Tag Archives | HDTV

The Case Against Thin


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

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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The Most Persistent Apple Rumor of Them All

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.


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The Curse of 3D TV, Continued

[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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Coming in 2012: 3D Glasses That Aren’t Incompatible and Pricey

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.




CES 2011: Toshiba's Glasses-Free 3D

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

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

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

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

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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