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issue: March 2006 APPLIANCE Magazine

Consumer Electronics
Highest Definition

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by Erin Biesen, Assistant Editor

Consumer electronic products are pushing technology to the edge and making a clear-cut path filled with high definition (HD) TVs and DVD players.

LG displayed the new wireless HD TV, which only has one power cord and allows consumers to have HD technology without the clutter of several cables.

Keeping up with the Jones’ has come a long way from the days when there was just one color television in the neighborhood. Now it’s all about who has the most megapixels. Consumer electronics companies are competing for the high-end customers that want the hot new gadgets of the moment, and those gadgets were all on display when APPLIANCE attended the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held in Las Vegas, Jan. 5-8.
According to the Consumer Electronic Association’s U.S. Consumer Electronics Sales & Forecasts 2001-2006, total factory sales of consumer electronics are estimated at U.S. $125.9 billion, up from 2004’s total of $113.1 billion. Consumers are spending more every year and consumer electronics companies are continuously pushing the envelope with the new products and technology.
High definition (HD) is expanding into new markets like commercial applications and video recorders. The battle of Blu-ray versus HD DVD has grown fierce and will only become more interesting with time.

The next-generation DVD format battle is raging and companies are picking sides. Toshiba supports the HD DVD format and will be releasing the products HD-XA1 and the HD-A1 in March of this year.

Seeing Red

HD is not a new phrase in the world of consumer electronics, however, wherever attendees looked at CES there were HD TVs and cameras. According to Vamsi Sistla, ABI Research director of broadband and multimedia research, “‘pretty much everybody’ is making HD TVs these days, from no name Taiwanese manufacturers to famous global brands. The inevitable trend towards commoditization means that vendors need to look for new ways to differentiate their products.”
HD has consumers seeing movies and TV in well defined clarity that brings awareness of new shades and colors, and HD devices themselves are being configured in new ways. LG Electronics showcased a wireless plasma display panel HD TV. “The separate transmitter unit acts as a source for digital TV and other audio/video (A/V) sources, providing a wireless feed to the display from any connected component,” says Tim Alessi, director of product development for LG Electronics USA. The transmitter box eliminates running wires directly to the display and can be placed up to 100 feet away. “Using 802.11a wireless LAN dedicated AV, we can transmit an HD stream (20 Mbps) and can support seamless communication with Qos technology,” Alessi tells APPLIANCE.
The Sanyo Xacti HD1 video camera was another “must-see” item at the show. The company is creating a solution for consumers who have widescreen HD TV and want to make HD TV home videos.
The most difficult engineering challenge in creating this pocket-size video camera was fitting in the processor. “HD requires over three times the processing power to be able to crunch and record in real time,” says John Lamb, senior marketing manager for Sanyo Fisher Company.
The memory cards needed to store HD have just recently become mainstream. “The 1 GB cards are now extremely affordable, 2 GB cards are getting there and will definitely be there by mid-year,” Lamb says. “If we had launched this 2 years ago, you would have been granted about 7 or 8 minutes on a memory card—and it would have been an expensive memory card.”
Not only can the camera record both 720p HD video and 5.1 megapixel digital still images on a standard SD flash memory card, it can do so without costing a small fortune. As of press time, the product was set to begin shipment in mid- to late-February for $799.99.

While high definition (HD) is continuously growing in the consumer market, it is also branching out to other industries, including medical applications. Sharp is releasing the PN-455, a HD LCD monitor used to display patient X-rays, CT scans and MRI images.

