NEWS ANALYSIS: Alongside Apple stating that iBooks 2 and textbooks on the iPad would reinvent the textbook as we know it, the iPad-maker announced Thursday that it would also attempt to reinvent book-making by way of an app called iBooks Author.
The Apple-developed app, available as a free download from the Mac App Store, (ideally) makes it easy to make books for the iPad. But together, iBooks 2 and iBooks Author are moves to capture the future of education and self-publishing, and to continue to build on the success Apple had under the late Steve Jobs.
If you've ever used Apple's Keynote or Pages (or Microsoft's PowerPoint or Word) apps, then you should be able to hit the ground running in iBooks Author. There are templates for different types of book layouts, and adding the interactive 3-D models, photos, videos and diagrams that Apple demoed iBooks 2 textbooks on Thursday is as easy as clicking and dragging a built-in widget — provided you've already produced the video, photos, diagrams and models you want to use.
Want to see what your book looks like before you publish it to iBooks? Just connect your Mac to an iPad by way of a USB cable and you can preview the book on the tablet.
The aim of the iBooks Author app is to make it easy to get these impressive multimedia elements, as well as questionnaires and other educational materials, into a page of text and published as a book on the iPad as easy as possible — whether you're a self-publisher looking to write your first book, a teacher whipping up something quick for a special class, or a publishing powerhouse like the textbook trifecta of McGraw-Hill, Pearson and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Before his death, Jobs told biographer Walter Isaacson that he believed Apple could disrupt the $8-billion-a-year textbook industry. Jobs said in Isaacson's book, titled simply "Steve Jobs," that the iPad was the tool to make transformation in the textbook business a reality.
According to the book, Jobs' idea "was to hire great textbook writers to create digital versions, and make them a feature of the iPad. In addition, he held meetings with the major publishers, such as Pearson Education, about partnering with Apple."
Jobs told Isaacson "the process by which states certify textbooks is corrupt … but if we can make the textbooks free, and they come with the iPad, then they don't have to be certified. The crappy economy at the state level will last for a decade, and we can give them an opportunity to circumvent that whole process and save money."
In announcing the iBooks 2 and iBooks Author products, Apple is beginning to bring a piece of Jobs' long-term vision to fruition. The company also noted Thursday that there are currently about 1.5 million iPads being used in schools and more than 20,000 education apps sitting in its iOS App Store.
But make no mistake, iBooks 2 and iBooks Author aren't just about textbooks. The two new apps are working together to entice students, teachers, educational institutions to embrace and buy the iPad in bigger numbers than they already have.
On Thursday, in announcing the new products, Apple made no mention of new discounts on iPads for students or schools — though Apple has offered such discounts in the past on Macs and even created special versions of the iMac for schools. Apple even built the now-defunct eMac line specifically to sell to schools.
Apple wants us to ditch the paperback and hardcover textbooks in favor of an iPad and digital downloads, that much is obvious. But the company also wants the iPad and Macs to become to go-to devices for educational institutions and publishing houses.
Although Apple's iTunes is the world's most popular online music storefront, Amazon is the world's largest seller of e-books. By adding a level of interactivity to books that Amazon and others simply can't match, and by making it easier to publish a book and sell it in the iBooks app directly from iBooks Author, Apple has made a move to challenge Amazon and its Kindle e-reader and Kindle Touch tablet as the preferred platform for self-publishers and digital textbooks.
In a statement announcing iBooks 2 and iBooks Author, Apple said as much (without naming Amazon and other e-book rivals such as Google and Barnes & Noble).
"iBooks Author is also available today as a free download from the Mac App Store and lets anyone with a Mac create stunning iBooks textbooks, cookbooks, history books, picture books and more, and publish them to Apple's iBookstore," Apple said.
The apps are also a challenge to Adobe, a company Apple has been known to partner with and feud with from time to time. Adobe's Creative Suite, Digital Publishing Suite and Touch Apps, available on both Windows PCs and Macs, are some of the most popular tools used by publishing houses and self-publishers looking to create a book, whether an e-book or a book before it heads to print.
Though capable of producing many different types of content for a broader range of devices, Adobe's software can cost thousands of dollars, while Apple's iBooks Author app is free.
Apple on Thursday also released an iTunes U app, which allows teachers from kindergarten to the university level to stream video of their lectures and post class notes, handouts, reading lists, etc., all within the app.
Previously, iTunes U was a podcasting service for college professors who wanted to put up video or audio of their lectures. Now it is one more reason for a teacher to consider an iPad and a Mac as tools to reach students at any grade level. And like iBooks Author, the app is free.
In my opinion, Apple is one of the best companies out there at providing lower-cost products that pull consumers into an ecosystem of apps and gadgets. It's one of the reason the company has so many cult-like followers.
For many Apple fans, their first purchase was an iPod or iPhone. With those purchases comes buying apps, music, movies and TV shows from iTunes. And for many, later comes a MacBook or an iMac computer. This strategy is repeating itself with iBooks 2 and iBooks Author.
First, get students and teachers to use more iPads in school by offering affordable and engaging digital textbooks. With iBook textbooks capped at a price of $14.99, I have to wonder whether or not textbooks will become shorter and more narrow, and thus students and teachers we'll have to buy more of them. Second, make it easy for anybody to produce their own iBooks (textbooks or otherwise) and then sell those books in the iBooks app, luring in aspiring authors. When those students, teachers and authors go to download music or a movie, set up a cloud storage service or buy a laptop, a phone, a new tablet — maybe someday a TV — what brand will be at the top of minds? Apple.
iBooks, iBooks Author and iTunes U, together are a move to fend off Google, Amazon, Adobe and other competitors in determining the future of education, publishing and book reading. Together, the launch of these apps is an attempt to not only maintain but also expand Apple's current success into the company's post-Jobs future.
