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I’ve seen the future and I’m not sure it will work!

by Bob Auger

It usually happens when there is a deadline to meet. The work is completed, the data checked, the layout perfected. Just as you are about to print, the message appears: ‘Updates have been installed, your computer will restart’. Your only option? Click OK.

Try as you might, the system inexorably shuts down. That closing paragraph you had worked on for so long…going. The font changes that meant the document fits exactly on two pages…going. The web pages you had been using…GONE.

Somehow we put up with this, because ‘it’s a computer’. What a joy, then, to turn to the world of consumer electronics where you can switch on, lie back and relax. Watch TV, listen to the radio, play your favourite albums; activities that require little more than the ability to operate the on-off button.

Granted, DVD introduced the concept of interactivity to a wider public. If you are still awake at the end of the film, you can fall asleep – interactively – to the endless ‘making of’ that follows it. But, once mastered, the DVD remote presents few problems. I’m still using the same first-generation Panasonic A100 DVD player that I acquired in 1997; the sound and picture quality is great and every disc I buy or rent plays perfectly.

So, given the long history of consumer electronics products that ‘just work’, who in their right mind would release ‘updatable’ devices into the market? What am I talking about? Well, if you have seen the 8-minute video on YouTube of someone’s struggle to update a new generation HD disc player, you would know what I mean.

Once, you bought the latest ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ title, rushed home and played it. Now, you have to check that you have the right firmware and update it if necessary, by downloading data from the Internet (you do have your player plugged into the broadband network, don’t you?). As long as the update works (there have been reports of corrupted downloads requiring players to go back to the store) you could be watching your favourite movie in less time than it takes to bake a potato…

That is today, but can you imagine the situation in a year or two? No content producer will know what revision is current, let alone how many different versions are out there in the player park. If this goes on, every High Definition disc will have to carry a pre-recorded message: ‘Updates are being installed. Please come back in a couple of days’.

I’ve seen the future and I’m not sure it will work. Are you?

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Prospects for 3D in the home

There has been a lot of hype about 3D TV. But the industry getting behind a broad realm of technologies is a far cry from a monetisable mass market. Fundamentally, 3D is complex, more so than HD as technology and ecosystem. Screen Digest' TOM MORROD examines the issue.

This complexity will be reflected in uptake of 3D. It is often said that 3D is easier for consumers to 'see' than HD, thus driving true demand. But it can be countered that a market is not just about demand. It is about supply, price and information - all in questionable quantities.

Supply is a big piece of the puzzle and crucially, like HD, 3D is an ecosystem. It is certainly about the TV receiver, polarised or active switching; the glasses (easily forgotten but not necessarily 'in the box'). But it also takes in the decoding device - set-top box, games console or BD player; the distribution medium (broadcast/unicast), games console or 3D BD; the content and the process of capture, editing and contribution, including broadcasting infrastructure when not printed to disc.

Only about 20 per cent of broadcaster equipment is HD, 30 per cent of TV screens and less than that of set-top boxes. We are still in a very early stage of actual upgrade across the HD ecosystem. And while the HD infrastructure across broadcasters and operators can be used to transmit lower resolution 3D to some existing HD PVRs, all those TV screens will need replacing.

Price is a murky issue spanning both consumer and professional equipment. Many of the early announced prices for 3D TV sets are considerable inflations on similar non-3D TVs. This is especially true for passive polarised, where more technology is built into the display. However, active switching, offering screens at similar prices to non-3D displays, have a hidden cost: the glasses may cost up to $150 a pair, a major consumer cost.... Read More...