Last week, I was invited to speak as part of a panel discussion at the SATCON - HD WORLD show, held at the Jacob Javits center in New York City. The panel topic was "How Do I know What They’re Seeing At Home?" and the focus was presumably on what different types of display technologies were being used to view HDTV and SDTV programming.
My presentation focused more on what engineers would be seeing in master control if they installed monitors using any of the five mainstream fixed-pixel imaging technologies in use today. I covered the basics of each technology - how they worked, and how they differed - and then proceeded to show actual, "real world" measurements I’ve made of average and peak contrast, brightness, white balance, and color gamuts.
Two of my fellow panelists are part of senior management at a major television network, and both are engineers. During and after the panel presentation, one of them expressed his dissatisfaction with flat-panel monitors that are replacing CRTs and how they can’t produce a standard gamma (plasma) or have insufficient black levels and narrow viewing angles (LCD).
In my presentation, I showed actual gamma curves for both technologies after calibration for best grayscale images, not peak brightness. I also mentioned that, of the two contenders, I felt plasma still did a better job right now than LCD technology in performing as a surrogate CRT display. One of the two engineers agreed and stated that they were already using 42-inch consumer plasma HDTVs for some HD monitoring applications.
Coincidentally, at a Philadelphia SMPTE meeting the previous evening, I got to see the brand-new HD studios and production sets of TV station KYW (CBS) where I found more than a few plasma HDTVs and monitors in use. It seems both KYW’s chief engineer and VP of engineering feel that, while LCD still has a long way to go before it comes close to CRT performance, plasma is much closer right now.
The broadcast industry is rife with tales of frustrated engineers and post-production houses hoarding used Sony BVM-series 32-inch CRT monitors, precisely because they do not like what they are seeing on the current crop of professional LCD monitors (for more on this, see Insight Media’s Professional Video Monitor Report). But if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that a few of these same folks are already using 42-inch and 50-inch plasma monitors and HDTVs every day in their facilities.
If that’s so, why aren’t there any professional-grade plasma HD monitors being offered to broadcasters? Given that Panasonic, one of the largest manufacturers of broadcast equipment in the world, is already shipping a 42-inch 1080p product, it would be a piece of cake to tune that product up for best grayscale images and include the mandatory SDI/HD-SDI interfaces, along with DVI and component hookups.
Pioneer has long been lauded for their superior-quality plasma images. Samsung has also been at the forefront of advances in plasma imaging technology. Yet, neither company has shown a professional grade plasma monitor aimed specifically at the broadcast and video/film production markets.
All three companies (plus LG and Hitachi) appear to be too busy chasing the digital signage space, which has very different requirements, one of which is high brightness and contrast. Guess what? It’s actually easier to produce a "reference" plasma monitor, as sheer brightness is not important - grayscale and color accuracy is, and my tests have shown that plasma displays do very well indeed in both categories.
Given the high SRPs for professional LCD monitors (Sony’s new BVM-L230 23-inch LCD "master monitor" sells for an astounding $25,000!), there’s plenty of money to be made all along the distribution chain with a reference-quality 42-inch plasma monitor. The level of performance is already there. All that’s needed is some additional connectors, custom software for user setup and calibration, and bells and whistles like safe title and 4:3 on-off markers.
Add everything up, and you can see that there’s easy money to be made, which is a rarity in the plasma business these days. Yet inexplicably, Panasonic, Pioneer, and Samsung seem content to leave that money on the table…