Photo: Apple's iBook Author app on an iMac, and an iBook and an iPad. Credit: Apple
When Google TV first launched a little more than a year ago, it had few hardware partners and failed to resonate with a wide consumer market. But the technology was back at the Consumer Electronics Show this year, with major tech companies promoting the software and saying its time had come.
"You've got to reorient customers to look at TVs as an actual smart device, as a device just like a tablet or a PC or a phone," said Matthew McRae, chief technology officer at Vizio, during an interview with The Times. "It takes a little bit of time, but I think that bridge has been crossed."
At CES in Las Vegas this week, Vizio was showcasing its 65-inch, 55-inch and 47-inch V.I.A. Plus HDTVs with Theater 3D; the VBR430 Blu-ray player; and the VAP430 stream player — all of which incorporate Google TV's 2.0 platform. V.I.A. stands for Vizio Internet Apps.
The V.I.A. Plus experience features an app-centric interface on every device, "making it easy for consumers to understand and navigate as they move between devices," the company said in a news release. Users can also access thousands of apps from the Android Market.
McRae said the company was encouraged by the advances in the second generation of Google TV, saying the earlier version of the software "missed on the simplicity front."
"When people sit down at a TV, it's got to be intuitive, it's got to be a few button clicks to whatever you're looking for," McRae said. "If you make it any more complex than that, they'll just give up…. So the user interface I think is actually more challenging to get right on a TV than it is on a tablet or PC."
The prospects for Google TV — which combines traditional television, the Internet, apps and search capabilities — are growing rapidly among developers, who are rolling out thousands of apps built specifically for televisions.
Vizio was especially excited to show off its new VAP430 stream player with Google TV, a media player that turns any HDTV into an enhanced V.I.A. Plus smart TV. Vizio's stream player, a small black box about the size of a wallet, features built-in HDMI ports that let users connect existing components like gaming consoles or set-top boxes for unified access to all media sources through the V.I.A. Plus touchpad remote. It also supports 3-D content and 3-D streaming.
Vizio officials said the stream player was expected to be released in the first half of the year, but declined to say how much the device would cost. Sales of stream players are poised to pass Blu-ray players in unit volume sales by 2013, Vizio said, making the devices the "perfect solution" for media multitaskers.
LG is also showing off sets with Google TV software that will launch in the U.S. in the first half of 2012 and later for the rest of the world. Among LG's Google TV offerings will be a 55-inch model, and each Google TV set from LG will include a "magic remote" with a built-in keyboard.
Google TV will run on LG's TVs alongside its Smart TV platform unveiled last year. Since last year's CES, LG said it had added more than 1,200 apps to its Smart TV offerings.
Sony too heavily hyped its Google TV products at CES and said it was expanding its line of devices that included the software.
The tech giant said it was rolling out two new set-top boxes powered by Google TV — one connected Blu-ray disc player and one Network Media Player. Enhanced features include access to the Android Market as well as a redesigned remote control for improved functionality, new linkage with the Sony Entertainment Network platform and a new mobile device interface that allows consumers to use smartphones and tablets as a content source.
"As a result more consumers will be able to enjoy multiple content sources from broadcast to streaming video and various apps through one easy-to-use seamless interface by connecting to any HDTV," Sony executive Kaz Hirai said during the company's CES news conference.
– Andrea Chang in Las Vegas
Upper photo: A Vizio HDTV shows off Google TV software, with live television and a panel of apps sharing space on the screen. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times
Lower photo: Vizio's VAP430 stream player with Google TV, a media player that turns any HDTV into an enhanced smart TV. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times
At the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, we saw a bit of a scramble by TV makers such as Samsung and LG to show off what they working on or releasing in the coming year that would allow us to control our TVs using voice, gesture and facial recognition.
Many technology pundits and analysts have said these sorts of announcements, which also took place at last year's CES, are in response to rumors that Apple is working on an "iTV" that will offer a new way of controlling a TV and maybe even how we pay for or watch channels and TV shows.
But as many video-game lovers out there know, TV voice recognition, gesture controls and facial recognition are already here in the form of Microsoft's Kinect motion-sensing camera, which is an accessory to the Xbox 360 home gaming console.
However, Kinect is just getting started, and currently has a small number of apps. And it's still a device that sells for about $150 and requires an Xbox 360, which starts at $200. Make no mistake, there will be a cost of entry to the future of TV.
At CES 2012, Microsoft showed off a bit of what the future may hold for Kinect, the Xbox and TV with demonstrations of its latest Kinect-enabled app for the Xbox, called Sesame Street Kinect (you can see our demonstration of the app in a video atop this article).
Sesame Street Kinect is what it sounds like, episodes of the long-running children's program tailored to use the Kinect camera. And what Kinect can do is really impressive.
Since 1969, children around the world have sat in front of TVs repeating back the alphabet, colors, words and numbers to characters on Sesame Street (I did it when I was a child). Until Sesame Street Kinect, which is set to release later this year at an unannounced price, the characters on the screen couldn't respond to the viewer's actions. Now, to a limited extent, they can.
The demonstration we saw featured the Grover, Elmo and Cookie Monster characters prompting viewers to interact by either saying certain words or moving in certain ways.
For example, we took part in a demonstration in which Grover drops a box of coconuts and asks that the viewer pick them up and throw them back to him.
I f the viewer stands up and moves in the way that they would throw an imaginary coconut (don't throw a real coconut unless your trying to break your TV) then Grover catches each one in his box, even reacting to how hard the Kinect interprets the viewer's throw to be.
