The Future Of HDTV, Blu-ray and LCD

Is There a Future for High-End Displays? I’ve had a running joke for the last couple of years, that the flat panel TV has ruined the entire industry. It never fails to provoke a reaction. But, people say, there are only two kinds of people in the world- those who want to have a flat screen and those who already have them! The flat panel has become a price-driven commodity. Who needs big screen specialty retailers when your HDTV is just another box you throw in the cart next to the 36-roll pack of TP when you’re at Costco? It’s a funny bit. Then I see Pioneer build the best single-piece HDTVs the world has yet seen, and fail. Not a funny bit. Makes me wonder. Is there a future for high-end displays?

I’ve also said for the last few years that front projection is the new rear projection. 1080p front projectors and screens deliver much bigger pictures and better image quality, and now for less than premium big-screen RPTVs cost ten years ago. RPTVs are all but gone, and seeing Pioneer go down one wonders if there are enough high-end flat screen buyers for manufacturers to continue R&D on high-end flat screens. Is the future cheap flat screens and front projection?

Streaming Is the Best Thing to Happen to Blu-ray While many are predicting Blu-ray’s demise is in streaming and downloads, I think streaming is the best thing to happen to Blu-ray when it’s integrated into the player. Fully featured Blu-ray players have been cheap enough to eliminate the price factor for some time. But people still haven’t been convinced of the value and keep reading how downloads and streaming will win that format war. I’ve written why I see that as dubious, but newer players that incorporate streaming from Netflix or Amazon make the point moot. I think more people will see more value in a $300 player that accesses streaming content than in a $150 player that only plays 5” silver discs. Don’t make people choose or guess the future of video. Vudu just dumped prices of their set-top boxes to $150. I know I’m crazy, but I can’t help but wonder if they’d offer better value with a $400 STB with a Blu-ray drive.

Ludicrous Speed LCDs A few emails have come in on 240Hz and above refresh rates on LCD flat panel TVs. Which reminds me of my other standby joke- I’m holding out for 960Hz before jumping onto the LCD bandwagon. I wouldn’t doubt that these ludicrous speed refresh rates might have some additional effect on defeating motion blur, or other positive effects. But to me, even if it turns out there’s some benefit this is immaterial. The best local dimming LCDs offer to-die-for image quality, with state-of-the-art blacks and contrast, very natural color and eye-popping detail. Even with sports, motion blur isn‘t the problem with today’s better LCDs. No, the Achilles heel no one is addressing in LCDs is viewing angle. In our February HDTV face-off we saw Jekyll and Hyde performance from the LCDs. They were gorgeous and beyond criticism when viewed straight on, and shockingly flawed when we moved even a little off-axis. They can go to GHz speed for all I care. But fix the viewing angle and LCD has no caveats.

Richard Ziegenfuss's picture

I agree. On "Black Friday", I purchased a Samsung 2500 Blu-ray player with streaming capabilities for $270. For $10 per month from Netflix, I rent movies (mostly Blu-ray) and have unlimited streaming. This is a great way to screen movies and buy only those you want to own. Except for a few, the viewing quality has been acceptable. Great Blu-ray picture and sound, superb upconversion, and streaming, for me,make this player a true bargain.

Rich H's picture

Mr Buettner,It's nice to see you (and your magazine) talking about the poor off-axis performance of LCD flat panels. While I appreciate LCD in many ways, the off-axis problems have bothered me for years and despite the yearly claim from LCD makers that off-axis viewing is no longer a problem it's clear from every LCD I view it's still pretty much the same problem it's always been. It particularly sucks in darker lighting conditions where, when you move off axis, those black levels rise (and unevenly across the screen at that).It's amazing how many LCD owners aren't bothered by these issues. Here is a link to a bunch of pictures of Plasma vs LCD off-axis performance that I posted on AVS a few years ago. Unfortunately these issues aren't much better today: nothing else this unresolved issue in LCD performance makes me worry about the popularity of LCD forcing plasma into extinction.Rich H

Shane's picture

I'm very worried about plasma fading away. Would we even have local dimming in LCDs if there weren't Pioneer KURO TVs for the premium LCD manufacturers to chase?LCD isn't going away, and with the local dimming sets, everything else about the quality is there in spades. Viewing angle is the final frontier.

President Skroob's picture

Why didn't somebody tell me my ass was so big?

Stephen's picture

I just bought a new laptop with a Blu-ray and the hardware to back it up on graphics. It has an HDMI output that will stream just about anything you can handle on a computer (now if only SACDs were supported on computers). This computer makes a dedicated Blu-ray player with Netflix look a bit crude in comparison and still cost me less than a first generation dedicated Blu-ray player. I can watch videos or listen to audio from any source on it as well, not just the chosen few. Of course streaming video without a fiber optic internet service would be a wasted effort but it works really well.Now what we really need is universal high speed internet access, not the crap service the cable companies are pushing or worse yet DSL. Then watch Blu-ray become a good storage medium for backups.

Shane's picture

I think the position many of us are taking is that escaping the "crap service" most of us get for broadband is years away. In the meantime, if you want the highest quality video with lossless audio, Blu-ray is the game. And personally, I don't want a PC in my theater.

BillTh's picture

Pioneer's exit from the market makes sense, from a business standpoint. As great as the Kuro was, Pioneer only held 4.9% marketshare of the plasma market, according to a published industry survey. There's no way, considering the cost of producing plasma, that Pioneer could have continued producing plasmas with this small a share of the market. Panasonic has 49.9% marketshare (according to the same survey), and five factories in Japan totally dedicated to nothing but producing plasma. Plasma is not going away, with Pioneer's exit. Pioneer leaving is an indication that the market is correcting itself, as would be expected.

