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Technology Futures

Commentaries on Directions That Will Impact the Future of Technology

Archive for the category “TV”

WHDI vs WiHD? VHS vs Betamax again?


 

 

 

 

Wireless is one of today’s hot buzzwords.  My last post was about connecting rear speakers in  a surround system wirelessly (sort of).  This post is about sending audio/video signals, specifically of HD-quality normally associated with the HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) wired connection prevalent in today’ TVs, DVDs, Cable and Satellite systems.

The powers that be have been working on this issue since 2007 and have come up with approaches to the problem that are supported by some of the biggest names in the electronics business.  These solutions cost $1000 or so until recently.  Now the price is down to around $200, and promises to be much less in the not-too-distant future.  In fact, solutions have been implemented at the chip level and will be embedded into equipment including TVs, receivers, computers, tablets, etc. where the incremental cost will hardly be noticed.

Unfortunately, there are two competing technologies, reminiscent of the VHS – Betamax confrontation of decades ago, with a big difference.  That is, the same companies are supporting both technologies, hedging their bets as it were.  The two technologies are called WHDI (Wireless Home Digital Interface) and WiHD (Wireless High Definition).  Neither of them have beed adopted by any recognized international standards body (such as the IEEE) and are sponsored by the euphemistic word “Consortium.”  To further confuse the consumer, there is something called Intel Wireless Display, or WiDi!

In any event, the objective is to eliminate the need for connecting an HDMI source device (cable receiver, DVD player, computer, etc.) from an HDMI playing device (TV, tablet, etc.).  This capability is especially useful when the TV is mounted in a location that is remote from the source equipment.

If you buy a kit to add to an existing equipment setup, you will get a transmitter that plugs into the source equipment’s HDMI-out jack and a receiver that plugs into the TV’s HDMI-in jack.  One or both devices aren’t needed if the technology is built-in to the equipment, assuming both the sending and receiving devices are using the same technology.  Your next question (obviously) is – Which technology should I choose?

That is a tough one to answer, just like the VHS-Betamax query of yore.  WHDI was created by an Israeli semiconductor company called Amimon.  The technology uses the 5- 6 GHz carrier band, the same as some wifi networks, wireless telephones and other consumer devices.  WiHD uses a 60 GHz carrier frequency, which is currently unoccupied by almost anything else one is like to encounter in a home.  Its adherents claim that nothing will interfere with its signals.

However, the laws of physics dictate that the higher the frequency, the shorter the range.  Early adopters report that WiHD works well for line-of-sight up to 30-odd feet, while WHDI devotees claim that the signal will go through walls and accommodate distances up to 100 feet.  Thus it would seem that the WHDI solution is more flexible.  Indeed, it is the technology used in the heavily advertised AT&T U-Verse receivers touted to be able to wirelessly broadcast a signal to up to four TVs in a single home.

However, at this stage of the game, it may be dangerous to jump to conclusions.  If you peruse the many online forums dealing with the subject, you will find that user experiences with either technology are all over the map, ranging from excellent to awful.  Besides the range and line-of-site issues, others are latency and whether or not video compression is used.  The watch-phrase is “Don’t buy an HDMI wireless system unless you can return it.”

Back to WiDi.  This is nothing more than WHDI circuitry embedded in some Intel laptop chips.  The idea is that anything you can see on your laptop can be sent wirelessly to any device supporting the WHDI standard.  It is currently being promoted by Dell (as one example) under the banner “Connected Home.”

A note of caution:  Many of the many wireless HDMI kits on the market come in packaging that does not state which technology is being used, nor does its advertising.  Therefore, if you want one that supports WiHD, you might well buy one that supports WHDI.  As usual, do your homework before laying out your money.  I also recommend that you peruse the forums (e.g. http://www.avsforum.com) on this subject and read the product reviews by users and independent agencies like ZDNet and CNET.

 

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Ultra HD: Worth the Wait?


Sharp 85" UltraHD Prototype TV

So you just bought the latest and greatest super-thin 3D HDTV, thinking you are now state-of-the-art.  Think again.  Here comes (maybe) Ultra HD, also known as Super Hi-vision.  This format, proposed by NHK (the Japanese equivalent of PBS), offers 16 times the resolution of today’s high definition TV.  That is 7680 x 4320 pixels, about the same as IMAX.  A 2-hour movie in this format will require about 24 terabytes of data without compression!

In addition to the video, up to 24 audio channels can be used.  You might start thinking about where you are going to place those 24 speakers.

NHK expects to broadcast in UltraHD by 2020.  In the meantime, a few companies have prototyped systems that accommodate the format.  For example, Sharp has built an 85″ Ultra HD set.

To confuse matters further, some companies are looking into an in-between technology called QFHD (Quad Full High Definition).  This technology increases the pixel resolution by a factor of four rather than the 16 factor of Ultra HD.  The resolution is 3840 x 2160 pixels.  Samsung showed off a prototype TV display for QFHD at CES, and Toshiba will be selling a 55″ QFHD set called the Regza 55X3 this year priced at about $12,000. Although it is being sold in Japan and Europe on a limited basis, it is not clear that an American audience will pay that price.

