May 26, 2010

At the Newbay 3DTV2010 event yesterday, I participated on a panel on consumer acceptance moderated by TWICE executive editor Greg Tarr. Among the interesting discussions turns that the panel took was regarding audio, and whether 3D changes the game. Certainly there is opportunity – there is always opportunity. But the line about retailers needing to step up their audio pitches is an old one, and certainly one of the many parallels between HD and 3D.

Panasonic SVP Bob Perry noted that while HDTV is really the only choice available in retailers, that is not the case in terms of your audio output choice. Indeed, the audio component attach rate is challenged in the living room and more so in bedrooms where the placement of multiple speakers is tricky. Furthermore, the positioning of the television may be less conducive to creating an immersive audio experience and consumers may be consuming different content in the living room as well.

Still, here’s an interesting contrast. When you buy a top-of-the-line digital SLR, it comes without the mediocre popup flash, assuming you’ll invest in a better external one. However, even top-of-the-line televisions still come with mediocre speakers.

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March 22, 2010

imageOne aspect of 3DTV that holds particular for me is the impact that it may have on user interface. For example, 3D could lead to a complete rethinking of the electronic programming guide.. I’ve seen one early demos of 3D information overlay  from cable supplier NDS that show how 3D could affect on-screen information presentation, and have heard many tales of woe about the difficult debates that have occurred in the industry over the proper depth location for closed captioning when watching 3DTV.

Last week, though, I got to see at least one demonstration of a 2D user interface at the Panasonic public demonstration near Penn Station in New York. nVidia was showing off its 3D gaming system using an otherwise unmodified version of Electronic Arts’ Need for Speed racing game. The 3D effect wasn’t too different from playing a racing game without the glasses although the whole picture seemed to be inset within the TV, and the difference really became clear in “cockpit view” where your perspective is through the car’s windshield. The user interface elements floated above the action in a pretty basic but effective way. As games and other content become more optimized for 3D, I suspect we will see more experimentation with translucence and other 3D effects.

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image At the sale of the first 3D television at Best Buy in New York’s Union Square, Best Buy representatives agreed with their partners at Panasonic that 3D was an experience best merchandised in the store. In fact, Best Buy would not roll out its Panasonic TVs onto the main selling floor until later in 2010, highlighting the newest technology in the Magnolia home theater specialty section.

Apparently, though, there’s no compunction about selling Samsung 3DTVs online as Best Buy, along with other retailers such as Amazon,  is offering a 55” LED television and offering free shipping when purchased in a bundle that includes the glasses, a Blu-ray player, and Geek Squad setup. The difference comes down to how manufacturers want to manage their channel distribution. While Best Buy can take advantage of selling the Samsung online though, it retains an advantage in avoiding competition with online retailers for the Panasonic.

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December 31, 2009

image The results of the multi-year effort to bring over-the-air digital broadcasts to mobile handheld devices will bear fruit in 2010 as we see the first devices that support MDTV. As I noted in a recent Webinar, the addressable market for mobile DTV includes tens of millions of devices with screens, including cell phones, notebook PCs, portable DVD and flash-based media players, rear seat entertainment systems, tablets, e-readers, portable game consoles, maybe even portable navigation devices (outside the car, of course) and digital picture frames.

But one of the more intriguing devices that can receive the new MDTV standard, as it will be called moving frorward, is the Tivit. In an interesting contrast to FLO TV, which recently rolled out its own dedicated Personal Television, the Tivit has no screen at all, but rather acts as a personal “DTV server” (or “rebroadcaster” to use terminology less palatable to the broadcasters) that can send video to nearby Wi-Fi devices such as cell phones, notebooks, and he iPod touch. Assuming MDTV lives up to its reception claims, this should be an attractive product for use in a vehicle.

Tivit’s operation is very similar to how Novatel’s MiFi delivers 3G access to Wi-Fi devices, with two key differences. The bad news is that,, unlike with the MiFi, client devices will need specific client software to support its output. The good news is that, unlike MiFi, Tivit won’t have a charge for the service it delivers.

