The extensive 2013 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) report on new video technology and products appears in the February issue of Widescreen Review. This is Part I, Part II: Audio will appaer in the the March issue.|
The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)® has reported that the 2013 International CES® was the largest in the show’s 45+ year history, with 1.92 million net square feet of exhibit space. The previous record was 1.86 million net square feet of space at the 2012 International CES. More than 3,250 exhibitors unveiled some 20,000 new products at the 2013 CES, drawing more than 150,000 attendees, including more than 35,000 from more than 170 countries outside the United States.
The overwhelming impression at the CES was the vast amount of new gadgets and gear, including new Ultra HD “4K” 2160p, OLED HDTVs, 3D HDTVs, tablets, smartphones, and headphones. The weight of the show was on personal electronics and accessories. Evident throughout the CES was the surge in small screens, with tablet computers being positioned not as a second screen but as the primary screen.
In the HDTV category, 4K resolution displays, which double the Full HD 1920 x 1080 resolution to 3840 x 2160 resolution, was the prevailing home theatre trend. The new Ultra HD projector and flat-panel displays did not disappoint. Our readers, who can benefit from a large widescreen installation, will no doubt eventually want an Ultra HD 2160p display. While it will take new production equipment and new distribution methods, the visual resolution benefits will potentially be striking and merit the effort and challenges presented. To experience the FULL benefit of the finer resolution the viewer needs to view the sets from a distance that is one-and-a-half screen heights from the screen––much closer than viewers typically distant themselves from the screen. But it is at this ratio that the viewing experience is most immersive because the pixel grid (called the “screen-door effect”) is invisible. Thus, Ultra HD is most suitable for display screens 12 feet (165 inches diagonal) or wider, which at one-and-a-half screen height would be just over 10 feet from the screen. This is a practical distance to optimize the front loudspeaker locations for accurate frontal stage soundtrack stereophonic imaging while providing effective visual immersion. The 85-inch diagonal screen size translates to a 6-foot, 2-inch width and a viewing distance just over 5 feet––unsuitable for optimum home theatre soundtrack reproduction. In reality, screen sizes from 5 feet wide to 12 feet effectively support 1080p resolutions with no visible pixel grid. In this regard, display manufacturers are playing the “numbers” game with the higher resolution perceived to be the better picture.
The REAL performance boost to picture quality will come with upping the color matrix to 10-bit 4:2:2 content, as opposed to the 8-bit 4:2:0 content, and frame rates of 48 or 60 fps. This would significantly benefit every display, regardless of size or 2160p “4K” or 1080p resolution. All of these color improvements require incremental multiples of bandwidth, so in order to realize them, we’ll need cables that don’t “roll off” at the new, (much) higher frequencies. Monster’s “4K+” cable demonstration showed what a dramatic improvement higher color resolution makes.
Every CES has an unofficial theme. These themes are born from companies that want to prove their leading-edge products are better than the competition. This year, Ultra HD “4K” 2160p televisions were a central part of the show––and not just one company was out front with the new displays, but ALL.
Sony, during its press conference, emphasized the role that its Sony Pictures division would be playing as a leader in the entertainment industry’s conversion to digital Ultra HD. Kazuo Hirai, who now heads Sony Corporation as its CEO, said Sony wants to expand 4K production into TV drama and commercials and to make it the industry standard. In addition to an announced slate of native 4K projects, Sony Pictures and Sony ColorWorks announced that numerous library titles remastered on 4K were being readied for re-release. Sony announced that it was launching a 4K video distribution service delivered through downloads. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment division has already commenced releasing on Blu-ray Disc™ a series of “Mastered In 4K” in a high-bit rate 1080p resolution for the new Bravia 55-, 65-, and 84-inch Ultra HD displays.
Samsung unveiled a 110-inch Ultra HD television, as did Hisense. LG Electronics, Sharp Corporation, and Toshiba also displayed Ultra HD sets in various sizes. Sharp showcased the first THX®-certified Ultra HD TV, the Sharp ICC Purios LC-60HQ10 display, and promoted the upconverter used, a significant part of what THX had certified. While seeing these televisions in person is a sight to behold, I can’t help but feel televisions like these are dead on arrival.
With Ultra HD TV sets costing $20,000 and up, 4K video will remain out of reach to most consumers for the near future, and as such their introduction will be limited.
Eventually, however, prices will race to the bottom, as has been the reality pertaining to high-performance home theatre displays.
As was evident from the comments of studio technology chiefs during CES, both 4K images and high-frame rates (48 or 60 frames per second) are already being entrenched in Hollywood work flows, from image capture on new film negatives and digital masters, to scanning the negatives in studio library vaults to prepare for the next generations of consumer video formats and digital cinema. This is presenting a storage problem, as the terabyte data generated for each new project and re-mastered 4K scanning quickly requires long-term storage in the petabytes.
Sony Pictures Chief Technology Officer Chris Cookson commented on this challenge during the CES. “There is actually a lot more information on 35 mm film negatives than has ever made it to the screen because when you go from a negative to an inter-positive and then to a print you always had generational loss. When we scanned the negative for Laurence Of Arabia in 4K we noticed that we got more detail than the inter-positive we got when we did the restoration. So in a sense, no one has ever really seen everything that’s in that movie. So now we’re scanning everything from negatives to prepare for 4K. It has a lot more information than what was used as the reference standard for HDTV.”
Twentieth Century Fox CTO Hanno Basse said, “The nut we as an industry really still need to crack is long-term storage. The long-term issue for the industry is how to make sure it will still be accessible 100 years from now.”
Cookson added, “Before, with nitrate, you could separate the negatives and if you took care of them and stored them right you know they’re going to be there for another 150 years. You can still get at them and still use them.”
This is not the case with digital formats, which are in constant transition and require constant attention so that the data does not end up unreadable.