The experience was a lot of fun for a room of four adults, and I imagine kids will enjoy this sort of thing too. Jose Pinero, am Xbox spokesman, said a similarly interactive app from National Geographic is coming this year as well.
Although Microsoft has sold more than 66 million Xbox consoles and more than 18 million Kinect cameras, the tech giant realizes it has something bigger than just video games on its hands with Kinect.
Both Kinect and Xbox Live are headed to Windows 8 later this year. Hopefully, that will mean more interactive "two-way TV" apps like Sesame Street Kinect, and more apps related to media outlets such as ESPN and National Geographic.
There are also rumors that the company is working to get Kinect built directly into TVs, which would very likely place Xbox Live and Kinect in direct competition with Google TV and Apple's expected entry into the TV market. That's a living-room showdown I'd like to see.
Photos: Sesame Street Kinect in action. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times
Like many celebrities, Robert Horry is at the Consumer Electronics Show this week to help promote a tech company. Problem is, when we sat down with him Tuesday to chat about Haier America, basketball's Big Shot Rob conceded he hadn't yet seen the appliance brand's latest products.
In fact, he says he's not much of a techie.
"I try to keep my life as simple as possible," he said. "[If] I get all this high-tech, I'm going to buy more stuff and more stuff."
No matter. The affable former Laker, who won three of his seven championships with the team, was happy to talk generally about the brand, which is a sponsor for the NBA, and his hopes for his partnership with the company: "Haier has a lot of good products, and I'm just trying to get in good with the family so they can remodel my kitchen," he joked.
He was also eager to chat about his basketball days, saying he still keeps in touch with Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher. Although he's a Lakers fan, he said he sees challenges ahead for the team this year, including "a lot of young cats on their team," tough competition from the Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat, and leftover issues from the trade drama at the start of the season.
"I just think sometimes, with the way the season started out with them and all the turmoil and the guys being traded and them trading guys and trades not going through, you put a wall up as a player," he said. "Even though you go out there and play, it's still not the same because in the back of your mind, you always got that fear of being traded, so you don't play as well."
These days, Horry works as a sports commentator and lives in Houston — though he noted that "everybody thinks I live in L.A."
"L.A. is just too expensive for me," he said. "That's one thing about me: I'm from the South and I'm cheap."
Horry said he goes to a lot of Houston Rockets games now that he's retired and has free time. "I try to keep my face in there just in case one day I want to try to venture into the coaching realm or the GM realm or something of that nature," he said. "I'm waiting for my son to turn 13 and go to high school, and then I want to get back into it."
But back to tech: Horry, who has attended CES a number of times in the past, said he loves coming to the show to see what new products are coming out. "My favorite part is going to booths and coming home with a bag of stuff," he said.
One device he won't be going home with: a 3-D television.
"I can't watch 3-D. It gives me a headache," he said. "I just saw a guy with a 3-D camera and that was cool, but after looking at it for 2, 3 seconds, my head started to hurt."
But Horry said he loves watching television shows — "The Closer" is a top choice — and has three Apple TVs in his home. As expected, he said Haier's TVs "are great." His favorite model?
"The big ones," he said. "The thing about them is they're slim and you can put them anywhere. Right now, I'm working on getting one to put in my bathroom. Sometimes you like to sit back and take a nice bubble bath and watch NBA TV."
– Andrea Chang in Las Vegas
On Tuesday, here on the Technology blog, we summed up a few of the TV-related highlights of the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show from LG, Vizio and Sony. But make no mistake, Sharp and Samsung made some news of their own.
As noted by my colleague Jon Healey and myself, 4K TVs have been a major trend at CES in Las Vegas this year. The promise of 4K TVs is a display that offers up to four times higher the resolution of today's highest resolution high-definition TVs, which currently top out at 1080p.
A bit confused by all the terms? No problem — 1080p refers to TVs with a resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels with the 1,080 counting the number of lines of resolution on the vertical side of the TV. The newer 4K standard refers to displays with about 4,000 lines of resolution counted on the horizontal side of a screen.
Sharp, however, took the resolution jump further than its rivals and introduced a prototype 8K TV this year, which it says will offer double the resolution of a 4K TV set, or a resolution of about 16 times higher than a 1080p TV. Sharp's 8K TV is currently planned for retail, but the prototype at CES did come in a whopping 85-inch screen size. The screen resolution of the Sharp prototype does fall short of an actual 8,000 mark, despite the name, with a 7,680 x 4,320 resolution display being used.
Huge TVs are something Sharp has been into for the last few years, choosing to concentrate on the higher-end of the TV market. This year it also showed off an 80-inch LCD TV, with LED backlighting, that will playback 3-D video (viewable with 3-D glasses of course). Sharp said its 80-inch was equal to about the size of nine 32-inch TVs, or about 266 smartphones laid out next to each other.
The TV maker also said it was committed to its LCD TV business and plans to introduce 17 new LCD TVs over the next 90 days.
But not all of those 17 new TVs will be big-screen heavyweight sets. As noted by my colleague David Sarno, Sharp also introduced its line of Aquos Freestyle TVs at CES this year. The Aquos Freestyle is a series of TVs that are built thin and light and can actually be picked up and moved around a home.
The idea is maybe you'd want to take the TV out in the back yard for a couple hours, or maybe into another room for a bit for a party or other good reason.
As reported by Sarno, "Sharp's Aquos Freestyle flat-screens get their signal wirelessly, and as the models demonstrated by parading them down the showroom runway, they are light enough to be carried around the home, whether to the balcony, the kitchen or the powder room."
Portable? Yes. Mobile? Not really. The Aquos Freestyle sets were shown off in 20-inch, 31.5-inch, 40-inch and 60-inch sizes.