Down the line, the two devices may be more competitive than complementary, though. Novatel has built the MiFi to be a platform, and there doesn’t seem to be any reason why Novatel couldn’t deliver a MiFi equipped with an MDTV tuner that subsumed the functions of Tivit.

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October 19, 2009

imageOne of the most brash moves at CES 2009 came from Samsung, which not only asserted its consumer electronics ascent by launching one of its first sub-brands outside of mobile phones, but by designating it for a high-end luxury product in the midst of one of the worst economic downturns in memory. While many TV manufacturers distinguish between their main brand (Sharp, Toshiba) and luxury brands (Aquos, Regza), Luxia was clearly aimed at answering Sony’s XBR series to designate the top of the line. The main technological differentiator of Luxia was LED backlighting, which facilitated its slim profile, wide color gamut, and associated slim mounts.

Curiously, though, while Samsung has seen great success with its LED televisions, and has done extensive advertising around “LED TV” (including TV spots), the Luxia name has been largely missing in action. Even on Samsung’s own LED TV site, there is no way to search for Luxia televisions or clue as to the existence of a Luxia designation. I’m sure Samsung is pretty nappy to be dominating the LED-backlit landscape. A $4,500 television by any other name is still mighty profitable. But the difference between Samsung’s marketing of “LED TV” and “Luxia” provides very high contrast indeed.

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September 11, 2009

Watching the camp Second City Television show in my youth, I laughed at the show’s Monster Chiller Horror Theatre segments, in which John Candy, as the evil Dr. Tongue, would create “3D” by swaying a cat cradled in his arms toward and away from the camera — a high technological bar indeed.

Nevertheless, at the IFA conference in Berlin last week, Sony and Panasonic emerged as leading advocates for the adoption of 3D television based on a more modern approach; each had its own spin. Sony relied on its knowledge of movie making via Sony Pictures (now integrated into its “make.believe” corporate branding along with Sony Ericsson) whereas Panasonic noted that it had a production facility in Hollywood for mastering Blu-ray.

Sony also won showmanship points by distributing RealD glasses and showing 3D clips during its press conference. That’s fair game in my book even though the technology it plans to introduce in the home is actually the same as Panasonic’s, which uses active shutter glasses that Panasonic was showing behind closed doors on its 150″ plasma. Passing through those doors, I noticed the impact of the 3D effect when there is high contrast between foreground and background, lending credibility to its claim that plasma is well-suited to 3D. (It also bodes well for OLED, which both Sony and Panasonic are pursuing.) While the Avatar clip actually fell a bit flat (pun unintended), there was a confetti scene so realistic that I felt I could reach out and grab it. Panasonic also answered Sony’s eye-popping Gran Turismo cockpit scene from its press conference with its own impressive driver’s-eye footage.

Sony and Panasonic are also driving forces behind Blu-ray, and another piece of the puzzle to roll out at IFA was that the Blu-ray 3D spec is coming soon. Indeed, 3D will absolutely need content, and as was noted during the Blu-ray Disc Association press conference, 3D content will be distributed in many ways. But even that may not be enough to overcome some of the hurdles such as wearing glasses. That is why Philips has decided to sit back and sell 21:9 TVs that I can’t believe wouldn’t find an audience in at least the custom installer market in the U.S.

As my colleague Paul Gray at DisplaySearch (whom I ran into on the show floor) notes, 3D  may not close the gap in TV pricing declines, but I still see the question of Blu-ray’s arrival is more of a when (and certainly within the time frame of seeing the effect without the glasses) than if. 3D has particular value for movies and sports, two TV genres that helped drive HD adoption.

But one area that 3D could enhance that hasn’t seen much attention but where it could provide much value is in the oft-neglected user interface, where it could help in swimming through the overwhelming flood of metadata that consumers will need to navigate. Hillcrest Labs has already shown a quasi-3D user interface using its Loop remote dubbed HoME, but it strikes me as the tip of the iceberg as to what companies could do with real 3D capabiliies. Without significant redesign, the prospects of finding personal relevant video in the age of broadband video are frightening, even more so than Count Floyd.

