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Technology Futures

Commentaries on Directions That Will Impact the Future of Technology

Archive for the tag “home entertainment”

Wireless Surround Sound: Kudos and Caveats


Speaker wire costs about $.15/foot for 16 gauge, $.20 for 14 gauge and $.25/ft for 12 gauge.  These gauges will, respectively, handle 20′, 35′ and 100′ respectively into an 8 ohm load, and half that distance for a 4-ohm load.  So, if you have two 8-ohm surround speakers located 30 feet from your receiver, the wire will cost about $12.00.  Further, with this conventional wired setup, there will not be any discernible delay between the sound coming out of the front and rear speakers.  They will be in sync.  By the way, speaker wire carries very low frequencies – less than 20kHz – and spending a lot for brand name cable is a waste of money.

Problem:  You are not able to run wires through the ceilings or walls, and your significant other won’t allow you to lay the wires on the floor where grandpa can trip on them.  A solution:  Use a wireless link to connect the rear speakers to your surround sound receiver.  However, you need to consider the cost.  A wireless connection can add $100 -$500 to the cost of your 5.1 system, and twice that if you have a 7.1 system.  If your speakers cost $1000 apiece, the incremental cost of wireless may seem reasonable.  If your speakers cost $100 each, the cost of adding wireless might seem exorbitant.

Be advised, I am not writing here about inexpensive bluetooth wireless speaker connections designed for iPods and the like.  I’m talking about achieving CD-quality sound in a quality home entertainment system with true surround sound.

The technology used in all the commercially available wireless systems for home use relies on using either the 2.4 or 5.8 GHz transmission bands, the same used by other household appliances including microwave ovens, wireless telephones and wifi network routers.  Thus, these systems may be subject to electrical interference resulting in static and signal dropout.  The better systems claim to have resolved that problem by providing multiple transmission channels.  The idea is that the system will find a channel that is not being used by any other appliance.  In general, the success of this scheme is a function of price.  The more expensive the system, the better job it does of avoiding collisions and the clearer the sound will be.

Another problem is that the signal to the rear speakers will be delayed by some 15-20 milliseconds.  Most people won’t notice, but sensitivee audiophiles might find that annoying.  The best way to handle that is to use a receiver that allows the user to adjust the delay time to each speaker.  Fortunately, many moderately-priced receivers today have this capability.

One company, Avnera (Portland, OR), has designed a chipset for the purpose it calls AudioMagic.  By reducing the component content to a couple of chips, the cost of wireless is drastically reduced, and we can expect to see the prices of these systems drop considerably.  The Avnera chips are used in the Rocketfish system sold by Best Buy, one of the cheapest on the market.

The following table summarizes most of the available wireless speaker links on the North American market.  Data comes from the manufacturers’ websites and may or may not be accurate.  Prices are average online prices as of May 2012.  Careful shopping will likely turn up lower prices than those shown.  All of the models listed can be found by website search.  I could not figure out how to include the links in the table – a WordPress issue I suspect.

Notice that Samsung and Sony offer systems wherein the transmitter is contained on a card that plugs into their receivers.  The cards are much less expensive than separate transmitters.  I believe that chipsets like Avnera’s AudioMagic will soon be built-into receivers, reducing the cost of the transmitter function to very little.  Receivers, however, will still need to be expensive, because of the amplifiers they must contain.  Some speakers can be purchased with built-in amplifiers, but they tend to be aimed at the low-end of the market.  If you want to choose your own rear speakers, you will need to buy separate receivers.

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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.

 

Phone and Tablet Remote Control Update: Was I Wrong?


Vizio 8" Tablet

A few months ago I posted a blog entry about using phones and/or tablets as remote controls for home entertainment systems.  I was bullish on the trend, but some recent experience suggests that maybe it isn’t going to happen as quickly as I thought.  Although the technology is there, it doesn’t seem to be ready for Joe Couch Potato.

