The view from Digital Hollywood looks pretty grim to me. 3-D TV was a disappointment, 4K TV (aka Ultra HDTV) is pretty much a useless extravagance, quality video is a poor stepchild in today’s wireless world and nobody wants to buy movies anymore.
Two Digital Hollywood insiders I talked to in a recent trip there expressed optimism given the breadth and pace of activity these days. Still, I see a town in search of the next big thing.
After its big debut a couple years ago, 3-D TV was hardly mentioned at the recent Consumer Electronics Show and broadcasters have pulled the plug on some 3-D channels. The lack of content and the need for glasses are both taking the blame for 3-D’s fizzle in the home.
Some had high hopes for the autostereoscopic approach Philips pioneered. But few think Dolby, which now owns the technology, has the clout to drive it forward. After a big belly flop, climbing back on the diving board is harder.
Samsung is pushing 3-D TV forward with work on a Bluetooth standard for active shutter glasses with backing from Panasonic and Sony. It also set up a facility in South Korea to convert 2-D content to 3-D.
Live sports is a big missing piece. “If the Super Bowl was broadcast in 3-D, this would be a different discussion,” said Brad Hunt, principal of Digital Media Directions (Westlake Village, Calif.).
The Ultra HDTV (4K x 2K) displays at CES seem to have left everyone cold. To really see all those extra pixels you need the equivalent of a 96-inch home TV, but even the more standard size screens are way too expensive for the average Joe, I am told.
The trouble is without a next big thing like 3-D or 4K, TVs remain stuck with their role as a commodity product. “We are back to TV sets sold by the inch so it’s hard for anyone to make a profit--and 4K is potentially a race to the bottom,” said Andrew G. Setos, chief executive of Blackstar Engineering (Pacific Palisades, Calif.) and a veteran audio-visual engineer.
“I think the improvement could come in truly lower cost of manufacturing--not by lower labor costs but a new mechanism that may be protected by patents--then TV manufacturers could make profits, but until then they are in a world of hurt,” he said.
Well, the movie theaters we frequent on most Saturday nights have recently converted to the Sony Cinema 4K standard. That's something. Must save the studios a ton of money, not to have to distribute those bulky movie platters (or whatever they're called), no?
I found the comment "TCP/IP is not well suited to truly popular audio-visual content, either" to be surprisingly wrong. It may not have been when few households had broadband access, and ISPs were still operating slow core networks. But those realities are quickly becoming yesterday's realities, certainly for the wired Internet. TCP/IP and UDP/IP also used to be poorly suited for voice telephony. But that too is ancient history. It's the same progression going on here.
Assuming we always need this "next big thing," it should be proper Internet distribution of TV and movies. With intelligently designed connected TVs out on store shelves. And by the way, we're essentially there already. Only no one seems to get this.
I was amazed, for example, to see someone on the cbs.com site ask whether CBS would re-air the episode of "Elementary" which followed the Superbowl yesterday, sometime during the week. Egad, people. CBS had that episode available online almost immediately, and I watched it comfortably on my TV set. So could even the tech-illiterates, if only the CE companies would sell intelligently designed connected TVs!
Make that this "next big thing," if you need one.
And I also disagree on the 4K TV point. Of course, it would also be "potentially a race to the bottom." I'd go so far as to take "potentially" out of that sentence. This is consumer electronics we're talking about. It's always a race to the bottom. All a manufacturer can hope for is to buy a few years of high profits, then very low profits but lots of volume.
For the consumer, though, it means constant and affordable improvements. Or we would still be watching black and white TVs on 16" screens with rounded sides, right? Or better yet, most of us would still be listening to radio dramas rather than own an expensive, high-profit TV.
When HDTV was being considered, I heard some of these same arguments. A standard question was, "What's in it for broadcasters?" The answer is, "survival." You either upgrade, or you watch your competition take away your loyal viewers. HDTV was ALWAYS intended to be a mass-market medium. So is UHDTV. The alternative is failure of the medium.