Like Sharp, Korean electronics giant Samsung had some prototypes to show off at CES too, including a 55-inch TV that it described as "Super OLED."
OLED, or organic light emitting diodes, are more energy efficient, thinner and provide better black-levels when compared with standard current LEDs used in TVs today. OLED is also more expensive to produce than LED backlighting. And just about every TV maker throws out claims at CES that its display, which is also 3-D capable, provides the best picture — Samsung's stance is no different with its Super OLED sets, promising in a statement that its prototype display offers "the ultimate in vividness, speed and thinness, with true-to-life picture quality, enhanced color accuracy and motion picture quality even in the fastest scenes."
Samsung also announced an update to its high-end Smart TV line, which runs apps such as Netflix on its TVs, that it says will allow users to control their sets with voice and motion control and facial-recognition technology.
"For example, users can turn the TV on or off, activate selected apps or search for content in the web browser simply by speaking in any of the 20 to 30 languages that are supported by the technology," Samsung said in a statement. "With a wave of their hand, they can browse and choose a link or content via the web browser."
A built-in camera in the top-of-the-line Smart TV sets "recognizes movement in the foreground and two unidirectional array microphones recognize voice at an incredibly accurate rate. Noise cancellation technology helps separate any background noise from the users commands."
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Image: Samsung's LED 8000 Smart TV, which features built-in cameras and microphones for voice, gesture and facial recognition. Credit: Samsung
With surprisingly little fanfare, the major consumer electronics manufacturers introduced a new category of television at the Consumer Electronics Show this year: 4K TV sets, which cram four times as much picture information onto the screen as the best of the current high-definition models. That's a little over 8 million pixels, compared to about 2 million in a 1080P HDTV set.
LG showed off an 84-inch "ultra definition" LCD set (pictured above). Sony, which already has a 4K projector on the market, said it would continue to develop 4K TVs and promised Blu-ray disc players that upconvert HDTV to 4K. And Sharp took the wraps off not only a 4K LCD TV, but also an 8K prototype. No details were available on prices or release dates, although most manufacturers said they'd have 4K sets in stores this year.
The LG and Sharp sets offered stunningly good pictures, presenting a precisely defined yet silky smooth canvas of images. Yet with so many consumers more than happy with 1080P (and 720P, a less intensive level of high definition), why bother? 4K TV doesn't change the viewing experience as fundamentally as the shift from analog to HDTV, or from 2D to 3D. And although 3D sets are selling well, it's not clear that consumers are buying them because they want something better than HDTV — they may just see it as a way to future-proof their sizable investment in a flat-panel set.
To some degree, 4K is a natural reaction to the rapid decline in TV prices. Manufacturers are under pressure to offer new capabilities every year in order to push prices back up, at least at the high end of the market. LG spokesman John Taylor added a more practical consideration: On a very big screen, 1080P doesn't provide enough resolution.
4K probably won't come to 42-inch sets because it's not needed in that size, Taylor said. But over time, U.S. consumers have gravitated toward ever-larger sets, attracted by thinner and lighter designs and plunging prices. So while 42 inches may be the sweet spot now for many buyers, especially those who grew up on 25-inch analog sets, the demand for bigger displays is likely to grow.
The nontrivial problem for 4K, though, is that there's nothing to watch in that format. As bad as the shortage of 3D programming has been for home viewers, the supply of 3D dwarfs the availability of 4K material. That helps explain why the new 4K sets received so little attention during the manufacturers' press blitz Monday, even though they will be making their debut in 2012.
"There is no 4K broadcasting," noted Panasonic's chief technology officer, Eisuke Tsuyuzaki. And given that the quality of 4K is equivalent to a pristine copy of a 35mm film print, piracy-conscious studios may think twice before agreeing to let any truly valuable content be broadcast in that format, Tsuyuzaki said.
He envisioned a demand for a few thousand 4K displays for medical use (for example, assisting surgeons) and in computer graphics and design. But for the living room? "It's going to be a while," he said. "It's not a technical issue…. The biggest issue is the content."
Then again, TV stations don't broadcast in 1080P, either. That format is limited mainly to Blu-ray discs and video-on-demand services. So if upconverted broadcasts have been good enough for 1080P, perhaps that will be enough to justify the purchase of a 4K set — for those whose homes are big enough to fit one in.
– Jon Healey in Las Vegas
As always, the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas has been filled with new TVs and home entertainment product announcements.
In fact, there have been so many announcements that it might be tough to keep up with them all if you're actually looking to CES to help you decide what your next TV set will be.
No worry, we're here to help sift through the noise. We'll have more on TVs and Google TV products coming, but here are some of the highlights from LG, Vizio and Sony thus far.
As we reported ahead of CES, LG had big-screen plans for this year's Vegas show with a new 55-inch OLED TV that is just 4 millimeters thick and an 84-inch LED-backlit LCD TV with 4K-display resolution.
For those who don't know, 4K resolution is what many in the TV industry believe will be the next bump up in high-definition standards for TVs and Web video. Current top-of-the-line HD TV sets available to consumers now are either 1080p or 720p — each number indicating the number of vertical pixel lines of resolution the HD sets can handle. The term 4K resolution identifies displays with about 4,000 horizontal lines of resolution. There isn't a ton of 4K video content out yet (most HD TV channels are 720p), but many filmmakers are moving toward shooting in 4K with newer digital cameras.
As promised, LG unveiled both the 55-inch and 84-inch sets at CES this year, each set falling into what LG is calling its Cinema 3D series of TVs, which will range in size between 55 and 84 inches and feature a super-thin bezel when they hit the market later this year. I saw both sets in person here at CES and they looked big, bright and clear.