Greg in Iraq's picture

I agree that streaming could help BD sales. I can put a 500 GB HDD in my PS3 for a little less than $100. I manufacturer can do it for much less and take full advantage of the features on a BD. I have downloaded some movies online and the quality of the video and audio was pretty good, it just took forever to download. I still like the idea of owning the movie vice perpetual renting.

simheikk's picture

Since adding a home theater PC into my home theater, I don't think I could ever go back. The convenience of being able to access my entire music database, along with streaming video is without peer. I think Blu-ray will have its 15 minutes of fame, but will only be a stop-gap while internet bandwidth catches up. Video streaming will continue to gain popularity. Sure, Blu-ray may be able to provide higher definition video, but if Pioneer's exit from plasma TVs tells us anything, it's that people as a whole will take convenience and price over quality.

GIL ARROYO's picture

Mr. Buettner: I've written an article titled "Film to Video;Cinema in Transistion". It's about 1900 words. This scribble is aimed at the guys I talk to, who are constantly confused.Any interest from your magazine?gil

Hamad's picture

so finall is that lcd screens are better for watching blu ray movies?

Jim Otz's picture

While viewing "S" branded 52" & 55" LCD (LED Side lit) series flat panels this evening, two items clearly jumped out at me. 1) 240 hertz makes Blue Ray video look disassociated or unreal when playing a movie and 2) Over The Air Digital broadcast video really looked BAD on the LCD panels. Item #2 is of particular interest to me. Why such poor display quality on these large LCD monitors? My Sony XBR Tube TV displays the same OTR signals with excellent quality (34" 16x9). What gives on the LCD's lack of ability to display quality OTR signals? Specifically the digitization was particularly annoying, leaving unclear images that were constantly in motion (similar to heat waves on a hot road shimmering in the distance), quited distracting for viewing TV.Is the display "engine" in the LCD just not capable of displaying an OTR digital signal and make it look great? Perhaps the LCD technology itself is not what it is hyped to be? Looking for some big picture un

Tech Gal's picture

Why is nobody talking about the audio? I'm a 30 something and I work in the AV world. I love streaming, but without 5.1 (netflix) it shouldn't fly. I say shouldn't because we all know that people are willing to sacrifice good quality for accessibility. (hello ipod) Doesn't anyone want their surround sound anymore??? I do think people will settle for a good picture as long as streaming is simple. I would be sad if there was no good audio to go along with it.

Jack Doyle's picture

When will some projector manufacturer build a unit dedicated SOLELY to Home Theatre? since it would never be used as a tabletop projector it would ideally NOT have a prismatic lens so it may be mounted anywhere from the horizontal center of the screen upward. Have a zoom ratio to encompass 2.35:1 to 1.85:1 with attendant keystone correction. NOT have it's own audio system, and since it would only be used for movies and incoming TV, NOT have a connection from a computer. It should utilize LCD technology, 1080p resolution, and have 1600 ANSI lumens output plus or minus 200. I am so tired of projectors that try to be like Swiss army knives.

The Audio Dufus's picture

My hopes reside on the integration of the Pioneer Kuro technologies within the Pansonic line of plasmas---they purchased the patents in May 2009 and it wouldn't make business sense not to implement the aquisition ASAP. From my research, I gather that the Panasonic IPS-Alpha is the first step in this direction, hence Alpha. The best part for the consumer is that due to Panasonic's vast market share, the law of scale will allow these technologies to trickle throught the line. Plasma black level may improve now like CRT did with the Invar shadow mask. Judging from how good the current V series looks, adding the Kuro elements should be stunning. With imroved energy efficiency (thanks to Californian legislation), the future of plasma is promising. LCD, even at massive refresh rates to address its inherent shortcomings with having to physically move its picture elements greater distances with bigger screen sizes, will always be the bride's maid technology. We'll see...

The Audio Dufus's picture

One other comment for what little it's worth. With regards to the future of plasma---the everyday man's mainstreet electronics stores, i.e. Video Only, Best Buy---the sales clerks have pushed plasma over LCD consistently on larger screen sizes when I have been in the stores for performance, price, and the fact that they all tend to own plasmas and love them. One went to far as to tell me it would be a disservice to me for him to try to sell me a LCD over a plasma 50 inches and beyond. Just a thought for what little it's worth.

Movie Lady (Princess)'s picture

I'm new to home theater. Why do they call it Blu Ray? Does it have a blue ray? Why not call it HD-DVD for logic or something fancier like Laser Disk? Can you see the laser if you look inside the player, and if so, would it be a shade of blue?

prestonbrian's picture

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ray's picture

I've been reading a bit and folks now seem to be saying the LG Infinia line has, at least significantly, addressed the off-axis problem and created a much better viewing angle, but still not like plasma. Mr. Buettner, any views on this?

best video converter's picture

Newbie HELP...everytime i tried to burn an hd movie. i'm always getting an error message: W 07:57:19 Failed to Write Sectors 1279360 - 1279391 - Reason: Peripheral Device Write Fault W 07:57:19 Retrying (1 of 20)... W 07:57:19 Retry Failed - Reason: Illegal Mode For This Track W 07:57:19 Retrying (2 of 20) plays but only half the movie...