedly with the help of a $400 million dollar payoff to Warner Home Media), and the crown jewel – the DVD format – is showing its age and in decline.

Toshiba was one of the few companies to show working 3D TV sets with active shutter technology at CES 2010. And their Cell TV architecture (co-developed with Sony) is a powerful platform on which to build next-gen TV designs that can stream multiple channels of HDTV programs and incorporate hand gesture recognition for operation and control.

But all of that may be for naught, if this negative market share trend continues.  It doesn’t help that Toshiba is perceived as a ‘mid range’ TV brand now, according to what an industry colleague heard when he recently visited several Best Buy stores in southern California and could find only two models of Toshiba LCD TVs for sale.

The marketplace is indeed a harsh mistress…