A few days ago, I purchased a Vizio 8″ tablet, Model VTAB1008-B.  This tablet includes a built-in IR blaster and an application called “Remote Control.”  First of all, the screen is gorgeous, providing 1024 x 768 resolution, the same as an iPad, but in an 8″ instead of the iPad‘s 10″ form factor, providing denser pixels and sharper images than the iPad.  The screen is prettier than any of the high-end purpose-built touch-screen remote controls from companies like Crestron and URC which are typically 640 x 480 and cost a couple of thousand dollars.  The IR radiator works well, although I haven’t tested it in “stressful” conditions.  Certainly good enough for most in-home situations.

The Remote Control program, however, is all but useless.  You are supposed to set it up by selecting an equipment category from a list (DVD Player, TV, Amplifier, etc.), then selecting a manufacturer from another list, and, if you know it, typing in the model number.  If  the model number is found, a screen for the device is set up automatically.  If the model number is not found, there is a trial-and-error process for finding the device.  I was amazed at the completeness of the model database.  (I assume Vizio gets that list from UEI or another company that maintains a database of equipment IR codes.)  It even listed an X10 ir543 receiver!  Go to this link and click on “How to Set Up the Remote Control App” to see a video of how it works.

The first problem is that the database model entries do not reliably associate the correct IR codes with the buttons that appear on the screen!  The second problem is that the buttons on the screen do not represent the controls that are needed to operate the device with the device.  For example, I have a Sony CD jukebox that holds 300 CDs.  You operate it by inputting the number of the disc you wish to play using a numeric keypad and then pressing the Play button.  The screen that comes up for this device has no keypad on it, thereby rendering the control of that device useless.  The X10 ir543 screen does not contain any controls that related to the device at all.  The DVD screen contains mostly controls useful for operating a TV.  On top of everything else, the program crashed repeatedly and could only be recovered by powering down the tablet.

I called Vizio tech support, was told that a “significant upgrade” was coming soon, and that I might consider waiting for that.  In fairness, they also generously offered to send me a new tablet, but couldn’t guarantee that the same problems wouldn’t exist.  I am certain it is a software problem, so I declined the offer.

The way most of the phone/tablet-based remote control systems operate today is by sending the signals via a Wifi connection.  This requires that the user purchase a box that converts the Wifi signal to IR.  These boxes cost around $100 for 1-way transmission and $150 for 2-way (for RS-232 capable equipment).  Putting an IR blaster in a tablet is a great idea that eliminates the expense of the Wifi-IR converter box.  It obviously would add very little to the cost of a tablet or phone.

I paid $190 for the tablet, shipping included.  (MSRP is $329.)  If the remote control application worked as it should, the tablet could easily be justified on the basis of that app alone.  If I were Vizio’s CEO, I’d hire a couple of guys laid off from Philips now-defunct Pronto Division and have them write a Windows/iOS-based editor that would allow customers to create customized remote control screens.  As it is, all I can do is wait for the upgrade and hope it fixes the problems I confronted.

I contacted a couple of companies (e.g., iRule) that have systems for using phones and tablets as remote controls, but neither of them could take advantage of a built-in IR blaster.  I suspect this might change in the future, but probably not until some big-name tablet/phone manufacturers begin to put IR blasters in their devices.

 

5G Wifi: Will You Use It?


11ac Coverage

WiFi at home, Wifi on your phone, Wifi on your tablet, Wifi at Starbucks, here a wi, there a wi, everywhere a wifi – or so the song goes.  This year, the next generation of Wifi, known as 11ac or 5G WiFi (5G = Fifth Generation), is going to hit the market.  Never mind that the relevant standards body (i.e., the Wifi Alliance) is two years away from actually defining a standard, companies like Broadcom that make chips for Wifi , are already in 11ac production.

The current and latest real Wifi standard is 802.11n.  11ac (full name is 802.11ac) will offer much wider bandwidth, longer range, more reliability and better battery life.  The icing on the cake is that 11ac won’t cost much more than 11n!  Maybe even the same price.