Digital Medicine

While consumers are slowly converting to HD entertainment systems, the medical industry is moving into the world of HD as well. Several companies are launching LCD monitors specifically for the professional market and applications in hospitals and healthcare.
Westinghouse will release a 56-inch LCD monitor that is four times 1,080p resolution, or 3,840 by 2,160 resolution. It also offers an 8-millisecond response time, providing clear images for action in motion video games and movies. Rey Roque, vice president of marketing, comments that the LCD is fitting for the medical industry. “It would be ideal for CT and MRI information,” he comments. “In telemedicine there can be tightly packed information that needs to be viewed by medical professionals long-distance and it is vital to get a clear image.” There are other potential commercial and professional applications including government, military, aerospace, and digital content creation.
The LCD also features a 1,000:1 contrast ratio. Broadcasting an expanded range of colors is possible due to the advanced color gamut.
Sharp released the PN-455, a 45-inch high-resolution LCD monitor suitable for the medical industry. The vital feature of the product, according to Bruce Goldstein, senior business development manager, “is the ability to display high-resolution 1,920 by 1,080 medical images in the best quality possible on a 45-inch LCD.”
The medical industry is not new territory for the company, which previously had a 37-inch LCD monitor geared to medical applications, but with a lower resolution. Sharp created the 45-inch LCD to push the technology envelope. “We didn’t go into this development project specifically with the health care industry in mind, but we did research applications where there is a real need for high resolution,” Goldstein says. “The technology came first, but we found a really nice fit for it in medical use.”
The product was released in August of 2005 and already Sharp is in contact with several health care centers to set up the LCD, and one major installation is nearly complete.
Fletcher-Allen Healthcare went through trial runs with several types of monitors before a decision-making team, including surgeons and other doctors, chose the PN-455 monitors. Fletcher-Allen Healthcare purchased 35 of the
45-inch LCD monitors, installing 33 in operating rooms and the remaining two in radiology.
One of the major reasons healthcare is so interested in the larger LCD monitors is to make use of new industry software, called picture archiving and communications system (pacs). This system allows doctors and nurses to view CT scans, MRI images and X-rays from anywhere. “It allows them to be moved throughout an organization to be reviewed by physicians,” comments John K. Evans, senior vice president and technologies officer at Fletcher-Allen Healthcare. “It also allows the images to be transported outside the organization, so they can be archived and retrieved for comparison purposes.”
An example that Evans gave is of a surgeon performing back surgery. Prior to the surgery, there will be a scan taken of the patient’s back, and it will be displayed on the monitor throughout the surgery. The surgeon may decide to take another scan of the patient’s back during surgery and then the two images can be displayed on the screen side by side. After the recovery period, yet another scan can be taken and compared to the first two to evaluate the surgery’s success.
Comparison of the different images or scans can prove to be an important benefit. “On monitors, a physician can display the image and actually review particular circumstances with the patient,” notes Evans. While the pacs system does all of the work in pulling up the images, including comparing and overlaying them, the monitor shows the differences, in detail, between the before and after shots. “We feel we found the best resolution on the market to meet the needs of pacs in our operating rooms,” says Evans.
The PN-455 has other applications, including CAD/CAM, video conferencing and building security in command and control rooms, flight simulators, and homeland security. “Homeland security is using the PN-455 for high resolution surveillance applications,” says Jim Wilson, major accounts manager, Eastern United States, Sharp. “I’ve got several of these targeted to go on board naval ships for ready room applications, where they could be used for plotting courses for enemy ships and so forth.”

Televisions have been the breakthrough product when it comes to high definition, but Sanyo’s Xacti HD1 video camera is broadening the HD scope and hopes to bring home videos to new levels.

