The Future of TV: 3D, WindowWalls, Visible Light Communication, and More

Superthin Bezels

LCD panels keep getting thinner and thinner, but what about those annoyingly thick screen bezels? Enter the Runco WindowWall, which Samsung developed for high-end home-theater enthusiast vendor Runco.

An LCD screen consists of two pieces of glass that must be bonded together around the edges, and this creates a certain amount of dead space where LCD two panels abut. Samsung has reduced the amount of dead space between contiguous panels to just 7.33mm, however, giving the WindowWall an almost seamless look.

The 1366-by-768-pixel panels in the WindowWall measure 46 inches diagonally. From close up you can see the 7.33mm-thick bezels between panels, but if you look at the whole picture from about 15 feet away, the big picture looks great.

The WindowWall is scalable and can consist of as few as four or as many as twenty screens. You can hook up the screens to display one image across all of the screens or to display something different on each screen. To make the system work in sync, however, you must have a display controller unit and power supply unit for every four screens.

TV manufacturers already can make huge, seamless LCD screens--but the WindowWall is a more economical product. For one thing, shipping a 92-inch screen costs a lot more than shipping four 46-inch screens does. Unfortunately, the technology isn't consumer-friendly at the moment: A nine-screen setup costs around $100,000.

Visible Light Communication

One day, you may be able to obtain customized information directly from your television's LED backlights, thanks to a new technology dubbed "Visible Light Communication." The LED lights transmit information by flickering at high frequencies; a device with a photodiode (for example, a cell phone) then picks up the transmitted signals.

According to Samsung, this new technology could have a profound impact on the future of TV, in part because it would allow advertisers to take a completely different approach to airing commercials.

Though Samsung says that products featuring Visible Light Communication won't arrive anytime soon, the technology has been demonstrated with working prototypes. The Nakagawa Laboratory of Tokyo's Keio University has done extensive research in Visible Light Communication, as well.

Ultra-Definition TV

Visible Light Communication, WindowWalls, and 3D TV aren't all that's in store for home-theater systems. TVs with 240Hz refresh rates and Internet connectivity are becoming increasingly common, and 480Hz sets are slated to arrive later this year. Farther down the road, ultra definition (with 3840-by-2160-pixel resolution in place of high definition's 1920-by-1080-pixel resolution) could make its way into your living room.

Ultra definition (UD) will become more critical as display sizes get larger, Birnbaum says. Samsung has demonstrated a UD 82-inch LCD panel, but UD content is not readily available yet, and as a result no market for the technology exists yet. Like HDTV, UDTV will be able to handle lesser (720p or 1080p) content.

A significant feature of ultra-definition television will be its zoom capability. As screens get bigger, viewers will be able to zoom in to get a close-up view of the action. "Imagine watching a football game, pausing the action, and zooming in on your own instant reply to 'make the call' on a questionable end-zone catch. UD will get viewers completely involved in the game," Birnbaum says.

So that's what awaits you in the future of television: an immersive viewer experience, personalized content, and huge screens. It looks as though Samsung and its fellow TV producers are out to make movie theaters obsolete. But much of this technology is still far ahead of the market--so you'll have to continue paying for movies for at least a couple more years.

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