Aris Silzars Display Technology Consulting

DISPLAY CONSULTING

 

How Much Better?…

Tonight I am enjoying a few hours of quiet time in a well-known hotel in the heart of Washington DC.   The “travel sprites” have been especially kind to me on this trip since I have been given a suite that typically costs considerably more than the rate I am paying.  Because of this fortunate happenstance my accommodations are especially plush and pleasant and I am sure that I will be reluctant to leave these luxurious surroundings in a few days.  

As usual, I have the television on – tonight not for serious viewing but to catch up on the news and for background “companionship.”  However, what I find peculiar about this television is that it still has an “old fashioned” CRT in it -- and not even an especially large one.  How can a hotel of this luxury and prestige level get away with not having the latest in flat-panel display technology?  Well, one practical reason seems to be that the vintage early American credenza in which this television is situated cannot readily accommodate anything much larger.  But even with that limitation, what is going on here that makes it acceptable for this “old dog” of a television to still be used by this high-class hotel?  And not only that, I find myself perfectly comfortable watching this technological museum piece.   I don’t miss not having a flat-panel high-definition digital one!  Hmmm…   

While thus enjoying my evening, I read through the day’s e-mails and notice a column about what we should expect regarding future generations of high-resolution video displays.  The writer predicts that soon resolution will increase to 2,000 lines, with the first use in movie theaters and then -- not long thereafter – this technology will migrate to home use and be combined with 3D stereo images.   So here I am comfortably watching a small-screen CRT television showing NTSC video and I am being told that I need to begin to plan for a soon-to-happen next generation television system that will double the resolution of HDTV. 

My present comfortable environment makes these technology predictions seem far-out and contradictory.  Is it any wonder then that I am led to some serious contemplation of where display technology -- and where the companies that promote and sell new display products -- are taking us?  If I am perfectly comfortable spending an evening with an “old” CRT television, what is it that I am missing?   What would a presumably enhanced viewing experience provide me that I am not already getting?  

Certainly the CRT television I am watching has a much smaller screen than most of today’s flat-panel televisions.  However, the brightness is nicely adequate and the color is especially pleasing – better than most flat-panel televisions I have experienced in typical hotel rooms.  The resolution is adequate for this image size and quite sufficient for the casual viewing that is my intent this evening.   I do not feel the need for anything better or that I am missing something important by not having a larger or higher resolution screen.  The program material, on the many channels offered, does not seem to be of a quality to demand anything better.  Watching CNN, the Weather Channel, or the opening monologue of the Tonight Show does not appear to suffer in any way from not having a larger screen or higher resolution.  The nice color, good brightness, and modest resolution appear to be entirely adequate to provide me all the viewing experience the program material has to offer.

Now, I suppose if I had planned to do some serious movie watching I would have wished for a larger screen and higher definition, but that is a very infrequent activity in my life and is never something that I would do while on travel. 

If this old technology is working so well and is acceptable for the guests in this prestigious hotel, then why did we so quickly give up on CRT-based televisions and how much are we realistically expecting to gain from HDTV?   It seems that what really attracted buyers to the new flat-panel technologies was the larger screen size and “flatness” of these displays.  As it turned out, we consumers apparently did not pay all that much attention to the “real” resolution and color capabilities.  We apparently did not understand that most cable viewers were not going to get HDTV (without additional equipment at extra cost) no matter what kind of “new digital flat-panel technology” they had just purchased.  And the typical purchaser did not understand, or know how, to evaluate the color gamut or gray scale capabilities of the new technologies, or to compare them to what a CRT could do – or even to each other.  

And now, even before we have been able to work out and correct these misunderstandings and deficiencies, we are already being told that we should begin to anticipate the arrival of 3D and even higher resolution.  What will we do with them when we have them?  I am sure there are always those technology enthusiasts who wish to have the latest and best of everything.   These are the same folks who installed home theaters and created a demand for front and rear projection laser-disk systems and line doublers in the previous decade.  However, for most of us who spend time in casual viewing of typical television shows, there is little to be gained from these new advancements.  Perhaps sports enthusiasts will disagree with me, and dedicated movie watchers will also appreciate the full viewing experience that HDTV, and beyond, can bring.

Perhaps we in the display community will soon come to an understanding that not every viewing experience requires the same capabilities.  That should allow for a range of products to be designed, promoted, and sold to targeted audiences with performance features that match the users’ needs.  As an example, the digital camera manufacturers seem to have adopted this approach with good success.  Cameras fall into a number of convenient categories that are directed to the capabilities of consumers, with point-and-shoot cameras at the low end and sophisticated do-everything SLR’s at the high end.  Should we be thinking about similar categorization of products for video displays?  This kind of market segmentation may come about naturally as flat-panel video products begin to mature.  For example, with the recent progress in LED and OLED backlighting for LC displays, it may be possible to create a range of products that have superior color capabilities.  This feature could become of equal significance with resolution and with the over-promoted contrast ratio.  Given my recent experience, there may be plenty of such opportunities.  And perhaps even technologies that we have recently assumed to be obsolete may not be as obsolete as we have been led to believe. 

Should you wish to share your thoughts regarding this topic or others, you can reach me directly from this site, by e-mail at silzars@attglobal.net, or by telephone at 425-898-9117.