Weird Plasma Thingamachine Creates the Sleekest iPhone Ever

via Gizmodo by Haroon Malik on 2/23/08


Paul Knight uses this weird machine to change the appearance of iPhones and iPods into spy plane black titanium nitride-coated machines, which are quite more beautiful than the originals. It uses “plasma-enhanced chemical vapor deposition” to modify the nature of the surfaces, a complex chemical process used to coat objects like luxury watches, drill bits or aircraft blades. The finished gadgets are simply stunning.


Paul’s iPhone Custom has a gold TiN Apple logo and a black TiAIN black front covering a variant of the TiN process described below. The back covers are replaced with black anodized aluminum to eliminate the contrast between the antenna cover and the usual silver colored backing. Another project involved a more minimalist black logo. Either way, they look stunning.


TiN is applied using a plasma enhanced chemical vapor deposition tool. There is a block of titanium placed into a mahoosive machine similar to the one you saw above, nitrogen gas is flowed in, plasma is formed, things get ridiculously fast, atoms get embroiled in a turf war and fallen atoms end up providing the basis for the amazing coating. What does that mean? We have no idea; we were paraphrasing, my limited education only got me so far in high school. Fortunately, we know a spanking gorgeous iPhone when we see pictures of it, and the iPhone Custom is the best example we have seen to date. No figures were thrown about, but the mods were said to cost “a lot of $,” which pretty much means we cannot afford it. We still want. We really, really, really want. Oh, our want hurts so bad.

[Gigapascal via gen[m]ay]

Pioneer Plasma vs Samsung LCD
Just not for gaming!

While the format war gets the most attention these days, our old favorite, — no, not 720p vs 1080i — is still kicking: Plasma vs LCD. With each new generation a manufacturer improves its previous best model and with the latest Samsung LED powered LCD (LN-T5281F), Sound and Vision Magazine thought it was time for another technology shoot out. The wait was in LCDs court, as the last time both went head to head, it wasn’t even close, and while LCD is still no match for Plasma, it was closer than ever. In fact, even though both sets sell for almost the same price, the Plasma (Pioneer DP-5010FD) bested the best LCD they ever tested in every category — including glare — except detail, which was a tie. The biggest discrepancy between the two was viewing angle, which is labeled Uniformity on the scorecard and requires one to sit directly in front of the set, or suffer an inferior experience. The real irony here is that although the three seasoned AV experts on the panel agree on which produces the best picture, the average consumer probably prefers the “LCD’s dynamic pop” and unrealistic bright colors to the almost perfect realistic colors of the Plasma.

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Forget LCD; Go for Plasma, Says Maker of Both

What kind of company takes out ads in daily newspapers attacking one of its own type of products? In the case of Panasonic, the answer is a company that has significant investments in a rival technology.

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Flat-panel televisions at a computer store in Santa Clara, Calif. Panasonic has promoted its plasma sets over L.C.D. ones.

Panasonic, the consumer electronics company owned by Matsushita Electric Industrial, is the world’s biggest seller of plasma TVs. And it has long extolled the benefits of that technology compared with L.C.D., another flat-panel TV product. At the same time, the company sells a full line of L.C.D. sets.

But the company believes that plasma technology is under unfair attack from competitors making “desperate attempts” to denigrate what it sees as plasma’s superiority, according to Bob Greenberg, Panasonic’s vice president for brand marketing.

There is another issue as well, which is that the profit margins on L.C.D. TVs have fallen sharply because of competition.

To demonstrate plasma is better, the company has offered picture comparisons for journalists at electronics shows. And it has developed marketing materials that dispel some of the myths of plasma’s limitations, like how often to refill the plasma gas (never) and the problems with picture burn-in (none anymore).

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This holiday, Panasonic went a step further, running an ad in newspapers around the country under the heading “Six facts you need to know before you buy a large flat-panel TV.” The ad points out plasma’s superior contrast, color rendition, crisp motion, viewing angle and durability when compared to L.C.D. TVs.

Not so fast, says Sony. The company, which exited the plasma TV market to concentrate on L.C.D. sets, is running its own series of sportslike newspaper and magazine ads that promote what it calls an HD challenge. Once consumers see reflections of fluorescent lighting in the plasma set, they will opt for L.C.D., the ad contends.

While most people do not have fluorescent lights in their living rooms, Sony believes its challenge shows how bright light bulbs and other reflections can spoil a picture.

“The showroom is the only place where a consumer can compare two TVs,” said Phil Abram, the company’s vice president of product marketing.

To help Panasonic maintain sales of both technologies, it sells plasma sets from 37 to 65 inches on the diagonal, while its L.C.D. TVs can only be purchased in sizes from 23 to 32 inches. Sony, Sharp and other manufacturers sell L.C.D. sets from 19 to 65 inches on the diagonal.

