By Jim Bray
Talk about being two faced! LG, the South Korean electronics giant, is proving there really are two sides to an issue, at least if the issue is how many TV's can you get into one package.
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I pun, but last Friday my good friend, Les, invited me up to his company's headquarters to get a look at LG's new two sided commercial OLED monitor, and it blew me away. Oh, I doubt it'll be a popular consumer choice, though I can see applications for that, but LG isn't likely to care because this $14,000 (Canadian) unit is meant clearly to be used in commercial installations. And I can see it being a hit there.
Sure it's a lot of money, but what a TV! In fact, what a great two TV's it is: this ultra slim 1080p television actually features two TV monitors, one on the front and one on the back. Yet the whole thing is maybe a half inch thick - barely the thickness of the bezel around the screen of the last LG 4K TV I tried a couple of months ago. It's really quite amazing.
Heck, you could hang it on a wall like a painting and it would barely stick out, though of course you'd lose half its functionality and that would be pretty silly. Fortunately, they also make singled-sided OLED monitors…
But imagine if you had a business - grocery store, sports bar, whatever - and you wanted to have a unique way to show your ads, sporting events, or whatever. The Dual-View Flat OLED Display could be perfect in such applications. And since you can show different programs on each side (and you can swap them at will), you can have multiple ads or different games on at the same time.
Heck, a well-heeled person could mount one of these in his/her/its home, like some have a two-sided fireplace between two rooms, and watch TV in either, or both, rooms. Nothing good on? Fire up the fireplace channel!
According to LG, the 55 inch TVs' are only eight millimetres thick and can be mounted on the floor or hung from the ceiling or a wall. It also has a media player built in (well, it's in the base since there'd be no room for it inside the slender "cabinet") and the whole shebang is operated from a typical remote control.
And the picture quality is outstanding - at least it was in the brightly lit, temporary installation where I saw it. The reason is OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) technology, which has been around for a while but has been prohibitively expensive. I remember the first one I saw, probably a decade or so ago. It was a Sony, was only 12 inches if memory serves, and was something like $2500 back then - totally impractical but, like many innovations, very cool.
But OLED may well be the next generation of TV, a logical successor to LCD and the LED TV's that are popular now. They promise "infinite" blacks (the "self-lighting" pixels switch off completely to create the black, supposedly with no light bleed from the other pixels). The blacker a TV's blacks are, all other things being equal, the better the picture - the more contrast between light and dark and the more detail you can see. And at the Matrix Video Communications demonstration the contrast was fantastic. I wanted to pack the thing up and take it down to my home theatre to try it under optimal video viewing lighting, but it was just too darn big to get into my iPad case.
Other advantages to OLED include fantastic colour reproduction, a very wide viewing angle before the picture falls off, a lack of the "judder" you can experience with LCD's during quick motion and, of course the ultra-slimness. I think we'll be seeing a lot more of these TV's - they're already starting to find their way into the consumer marketplace - and can't wait to test one.
LG makes other OLED units, including curved and arched screens (thanks to OLED's flexibility), so it appears the technology is poised, finally, to become mainstream.
Les also showed me another neat LG screen, a 58:9 aspect ratio "stretch" TV that's great for signage, though you wouldn't want to use it as a TV at home. The one I saw at Matrix was in "portrait" mode, tall and thin, but it can be mounted "landscape" as well.
It offers 4K resolution and can be divided into four separate images. Very cool - and I can see many uses for it in commercial applications. Airports can use 'em for arrival and departure info coupled with ads, for example, or perhaps a grocery store could hang one over its entrance, showcasing the day's specials (or whatever the store owner wants to show). It would probably work well in sporting venues, too, though it should probably be mounted where a puck is unlikely to hit it!
Shomi soon to be a no-show
In early August I did a column outlining the shomi TV streaming service, a Canadian upstart trying to cut into Netflix' business. I said that while shomi does offer a lot of stuff, Netflix is still the 900 pound gorilla in online streaming services.
It appears I wasn't alone in my assessment because shomi announced on September 26 that it's going to be ceasing operations very soon - so hopefully no one signed up based on my review!
Here's most of the shomi press release they display on their website: "We're really grateful to Canadians who enthusiastically invited us into their living rooms and took us with them on their phones, tablets and laptops," said David Asch, Senior Vice President and General Manager, shomi.
"The business climate and online video marketplace have changed markedly in the last few years. Combined with the fact that the business is more challenging to operate than we expected, we've decided to wind down our operations," Asch said. "We're proud of the great service we created and the role we played in the evolution of Canada's video landscape."
That and a couple of bucks will get you a coffee. I was proud when I co-owned a restaurant about 30 years ago, and of its great food and service, but when we shut it down we didn't brag about the role we played in Canada's food service landscape. We just licked our wounds, and moved on with our tails between our legs. Geez. Maybe they expected a "participation medal."
Still, credit to them for giving it the old college try.
The release continued by saying that current shomi members can keep streaming and "binge-watching their favourite shows and movies online, via their Shaw or Rogers set-top box, on select tablets, mobile devices, Xbox 360 and Xbox One, Apple TV, Chromecast, and PS4 until November 30, 2016."
Having been there, I hate seeing a business shut down but must admit I'm not surprised, especially with the constant barrage of ads for Crave TV I see on my satellite service and the lack of ones for shomi - though Crave comes from my TV provider (shomi's may have blanketed the waves with its ads on them, but I have no way of knowing). Nor have I any idea how many subscribers Crave has snagged - so who knows if it'll be next.
I have no reason to think Crave is cratering, but if I were looking for a streaming service I might be concerned.
Meanwhile, it appears that Netflix continues to be the big player in online streaming and will be at least for the near future.
But, darn it, I still miss video stores!
Copyright 2016 Jim Bray
Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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