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LG catches the rising curve of OLED

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It’s a decade since the future possibilities of OLED TV first became obvious, and now that future is here, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

Around a decade ago, I witnessed a dazzling new future in the making. At the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas in 2007, Sony unveiled the XEL-1, the world’s first TV using Organic Light Emiting Diodes, or OLED. The name is a clue to the technology: because it emits light, OLED doesn’t need a backlight, meaning it can be much thinner than LCD screens which depend on backlight. And, of course, it gives a new meaning to colour.

This display back then was all of 11″, and the price an eye-watering $2,500 – for a device the size of an iPad. But it was the sharpest image I’d ever seen on a screen, and I imagined a future where one would pay a similar price for an OLED screen three or four times the size.

That future is here and, for once, it is bigger and better than we could imagine back then.

There are a few differences, of course. For one, the machine in question is made by LG. For another, it’s curved. And you have to shop around to get it for as little as $2,500. But that, perhaps, has something to do with the fact that it is five times the size of that original 11” display.

LG took the initiative away from Sony some time ago. It became the first TV maker to mass produce large-screen OLED sets in 2014, following up with a second generation last year.

The LG EG9600 may not be the biggest of LG’s third generation of OLED TVs, but it has the most satisfying image quality of any TV I’ve yet tested. It

represents the current state of the TV art, with 4K, or ultra high-definition (UHD) resolution, delivering wonderfully dark blacks and the kind of whites that are usually only promised in washing powder ads.

The result is video quality that is frighteningly real, and almost embarassingly detailed. Sometimes you don’t really want to see every pockmark in a movie star’s face. But that discomfort is easily outweighed by the level of detail that suddenly becomes available. From cityscapes to crowd scenes at sports events, it seems as if new secrets of the world are being revealed.

As if the picture isn’t enough, the machine itself is also dazzling, with its combination of gently curved screen and absurdly thin panel – it’s no thicker than LG’s latest flagship smartphone, the G5, or most other cutting edge smartphones for that matter.

If it’s smartphone functionality one wants, then the EG9600 offers something close, the latest version of LG’s webOS proprietary smart TV operating system. Version 3.0 has an improved user interface and easier navigation, although using the remote control for cursor control remains a clunky exercise. It allows one to navigate through a band of large tabs, and choose from a range of online services, including common or garden web browsing or YouTube viewing. The menu can be personalised if one wishes.

Finally, the speakers were built by Harman/Kardon to complement the visuals. This makes for a rich, near-surround sound that goes some way to living up to LG’s statement that the machine is “geared to creating a state-of-the-art home theatre”.

The price remains the major drawback of the unit. You may be getting five times the screen for only a little more than the price of an 11” a decade ago, but that will still be out of reach for most. However, this equation points to the current high-end coming down rapidly in price, especially as 55” seems to hit a sweet spot between big picture and manageable size for the average room.

Just five years from now, this kind of TV will be the norm. Considering that most people only buy a new TV set every five to ten years, it means that the future for the typical viewer is arriving now.

Apparently, LG agrees.

“We want OLED to be the revolution of light that opens up the future we all want to live in”, said Antonio Dos Santos, national sales manager  at LG Electronics South Africa, at the launch of the new OLED range.

“Without backlight and other auxiliary layers, the OLED display is fundamentally less complicated compared to LCD, and in time less costly to manufacture. I have no doubt, given its advanced features and superior performance, that foldable, wearable, flexible and transparent, OLED is the display technology for the next generation.”

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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When will we stop calling them phones?

If you don’t remember when phones were only used to talk to people, you may wonder why we still use this term for handsets, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK, on the eve of the 10th birthday of the app.

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Do you remember when handsets were called phones because, well, we used them to phone people?

It took 120 years from the invention of the telephone to the use of phones to send text.

Between Alexander Graham Bell coining the term “telephone” in 1876 and Finland’s two main mobile operators allowing SMS messages between consumers in 1995, only science fiction writers and movie-makers imagined instant communication evolving much beyond voice. Even when BlackBerry shook the business world with email on a phone at the end of the last century, most consumers were adamant they would stick to voice.

It’s hard to imagine today that the smartphone as we know it has been with us for less than 10 years. Apple introduced the iPhone, the world’s first mass-market touchscreen phone, in June 2007, but it is arguable that it was the advent of the app store in July the following year that changed our relationship with phones forever.

That was the moment when the revolution in our hands truly began, when it became possible for a “phone” to carry any service that had previously existed on the World Wide Web.

Today, most activity carried out by most people on their mobile devices would probably follow the order of social media in first place – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn all jostling for attention – and  instant messaging in close second, thanks to WhatsApp, Messenger, SnapChat and the like. Phone calls – using voice that is – probably don’t even take third place, but play fourth or fifth fiddle to mapping and navigation, driven by Google Maps and Waze, and transport, thanks to Uber, Taxify, and other support services in South Africa like MyCiti,  Admyt and Kaching.

