Archive for May, 2008

Epson’s Home Turf

May 17, 2008

 

WORK AND PLAY AT EPSON-SEIKO IN JAPAN

It was a day of work for journalists visiting Epson-Seiko facilities in Japan, including a closeup look at 3LCD panels versus colour wheels and Horiguchi Hirosada showing start to finish panel manufacturing.

It was a day of work for journalists visiting Epson-Seiko facilities in Japan, including a closeup look at 3LCD panels versus colour wheels and Horiguchi Hirosada showing start to finish panel manufacturing. That’s me on the lower left holding a wafer.

FOUR DAYS OF WORK, LEARNING AND PLAY IN JAPAN
I just got back from a fun and tech-packed five day trip in Japan. I was among a small group of U.S. and Canadian journalists invited by Epson’s front projector group. Although Epson has the lion’s share in front projection sales, mostly in the office and school sector, the company, part of the Seiko Epson Corporation, is aggressively marketing HD front projector technology to consumers.
Our first day started with a 2.5 hour drive to Epson’s Suwa Minami TFT plant.
This is the first time Epson has opened its home turf doors to us. Its one thing to see new technology displayed at shows and stores and quite another to be in the middle of the 37,800 square meter dust free plant, complete with “bunny” suit.  

 

 

 

This is where the three sets of small postage stamp size 1080P resolution LCD panels that handle the red, green and blue light spectrum in Epson’s 3LCD projectors, are made. We saw several of the 350-step process from silicon wafer to ready-to-install LCD panel in the huge plant. It takes 30 days for each LCD panel to complete its journey, before being installed in overhead and table-top front screen projectors.

To see how 3LCD panel technology works, go to:

www.epson.ca/cgi-bin/ceStore/3LCD/3LCD_works.jsp?BV_UseBVCookie=yes

Our roadside lunch on the way to the Seiko Epson Shimauchi office in Matsumoto, was an example of how important it is to ask what is in the food you eat. A really delicious cold salad lost its flavour after someone noticed two centimeter-long tiny eels staring at us from our fork. But it was so tasty, I finished the salad anyway.  

We met and chatted with key management at the Shimauchi office. This included Division Head, Mr. Hagata and Seiko Epson general managers, Mr. Kubota,

marketing, and Mr. Toyosawa, R&D and discussed Epson’s projector technology and strategy.

Mr. Kubota summarized Epson’s market strategy. “The size of the home projector business is too small. It’s impossible to compete with the flat panel but our mission is to expand our business to the home,” he said. “Front projection is our business, we have a lot of stake but will make this market grow.”

What impressed me was the honesty and frankness of every Epson person we met.  Rajeev Mishra, director of New Ventures for Epson, a young, bright and charismatic chap surprised us by asking our opinion on many aspects of the industry. He took notes and Epson managers nodded with our take on front projection systems. Most technology companies think they know it all and rarely canvass tech writers’ collective thoughts.

Epson has a key advantage on 3LCD projectors, selling 3LCD technology at competitive prices of older moving colour-wheel type projectors. In comparison, 3LCD technology has no moving parts and produces more brilliant colour with much deeper blacks.

To prove their point, Epson arranged a short comparison demo based on competitively priced projectors, not an apple-to-apple comparison of similar technologies. Many of us felt this set up Epson to come away the overall winner.

The contestants,  Epson PowerLite Pro Cinema 1080UB (LCD), Panasonic PT-AE2000U (LCD), Sanyo PLV-Z2000 (LCD), and Sony VPL-VW60 (SXRD) actually took turns being first in skintone colour, as different source video played – an industry issue with making consistent colour DVD and Blu-ray movies. I was surprised that there was no DLP projector in the mix (Epson later admitted it should have included one) that would have given the Epson PowerLite Pro Cinema a run for its relatively low cost.

 Epson said all four projectors were in default out-of-the-box settings, including different their own cinema versions. But poor colour performance from the reputable Sony projector prompted more questions from us than we got answers, leaving many with an impression of a subjective test.

 

AND THREE DAYS OF LEARNING AND FUN

There was much to see and learn in Japan with Epson. From our hosted Japanese style dinner to seeing old and new architecture to seeing fish markets at the crack of dawn and finding out not all salads are alike.

There was much to see and learn in Japan with Epson. From our hosted Japanese style dinner to seeing old and new architecture to seeing fish markets at the crack of dawn and finding out not all salads are alike.

 

HOT SPRING POOLS

Our evening ended in a delightful stay at the Jimoto-ya Hot Spring Hotel in the Matsumoto area. Upon arrival, we changed to kimonos and were hosted by Epson in a traditional Japanese sit-on-the-floor banquet. Epson managers were busy helping pour us saki, saki wine and Japanese beer. There is no administrative hierarchy here, including a tradition where you only pour others’ glasses, not your own.

