The Rapid Pace of Evolution in Consumer Electronics


The evolution of consumer electronics, high definition displays, digital broadcasts, displays and media is happening at an increasingly rapid pace. Advancements in technology are occurring much faster than before, reducing the time to deliver new technologies to market at an exponential rate. The algorithm for designing and delivering new technology is nearly a fifty percent reduction in time with every significant breakthrough. With such a rapid race for invention the simultaneous introduction of diverse technologies is as inevitable as price erosion and shortened life cycles for what is considered “new” in consumer electronics.

A brief history of Television and the advancement of Display Devices underscores the incredibly increasing pace of developing technology.

In 1876 Eugene Goldstein coined the term “Cathode Ray” to describe light emitted when an electric current is forced through a vacuum tube. Fifty years later in 1928, GE introduced the Octagon, a television with a spinning disc and a neon lamp that created a reddish orange picture that was half the size of a business card. By 1948, twenty years later, the demand for black & white television began a transformation in communications and entertainment. By 1949, several familiar brand names fought for a share of the booming market. These brands included familiar names like Admiral, Emerson, Motorola, Philco, Raytheon, RCA, and Zenith. The market was also saturated with brands like Crosley, Du Mont, Farnsworth, Hallicrafters, Sparton and Tele-Tone. In 1951 CBS broadcasted a one hour Ed Sullivan show in color, but there were only two dozen CBS television sets that could process the color broadcast. In 1954, RCA brought the first color television to market, but only 1,000 units were sold to the public that year. In 1956, Time Magazine called color TV the “most resounding industrial flop of 1956”.

The Plasma Display Panel was invented at the University of Illinois in 1964 by Donald H Bliter, H Gene Slottow and student Robert Wilson. The original monochrome displays were popular in the early 1970’s because they did not require memory or circuitry to refresh the images. By 1983, IBM introduced a 19 inch monochrome display that was able to show four virtual sessions simultaneously. By 1997, Pioneer started selling the first color Plasma televisions to the public. Screen sizes increased to 22 inches by 1992, and in 2006 Matsushita unveiled the largest Plasma video display of 103 inches at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada.

DLP was developed at Texas Instruments in 1987 by Dr. Larry Hornbeck. The image is created by selective reflection of colored beams of light on a Digital Micromirror Device (DMD Chip). Each mirror represents one pixel on the projected image. The number of pixels represents the resolution. For example, 1920 x 1080 resolution refers to a grid of individual dots of light that are 1920 wide x 1080 high, created from the beam of light reflected off of the same number of tiny mirrors on chip that is smaller than a postage stamp. Concentrated light from a bright Mercury Arc Lamp is beamed through a small rotating color wheel of red, green, blue and sometimes white. The light passing through the color wheel is reflected on the tiny mirrors act independently to point the colored light at or away from the pixel target. The colors perceived by the human eye are a blending of combinations of the red, green and blue reflections in each pixel, and the combination of pixels create the total image. This technology was widely used in Digital Projectors and gradually became a competing technology to Cathode Ray Tube projection television sets, at least until consumers discovered the cost of replacing the high intensity projector lamps.

In 1904 Otto Lehman published a work on Liquid Crystals. By 1911, Charles Mauguin described the structures and properties of liquid crystals. In 1926, Marconi Wireless Telegraph company patented the first practical application of the technology. It was not until 1968 that George Heilmeier and a group at RCA introduced the first operational LCD Display. In December 1970, M. Schadt and W. Helfrich of the Central Research Laboratories of Hoffman-LaRoche in Switzerland filed a patent for the twisted nematic field effect in liquid crystals, and licenses the invention to the Japanese electronics industry for digital quartz wrist watches. By 2004. 40 inch to 45 inch LCD Televisions became widely available on the market, and Sharp introduced a 65 inch display. By March 2005, Samsung introduced an 82 inch LCD panel. Then in August 2006, LG Philips unveiled a 100 inch LCD display. At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada in January 2007, Sharp once again claimed the top spot for size as they introduced the 108 inch LCD panel under the brand name AQUOS. From tiny liquid crystals to the battle for supremacy and 108″ displays, the demand for bigger size and sharper contrast in high definition video has proved once again that Size Matters.