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February 19, 2009

imageIt looks like Hulu distribution has been tightened up over the past few days. Maybe NBC and Fox are rethinking the power of the destination now that they have spent big for a SuperBowl ad featuring closeted alien Alec Baldwin.

Dave Zatz adroitly points out that this is likely to have a chilling effect on other solutions that deliver Internet video to the television and I would argue that it may also cause the major TV manufacturers who were all aflutter about Internet video on their wares to temper their embrace.somewhat.  However, as seems to be made clear by the apologetic Hulu blog entry regarding the removal from Boxee, Hulu has a limited voice in what their content players do. Have patience, little Hulu. One day you may grow up to be the next Comcast and will get to enjoy the same kind of tortured negotiations as the regulated aggregators sharing the coax ride into the home.

This ties into another theory I have as to part of the motivation behind the Boxee move and it doesn’t have to do with a blind desire to keep broadband TV shows off the television. Unfortunately, I can’t share much about it now but, as they say, stay tuned.

In another example of out-of-the-Boxee thinking, Sling Media is embracing social media in its own way with its recent initiative that lets you share what you’re watching with your Facebook friends, another baby step in the leveraging of personal relationships to drive exposure to TV programming.

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December 4, 2008

imageNews this week that Panasonic and Samsung — the two leaders in plasma television– had invested in Sunbeam, a semiconductor company driving the WirelessHD standard, was another strong expression of support for the company that is using adaptive beam forming, and other technologies to enable mulcting high-definition wireless video delivery. Even SuNbeam’s competitors have praised its approach, but have said that it would take a long time for the technology to come to market, adding in that when 60 GH is ready for prime time, they’ll be there.. However, a recent blog post by Erica Egg at Net says that Wireless (as well as WHDI) products will be shipping by the first quarter of 2009.

WirelessHD is also backed by Sony and Sharp, so it will also likely appear in LCD televisions as well. One key difference between Wireless and WHDI is range with WHDI having more of a WI-Fri-like footprint. As a result, while both technologies will be marketed primarily as cable-replacement technologies within the home theater (as has been the case for Belkin’s delayed pre-WHDI FlyWire product), WHDI should be more interesting to convergence-minded home networkers wanting a theoretically more effective way then Wi-Fri of bridging the classic PC-TV gap.

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October 31, 2008

With sales of DLP-based rear-projection TVs fading as flat-panel TVs grow larger and larger, Texas Instruments is apparently working on technology that will allow different people watching the same display from different angles to see different images provided they’re wearing special glasses. I saw similar technology from Sharp at CES in 2007 or so and it worked pretty well even without additional eyewear.

I doubt the technology will end the long-running war for the remote in he living room but it could have commercial applications and makes sense for in-dash displays where the passenger might want to watch a movie while he drier might want to see navigation information.

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March 3, 2008

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I got my little envelope of analog entertainment life extension this weekend courtesy of Uncle Sam. According to Broadcast & Cable, Gary Shapiro, head of the Consumer Electronics Association, says that the government should give consumers more time to redeem the coupons. There has already been some online discussion advising consumers to wait for prices to come down before using their coupons but, really, with Wal-Mart enabling consumers to keep over-the-air goodness flowing into a chunky channel changer for less than $10,  there’s not much incentive left to delay.

While CEA has a much better consumer-friendly track record than trade organizations for, say, content industries, it’s still a bit counterintuitive that Gary, whose organization represents the world’s largest TV manufacturers,  backs a product that delays the purchase of a new digital television. It leads one to question how big an impact the analog cutoff will have on TV buying. I’m sure there will be a bump, particularly in smaller screen sizes. However, particularly with a shaky economy, it will be challenging to convince those prepared to make an under-$50 investment to a digital television at mainstream sizes.

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