Of course, how a TV looks on the showroom floor and how it looks in the living room can vary. But LG, as well as many other TV makers, seems to be producing thinner and lighter TVs with increasingly more detailed and accurate pictures displayed on screen.
Another announcement from LG this year was wider implementation of its Magic Remote, which was shown off at CES in 2011 too. As my colleague David Sarno noted in his reporting on CES, the Magic Remote acts much like the Wii remote used by Nintendo's Wii video game console.
With the motion-sensing Magic Remote in hand, a user can navigate on-screen TV menus, settings and even channel changes with a combination of gestures and button presses.
LG is also showing off Google TV sets that will launch in the U.S. in the first half of 2012 and later for the rest of the world. Among LG's Google TV offerings will be a 55-inch model, and each Google TV set from LG will come with a Magic Remote with a built-in keyboard.
Google TV will run on LG's TVs alongside its Smart TV platform unveiled last year. Since 2011's CES, LG said it has added more than 1,200 apps to its Smart TV offerings.
Just as it was last year, 3-D is a major theme at CES this year, and LG also said that about 50% of its 2012 TV line would be made up of 3-D TVs. But like Vizio, and unlike many other TV rivals, LG's 3-D TVs won't use active-shutter 3-D glasses. Instead, LG's and Vizio's 3-D TVs will work with passive 3-D glasses that are more like the glasses often found in movie theaters.
Irvine-based Vizio also showed off a newer, wider vision for home TVs. Dubbed Cinema Wide, Vizio is releasing a line of new TVs with a 21:9 aspect ratio. Nearly all TVs currently being sold have a 16:9 aspect ratio.
However, if you're watching TV on a Cinema Wide set, you're almost guaranteed to see black bars running to the left and right of the screen, since most TV shows and sporting events nowadays are broadcast in a 16:9 aspect ratio.
Vizio says it will release its Cinema Wide sets (which will also be 3-D TVs) in both 50-inch and 58-inch sizes in the first six months of the year, with a 71-inch size to follow later.
The bargain-priced TV maker is also releasing a lineup of Google TV products including TVs running the Google TV software, Google TV Blu-Ray player and a set-top box called the Stream Player that will enable Google TV to run on any HD TV.
In 2012, Sony's Bravia line of TVs will be divided into three series — BX for entry-level models, EX at the mid range and HX at the top.
The high-end HX line will be made up of LED-backlit LCDs with 3-D and built-in Wi-Fi for Skype and Sony apps. The even higher-end HX850 series will also feature screens made of Coring's Gorilla Glass, which is easy to clean and scratch resistant, as well as thin and light. The HX series will be available in 46-inch and 55-inch sizes, each with a 1080p resolution.
The EX line won't have Gorilla Glass or 3-D, but these TVs will have built-in Wi-Fi and Sony apps and will be available in 40-inch, 46-inch and 55-inch sizes, each with a 1080p resolution.
The entry-level BX line from Sony will be made up of some pretty basic TVs. The BX450 series,will offer 1080p resolution in 46-inch and 40-inch sizes while the BX330 series will consist of one 31.5-inch set with a resolution of 720p, the lowest resolution that can still be classified as high definition.
Top photo: LG's press conference at CES 2012 in Las Vegas on Jan. 9. Credit: LG
Second image from top: LG's Google TV Smart TV set. Credit: LG
Third image from top: Vizio's Cinema Wide TV. Credit: Vizio
Bottom image: Sony's HX850 TV at an angle. Credit: Sony
The capacity of today's hard drives is so enormous, the average consumer might have a tough time figuring out what to do with it. Dish Network has an idea: How about giving TV viewers the chance to watch every prime-time program on the four major networks that they missed in the last week?
The satellite operator, which is the third-largest pay-TV provider in the United States, announced at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Monday that its new Hopper digital video recorder will have an extra tuner dedicated to capturing all the prime-time programs broadcast by ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC. It also will have a 2-Terabyte hard drive, giving it enough room to hold on to all those recordings for eight days — along with hundreds of hours of movies and shows chosen by each Hopper's owner.
It's a gimmick, sure, but a potentially useful one — both for Dish and for its customers. Dish rival Time Warner Cable offers a "look back" service that enables subscribers to watch a broad range of prime-time programming from the previous three days, although the recordings are stored at the cable company's central office, not in subscribers' homes. Unlike a digital video recorder, however, the service doesn't let viewers fast-forward through commercials, which is one of the most appealing features of a DVR like the Hopper.
In addition, the Hopper helps close the gap between the time a show is broadcast and when it becomes available online through Hulu and other authorized sites. Networks routinely hold programs back until the day after they're broadcast; Fox delays them for eight days, although Dish subscribers can get those programs within a day. With a Hopper, there is no waiting.
The ultra-roomy hard drive also enables Dish to store a large supply of movies and shows for on-demand viewing, albeit not to the extent that cable operators can. On-demand service has long been cable's big advantage over satellite; cable is a two-way network that can send programming on request to individual homes, but satellite is a one-way system that broadcasts programming to entire regions.
Satellite operators have tried to overcome that technological disadvantage by teaming up with broadband providers to offer on-demand services through the Internet, and by caching programs on their subscribers' DVRs that can be unlocked for viewing on demand. The larger the capacity of the DVR, the larger the library of programs that can be cached.
The Hopper is designed to feed smaller set-top boxes, called Joeys, in other rooms of the home. According to Dish, a home equipped with a Hopper and three Joeys can watch four different recorded shows simultaneously.
