The Year of Tech: 2006 (Part 2)
I have dubbed 2006 the Year of Tech, and instead of just making claims left and right and leaving it at that I have decided to support my claim with a bit of evidence. In this article I discuss a new operating system from Microsoft that is due out this year, as well as HDTV technologies. While it appears that there are not going to be any major advances in HDTV this year, I believe it is worth discussing what is out there right now and what is on the horizon based on the fact that there is other High Definition tech coming out this year. Last time I discussed Blu-ray and HD-DVD as well as the next generation of gaming consoles. Well, the High Definition DVDs and high resolution outputs of the gaming consoles means nothing if you don't have a HDTV to display them on, right?
4) A new version of Windows? Microsoft has announced that this November will herald in their newest version of Windows. It's been almost five years since Windows XP was released, and that has been the longest dry period between Windows versions. So, are you excited? I was about a year ago when it was still codenamed "Longhorn" and was supposed to have all sorts of great features such as new advanced file format (WinFS) and other new "meaty" features. Instead Microsoft now appears to be offering the Lean Cuisine version of what Longhorn originally was. It seems that whenever you see advertisements for Vista they are focusing on the new pretty user interface (such as partially transparent windows) and leaving out any improvement in functionality.
There have been some good rumors, though. One that has grabbed my interest the most is the supposition that Microsoft is now going to focus on building a really good kernel (the first layer of software on top of the hardware), and then add additional features such as WinFS later down the road. This sounds more like the common Linux distribution model, and I have been very impressed with how well that works for Linux. Also, Windows has been so bloated in the past with horrible memory leaks and "bloat-ware" problems that hopefully re-building the kernel from scratch will resolve most of these issues. Only time will tell with this new operating system, but I can assure you that I will not be running out to the store on release day.
For more information: Windows Vista
5) HDTV. High-Definition Television is becoming more and more a part of our lives. I haven't taken the plunge yet myself, but I would like to have an HDTV before the end of the year. If I did purchase one, I would probably go with a standard Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) HDTV instead of an LCD, Plasma, or rear-projection TV. My reasons for this are money, and picture quality. The TV in our living room now is 27" (a size I am happy with), and I can get a widescreen 34" CRT HDTV for about $1100. You can get an LCD for about the same price, but the picture quality in the CRT is going to be much better. The LCD technology cannot match the brightness, contrast, and picture clarity of a CRT. So, essentially I am willing to sacrifice weight and size benefits for a better picture. Of course, that is just my personal opinion, so here's the low down on current and future HDTV technology:
CRT - Cathode Ray Tube HDTVs are essentially big computer monitors. They don't quite reach the resolutions that computer monitors do, though. The advantages of a CRT are the same as the ones I listed above: Brightness, Contrast, and Picture Clarity (due to high refresh rates). The disadvantages are size and heat.
LCD - Liquid Crystal displays use the same technology as flat-panel computer monitors. To put it briefly, LCD screens work by using an electrical charge to align liquid "crystals" in the display. The alignment determines what color is illuminated by the fluorescent backlight. Most of the disadvantages of LCD displays arise from the time it takes to align the crystals and the time it takes for them to return to their normal state. This can result in blurry images, and "ghosting" when there's action on the screen. Also, cheaper/older LCDs have problems with their viewing angle, and brightness. The advantages of LCD televisions include low power consumption, small size, and they are lightweight. Also, LCD displays are fairly competitive in pricing.
Plasma - I think the Plasma TV will be going the way of the Dodo over the next 3 years or so. My reasoning behind this thought is that LCDs are cheaper, consume far less power, and over the next 3 years will become much better in picture quality. Right now, the advantages of the Plasma are viewable size (you can get them in larger sizes than LCD), they are fairly flat like LCDs, have a wide viewing angle, and display vibrant and bright colors. However, they are much heavier than LCDs, a 50" plasma screen requires about 550W of power (about the same as a vacuum cleaner), they have big problems with image persistence (burn-in), and their contrast is not much of an improvement over LCDs.
Rear Projection - There's too many types of rear-projection HDTVs for me to get into right now. For the most part, they are using similar technology to the LCD displays, but the image you see has been increased in size through the use of optics. You sacrifice size and a bit of quality for a larger TV while minimizing cost. You don't get the nice flat-panel like you do with LCD and Plasma, but you can purchase a 52" rear projection for about the same cost as a 32" LCD flat-panel display. The quality disadvantages vary across the different technologies employed, but you can have problems with image persistence, viewing angle, pixelation, and various other "distracting" effects. Also, like an LCD, the contrast ratios are not up to snuff when compared to a CRT.
SED (future) - Surface-conduction electron-emitter displays were announced fairly recently, and I'm excited about them. Originally they were supposed to be hitting the market this year, but recent news has pushed their release to next year. These displays use very similar technology to the old CRT, and essentially each pixel is a mini-CRT. The result is a flat-panel display that has all the advantages of a CRT. You have deep blacks, bright whites, excellent resolution, and all in a nice, flat package. Rumor has it that these things are going to be cheaper to manufacture than LCDs, so once the economies of scale kick in just about everyone should be able to afford one. This is exciting technology, and I can only hope that it doesn't fall on it's butt before it hits the market, but everything I've heard so far points to this being the future of display technology.
6) My Tech. I've run on longer than I thought I would on WIndows Vista and HDTV, so I'll save the "My Tech" section for Part 3. I currently don't envision a Part 4, but if something interesting comes up I'll discuss it.
I've posted a new poll at the bottom of the page, so be sure to get your vote in.