Panasonic also looks to segregate the market. The company argues that L.C.D. TVs, which look brighter in daylight, are the right choice for kitchens and other rooms that need smaller sizes. But in larger sizes and for fast-moving sports scenes, plasma is the right choice, said Mr. Greenberg. Since the ad campaign began, “field research shows that the dialogue is changing. Once you point out that the blacks in plasma are blacker than in L.C.D., it is like pointing out the rabbit in the painting.”

Both technologies are gaining market share at the expense of traditional tube sets, with L.C.D. sales this year overtaking picture tube sets for the first time.

According to data compiled by the NPD Group, L.C.D. TVs held 49 percent of the market in 2006, compared with 26 percent last year. Plasma’s market share increased to 10 percent from 5 percent. At the same time, sales of picture tube TVs dropped by more than half, to 21 percent this year from 46 percent in 2005.

Does Panasonic’s strong support of plasma technology mean that it will never sell a very large L.C.D. TV? Well, not exactly.

“Panasonic in Japan is studying L.C.D. in its larger formats,” Mr. Greenberg said. “If we introduce larger-sized L.C.D. TVs, we will have overcome the problems in that technology.”

1080p Does Matter – Here’s When (Screen Size vs. Viewing Distance vs. Resolution)

I’ve read various articles debating the importance of the 1080p. I want to set the record straight once and for all: if you are serious about properly setting up your viewing room, you will definitely benefit from 1080p (and even 1440p.) Why? Because the 1080p resolution is the first to deliver enough detail to your eyeball when you are seated at the proper distance from the screen. But don’t just take my word for it: read on for the proof.

There are a few obvious factors to being able to detect resolution differences: the resolution of the screen, the size of the screen, and the viewing distance. To be able to detect differences between resolutions, the screen must be large enough and you must sit close enough. So the question becomes “How do I know if need a higher resolution or not?”. Here is your answer.

Based on the resolving ability of the human eye (with 20/20 vision it is possible to resolve 1/60th of a degree of an arc), it is possible to estimate when the differences between resolutions will become apparent. Using the Home Theater Calculator spreadsheet as a base, I created a chart showing, for any given screen size, how close you need to sit to be able to detect some or all of the benefits of a higher resolution screen. (Click the picture below for a larger version.)

Resolution vs. Screen Size vs. Viewing Distance Chart

What the chart shows is that, for a 50-inch screen, the benefits of 720p vs. 480p start to become apparent at viewing distances closer than 14.6 feet and become fully apparent at 9.8 feet. For the same screen size, the benefits of 1080p vs. 720p start to become apparent when closer than 9.8 feet and become full apparent at 6.5 feet. In my opinion, 6.5 feet is closer than most people will sit to their 50″ plasma TV (even through the THX recommended viewing distance for a 50″ screen is 5.6 ft). So, most consumers will not be able to see the full benefit of their 1080p TV.

However, front projectors and rear projection displays are a different story. They make it very easy to obtain large screen sizes. Plus, LCD and Plasma displays are constantly getting larger and less expensive. In my home, for example, I have a 123-inch screen and a projector with a 1280×720 resolution. For a 123-inch screen, the benefits of 720p vs. 480p starts to become apparent at viewing distances closer than 36 feet (14 feet behind my back wall) and become fully apparent at 24 feet (2 feet behind my back wall). For the same screen size, the benefits of 1080p vs. 720p start to become apparent when closer than 24 feet and become full apparent at 16 feet (just between the first and second row of seating in my theater). This means that people in the back row of my home theater would see some improvement if I purchased a 1080p projector and that people in the front row would notice a drastic improvement. (Note: the THX recommended max viewing distance for a 123″ screen is 13.7 feet).

So, how close should you be sitting to your TV? Obviously, you need to look at your room and see what makes sense for how you will be using it. If you have a dedicated viewing room and can place seating anywhere you want, you can use this chart as a guideline. It’s based on THX and SMPTE specifications for movie theaters; the details are available in the Home Theater Calculator spreadsheet.

Recommended Seating Distances and Resolution benefits (small)

Looking at this chart, it is apparent that 1080p is the lowest resolution to fall within the recommended seating distance range. Any resolution less than 1080p is not detailed enough if you are sitting the proper distance from the screen. For me and many people with large projection screens, 1080p is the minimum resolution you’d want.

In fact, you could probably even benefit from 1440p. If you haven’t heard of 1440p, you will. Here’s a link to some info on It is part of the HDMI 1.3 spec, along with 48-bit color depth, and will probably surface for the public in 2009 or so. You’ll partially be able to see the benefits of 1440p at the THX Max Recommended viewing distance and the resolution benefits will be fully apparent if you are just a little closer. I’ve read of plans for resolutions reaching 2160p but I don’t see any benefit; you’d have to sit too darn close to the screen to notice any improvement. If you sit too close, you can’t see the far edges of the screen.