The problem with TV in my opinion is lack of decent things to watch and the content being dispersed across thousands of channels so it is taking lots of time to chase whatever is worthwhile to watch...more pixels is not going to fix that problem
You nailed it. My 52 inch TV does not get the use it once did because it is a hassle to find something worth watching. As you said, content being dispersed. Existing TV's do not compete very well with streaming via tablets.
Maybe the next big thing is an intelligent agent that seeks out the content each of us might find interesting among all those thousands of dispersed channels.
That and the death of so-called reality TV, which has about as much to do with reality as flying unicorns do :)
"The trouble for Hollywood is that consumers seem content to stream movies and TV shows. They don’t want to shell out the money to buy them."
"Buying them" implies you'll want to watch the content *again*. How many movies and TV shows have you seen that weren't worth watching the first time?
Hollywood makes a huge noise about digital piracy, in the fond believe that if they could only stop people from pirating content, the Promised Land would be in sight, as all of those pirates would instead buy. They wouldn't. They would simply do without. The content is not valuable enough to those people to be worth paying for.
The market will pay for value. Hollywood and TV are still struggling with the issue of providing value, and understanding what the market *will* pay for.
"Assuming we always need this "next big thing," it should be proper Internet distribution of TV and movies. With intelligently designed connected TVs out on store shelves. And by the way, we're essentially there already.
***Only no one seems to get this."
Bert, I couldn't agree more. My entire viewing experience consists of an Over-The-Air antenna (the way TV was meant to be) and Netflix. I get all the networks and more live sports TV than my neighbors get with Cable.
Last year, my neighbor complained that the local cable service blacked out the World Series - unless you had the premium channels. Yet I was freely watching it in HD over the airways.
Regarding lack of stuff to watch, between over-the-air TV and my Netflix steaming and DVD account, I have probably 150,000 movies and shows to watch at any one time. And all this for only $16/mo.
To be totally honest, I'm never without anything good to watch. If I watched 2 movies a day, 7 days a week, it would take me over 200 years to see everything. I'm not complaining.
@Bert33506: "Well, the movie theaters we frequent on most Saturday nights have recently converted to the Sony Cinema 4K standard. That's something. Must save the studios a ton of money, not to have to distribute those bulky movie platters (or whatever they're called), no?"
Good for the studios, but bad for a lot of others. It's getting harder to find 35MM prints, and new films are increasingly released in digital only. Expect too see a lot of smaller theaters go out of business because they can't afford the $100K+ costs of upgrading to digital projectors to show the new content.
From what I've read, the movie studios are subsidizing the shift to digital cinema. As they should, since it means huge savings to them primarily. I don't know whether this subsidy is for all theaters, or just the major chains, however.
About the comment on the "hassle" of finding decent TV content to watch over the Internet. Using any search engine, and I typically use Webcrawler (just to prove the point that Google isn't all there is on this planet), I can find any number of TV/movie content sites or portals. The portals are essentially search engines in their own right. Beyond the obvious Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu, that is. So pick one or more of these portals, and also use the TV networks' own web sites, and I honestly can't fathom what more TV anyone could possibly watch.
This is just to show that the well publicized "solutions," such as AppleTV, GoogleTV, Roku, et al., are HARDLY the answer to Internet TV. They are merely overly-restrictive solutions, and hardly essential. TV content on the Internet is no different from any other content on the Internet. Why assume that TV content must be different? Search it out the same as anything else, bookmark your favorite portals, and enjoy!
I use over the air TV (47 channels in my market), I use Internet TV, no cable, no Netflix, no Hulu Plus, and I still have way more content out there than I would ever be able to sit through.
To tie this back to the article, I guess I'm saying that if Hollywood doesn't "get" what digital is offering them, they need to wake up.
@Gert22306: "From what I've read, the movie studios are subsidizing the shift to digital cinema."
