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Miscellaneous News

March 3, 2007

Toshiba has released a new HD-DVD firmware update version 1.3 that addresses HDMI/DVI connectivity issues, as well as playability issues such as pixelization, block noise or audio dropouts, and playback stopping or uneven. This firmware update includes all prior updates.

SED TVs may be in trouble again. This time it's more legal trouble.

You may recall that Canon was sued by Texas company Nano Proprietary for violating their SED technology patent license (Canon illegally transferred the technology to its partner Toshiba). At that point, Canon bought out Toshiba's interest in their joint venture to produce SED TVs in an attempt to make good, but the judge said that action was too late in coming.

Settlement talks had been reported, but apparently they went nowhere; the case went to trial and the court decided against Canon, saying Canon had breached the contract and Nano Proprietary was therefore entitled to declare it void.

The court has not yet determined damages. Presumably Canon will be seeking a new licensing agreement, although we can expect now that Canon and Toshiba have developed the technology to the production stage, and it is so promising, the terms of any new licensing agreement will be much more expensive for Canon.

Canon did not help itself by blocking licensing talks between Nano-Proprietary and Toshiba (after the Canon-Toshiba split), which apparently irritated Nano-Proprietary. And now we hear that Samsung has approached Nano-Proprietary in a bid to license SED technology.

As you can imagine, none of these goings-on is going to hasten SED TVs to market. And all the while, LCD flat-panels are getting better and cheaper, and as it turns out, LCD technology has now made it possible to display more colors than the phosphors used in SED (and plasma as well).

Has Canon shot itself in the foot? And Nano-Proprietary as well?

Is the FCC seeking to expand TV censorship? Sure looks that way.

Up to now, the government has declared (at the urging of certain segments of the population--we all know who they are) that the human body and several combinations of letters are obscene, and must not be revealed over broadcast television before 10 p.m.

There is now movement underfoot to expand the prohibition to that great American institution of violence. There are also suggestions that cable and satellite programming be brought under the censorship umbrella as well, either directly or through a la carte channel pricing (letting parents buy only those channels they approve).

A draft FCC report suggests that violent programming impacts children's behavior and that a Congressional mandate to regulation it would not violate Constitutional First Amendment rights. The report was requested by Congress three years ago and had been due two years ago.

The conservative Parents Television Council is strongly supporting the new censorship measures. Broadcasters and cable systems are predictably urging caution in moving in that direction.

New national channels set to go high-def. This is all part of the inevitable, and is heating up the rivalry between satellite and cable.

DirecTV is launching two new satellites this year, with capacity for local HD channels and over 100 national HD channels. Cable is behind in the infrastructure war--two to three years behind--but they are still pushing any marketing buttons they can find.

The end result is good for the HD consumer. Here or coming are NFL football, NASCAR, CNN in HD by the fall, with TBS and the Cartoon Network following. Also by the end of the year in HD: the Sci-Fi Channel (hooray!), Bravo, and USA Network.

National channels that have already gone HD, such as National Geographic and Discovery, are raising the bar with new jaw-dropping content.

As part of its newly-rediscovered enthusiasm for consumer education, the Consumer Electronics Association finally sent a letter to more than 600 retailers last month urging them to voluntarily display warning labels with their analog-only TVs, "as an additional measure to ensure consumers are informed about how analog sets will receive over-the-air broadcasts after the transition."

One wonders about the motives, given the start of a new legislative season and the fact that new shipments of analog-only TVs were banned as of March 1. The fact that they made a big deal of this letter in a national press release makes one wonder if this wasn't part of a PR campaign.

While saying that analog sets can be used after the transition with a converter box, the CEA finally seems ready to throw water on analog TVs. "But in order to enjoy the full benefits of DTV - particularly high-definition television (HDTV) with its eye-popping pictures and digital surround sound - the consumer would want to purchase an HDTV."

But not, apparently, enough to discourage consumers from buying up the remaining stocks of analog TVs. I just got back from another field trip (March 3) to my local Circuit City and Best Buy stores.

It would seem that they have not taken the CEA's letter to heart. Still rows of those old format 4:3 CRT analog-only TVs on display, and nary a label or sign anywhere informing consumers of the coming shut-down of analog TV.

There were more "open box" analog TVs on sale, and a few more sales on analog TVs, but most still the regular price. There were also more LCD widescreen TVs under 25" with digital tuners.

In a month I'm hoping the shelves will look a lot different.