Tag Archives | TVs

Hey, They’re All Just Screens

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately thinking about the post-PC era. After Steve Jobs repeatedly described the iPad and other Apple products as post-PC devices at this month’s iPad 2 launch, I decided that the post-PC era is already well underway–and that it’s less about the PC going away and more about it being joined by a bevy of other gizmos, from phones to tablets to car-dashboard gadgetry. In other words, the PC is being replaced not by something but by everything. I wrote about that in this TIME.com column.

But after I finished that piece, I kept thinking about the whole subject. And I decided that the PC is, in some respects, going to be replaced by one thing, in a variety of versions.

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Sony Prototype Powers TV Wirelessly

AC ScreamDuring the 1890’s, inventor Nikola Tesla toyed with the possibility of transferring electricity (safely) through the air. Tesla’s vision has become reality in laboratories within the past decade, and today, the IDG News Service is reporting that Sony has devised a wireless prototype to power its television sets.

The technology, called magnetic resonance, achieves power transfer by feeding energy from a power supply into a coil of wires to produce a magnetic field. A current is transferred when a secondary cool falls within that field. Sony used the technique to send 100 volts of electricity 50 centimeters to “plug in” a wireless 22-inch television set.

Other metallic devices that fall within the field will not become significantly electrified, according to the company. The range can be extended to 80 cm with passive relay units, according to IDG.

Sony’s power system is hardly unique. In 2007, a team of MIT researchers was able to power a light bulb from as far as 7 feet away by using magnetic resonance. But there was considerable energy loss with only 40 percent efficiency.

The research was spun off into company called WiTricity, and it is planning a commercial rollout of the technology – once it is refined. If Sony’s experiment is any indication, those refinements could take awhile.

Sony is also tackling the efficiency issue. While its prototype was 80 percent efficient, additional energy loss occurred after the transmission was made to the secondary coil. One quarter of the original 80 watts was lost.

With further improvements, the energy loss could become more acceptable, but I don’t believe in wasting electricity (and potentially increasing carbon emissions) for aesthetics. If the technology could be used to eliminate the need for toxic batteries to power portable devices, Sony could be onto something. For now, though, a power cord does the job just fine for televisions.

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Sony to Close Last U.S. TV Plant (Waitaminnit, They Still Make TVs in the U.S.?)

predictaI suspect that many folks shared my immediate reaction to today’s sad news that Sony will lay off 560 Pennsylvania factory workers and end TV production in the U.S.: utter astonishment that Sony was still making TVs in the U.S. at all. Or, for that matter, that anyone still made TVs in this country. Or consumer electronics devices of any sort, actually. (At least there’s still such a thing as an American-built PC, thanks to Dell and other companies, though I kind of suspect I may live to see the closure of the last U.S. computer factory.)

As far as I knew, the end game for the once proud domestic consumer electronics manufacturing industry came years ago; if I’d known I could still have bought a TV set made stateside, I would have tried to do so. (The Sony plant wasn’t even all that old–it was founded to build projection TVs in 1990, and later switched to LCDs.)

With the Sony plant’s shutdown next February, anyone know if there’s a single gadget left that will roll off an American assembly line? Buying stuff from icons of American industry like HP and Apple doesn’t help–not only do most of their products originate in Asia and elsewhere, but they’re generally made by contract manufacturers.

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IFA: The Luxury of Leather…in a TV?

The IFA show floor (floors, actually–the event takes place in multiple halls spread over numerous buildings) is full of flat-scren TVs we probably won’t be seeing in the U.S., from companies I’ve never heard of. Some of ’em look pretty nice, such as those from Loewe, a German company that specializes in stylish sets at high-end prices.

Then there are the ones that we can probably live without. A company called Galactic was showing off flat screens wrapped in interchangable cases made out of leather, a material you don’t see much in consumer electronics of any sort, and which I’ve never seen on a TV:

It’s a weird effect. And apparently, Galactic wants it to come off as, well, kinky. Witness the signage it had up with its leather set:

Creepy, no?

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IFA: The First 200-Hz LCD TVs Are Here! But From Who?

I’ve been spending the day at IFA, the giant consumer electronics show in Berlin that’s Europe’s equivalent of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. I’m having a good time, but one conclusion I’ve drawn so far is that CES has the edge when it comes to major announcements about flashy new technologies and jaw-dropping specs. CES isn’t CES without stuff like the world’s first OLED TV or world’s thinnest LCD or the world’s largest plasma. IFA, however, seems to be dominated by more mainstream products and technologies that are cool, but not cutting-edge. You could argue that that’s a good thing, since very few of us will buy the first OLED TV or biggest LCD or thinnest plasma. But it does make for a somewhat more subdued show.

One exception: There’s plenty of hoopla about the first 200-Hz LCD TVs, which run at a faster frame rate to provide smoother action with less motion blur. The company that’s first to market with this breakthrough is justly proud about it. Here’s a snapshot I took in Sony’s booth:

..and here’s one from Samsung’s booth:

Yup–both companies are claiming credit for being the first. (Sony and Samsung share some LCD production, which might explain the synchronicity here.) The dualing firsts kind of point out the silliness of specsmanship in general: Ultimately, it doesn’t matter much which company was first and which one was second. Unless, of course, you’re talking about marketing campaigns. (“The World’s Second 200-Hz TV” just doesn’t have the same ring.)

Is 200-Hz worth getting excited about? The jury’s still out. Samsung has a demo that showed 50-Hz vs. 200-Hz, but it was so obviously rigged that it wasn’t a useful data point: The 50-Hz video was more flickery than a Charlie Chaplin film. I didn’t see any similar comparison at Sony’s both. Both 50-Hz TVs did, indeed, display extremely smooth imagery, but I learned a long time ago not to pay much attention to TV demos at trade shows, since they almost always look gorgeous. What will matter is how much better 200-Hz looks with real-world data sources like cable and satellite TV and standard-def DVDs and Blu-Ray discs almost nobody ever uses those sources when showing off sexy new technologies.

More IFA tidbits to come, and full disclosure: I’m attending the show as a paid speaker at several panels.