Posted on February 4, 2013 in ATSC News
We asked ATSC members Sam Matheny (Capitol Broadcasting), Brett Jenkins (LIN Media), and Lynn Claudy (NAB) to share their impressions of the 2013 International CES. Their first-person reports follow below.
CES: Bigger, Sharper, More Connected
By Sam Matheny of Capitol Broadcasting:
Another CES is in the books, and I returned from Las Vegas feeling like we are in the realm of incremental improvements rather than revolutionary innovation. This fits the cycle of development and these steady steps forward are what really set the stage for future breakthroughs. I’ll put my observations into three buckets: bigger, sharper and more connected.
AT&T is running an ad that asks kids, “Which is better, bigger or smaller?” The kids emphatically scream “BIGGER!” Well, they would have loved CES. I saw several booths claiming to have the ‘world’s largest’ screen of one kind or another: Ultra HD, 4K, OLED, etc. There were some truly beautiful televisions and awesome viewing experiences. Architects and homebuilders must be delighted as this could cause a whole new round of home buying, as many of these screens are just too large for conventional houses.
Y4K – 2013 is the year of 4K as a sales tool. It is the promise of what is to come and the next step in display technology. Virtually every major television manufacturer had their early versions of 4K screens on display, and 4K was even shown in personal computer screens. I’m sure tablets won’t be far behind. The iPad’s retina display is already higher resolution than an HDTV screen. I was also delighted to see LG and KBS showcase a demonstration of terrestrial 4K broadcasting. It demonstrates the job in front of us with ATSC 3.0
NFC, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Zigbee and other wireless networking technologies were on full display at CES. The combination of these wireless networking protocols with and integration into home and mobile electronics is the hottest area of innovation and will be habit changing for users. It inherently blurs the line – if not obliterates it – between home and mobile electronics. Soon we will all be flinging, mirroring and otherwise sharing content like Tom Cruise in our own version of the “Minority Report” movie. I’m still not that excited about the gesture control systems or the idea of cameras watching me in my home, but that was certainly on the minds of many.
And in the vein of keeping it connected, there were some great Mobile DTV demonstrations with Mobile 500’s MyDTV, MCV’s Dyle and of course the M-EAS system now being standardized by the ATSC.
CES 2013 – One Broadcaster’s Take
By Brett Jenkins of LIN Media
Since returning from CES, I’ve been trying to mentally filter all the sights and sounds, the crowds and long taxi lines, and make some sense out of what was shown this year. I confess that I bring my own biases to CES. I was looking for a few specific things before going out the show, and I found them all.
I wanted to look at things that had the potential to change the way people use television. I didn’t find anything that struck me as revolutionary, but I continued to see progress toward a goal of providing a unified entertainment experience that exploits the fragmentation of content and access options. Yet even with all these options it appeared to me that most manufacturers are betting that television viewing will remain the centerpiece of people’s entertainment experience.
So that’s good news for those of us in the TV industry. There is no question that the TV remains one of the most prominent and important consumer devices for the home. But the way people discover, access and interact with content continues to evolve. I noted a few major things to keep an eye on: Namely, innovations in display technology, the proliferation of smart TV, the evolution of mobile TV, and even plain ol’ TV broadcasting, but better.
Innovations in display technology
All the major TV manufacturers were touting Ultra HD (also known as 4K) sets that promise to be available sometime this year. But one thing that I really liked was that many manufacturers were also showing ideas about how to solve the chicken-and-egg problem of where early adopters will get 4K content. The first and perhaps most obvious place consumers will access 4K is thru the use of built in upconversion from HD to 4K. I noted at least seven manufacturers (there were probably many more) that had side-by-side comparisons of HD and upconverted HD. Sony seems to be leveraging their integration with the fact that they are a content company as well as a CE manufacturer. They announced that they will ship devices with preloaded 4K Ultra HD Sony Pictures content.
Beyond resolution, I noted that TVs are also touting new and better colors, higher contrast ratios, thinner displays, smaller bezels, reflective resistant glass, and a bunch of other technical underpinnings. There were displays that were curved or even in some cases bendable, made possible through advancements in material sciences and manufacturing techniques. The Samsung bendable phone got a lot of attention as it was unveiled at one of the show’s keynote speeches. It also appears that manufacturers may have finally figured out a way to commercialize and manufacturer large-screen OLED technology, with a few manufacturers claiming that they will have models available at retail later in 2013. I was also interested in Sharp’s new semiconductor technology, IGZO, which was on display on their booth.
After being at the show for just a few days, it felt to me that display quality is the new battleground for many devices, and not just TVs. Even in the mobile space, the promotion of Apple’s retina display (notably absent as a CES exhibitor) stands out to me as an example that we’re in a period where display specsmanship will again be a major topic of conversation between the consumer and the Best Buy salesman. (I leave it to you to decide whether that’s a good or bad thing.)
