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Weekly Report

June 17, 2007

Something for everyone today: new high-def products from Sony, a little Blu-ray versus HD-DVD versus Microsoft mudslinging, a mammoth JVC RPTV, an already-legendary 4K video camera, and the latest political posturing from Washington.

Sony has just announced nine new BRAVIA flat-panel TVs, all Full-HD 1920 x 1080. They all have 10-bit video processors; many have 120 Hz refresh rates (even multiple of both 30 fps and 24 fps) and HDMI 1.3 inputs.

There are three series: W3000, XBR4, and XBR5, produced in the popular 40", 46", and 52" sizes. In February Sony announced its Full-HD V-series and 720p S-series LCDs (see story).

The new sets have something called "Theater Mode" which optimizes the display of movies, e.g. from a DVD or Blu-ray player.

The W3000 series LCDs have an "elegant" brushed metal picture frame bezel, and something of more practical value--a wide color gamut backlight. The sets upconvert to 1080; their inputs are compatible with both 1080/60p and 1080/24p sources.

The XBR4 series LCDs have a floating glass frame; the standard black bezel can be changed for eight optional colors. The XBR5 models come with a non-interchangeable piano black bezel, that same interesting floating glass frame, and a distinctive base.

XBR models display at 120 Hz, interpolating new frames between the 60 source frames. Movies input at 24 fps are displayed at the even multiple of five (each frame displayed five times -- 24 x 5 = 120 Hz). No uneven 3:2 pulldown conversion is needed.

XBR models also have an upgraded video processor that upconverts everything to 1080p.

MSRPs and availability:

KDL40-XBR4 $3000August
KDL46-XBR4 $3800August
KDL52-XBR4 $4800August
KDL-40XBR5 $3300August
KDL-46XBR5 $4100August
KDL-52XBR5 $5100September
The interesting XBR5 > > >

Due to the increasing demand for LCD flat-panels, as well as price pressures, Sony has outsourced to China for some of its 32" and 40" LCD TVs, and has also contracted for a new line of "entry-level" TVs for the budget market (32", 37" and 42" starting in September).

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Sony has also announced five new Bravia SXRD micro-display RPTVs. These Full-HD 1920 x 1080 sets are 20 to 40 percent thinner than the old ones and all display at 120 Hz refresh rate. All have HDMI 1.3 inputs, and that "Theater Mode" feature for optimized display of movies.

There are two series: A3000 (50", 55", and 60"), and XBR5 (60" and 70")

The A3000 models upconvert non-HD signals to 1080i; the XBR models upconvert to 1080p. All models are compatible with 1080/60p and 1080/24p sources (component and HDMI).

The A3000 models have an interchangeable speaker grill (four optional colors for only $50 each (Buy them all and make Sony happy!)

MSRPs and availability:

KDS-50A3000 $3000August
KDS-55A3000 $3300August
KDS-60A3000 $3500August
KDS-Z60XBR5 about $5000Fall
KDS-Z70XBR5 about $6000Fall

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Sony is looking ahead to great Blu-ray sales.

It's looking to ship six times more Blu-ray players in 2007 than it sold in 2006. That equals 600,000 Sony Blu-ray Disc players for this year. There are going to be a lot of happy campers this holiday season! (That doesn't include Blu-ray player sales by other manufacturers - Samsung, Panasonic, Pioneer, etc.)

The BD camp will motivate consumers to buy Blu-ray by ensuring that a big majority of blockbuster movie titles are released only on Blu-ray.

Toshiba's HD-DVD isn't yet ready to wave the white flag. But the outlook is gloomy (for them, anyway). Notwithstanding its aggressive price-cutting on HD-DVD players, they have now announced that expected HD-DVD sales are 44 percent less than earlier forecasts (from 1.8 million down to one million units).

Microsoft, meanwhile, is declaring both camps defunct. It is predicting that in as little as five years everyone will be downloading movies over high-speed internet connections (and using a Microsoft service, no doubt).

Ever downloaded a Full-HD 2.5-minute movie trailer over broadband? Uh, huh. Right.

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JVC is thinking big. That's 110 inches big. The screen is eight feet wide and 4.5 feet high. Tips the scale at 728 pounds! 1080p, D-ILA RPTV. Shipping in October. Big bucks.

P.S. You might need some help bringing it into the house. That little thing in the lower right corner is the remote.

