Thursday, January 7, 2010

CES in Amazing 3D!!!!!!!

Ok, I'm gonna 'fess up to cheating. My 2010 prediction post is late. Very late. I was waiting until I got to CES so that I could take a peek under the covers to see what there is to offer. So sue me.

I had assumed it would happen - so had everyone. This year's CES was gonna be all about EYE POPPING, EXCITING 3D TV!! I guess I wasn't mentally prepared for it though... Walking into the Las Vegas Convention Center was a little like a trip to a Best Buy in some alternative reality. I have no idea how many bazillions of dollars worth of display technology was littering the walls, ceilings, and the occasional floor, but it sure as hell didn't look like we ever had a recession. (Hell, even the drifters from the Adult Entertainment Expo at the Venetian were floored, and some of those people have been "3D augmented" for years.)

I would like to blame the success of Avatar on all these panels, but the reality is that it takes years for this stuff to hit production, and 3D television has been bandied about for at least a decade. So, call it a happy coincidence for James Cameron that his 3D Blu-Ray edition of Avatar will now have something to play on.

Nonetheless, the question remains - will this transparent attempt by the consumer electronics industry to get you to ditch your plasma's and LCD screens pay off? The OEMs seem to have convinced themselves that all of us have convinced ourselves that televisions sets are commodity items, requiring repurchases every few years like laptops. I don't think that way (I love my energy gobbling plasma, thank you very much), and I suspect that without a compelling reason to switch, most of you don't either.

So, is 3D compelling enough for you to ditch the $3000 machine you just hung on your wall a scant 2 years ago? I'll get to that in a minute, but let's just go over what I saw this afternoon...

I didn't have to try very hard. Every major OEM is out here in full force promoting 3D, thin, or, yes, even transparent display technology. LG, Samsung, Sony, and even no-one-has-ever-heard-of-it TCL are all vying for top "WOW" factor. The opening image above was from the double billboard sized display for LG's new Infinia line of panels. These things are thin. Razor thin. At only about a quarter inch in depth, they are beveled in glass, causing the display to appear to float out from the wall mounting. The Infinia line is more a marketing brand play, and less a technology - as Infinia's can appear in LCD or Plasma flavors.

The Infinia line also boasts 3D technology, in both active (LCD shutter glasses required) and passive (polarized non-shuttered glasses required) flavors - but both behave about the same, with a slight dip in color brightness in the passive models. As far as I know, the Infinia line of monitors from LG is available now....

Samsung is introducing a similar fleet of thin, 3D capable displays - although these are active matrix OLED (AMOLED) powered displays, stealing the thunder from Sony's OLED attempt a few years ago. Unlike the Sony, the Samsung's come in sizes bigger, than 11 inches. (This would be a perfect time for another crack at the Adult Expo going on next door, but it's too easy....oh, the hell with it: "...yet, next door at the Adult Expo, 11 inch technology is considered to be all the rage..." There. Happy now?)

The Samsung AMOLED displays are stunning. Not only are the specs on these things off the charts (100,000:1 contrast ratio for starters), but Samsung developed a sense of design somewhere along the way. These things range in size from 20" up to what looks like a 50" display, encased in stainless steel. Really. I know I drool over electronics a lot, but this is something else entirely. Click on the images I provided and take a look for yourself.

Samsung also had a transparent display. Really. Straight from Minority Report, Dollhouse or Avatar. It was unnamed, and connected up to a standard Windows 7 laptop to give the display something to drive it, but the applications for this type of thing are way beyond "cool prop for TV show" categories. I couldn't get a clear picture of it, cuz this guy below was filming for Wired - but he did a great job, so lets just use him, shall we?

The most interesting 3D display technology for my buck though, came from a company I've never heard of. The Creative Life out of China created a 3D display technology that did not require glasses. The photo I've attached here does not do the display justice. You have to trust me here when I say that the images popped off the screen, and allowed for about 100 degrees of viewing.

The "however" part of this announcement (you knew there had to be one) had to do with the tech they used to achieve this effect. It order to trick your eye in to seeing a 3D image, TCL turned their entire display surface in to a giant, lenticular lens.

