Aris Silzars Display Technology Consulting

DISPLAY CONSULTING

Christmas Presents...December 2002

Merry Christmas, joyeux Noel, frohliche Weihnachten -- my sincere Holiday Season Greetings to all of you in the worldwide Display Community. The tradition of an annual celebration and gift exchange, during the later part of December, has spread far beyond its origins as a festival of light during the darkest winter days in the northern hemisphere, and later the commemoration of the birth of the spiritual leader of the many Christian religions. For children everywhere -- and adults also -- the idea of receiving and giving lots of presents on a designated day has serious appeal.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Japan during December. The shops were decorated in the same traditional Christmas themes as I had just left behind me in Seattle. One large sign over a store entrance, that especially caught my attention, proclaimed "Happy Merry Christmas". Well, why not?

Mixed in with these religious foundations is the tradition of Santa Claus -- or Kriss Kringle, der Weihnachtmann, Pere Noel, and the like. Not only do children receive and grownups exchange presents, this mysterious father figure supposedly sneaks into peoples' homes and drops off even more stuff. Wasn't there enough already? Is this Santa Claus entity perhaps the original virtual reality persona?

In the spirit of this Holiday Season, it is my prediction that this Santa Claus persona is going to be very good to the worldwide display community this year. The underlying forces that will bring about this goodness have been building for several years and, in the next one to two years, they are going to make our lives interesting, challenging, but also most enjoyable. For you see, finally after years of waiting, the era of the large-screen television has arrived. If you haven't believed in Santa Claus up to now, you may soon wish to re-assess your belief system.

Over the last few years, we have seen the introduction of DVD technology, digital satellite broadcasting, gradual improvements in cable systems, and finally -- the availability of television sets that can milk nearly all the information content from an NTSC (or PAL, or SECAM) signal. The improvements in the quality of source material, and how it is made available to the user, have been important contributing factors, but the defining change that brought it all together occurred when television-set manufacturers introduced premium -- but affordable -- products using variants of line-doubling technology that could show a large-screen picture with no visible scan lines. Previously, line-doubler technology was available only in home-theater systems in the $10,000 and higher price ranges.

For a long time, consumers have wanted to create "The Movie Theater" experience in their homes. But the only part of the experience that could be emulated was the non-visible audio. Watching a movie with great surround sound, accompanied by a picture of low resolution on a dim screen, with scan lines clearly visible, was not something that most of us found enjoyable, and therefore, not worth spending our money to acquire.

But for this Christmas, that has all changed. I recently had the pleasure of watching the latest (available on DVD) Harry Potter movie on a 57-inch rear-projection system with the images being generated by three 7-inch CRTs. The screen was bright, the sound was great, and the resolution was very close to movie-theater quality. For me, the experience was as good as I could appreciate -- without becoming a picky display engineer. And most important, the purchase price of this system was in the mid-$2,000 range. The early adopters of large-screen home systems were wealthy consumers who could afford to install $50,000 home theaters. These nascent systems used laser disks for program source material and utilized separate line doublers to improve the front- or rear-projected images. Now, nearly everyone will be able to afford and enjoy the "big screen" experience.

The forces behind this next wave-of-change have been building at an accelerating pace, and this year the big-screen wave is going to come crashing onto our shore. All the technology pieces that make large-screen television attractive and affordable are now in place. The first adopters of this new capability (at least in the USA) will be the enthusiastic followers of professional sports. These are the folks who like to have their neighbors over for parties while watching NFL football every Sunday. The baseball and basketball watchers are not quite as well organized but they will also want to have the best systems on which to enjoy cheering for their favorite teams. In other parts of the world soccer is, of course, the game of choice. And guess what? Once the neighbors see the new large-screen televisions, they will want one also. This growth will not be linear -- it will be exponential until the market reaches maturity.

For us in the display community, the challenge will be to develop and drive the technologies that will become the most accepted for these large-screen viewing experiences. Will it be rear projection, front projection, plasma panels, or even large direct-view LCDs? And if it is projection, what kind? CRT, LC, LCOS, DLP, or something entirely new? In the US market, prices in the range of $2,000 to $3,000 are likely to define the core market segment.

But what about broadcast HDTV? Some years ago, I suggested that HDTV would take a very long time to arrive and that we didn't need the widespread availability of a digital broadcast system to create a better viewing experience. I am still of that opinion. Eventually, terrestrially broadcast high-definition TV will arrive, and we will have more programs available from this source. But really, that will just be icing on the cake. Santa Claus will have come and gone and will have already left all the large-screen TVs we can enjoy. With DVDs, digital satellites, and reasonable quality NTSC material on cable, we will already have been enjoying the theater-like viewing experience.

Christmas 2002 will be the first indication of the changes we are about to see. After that, the next couple of years will get really intense. What a grand opportunity for those of us in the display community -- perhaps even enough to rekindle your belief (or at least suspend your disbelief) in Santa Claus?

Should you wish to offer your thoughts on which large-screen television technologies will be the most exciting, you may reach me by e-mail at Email, by phone at 425-557-8850, by FAX at 425-557-8983, or by Santa's sleigh via the US Postal Service at 22513 SE 47th Place, Sammamish, WA 98075. Happy Holidays!