– Jon Healey
Image: A Hopper digital video recorder. Credit: Dish Network
Five years ago, Samsung unveiled a digital TV broadcasting technology that was optimized for mobile devices. It's still waiting to sell its first broadcast-enabled smartphones in the United States, just as the TV industry is still waiting for the notion of mobile DTV to take off. But there are signs that the wait may be coming to an end.
On Wednesday, a coalition of TV stations and networks announced a partnership with mobile phone company MetroPCS that will enable the latter's customers in Los Angeles and 13 other markets to tune in the stations' mobile DTV signals later this year. The first compatible device will be an Android smartphone made by Samsung, which will use a telescoping antenna for better reception. In the meantime, RCA plans to show off an Android-based flat-panel TV (shown above) that can tune in the coalition stations' service (called Dyle) at next week's International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
The coalition's formal name is the Mobile Content Venture, and its membership includes Fox, NBC, Univision, Telemundo, ION Television and about a dozen large station ownership groups. Their members have been installing mobile DTV transmission equipment at 72 stations in 32 markets, which reach half of the U.S. population, according to Erik Moreno, a senior vice president at Fox Networks Group and the co-general manager of the coalition. "We needed to make that first move to convince someone like MetroPCS" to offer mobile DTV service to its customers, Moreno said.
That investment by the coalition's members helps overcome the chicken-and-egg problem faced by mobile DTV. But it remains an open question whether consumers will tune in. Qualcomm's high-profile effort to broadcast TV programming to specially equipped cellphones attracted few viewers, in part because it offered only a limited selection of programming. The company eventually abandoned the venture and sold the airwaves to AT&T.
Part of the problem for Qualcomm's Flo TV service was that local stations developed a standard for delivering TV signals to mobile devices over a portion of their own digital channels, cutting out the middleman. Although the standard was adopted in late 2009, however, only 120 of the 1,600 stations in the United States are transmitting mobile DTV signals today. One reason is that few consumers have a device capable of tuning in to those signals — the industry is starting from scratch. Another reason is the lack of a credible way to determine how many people are watching the mobile signals, making it hard for stations to charge advertisers for commercial time.
The members of Mobile Content Venture have taken the mobile DTV standard one step further, encrypting the signals to control their availability. That might sound counter-intuitive for an industry that has long relied on reaching the largest possible audience on the widest array of devices. But Moreno's counterpart Salil Dalvi, a senior vice president at NBC Universal, said that encryption serves two important purposes.
First, it enables stations to identify each mobile tuner and track (anonymously) what's being watched, giving it the kind of credible data about audience sizes and locations that advertisers demand. And second, it gives stations the ability to charge for the programs or services they offer mobile users, or to make their content available only to subscribers, in addition to their usual ad-supported business model. Those alternatives give broadcasters multiple ways to get a return on their mobile investment.
"We don't have to decide today exactly which business model is going to be available five years from now," Dalvi said.
On the other hand, Dyle faces two of the same steep hurdles that felled FloTV: Consumers have to buy new equipment in order to tune in to the programs, and some of the most popular TV content won't be available through the service. Among the missing content: ABC, CBS, ESPN and a panoply of other top cable TV networks.
Then there's the question of whether the stations that aren't members of Mobile Content Venture will deploy technology that's compatible with Dyle, or if they'll start the kind of format war that plagued the music industry in the early days of digital downloads. Many of those stations have joined forces in a group called the Mobile500 Alliance, which wants to develop a multi-channel mobile TV service.
Moreno contended that the risk of dueling, incompatible services was low because there's a broad understanding among broadcasters that such a split doesn't help anyone. There may be competing offerings, he said, but the applications and devices are likely to be interoperable.
Salvi noted mobile devices are far better now than when Flo TV debuted, and there's a much larger base of customers accustomed to using those devices for entertainment. "We have seen strong indicators that consumers want video on their devices, and they want live video on their devices," he said, adding, "We look at consumers here in the United States, and their live TV consumption today, and our experience providing live programming on the phone before — this is a product that will have resonance with consumers."
– Jon Healey
Photo: RCA's Android-based flat-panel TV can tune in to mobile DTV signals. Credit: RCA
The lineup is mostly familiar, with LG, Samsung, Sony and Vizio producing Google TV products. Sony has released Google TV television sets and set-top boxes, and Samsung and Vizio both showed off prototype Google TV products at CES last year that never made it to market.
Absent from the Google TV hardware lineup this year is Logitech, which gave up on the Internet-connected TV software after its Google TV products failed to catch on with consumers, resulting in more returns than sales in the second quarter of 2011.
LG "will showcase a new line of TVs powered by Google TV running on their own L9 chipset at CES," Google said, also noting that Samsung and Sony will have new Google TV devices on the market this year. LG said in its own statement that some of its Google TV sets will be 3-D.
Vizio will hold "private demos at CES showcasing their new line of Google TV-powered products," Google said.
The Technology blog will be at CES next week looking at Google TV products and other new gadgets, games and technologies, so stay tuned.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: Sony's first-generation Internet-connected LCD television powered by Google's Android-based Google TV platform. Credit: Kiyoshi Ota / Bloomberg
Marvell, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based semiconductor designer, announced Thursday that the next generation of Google TV will be built around one of its chipsets. The specifications of its reference design show, predictably, a considerable advance in power and chip integration over the first generation of Google TV: For example, Marvell’s Armada processor is a dual-core chip, as opposed to the single-core Intel Atom processor found in Logitech’s first-generation Google TV product. That’s welcome, but the main problems with Google TV thus far have been business-model and software shortcomings. In other words, even if a Marvell-powered Google TV is more powerful and less expensive, it won’t necessarily be more appealing.