Noticeably less prominent at this year’s show was a major push for 3D displays. While you could find 3D all over the show, it simply wasn’t at the forefront anymore. The CE industry seemed to me to be taking a more rational approach to 3D, as a feature of many TVs, noting that for certain experiences 3D can be highly effective (gaming, fantasy movies, etc.). But it isn’t necessarily the best idea for every type of content.
That said, there were some very effective demonstrations, including one at the LG booth as you first walked into the Central Hall. This demonstration included massive overhead monitors ganged together in a semi circle with great content that literally reached out and grabbed you as long as you had your 3D glasses on. It was impressive enough that no matter what day or time of day I happened to walk by it was packed with a crowd dense enough to make it uncomfortable to try to walk through.
I also saw some examples of glasses-free 3D, but nothing that looked like it was ready for prime time. The two demonstrations I saw were hampered by limited viewing angles. Nevertheless, I expect we’ll continue to see innovators trying to solve this puzzle over the next few years. And in the meantime, we’ll all have 3D TVs whether we use them or not since manufacturers seem to be building in 3D into all the new sets over a certain size.
Internet-connected “Smart TVs” were prominent last year, but they were even more so at CES 2013. Most larger size TVs now come standard with the capability to connect to a network via WiFi. And once those TVs are connected, the consumer has access to all kinds of content that they previously could only get through their PCs or tablets. But that raises the issue of how consumers are going to discover and sort through all those content options. Enter the Smart TV, which attempts to present the viewer with an intelligent way to navigate all those options.
It’s the user interface that I find the most fascinating thing to watch in Smart TV’s, and CES 2013 didn’t disappoint. We now have gesture recognition, voice recognition along with some form of natural speech processing, magic RF wands, and a number of other innovations all in an attempt to make the complicated word of content accessible without turning the remote into an unnavigable maze of buttons. I spent quite a bit of time looking at gesture technology specifically and was impressed by how much this technology seems to have improved compared to last year.
What’s also relevant to ATSC members is the fact that these Smart TVs have processors that are capable of dealing with interactive content such as that contemplated in the new ATSC 2.0 set of standards. It struck me that the timing of 2.0 couldn’t have been better as we may have both the content side and the device side aligned in time to exploit these new capabilities.
Once again Mobile DTV was shown at CES, but this year actually felt like there were some real consumer devices being shown. RCA in particular had several devices capable of receiving Mobile DTV, including an 8–inch Android Mobile TV Tablet that should be available later in the year. There were accessory devices in the form of iPad dongles.
Audiovox showed an in-car display with a Mobile DTV tuner built in so you could truly watch TV on the go. Both Dyle and the Mobile 500 were there showing their applications at the service layer. I was encouraged to see what looked less like technology demos, and more like real products and services. I hope that 2013 sees more and more broadcasters and networks getting on board with services.
Plain Old Broadcast TV… but better
One of the most interesting things on display that I wasn’t expecting to see was a KBS demonstration of over the air broadcast of 4K using HEVC codec for video and DVB-T2 for the radio link. The compressed video rate was 35Mbps. While the broadcast was only going a few feet (from a transmitter behind the display wall) this demonstration was impressive because it proved that 4K can be done in a 6MHz channel with technology that is either available today, or at least not that far off. It’s good to know that there is work being done to advance terrestrial broadcasting. And as the ATSC continues its work on ATSC 3.0, we have some concrete examples of what’s possible.
Overall CES 2013 was proof that incremental innovation continues, and it gave me confidence that TV isn’t going anywhere any time soon. But our industry and the ATSC in particular will need to continue to work expeditiously to take advantage of underlying technical advances and facilitate bringing new capabilities to the marketplace.
CES 2013 – Big Screens, Small Steps
By Lynn Claudy
National Association of Broadcasters
The 2013 CES was not unlike recent ones in many respects: it was certainly crowded, keynote addresses and product introductions had lots of sizzle and attendees went through the usual progression from enthusiasm to endurance contest to surrender and exhaustion. For the mainstay category of the television market, products at CES were a little bit better, features a little more refined, appearances a little more appealing. From my personal experience at the event, the future possibility of a 4K TV world was the most intriguing theme, with an honorable mention for hopefully near-term availability of OLED display technology. Also worthy of strategic contemplation for ATSC-ers was progress in 3D TV, mobile DTV and smart TVs.
4k—no matter what you call it, better resolution will be a reality at retail this year!
4k Ultra-HD TV was really the darling technology of the 2013 CES. Years ago, some serious CES attendees (who shall remain nameless) would informally judge the progress of HDTV penetration by counting the number of HDTV sets on the CES exhibit floor and intuitively looking for that critical mass year signifying the industry moving past the “knee of the curve” into the region of rapid acceptance. This year’s CES felt a little like that critical mass year for industry acceptance of 4K.
