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The Hard Cell

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Last week I managed to spend some time with Toshiba’s Cell TV and I have to say that I was excited and disappointed in equal measures. I was excited by the fact that Cell TV is a genuinely groundbreaking TV experience, but I was disappointed by the niggling fear that we’ll never see this amazing hardware used to its full potential. Well, not here in the UK at any rate.

As the name suggests, Cell TV is based on the Cell Broadband chip that is more commonly associated with the Sony PlayStation 3. Toshiba has utilised the multi-core, multi-threaded goodness of the Cell chip to produce a TV with more features than you could shake a faggot of sticks at.
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The power of the Cell chip has also allowed Toshiba to implement one of the most advanced LCD panels I’ve seen. The new Kira 2 panel, like most high-end LCD screens utilises LED backlighting with local dimming technology. However, with 512 areas of local dimming, the Kira 2 screen can produce a beautifully balanced image even when there are many areas of differing contrast in a scene. According to Toshiba, this many areas of local dimming can only be achieved by utilising the power of the Cell chip.

The current implementation of Cell TV that’s commercially available in Japan sports no fewer than eight high definition tuners. Again, the Cell chip allows all eight high definition streams to be decoded simultaneously, and even displayed on the screen concurrently. Obviously there’s also recording functionality built into the Cell TV box, and eight channels can be recorded at once onto the built-in hard drive.

Even though all the menus on the Cell TV that I saw were in Japanese, the user interface still put the likes of Sky HD to shame. Every single recording on the hard drive is represented by a thumbnail, and highlighting each thumbnail will start playback, in the thumbnail itself. Okay, so the PlayStation 3 can do this with recordings that reside on its hard disk, but that’s hardly surprising now is it!
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With Resolution+ upscaling being a major feature in Toshiba’s Regza TVs, it comes as no surprise that Cell TV can upscale SD or even network content (like YouTube) to high definition. A far bolder claim is that Cell will be able to convert any 2D source into 3D in real time. Toshiba claims that the Cell chip will utilise complex algorithms to calculate foreground, background and depth of field, to enable a 3D environment to be created. This is something I’d very much like to see, but unfortunately it’s a feature that’s scheduled for the US and European release, and isn’t present in the current Japanese boxes.

Of course all this cutting edge technology doesn’t come cheap, and if you happen to live in Japan and want to bag yourself a Cell TV you’re going to need pretty deep pockets. With a retail price of around £6,500, Cell TV isn’t what you’d call a mass market product, but as always, the cost of early adoption is high.

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