That set, by the way, is autostereoscopic, meaning that you can see 3D without glasses.  Although there is no 1D content yet in QFHD format, Toshiba uses it by showing the two stereo signals needed for 3D, each in full 1080p resolution.  People who have seen the display report being very impressed.  In addition, the set is designed to accommodate multiple viewers within nine different regions.  The television utilizes extremely small lenses to split the video feed up into two views at different angles. The user can calibrate the views using face-tracking software built into the television.  Supposedly, one can be situated at many viewing angles and still see a clear picture.

Satellite TV provider DirecTV has announced that it will soon be able to broadcast QFHD signals and maybe Ultra HDTV signals by switching to a new generation of Ka-band satellites that offer significantly more bandwidth than the current Ku-band satellites.

Not to be outdone by the Japanese and Koreans, the Chinese television manufacturer, TCL, debuted the world’s largest 4K 3D LCD television this week at 110-inches. Offering 4,096×2,160 pixels of resolution, the television requires active shutter glasses to view 3D.  In addition, it utilizes multi-touch technology to create a touch-screen on the front of the display and offers dynamic backlight technology as well.  TCL is labeling the technology “China Star” and eventually plans to roll out the technology in smaller sets.  There have not been any price announcements nor is it known if the sets will be sold outside of China.

So get ready to toss that state-of-the-art TV you just bought.  The nature of the business is that state-of-the-art is a moving target.  Naturally, you will want to move with it.

 

 

Ultraviolet: Revolutionary or Yesterday’s News?


Ultraviolet Sticker

A couple of weeks ago, my stepson, the techy genius, asked me if I was tuned in to Ultraviolet.  He was surprised to learn that I’d never heard of it.  I am talking here about the service designed to peddle movies and such, not part of the light spectrum beyond visible violet.  For those of you who never heard of it either, here is a quick synopsis:

In the cloud, there is a place to store movies and other forms of video entertainment.  One buys the movies from any one of dozens of purveyors.  Instead of walking out of a store with a DVD in your hand, the movie gets uploaded to the cloud (or maybe it is already there).  By entering a password, you can access your movie in several ways:  You can stream it to any device equipped for streaming video.  You can download it to a computer for later viewing.  You can make a DVD, although you are only allowed to make a single copy.  Ultraviolet identifies itself as “a digital rights authentication and cloud-based licensing system.”

The entertainment industry loves the idea because it thinks it might limit piracy (talk about heads in the sand).  Retailers, both brick-and-mortar and online, like the idea.  They get the same price they would for a physical DVD, but they don’t have to carry any inventory.  When you go to the Ultraviolet website, you  will find a long list of some of the biggest names in video entertainment and the places that sell it identified as sponsors or supporters.

Despite the hype and the big-name support, both the reviewers and the public in general have not said many nice things about the service.  The Gigaom and Techdirt reviews are typical.   The system is cumbersome to use for average folks, and it does not have the support of the 800-pound gorillas, Amazon and Apple.

Although Ultraviolet was announced in July 2010, it hasn’t made much progress.  Only Sony and Paramount have offered their films via Ultraviolet, and those offerings are limited to a small fraction of the movies in their portfolios.  So, despite the hype, the content providers are not exactly demonstrating a heavy commitment.  Without content, the system is doomed.

It is no secret that DVD and Blu-ray sales are decreasing.   How many people need to buy movies, when it is so much cheaper to rent them on Netflix or at kiosks?  Another competitive threat is coming from the cable and satellite TV companies.  Not only can you DVR movies for later viewing, but they are offering subscribers the ability to stream them at no extra cost.  Unlike Netflix, which is pleading for the authority to stream movie content, the cable guys already have it.  Then there are the illegal downloads that can be found easily by simply doing a Google search.

As I said above, I’d never even heard of Ultraviolet until now, and I am supposed to know about important technologies in the home entertainment business.  I do not see a market-driving force that suggests that Ultraviolet, or any service requiring upfront money for movie content, has a chance of succeeding.  Do you?  Requiem Blockbuster.

 

Blu-ray Disks: Singin’ the Blues


Bly-ray Disc logo

Image via Wikipedia

Last night, my wife and I began to watch a rental movie on DVD.  The opening screen said (I’m paraphrasing) “This DVD contains only the movie.  If you want the best picture and sound plus many bonus features, you should buy this movie on Blu-ray.”

Audio

I checked and found out that the audio on the Blu-ray disk is 5.1 surround, the same audio provided on the DVD.  It is true that Blu-ray can provide “lossless” 6.1 or 7.1 surround sound which adds an additional back channel like you might encounter in a movie theater.  However, a competing 6.1/7.1 technology, Dolby Digital EX or THX EX can also provide 6.1 or 7.1 sound on DVDs.  Maybe if you have 15-year old ears you can hear the difference, but most people won’t notice.  In either case the argument is virtually moot, since the number of movie disks that have either Blu-ray or EX 6.1/7.1 sound is miniscule and the numbre of people set up for 6.1/7.1 sound reproduction is even smaller.  Strike 1 for Blu-ray.

