Philips Cinema 21:9 Not US Bound

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According to a ZDNet article titled “16:9 wide-screen looks narrow-minded compared to Philips Cinema 21:9 HDTV” written by Sean Portnoy, the 21:9 aspect ratio Philips Cinema 21:9 will not be US bound: Sean reports a Philips spokesperson confirmed on January 30, 2009 that the ultrawide set targeted to film buffs will not be made available in the US. That’s not surprising because it really isn’t Philips’ decision to make its TVs available in the US; it is Funai’s decision because Funai bought the Philips brand to market TVs in the US.

Nearly all larger LCD TVs sport an aspect ratio of 16:9. So that hasn’t been a differentiator for quite some time. TV brands have used LED backlighting, higher color gamut, size, 1080p capability, local dimming, backlight scanning, 120Hz, 240Hz, thin chassis and bezels, etc. to make their TVs stand out from the competition. But nearly all high-end LCD TVs have nearly all of these state-of-the-art technologies. Philips has done something remarkable in my opinion: the company changed the playing field by modifying what was common place into something special. If you want to compete at the very high end it seems you’ll need to bust out a LCD TV sporting an aspect ratio of 21:9. Sony, Sharp, Samsung, LG, Panasonic… let’s see what you guys can come up with.

Source: ZDNet via Engadget

California Energy Commission May Adopt Rule to Limit Sales to Energy Star Compliant TVs

The California Energy Commission will likely adopt a stringent rule to limit sales of TVs to those that are Energy Star compliant. The proposal will include labels that show retail shoppers in California how much they will be saving on their utility bills. If this proposal is adopted it will be the first mandatory energy standard for TVs in the US.

TV retailers do not like this, for obvious reasons. Not all TVs are Energy Star compliant and if TV retailers are forced to take those off the shelves that would mean less business. Or would it? Also, if consumers cannot purchase the TV they want they will simply go online to purchase the product from other states. But this trend has been growing for quite some time now. 

Why is the California Energy Commission looking to adopt this proposal? Less energy consumption means some breathing room for California’s energy suppliers: less blackouts especially on really hot days during the summer. Pacific Gas & Electric is enthusiastically backing this standard. Grossly inaccurate claims by PG&E and the Plasma Display Coalition after the break.

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LG Display (LPL) World’s Slimmest 47″ 1080p LED Backlit Local Dimming IPS LCD TV Panel

LG Display (LPL) World’s Slimmest 47″ 1080p LED Backlit Local Dimming IPS LCD TV Panel Specifications

Display: 47″ IPS (In-Plane Switching) TFT LCD with LED Backlight
Aspect Ratio: 16:9
Pixel Format: 1920 x 1080
Brightness: 500 cd/m2
Color Gamut: 80% NTSC
Response Time: 6ms (MPRT) 

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Yes the title is a mouthful! LG Display (LPL) showcased the world’s slimmest 47″ 1080p LCD TV incorporating a LED backlight and local dimming technology. How slim is it? 8.9mm. That is VERY slim! But let’s make sure we know exactly why this LCD panel is so special.

Most ultra-thin LCD TV panels that incorporate a LED backlight does not make use of local dimming technology. The reason is that the LED backlight is actually edge-lit. Edge-lit LED backlights, as far as I know, cannot make use of local dimming. So this 47″ LCD panel with a LED backlight and local dimming is quite special and extremely thin. So how did LPL do it? LPL incorporated a new backlight system called a “modular LED backlight”.

The LCD panel is of the IPS (In-Plane Switching) variety so you get excellent color fidelity. Other features include a brightness of 500 cd/m2, a color gamut of 80% NTSC, and a 6ms (MPRT: Motion Picture Response Time) response time. Availability of this ultra-thin 47″ LCD TV panel is unknown but I sure do hope it gets incorporated into new LCD TVs sooner than later.

Philips Cinema 21:9 56″ LCD TV on Video

Philips Cinema 21:9 Specifications

Philips might have something special in its Cinema 21:9. It is a 56″ LCD TV but with an aspect ratio of 21:9. What’s so special about that? If you enjoy watching film, most of them are not 16:9 but wider. Sure, most are not 21:9 either but you get closer to the wider aspect ratio of film than 16:9. Philips unveiled its Cinema 21:9 in London and Pocket-lint has a video of the Cinema 21:9. Here are some additional specifications that have been found:

Connectivity: HDMI (5)
Availability: Spring 2009
Pricing: £3,000 (about US$4260)

At the very high-end where videophiles who are into film will welcome the Cinema 21:9. Is this a niche product? Absolutely, for now. Will this become a more mainstream product in the future? Probably, but at the high-end of the market. Will wider than 16:9 enter the LCD monitor and notebook PC markets? LCD products that are geared toward showing wider than 16:9 film content will move to this format.

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Update 2009.01.29 10:39PM PST: crave just uploaded a bunch of pictures from the London unveiling. I take it the press was served Loseley Madagascan Vanilla ice cream. Sounds yummy. You can see how very wide the Cinema 21:9 is compared to a regular 16:9 LCD TV.

