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Technology Futures

Commentaries on Directions That Will Impact the Future of Technology

Archive for the month “December, 2011”

Big Screen TV: DLP Offers Great Price/Performance


DLP Technology

Developed by Texas Instruments, DLP (Digital Light Processor) technology is used in theaters offering digital projection and in home TV projectors – the kind you hang from the ceiling that projects imagery onto a screen. If you want to know how it works, click here. This article is about rear-projection DLP-based big screen TVs and why they should be considered in the face of tough competition from plasma and LCD TVs.

Price Considerations

Five years ago, a 65″ DLP TV cost $3500, a 65″ plasma cost $8,000 and a 65″ LCD was not available as a production product. Today, a 65″ DLP TV costs $1200 and a 65″ plasma or LCD costs $2500. While that is a significant difference, the numbers are even more intriguing as the size increases. Current DLP prices for a 73″ screen are $1300, for an 82″ screen, $1600, and for a 92″ screen, $3400.

Compare those prices to the latest big screen commercial offerings from plasma and LCD manufacturers: Sharp makes 70″ and 80″ LCD TVs that sell for $3000 and $5500. Panasonic makes 85″ and 103″ plasmas priced at $20,000 and $70,000. If you visit the CES show early in January, you will undoubtedly find companies like Samsung and LG showing 100+” LCD TVs, but they are not production models for sale to the general public.

From a price standpoint, DLP is the clear big screen choice for Joe Couch Potato. But there are, of course, other considerations.

The most important pros and cons:

Pros

  1. No motion blur, unlike LCD, because of a very fast refresh rate
  2. No worry about burn-in by leaving a static image on the screen like plasma
  3. Very sharp picture, as good as any other technology
  4. 3D is included and doesn’t require expensive glasses

Cons

  1. Not a flat panel, up to 25″ deep for a 92″ model
  2. Off-angle viewing not as good as LCD or plasma
  3. Lamp must be replaced every two years at a cost of $85 – $150.  Typical lamp life is 10,000 hours.
  4. Limited competition

Latest DLP Models Emulate Theater Projection

Mitsubishi recently announced the LaserVue Series.  This series uses the same laser lighting technology used in its theater-quality digital projection systems.  There are three lasers, one for each color, that provide the lighting instead of the incandescent bulb used in its standard models.  This lighting system provides extreme clarity, and there is no need to replace a bulb.  The lasers should last indefinitely.  The LaserVue comes only in a 75″ screen size and sells for $5500, although the price is likely to come down over time.

Mitsubishi is the only DLP TV Manufacturer in the North American Market

Mitsubishi is the only major manufacturer committed to DLP rear-projection TV selling into the North American market.  You may find models on store shelves from JVC, Samsung, Sharp and Toshiba, but all of these companies have announced that they are abandoning the DLP rear-projection market, although they all sell DLP ceiling projectors.

The underlying technology continues to be developed by Texas Instruments and its many partners. Given that has a monopoly for projecting digital movies in theaters, it should be around for a very long time. In other words, the risk of betting on the technology is very low.

In Conclusion:  Big Screen DLP Should be Considered

In conclusion, if you want a big-screen TV today, a rear-projection DLP model offers quality viewing at the lowest price. Before buying one, however, make sure you see it and are satisfied with the quality of the picture. Since big screens take up a lot of shelf space, even the largest stores will not have a wide selection on display. Call first to be sure the one you want to see is actually in the store.

Note: Prices quoted in this article are the lowest US prices I could find via Internet search as of late December 2011, and may not be what you will find in stores or other online sources.

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Top Ten Electronic Gadget Deals


This is my Top Ten list of the best deals in electronic gadgets.  I either own all of these gadgets or comparable units, and I assure you that they are great products to have.  In each case, I looked up either the MSRP or the average retail selling price and then shopped extensively online for the best price I could find.  Unfortunately, I can’t guarantee that you will find these same prices as some are limited offers, but since these things change daily, you might find even better deals than I did.   The list is in random order.

1.      Jabra Cruiser Bluetooth Speakerphone Car Kit

If you live in states like California and New York, you know that you have to use your cellphone hands-free while driving.  If you are like me, you can’t stand wearing an earbud.  The solution is a hands-free Bluetooth car kit.  The Jabra Cruiser is the best one out there.

Retail = $70   Great Deal = $20

2.      URC R50 Universal Remote Control

If you have a bunch of remote controls for your home entertainment system, you will be much happier to get rid of them and use a single universal remote control.  In the under $200 category, the URC R50 is the class act of the bunch.  The documentation that comes with the unit is terrible, and URC’s customer support is non-existent, so you need to be a confirmed DIYer to take advantage of all its features.

Retail = $150    Great Deal = $60

3.      Garmin NUVI 200 GPS $420 – $100

While GPS devices are becoming more and more popular in cellphones, there is still a place for standalone units.  The Garmin NUVI 200 is small enough to be carried in a pocket and has a very readable display.

Retail = $420   Great Deal = $100

4.      iRoomba 530 Robotic Vacuum Cleaner

The ultimate gift for a couch potato, the iRoomba vacuums your floors and rugs by itself.  The model 530 is not the top of the line, but it does everything you want it to.

