Is it Too Late to Get into Bitcoin and Blockchain?

At Quora, I occasionally play, “Ask the expert”. Several hundred of my Quora answers are linked at the top right. Today, I was asked “Is it too late to get into Bitcoin and the Blockchain”.

A few other Bitcoin enthusiasts interpreted the question to mean “Is it too late to invest in Bitcoin”. But, I took to to mean “Is it too late to develop the next big application—or create a successful startup?”. This is my answer. [co-published at Quora]…


The question is a lot like asking if it is too late to get into the television craze—back in the early 1930s. My dad played a small role in this saga. He was an apprentice to Vladamir Zworykin, inventor of the cathode ray tube oscilloscope. (From 1940 until the early 2000s, televisions and computer monitors were based on the oscilloscope). So—for me—there is fun in this very accurate analogy…

John Logie Baird demonstrated his crude mechanical Televisor in 1926. For the next 8 years, hobbyist TV sets were mechanical. Viewers peeked through slots on a spinning cylinder or at an image created from edge-lit spinning platters. The legendary Howdy Doody, Lucille Ball and Ed Sullivan were still decades away.

The Baird Televisor, c.1936

But the Televisor was not quite a TV. Like the oscilloscope and the zoetrope, it was a technology precursor. Philo T. Farnsworth is the Satoshi Nakamoto of television. He is credited with inventing TV [photo below]. Yet, he did not demonstrate the modern ‘cathode ray’ television until 1934.

Farnsworth demonstrates TV

The first broadcast by NBC was in July 1936, ten years years after the original Baird invention. (Compare this to Bitcoin and the blockchain, which are only 7 years old).

Most early TV set brands died during the first 10 years of production: Who remembers Dumont, Andrea and Cossor? No one! These brands are just a footnote to history! Bear in mind that this was all before anyone had heard of Lucille Ball, The Tonight Show or the Honeymooners. In the late 1950s, Rod Serling formed Cayuga Productions to film the Twilight Zone in New York. Hollywood had few studios for dramatic television production, and the west coast lacked an infrastructure for weekly episode distribution.

Through the 1950s (25 years after TV was demonstrated), there was no DVR, DVD or even video tape. Viewers at home watched live broadcasts at the same time as the studio audience.

The short answer to your question: No! It’s not too late to get into Bitcoin and the blockchain. IIn fact, we’re still in the very early era. The ship is just pulling into the dock and seats are mostly empty. The big beneficiaries of blockchain technology (application, consulting, investing or savings) have not yet formed their first ventures. Many of the big players of tomorrow have not yet been born.

At this early stage, the only risk of missing the Bitcoin boat is to assume that it is a house of cards—or passing fad. It is not! It is more real than the California gold rush. But in this case, prospectors are subject to far less risk and chance.


Ellery Davies is co-chair of Cryptocurrency Standards Association. He is also a frequent contributor to Quora and editor at A Wild Duck.

Is 4K HDTV relevant?

Beginning with the 2012 holiday season, I began seeing large screen, 4K TVs in retail displays (typically in a high-end theater room). The first one that I could inspect closely was at a Sony store in a factory outlet mall in Winthrop MA. That was on Black Friday. Just a month later, I saw several displays with more compelling content at ABT, the mega-super-retailer with just one location in Glenview IL.

4k_compareIf 4K were to catch fire, the sourcing of high resolution content is not in doubt. 4K has been a production and archival standard for Hollywood studios since shortly after the advent of digital content creation. And, of course, studios can always transfer directly from their vast warehouses of legacy films. (At about 2000 lpi, the 35 or 70mm film used in the making of Hollywood movies for the past 75 years has a theoretical resolution of about half way between HDTV and 4K, depending in large part on lighting conditions. Digital IMAX is arguably the pinnacle of mainstream theater technology. It is projected at 4k x 2k = 8M pixels).

But is home theater 4K TV relevant?

In 1990s, I was briefly co-chair of the National Coalition for HDTV Research & Policy. The path to HDTV standards was torturous, both for display technology, broadcast standards, and the requisite PC convergence.

Can we be blown away all over again?

Can we be blown away all over again?

I am a resolution junkie. For enter-tainment, I crave a big, beautiful theater experience. For PC work, I want a desktop with many open windows or pages—resplendent with microscopic detail. I want lines and characters that pop out with enhanced acutance. In the 90s and early 2000s, my friends were satisfied with VGA (640×480) or SVGA (800×600). I demanded XGA (1024×768). When laptops shifted to widescreen, I held out for WUXGA (1920×1200). Now, I have a 1080p notebook. It is the convergence standard. But it is not the ultimate consumer display. In fact, I crave the newest Samsung Book 9 plus, which offers 3,200 x 1,800 pixels packed into a 13.3 inch display. That’s almost 6 megapixels!