Despite the high cost of data, free public Wi-Fi is also seeing an explosion in use of streaming video – whether Youtube, Netflix, Showmax, or GETblack – and streaming music, particularly with the arrival of Spotify to compete with Simfy Africa.

Who has time for phone calls?

The changing of the phone guard in South Africa was officially signaled last week with the announcement of Vodacom’s annual results. Voice revenue for the 2018 financial year ending 31 March had fallen by 4.6%, to make up 40.6% of Vodacom’s revenue. Total revenue had grown by 8.1%, which meant voice seriously underperformed the group, and had fallen by 4% as a share of revenue, from 2017’s 44.6%.

The reason? Data had not only outperformed the group, increasing revenue by 12.8%, but it had also risen from 39.7% to 42.8% of group revenue,

This means that data has not only outperformed voice for the first time – as had been predicted by World Wide Worx a year ago – but it has also become Vodacom’s biggest contributor to revenue.

That scenario is being played out across all mobile network operators. In the same way, instant messaging began destroying SMS revenues as far back as five years ago – to the extent that SMS barely gets a mention in annual reports.

Data overtaking voice revenues signals the demise of voice as the main service and key selling point of mobile network operators. It also points to mobile phones – let’s call them handsets – shifting their primary focus. Voice quality will remain important, but now more a subset of audio quality rather than of connectivity. Sound quality will become a major differentiator as these devices become primary platforms for movies and music.

Contact management, privacy and security will become critical features as the handset becomes the storage device for one’s entire personal life.

Integration with accessories like smartwatches and activity monitors, earphones and earbuds, virtual home assistants and virtual car assistants, will become central to the functionality of these devices. Why? Because the handsets will control everything else? Hardly.

More likely, these gadgets will become an extension of who we are, what we do and where we are. As a result, they must be context aware, and also context compatible. This means they must hand over appropriate functions to appropriate devices at the appropriate time. 

I need to communicate only using my earpiece? The handset must make it so. I have to use gesture control, and therefore some kind of sensor placed on my glasses, collar or wrist? The handset must instantly surrender its centrality.

There are numerous other scenarios and technology examples, many out of the pages of science fiction, that point to the changing role of the “phone”. The one thing that’s obvious is that it will be silly to call it a phone for much longer.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube
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MTN 5G test gets 520Mbps

MTN and Huawei have launched Africa’s first 5G field trial with an end-to-end Huawei 5G solution.

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The field trial demonstrated a 5G Fixed-Wireless Access (FWA) use case with Huawei’s 5G 28GHz mmWave Customer Premises Equipment (CPE) in a real-world environment in Hatfield Pretoria, South Africa. Speeds of 520Mbps downlink and 77Mbps uplink were attained throughout respectively.

“These 5G trials provide us with an opportunity to future proof our network and prepare it for the evolution of these new generation networks. We have gleaned invaluable insights about the modifications that we need to do on our core, radio and transmission network from these pilots. It is important to note that the transition to 5G is not just a flick of a switch, but it’s a roadmap that requires technical modifications and network architecture changes to ensure that we meet the standards that this technology requires. We are pleased that we are laying the groundwork that will lead to the full realisation of the boundless opportunities that are inherent in the digital world.” says Babak Fouladi, Group Chief Technology & Information Systems Officer, at MTN Group.

Giovanni Chiarelli, Chief Technology and Information Officer for MTN SA said: “Next generation services such as virtual and augmented reality, ultra-high definition video streaming, and cloud gaming require massive capacity and higher user data rates. The use of millimeter-wave spectrum bands is one of the key 5G enabling technologies to deliver the required capacity and massive data rates required for 5G’s Enhanced Mobile Broadband use cases. MTN and Huawei’s joint field trial of the first 5G mmWave Fixed-Wireless Access solution in Africa will also pave the way for a fixed-wireless access solution that is capable of replacing conventional fixed access technologies, such as fibre.”

“Huawei is continuing to invest heavily in innovative 5G technologies”, said Edward Deng, President of Wireless Network Product Line of Huawei. “5G mmWave technology can achieve unprecedented fiber-like speed for mobile broadband access. This trial has shown the capabilities of 5G technology to deliver exceptional user experience for Enhanced Mobile Broadband applications. With customer-centric innovation in mind, Huawei will continue to partner with MTN to deliver best-in-class advanced wireless solutions.”

“We are excited about the potential the technology will bring as well as the potential advancements we will see in the fields of medicine, entertainment and education. MTN has been investing heavily to further improve our network, with the recent “Best in Test” and MyBroadband best network recognition affirming this. With our focus on providing the South Africans with the best customer experience, speedy allocation of spectrum can help bring more of these technologies to our customers,” says Giovanni.

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