The evening moved on with a riotous Karaoke session at the hotel bar. Japanese take Karaoke as serious as work. Epson managers took their turn singing their hearts away in Japanese while our press group poured through the huge selection of English songs.

Most of us don’t remember, but apparently some of our song choices were definitely adult content. This was my first ever Karaoke appearance and felt like baptism by fire, flying all the way to Japan for my debut.

The evening was capped off by segregated hot spring baths. What an experience! From the moment I stepped in the indoor windowed hot spring room, sans clothes, quietly washing my self in an open area near the pool, sitting on a short stool and using a bucket to mix suds and water I felt more Japanes than ever. Dipping in the hot steamy water – it was a bit strange meeting the same Epson folks in this environment, creating lasting impressions and friendships.

My traditional Japanese straw-floor room had the floor mattress laid out for a great night’s sleep, only to be awakened by early morning sun rays streaming through the sliding translucent window shutters.

There was no Internet access here, an isolation that made our traditional Japanese stay even more immersive.

Before leaving town, we visited Matsumoto Castle, a massive wood structure with stunning architecture and made-for-war design, which has survived more than four centuries of weather and clan battles. The thirty-meter climb was fraught with steep, knee-high and slippery step stairs and dark passages. The guided tour gave us a fly-on-the-wall view of what it was like to be a warrior defending clans, honour and tradition. There was even a curtained off suicide room where warriors decided their fate in a losing battle.

The drive back to Tokyo got us back to modern civilization, especially staying at the Hilton Shinjuku Hotel.

The evening was capped off with a private Tokyo Harbour cruise on our oen private red lantern lighted boat, with eclectic Japanese cuisine and you guessed it, more Karaoke! The city skyline view was spectacular.

Most of us went to bed early, except for Rajeev who turns out to be an all-night party boy. We got up at 4 am for a tour of Japan’s famous Tsukiji Fish Market where huge tuna fish can fetch $30,000 each in a brief but noisy auction. Seeing rows of tuna, each with markings and dissected bodies was an eerie sight. But walking through the colourful market after, where catches of the day from octopus, eel, squid and other strange shaped fish where carefully packaged was a scene to remember.

We capped the morning off with an all-out sushi breakfast. It doesn’t get any better or fresher than this folks!

Our stay at Shinjuku was capped off by a full frontal assault of technology writers in technology heaven: the Akihabara electronic shopping area. Gracious Epson Manager and host Gomi Yukinori, used every persuasive tactic to pull us out of there and get us to the airport on time.

The Epson tour, by all accounts, this was one of the best organized and hosted affairs anyone could remember. This included precision timing and pre-checked hotel rooms – no hotel desk waiting for us. No request was ignored and our hosts went out of their way to make our stay memorable and informative. They even managed to locate my forgotten pair of sun clips, our three-day chartered bus driver having tracked them down in one of our roadside stops.

 

NEVER A DULL MOMENT

From the Electric City in Akihabara to a hot spring bath with Gomi Yukinori to a spectalular Tokyo Harbour Dinner Cruise we made many friends in Japan.

From the Electric City in Akihabara to a hot spring bath with Epson Projection Manager Gomi Yukinori to a spectalular Tokyo Harbour Dinner Cruise we made many friends in Japan. How do you like my back yard at Jimoto-ya Hot Springs?

 
MY MOST MEMORABLE MOMENTS?        

 

 

 The built-in bidet in every toilet I ran across, with heated pad, in Japan – a rarity in North America. Many of us were apprehensive to try, but I bit the bullet and frankly became a huge fan. I need to ship in one them Toto models fast! Check out my first time experience on one in Japan:
www.youtube.com/watch?v=bIl0Eveu-_0 

 

 I get annoyed by overzealous flight attendants asking me, often a minute too early (every second counts with my Curve before shutdown) to tuen off my device. I finally got back to one flight attendant during my trip to Japan. As we were about to take off, I noticed she was strapped on her seat typing with her cell phone. In this rare role reversal, I sternly warned her to turn her device off. “But it’s a just a game,” she said, obviously embarrassed by the whole thing. “I am sorry, it’s an electronic device and must be turned off,” I jokingly said. That’s one for the passengers and it felt real good!

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TV SALES WARS HEAT UP

May 10, 2008

WHAT’S NEW IN TV

I was in Toronto this week checking out the newest TVs from Samsung, LG and Sony. There are no new cutting edge screen technologies this season, but small innovations and a big drive on design. So for this year, don’t expect dramatic improvements in TV picture quality. But new curves and looks, especially for top-tier models will make buying  a TV for its outside looks just as important as for its inside looks.