Source: Pocket-lint via Engadget

One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) XO-2

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The XO-1 is first notebook PC from the One Laptop Per Child project. The mission of OLPC is:

“To create educational opportunities for the world’s poorest children by providing each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop with content and software designed for collaborative, joyful, self-empowered learning. When children have access to this type of tool they get engaged in their own education. They learn, share, create, and collaborate. They become connected to each other, to the world and to a brighter future.”

Ambitious. But without ambition you’re not going to change the world. So was Nicholas Negroponte successful? This can be considered a scientific (and economic) experiment but it is not. Success will come from the children who receive the XO-1. Have they benefited? Are they learning? And do they enjoy learning? Are these children exposed to tools and concepts that help them and enhance their chances of breaking out of poverty? I don’t know if these questions can be definitively answered, but my guess is the answers are more positive than negative.

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The Truth About Contrast Ratios

What is contrast ratio? It is the ratio of the bright level to the black level. Pretty simple. But it really isn’t. Wikipedia defines contrast ratio as: “the ratio of the luminance of the brightest color (white) to that of the darkest color (black) that the system is capable of producing.” According to an article by David Katzmaier at crave, the contrast ratio specification is “probably the most misused, inflated, and ultimately misleading specification used to describe HDTVs today.” Let’s see what’s up.

In general, a higher contrast ratio means better quality images on your TV. A higher contrast ratio can be achieved by doing one of three things: make blacks darker, make whites brighter, or do both. For years and prior to Pioneer‘s KURO technology, FPD (flat panel display) manufacturers have tried to improve contrast ratio by making it brighter. This is pretty easy to do: shove in more CCFLs and you get brigther screens. What Pioneer did with its KURO technology was to make blacks really dark. Tests, testimonials, reviews, previews, etc. have all shown that the KURO technology is the one to beat. Pioneer doesn’t even state a contrast ratio specification because the company says it is impossible to measure.

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Sony VAIO VGN-G3KANB: 12.1″ Business Notebook PC

Sony VAIO VGN-G3KANB Specifications

Display: 12.1″ TFT LCD with LED Backlight
Aspect Ratio: 4:3
Pixel Format: 1024 x 768 
CPU: 1.20GHz Intel Core 2 Duo SU9300
RAM: 2GB (2GB x1) up to 4GB
HDD: 120GB

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Sony‘s VAIO G series is the company’s business-class ultra-portable notebook PC. The VGN-G3KANB is a Japan-only model and sports a 12.1″ TFT LCD. Unlike all the wide notebook PCs out there the VGN-G3KANB has an aspect ratio of 4:3 and a pixel format of 1024 x 768. Haven’t seen that in a long while but for some odd reason it is refreshing–something different to write about. The LCD might be more squarish than others but it does sport a LED backlight for power savings, durability and thinness.

This little notebook PC is powered by Intel’s Core 2 Duo SU9300 chip running at 1.2GHz and can be configured with up to 4GB of RAM. HDD is a respectable 120GB for such a small notebook PC.

Source: Sony Japan (Japanese)

Apple’s 15″ MacBook Pro: Points to Ponder for Photographers

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Photographers considering the new 15″ MacBook Pro should note several features in the new aluminum-slab design. The 15.4″ LCD is covered by an all-glass front that is designed not only to look good giving you a seemless edge-to-edge feel but also to minimize flex in the lid. And thanks to the front glass you get quite a bit of glare for free. Of course there are many that enjoy the improved contrast and ‘pop’ in color and Steve Jobs is one of them. The LCD has a LED backlight and so is very slim but thanks to the front glass the lid is rigid.

Ars Technica’s Creative Director Aurich Lawson has this to say about glossy displays in general: “In a properly light-controlled environment… with all tech specs being equal, and with properly calibrated screens, a glossy LCD is going to outperform a matte one every time.” He points to higher contrast thanks to deeper blacks in glossy displays. Aurich also states that “… a matte screen… is actually distorted. The matte coating that diffuses glare and reflections… [also reduce] contrast and saturation.”

Ars Technica’s Contributor and Magazine Creative Director Dave Girard likes all the improved performance of glare displays except for the glare: “It’s distracting and for someone like me, who’s constantly retouching images and scouring images for dust… [a] glossy screen would make my work a nightmare of squinting and head-bobbing.”

It really does depend on how you work, where you work and your personal tolerance for glare. Fortunately, the 17″ MacBook Pro does come with a matte LCD option: you just need to pony up an additional $50 for it.

The LED backlight is illuminated by white LEDs that replace the traditional CCFLs. LEDs are more rugged, light up instantly and are more environmentally friendly (no Mercury) compared to CCFLs. The are also a bit more expensive.

According to Rob Galbraith, “the display quality is comparable to what we’ve seen before in earlier editions of the LED-backlit MacBook Pro 15 inch.” In Galbraith’s article titled “A look at the evolving laptop display” he mentions a few things:

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Wide Screen Display: Productivity Enhancer?