According to Marvell co-founder Weili Dai, the semiconductor platform her company designed can handle high-definition 3-D movies and video games in addition to smart-TV applications. One complaint about the initial Google TV products, which debuted in October 2010, was that the roster of apps was thin. But Dai argued in an interview Wednesday that the open platform provided by Google TV will attract the same kind of attention from developers that the Android operating system has for smartphones.
“Many people are writing apps on that platform,” Dai said. “Every day, every hour [they are] building that capability. … What you saw for Android and smartphones in general is happening now with the smart TVs and the Google TVs of the world.”
A bigger hurdle for Google has been the decision of many important suppliers of television programming online — including Hulu, the four major broadcast networks and several popular cable channels — to block Google TV from displaying the online versions of their shows. That reflects the networks’ fear that Google TV could encourage people to swap their cable TV subscriptions for free TV online, undermining an important source of revenue for the industry.
The programming and software issues have been so significant that one of the two original Google TV vendors, Logitech, abandoned the product last month. That was a few months after the company revealed it had more returns on the unit than sales in the second quarter of 2011, prompting it to slash the list price from $250 to $99.
Dai said Marvell has cut the cost of the box’s chips to the point where companies can “build very affordable devices.” She also said she believes that consumers’ experience with the connectivity, utility and flexibility of smartphones makes them hungry for a similar capability on the big screens in their home. But she conceded that it’s up to Google and the TV industry to come up with a business model that persuades more content providers to embrace the Google TV platform.
“When Android was born, there was the learning curve. The Google TV side is the same thing,” Dai said. Google has opened up the TV business model, but now “they need to work within the ecosystem,” she added. “I’m hopeful they will resolve that.”
Google TV products based on the new Marvell chips are expected later this year. Dai declined to identify any of the manufacturers, but at least some of them are likely to show off prototypes at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next week.
– Jon Healey
Photo: Marvell’s reference design for its Foresight Platform, which powers the next generation of Google TV. Credit: Marvell
LG Electronics offered a few more details of its new 55-inch Organic-LED TV set ahead of its debut at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next week.
The new display will be the world's largest OLED TV, LG said, and will feature a minimally-small bezel on the edges, a thickness of 4 millimeters (which is thinner than most smartphones) and a weight of about 16.5 pounds.
The massive set, which hasn't been officially announced as coming to the consumer market, was manufactured using new technologies that enabled LG to bring down production costs, the company said in a blog post.
"We have a product which not only delivers on all the advantages of OLED over LCD but at a significantly lower cost than what could be achieved using existing OLED manufacturing technologies," said Havis Kwon, president and chief executive of LG's home entertainment division.
Among the advantages that OLED promises over the current LCD displays on the market are truer colors and deeper black levels, as well as lower power consumption.
Just what is this new lower-cost production technology? LG didn't say in its blog post and company officials weren't available for comment Tuesday, but we'll make sure to ask next week when we're at CES in person.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: A model shows off LG Electronics' new 55-inch Organic-LED TV set. Credit: LG Electronics
LG Electronics is set to debut an 84-inch "ultra definition" 4K television at next month's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
And yes, the new TV set will be a 3-D TV as well. LG is calling the new 4K display "ultra definition" or "UD," to signal that this set can output a higher resolution image than current high-definition televisions.
So what is 4K exactly? It's the resolution that many believe will be the next step in high-definition standards for TVs and Web video. Today's current HD TV sets are either 1080p or 720p — each number indicating the amount of vertical pixel lines of resolution the HD sets can handle.
As the name suggests, 4K resolution images have 4,000 lines of resolution, but this time the name refrences horizontal resolution. Many of today's top digital cameras used by filmmakers are shooting in 4K.
"LG is pushing the limits of home entertainment innovation with this 3D UD TV," said Havis Kwon, the president and CEO of LG's home entertainment division, in a statement.
LG 84-inch 3-D TV will actually offer a resolution of 3,840 x 2,160 pixels, which by some standards is considered worthy of being called 4K.
The huge TV will also run apps using LG's Smart TV software, which offers more than 1,200 apps, such as Netflix, Hulu and Major League Baseball, and it will make use of LG's motion-sensing TV Magic Remote, which allows users to operate the TV using voice recognition or motion gestures.
The so-called UD TV will debut alongside two other massive LG sets at CES: a 55-inch organic-LED TV and a 72-inch LED-backlit 3-D TV. LG hasn't yet offered prices or details on when these TV will make it to store shelves.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: A model next to LG Electronic's 84-inch "ultra definition" 4K television. Credit: LG Electronics
LG is bringing some big TVs to January's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Specifically, the world's largest Organic-LED TV, at 55 inches, and the world's largest 3D LED TV with a screen size of 72 inches.
The new television sets may or may not be considered affordable, but they surely will be large and probably will attract attention at the show to Korea's second-largest electronics maker, behind rival Samsung.
"Our objective has always been to actively define and lead emerging display technology markets," Sang Beom Han, chief executive and executive vice president of LG Display, told the Times of India newspaper about the massive new Organic-LED, or OLED, TV set that will debut at CES.
"Although OLED technology is seen as the future of TV display, the technology has been limited to smaller display sizes and by high costs, until now. LG Display's 55-inch OLED TV panel has overcome these barriers," Han told the newspaper.
The website Engadget reported that a prototype of LG's new OLED set came in at just 5-millimeters thick. LG hasn't yet said how much its new large-screen TVs will cost, but big screens don't come cheap, especially when they make use of OLED technology. As noted by the website Gizmodo, in 2009, LG introduced a a 15-inch OLED TV priced at $3,000.
Sony is also currently selling a wearable TV headset that contains two OLED displays that are just 0.7 inch big for $800.
