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Hitachi, JVC, Mitsubishi, Samsung, and More

July 1, 2007

This past week has been busy. (I'm hoping next week will be quieter.)

Three separate articles this week: the lighter stuff on this page and for those of you who want to know what your government is up to, two weightier stories. The article on the FCC Proposed Rule for 2-way Cable Services is very significant for cable subscribers -- most of you out there. The Senate Hearing on Media Violence article: at what point does government support become paternalism?

The Consumer Electronics Association has published a study that finds 30 percent of households in the U.S. now have a high-definition TV. Sixteen million new HDTVs will be taken home in 2007, taking the total to 36%.

Of the people who have an HDTV, a third have more than one.

That's the good news. The bad news is that only 44% of those HD sets are being fed high-definition programming. Most of that is due to consumer confusion: what HD programming is and where and how you can get it, and how much it costs. (Free if you have an antenna.)

And broadcasters keep saying it's too early to educate the public about the transition!

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Well, it's been four months since the analog ban; are those pesky analog-only TVs still on stores' shelves? And are those stores finally getting around to putting up that FCC Consumer Alert warning?

As usual, we can count on Sears for keeping those analog antiques in stock for those folks who want to get them before they're gone. After four months, the analog shelves at my local Sears look pretty much as they have for the last four months. I counted 18 small analog-only CRT TVs this time, and a handful of analog-only LCD sets. (Just a few small TVs with digital receivers.)

This time Sears had the analog warning labels up for almost all of the CRT sets (this after the FCC cited Sears and some other stores for their non-compliance last month). Of interest, there were no warning labels next to the LCD analog-only TVs. This likely means that the store personnel do not understand the nature of the transition, and they are equating (as some other retailers have) CRT technology with analog, and LCD technology with digital, notwithstanding the presence or lack of a digital 8-VSB receiver in the TV.

This does not bode well for DTV consumer education by retailers.

Circuit City still had a handful of analog-only TVs on display, mostly with the requisite labels. This time they finally had a decent selection of small digital TVs as well.

Best Buy still did the best. Just two analog-only models (LCD), both with labels on their screens. They have a good selection of small digital sets, including some very nice sub-20" LCD widescreen TVs from Sharp and other manufacturers.

Wal-Mart had a mix of small analog and digital TVs all in a row, with Consumer Alert warning labels posted seemingly randomly, some in front of digital sets. The regular information labels on the digital sets said "Receives Current and Digital Broadcast Signals," which is technically correct (and probably as helpful as can be expected) notwithstanding that digital broadcast signals are also "current."

Most consumers do not know the difference between analog and digital broadcast signals.

I didn't think I would still be finding analog TVs in stores this late after the March 1 analog ban. I may just bury my head next month.

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But speaking of shopping, the QVC Shopping Network has just gone high-definition! Not that you'll see them in HD today or tomorrow, but they've just installed 40 new Sony HD studio cameras, plus all the HD infrastructure to make the production all-HD.

They say their viewers want to see the merchandise in stark HD clarity. Quality, Value, Convenience. It's a big business.

Their broadcasting facility is huge.

When will QVC HD reach the TV-viewer? No specific date, but expect national channels to start airing HD content later this year when DirecTV has their two new HD-capable satellites up and running. As for cable services, who knows? That's what competition is for.

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Hitachi has announced its new Fall line-up: "All 1080, All Flat Panel, All Large Screen HDTVs." There are ten new sets that range from 42" to 60". Four flat-panel sets are carried over, for a total of fourteen.

The new sets include:

  • a 60" Director's Series plasma,
  • two 55" plasma sets (one H- and one T-series -- these are 1280 x 1080 displays, not full-HD),

  • three 50" plasma sets (one S- and one V- and one Director's Series), and

  • four LCD displays (42" and 47" S-series, and 42" and 47" V-series).

Hitachi is introducing a motion interpolation technology they are calling Reel60 that eliminates the need for 3:2 pulldown conversion of 24 fps film-based source material for 60 fps display on a TV. Hitachi says it eliminates the characteristic judder that 3:2 conversion produces.

Other manufacturers are going to displays that refresh at 120 Hz (vs 60) in order to accommodate both 60 fps and 24 fps source material at even multiples, thereby negating the need for 3:2 pulldown. Some of these 120 Hz displays create intermediate frames via interpolation when converting from 60 to 120, but I haven't seen any mention of interpolations in film-based material. Hitachi's technology apparently uses similar video processing, but their press release was thin on details.

They may just take the 24 frames per second and through vector motion interpolation, create 60 new frames. This would eliminate the judder and produce very smooth motion.

In any case, the Reel60 "breakthrough" technology will be in these new plasma sets:

  • Model P50V701 (50" V-series 1920 x 1080 display)

  • Model P50X901 (50" Director's series 1920 x 1080 display)

  • Model P60X901 (60" Director's series 1920 x 1080 display)

MSRPs and availability:

Plasma
P50X901 $4300August
P60X901 $8000August
P55H401 $3000September
P55T501 $3300September
P50S601 $3500July
P50V701 $4000August
LCD
L47S601 $3000September
L47V651 $3200September
L42S601 $2300September
L42V651 $2500September

- - -

JVC has added four new Full-HD LCD flat-panels to its line, in 37", 42", and 47" sizes.

The new 688-series sets (37" and 42") have new black cabinets and dual 1080p HDMI 1.3 inputs.

The 788-series sets (42" and 47") add silver trim and thinner bezels, and of more consequence, higher contrast ratio, faster response time, and a wider viewing angle.

MSRPs and availability:

LT-37X688 $1600June
LT-42X688 $2000June
LT-42X788 $2100July
LT-47X788 $2700July

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Mitsubishi's Laser TV was supposed to have debuted this year, but that's not going to happen. Look for it at the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2008) in January.

If you've forgotten, the Laser TV is a rear-projection DLP set that uses red, blue, and green semiconductor lasers as the light source (versus a white light bulb and spinning color wheel or a three-color LED array).

Lasers produce a monochromatic single-wavelength light which is completely saturated, so the color gamut of the Laser TV will be excellent. Mitsubishi said last year that the Laser TV also makes darker blacks (due to laser's ability to turn off instantly frame-to-frame). Not sure exactly how that's going to work.

We shall see.

- - -

Samsung is opening its 8th generation LCD plant later this month, two months earlier than expected. Sharp had been the only other company operating an 8th generation facility; theirs started kicking out 46" and 52" LCD panels last fall.

8G plants get that designation because of the size glass they produce. Big. 2.5 x 2.2 meters (about 8' x 7' for metric-challenged readers). The new Samsung plant is optimized for 52" panels, six of which can be cut from one large 8G sheet of "glass."

You can build 52" flat-panels using smaller earlier-generation glass, but it is inefficient and costly. (It's why LCD sets larger than 52" will continue to be so expensive, relatively speaking.)

The outshoot is that soon Samsung (and partner Sony, buying Samsung panels) will join Sharp in mass-producing 52" LCD flat-panels. That means much cheaper.

Samsung expects to lower the price of a 52" LCD panel to $1,000 by the end of 2008. That's just for the panel, not the finished TV, but the major cost of the TV is the LCD panel.

- - -

Two other stories today: FCC Proposed Rule for 2-way Cable Services, and the Senate Hearing on Media Violence.