Category: Home Entertainment

What has happened to OLED TV?

Samsung OLED TVThere’s no question about it, the last few years have been the most exciting for TV viewers since the transition from black & white to colour.

In a relatively short amount of time, we’ve gone from standard definition to high definition, from taping shows on VHS to recording them with PVRs, from stereo (or HiFi) to 5.1 surround sound and from a rigid TV schedule to an on-demand and time-shifted choice of nearly every show imaginable.

But the single most impressive thing I’ve seen in the last few years (that didn’t strike me as a fad or worthless add-on) was the demonstration of Organic Light-Emitting Diode (OLED) technology in large displays. I’ve always felt that better realism and authenticity should be the goal of TV’s evolution, and OLED is a dramatic step forward on this path. OLED TVs boast richer, more vivid colours than either LCD (CCFL or LED back-lit models) or plasma. When combined with full HD 1080p resolution, the result is nothing short of breathtaking.

So I was a little non-plussed to see that at this year’s CES, there was not a plethora of OLED displays that graced the booths of the major TV manufacturers. Instead, it was 3D-capable TVs that stole the show after having been only a minor presence at last year’s show and virtually non-existent prior to that.

Now I know that some people are really jazzed about 3D for the home, and I admit that – when well executed – 3D is an exciting experience that can genuinely enhance an event like a movie or a sports broadcast. But let’s take a second look at 3D before crowning it the new king of TV land:

  • Despite the promise of 3D sets that can convert 2D content into 3D on the fly, for now, the 3D experience will be severely limited by a lack of content
  • 3D TVs require a 3D source, which for now is strictly limited to Blu-ray media since 3D broadcasts are likely years away (more on this in another post)
  • As cool as it will no doubt be to watch James Cameron’s Avatar as it is meant to be seen when it is ultimately released on disc, just how much of your TV-watching time will be in 3D? I just can’t see people rummaging around their couch cushions to find their 3D glasses to view that re-run of Seinfeld or Friends or the evening news

So why is the consumer electronics industry so hell-bent on the 3D experience, when OLED technology makes every type of TV content better? As a side-note, it also saves on energy: OLED displays are far more efficient than plasma and even LED-back-lit LCD TVs.

I suspect it comes down to two factors: Technological hurdles and the Politics of Profit.

OLED is still very new as a large format display technology even though it has been under development for more than a decade. It has shown up in plenty of devices like cellphones and portable media players that use small (3″ or less) displays, but it seems the cost and complexity of OLED increases exponentially the larger the display (this is not much different than LCD which for a very long time could not be produced in sizes larger than 40″ without dramatic costs being incurred).

Then there’s the issue of the halo-effect – the number of collateral products that a new technology can spur. In the case of OLED, you’re just contemplating the purchase of a new TV. 3D on the other hand means a new TV, new Blu-ray player, new 3D Blu-ray movies, 3D glasses, and ultimately a new 3D-capable set-top box for your satellite or cable subscription. Given that companies like Sony have their hands in almost every bucket of the entertainment business, 3D is a no-brainer: it’s a profit power-house. If things pan out the way they hope, their 3D product road map will take them well into this decade if not beyond.

Does all this mean the end of the line for OLED? I think not.

Watch the video below. It gives you a tantalizing taste of just how amazing and versatile OLED tech really is. From transparent-medium displays to super-efficient and flexible lighting, OLED clearly has (ahem) bright future. And we may still see it make its way into our living rooms once the 3D tsunami has washed over us and companies like Samsung and Sony start looking for the next way to improve the TV experience. It may just be that OLED has simply been re-prioritized while LCD and plasma enjoy a last round of improvements before they are finally retired for good. Here’s hoping.

For more CES coverage including videos, check out our CES Section.