Broadcom, the first big company to announce 11ac product, is making 11ac chips in at least three bandwidths:  433 Mbps, 867 Mbps and 1.3 Gbps.  The chart above, from 5Gwifi.org, shows what the average user can expect performance-wise from 11ac.  Even, the low-end implementation is three times faster than 11n.

One of the more interesting 11ac efforts comes from a small company you probably don’t know, called Redpine Signals of San Jose, CA.  It’s implementation focuses on low-power devices, and so is suitable for smartphones and tablets.  While it isn’t clear that phones really benefit from 11ac, tablets certainly will, especially if used for viewing HD movies.  Redpine calls its technology Quali-Fi.

11ac will likely have it’s biggest impact in the home.  Wifi deadspots will be a thing of the past and families will be able to stream multiple movies over the same network.  Pretty cool!  The caveat here is that the broadband Internet connection may limit the technology’s usability.  If the Internet connection  provides only a few megabits per second, 11ac won’t offer much, if any advantage.

If you are an early adopter, you will be able to buy an 11ac router this year.  In fact, In-Stat forecasts that 1 million ac routers will be sold this year, growing to 350 million by 2015.  Eventually, all home routers will support 11ac.  However, it’s not clear which products will be the first  to incorporate 11ac WiFi since none of the consumer electronics and phone companies have announced product yet.

Nevertheless, if you have a fast Internet connection, you can look forward to much enhanced Wifi in your home, your office and even Starbucks!

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.

Free Streaming Radio: Sayonara SiriusXM


English: Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh

If you hadn’t already noticed, free streaming radio service is all over the Internet.  Here is a partial list of websites that offer it:

This is just the tip of the iceberg.  New sites are coming online so frequently, it is nearly impossible to keep up.

To make it easy for people to access free radio from anywhere (at home, on foot, in a vehicle or hotel, etc.) all one needs is a smartphone, and, unless headphones will satisfy, a means of transmitting the sound from the phone to a player.  Today, that is cheap and easy.  Here are some choices:

  • A headphone -to-RCA cable to play through any amplifier or stereo system that has RCA connector jacks:  Cost: $1 – $3.
  • A phone to FM transmitter.  Will play through any FM radio.  Cost $12 – $35.
  • Bluetooth:  Needs to be built into the receiving device.  An increasingly popular option in cars.
  • RF (Radio Frequency) Transceivers.  These are a great solution for whole house applications.  There are many choices on the market using 900 MHz, 2.4 GHz and other frequencies.  $35 and up.

What this means is that the days of SiriusXM Radio are numbered.  Unless there are one or more channels exclusive to Sirius XM that you absolutely have to have (e.g., Howard Stern or Martha Stewart), there is no reason to pay for digital radio if you have a smartphone.  Considering that SiriusXM charges $180 – $200/year for a single radio subscription and more for multiple radios, there is little economic justification for the service.

I don’t mean to say that SiriusXM will disappear overnight.  The company, in league with the car manufacturers, has a racket going that will take years to get rid of.  Today, it is almost impossible to buy a car that doesn’t have a Sirius or XM radio in it with a “free” 3-month subscription to suck in the buyer.  But the result is inevitable as smartphones and smart people who know how to use them become ubiquitous in society.

Home Audio Speakers: What’s Hot? What’s Not?


Bozak Concert Grand

The picture on the left shows the Bozak Concert Grand Speaker System.  Invented by audio pioneer Rudy Bozak and sold from 1951 – 1965, The Concert Grand was universally considered by almost every reviewer as the finest production speaker system available.  Weighing 250 pounds and costing more than $2000 (About $20,000 in 2011 dollars), each unit contained four 12″ woofers, two midrange drivers and an array of eight tweeters contained in a gigantic box that was close to an infinite baffle enclosure.  If you wanted to hear (feel) the lowest note on a bass viol, the Concert Grand was, arguably, the only system capable of producing those notes distortion-free.  Short of very costly custom-built systems, no modern technology has been able to sound as sweet as the Concert Grand in my less-than-humble opinion.  Unfortunately, the Concert Grand demanded a) vast wealth; b) an extremely understanding spouse; and c) a very large room, thus narrowing the market to the point at which the Bozak company could not sell enough to make a profit.

