Video display technology is progressing so fast that the phrase 'More revolutions than a banana republic' inevitably comes to mind. No offence intended if you have just taken over as president.
From the 1930s to the present century, television display was dominated almost entirely by cathode ray tubes. Competition then arrived in the form of plasma flat-panels, at least for applications such as video walls in multichannel playout suites. Plasma displays gave way in turn to fluorescent-backlit LCDs which offered lower power consumption and freedom from burn-in. These in turn have been succeeded by LED-illuminated LCDs.
Projection devices have made a various bids for market share but with little success. Large back-projection versions for presentation studios or MCRs tend to be expensive. Small home and office versions are noisy given the need for a fan to cool the light bulb. Laser projection is an interesting concept which dates back 20 years or more but without much commercial success.
OLED or OLET flat panels may yet win popularity, at least in devices where portability is important.
Given the current supremacy of LED-backlit LCDs, the most important developments worth reporting are the obvious transition to 3D and a possible shift from 16:9 wide screen to 21:9 cinemascope.
In the year since this column last essayed into video displays, 3D television broadcasting has developed into real business. 3D channels are already on air, or about to become so, in Australia, Brazil, Britain, France, Japan, the Netherlands, Spain, Russia, South Korea and the USA.
Even though 3D content is still in short supply, the price of 3D television receivers has fallen to the point where it is now inevitable that 2D displays will go out of production. LG's 42LX6900 42 inch LED 3D receiver, for example, is available via the Web from £770 (at mid January 2011) compared with £700 for its 2D equivalent. JVC, LG, Mitsubishi, Samsung, Sony, Panasonic, Philips, Sharp and Toshiba are all depending on 3D to sustain demand for domestic television displays at a time when US sales have begun to plateau.
The big surprise at IFA 2010 (Berlin, 2-7 September) was the introduction, by Philips, of a 7:3 (aka 21:9) cinemascope HD LED-LCD screen. Sony developed this concept in standard definition for in-flight entertainment, playing horizontally-squeezed 4:3 from U-Matic video cassette onto a 7:3 screen via a single-anamorphic-lens colour video projector. I saw this at Sony's Tokyo demonstration facility during the 1990s when it was already well established. It looked remarkably good.
Philips has since taken the idea into 3D high definition with a 58 inch 3D LED-backlit LCD display called 'Cinema 21:9 Platinum TV'. Introduced at the IFA 2010 show in Berlin a week or so before IBC, it has 2,560 x 1,080 pixels resolution and 400 Hz motion processing.
JVC arrived at CES in Las Vegas, January 2011, with a similar 3D cinemascope system: same 2,560 x 1,080 resolution but smaller screen (50 inch). This was shown in prototype with an anticipated Q3 2011 launch date. LG is also planning to introduce a 21:9 3D television display during 2011. Its CES exhibit centred on a prototype 16:9 LED-backlit LCD screen, 84 inches diagonal and no less than 4,000 pixels in horizontal resolution. Programme content to match this specification is in short supply but the world's film archives are certainly not short of cinemascope content.
Mitsubishi introduced at CES 2011 a 3D 1080p projector, the Diamond HC9000. Using a liquid crystal light modulator, this is claimed to provide a 120,000:1 contrast ratio at up to 100 inches screen size. Lamp life is rated at 4,000 hours. Price and introduction date tba.
Panasonic recently announced the BT-3DL2550, a 25.5-inch 3D LCD production monitor. This has 1920 x 1200 pixels resolution, an In-Plane Switching (IPS) panel and 10-bit processing. The monitor can be preset to SMPTE, EBU, ITU-R BT.709, Adobe 2.2, Adobe 1.8 and D-Cinema colour settings. It supports 1080i, 1080p and 720p playback, and offers pixel-to-pixel function in 720p mode. The BT-3DL2550 has two HD/SD-SDI inputs for simultaneous display of Left image, Right image and 3D signals. 3D signals can also be supported line-by-line or side-by-side using the monitor’s DVI-D input. It comes with two pairs of polarising 3D glasses.
Anticipating a shortage of 3D content for the next year or two, Samsung has given its new 9 Series PC monitor and the 7 and 9 Series LED-backlit HDTV monitors a real-time 2D into 3D simulator supporting content from Blu-ray players, gaming consoles and digital broadcasts. The 7 and 9 Series come with 3D active-shutter glasses. Samsung has also announced the SP-A8000 3D projector with a 1,000 lumen SP-A8000 bulb.
Direct view 3D
Direct-view 3D television displays using lenticular optical filters have around for more than a decade even if you couldn't, or wouldn't, actually buy one. I remember seeing a prototype demonstrated at InterBEE in the mid 1990s but it had the directionality problem common to that technology. Lenticular filters are now being used in 3D snapshot cameras, bonded to miniature camera-back displays. Equally underwhelming.
Dresden-based SeeReal Technologies has spent several years pursuing holographic technology as an alternative either to lenticular-filtered screens or dual-screen head-up displays. SeeReal's Holographic 3D system also relies on eye tracking to optimise the 3D experience for individual viewers. An explanation of its 'sub-hologram viewing-window' technology can be seen on www.seereal.com.
Sony's new dual-screen 'Headman' 3D visor personal 3D goggles attracted favourable response when introduced demonstrated at CES 2011. Image quality was reported to be good as each eye is free to focus entirely on its own display. The prototype resembles a 1950-vintage telephone handset and had to be held against the viewer's head. It may seem anti-social for a home environment and downright dangerous to use in pubic but offers a key advantage over polarised single-screen displays: no loss of brightness.
Toshiba has meanwhile introduced 12 inch and 20 inch direct-view 3D LCD TV receivers with nine 'sweet spots'. The curiously-named 'Regza GL1' displays use lenticular left/right filtering but are claimed to be 2D compatible.
I must confess to being a great deal more enthusiastic about the prospect of high-definition 21:9 than about 3D. If the two are combined so much the better and it is a fairly safe bet that they will be. And ideal for a PC.