They may in the case of big chains. If you are a smaller independent, you are likely SOL. I just saw an online note that a respected independent theater in Boston was doing a Kickstarter campaign to get the funding to convert. They're a "rep house" who tends to show foreign films, classics and the like, and are looking at a future where they won't be able to get film prints, and if they can't show digital, they're gone.
They play a vital part in getting films before a discerning public, but *don't* generate the kind of revenue that would make it a studio's while to subsidize them.
I can think of a couple of theaters near me in NYC that are likely in the same position. It will bite the filmmakers too at some point - how many pictures get limited release on less than 100 screens because the studio doubts it will be a breakthrough film, but hopes the limited release will build word of mouth that might lead to wider release and popularity? It's precisely the theaters that tend to get those limited releases that may not be able to afford the costs of switching.
Most movies I have wasted time and money watching of late need neither 4K nor 3D, they need a script... The cinemas have sufficiently destroyed the movie going experience to send us home & the supply end have some how manged to attribute a fall decline in the market to piracy as opposed to a simple lack of quality product. Somehow the plethora of inbred two-heads chasing some form of wild critter or a house full of bitchy ditzes is seen a suitable substitute for entertainment. Should see a rise in book sales again soon...
In regards to the hassle, people who frequent EETimes aren't really the norm to judge complexity against. Internet TV will take off when it's about the same in complexity as a typical cable box to plug in, turn on and use.
Companies like Netflix, Blockbuster online and Hulu need to be accessible as easily as is a typical cable TV channel today.
When that's the case, potatoes can rule to couch again and TV makers will have their brief window of high margins followed by high volumes until the next big thing hits.
"In regards to the hassle, people who frequent EETimes aren't really the norm to judge complexity against. Internet TV will take off when it's about the same in complexity as a typical cable box to plug in, turn on and use."
But Duane, these people use the Internet all day long. Why should we expect that they will become thoroughly incompetent when they want to watch TV?
With my PC-become-TV-STB, I can reach any Internet TV site I use with a single click of the (remote, sitting on my couch) mouse. Could anything be easier? And I can search out any content not available at these sites with any search engine. I have found numerous portals that way.
Connected TVs should provide this same functionality. It's hardly rocket science. And all the companies you mentioned would indeed be accessible easily.
"Connected TV" has long existed. Long long time ago, there were Viiv, AMD Now. Now, there are Google TV, Connected TV, Apple TV, or whatever. This is how many people in the EE trade, TV trade, CE trade, justify their existence by re-packaging old stuff!
Bert - Maybe I'm just cynical, but I think TV is still used differently. The Internet gives the expectation of interactivity where TV is strictly passive entertainment.
It's also quite possible that my information is out of date. If indeed, Internet programming can be easily accessed via a remote control, then my argument is invalid.
Don't know about everyone else, but I read the paper and check the weather over the Internet too. So my interactivity there is limited to clicking on articles I want to read, or a weather radar loop, much like watching Internet TV.
Most TV on the Internet is in fact "on demand." So it's interactive in that sense. It's not watched by appointment. The PVR function, if you want to compare it to TV shows stored in a PVR at home, is done by some server "in the cloud."
In the US, TV networks and individual broadcasters have shyed away from putting live streams on the Internet, for the most part. In other parts of the world, they aren't so coy. Technically, live streams can be transmitted over your ISP's network. But since I have not watched much of any "prime time" TV live for decades anyway, watching it on demand, via the network's web site or Hulu, is just perfect for me!
But Rick, liking PBS doesn't mean you need cable. You can either get your favorite PBS shows online, at this site:
or you can get them over the air.
Now mind you, the overly restricted "connected TV" products you can buy won't get you to that PBS site, or most other TV sites on the Internet. That's why I decided to just dedicate a PC to this role. No need to sit up to a small laptop or tablet screen to watch online TV.