The NTSC standard lasted more than 50 years. It took two decades to make the market transition to HDTV. Today, 1080p is the de facto standard for both PC and TV displays, although most HD TV content is transmitted at a still respectable 720p. But do we want or need another standard that has 400% more pixels?

As a resolution junkie, I can firmly answer the question: Nah… It is simply not worth it, even if the technology cost rapidly drops to par.

Notebook Resolution callout-aWatching TV is very different than viewing PC page content, which tends to be filled with text, but is mostly static. Over time, motion creates a rich experience. In fact, the “psychological bandwidth” of TV viewing is a product of pixels and frame rate. In my opinion, with HD—especially at 1080p—the human mind is maxed out. At this point, auditory and tactile input become more important than attempts to increase resolution beyond 1080p.

At whatever distance that you find comfortable, (say 2.5 feet from a 24″ display, 9 feet from a 50″ display or 15 feet in a home theater with a 110 inch screen), adding resolution to a moving image beyond 1080p is detectable only when getting so close to the screen, that you are no longer enjoying the experience. For this reason, HDTVs under 20″ don’t even bother to support 1080 pixels unless the display is also intended to accommodate connection to a PC.          [ continue below image ] …

Click here for a close-up eyeball-to-screen inspection

Click here for a close-up eyeball-to-screen inspection

In my opinion, taking films beyond 1080p adds nothing to the experience (or at least, a severely diminished return), and yet it adds tremendously to the cost of storage and transmission.

Of course, in the end, industry standards are becoming marginalized. 4K will probably come upon us with or without a federally sanctioned standard, thanks to multi-synch monitors and the flexible nature of graphics cards and microcode. Today, resolution—like software—is extensible. Cable service providers can pump out movies at whatever resolution they like. The set top box at the other end will decode and display films at the maximum resolution of a subscriber’s display. The role of government in mandating an encoding standard is marginalized, because most viewers no longer tune in to public airwaves. FCC turf is generally restricted to broadcast standards.

Am I often reluctant to adopt bleeding edge technology? Far from it! This opinion is brought to you from a committed resolution junkie. But I do have a few exceptions. Check out my companion piece on consumer 3D TV technology. Spoiler: Both technologies are limited exceptions to my general tendency to push the proverbial envelope!

Ellery Davies is a privacy pundit and editor of AWildDuck. He is a frequent contributor to The Wall
Street Journal. He is also a certified techno-geek with ties to CNet, Engadget & PC World.

3D TV: Ubiquitous & cheap. But who cares?

My opinion on the gradual penetration of consumer 3D television is not intended as an expert research opinion, but rather speaking simply from experience as a 3D owner.

3D_TV_1aI searched long and far for the perfect balance between a thrilling effect, simplicity, and cost. The brand and technology that I chose is unimportant to my point, but you can bet it was close to the very best in-home, 3D experience available during 2013.

The technology works. That is, it elicits Oohs and Aahhs from visitors every time a fish swims up my neighbor’s nose or the dragon breathes fire and smoke. Basketball games are downright stunning, if a bit hard to find. But (and this is a very big “BUT”)…

… But the overall experience falls considerably short of the community cinema, and its not a problem with the technology. In fact, they are equivalent!

At first, I thought that consumer adoption would be stuck until these problems are worked out. But, in fact, these are NOT the problems:

  • Wait for technology to be equivalent to movie theaters
  • Wait for cost to come down
  • Wait for passive eyewear
  • Wait for a wide spectrum of content (3D broadcast and Films)

In fact, all of these things have happened, and YES, due to low cost, 3D tech is now slapped onto flat screen TVs without demanding that viewers commit to actually using the feature. This gives tremendous impetus to adoption by broadcasters, because it addresses the two-sided network effect. That is, it solves the chicken-and-egg problem.

3D_TV_2aBut here’s the rub: Recall that I said that it falls short of a movie theater experience and yet—with passive glasses—it achieves the same quality and convenience. How can both of these observations be true?

In a movie theater, you are resigned to sit in one place for up to 2 hours without much head movement and certainly without walking about or viewing out of the corner of your eyes. Transporting the same technology into your home (In my opinion, this has been achieved with equal quality), does not create an equal experience. The glasses are never handy (there is no one to clean and recycle them, or hand them to you when you enter the room), and moving about the room causes headache and eyestrain. Quite simply, it unnatural.

The practical outcome of this unfortunate situation is that I am left with transient bragging rights (until my friends buy their next TV) and I occasionally supervise stunning demonstrations. But even though content abounds, I really don’t care. After the first weeks of ownership, I never bothered to watch an entire show or movie in 3D. Furthermore, I unloaded the 3D copy of Avatar that came with my Panasonic Blu-Ray player. I prefer to watch in 2D. In the end, black level, contrast and resolution trump the Oohs and Aahhs of things that pop out of the frame.

Ellery Davies is a privacy advocate and security consultant. He addresses
issues at
the intersection of technology with law or social policy. His opinions
and research appear across popular media, scientific and trade venues.