All the major players, and some of the lesser known as well, demonstrated 4K sets showing off the capabilities of the new medium, in screen sizes from 55- up to 110- inches. (Sharp also had their 85-inch 8K set on display—for more of that, you’ll have to wait for the NAB Show and make your way to the NAB Labs Futures Park exhibit area, where NHK will be showcasing the Super Hi-Vision system, including an 8K terrestrial transmission demonstration using two UHF channels.)
While there was also plenty of corridor conversation at CES about lack of adequate 4k source material and other infrastructure needed for a near-term service, one of the demonstrations in the mammoth LG booth deserves special mention. Through a partnership with the Korean Broadcasting System (KBS), an in-booth demonstration of broadcasting 4K Ultra-HDTV in a 6 MHz terrestrial channel was shown, using the DVB-T2 transmission standard (with a payload data rate of 35 MB/s) and HEVC (now officially ITU H.265) compression. Bridging the gap between Ultra-HDTV source and display via this 4k transmission demo fed the imagination of broadcasters at CES towards a potential highly detailed future broadcast service. The notion of a higher-than-HD resolution broadcast service is not lost in current ATSC activities: the usage scenarios and upcoming requirements for ATSC 3.0 specifically address (and embrace) Ultra-HDTV applications.
Of course, 4K really is only 4K-ish, since it refers to a display matrix of 3840 (h) by 2160 (v), twice the horizontal and vertical resolution of 1080-line HDTV (i.e., four times the number of total pixels). CEA formed a consensus working group last year that has been trying mightily to get the 4K name stricken from industry lexicon and replaced with “Ultra-HD,” in line with the ITU definitions recently adopted. Retailers and manufacturers have embraced the more consumer-friendly name, but at CES the messaging was mixed and 4K showed up on lots of signs and banners anyway. The TV technology marketing world desperately needs standards – perhaps ATSC could branch out with a due process branding arm called the Advanced Television Semantics Committee…
OLED—a household name at last?
Cross your fingers–OLED TVs appear to finally be in the this-time-we-mean-it category. You just have to be an OLED fan if you’re a true videophile—the super-thin form factor, high brightness, excellent power efficiency, high contrast ratio and other attributes combine to be much more than just an incremental improvement in display quality—the OLED wow factor is significant. Several Korean and Japanese manufacturers showed OLED beauties at CES. Unfortunately, the challenges of achieving economical mass manufacturing of large OLED screens have also been high. The first products are now promised for the U.S. market in 2013 — from at least one manufacturer this spring, albeit with an initial price tag around $12,000. So for those diehard video enthusiasts who expect an unusually large tax refund…
3D—starting to fall flat?
The amount of effort poured into 3D in the last few years staggers one’s 3D brain. The psychophysical research, the professional equipment and consumer electronics developments are all very impressive. And ATSC’s work in transmission for 3D is laudable, with light now visible at the end of the standards tunnel. At the consumer acceptance end of 3D, though, it’s a little weird these days. At CES, 3D was still present, even pervasive, in some exhibit areas, but the public’s love affair with 3D glasses is not exactly blossoming and autostereoscopic displays are still not ready for retail store windows. People want to believe in 3D TV—but it’s not a slam dunk that they want to watch it at home in its present form, and the attendee reaction at CES echoed that sentiment.
Mobile DTV—the products are here!
The Mobile TV TechZone was one of the few CES exhibits where terrestrial broadcasting was the main focus.
From an ATSC perspective, it was gratifying to see a new broadcasting application that has gone through the requisite and rigorous steps of standardization (A/153), technical and marketing advocacy (OMVC) and commercial introduction (Dyle and Mobile 500 Alliance) with consumer devices now available for retail purchase (Samsung smartphone, dongles from Elgato and Escort, mobile TVs from RCA, etc.).
And with the new A/153 part 10 (and associated revisions of other A/153 parts) for the Mobile Emergency Alert System rapidly making its way through the standards balloting process, the M-EAS demonstrations at CES seemed even more compelling and a catalyst for serious discussions in and around the exhibit.
Smart TV – smarter but maybe not wiser…
Virtually all television set manufacturers have “connected” sets available now that can access the Internet—to do otherwise would simply be unthinkable. And the Internet-connected sides of television product lines were heavily promoted features in CES exhibits. Yet none of these sets intended for ATSC markets, despite their more developed sets of available apps and complex Internet communication capabilities, had the ability to interact in a sophisticated and targeted way with the television program content they present so nicely. Internet application silos next to TV application silos that happen to reside in the same box. The silent scream from engineers working on the solution: ATSC 2.0, please glue these together soon!
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The Advanced Television Systems Committee, Inc., is an international, non-profit organization developing voluntary standards and recommended practices for digital terrestrial broadcasting. ATSC member organizations represent the broadcast, broadcast equipment, motion picture, consumer electronics, computer, cable, satellite, and semiconductor industries. ATSC also develops digital terrestrial broadcasting implementation strategies and supports educational activities on ATSC standards.