Referring to Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit, Warner CTO Darcy Antonellis said, “With high frame rate, there is a significant issue of data management. We’re talking about petabytes of data from a single production. How do you move that around? How do you manage it? How will you even be able to find what you’re looking for in all that data?”
These are the REAL issues that require solutions before “4K” motion picture content becomes a reality. Forget streaming 4K through the existing digital transmission infrastructure. There is the question whether 1.4a HDMI with its maximum 4096 x 2160 at 24 frames per second (fps) will be sufficient to transfer 4K data from a source to an Ultra HD TV. The reality is that a new HDMI spec (2.0) will be necessary to handle higher resolutions and frame rates. This will require all-new source and processor equipment, and as well new displays eventually. Quality source material delivered by a new 4K Blu-ray Disc platform is at least a year away. Forget about 8K, although Sharp Corporation once again showcased an 85-inch 8K set at the CES.
In the OLED (organic light-emitting diode) department, Sony unveiled a prototype 56-inch OLED 4K Ultra HD TV, as did LG Electronics and Panasonic. Unlike Ultra HDs, which are essentially LCD TVs with a higher pixel density, OLED TVs utilize new manufacturing processes, which will require time and experience to perfect sustainable yields.
In terms of performance impact at normal viewing distances, OLED produces amazing pictures with performance-setting native contrast and, thus, black levels and brightness compared to ALL other display technologies. OLEDs also draw less power in an extremely thin form factor in scalable sizes and resolutions. Expect the next CES to be dominated by OLED displays. Expect OLED to become the standard display technology in 2014.
While both Ultra HD and OLED are exciting developments, the reality is that they will be unaffordable for the average consumer, and for some time will remain in the high-end display category.
Also evident at the CES was 3D, but rather than the focus it was presented as a feature in more HDTV displays—active-shutter glasses, passive glasses, and glasses-free. In the category of autostereoscopic demonstration Stream TV and licensee Hisense stood out.
The Image Science Foundation (ISF) debuted ISF’s first 4K test patterns for B&W levels and geometry/resolution! The patterns are free. Visit AVProAlliance.com to get the patterns. If you are not already a member, there are free trial links on the site. Once unzipped each pattern is 24 MB.
Digital Projection International, Kaleidescape (source server), D-BOX Technologies (motion code seating), Stewart Filmscreen, Audio Design Associates (ADA) (processor and amplifiers), DVDO (wireless Wi-Fi), BitWise Controls (automation), Perfect Path (cables), Acoustic Innovations (seating), and Triad Speakers worked together on an ultimate home cinema demonstration at CES 2013 at the Venetian Hotel, which was tops in the immersive performance category with the elite “Unforgettable Home Cinema” experience. The demonstration featured incredible video, courtesy of DP’s brand-new high-brightness HIGHlite Cine 330-3D projector and a 14-foot Stewart Cinecurve constant height masked screen. The demo enlisted Kaleidescape’s newest movie server and a D-BOX® Motion Code™ system. CEDIA also contributed to the success of the demonstration, with associates educating the attendees on the electronic systems industry.
Delivering up to 4,500 lumens of brilliant imagery, the new HIGHlite 330-3D signals a bold expansion of DPI’s already robust single-chip and three-chip 3D projector line. Two new models were introduced to CES attendees: a high-contrast version delivering 2,500 lumens and greater than 10,000:1 contrast, and a high-brightness version delivering 4,500 lumens. Particularly noteworthy is the HIGHlite 3D’s conservative price points for such advanced displays. Priced at under $30,000 MSRP with lens included, the new HIGHlite 330-3D can be configured with fixed or zoom lens options, allowing for expanded installation flexibility.
Smart TVs with wireless connectivity continued to expand their feature sets and have become essentially standard on every HDTV. All the major HDTV manufacturers were showing off HDTVs that could run apps and connect between devices, and provide motion and voice command operation.
As has been the reality in recent years, evident at past trade shows, was the exponential rate at which American audio and home theatre performance manufacturers are out-sourcing their manufacturing to China, Mexico, India, and other parts of Asia. This is driven by the competitive need to reduce costs and offer performance products at less cost to a middle-class consumer base that is steadily declining in terms of consumer power, and to be able to better compete globally in an effort to find new “customers with money” to purchase their products. Of course, this further lessens potential American consumer power and destroys labor worker earnings and jobs while further concentrating productive capital ownership (the non-human means of production) in the present ownership class. This trend also hurts America overall with lost opportunity, displacement of technological innovation, manufacturing, and lost employment. If this continues and is not reversed with policies to create “customers with money” through broadened ownership and dividend income among companies that otherwise will continue to embrace job destroying and devaluing technological innovation and invention, this will result in a collapse of the middle class and spell the end of performance products. Those that will survive will be a significantly small cadre of manufacturers reaching out to an ever-dwindling group of enthusiasts who can still afford increasingly expensive products. But such limited enthusiasts are not being replenished because there are fewer and fewer brick-and-mortar specialty stores for new generations to “experience” what performance audio and home theatre is all about. Without the “experience” demo there can be no real appreciation or true passion instilled to want to purchase performance products, and new generations simply will not know that such products exist.
This abandonment of the United States and its communities continues to sadly contribute to the country’s experiencing the de-industrialization of America. (See my editorial articles entitled “The Specialty Performance Electronics Future” at http://www.widescreenreview.com/blog_detail.php?id=890 and “The Absent Conversation: Who Should Own America?” published by The Huffington Post at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gary-reber/who-should-own-america_b_2040592.html
As with last year’s CES Report, the 2013 CES report is extensive and as a result necessitates that it be published in two parts: Video and Audio. Part I—Video appears in this issue, with Part II—Audio appearing in Issue 175, March 2013.
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