In conclusion: If you are a videophile with a properly setup viewing room, you should definitely be able to notice the resolution enhancement that 1080p brings. However, if you are an average consumer with a plasma on the far wall of your family room, you are not likely to be sitting close enough to notice any advantage. Check the chart above and use that to make your decision. And remember, the the most important aspects of picture quality are (in order): 1) contrast ratio, 2) color saturation, 3) color accuracy, 4) resolution. Resolution is 4th on the list and plasma is generally superior to LCD in all of these areas. So pick your display size, then measure your seating distance, and then use the charts above to figure out if you would benefit from the larger screen size.

Has Xbox 360 Already Won the War?

With Microsoft executives becoming ever more eager to tout the company’s sales numbers of its Xbox 360 in public, and the dramatic success of games like Gears of War, has Redmond given itself such a head start that it will be near-impossible for Sony to catch up?

Twice in the past week, Microsoft officials have mentioned the magic 10 million number. It has significance, as in each of the previous video game generations, the first to that level ended up being the best selling console overall.

At a NASDAQ event in London, chief financial officer Chris Liddell reiterated Microsoft’s forecast for 10 million consoles by the end of the Christmas season. This number has not only been mentioned by Liddell, but repeatedly by Gates, Ballmer and Xbox head Peter Moore as well.

Many analysts are cautioning that the company may be setting itself up for embarrassment and retaliation from shareholders if it fails to meet this goal. However, in an interview with Bloomberg, Moore upped the ante even more.

Asked by the news service whether the company was likely to beat that outlook, Moore agreed, saying the Thanksgiving weekend was a stellar one for Microsoft and Xbox.

Numbers obtained by BetaNews seem to back up Moore’s claim. Sources say the company sold as many as 100,000 consoles per day in the period surrounding Thanksgiving weekend. Numbers were on the high end of expectations, according to the data.

Additionally, Microsoft was helped out by weaker than expected sales of both the Wii and PS3 during the same period, indicating that shoppers looking for a next-gen console may have been opting for Microsoft’s entrant over others due to availability.

While the most recent data shows six million Xbox 360 consoles sold as of September 30, internal data indicates Microsoft may have sold more than eight million units as of the end of November.

Reaching the 10 million goal is just now a matter of sales: about a week ago the company shipped its ten millionth console. And from the looks of things, hitting the mark may not be that difficult.

Industry watchers are beginning to believe, too. “Microsoft’s lead seems unbeatable now, fueled by a one year head start, the raging success of Gears of War as 2006’s killer app, and most recently, a blitzkrieg of promotion for Halo 3, scheduled for 2007,” GigaOM’s Wagner James Au said.

Microsoft’s Moore said the success of the Xbox 360 has much to do with its value proposition for the consumer. “Certainly the consumer is recognizing the fact that we have a great price point as well as 160 games available and that flies in the face of our competition,” he told Bloomberg.

“It’s not hard to be confident when you’re the only show in town. Sure, PS3 and Wii have been released, but try to buy one. Short supplies mean sunny sales for Microsoft,” remarked Microsoft Watch editor Joe Wilcox. “Also, Xbox 360 is HD ready at a time when HD TVs are hot items. Consumers can wait around for PS3 or Wii and likely not get one–or they could buy a Xbox 360 for their brand new HD plasma or LCD TV. Microsoft is right to boast about sales.”

Panasonic Limited-Edition Plasma TH-58PZ600

Panasonic Japan announced a limited black edition of its TH-58PZ600, the 58 inch Plasma TV. This super smooth finishing plasma has an analog and digital TV tuner, supports full 1,920×1,080 HD resolution and has a 4000:1 contrast ratio. The remote control also comes in black to match the TV. It measures 1,454 × 570 × 1,422mm and weighs 110 kg.

Are you getting all the HDTV resolution you paid for?

Not necessarily, given the results of Home Theater Mag’s recent tests of 61 HDTVs. Using test patterns from a Silicon Optix HQV HD DVD, they tested deinterlacing, 3:2 detection and for the 1080p sets, bandwidth. Unfortunately, just over 54% of the HDTVs failed the deinterlacing test, 80% failed the 3:2 test, but the 1080p sets passed the bandwidth test, despite all but one (Pioneer Elite PRO-FHD1) losing some detail. If a HDTV doesn’t pass these tests, then you’re losing at least some visual information from a 1080i signal. Some televisions throw away half the horizontal lines, which results in a fail on the deinterlacing test, or don’t perform inverse telecine on moving images appropriately, failing the 3:2 test. Of course, contrast ratio, refresh rate and black levels still contribute to overall picture quality, but you should take a look at their results to make sure you’re getting every pixel you expected from your new HDTV.

[Thanks, Ryan]