[Updated, Dec. 28, 8:59 a.m.: An earlier version of this post incorecctly stated that LG released a 15-inch OLED TV for $2,500. That TV was priced at 3,000, as reported by the website Gizmodo. This post has been updated to correct this error.]
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Image: LG's 72-inch LZ9700 3D LED-backlit television. Credit: LG
Samsung, Sharp and five other LCD makers have agreed to a $553-million multi-state settlement over allegations the firms illegally conspired to inflate prices for liquid crystal displays used in televisions and computer monitors. California was one of the states included in the settlement.
Kathleen Foote, California's senior assistant attorney general, said consumers and government entities in the state would receive "a significant portion" of the settlement, with an exact percentage still to be determined.
The companies — Chimei Innolux Corp., Chunghwa Picture Tubes Ltd., Epson Imaging Devices Corp., HannStar Display Corp., Hitachi Displays Ltd., Samsung Electronics Co. and Sharp Corp., and their U.S. affiliates — agreed to pay more than $538 million to settle antitrust claims brought on behalf of consumers, government entities and other public entities by a group of eight attorneys general and private class-action attorneys, according to the New York attorney general's office.
Separately, five of the tech companies agreed to pay more than $14 million to settle other claims brought by the states in their law enforcement capacities. The corporations also agreed to engage in antitrust compliance programs and to cooperate with the states' ongoing prosecution of other industry participants.
According to the complaint, Japanese, Korean and Taiwanese manufacturers of thin film transistor LCD panels, together with their U.S. affiliates, engineered a conspiracy to fix prices of the panels. Tens of millions of products are estimated to have been sold at inflated prices.
Under the agreements, the companies will pay up to $37 million to compensate government and other public entities for damages resulting from the purchase of thin film transistor LCD panels. Up to $501 million will be available for partial refunds to consumers residing in 24 states and the District of Columbia who purchased products containing thin film transistor panels from Jan. 1, 1999, through Dec. 31, 2006. A notice of how to file for partial refunds will be provided to the public at a later date.
"This price-fixing scheme manipulated the playing field for businesses that abide by the rules, and left consumers to pay artificially higher costs for televisions, computers and other electronics," New York Atty. Gen. Eric T. Schneiderman said in a statement.
– Andrea Chang
Photo: A customer shops for flat-panel televisions at a Best Buy in San Francisco. Credit: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images
Samsung Electronics Co. is buying Sony Corp.'s half of an LCD-display-making joint venture between the two companies for about $935 million.
The move will make S-LCD Corp., founded in 2004, a wholly owned subsidy of Samsung and help Sony withdraw from a venture that has given it eight years of losses.
After the deal's expected closed in January, Sony will take an $846-million loss, the Japanese tech giant said in a statement.
But the exit from the LCD-manufacturing business won't mean that Sony is leaving the TV or computer-display business altogether.
S-LCD will provide LCD panels for Sony products via a "long-term supply agreement of LCD panels, as agreed by the two companies," Samsung said in a statement.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: A Sony television with a remote control. Credit: Sony Corp.
Haven't gotten that holiday shopping wrapped up just yet? Amazon.com, the world's largest online retailer, has plenty of stuff to sell and on Thursday launched a Best of Digital store full of items it recommends.
As the name would suggest, the items for sale in Amazon's Best of Digital store aren't physical goods. The store, which is a section of Amazon's website, has for sale mp3 music files, not CDs; downloadable movies, not DVDs or Blu-ray discs. Apps, games, magazines, e-books (for Amazon's Kindle e-reader, of course) and software for home PCs are on the list as well.
Launching such a store after the start of Hanukkah and so close to Christmas might seem like odd timing, but "historically, Christmas Day is the largest day of digital sales on Amazon.com, followed by Dec. 26," Amazon said in a statement.
"Last year, from Christmas Eve through Dec. 30, Amazon customers purchased over three times more digital content, including Kindle books, magazines, movies, TV shows music, and digital games as compared to the weekly average for the year," the company said.
Not at all a coincidence, all the digital items (except for the PC software) for sale in the Best of Digital store can be read, watched, listened to, played and used on Amazon's new Kindle Fire tablet.
"With the introduction of Kindle Fire this season, millions more customers will be shopping for new digital content," Craig Pape, Amazon's director of music, said in the statement. "This year we're making it easier and more convenient than ever to get all the content they want."
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Image: A screen shot of Amazon's Best of Digital store. Credit: Amazon.com
For the first time, the Super Bowl, arguably the biggest U.S. sports event of the year, is going mobile.
On Feb. 5, the National Football League will stream Super Bowl 46, taking place at Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium, to smartphones and tablets using Verizon's NFL Mobile app (available on Apple's iOS and Google's Android).
Don't have a Verizon Wireless smartphone but still want to see the big game over the Web? The Super Bowl will be streaming at NFL.com and NBCSports.com.
And, as is the norm, the Super Bowl will be broadcast live on regular ol' TV on NBC. As noted by our colleagues over at The Times' Fabulous Forum sports blog, a record 111 million people watched Super Bowl 45 the old-fashioned TV way last year.
"The live NFL.com and NBCSports.com coverage will come from NBC’s TV coverage of the games," NBC Sports said in a statement. "Complementing that stream will be a number of extra features to enrich the viewing experience including additional camera angles, in-game highlights, live statistics and other interactive elements."
But, of course, the NFL is looking to reach more viewers and looking to mobile gadgets to do so. And that's not all. The NFL, NBC and Verizon will also stream wild-card Saturday, on Jan. 7, the playoffs and the Pro Bowl on Jan. 29.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Image: A screenshot of NFL.com. For the first time, the Super Bowl will be streamed live online and to Verizon phones and tablets. Credit: NFL