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A Skater's Take on Tony Hawk Ride

Activision's new video game, Tony Hawk Ride, comes with a wireless skateboard controller

Activision's new video game, Tony Hawk Ride, comes with a wireless skateboard controller

Tony Hawk Ride is a ground-breaking game that seeks to bring the virtual a real worlds ever closer by introducing a special skateboard-deck controller into the gaming arsenal. So while traditional game reviewers can certainly weigh in on what they think of the game, someone needs to ask the question: What do real skaters think? So I asked. The answer came from my colleague, Matt Forsythe, editor over at Push.ca and no stranger to the asphalt-and-road-rash-real world of skateboarding. Better yet, Matt has clocked some serious hours with previous titles in the Tony Hawk game franchise. Here is his take on THRIDE for the Xbox 360…

Despite the Tony Hawk games turning into roller coaster simulations over the past few releases (boring, over-the-top, easily setup tricks [see chart]), I’ve got a soft spot for the series. Being the first game to do a decent job of representing skateboarding, I put more playtime into the demo of the original Tony Hawk Pro Skater (THPS) than I have into other full games, sticking with the series until Tony Hawk’s Underground. After losing ground to EA’s competing Skate franchise, the Tony Hawk team has gone for broke with a complete reboot of their series in Tony Hawk Ride. You won’t be able to miss the package in stores: the calling card of Ride is the included motion-sensing skateboard controller that’s a requirement. It seemed like as good a reason as any to give Tony another chance.

Like anyone who skates, first thing I wanted to know right out of the box is if you could actually get some pop on this thing. Thanks to a solid build and some weight, the board doesn’t feel like a cheap toy; you don’t want to shin yourself with this thing. Four visual sensors on the top of the board give it a serious “this thing is high-tech and I shouldn’t break it” feel. I passed on the ollie in case the safety warnings were true (and it wouldn’t be possible to review the game with a broken fake skateboard).

Some advice when getting started: make sure you’ve got a controller handy because if you’ve ever tried navigating a menu with a skateboard, it’s not easy. The inconsistencies of when you can and can’t use the board to get around make things worse. The board has full buttons and a d-pad, but if you’re reaching to the floor for that, you may as well grab your controller (or turn it into a sweet “multiplayer” game. I call menu guy, dibs!).

The basic mechanics of the game consist of balancing this mock skateboard to steer, while making different foot motions to pull off tricks while skating through different levels. There’s three options for how much work you’ll have to do: “Casual” keeps you on rails, leaving you to focus on tricks, “Confident” removes the rails, but supposedly stills helps (I did not get that feeling), and “Hardcore” moves when you move. The funny thing is that the “Hardcore” control setting seemed easier than the “Confident” setting, feeling more like the response of an actually skateboard (well, as close as you might get without trucks and wheels…and actually rolling).
Actually getting to the levels is the next trick. The load times are yawn-inducing, with the constant insistence of re-orienting your board (choosing regular or goofy, which should just be a menu option) adding insult to the wait when you think you’re finally ready to play.

When you get to the “skateboarding”, things get weird. Turns out, you’re going to need actual balance skills to make a real go at the game (which is odd, because real world skill and videogames rarely mix), and that’s just to keep you going in a straight line. Tricks, on the other hand, are a shot in the dark. Performing specific tricks is a crapshoot, devolving to strange ritual dance motions that translate to sick moves on screen. It’s supposed to help that there’s a small on-screen display mirroring your motions on the board, but putting your hand over one of four sensors to perform grabs gets old fast when you can see the display registering your movements, but not translating to tricks in the game.

Any hardcore THPS fan will be familiar with the repetitive stress injuries associated with “start, down, X”, the pause/menu combo used to restart a level while trying to complete one particular, stressful thing in early Tony Hawk games. Without having a controller in your hand, and dealing with vague controls, you have to suffer through chains of challenges with one incomplete piece, waiting for the end of a run to start over…again and again.

With so many points working against it, it was no surprise that I saw more kids at the skate park this weekend in below zero temperatures than were playing this game online.

At a $120 admission price, you’ve got to want to go fake skateboarding pretty badly to get on this Ride. And without anything to lose, I did try: you can actually get some pop on the board. It results in some possibly damaging noises, yet it’s still not as fun as the real thing.

— Thanks Matt!

HDMI Cables: Does 'more expensive' mean 'better performance'?

Cable image courtesy of HDMI.org Today's the big day. Lured by increasingly attractive prices on new TVs thanks to an ailing economy, you've decided to buy an HDTV. You've listened to the sales pitch, agreed on a model and now you're headed to the cash register. But wait. What's this? You need special cables for that fancy new TV. And they're going to cost how much?

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Great idea: Locking HDMI cable

Lockinghdmi_2 One of the traditional weaknesses of the video connectors on most consumer electronics is that there’s no way to keep them from becoming disconnected when under tension. So it’s great to see some innovation on this front with a company launching a new locking version of HDMI – the connector that has become the mainstay of the HD video world.

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