An Industry Divided

The new DVD formats are here. After years of trying to find a solution to the two-format problem, it has come down to the release of both HD DVD and Blu-ray disc players to the market.
Companies were aware early on that there would need to be a new generation of DVDs to meet growing technology standards. “In the U.S., DVD was launched in March of 1997 and the first HD TV was shipped in October 1998,” explains Mark Knox, advisor to HD DVD Promotion Division, Toshiba Corporation. “Even at the time they were preparing DVD, many of the same companies were in the process of developing high definition TV.” Knox points out that the original DVD standard was a combination of two competing formats. Immediately after that compromise was reached, the DVD Forum was formed in a doomed attempt to circumvent future format wars. Since the requirements for HD TV were too much for the standard DVD to handle, many manufacturers started their research to develop an HD version of DVD.
But the industry divided and formed two separate associations, the Blu-ray Disc Association and the HD DVD Promotions Group.
The Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA) wanted to create a system that would have a longer shelf life than the DVD. “We said, ‘Ok, we are going to make an HD format and we have one shot at this’,” notes Andy Parsons, senior vice president for product development at Pioneer USA and media spokesperson for the BDA. “Once the format is finalized and we start shipping product there is an obligation to make sure that the system doesn’t change.” BDA says it is trying to use advanced technology instead of stretching older technology to come up with a product that is short on capacity.
One of the major differences between Blu-ray and HD DVD is that HD DVD has the same basic disc structure as current DVDs. “Studios contemplating creating HD DVD content know the factories making regular DVDs can now be easily upgraded to make HD DVDs,” says Knox.
Blu-ray uses a new technology altogether and DVD factories need to be retrofit to accommodate this change. “The reason we have to use blue laser technology is that we have to be able to focus the laser light down to a smaller spot size on the surface to increase the data density, which gives data density up to five times that of a DVD,” explains Parsons.
“The most profound difference between the two machines is in the optical pickup. While both systems use a blue laser diode to read the HD content, the HD DVD pickup can share many optical components needed to read standard DVDs,” says Hiroharu Satoh, senior manager of HD DVD division at Toshiba’s Digital Media Network Company. “This means the pickup can be smaller, more economical and can operate at a greater distance from the actual disc, simplifying the design of portable players and compact drives for notebook PCs.”
The Blu-ray system bends the blue laser light at a severe angle, which requires more optical elements and discs that have a 0.1 mm cover layer system. These elements may lead to a higher cost for Blu-ray players.
CES was the place to see all the up and coming DVD players in both the new formats. Pioneer, a supporter of the Blu-ray player, will be releasing their player in May with a suggested retail price of $1,800.
Toshiba is supporting the HD DVD format, and its player will be available in the U.S. in March 2006. Satoh notes that after conducting technical research Toshiba decided to support HD DVD’s more economical format. Toshiba is trying to target any consumer that owns an HD TV. Retail prices will start at $500. “The conclusion was that the HD DVD disc structure of 0.6 mm-thick discs bonded back-to-back is the most realistic and ideal to achieve smooth transition from today’s DVD to the next generation DVD from perspective of compatibility,” he says.
One of the announcements made by Bill Gates at CES was about Xbox 360 being offered with an optional HD DVD drive. “We believe that HD DVD will bring the excitement of high definition movies to the consumer faster and at a greater value, while giving them the choice of how they want to access and manage their HD content,” says Chris Pirich, general manager, Console and Consumer Software Group at Microsoft. “HD DVD lets consumers make managed copies of their movies so they can be shared between multiple devices and accessed anytime, anywhere. We think, in the end, HD DVD will provide more of what the consumer is looking for.”
The standard DVD will still be playable in both HD DVD players and Blu-ray Disc players. “One of the wrong messages we see propagated is that this is supposed to replace DVD. I don’t think that is necessarily a safe thing to say,” notes Parsons. “DVD is still relatively new technology to many consumers and there are about 50,000 titles available worldwide in DVD. It’s not good for the industry to give consumers the impression they should just forget all that and throw it away.”
Even in the midst of a DVD content format battle, the future for HD in any form looks bright. “We are seeing estimates of roughly 10 million per year HD sets being sold into the U.S. market place over the next several years and that’s a lot of customers that are out there that are going to be hungry for content,” says Parsons.
Many of the companies agree that HD is going to continue
to become more prevalent. Alessi of LG says, “Sales growth in

HD displays, of all types, has been explosive and is expected to
continue, particularly in flat panel sets. The future for HD looks phenomenal.”

The Dual-View display offered from Sharp is capable of showing two separate images on either side of the display. It allows for consumers to watch a DVD on one side and surf the Internet on the other.

Double Vision

Not to be overshadowed by the power of HD at this year’s CES, companies released additional impressive products ranging from cell phones and radios to home networking systems. Westinghouse added more digital photo frames to its line. Specifically, the DPF 0701 has an additional element that can feature two different wallet-sized photos in the frame. “We see a trend in up and coming 16 by 9 aspect ratio cameras that allows for panoramic shots,” says Howard Houng, product specialist for Westinghouse. “It is possible to fill up the whole screen on this frame, take the typical 4 inch by 6 inch shots and display one picture at a time, or even feature two 4 inch by 3 inch photos at the same time.”
He continues, “We try to keep the digital photo frame fairly simple in terms of functionality, which means you don’t need a remote control for the unit. Simply stick in the card and it will play automatically.”
The Two-Way Viewing Angle LCD from Sharp is a dual-view display that was released last year and made an appearance at CES. This product is built on a number of proprietary technologies, including a parallax barrier layered on an ordinary thin-film transistor (TFT) LCD, which directs light in different directions similar to a 3-D imaging. “In order to get a 3-D image like the old stereoscopes, the company had to have two images slightly offset,” explains Todd Stonewall, applications engineer at Sharp Micro-electronics of the Americas. “They had to figure out a lensing system that would take half the image and point it at the left eye, take the other half of the image and point it at the right eye and see stereo.”
The earlier 3-D prototypes were difficult to look at unless the consumer remained perfectly still, but the company realized that the technology allows for two separate images to appear on the screen at the same time. “The display interweaves the images, essentially putting the left images in the even numbered pixel columns and the right images in the odd numbered columns,” Stonewall says.
Currently the Two-Way Viewing Angle display is sold in Japan in a 7-inch automobile application. One view serves as a navigation system for the driver and the other as an entertainment device for the passenger. It is offered in 7-inch models at this time, however, the company can produce larger Two-Way Viewing Angle LCDs for a wide range of applications from retail displays to airport signs.

Suppliers mentioned in this article:
Toshiba Corporation

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