Rafe Needleman from Crave (CNET) wrote an interesting piece titled, “The myth of width: When wide screens don’t work.” He makes the point that for people who engage in “boring old square work” it is more productive to be using “boring old squarish computer screens”. The reasoning behind that is most of the work we do benefit from a portrait display and not a wide display. Needleman isn’t anti-wide, he does recognize that wide displays enhance our experience for entertainment such as watching HD videos and makes sense for LCD and plasma TVs to be wide. But what has prompted him from writing this article? His new Apple MacBook.

The 13.3″ MacBook has a pixel format of 1280×800, which translates into an aspect ratio of 16:10. 16:10 is fairly standard in the world of notebook PC displays. “The column came about because my new MacBook has a wide-screen display. It’s gorgeous and great for watching videos, but it does not help my productivity one whit. I have to scroll more when I’m reading and writing, which slows me down,” laments Needleman. When he mentions scrolling he is refering to vertical scrolling. This is interesting to me.

Vertical scrolling should not be a concern since a great majority of notebook PC displays have only 800 pixels. Except for the Lenovo X300 (has a 1440×900 LCD option), nearly all 13″ notebook PCs sport a 1280 x 800 pixel format. So MacBook or otherwise you’re stuck at 800 vertical pixels. If you want more vertical pixels you could opt for a LCD that sports 1680×1050 or 1920×1200 (or 1920×1080 on some of the more entertainment oriented gear). But you’ll need to get a bigger LCD: 15.4″, 15.6″, 16.4″, 16.8″, 17″, 18.4″ (I think there are a few more sizes that I missed).

“Most popular sizes of wide-screen displays show fewer vertical pixels than the more-square sizes they directly replaced, reducing the amount of text that can be comfortably shown on one screen without scrolling.” I will have to disagree with this statement.

Before the notebook PC displays began shifting to wide the most popular sizes were 14.1″ and 15.0″. Both of these sported a 4:3 aspect ratio and a pixel format of 1024×768. There were 1400×1050 and 1600×1200 options but again most consumers opted for the “XGA” pixel format (1024×768). Even the squarish 12″ and 13″ notebook PCs at the time had 1024×768 pixel formats. So the boring square displays had 768 vertical pixels and now the new wide displays have 800. Needleman should be happy that he’s now getting more vertical pixels so he can scroll less, not more.

To be fair, not all wide displays benefit those who mostly work. If you want a dual-window setup you will need at least a 1920×1200 pixel format so each window has 960×1200 to work with. The 960×1200 pixel format is not ideal for surfing the Internet since most websites are designed around a 1024 horizontal pixel window, but most of the websites have small borders around them that the absence of 64 pixels can be dealt with without too much hassle. The other window can be used for Word, Excel, etc. A dual-window Word setup is really helpful when you’re editing. I have experienced a significant jump in productivity with dual-window setups for many applications.

With a 1920×1200 pixel format Microsoft Outlook is now quite usable with the “Reading Pane” set to the right. The extra screen real estate helps a great deal in Excel when you’re working with a lot of numbers. Of course it is great for entertainment uses too. But a 1920×1200 display isn’t for everyone since it is limited to slightly larger notebook PCs and is about a $100 option over the 1280×800 that you typically see. The bottomline is: wide displays can certainly boost your productivity but you’ll need to get a wide display with a 1920×1200 pixel format.

LG Display (LPL) 23″ e-IPS 1080p LCD Monitor Panel

LG Display 23″ e-IPS LCD Monitor Panel Specifications:

  • Display: 23″ 8-bit e-IPS (In-Plane Switching) TFT LCD
  • Aspect Ratio: 16:9
  • Pixel Format: 1920 x 1080
  • Brightness: 250 cd/m2
  • Response Time: 6ms (GTG: Gray-to-Gray)
  • Contrast Ratio: 1000:1
  • Viewing Angles: 178/178
  • Color Gamut: 72% of CIE1931
  • Price: Same as TN

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LG Display (LPL) showcased a number of new LCD panels and technologies at CES and one of the more interesting things that I saw was the company’s shift to lower-cost IPS (In-Plane Switching) technology. IPS is known for very high levels of color fidelity at wide viewing angles and is incorporated into the best LCD monitors out there (e.g. Apple). The company’s 23″ e-IPS TFT LCD panel geared for LCD monitors is touted as having the same price as TN (Twisted Nematic) LCD panels. As you might already know TN LCD panels sport fairly fast response times (about 4ms) and is integrated into really affordable LCD monitors. Watch out TN, here comes e-IPS!

e-IPS is a detuned IPS LCD panel that makes it much less costly to manufacture but as you can see the performance hit is nowhere to be found: response time is a respectable 6ms (GTG), contrast ratio is a very good 1000:1 and the viewing angles are 178/178. Brightness is a tad low at 250 cd/m2 but definitely bright enough for LCD monitor work.

The Dell 2209WA seems to be sporting a 22″ e-IPS LCD panel. The AU$459 MSRP of the 2209WA translates to about US$305. That certainly isn’t going to win the cheapest 22″ LCD monitor award but hopefully it’s just Australia having higher prices for electronic goods. Let’s hope we get some really nice and low-priced 23″ LCD monitors in the pipeline soon. Anyone know if there are LCD monitors already out there that sport LPL’s 23″ e-IPS LCD panel? If you do, please post and let everyone know.