The resulting images look great for 3D - although I have my doubts as to whether the system can properly support 2D since the lenticular patterns are cut into the display itself. The whole thing would probably look like it was being displayed through a giant Fresnel lens. The literature for the device claims it does display 2D, but the booth ba...uh, helpful TCL personnel couldn't really answer my question and were unable to play a 2D video on these I dunno.

Which brings us to the whole practicality and desire of 3D displays that I mentioned at the start of this posting. Is the tech compelling enough for hordes of people to run down to Best Buy next Christmas? There's the content argument (there isn't much of it), but that's not really important. If there's a big rush of orders for these things, there will be content. It's more a question of...does anyone care? There are specialized, niche reasons where 3D makes sense: football games, over-the-top "event" movies.... but, really, are you gonna put on a pair of goofy glasses to watch Modern Family or Craig Ferguson? I doubt it - but lord knows I've been wrong before.

There is one exception to this, though: gaming. I wandered over to the Sony booth, and played around with PS3's running 3D versions of existing games. The results were pretty incredible (Little Big Planet is already addicting enough without the third dimension), and gamers are already used to festooning (Yes, it's a freakin' word! Look it up.) themselves with all sorts of crap. They also spend huge amounts of money on their gaming systems, so it isn't out of the question that they would toss down another $5K on a 3D monitor.

So that's the 3D and thinness fun in today's little CES excursion, what else was there?

Well, for one thing, everyone seemed to be all about the blue this year. All the giant Veridian Dynamics companies must have shared the same space designers, because everything looked like a crappy nightclub....or a Virgin America flight.

And...let's see....oh yes, Sony needs to fire the product marketing genius who came up with the name "Bravia Monolithic Design" for their new line of high performance displays. In a show filled with wafer-thin little anorexic displays, was "Monolithic" really the best word you could come up with?

Finally, there was, poor Toshiba. Still feeling the sting of watching HD-DVD get the living crap kicked out of it by Blu-Ray, they refuse to give up... kinda like the ugly America tourist who thinks that if you just talk louder and slower at the Spanish, they will understand what you are saying. In the face of all odds, Toshiba was touting its "Cell TV" technology.

What's "Cell TV" technology? I have no idea. Furthermore, neither did anyone at the Toshiba booth. Really. I was passed from booth person to booth person in a sort of "that guy over there knows" fashion. It was very bizarre. (Fortunately, Gizmodo figured it out.) However, gleaning what I could from obliquely phrase posters and marketing hype videos, it has something to do with a combination of a number of technology to make the pixels brighter, convert 2D to 3D and, ahem, upscale a 1920×1080 image to a 4K image.

Yeah. I crap you not. Apparently, someone at Toshiba thinks that 1920x1080 on a 50" monitor just isn't going to cut it with the kids anymore. So, we need to uprez! More pixelizerers! More! Better!! Yeah! And then...they'll grow tired of uprezing and want the real deal! Then they'll need a physical media to support it! YES!! HD-DVD is BACK baby! HD-DVD II!!! YEAH! 4K.

Sigh. Here's the deal. They had this display running. Split screen. 1920x1080 on one side, uprezed 4K on the other. As God as my witness, I couldn't tell the difference. At all. I tried, I really did. I stared and squinted, and I got closer and farther away, and I tilted my head. I even have bionic eyes now. Nothing.

Dear Toshiba: Enough is enough. It's over. Just...stop it. You're embarassing me and your mother. Just...I dunno. Make thin screens or something. Love, Rocketman.


Daniel said...

Hey there, Rob, ;-] hee hee, great to see your classic humor in this piece on CES -- wasn't there, myself, so nice to see your "review".

BTW, I've been remodeling my Mom's apt back here in Maine -- brr! It's been in the "minus" section of the Fahrenheit scale most of the week... but it's great to be here, sanding the linoleum of old flooring, etc. ;o] Actually, it's a great change from the "constant keyboard" lifestyle in SF. LOL.

Hope to catch up with you sometime... sounds like all is okay with you. Best Wishes for the New Year... -dk

Anonymous said...

nice post. thanks.