Samsung’s new colour bevel, a deep hint of rich red, around the frame adds a touch of class as does LG’s rear coloured panels. LG’s Frank Lee tried to make amends for all the big hoopla at the company’s recently much touted, but alas, fake launch of new products under the guise of an also fake upcoming show. All to basically show the same TVs but with newer sleeker outside looks, blended speakers and better auto brightness sensing. If LG wanted media attention, they got it. Disappointment? They got that too.

Lee showed LG’s top model that has a “scarlet red” derriere, meaning you can’t mount it on the wall if you want to show off this latest design innovation.

I must admit though, the smaller LG bedroom screens with the red touch looked appealing. Lee tried to smooth things over at a Toronto media showing of the newest models saying consumers need a break to catch up on current TV technology. I say, these companies are reaching the current tech limit, other than thinner TV models.

Speaking of which, there where no new OLED ultra –thin TVs shown anywhere. Most folks in the know, say it will be al least several years before the currently pricey OLED becomes mainstream. The exception off course, is Sony’s 11 inch screen, 3 mm thick XEL1, $2,499 available at select Sony shops. Its actual resolution is half that of the top 1080P that bigger screens have, leading some critics to say that much of the screen’s visual impression is owed to its size rather than OLED technology. I measured the brightness and I can tell you it is at least four times wider bright-to-dark than any LCD or plasma panel in the market.

NO MORE MISTER NICE GUY

The TV makers are rolling up their sleeves for a competitive season. It’s no secret the big brand names are buying up showroom space in big stores in Canada, but I had to chuckle when a Sony manager at the annual Toronto dealers show told me of the Sony Kill Switch. It’s a small remote control that Sony sales folks around the country use to reset Sony TVs to their default settings when visiting stores. Sony feels that their TVs are made to look bad either because of incompetent retail staff or deliberately, so competitive models can look more attractive.

And it’s not uncommon today to see, like I have, internal TV comparisons  between competitors models in big brand training sessions.

Let the games begin.

CTO can’t keep TV out. Hot phones coming to Canada

May 3, 2008

XEROX CTO LOSSES BATTLE WITH TV

Here’s a few tidbits from my recent trip with Xerox at the PARC research centre in Palo Alto, California. I quoted Xerox’s chief technology officer Sophie Vandebroek in my PARC tour story in the Edmonton Journal, but her most interesting comments came from our dinner the night before. Sure, the single and very determined single mother of three can handle the thousands of Xerox research minds with a $1.5 billion budget. But Sophie’s biggest challenge has been keeping TV out of her house. Despite her efforts to raise her children with wholesome family values, opting for reading, the outdoors and weekly family movie rental nights, TV has crept in her home via, you guessed it, the Internet.

“It’s impossible to keep TV away from a computer today,” said Sophie, a BlackBerry fanatic. “I even took the modem away a few times but the kids got back online with the neighbours’ wireless Internet connection.” The energetic Sophie who travels ten days a month and still has the curiosity of a child, can slacken the TV rules a bit now. Two of her children are college-bound. 

 

Check out my quick “workout” walking interview with Sophie at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=cg4Ee8VALxs

 

My Journal story on the PARC research was an organized event with lab managers from nine different projects. But the one that moved me the most was the Rare Cell Detection which oddly enough was presented by PARC administrator Nitin Parekh. Only when I asked to see the scanning device, did I meet the brains behind the project in a room tucked away in the farthest basement room. Dr. Richard Bruce who manages PARC’s biomedical systems research area and directs the Scripps-PARC Institute for Advanced Biomedical Sciences, was hard at work, forgoing all the media hoopla a few floors up. His comments, in my story, on what went through his head when the Rare Cell Detection project worked were moving.

 

HOT PHOTO PHONE

Rogers Canada announced the hot Nokia N95 5 megapixel cellphone. I tried one out at CTIA in Vegas last month and must say this multi-media phone with 8 GB built-in memory is one piece of engineering. It’s available on May 6 for $399.99 (ouch!) with a three year plan. I will write about it in next Saturday’s Journal comparing it to the 5 megapixel CyberShot camera phone from Sony Ericsson. Is it worth the money and can it replace your point-and-shoot digital camera? Check out the demo at: http://www.nseries.com/index.html#l=products,n95

 

iPHONE  IN CANADA

So, finally Rogers brings the iPhone to Canada, well not yet, but a deal has been signed. No doubt it’s a cool phone and I am surprised how many PDA users have converted to the iPhone. I still think its too nichy a phone for business. Got to see how it works in Canadian winters, closer to release date. Meanwhile, there are other touch phones from Samsung and LG I will be checking on before the iPhone is released here. One thing for certain. The iPhone will bring about the “all you can eat” fixed monthly plan, something Bell had until recently but I can’t seem to find anymore. Is it gone?