Since those heady “HiFi” days, speaker designers have developed hundreds of systems based on technologies, both esoteric and simple.  The speaker designer’s job today is complicated by the need to reproduce both music and movie sounds.  Crashing automobiles heard through 6 channels and the strains of Beethoven heard through 2 stereo channels require very different aural profiles.  Further, most music content these days is digitally-sourced and digital music sounds a lot different than analog-sourced music.  (Although, if you are young enough, you may never have heard analog music, and therefore don’t know the difference!)  In short, except for a diminishing number of audiophiles, the Concert Grand and its brethren are no longer hot.

Hot speakers today are likely to be a) small; and b) wireless.  Small means that infinite baffles are out, and enclosures tiny or non-existent.  To make up for that deficit, designers compensate by using the aforementioned electronic trickery, employing sound modifier circuitry that attempts to create realism.  Sometimes the trickery is built into the amplification system and sometimes in electronics that are embedded into the speaker equipment.  Bose pioneered this methodology with great success.  (Although I will admit that some Bose systems sound very good, they still ain’t Concert Grands.)

Typical Sound Bar

The technology has progressed to the point where much sound processing circuitry has reached commodity status, enabling speaker and amplifier manufacturers to offer a range of sound processing options at low cost.  An outstanding example is the so-called sound bar.  A sound bar is a  collection of speakers and sound processing electronics housed in a narrow long cabinet designed to fit under or over a TV set.  The electronics often try to emulate surround sound.  Since the speakers are very small, a separate subwoofer is usually needed to get decent bass response.  Sound bars typically sell from $150 to $1500.  A few years ago, the Polk Audio company was the only producer of sound bars.  Today, virtually every speaker supplier is in the sound bar business.  Put them in the very hot category.

Another hot category are speaker systems with tiny satellite speakers.

Typical Satellite Speaker System

Pioneered by Bose under the trademark “Acoustimass”, these systems consist of a subwoofer and 2-7 little satellite speakers usually coupled with electronics that strive to make the sound realistic.  Prices for satellite systems range from $100 to $2000.  Spouses tend to like them because they are inobtrusive.

Typical Tower Speaker

The person who would have bought a Concert Grand 50 years ago, can get some very hot speakers that offer great sound in large rooms.  The most common form factor for these high-end speakers is the so-called “tower.”  They look like skinny Concert Grands and usually have several speakers contained in a single enclosure.  They may or may not include sound processing electronics.  You can expect to pay from $300 to $2000 per enclosure for tower systems, so a multichannel setup can set you back  big bucks.

I mentioned before that wireless systems are hot.  That means that the audio signal can be sent from its source to speakers using either an Internet-based network or a proprietary wireless scheme.  This eliminates the need for wires and makes it easy to play music sourced in one room to speakers located in another room.  Unfortunately, wireless transmission quality is not as good – yet – as wired transmission, so, if you want high-end sound, you are still stuck with wires.

I close this article with mention of an item that is semi-hot.  That is, the high-end DAC (Digital -to-Analog Converter).  Audiophiles will tell you that analog music beats digital music hands down.  That is why many DJs use vinyl records rather than CDs, and why vinyl media is actually on the increase.  Neilsen Soundscan recently reported that, while overall album sales dropped 13% in 2010, sales of vinyl increased by 14 percent over the previous year, a new record.  These DACs take digital input from a CD/DVD player (for example) through a Toslink or Digital Coax connection and output analog sound to the system receiver or amplifier.  Very cool, indeed!

PS Audio Digital Link III DAC

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.

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

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