Technologizer posts about HDTV

The Case Against Thin

By  |  Posted at 11:15 am on Tuesday, February 7, 2012

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Over at the Atlantic, Robert Wright is being sacrilegious. He says he’s unhappy with the trend–seen in phones, laptops, and other products–to make gadgets as thin as possible:

Remember when Jobs first unveiled the Macbook Air? I do, because I had long been a fan of the small, lightweight computers that had until then been available only on the Windows platform. Jobs brought the machine onstage in a manila envelope, because the thing he wanted to wow the audience with was its thinness.

I thought: Who cares how thin it is? Thickness isn’t the dimension that really matters when you have to fit a computer into a tiny backpack or use it in a coach seat on an airplane. And, anyway, more important than any spatial dimension is weight. Sure, to the extent that thinner means lighter, thinness is good, but if you make thinness an end in itself, you start compromising functionality.

Bob has several specific beefs with whisper-thin gizmos. He points out that all things being equal, a thin case leaves less room for the battery, thereby leading to shorter battery life. He says that overly svelte devices are harder to hold and easier to drop. With laptops, he says, engineering for thinness leads to compromises in keyboard quality.

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Roku is Going Beyond the Box With…a Stick

By  |  Posted at 7:00 am on Wednesday, January 4, 2012

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Apple TV, Apple keeps saying, is just a hobby. Google TV, to date, is a disappointment. But for tiny Roku, Internet TV is a success story. The company has moved more than 2.5 million of its little streaming boxes since 2008, founder/CEO Anthony Wood tells me, and sales were up by 300% in 2011. It now offers more than 400 channels, including biggies such as Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and HBO GO, as well as many more offbeat options.

And now Roku is getting ready to release a version of its service that doesn’t require a box. If you think that means it’ll be built right into TVs–well, you’re on the right track, but that’s not quite it.

Building Internet services into a TV, Wood says, has some issues. For one thing, most TV makers don’t have as many major content deals as Roku does, and their user interfaces aren’t as simple. And even if they did have great content and great software, streaming technology is moving a lot more quickly than TV technology in general is: Unless you plan to upgrade your TV every couple of years, any embedded Internet technology it sports will start looking long in the tooth long long before the rest of the set feels obsolete.

So Wood’s company is creating a Roku that’s almost built into TVs. It’s a thumb-drive sized gizmo called the Roku Streaming Stick, and it incorporates the Roku software, service, and Wi-Fi connectivity, just like the boxes do.

The stick also has a connector that uses a new standard called Mobile High-Definition Link. MHL connectors, which are compatible with standard HDMI ones, are mostly meant to let you hook up a smart phone to a TV and watch video. But Roku is using the standard to put its streaming channels onto MHL-equipped TVs. (MHL provides power to the stick, so there’s no need to plug a brick into the wall.)

Roku wants to work with TV makers to offer the Streaming Stick as their Internet TV solution–either included with sets in the first place, as a “soft bundle” available at retail, or as an option. It’s signed up one big partner already: Best Buy, which will offer the Streaming Stick for its house-brand Insignia TVs. These sets will come with remotes that can control Roku as well as the TVs’ other functions.

Once you’ve popped the stick into a slot on the back of a TV, Wood told me, it’ll offer all the advantages of embedded Internet capability. But because it’s actually a self-contained add-on, you can replace it with improved models as they become available. (Over time, Roku plans to offer several versions, at prices from $50 to $100.)

The Streaming Stick won’t go on sale until the second half of 2012; Roku hopes to have other hardware partnerships lined up by then, and will also offer it in standalone form for use with any MHL-capable TV. It sounds like a clever way to bring the best single way to watch Internet TV on a TV to even more people.

 

 



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More scuttlebutt about a possible Apple TV set:

In a note to clients released Monday, Piper Jaffray’s Gene Munster seizes on remarks attributed to Steve Jobs in the biography published overnight as “another data point” to support a thesis he’s been championing since 2009.

 

Posted by Harry at 12:22 pm

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The Curse of 3D TV, Continued

By  |  Posted at 1:11 am on Saturday, September 3, 2011

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[At Panasonic's booth, IFA attendees use glasses to view 3D images of the women performing right there in front of them.]

Last year, I attended the IFA consumer-electronics megaconference in Berlin. The exhibitions of the big manufacturers were utterly dominated by 3D TVs. All that blurry 3D hurt my eyeballs, put me in a bad mood, and prompted this rant.

This year, I’m back in Berlin for IFA. There’s still scads of 3D, but it’s not quite as omnipresent as last year. Whether companies are losing interest or simply recalibrating their expectations to something more in line with consumers’ level of interest in this stuff, I’m not sure.
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Panasonic, Samsung, Sony, and 3D glasses maker XpanD have announced that they’re working together to design a specification for Bluetooth-enabled 3D glasses that will be compatible with HDTVs from all the above makers. They intend to ship them in 2012, and the glasses should work with existing 3D-capable TVs as well as new ones. It’ll eliminate the current hassle of having to buy glasses made by your TV’s manufacturer, and will presumably help to drive down prices for the specs.

