HDTV Unchained Page 2

THE BULB IS OUT

We love the big picture that front projectors deliver, but we hate paying hundreds of dollars for a new bulb every 2,000 to 4,000 hours of use. And we hate seeing the picture dim as the bulb ages. But a fix is in the works: LED-driven projectors.

LEDs have already found use in rear-projection TVs (remember those?), where they're often rated to last through more than 20 years of 8-hour-a-day viewing. But LEDs haven't been bright enough for front projection, except in a few palm-size business projectors designed to throw diminutive pictures.

At last September's CEDIA Expo in Denver, a Taiwanese manufacturer called Chi Lin Technologies demonstrated a prototype of an LED-driven DLP projector that it says could go into production as soon as the spring of 2009 (assuming Chi Lin finds a partner willing to take on distribution). The company claims its prototype delivers a 100,000:1 contrast ratio (almost double what today's best bulb-based projectors achieve) and a broader color gamut. And there's practically no warm-up time; you can be watching TV in a few seconds.

"I think you'll see several LED projector introductions in 2009," says Brian Carskadon, director of product management for high-end video specialist Runco. "The first ones won't be overly bright compared with their high-pressure mercury [bulb] counterparts. They won't be cheap. They won't be über-quiet because LEDs still generate a decent amount of heat. You can liquid-cool them [as Chi Lin does in its prototype], but that raises the cost.

"Toward the back half of '09, you'll see less-expensive models targeting casual users and gamers. Within 2 years, you'll have LED projectors that will do 1,000 lumens, which is where most projectors are today. Eventually, the bulk of front projection will go LED."

NEITHER SLEET NOR SNOW

For a video technology, the cathode-ray picture tube lived a long life: about 70 years. But the old fella was always too frail to last long outdoors. The slimmer, tougher physiques of today's flat-panel TVs have made possible an entirely new category of product: outdoor TVs.

A few small companies have been working the bugs -- literally and figuratively -- out of outdoor TV. They've come up with models that are water-resistant enough to tolerate rain, sprinklers, and garden hoses; practically impervious to dust, insects, and carelessly tossed dog toys; and indifferent to heat and cold. According to Joe Pantel, CEO of outdoor-TV specialist Pantel TV, the field is growing fast: "We project going from $3 million in sales in 2008 to $15 million in 2009."

Many outdoor TVs use wireless A/V transmission to make installation easier. "No one wants to rip up concrete in the backyard to install a TV," Pantel says. At the moment, wireless outdoor TV is stuck in standard definition, even though all of the displays are capable of more. Pantel tells me that his company has a wireless system in beta testing that can transmit HDTV as far as 300 to 500 feet and will be available sometime in 2009.

But that's hardly the end of the technological line for outdoor TV. "If you want to talk super-down-the-road," Pantel says, "solar energy is going to be huge. If we can ixnay this power cord, that will make installation as simple as just turning the TV on. I'm not talking about 2009, but it's something we could and would incorporate into our products."

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