Posts tagged ‘HDTV’

Home Theater

Glenn Reynolds has a discussion of projectors as an alternative to flat screen TVs.  I have been a projector owner through 10 years and 3 generations and am a big fan of them in certain applications.

I have an Epson 8500UB, which is close to the top of their line and can be bought under $2000 (which is amazing - the projector price drop in the last 10 years has been stunning).  It is a 1080p projector with great blacks and color.  I have it ceiling mounted with a 110-inch diagonal 16x9 Stewart screen.  I have one of the silver fabrics (I think the Firehawk) that enhances black levels over the white fabrics (there is a reason movies used to be shown on the "silver screen.")  The screen is acoustically perforated so the speakers (except for surrounds) are actually behind the screen (as in movie theaters).

In the evening, with the lights down and the projector adjusted correctly, the effects is awesome.  Not to be missed.  I have had to kick many visitors out of my house.  Sports are also amazing, particularly in HDTV.

As Glenn's commenters mention, you have to be careful with light.  I picked this Epson both because it is really about the best in its price range, but it also is very bright.  Unlike my last generation projector, it can overcome some ambient light.  I have to have blinds in my den, but with the blinds down but the room still lighted well I can watch sports on the bright setting quite well with this projector (you really don't want to watch a movie with this bright setting - movies are all about the blacks, and to get those looking great you need darkness).

Anything 60" and below, get an LCD.  But if you really want a ridiculously large screen for movies and sports, this is the only way to go and I highly recommend the Epson line -- they have projectors at many price points and they are mostly all very good.

Pondering Images

Via the South Bend Seven, comes this interesting post on images at Barbarian Blog.

The total number of pixels [on an HDTV screen]  is 1920 horizontally x 1080 vertically = 2,073,600 pixels. There are 256 possible intensities of red, green and blue for each pixel, so that's 2563 = 16,777,216 possible colors. To figure out how many possible images there are, we need to raise the second number to the power of the first, so 16,777,2162,073,600 = 1.5 * 101,4981,180 possible images. That's a pretty big number "“ it's almost a million and a half digits long. Printing it in 10 point Monaco would take over 2,700 pages of paper. Scientists estimate that there are 1080 atoms in the observable universe "“ a tiny number in comparison.

However big it may be, the fact that the number is finite is a surprising thing to realize. It means that every possible image has a unique ID number. So instead of asking me, "did you see that picture of MIA performing pregnant at the Grammys", you might ask, "did you see image number 1,394,239,...,572?" Obviously that is totally impractical and it would make you a huge nerd, but it's interesting that you could.
More in the same vein at the link.  I was surprised that the number of states a video screen could be in was so much larger than the molecules in the universe.

Anti-Trust is Not About Consumers, Yet Again

I have written numerous times about how most anti-trust actions are initiated for the benefit not of consumers but of industry competitors.  The incredible claim that Microsoft's giving away free applications with its OS somehow hurts consumers is just the most famous such example. 

Now we face the specter of anti-trust review of the XM-Sirius satellite radio deal.  All you need to know is that the National Association of Broadcasters, who represent the terrestrial competitors of satellite radio, are lobbying hard for the deal to be rejected.  Nearly every line of the statement is hilarious, but this one caught me:

When
the FCC authorized satellite radio, it specifically found that
the public
would be served best by two competitive nationwide systems. Now,

with  their stock prices at rock bottom and their business model in
disarray
because of profligate spending practices, they seek a government

bail-out to avoid competing in the marketplace.

First, I am sure that the NAB is deeply, deeply concerned about satellite radio serving the public well -- NOT.  Customers gained by satellite radio are customers lost by the NAB**.  In fact, if they really believed the merger would hurt the consumer experience with satellite radio, their statement would instead be "we are thrilled by this merger because it means that customers will be served poorly in the future by the new company and that means customers will defect back to us."

Second, I love the term "government bailout."  What they mean by government bailout is the prospect that the government might not block this merger.  Which, given the white-hot merger activity between NAB members over the past 5 years, means that most NAB members have received the same "bailout."