To which I say: GOOD! GOOD! WHAT TOOK YOU SO LONG?

 

Posted by Harry at 11:02 pm

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CES 2011: Toshiba’s Glasses-Free 3D

By  |  Posted at 10:56 pm on Tuesday, January 4, 2011

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When it comes to 3D, I’m pretty much a worst-case scenario. I bristle at the fact that I’m expected to wear ill-fitting glasses over my regular glasses. I’ve sampled multiple 3D technologies and found all of them wanting. It all seems like a lot of expense and effort for very little benefit.

But I am sort of intrigued by 3D that doesn’t require glasses. And at a pre-CES party tonight here in Las Vegas, Toshiba was showing a l56-inch flat-screen TV and a laptop which do 3D, no funny goggles required. The two devices use lenticular displays, just like the little picture of Pinocchio I owned when I was three. (Lenticular video screens are also nothing new, though all the ones I’ve seen until now have been blurry and unappealing.)

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Rule One: Don’t Mess With How People Do Things

By  |  Posted at 10:41 am on Tuesday, December 7, 2010

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Recently, I drove a Mini Cooper for the first time. (Rented from Zipcar for $13/hour. Not bad.)

That’s not news, obviously. They’ve been around forever. But it taught me something very important about product design: It’s really hard–and aggravating–for us consumers if you mess with our way of doing things.

For example, it took me several minutes to figure out how to put the window up. Nothing on the door, where I would first expect it. Nothing on the center console, my second choice. Finally, I found a barely labeled button near the radio controls. I had similar trouble trying to put the seat back to get luggage in the rear of the car. The levers weren’t where they are in every other car I’ve driven.
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MobiTV Wants to Put TV Everywhere

By  |  Posted at 9:31 am on Tuesday, October 12, 2010

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How many TV and movie services do I use? I’ve lost track. Depending on what I’m watching and which device I’m using, I might get my content from Comcast, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or one of a bunch of other services. I’m not complaining. But what I’d really like is to be able to turn on any gadget I own that can display video and watch everything that’s available anywhere.

Enter an upcoming TV-distribution platform created by MobiTV. The company is best known for its eponymous apps for watching TV on phones (available for the iPhone and many other handsets), but its real big business is providing private-labeled services for large companies–for instance, it powers Sprint’s Sprint TV. And it’s readying a service it plans to sell to cable-TV providers that will let consumers get one TV service that follows them from device to device. It gave me a demo of a rough draft of the technology last week at the CTIA Enterprise and Applications show in San Francisco.

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Toshiba Gets Into The 3D HDTV Fray

By  |  Posted at 10:12 pm on Monday, September 20, 2010

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Although I don’t understand why 3D HDTVs have become all the rage lately — I have yet to be impressed by one — it’s not preventing everyone from jumping into the fray. Toshiba is the latest, releasing two models as part of its Cinema Series line.

Now 3D aside, the picture quality from these televisions are top notch from what I saw. They include Toshiba’s ClearFrame technology which prevents some of the loss of clarity in fast moving pictures that plague your everyday LCD set, and 1080p resolution. The set also includes built in Wi-Fi, and features Yahoo Connected TV technology.

Two sizes are available, a 46 and 55 inch model, which would retail for $2,599 and $3,299 respectively. The company also includes a lower end version without 3D in the same sizes, at prices of $2,299 and $2,799. The glasses would be sold separately which run about $170 a piece.

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Veebeam Shoots HD Video from PC to TV

By  |  Posted at 3:41 pm on Wednesday, September 15, 2010

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I’m spending part of this unusually busy tech-news week at the DEMO conference in Silicon Valley. One of the most potentially cool products I’ve seen is Veebeam, a new setup for wirelessly broadcasting Internet video from a computer to a TV set. In a way, it’s a competitor to Internet TV boxes such as Apple TV and Roku. But instead of getting you whatever movies or shows are available on the box you choose, it gets you anything you can watch on your laptop or desktop, including Hulu, iTunes downloads, and more.

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The Curse of 3D TV

Television makers think three dimensions are the next big thing after HD. God, I hope not.

By  |  Posted at 5:10 pm on Friday, September 3, 2010

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(At Panasonic’s IFA booth: People using 3D glasses and monitors to watch the live women in front of their faces.)

If you determine the big story here at the IFA tech show here in Berlin based on raw square footage in the booths, there’s no question what it is: 3D TV is everywhere.

The massive booths of consumer-electronics giants such as Sony, Samsung, Panasonic, and Toshiba are dominated by 3D. There’s 3D that requires pricey active-shutter glasses. There’s 3D that uses cheaper passive specs. (There’s even 3D from the Fraunhofer Institute that doesn’t need glasses.) There are 3D games and 3D Blu-Ray players and 3D soccer broadcasts and 3D LCD sets and 3D plasmas and 3D projectors and giant walls made out of 3D screens.