Now whats wrong with 96" in your house? And why not in every room and on your kitchen table surface? And panels on your wall covered in pixels? If its cheap? And why necessarily use the full area for the content at all times? Where is the fantasy? Hollywood will only be a small portion of this content, but I can see they stuggle with gaming and other social internet interaction. Maybe hollywood should buy Facebook and some tech company that doesnt care about excess pixels and start developing a full everyday experience. This is probably something Apple could do in 10-20 years, if it got focus.
I think many people keep cable solely because they are afraid of missing something. My mother-in-law, who lived in Philadelphia, was always complaining about her $100 cable bill.
I notice her viewing habits were only the networks, ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and PBS. I proposed she get a roof-top antenna installed and she could get all the channels she was now watching in HD - for free.
She refused. She somehow didn't think this was possible, because, if it was, why doesn't everyone do it?
So it appears, people are chained to their perceptions. She continued complaining about how expensive her cable bill was, but wasn't willing to do anything about it.
Bob - I barely use my cable. I mostly have it because it's part of a bundle with Internet and phone. I and my kids watch three or four cable channels and not much else. I've probably watched something on the old-guard networks, maybe a handful of times in the last year.
I've hesitated to get rid of the TV portion of the package probably just out of perception.
Since all the good movies and tv shows were made a long, long time ago, it doesn't make sense to buy an ultra HDTV to watch something that was recorded in black and white and have to stretch it out to make it fill the screen. If all a person cares about is special effects, oh yeah, buy the 3D and put on the glasses :)
Aaah, but you ignore the fact that a lot of old TV shows, or maybe all of them actually, and movies, are recorded on 35mm film, if not wider than than that.
I actually enjoy watching some of the original Star Trek shows on DTV occasionally, when staions air them late at night. It turns out that the picture quality is very good (audio not so good!). The picture is good enough that one can see how primitive the props really are. Which you couldn't tell on fuzzy old analog TV.
Good standard 35mm movie images, 18mm by 24mm frames, contain approximately the equivalent of 8.5 Mpixels. This is limited only by the camera lens, averaging ~70 line pairs per mm. A superb lens would beat that figure.
So even HDTV, where the image provides at best 2 Mpixels, is not providing you all the image quality potentially in the original film. UHDTV would improve this "shortcoming."
There is a fascinating story about the digital restoration of "Gone With The Wind". The original film was shot in Technicolor with 3 cameras, one for each color.
The digital processing company was lucky and found a pristine version sealed in a can that was never used in a projector. When they took a close look at the original film, it was off by 5 pixels. So they digitally corrected it. The bottom line, the copy on Blue Ray is better than the original.
When I view it on an HDTV, I can see tiny decorative threads in Scarlet's dress that you would never see in the cinema. You can also see the tiny blood vessels in her eyes that you normally would never notice.
And this film was released in 1939!!!
If you are interested, the complete story comes with the DVD, in Special Features.
@Bert - Touché, but alas, I was careful to say "black and white":) Even B&W looks good on HDTV though but would not be worth upgrading to a UHDTV. Those old Star Trek movies do seem to show more detail than when viewed on analog sets(probably unintended).
Not to belabor this math, although it is fun math. The pixels as they are defined in digital TV are not individual R, G, and B pixels. That is to say, when HDTV is defined as 1920 X 1080 pixels, this means 1080 full color pixels in the vertical dimension, and 1920 color pixels in the horizontal. Not one third that many.
The approximate 8.5 Mpel equivalent of 35mm movie frames, taken through a realistic lens, also refers to full color pixels. Or if you prefer, it refers to just the luminance.
Therefore, black and white images from 35mm film, taken on a camera with decent lens, can definitely benefit from UHDTV.
As an aside, 100 ASA color negative film itself can resolve about 150 line pairs per mm. That's irrespective of lens. Just the film. This means that each film frame in a movie 18mm X 24mm format can store the equivalent of 38.9 Mpixels, were it not for the limitations introduced by the lens.
So UHDTV's 8 Mpel resolution seems very adequate when you take the lens into consideration, where the realistic limit is ~8.5 Mpels, but it hardly approaches what a film frame is capable of storing.
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for today’s commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.