NAB: A Tale of Two Worlds

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by David Keene

On the first day of the NAB show in Las Vegas yesterday, I was trying to balance in my mind, as I walked the floor and absorbed the big Sunday pres-show press conferences, two things. Are they related? Maybe only in my over-caffeine-stimulated trade show mode?

The two things are 3D, and commercial digital signage. Yes, they are related, because those two technologies/markets are at the top of the list of the big manufacturers’ priorities. Yes, we could see 3D in digital signage applications. But not any time soon, in any big way. 3D is important because it is the technology that could prevent a backwards slide in video display evolution.

I make my case with an analogy from the audio world. Who would have predicted, 10 years ago, that the decades-long improvement and refinement of delivery platforms in the audio world– from the birth of Hi-Fi through the advent of the CD, and then the serious discussion in the mid-90s about going to a new and more high resolution “SuperCD” format– who could have predicted that after decades of this inexorable evolution of audio format quality, constantly resulting in higher quality, higher resolution audio to the consumer… that audio would suddenly drop over a cliff. MP3 was the cliff. “Good enough” audio won the day. Hi-FI is history, as far as 99 percent of the market is concerned. The consumer voted that they wanted fast, cheap, and portable.

Video is different, you say. Consumers, and business customers, will always want higher resolution, more dazzling displays. Bigger screen sizes. More contrast ratio. Better black levels. Faster refresh rates….

Will they? An entire new generation of consumers is watching TV on their laptops. And the current rage in the world of the Content producers is putting video onto cell phones. And I don’t have to explain the success of the iPhone. And now the iPad is promising (threatening?) to do with video and web content what the iPod-iPhone did with recorded music: squeeze the format down, monetize content with easily downloadable nuggets, and let the consumers, not the Content providers, dictate where media will go, and how.

We are in unchartered waters here. But are we? On the Video side, whether it’s the Hollywood studios managing movie distribution, or display manufacturers looking at product development, everyone saw what happened in the Audio world, and have learned from that. Some big players want the evolution to take the same path as it did in Audio (Apple). Others are saying “…. We really need to come up with ways to keep the bigger screens important in people’s lives– at the theater, in public spaces, in people’s living rooms… both on a path to higher quality (so we can upsell them to new-gen displays) and in a way that we can still control much of the content flowing to those screens…”

This is a huge war of ideas, of technologies, and platforms. And the party with the biggest weapons in this fight? The consumer. The two biggest hopes from our side, the professional side, to keep video displays from going the way of the iPod? 3D, and digital signage. More from the NAB floor as the show goes on…..


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