Picture Quality

Now let’s examine the issue of picture quality.  Most TV sets sold in the past 5 years are capable of handling HD (High Definition) images with up to 1080p resolution.  That means 1080 scan lines, non-interlaced (“p” stands for “progressive”, which means exactly the same thing as non-interlaced).  Blu-ray provides 1080p natively, while DVDs offer only 480p resolution.  Thus it would seem that Blu-ray has a huge advantage in picture quality.  While Blu-ray images are superior, they are not that superior, because the clever folks who design DVD players have provide a feature called “video upscaling” that takes a 480p signal and converts it to a 1080p signal!  It used to be that this technology cost $20,000, but today it is reduced to a chip that costs less than $5.  Therefore, if your DVD player has upscaling (and almost all of them built in the past five years do), your picture will be almost as good as Blu-ray.  Strike 2 for Blu-ray.  In fact, 90% of people over the age of 50 can’t tell the difference.

Bonus Features

So far, I’ve shown that Blu-ray’s advantages in picture and sound quality are there, but meaningless to the average TV viewer.  That leaves bonus features as the last significant DVD/Blu-ray differentiator.  As it turns out, very few Blu-ray disks have whiz-bang bonus features.  Why?  It turns out that the great majority of Viewers have very little interest in bonus features.  Not only that, whiz-bang bonus features are expensive to produce, and, as a result, are not common.  Strike 3 for Blu-ray.

Streaming Video Competition

Finally, we have the issue of streaming Internet video which virtually every pundit has declared is the future of TV or at least will be a major part of it.  It will be  a long time, if ever, that streaming video will be able to accommodate Blu-ray.  There simply isn’t enough network bandwidth.  This is especially true in the US, which is practically a third-world country when it comes to providing its citizens with broadband Internet service.  In any event, streaming video is not Blu-ray’s friend.

Not Going Away Soon

I don’t mean to say that Blu-Ray is dead.  Disney, for example which has the highest ratio of disk to box office sales in the industry, says it will continue to push Blu-ray until it no longer is no longer a viable medium for movies.  I also want to emphasize that this discussion is limited to movies.  As a data medium, Blu-ray has a lot to offer – unparalleled storage density in a portable format, for example.   If you have a lot of data, a Blu-ray disk player/recorder is just the thing for your PC or Mac.  Blu-ray is also an important technological piece of the gaming market.

Cost Differential

Back to the movie I saw last night (“Dolphin Tale“, excellent family movie by the way).  Amazon sells the DVD version for $15 and the Blu-ray version for $24, a 60% premium.  I think that price differential is very difficult for Joe Couch Potato to justify.  Don’t you?

References

If you are interested in learning more about TV audio and video, I recommend the following websites:

  • For an excellent layman’s description of the various audio options,go to the Crutchfield website.
  • Wikipedia has several entries re TV video technology.  Try 480p and 1080p for starters.

TV: Wherefore Art Thou Apple


Steve Wozniak

Image via Wikipedia

Steve Wozniak was quoted in a January 4 article in USA Today, stating ” I do expect Apple to make an attempt (to get into the TV business) since I expect the living room to remain a center for family entertainment, and that touches on all areas of consumer products that Apple is already making.”  In response to that statement, I say “duh.”

It is certainly true that Apple could equip a TV with an iPAd/iPhone
interface.  The article mentioned above cites a Barclay Capital analyst
as saying that Apple could sell $19B worth of TVs so equipped in 2013.  I think the guy is smoking something illegal, but I was wrong once before.

The fly in the ointment as it were is, of course, content.  Why should Apple be able to cut better deals for content than any other company?  Cable and satellite companies are making more money than ever.  What could induce them to share the goodies with Apple or anyone else for that matter.  Of course, they could theoretically cut deals with the content providers like the networks and independent production companies, but why would those companies give Apple an edge over other big players like Google TV/Sony, or even Microsoft.

For Apple to compete profitably in the TV business, it will have to offer something truly unique.  TV hardware, including network interfaces is essentially a commodity.  Embedded network interface hardware costs around a dime these days.  Who wants to play in that game outside of a few crazy Korean and Japanese companies who will probably get knocked off by Chinese competition?

I don’t see much happening to change the TV landscape in any fundamental way UNLESS there is consolidation with the content providers.  Given that Google, Apple, Microsoft et al are gagging on cash these days, perhaps that is not beyond the realm of possibility.  As you probably know, Sony owns a bunch of Studios like Columbia and Tri-Star.  Suppose you could watch the product of those studios only on Sony TVs or at least less expensively than on competing products.  I think that is called “thinking-out-of-the-box.”  Apple is pretty good at that.

 

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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