Japan, Day 0
As I write this, I am 34,000 feet above the Bering Strait traveling at 575mph aboard a new Boeing 777-300. We just crossed the International Date Line, turning Monday into Tuesday, after passing over Adak Island, a small member of the Aleutian chain stretching westward from Alaska. I can't help thinking of my father, who spent much of his Navy service there during WWII as a member of the band that played for high-ranking officers and other dignitaries who stopped at the remote base going one way or the other.
I'm heading west—destination: Japan. Along with several other journalists, including Tom Norton, I've been invited to visit Epson's LCD manufacturing facilities in Nagano, site of the 1998 Winter Olympics. After 11 hours in the air, our first stop is Tokyo, where we will have dinner with several Epson execs, then get some much needed sleep before boarding a bus for Nagano.
All three cabins—economy, business class, and first class—provide personal LCD TVs with video on demand, including 16 movies, 17 video selections (such as a couple of episodes of Frasier and a National Geographic show on the building of the Venetian in Las Vegas), 10 video games, and four business and news programs. Pick a program and it starts right up on your screen, and you can pause, rewind, and fast forward at will.
Of course, there are some differences between the cabins. Economy passengers get a 5-inch screen, while the business class screens are 9 inches, and those fortunate enough to be flying first class enjoy 14-inch screens in their little alcoves with seats that turn into beds. But even those privileged few must suffer the ignominy of 4:3 movies that have been edited for content and formatted to fit the screen.
All passengers must also endure what has to be the worst video picture I've ever seen. Over lunch, I watched Jumper, a truly awful movie that has nothing to do with the original novel or even the novelization of the movie, both of which I read with interest. I couldn't help but notice some serious problems with the picture—I am a video reviewer, after all—so I thought it might be fun to "review" the LCD TV I had before me.
The first thing that came to my attention was the myriad artifacts, ranging from serious noise and motion blur to jaggies so bad that moving objects sometimes looked like they were being torn apart. False contouring appeared frequently, especially in Frasier's shiny pate and other facial areas, not to mention sunsets.
Of course, the black level was way high, and blacks were quite crushed with poor shadow detail, but colors were not all that atrocious—skin tones were a bit rosy, perhaps, but nothing too egregious. Off-axis performance, however, was another story. Getting more than 45 degrees away from the center of the screen caused the image to become a color negative—yikes! Interestingly, the best viewing angle was actually below the center point.
I desperately wanted to adjust the video controls, but the only one available was brightness, which I suspect was actually a backlight control. Oh well, what can I expect? If I really wanted a better viewing experience, I should have brought some DVDs to play on my laptop, though that would have burned through both of my batteries in a hurry.
I guess it's not so bad to have such a funky display—it encourages me to get some sleep. Tom's snoozing away, so maybe I can catch some Zs before we land in a few hours.
Tomorrow, we'll be in a relatively remote area with no Internet access, but we'll be back in Tokyo the following day. I'll report on our visit to the Epson facilities at that time, which I hope you'll find as interesting as I expect to.
If you have an audio/video question for me, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.