By 2006 there have been more than 220 manufacturers of television sets, and the list is growing just as the types of technology for displays is expanding. Other display technologies include Vacuum Flourescent Display (VFD), Light Emitting Diode (LED), Field Emission Display (FED), not to be confused with K-FED, and Liquid Crystal on Silicon (SED). As the ability to generate and provide high definition broadcast on demand continues to develop, the demand for improved quality and larger displays will continue to increase proportionally. The technology to watch for the next significant leap in high definition and quality image reproduction will be the Surface Conduction Electronic Emitter Display (SED).

So where will the high definition images come from? This pace of technology and battle for formats is racing even faster than the development of the display devices.

Ampex introduced the first commercial Video Cassette Recorder in 1956, with a price tag of US$50,000. The worlds first Video Cassette Recorder for home use was introduced by Philips in 1972. By 1975, SONY introduced Betamax. The first VHS VCR arrived to market in 1977, JVC’s HR-3300, creating a format war that raged for market share during the 19080’s. By the 1990’s the battle for dominance between VHS and Beta was replaced by a new battle between the MultiMedia Compact Disc from SONY and Philips, versus the Super Density Disc supported by Time Warner, Matsushita, Hitachi, Mitsubishi, Pioneer, Toshiba and Thomson. Amazingly enough, it was Lou Gerstner, president of IBM, who stepped forward and acted as matchmaker to convince the rival camps to collaborate and combine the best of both technologies into a single standard. The result of which became the DVD Consortium, later became known as the DVD Forum. The competing technologies collaborated on standards for manufacturing DVD products with common format until the battle for supremacy was revived in 2006 between HD DVD and Blu-Ray high definition video.

It took 20 years to migrate from a $50,000 commercial device to a Video Cassette Recorder for the home. It was almost a 20 year battle in the format war between VHS and Beta, until rival camps under the guiding hand of Lou Gerstner collaborated on a common DVD format. The common DVD format lasted for a mere ten years until the competing technologies once again took the field of battle to claim dominance in the high definition video market, as HD DVD and Blu-Ray fight for supremacy, movie titles, profit and the bragging rights to define the next standard in the evolution of video. At this pace of technology evolution, advancement occurs twice as fast or in half the time of the proceeding era. At this rate we can anticipate the announcement of the next significant advancement in technology and another format within the next five years. Will the next format combine the best technologies of HD DVD and Blu-Ray? Will the next step in evolution be based on utilization of more colors from the spectrum to create even greater definition? Will the format war for storage medium like VHS tapes and Blu-Ray discs become obsolete as the new medium transforms to wireless video streaming on demand? One thing is for sure, it will not take long to find out. Hold on to your VHS movies, compact discs and DVD’s, as these will be collector’s items and museum pieces before a child born today will graduate from college.

Are you concerned about having the latest technology when you make your next purchase in consumer electronics? Are you worried about selecting the right format, so your library of movies and collection of media will last longer than your pile of LP records and eight track tapes? Choose a display that supports Digital High Definition, learn about the types of INPUTS for your display device or television, and then pick the one that fits your budget. The types of INPUT and connections are important for being able to take advantage of the best display possible from your television or display device. As for recorded media, take your chances on the media that has the most selection of titles and is compatible with your other entertainment devices. There is a good chance that the state-of-the-art technology you purchase today will be obsolete before your extended warranty expires, so sit back and enjoy the evolution.

Words of Wisdom

“The theory of evolution by cumulative natural selection is the only theory we know of that is in principle capable of explaining the existence of organized complexity.”

– Richard Dawkins

“Television is the first truly democratic culture – the first culture available to everybody and entirely governed by what the people want. The most terrifying thing is what people do want.”

– Clive Barnes

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

– Arthur C. Clarke

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