Retail = $300   Great Deal = $175

5.      Microlife Blood Pressure Kit with Arm Cuff

Everyone over the age of 40 should have a blood pressure monitor.  The Microlife kit is rated tops in home monitors by many testing agencies.  You can hook it up to your computer and download your readings.  Included software will track those readings and plot them.  You can even email the results to your Doctor.

Retail = $80   Great Deal = $30

6.      Kodak EasyShare 8” Wireless Picture Frame 820 Series

There are lots of digital picture frames out there, but Kodak’s are rated tops by many reviewers.  The 820 series has all the bells and whistles including wireless.

Retail = $140   Great Deal = $50

7.       All-Well Home Thermostat with Remote Control

Here is another toy for the couch potato – a remote controlled home thermostat.  Raise or lower the temperature without moving from your spot!  There are many competing models, most of them well over $100.  The All-Well thermostat does the same thing for much less.

Retail = $150   Great Deal = $50

8.      Brother MFC-9120CN All-in-one Color Laser Printer

Color laser printers are a lot cheaper and faster than inkjets, especially if you buy the toner separately and refill the cartridges yourself.  This Brother unit includes fax, copy and scanning functions in addition to printing.  The Inkowl company sells the toner at a fraction of the factory replacement cartridge cost, and has great customer support if you need it.

Retail = $450   Great Deal = $300         Brother Cartridge Set = $289   Inkowl Toner = $70

9.      Sony MDR-DS7100 7.1 Channel Surround Sound Wireless Headphone System

So you just spent a lot of money on a home entertainment system with 7-channel surround sound and a big screen TV.  Now your significant other says she’s trying to sleep and it is keeping him/her awake.  The 7.1 channel Sony Wireless Headphone system is the solution.  The sound is so good you might want to get rid of your regular speakers!

Retail = $450  Great Deal = $250

10.  Pair of 200 mbps Ethernet Powerline Adaptors

You just bought a new whiz-bang tablet only to discover the WiFi connection is not strong enough when you are upstairs.  You could install a WiFi repeater, or, for a lot less, you can plug a Powerline Ethernet adaptor into a wall-socket and transmit at Ethernet speeds over your AC power lines.  There are many brands available and they are virtually all the same.  You need two of them, one to attach to your wireless router, and one to attach to your tablet.  You can have as many adaptors as you want, so it is a cheap and easy way to turn your whole house into an Ethernet LAN.

Retail = $70   Great Deal = $30

Whatever Happened to Smart Cards?


Recently, the Lucky supermarket chain had many of its self-checkout stands “hacked” by technically sophisticated persons who were able to insert a device in the checkout machines that captured credit card numbers and PINs and transmitted that information wirelessly to receivers unknown.  Because Lucky’s management took its sweet time informing customers whose cards were hacked, there was a lot of notoriety that accompanied this particular scam.

The weak link in this scam as in many others, is the ubiquitous credit/debit card.  Given the technology extant today, these cards have to be among the most vulnerable devices in the modern world.   I think most people would be amazed to know that there is a solution to the vulnerability of these cards, and that it was invented in 1968!  That solution is known colloquially as a Smart Card.

Smart Cards usually look like regular credit cards, but they have a chip imbedded in them that contains a processor, memory, and, in some cases, a wireless transceiver.  You may be familiar with one form of smart card , often called a transponder, that is used to automatically pay bridge and road tolls.  When you pass through the tollgate, your transponder sends a signal to a reader in the gate that identifies your vehicle.  That data is then used to debit your account for the toll.

The chip in the card is programmable.  It can, for example, store biometric information, such as fingerprints or retinal scan data.  It can also be powered without needing a battery using an inductor that can capture power from a radio signal.

Despite the obvious advantages of a smart card over and above a dumb one, they have never caught on in a major application.  The big application is, of course, credit/debit cards.  Although Visa, Mastercard and Europay worked together in the early 1990s to develop a smart card specification, it was never implemented.  The banks claimed it would cost more to replace credit card readers with smart card readers than the losses they sustained from credit card fraud!

Today, smart cards have, with one exception, been relegated to special applications such as company security access and club membership cards.  The one generic application in use today is the SIM (Subscriber Identification Module) cards used in  GSM mobile phones in Europe.

I recall working with an Australian company that had invented a system it called BagTag.  The idea was that airline baggage tags attached to bags and the claim stubs carried by passengers would have smart card type chips imbedded in them.  A checked bag’s registration would be captured at the baggage check-in counter.  Then, when the passenger checked in at the gate, his claim stubs would be read and compared with those of the checked bags.  If the readings failed to match, security would know immediately that there is a problem.  Unfortunately, the airlines were unwilling to try it, and the company did not have the resources to develop and sell it without financial support from the airlines.  Aside from the security benefits of the application, the system could also be used to find lost baggage more efficiently than the bar code system currently being used.

Thus, the benefits of smart cards are obvious, and for many applications, cost-effective as well.  They would go far to protect consumers from ID theft and would effectively address many security issues.  Reluctance to change the way things are done on the part of banks, credit card processors, etc. is the culprit, exacerbated by a lack of leadership by government entities.

Think about how airport security problems would be resolved if travelers had to carry smart cards that identified them with 100% reliability.  How about eliminating credit card ID theft?  The solution is the smart card, but the prospective users are too dumb to see it.

If you are interested in reading more about smart cards, take a look at the Wikipedia article on the subject.

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