3D Displays – Some Just Don’t See It: A Review of CES

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By Logan Enright
Principal, The Enright Company

CES-logan-entrancesign-0110Several years ago an optometrist told me I have a slightly lazy eye. “What does that mean?”, I asked.  “Those 3D movies at IMAX and Disneyland don’t look as dramatic to you as to others,” he said. I shrugged and thought, “So what?”

Ratchet forward to 2010. The year of Avatar and of 3D at CES – the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.  3D was featured EVERYWHERE at the show this year. And granted, while perhaps it’s not as impressive to this writer, the overall effect to the industry is noteworthy.

The first question on 3D is, “Do you have to wear special glasses?” The answer is yes, for most of them. The 3D system employs an active shutter system wherein the display and glasses are synchronous. The right and left lens in the glasses darkens and lightens alternately, while the 3D TV displays the right- and left-eye-specific images. If the use of special glasses for 3D glasses seems uncool, LG showed two pair of Dolce and Gabanna (D&G) Italian high-fashion designer glasses.

Try to forget that we will be wedging those pricey and fragile glasses between the cushions of the sofa; there is no doubt that the CE industry is serious about launching 3D. And despite issues such as lack of content, glasses and compatibility, 3D offers some important applications for the professional markets – especially in manufacturing, modeling, healthcare and other markets. And as always, what the consumer gets, so too do we get in the ProAV world.

Mats W. Johansson, president of Eon Reality, the interactive 3D virtual meeting and simulation-based learning software provider based in Irvine, CA, says, “The explosion of 3D-enabled displays for consumers such as 3D TVs, projectors and gaming displays are going to change the landscape for professional AV.”

Panasonic remains, in their words, “very committed to plasma,” and introduced the world’s largest, a 152” bad boy (4Kx2K resolution). No pricing announced on that behemoth. They announced a partnership with DirecTV with 3D content (3 channels for now), and said an industry-wide standard will be established for cross-manufacturer compatibility. Panasonic partnered with James Cameron on the film Avatar via their Panasonic Hollywood Labs. The first dual lens 3D professional camera was shown by Panasonic. This prototype camera will record on Panasonic’s P2 cards.

Samsung had probably a thousand products in a football field-sized booth. They showed a display series that can up convert 2D content to 3D. Samsung displayed a handheld TV remote that displays the same motion video content as on the set via a standard called DLNA – handy for when you have to leave the room and don’t want to pause the TV. Samsung has three series of displays which are all 3D compatible. There are some really beautiful TVs without bezels from all the major manufacturers, especially Samsung and Sony. Many are real works of art.

Sharp introduced Quad Pixel technology to their LED backlit LCD display offerings. These promise improved HD quality and color depth with the addition of a fourth pixel color – yellow. Sharp offers new thinner TVs which use edge-lit LED light sources. A company spokesperson said their wide aperture feature allows less light leakage and therefore brighter images on Sharp displays.

LG explains that the “good, better and best” hierarchy of LED-lit LCDs is: good = edge-lit, better = edge-lit plus localized dimming (to make the light evenly dispersed), and best = full array lighting. The flagship display from LG is the 9800 series that is .98” deep, with full array lighting with local dimming – a stunning piece both cosmetically and output wise.

Sony showed three series of flat panel displays. These edge-lit units feature anti-reflective glass and 240Hz refresh. They demonstrated their iPod remote control of displays and Blu-ray players. They have an Emmy Award-winning, on-screen control graphic called Cross Media Bar – an elegant GUI for control of their sets. I was on the lookout for OLED at this CES and Sony showed no new products in that technology this year.

Not all of the CES developments were in 3D. The Casio Projector group introduced a new series of their Super Slim Projector series with new hybrid lamp technology yielding up to 20,000 hours!  Do the math – that’s the life of the product. It’s available in various models up to 3000 ANSI lumens, in a very small projector.

An Intel software manager commented the “the computer is no longer THE platform.” This trend of embedded applications on the TV, the handheld phone and in the Blu-ray player was everywhere at CES – Yahoo Widgets, Pandora, Netflix, YouTube and more can be found in and on everything. This will impact the commercial AV market as well for content and control systems.

In non-display news, BlackBerry Presenter was introduced at CES – clearly a product more for the commercial AV “road warrior.” This handheld box and software allows one to present 100 slides wirelessly from your BlackBerry up to XGA using Bluetooth for $199 (list).

APC (American Power Conversion) introduced their new G55 power distribution, sequencing, filter and surge protection unit. Perfect for AV applications, this single rack unit is rated at 20 amps and is both RS232 and network compatible. It even sports a handy removable magnetized flashlight. APC also introduced the first in a series of racks for the ProAV market – 42RU high, 31.5” deep with all the accessories one could need. APC intends to be a real factor in the rack/enclosure business going forward.

The economy was very much on everyone’s mind and in many discussions at this CES. Attendance was average, but most were enthusiastic about the economic future and it seems, although there is a “race to the bottom” on pricing of flat panel displays, perhaps 3D will assist in propping up the CE industry going forward.

Logan Enright has been in the AV industry since 1976 and is principal and founder of The Enright Company, a California-based manufacturers’ representatives serving the commercial AV industry. Reach him at logan@enrightcompany.com