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And something else big: the Big Red One movie camera.

This camera has become legendary in Hollywood for what it was promising, and by who. It isn't from one of the big names, and it was promising big things at small prices ($20,000). First announced early-2006, naysayers called it vaporware.

The Big Red One is a 4K camera. That means it doesn't just shoot high-definition (1920 x 1080), but it also shoots at 4000 vertical lines of resolution (versus 1080 for HD), and it can shoot at 2K.

Really good masters.

Is it real? Apparently so, and shipping this summer.

At the recent National Association of Broadcasters Convention, the Red team showed a 12-minute short shot with two Red One prototype cameras by none other than Peter Jackson. Lots of complex shots made under demanding feature-film conditions.

Lots of jaws on the floor. 1500 pre-orders.

High-definition video will never be the same. The future is here.

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Some news from the cable industry's convention:

The buzz was a shift in emphasis from video to broadband and voice services (VoIP), and video-on-demand (VOD). (The Association changed its name six years ago, substituting "telecommunications" for "television" in "NCTA".) You can guess which old service is paying for getting the new services established.

There was a report that at the convention, FCC Commissioner McDowell made this statement regarding consumer education for the transition to digital television: "We'll rely on the private sector to get the word out . . . We'll see a crescendo around the timeframe [end of the transition]." I'm not sure how to interpret that, without the context, but it's a little scary, given the industry's stated intent to delay public service announcements until sometime next year.

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So what's the government been up to?

In a made-for-election-campaign style press conference last Thursday, Illinois Congressman Dan Lipinski announced a new bill he is sponsoring: "The Family and Consumer Choice Act of 2007."

"In today's culture, parents are increasingly worried that their children are exposed to obscene, indecent, and violent programming," Lipinski said. "While there is no doubt that parents are the first line of defense in protecting their kids, clearly they need more help."

". . . the "V-Chip" currently is of limited effectiveness. A 2003 study showed that only 15% of all parents have ever used the V-Chip and only 27% of parents could even figure out how to program it."

What would this proposed legislation do? Send parents back to school?

The Family and Consumer Choice Act of 2007 would require any cable or satellite provider to do one of the following:

  • Apply broadcast indecency standards to their programming between 6 am and 10 pm;
  • Allow subscribers to choose a real family tier of programming; a family tier is defined to include all the channels in the Expanded Basic Tier, except those that have programming unsuitable for children between 6 am and 10 pm (programs rated TV-Mature or TV-14); or
  • Offer an opt-out a la carte programming option, such that any channel a subscriber does not want to receive will be blocked, with the subscriber receiving a credit on their bill for the blocked channels.

It wouldn't be a bill I would want to see passed, because it does not mandate true a la carte channel pricing, something that would benefit all consumers.

Will it go anywhere? Not likely. Lipinski tried last year with pretty much the same bill, and nothing ever came of it. He introduced it this time in a press conference because he is not a member of the committee that has jurisdiction over television matters (the Committee on Energy and Commerce, chaired by John Dingell, who has not been inclined to legislate, or he would have written his own bill).

Lipinski recruited FCC Chairman Kevin Martin to make a supporting statement at the press conference. Excerpts:

"Television today offers viewers an extraordinary variety of programming on numerous channels. Today, networks offer some of the best, most original and diverse programming ever produced. They also offer, however, some of the coarsest programming ever produced."

"All subscribers know that cable prices have risen at astounding rates--just as other communications costs have fallen. In the last ten years, cable prices have doubled. A la carte pricing not only gives parents greater control over the content available to their families, but also has the potential to lower prices for consumers across the board."

One last comment about the 80-something John Dingell, Chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce -- he recently published a statement on the Committee web site castigating the FCC, which had re-chartered its consumer advisory committee to focus on the digital television transition.

Said Dingell:

"It is most curious, however, that there is no representative from the broadcasting industry on a committee that is supposed to advise on policy affecting the digital television transition. I hope the Commission will consider correcting this omission as it proceeds, and I look forward to receiving its full consumer education plan shortly."

Not so curious to me, John. It's a consumer advisory committee, not a powerful-industry-lobbyist advisory committee, although I can understand why the TV broadcasting lobby would want to have their suits there to make sure all those naive consumers don't make unwelcome suggestions.

Just goes to show you whose deep pockets Dingell is in.