(HT: Hit and Run)

** In the TV market, terrestrial broadcasters, particularly their local affiliates, got the government to cover their butts by passing a "Must Carry" law, which basically requires that cable companies have to include all the local broadcasters in their feed.  In practice, this and similar laws have forced satellite providers to give you your network feed only through your local affiliate.  This means that instead of DirecTV being able to just give me the NBC national feed, they have to give me the NBC Phoenix affiliate.  As a result, DirecTV has whole satellites that carry forty, fifty, sixty or more identical feeds.  What a screaming waste, and it only gets worse with HDTV.  Anyway, in radio, there is no similar law, so satellite growth is more of a zero-sum loss for terrestrial competitors.  I think the NAB is just huffy they did not get their own must-carry subsidy law passed.

Widescreen Abuse

I am kind of a video snob so you can take this rant with that in mind. 

I am getting tired of looking at five thousand dollar flatscreens with the picture distorted.  As most of you will know, the new generation of TV sets are wider than the old sets, with a ratio of length to width of 16:9 rather than the old 4:3.  Unfortunately, most current broadcasting and all legacy TV shows are filmed in 4:3.  To watch these programs without distortion on a new flatscreen HDTV, you will either have black bars on the sides or you will have to zoom it such that you lose the top and bottom of the picture. 

Instead of these two options, most people have their widescreen TV's set to stretch the picture horizontally to fit the wider screen.  What this results in is a picture that is distorted and stretched by 33% in width, giving you lots of fat faces.  Yuk!  Why would someone buy a $5000 (or more) TV set with state of the art high-definition picture and then set it up so most of the programming looks like it was viewed in a fun-house mirror?  Especially when you only have to press one button usually to cycle the setup between regular and widescreen programming. 

Anyway, the teli is always on here in the breakfast room of the hotel (one of the realities of modern travel is that you can't seem to escape the blaring TV in either hotels or airports) but I have no idea what the BBC announcers look like.  The way the TV is set up, it looks like they all are fat with cheek fulls of acorns.

TV Regulation Mess

If my blog was a satellite TV station, the following would be illegal:  Investigators Slam Katrina Response.  (hint - answer is NOT in the attached article, which is random)
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I'm sorry, did you miss it?  What did I do that was so wrong?  What I did was let you view content directly from a national content provider.  In the past, Reuters traditionally distributed its content through local distribution arms called newspapers.  This distribution model was required based on old technologies, where printing was a local not a national business.  Now that new technologies allow content providers to distribute their material nationally without these intermediaries, many have chosen to do so, as does Reuters at their web site.  This is one of the many reasons why newspapers today are struggling.

The TV business has historically had the same business model for roughly the same technological reasons.  National content providers (e.g. NBC, CBS) distributed content through local affiliates because broadcasting technologies were very local.  Today, with Satellite and cable, it is perfectly easy for anyone to access the national feeds, like you did in reading the Reuters site above.  EXCEPT, the US Congress has outlawed this practice.  Satellite providers, with a few exceptions for rural viewers, cannot provide viewers with the national feed -- it is illegal.  Unlike with print media, Congress has succumbed to powerful interest groups in the local TV market to protect their dying business model. 

As a result, DirectTV has satellites in space using up bandwidth by broadcasting 50 or more nearly identical copies of the same national feed, because it is forced to use the local affiliate's feed for each local market.   One of many adverse results is that while the price of print content has fallen to nearly zero, the price of broadcast content goes up.  And, from a personal standpoint, I nearly killed myself adjusting an old fashioned TV aerial on my roof last night because that is the only way I can get NBC's Olympics HDTV content, since my satellite provider can't afford to duplicated hundreds of local stations to get the networks on satellite in HDTV under the current asinine rules.  And I refuse to get cable because it was in large part for exactly this reason, to force customers away from satellite to cable, that the must-carry and related rules were passed, and I refuse to give them the satisfaction.