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Why I Said No to Free, Off-the-Air HDTV

By  |  Posted at 7:50 am on Friday, July 9, 2010

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No doubt, watching a TV show or mobile in high definition is miraculous. The picture is sharper than sharp (so much so that like it or not, you can see the pores on an actor’s face).

I’m a DirecTV subscriber, but I’m too cheap to pay their extra fee for high definition service, so I decided to try an HDTV indoor antenna.

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YouTube Leanback: YouTube That Looks Like TV

By  |  Posted at 4:00 pm on Wednesday, July 7, 2010

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The average American watches five hours of TV a day. For YouTube, it’s more like five minutes–a fact which the folks at YouTube don’t like a bit. They think is due to it being too hard to consumer their service in mass quantities. So they’re launching a new service–which the company showed as a sneak peek back at Google’s I|O conference in May–called YouTube Leanback. (Yup, this is YouTube’s second new version of the day: I saw it and the new YouTube Mobile at a press briefing this morning.)

Leanback is an expansion of the basic idea in an earlier service called YouTube XL. It runs in any browser that supports Flash–iPads need not apply–and is designed to make watching YouTube feel a bit like watching a personalized TV channel with a really slick program guide that can be controlled by keyboard. Videos display in full-screen mode, and you press the Up Arrow key to search and the Down Arrow key to reach playback controls, a feed of videos tailored to your interests (which are search results if you’ve just searched) and a browsable directory of videos in major categories.

Unlike the revamped YouTube Mobile, Leanback isn’t trying to give you all the power of standard YouTube in a new format. It’s YouTube stripped down to its bare essentials, and judging from my brief hands-on time with it so far, it’s pretty nifty. Folks who have connected a PC to an HDTV will obviously be intrigued by Leanback–and it will run on Google TV devices once they’re available–but YouTube execs at the briefing said they think people who watch the service on a laptop or desktop PC display will like it, too.

Here’s YouTube’s video demo of Leanback–if you try the service, let us know what you think.



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The Straight Skinny on HDTV Calibration

By  |  Posted at 4:58 pm on Friday, June 18, 2010

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A while back I gave you some advice for calibrating your PC monitor or high-definition TV. I thought it was pretty good stuff, but the very foundations of the Internet began to rumble and experts started writing. (I never know who’s reading my newsletter.) Here’s what I learned.

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Consumers Put 3D TV to the Test

Do real people think 3D movies, sports, and shows are neat? Sure. But that doesn't mean they're ready to plunk down money.

By  |  Posted at 7:30 am on Tuesday, June 15, 2010

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We’re hearing a lot about 3D television these days– from TV manufacturers, directors, journalists and pundits. But do consumers like it? And will they pay for it?

To find out, I convened a mini focus group of adults in their 30s, 40s, and 50s,; a teenager; and a pair of kids under 10. We met at the Samsung Experience store in New York City a few weeks ago. After watching a wild assortment of clips–from The Daily Show to a Dunkin Donuts commercial to Monsters vs. Aliens–they had a mildly favorable impression. But no one was jumping up to buy a new TV and a pile of expensive active-shutter LCD glasses.
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In Standard Def, Mass Effect 2 Has Trouble With Words

By  |  Posted at 2:56 pm on Wednesday, February 3, 2010

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Count me among the legions of gamers who are totally sucked in to Mass Effect 2. It’s not the combat — a Gears of War-Star Wars cocktail — but the branching, choose-your-own dialog that hooked me. I’ve probably spent more time conversing with the galaxy’s countless creatures than I have shooting up baddies.

Unfortunately, players who own standard definition televisions — even big ones — complain that the text in Mass Effect 2 is too small to read. There’s a lengthy thread on the topic in developer Bioware’s forums, and Ars Technica’s Ben Kuchera, who picked up on the story, said he’s getting hit with e-mails from upset gamers.

High definition allows game developers to include text in smaller sizes, freeing up screen real estate for other, arguably more important things. But in Mass Effect 2, text is front-and-center. The game routinely bombards players with conversation choices, many of them crucial to the outcome of the game. In addition, players can spend hours in the game reading up on alien races, unexplored planets, historic locations, notable people and the (un)scientific phenomena that give characters their special powers. I can imagine how frustrating illegible text would be.

This isn’t the first time text posed a problem for gaming in standard definition. In 2008, players complained that the font in Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts was too hard to read. Originally, developer Rare said the issue would be too expensive to fix, but they ultimately caved and released an update. I ran into this issue with several games a few years ago, before making the leap to HD.

The question is, should game developers put in extra man hours to accommodate standard definition text? For now, I think an option for big text is reasonable. Leichtman Research Group says nearly 50 percent of U.S. homes have at least one HDTV, not enough to leave stragglers out in the cold for a text-heavy game like Mass Effect. I don’t know the technical challenges adding optional large fonts to a game, but Bioware isn’t rushing; The company’s message board moderator said small text was a design choice, and said not to expect a fix in the near future.



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