Postscript:  By the way, the Reuters article linked is worth reading too.  Take this snippet:

Richard Skinner, the inspector general of the Department of Homeland
Security, told the committee that FEMA purchased 24,967 manufactured
homes at a cost of $857.8 million to temporarily house Katrina victims.
But most of those homes are unused and the government is paying to
store them, he said.

Nearly 11,000 are sitting are sitting at a
government site in Hope, Arkansas, and are deteriorating because they
were improperly stored, he said.

A Victory for Fair Use

Via Ernest Miller:

Civil and consumer rights groups have won in the Broadcast Flag case!...

...For those who are unfamiliar with the Broadcast Flag, it was ... it was a regulation promulgated by the FCC
at the request of Hollywood that would have required all HDTV receivers
to incorporate certain copy controls. Starting this July, all HDTV
receivers sold in the US would be required to enforce restrictions on
copying HDTV broadcasts that were tagged with the "Broadcast Flag."
Although you might be able to record HDTV shows, you wouldn't be able
to make additional copies for personal use (such as watching in another
room) without a lot of hassle, if it was possible at all, not to
mention taking a copy to watch at a friend's house. The ramifications
of this authority grab by the FCC were enormous, since it would have,
among other things, essentially given them the power to control
significant aspects of the design of anything capable of using HDTV
signals, i.e., modern PCs.

Good.  Now, will someone address letting me copy DVD's to play on a handheld, hard-disk based device like this one.

If You Are Buying A Plasma TV...

I know that flat screen Plasma and LCD TV's are very popular right now, especially as prices are falling.  They provide a good platform for viewing HDTV and widescreen DVDs.  As a longtime fan of widescreen, even before DVD's and HDTV, I understand the attraction well (and yes, you could get widescreen format movies on VHS and Laserdisc, but it was a pain in the butt and DVD is great).

If you are looking at a plasma TV for your main viewing or home theater room, I would like to encourage you to look at front projection before you make a purchase.  No, I don't have any financial interest in the technology, and no, it is not right for everyone.  For some applications, though, front projection can offer a dramatically better movie experience than plasma for the same money.  Why?  Two words:  110" Diagonal  (OK, thats sort of more than two words when you say it rather than write it, but you get the idea).

Screen

A projection system can be almost as big as you have space for.  You have never, never experienced the Superbowl until you have seen it on a 95" wide widescreen in HDTV.  If you get one, do not tell the neighbors unless you want them in your house every Sunday.  We almost never go to theaters any more - we have a great experience in our own house.  I have practically paid for this installation just from birthday party savings, as my kids now prefer to have movie parties at home. 

The installation in the picture above is my 95" wide 16x9 screen, and I took the photo so you could also see the projector hanging on the ceiling (the photo overemphasises the projector - it is actually not so prominent).  The screen is actually a special acoustically perforated kind, and the speakers are behind it (this is more expensive and hides the speakers but is not at all required).

OK, there are some downsides to this installation, which is why you do not see them everywhere:

  • The wiring is tougher, since the projector usually is a long way from your video equipment - I had to get an electrician to run some wires for me
  • The room has to be dark -- either with few windows or, in my case, with blackout shades on all the windows -- to be able to watch during the day.  If you look carefully in the picture above you can see the shade above the windows.
  • They are harder to find -- Best Buy type stores do not sell these systems
  • They are different esthetically than you are used to.  They take up less space than a big box rear-projection, but more space than a plasma. Yes, you can put in mechanisms to roll up the screen into the ceiling or even pull the projector up out of site when not being used, but these add a lot to the cost.
  • Good systems are not at all cheap, and cost about as much as a good plasma - about $4000 for the projector and $1000 for the screen.  Really good systems go for crazy amounts of money - as much as $60,000 and more.  Don't be scared off - there are many good inexpensive projectors made today.

We have loved this system and have gotten more prolonged enjoyment out of it than anything else in our house.  It is not for everyone, and I don't expect everyone to choose to do the same thing I did, but I do think it is worth your time to take a peak at one when you are out shopping for that plasma TV.